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Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
A bit of light adventurous fun.
Trawling the channels last evening, I came upon "Sword of Sherwood Forest" (oddly titled..) and hung around. One expects little more from the Richard Greene takes on the personified Unforgetting Saxon than hearty words, unerring aim and quick execution of an instantly thought-up plan of action. And let's not forget the power of British accents, which ennoble the weak and render villains extra creepy. The Earl of Newark (read Walter Scott's short poems on football), as played by Mr. Pasco, was not a villain; he was a lordly lord who rode while they walked. He makes a wonderfully filled-out SOB noble, and his greasy hair is an all-timer. Incidentally, note the Sheriff's possibly-anachronistic mounted soldiers scattering villains in the priory burning. He who has horses, has power.. This is a light bit of adventurous fun, set in some gorgeous surroundings. Well by '60, there was no more Sherwood Forest; they had to go to Ireland to shoot it which, in Robin's time, was being 'subdued' by the early Plantagenets. The producers by my guess wanted little more than a big-screen TV adventure, targeted for the Saturday-afternoon matinée crowd, but seen generations later on an 'old movie' channel by now-aging tots.
The Killer Shrews (1959)
Impressions of an Intriguing Sidetrip
Now, wasn't '59 a gas year for movies? We stumbled on to 'The Killer Shrews' Saturday evening (when else?), and I came away with these impressions before my viewing mate said "Enough": The interior set design was bad-drunk good, with the wonderfully grimy walls, windows that look out onto nothing but gates and teeth, and that killer bar in the corner under the mirror, where I imagine the sane folk gathered while the hurricane of terror just swirrlled around them..this was either a career maker or breaker for the fellow playing ever-compliant Mario, the bartend..Gordon McLendon ("the Old Scotsman") was a heavy in radio broadcasting, and sonorously ran 'beautiful music' (an extinct format that sounded like elevator music) KABL in San Francisco..the real lift this odd little offering brought me was in seeing a portrayal of a black man--the 'mate Griswold--without any buffoonery, racial stereotyping or condescension, relating to his boss (Thone) as one neighbor to another. (This changes to "Help me, Massa" screams as he's turned into dinner by the shrew/dogs.) I can recall but too other such examples from the non-p.c. era: the escapee in "My Sweet Charlie" and the 'hero' in "Night of the Living Dead". If going to Heaven means doing what I want,..I want to go to Heaven so I can bend men's minds into believing that 'Killer Shrews' swept the Oscars for that year. It wouldn't be until 'Titanic'..
Bad-rapping of a Well-Dressed Guy With Anemia
Scary? Sure. Hilarious? Oh, so.. Dracula gets my vote for best (dark) comedy on film. Why didn't Renfield's (Dwight Frye!) obsession for "fat juicy spiders" start a diet craze? It would have been understandable in the early Depression years, when food was difficult to come by. Also on point, we have over at the chaffing dish, "rats,..Rats,..RATS! Thousands, millions of them!" The special effects were just so much cotton-candy cobwebs and dry-ice fog, which is why I'm not all that torn up that the most scary passage in the novel was excluded, unless it landed on the cutting-room floor: Renfield looks out the window of his room in Castle Dracula, to see the Count as a giant spider running along the outer walls! I would have made a cartoon exit.
A Grand Civics Lesson With Surprises
This epical film was made in 1944, during our darkest hour! I was lucky to have caught and taped it on AMC when it ran films without interruption.
The continuity of 'Wilson', which for all its sweep covers only about 12 years, is bound along by a series of uplifting speeches--from his gubernatorial-candidacy stumping to wartime president--which are better in the hearing than in reciting in front of civics class. When I see yellowed photos of schoolchildren in class from a century ago, I imagine that these orations are what they heard Teacher recall. Still, I found delight in the brief glimpses of domestic, somewhat mythologized life of pre-Great War America in the Wilson household, probably not touched on in class. Imagine a family evening of singing tunes around the piano in these times!
Two odd moments in 'Wilson' captivate my attention. In a minor shot concluding Wilson's nomination in 1912, he's asked to "Smile!" for the camera and does so, literally in one frame! (Try it on your freeze-frame.)
And then there's the film's opening. Totally unexpected and rather outside the stern tone of what follows, we are treated to a fictitious slice of the Princeton-Yale football game of 1910--war on a field of friendly strife. This brief recreation of "stone age" gridiron play is utterly unique in feature film. It displays the fearsome-looking leather helmets--a few years after their faddish peak--which both intended to assure players' cranial safety and presaged the headgear many would don in earnest short years ahead. For college-football historian/fans, a time to mist up.
We have too few class efforts on the filmed lives of our presidents, whether in whole or in part. 'Wilson' is one of these gems, in spite of understandable lapses expected in a film of its day.
Il tiranno di Siracusa (1962)
Pick A Dictator With A Kid.
The category is: best Saturday-afternoon kids' matinée movie. Possibly interested: boys hoping for a good look under the togette (sorry here, fellows), and kids turned on by Greek legends (I was).
I saw Damon and Pythias several times in the tender summer of '62. I next saw it in '92, gratefully taping it. It remains one of my favorites.
But why still? The acting isn't, except for Mr. Foa, but why care when you're 12? Guy Williams made a worthy central presence, being everyone's good guy. Instead of the expected heroic bloodletting, there was an overall sweetness, even as some insightfully frank adult talk passed on through, as when Damon's love tells a guesting Pythias,"In his way, he can be a friend.." (Check out their 'penthouse'!)And for ragtags, Damon's 'homeless' community are solid good folks, not a faceless background chorus. Late in the film, they pull together with a proto-Marxian determination. These aspects, among others, do filter down into growing young consciences. Parents may note the relationship between Tyrant and son is lovingly, if briefly, portrayed.
Several action and outdoor sequences affirm the film's worthiness for me. An early hunt for the two new friends by Dionysius' guards in a vast cistern is one of the most gorgeously-shot chase scenes ever. Other notable scenes show Pythias' journey through Syracusan back country, followed by another thrilling (if comical) chase, and later still a third, which climaxes with an jump into the sea from a high cliff. (How Grecian! How seemingly tragic!)
So, Damon and Pythias goes into my coffin, for the above reasons, and for a laudably insistent sub-theme of defense against tyranny and the dignity of the common person. And all on a Saturday afternoon with popcorn.