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This Property Is Condemned (1966)
Natalie Wood was never more beautiful than in this...
The dark haired beauty Natalie Wood had just turned 28 during the time this movie was in production. She was at the peak of her loveliness as a young actress and the expert camera work of James Wong Howe captures her youth in a vision of glory for cinematic eternity!
What a pity that she was destined not to live a long life (as was the fate of her character Alva, in this movie). She was and remained a beautiful woman in every sense of the word until the very end of her short life in 1981.
This Property is Condemned is a deceptively simple story about desire, jealousy and human emotions. A stunning young woman with big dreams is constrained by fate from breaking out of her sordid past. This is a tragedy because she comes ever so close with the audience cheering her every step along the way. We feel her dreams...
When Alva and Owen are in love, the viewer easily experiences a sense of their joy and the chemistry between them! When circumstances dictate that they are to be split apart, the pain that the audience feels is all too real.
Both on screen and off-screen, an incredible number of talented people worked on this film, from director Sydney Pollack, the aforementioned James Wong Howe, Francis Ford Coppola (co-writer), John Houseman (of Paper Chase and Naked Gun fame!) co-produced, a young Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, Kate Reid, Mary Badham (already famous as Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird), the basic story from Tennessee Williams, and the list goes on... What was said to be a difficult location shoot with much controversy and rewrites turned out to be a memorable film.
Told in one long flashback, the movie features a great musical score and not just one but two of the spectacular "pull back" shots from James Wong Howe.
If you've ever been in love or lived for big dreams
see this movie. You won't regret it.
The Blue Max (1966)
A superb spectacular of sight, sound, and storytelling
What an incredible vision the filmmakers had for this movie. Twentieth Century Fox was always known for making great films on history in times of war. (The Longest Day, Tora Tora Tora among many others). Add the unique talents of executive producer Elmo Williams and composer Jerry Goldsmith and the result is one of the finest artistic film achievements of its time.
If you've never seen the film, let's start with the basics.
The WWI battle scenes are grand, gritty and realistically spectacular. There is a cast of thousands of well-rehearsed extras. The explosions and hand-to-hand combat look exactingly real. Each frame of the film could be considered a beautiful stand-alone picture. There are equally superb shots both in the air and on the ground. It appears that there was no expense spared to achieve the realism of a WWI battlefield landscape and not for a minute do you sense that you are watching "special effects" as might be true of so many of today's movies.
This is a movie with some of the finest art direction ever produced. The visual elements of the picture are like a time machine that takes you to the German March and April offensives of 1918 on the Western Front. The only problem and it is really a minor one is that the viewer must suspend a bit of belief because the Irish countryside is a bit too beautiful and green and does not look exactly like the Western Front in northern France during WWI.
Jerry Goldsmith's musical score is classical, formal, magnificent and sweeping in scope. It is overpowering when appropriate and wonderfully complex. The music ties into the plot elements and sets the theme of the entire picture. One gets a sense of the larger-than-life forces that clashed producing the great tragedy that was WWI.
The script and the storyline is intelligent and coherent. The actors are well cast and believable in their roles, particularly the many minor character actors.
There are magnificent set pieces such as the final scene at the German airfield that deserve to be watched even more carefully. See how carefully and beautifully every shot is composed.
As the monoplane crashes in the extreme background, the foreground is focused on James Mason as General Count Von Klugermann. But at the exact moment of the crash, you see, in the background, the Holbach character flinch just a little, and raise his arm in the doorway. The crowd of extras, outside the building, also appears to go into shock at just the right moment.
This is incredible direction and choreography! David Lean could not have done it better! Kudos to director John Guillermin for a job well done and an everlasting source of joy and entertainment for generations to come.
Kings Row (1942)
Subtle touches and clever direction add to the enjoyment!
Sam Wood, never seemed to get the recognition as a brilliant director, but King's Row must rank high among his finest works.
There are many subtle touches, especially in his use of background action. Note the scene in which the bank manager first learns that the bank president may have fled with funds and leaves Reagan sitting at his desk. As the manager proceeds to the teller's cage, you can still see Reagan flirting and goofing around with Ann Sheridan in the far left background.
Further in the distance, a horse and carriage round the corner through the outside window. The result is brilliant. You believe you are in the year 1900. David Lean could not have done it better.
King's row is filled with such detailed period action shots and period scenes, yet the sets were clearly constructed on a limited budget. There are scenes of incredible sunsets with the rolling hills and dales, church steeples, and the buildings of Kings Row in an utterly charming, but evocative presentation of turn-of-the-century America.
The long, exterior shots seem to be inspired from Gone With The Wind, indeed, Sam Wood was one of the directors who was called on to finish that movie when the workload became too much for Victor Fleming.
Note also, the care with how the child actors are matched, in looks and mannerisms, with their adult actor counterparts. The little girl who plays Randy (Red) as a child is particularly good. Listen for her laugh when she is sitting on the fence. You actually believe that she might be a very young Ann Sheridan.
Reagan, Cummings, Sheridan, and Claude Rains are all excellent. But my favorite line in the movie is uttered by the evil Dr. Gordon as he is finishing his meal and slowly looks up and is a bit startled to find that his daughter has escaped and is present in front of him.
"... Is the party over? (pauses looks up) Where's your mother!!?"
The Devil Makes Three (1952)
Clearing up a few points on Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest
The closing scenes of this film were shot at the ruins of the Berghoff, which was Hitler's actual residence in Berchtesgaden, most famous for the huge picture window that framed a picture-perfect view of the mountains of Germany and Austria. Since the actual building was torn down by the post-war German government during the 1950's (they were afraid of it becoming a Nazi shrine), this film represents a rare, motion picture view of what the site actually looked like during that period.
The location is now the site of the luxury Hotel- InterContinental Berchtesgaden and visitors can still see the same view of the mountains that Hitler built for himself.
"The Eagle's Nest", located nearby, was the informal name given to the Kehlsteinhaus, or the Fuhrer's Tea house, custom built for Hitler at the top of Kehlstein Mountain during the 1930's. The site survived the war and is now a tourist attraction owned by the local government and features a road carved into the shear rock face of the mountain and a deep tunnel with a brass elevator that takes visitors to the top. It was said that Hitler didn't like heights and only visited the Kehlsteinhaus a few times during his lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, the "Eagle's Nest" is not believed to be featured in this movie.
Until recent NATO reductions-in-force, the Americans had many military recreational facilities in Berchtesgaden which have since been turned over to the German government.
Thought provoking but flawed film
This film is certainly thought-provoking, and aspires to present an interesting perspective on atrocities, reprisals, and morality during a time of war.
Professing to show the horror of warfare directed against innocent civilians, it also tends to promote a particular revisionist view.
Wartime "reprisals," as practiced by the Germans against the townspeople, are shown as somehow being "justified" by the the attacks against German soldiers that occurred at the hands of non-uniformed resistance fighters.
It is a historical fact that the Germans not only practiced these "reprisals," but engaged in them to excess, not only in France, but in most of the German-occupied and invaded countries during WWII.
I found the end of the movie dialog by the French mayor difficult to believe when he declares: "I was responsible for the massacre of the townspeople because I wanted to prove my manhood by shooting the German Officers at the cafe".
This flawed view fails to make any moral distinction between the activities of armed freedom fighters seeking to repel their country's invaders after a long and sinister occupation, and the innocent men, women and children whose only crime happened to be living in the town selected for the reprisal.
If the movie fails to make the moral and historical points accurately, it does succeed as a love story with many poignant scenes in flashback. The actress Amelie Peck is a delight to behold.
The back of the DVD box for this movie claims that it is "based on the true story of Oradour-sur-Glane" whose six hundred and forty-two occupants were brutally slaughtered in the manner suggested by the film.
The historical references for this film suffer from its low budget. It depicts a lesser slaughter of fewer citizens, at the hands of just one truckload of German Soldiers. Although the uniforms looked crisp, and it appears that a few vintage wartime vehicles were available, there seemed to be no money budgeted to depict the scale of the actual event at Oradour-sur-Glane. Accordingly, it seems that the name was changed to a lesser town, and the massacre was scaled down to meet the constraints of the film's tight finances.
The film is accurate, in one sense, in that, even to this day, there is a certain amount of apathy, indifference, and controversy over what triggered the cause of these wartime atrocities in France and who exactly was responsible for it. The government of France opened the floodgates of bitter emotions during the 1950's when many of the SS soldiers were put on trial for Oradour and the nearby massacre at Tulle, which occurred a day earlier on June 9, 1944.
It did not help soothe the controversy when it was revealed that a group of these accused SS soldiers were recruited from Alsace (now a part of France, but then a land claimed by Germany).
Catherine Hicks is a beautiful and talented actress, but she is almost too beautiful for the character she plays in this movie. The viewer finds it hard to believe that her character would be with anyone like the Frenchman who "slaps her around" and subjects her to so much physical and verbal abuse at the movie's outset.
Her character would also be more believable if she spoke more than a few lines of "cafe French," since her long residency is supposed to have made her either fluent or very knowledgeable with the language.
In fact, most of the principal actors seem to struggle with awkward moments of dialog at times, not because they are bad actors, but because the script seems have needed just a few more revisions to make it seem real and believable.
Emperor of the North Pole (1973)
Love trains? See this movie!
The 1970's were known for gritty, sometimes violent movies about cops and criminals (You may remember classics like Serpico, The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, the 7 Ups, The Dirty Harry movies). There were a few exceptions dealing with depression-era subjects (Bonnie & Clyde, The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Days of Heaven) and this mostly unknown and unsung masterpiece with the confusing title.
I was just a teenager when this movie was released in theatres. (There were no DVD's or VHS home releases back then). I caught just a few brief commercial promos on TV advertising "Emperor of the North Pole" and from that moment, I was hooked and had to see it. Then, in the flash of a weekend passing it was gone, yanked from the schedule at the local theatre. Perhaps it was considered too brutish in its violence or perhaps the misleading title "Emperor of the North Pole" kept audiences out of the theatre. There was further confusion for years afterwards when the reissue title came out as "Emperor of the North".
I never did get to see it way back when, but it stayed in my memory and thankfully in the era of satellite dishes and 24 hour movie channels, it lives again for the world to see in all its glory.
For those who love steam engine trains, this movie, (along with "The Train" and "Danger Lights") is an absolute must see. Director Robert Aldrich having completed the acclaimed and commercially successful "The Dirty Dozen" just 6 years earlier had the resources, the artistic courage, and the benefit of working with two veteran Dirty Dozen actors (Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine)who just lock-on to their respective characters with perfection.
The casting of this movie, (especially the minor roles of all the bo's and the railroad men) is superb. The cinematography is also fantastic and not only captures the beauty of Oregon, but a sense of the time and place of a depression-era story. Even the changing Oregon weather (alternating rainy-foggy days, with bright sunshine, is depicted accurately). The viewer can actually feel the cold of the soaking rain as the two hobos ride the passenger car. The frequent violence is brutal but a necessary part of the tale.
As for the story itself, the hobo's speak their own language in a kind of closed-society lyrical tongue that seems to be partially inspired by the depression era paintings of Thomas Hart Benton. It's not Shakespeare, but half the fun is trying to figure out what they are saying.
The music track, although it mostly works for the movie, seems oddly out-of-place with the period depicted, as it has a definite 1960's elevator-beautiful music component, at times. Not that this takes away anything from the movie, however. Similar, out-of-the-era music exists in great movies like, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Ryan's Daughter.
Even the effects soundtrack is a masterpiece of tight editing that greatly adds to the enjoyment of the movie. Listen to the whistle blowing of the opposing "mail train" slowly growing in intensity during the scene where the two trains are highballing it to a full head-on crash. Certainly one of the most frightening moments of any "train" picture. This is film-making at its best.
Also appreciated... a subtle moment when a passenger train is pulling into the station and the viewer hears (but does not see) what might be typical comments from the passengers from a 1930's-era train. "The train only stops for a few minutes"..."I think I'll buy a newspaper", etc.
Emperor of the North Pole is great movie and an absolute must see if you are a fan of vintage railroading, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Aldrich, or Keith Carradine. You won't be disappointed!
A 1937 Masterpiece - Henry Fonda's Finest Movie!
It's easy to see why this was one of Henry Fonda's favorite roles. I personally think there is more action and entertainment packed into this one short film than the award winning "Grapes of Wrath", filmed with Fonda just a few years later.
Fine acting performances all around take the viewer into the waning years of the Great Depression with an authenticity of characters, time, and place. The cinematography and the period details are simply fantastic.
Add to all of this the pure poetry of the dialog exchanges between many of the characters. It's as lyrical as anything written by Shakespeare. The character "Stumpy" for instance begins almost every sentence with either a variation on a song "Mother said to Mabel"... or his own unique way of expressing himself. "You think that old Stump boy would...".
Even the often quoted phrase of Slim "That's what's the matter." rings true as heroic in every sense for our protagonist.
Also, it is of great interest to see how people were treated in the workplace back in this era. Can you imagine your boss literally kicking you in your rear end when he thought you were slacking off or distracted? This was a time when men were desperate for jobs and there was no OSHA, EEOC, or sympathetic human resources director. After seeing this nostalgic view, one is almost tempted to wonder what it would like to give your contemporary office co-workers a sharp kick in the rear when they slump off during the a project or show up for work late.
Accurately depicted in the movie... During the 1930's if you messed up at work because you were drunk the night before, you were simply fired. That's it, pick up your last check and hit the road! If a man was killed or injured in an industrial accident, he was simply replaced with minimal fuss and ceremony. It may sound cruel by today's standards, but it served a purpose back then.
So fine is this movie that I must further elaborate on the cinematography and the set decoration. Where else do you get actual 150 foot steel electrical towers under construction filmed with racing steam engine trains in the background highballing along the right-of-way? Under the expert direction of Ray Enright, the viewer actually imagines the feeling of the bone-chilling cold depicted outside the boarding house where the linemen crew is housed. One can almost taste Stumpy's "eating potatoes" on the table. If you are old enough, you remember that there once were women who behaved exactly like the lady who plays the boarding house manager. A masterful performance.
The hotwire substation at 88000 volts is the scariest set since Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory. Don't miss it. A must see!
The Great Escape (1963)
Credit should be given to the brilliant score by Elmer Bernstein. If you listen to it closely, it literally is a battle between the Allied Prisoners (flutes & woodwinds) and the Germans (tubas). The escape scenes with the little boat on the scenic german river is evocative of Wagner and his heroic Germanic Operas. The scenery of the German countryside and the Alps is breathtaking. I believe that the scriptwriters emphasized the heroism, humor, and character of the prisoners to make an uplifting statement of what is essentially a cruel and tragic story. As a child growing up in the seventies, our 7th grade glass was reading the Paul Brickhill book and we had the opportunity to meet a former (American) Stalag Luft III prisoner from that era. He had arrived at the camp after the Great Escape, but was placed on the monument detail for the 50 executed men. He said that few men seriously contemplated escape after this incident and the emphasis was on surviving the war and going home alive.