210 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Maverick (1994)
A truly amazingly bad movie!
20 August 2015
This movie accomplishes something truly amazing: It starts out almost pretty good, with some semblance of the format of the original Maverick television series (1957). I started off thinking it might be a 7 rating movie, but every 10 minutes of so it gets a notch worse.

A good movie should make you want to watch it within the first 10 minutes -- 5 if it is done by a master. This movie makes you want to turn it off after the first 10 minutes -- 5 if you have a sensitive stomach. If that's the way you feel, my advice is trust your gut. This movie is a gold-plated piece of coprolite.

The greatness of the original Maverick series was in the classy, clever writing. Try watching another TV western from that era and you will see a lot of gunfighting, chases, cattle drives and covered wagon trains, ad nauseum. Maverick had a formula, and a lesson for life: appearances can be deceiving. But in this remake, the deceptions are glaringly obvious and not at all clever.

What James Garner is doing in this is not entirely clear, beyond the obvious window dressing. He never gets a chance to act. Back in the Fifties, Warner Brothers cheated him, and Garner left after two seasons with the help of a lawyer. Watching Warner so cluelessly bollixing this movie version, with Garner standing right there available for advice which surely was not sought, probably left Garner with some small satisfaction: There was only one James Garner as Bret Maverick, and Mel Gibson ain't even close.

Let me give you a clue, Mel: the secret to Garner's Maverick was in his voice more than his face. Garner had an incredible voice (try watching Maverick TOS with the picture off). Mel, you aren't even in the same league with Jack Kelly's Bart Maverick, which I thought was excellent. Kelly and Garner were a sort of Yin and Yang that balanced things out week to week.

This Warner movie makes Garner look like he is senile. To clear that up, just watch Space Cowboys, made six years later. Hmmm, I wonder what would have happened if Clint Eastwood had directed Maverick, the movie?

As I have tried to watch this over several days, it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse and worse. It's not just Mel's fault. I can't really blame Alfred Molina, who is a great actor, though I can't for the life of me figure out what his role is in this picture -- who is he and why does he hate Maverick?

I don't like Jodie Foster's cloying over-acting. I have no sympathy for her character, which is not how the original series played the women. Usually, Maverick helps out some lady in distress, though you aren't always sure who that is going to be. Here there is just one obnoxious woman, aside from the bizarre wagon train of ugly missionaries -- what's with that?

So the bulk of the blame must fall to the director, Richard Donner, and the writer, William Goldman. Sorry, Maverick is not Superman, nor Princess Bride, re-set in the wild West.

The Indians speaking in 21st century lingo was close to the last straw. Is this a remake of F Troop in disguise? As I say, it just keeps getting worse and worse. There is no integrity to the script; things just happen for no particular reason, aside from a cheap gag.

Gibson's Maverick doesn't think his way out of trouble, he just sort of stumbles along. Except for his super-human ninja-level fist fighting and Superman-level skill with a pistol. This is Maverick as a cartoon character super hero.

Well, I have watched 1 hour and 20 minutes of the movie, and my movie rating has gradually dropped from 7 to 3. I am afraid if I watch the last 40 minutes, my rating will be minus 1, which is not possible on IMDb.

If I were being paid to write this review for IMDb, I would grit my teeth, take an Alka Seltzer, and do my best to watch the whole thing. As I am not, I will cease this masochistic movie torture.

Let me give other viewers a bit of advice:

If you like this movie version of Maverick, you will love the original TV series F Troop.

If you liked the original TV series Maverick, don't bother with this movie. The only thing the two have in common is the title and the studio.

But do watch Support Your Local Sheriff. That is the closest thing to a Maverick movie, with some great supporting acting by Jack Elam and Bruce Dern, et. al. It is wonderful fun.
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Red Tails (2012)
A fine film with a timely lesson
15 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Normally, I dread remakes --- and CGI. As I watched the opening scenes under the credits, and saw the overdone CGI, I cringed. I thought, this is like Star Wars does WWII. Then I saw George Lucas on the credits, and I realized it was.* And if anyone knows how to do sequels, it's Lucas.

Once it got going either the CGI became smoother, or I got used to it. What can you do -- you can't go blowing up a ton of vintage aircraft! The Tuskegee Airmen was noticeably hampered by a relatively small cast and number of aircraft in the air, which Red Tails' CGI rectified.

I thought Red Tails was an excellent retelling of the story that did honor to the original film, and to the actual airmen. The film established and developed the many distinct characters clearly, and made you actually feel for them. There was also a good sense of ambiance, in part because of Ridley Scott's script (I really liked the ambiance in his Three Kings).The acting was excellent, all round, without a single wrong note.

Compare this to the numerous faults of a parallel story: Memphis Belle - 1990. What bothered me especially was the anachronism, that it just didn't get the feel of the period right -- a real challenge with historical films. Yet Red Tails succeeds effortlessly, without gimmicks; the characters seem to fit the period.

The Red Tails storyline took a different path from the original film and brought in new elements, like the German prison camp and the German jet fighters, but also repeated some nice elements from the original. With so many Tuskegee airmen, there was probably material for several more hours. Lucas originally conceived of this as a trilogy, and began work before The Tuskegee Airmen was released.

There was some exciting flying action. I see complaints about exaggeration of the actual planes' performance capabilities, and here we get back to the CGI. But, it's Hollywood, and not a documentary, so you've got to suspend some disbelief, which isn't too difficult, since the Tuskegee airmen were among the best, so we know they must have done some pretty fancy flying. Quit whining, and get over it.

However, this isn't The Natural as fighter ace; bullets did rip through planes and hit pilots; planes crashed and buddies died. The CGI helped bring this home. I don't like gratuitous blood and gore, but here it brought a dose of reality to the story. Also, the musical score did a good job of complementing the action and heightening the emotions.

The only element I thought was a bit off was Lightning getting into the one-man brawl in the "white" officers's club, shortly after a date; a guy in love isn't usually so angry. But there was an historical element to it: trainees did get arrested for entering a white officers' club in Indiana. And the Little incident tied in nicely with the scene near the end of the movie.

I see some complaints about the portrayal of the Germans. What portrayal? A fighter pilot's face through the plane's canopy? The German prison camp wasn't unfair. However, the actual black pilot who was shot down was treated with considerable respect by the Germans, which wasn't shown in the film (he also didn't escape). But remember this is a George Lucas old fashioned Hollywood movie, with good guys (the Americans) and bad guys (the Germans). Don't like it? Don't start wars!

(I haven't read all the reviews, and have to assume there are also some complaints from the Brits about the film not giving the British credit for actually making the greater sacrifice in winning the war, which they do with every American WWII movie. And so, on behalf of my countrymen, I would like to apologize for America winning the war. It won't happen again.)

I was surprised by the American bombing mission over Berlin so late in the war, but I confused it with the British bombing of Berlin way back around 1940 or 41, I think. NPR has a piece about a Tuskeegee Airmen reunion on the 2011 anniversary of the bombing run with interviews, and several other related stories and photos.

Red Tails is a very good film, and it's a very good story. The Tuskegee airmen did the right thing in the face of incredible pressure and adversity. By the end of the war, they had earned the respect of their peers. And they were recognized by history for their truly noble deeds, a little late, but at least for many, within their lifetimes. NPR calls them "rock stars of American history."

As such, they provide a lesson for all of us, black or white or whatever, and especially young people: Do what's right, without expecting to be rewarded or even recognized. And, eventually, right will win out. In the current state of the world, with so much divisiveness and negativity, it is a timely lesson.


* Actually, according to Wikipedia, it's the other way around: Star Wars action was based on actually footage of WWII dogfights.

  • At the very end of the very copious credits I noticed something surprising: "Additional photography shot on the Canon 5D and 7D" -- consumer DSLRs. I wonder what scenes? Perhaps aboard planes?

Perhaps it wasn't just the CGI that bothered me. The whole film was shot on digital cameras, and, ironically, the imperfections of film look more real to me. To me, the perfection of digital looks too good to be true.
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The Tuskegee Airmen (1995 TV Movie)
Historical fiction by a real Tuskegee Airman
11 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
There was a time when I had never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but that was long ago, before this movie came out 20 years ago. I knew the basic facts from various sources, so the movie held no big surprises. But for those unfamiliar with the story, it will come as a revelation.

The movie repeats the myth that no bombers were lost to enemy aircraft while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen. At the time, 1995, this was still believed to be true. But around 2004-2007, studies found 27 bombers were, in fact lost, still well below the average of 46 by comparable P-51 fighter groups.

More astonishing to me is that they took on the new German ME 262 jet fighters and the ME 163 Komet rocket-powered fighters in a raid over Germany, shooting down three jets in one day! Now that would have been an exciting scene for the movie.

I've been reading a book on the history of WWII, "Roosevelt's Centurions," and the movie's presentation of the issue of racism in the military seems to get the balance about right. It is so sad to look back upon the racial segregation in the American military in WWII, given we were fighting fascists who were racists. The movie makes this point well, especially with the accurate point of the preferential treatment of German POWs. But our Allies were often even more racist in their treatment toward black GIs overseas, so it was not as easy to solve as it might appear in hindsight.

One of the interesting consequences of segregation was that the Army trained 16,000 black support personnel, along with black medical personnel, gunners and navigators. So it provided a skilled foundation for later military desegregation, ordered by President Truman in 1948.

Roosevelt was constrained by political considerations, but his wife was not. Eleanor was quite a remarkable lady. Actually, during a visit to the Tuskegee Institute, she flew with the civilian flight instructor, C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson, not one of the recruits. (There's a photo of the two on Wikipedia.)

Wikipedia: "In 1940, Anderson was recruited by the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to serve as the Chief Civilian Flight Instructor for its new program to train black pilots." This might explain the mystery of why the Army located this program in the Deep South. It sounds like the Institute was anticipating the war.

Anderson had solid credentials: He created the Civilian Pilot Training for Howard University, Washington, D.C. in the late Thirties. Ironically, Anderson's flight instructor was the German-born Ernest H. Buehl, Sr. "Under Buehl's tutelage and personal insistence, in February 1932, Anderson became the first African American to receive an air transport pilot's license from the Civil Aeronautics Administration."

The Tuskegee Airmen, like some other HBO historical movies -- Warm Springs and Truman -- is entertaining and thought provoking. It is historical fiction, not a documentary, but it seems to portray the historical period accurately. The original story was written by Captain Robert W. Williams, the fellow from Ottumwa, Iowa, who corresponded to Hannibal Lee, played by Laurence Fishburne. Aside from Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., all the other characters are composites.

Here is the tally of sacrifice by the Tuskegee Airmen, from Wikipedia:

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946. 355 were deployed overseas, and 84 lost their lives in accidents or combat. The toll included 68 pilots killed in action or accidents, 12 killed in training and non-combat missions and 32 captured as prisoners of war.

We owe all of the Tuskegee Airmen a debt of gratitude.
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What Sink the Bismark! could have been!
27 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I really, truly enjoyed watching this film, which I hadn't ever heard of, except for references in To Sink the Bismark!. This, indeed, is what the Bismark! could have been.

I see that some viewers didn't like it, and found the British officers standing around on the deck doing nothing boring. I thought it was amusing. What do you expect them to do on the open sea, hour after hour, day after day?

What was great about this movie was that it was not predictable, not formulaic and jingoistic like Bismark! It was surprisingly modern in its values and acting, a bit like Three Kings.

The weak spot was perhaps the portrayal of the South Americans in the background during the radio broadcasts, but I think this was intended to display the absurdity of the carnival atmosphere. Speaking of which, it reminded me strongly of the opening of Woody Allen's Bananans, where television is broadcasting live the assassination of a banana republic dictator, who was the only one not in on the secret. Could this be the inspiration?

Apparently, the movie portrays the key players accurately, and there were seamen involved who were advisers to the film - I think including Capt. Dove.

What makes this movie shine is the intriguing characters, most of all Captain Langsdorff. What was he thinking, what were his deep motives?

Spoiler alert.

The ending brings this into sharp contrast, though the movie's ending leaves things open, though the historical ending fills in this gap. We are left to ponder why he did what he did. I have my own theories, and I think that deep down, he did not want to return to Nazi Germany, and wanted to spare his crew from this.

I strongly suggest watching this together with Bismark! They have similar themes. In the 50s and early 60s, part of British cinema was extremely conservative, politically and cinematically, and was way, way behind the times, creatively. Bismark! exemplifies that, and looks more like a 1942 movie than 1960.

The British and American viewing office didn't complain. But from today's perspective, Bismark! was a missed opportunity at a great film, a potential demonstrated years earlier by the Graf Spee.

Compared to the Graf Spee, Bismark! is hopelessly boring but good for you, much like oatmeal.

I think Graf Spee holds up very well by modern standards of acting and directing. It is also a fitting memorial to Captain Langsdorff, who acted, in the end, honorably.
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Bismark sunk by British bias, major inaccuracies, muddled story
26 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The behemoth Bismark epitomizes the folly of German thinking during WWII. Build the biggest battleship with guns that could shoot farther than the enemy's and Germany could knock them out before they could touch the Bismark. Sounds great, in theory, but the idea was one war too late. It would have worked in WWI, but by WWII there were aircraft capable of knocking out ships.

The biplanes and flying boats used against Bismark are antediluvian compared to the aircraft carrier planes used later in the war, and yet the Bismark couldn't knock them out of the sky. What's wrong with this picture, readers? Modern civilian viewers know, so why couldn't the German military anticipate this?

Answer: Conceit. But it was not without reason: The Bismark had the advantage of Krupp steel for its plating and enormous guns.

The movie uses Admiral Günther Lütjens to voice this conceit, when actually he was the one urging caution, recommending that Bismark stay in port until she could be accompanied by three other ships.

In hindsight we can see that even the world's largest battleship needs to be accompanied by an aircraft carrier for defense. So Sink the Bismark! is interesting from a historical perspective as the end of the dominance of battleships.

The story is told largely from the perspective of Capt. Shepard (whom we learn after the credits never existed, and "in no way" depicts Capt. R.A.B. Edwards, the actual director of operations). As such, it follows the model of Command Decision and 12 O'Clock High in showing that caring people had to learn to shut off feelings and thoughts about the men who would inevitably die.

The key here is that it was thought imperative to sink Bismark before she attacked convoys, and that she might be invincible in the open sea (sort of a German Titanic). I'm not sure this point was driven home fully, perhaps because viewers at the time knew this, though Churchill's phone call did underscore the point.

This urgency is what drives the film, but I don't think the movie explains the danger adequately. It assumes the viewers at the time knew the background of the Bismark. I remember the old Johnny Horton 45 rpm single, whose lyrics set up the drama better than the movie. (Why didn't they insert it at the beginning of the movie?)

As a modern viewer, I am annoyed by the cartoonish characterization of Admiral Lütjens. It makes him look conceited, impulsive, heartless. He is a rabid Nazi who addresses the crew as fellow Nazis, when, in fact, the military were forbidden by law from joining political parties, including the Nazi Party. This propagandistic error could be forgiven in movies made during the war, but 15 years after it was a cheap shot.

The real Admiral Lütjens was quite different, according to Wikipedia:

"While in command of personnel department (of the German Navy) he did nothing to enforce the Nuremberg Laws on race in the Kriegsmarine. In November 1938, Lütjens was one of only three flag officers, including Dönitz, who protested in writing to Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the navy, against the anti- Jewish Kristallnacht pogroms."

Lütjens wasn't a conscientious objector like Captain von Trapp, but he certainly deserves to be treated with more than the usual respect. Protesting Nazi policies from within the navy takes at least as much courage as leaving the country to avoid military service.

The movie has one of the British officers state that their big advantage is the conceit and foolishness of the German military leaders, such as Lütjens. Actually, their big advantage was the conceit and foolishness of Adolf Hitler.

I am not a naval historian, but it seems the invincibility of the Bismark was over-rated. The Bismark's sister ship, the Tirpitz, spent a significant part of the war at anchor under camouflage in Norway before being sunk in 1944. Apparently, the Germans realized that the enemy knew their Achilles had a vulnerability in the heel: the rudder.

And then there's the matter of the "sinking." In the movie, the Brits keep launching torpedoes until she goes down. In the end, the Germans scuttled her, a view backed up by modern underwater examination of the wreck.

The movie portrays the British rescuing survivors. History says the ship left before picking up all survivors, claiming a U boat maybe might have been sighted.

Another nit to pick is that the decision by Lütjens to return to France for repairs was never explained, instead showing him wanting to tough it out with leaking fuel. If the Bismark needed repairs, Brest was the place to go, so the decision by Kenneth More character was not such a gamble. Plus, we know now that he had access to Enigma code messages.

So, combining the facts that the central character, Captain Shepard, was fictional, Admiral Lütjens might as well have been fictional given the inaccuracies, the invincibility and superiority of the Bismark was not fully explained, the invincible Bismark had an Achille's heal at the rudder, and the Brits didn't sink Bismark so much as disable her, that doesn't leave a lot of meat on the bones of this story.

From my perspective, the best part of the story is seeing Edward R. Murrow re-enact his role as CBS war correspondent from London.

It is sad is that this story is hurt largely by British bias. Perhaps it could be improved by a remake. (James "This is Not a Disaster Flick" Cameron, are you listening? "Bismark -- The Hottest Love Story Ever Told!!!")

However, what remains is the Bismark as a monument to Nazi Germany's foolhardy confidence, much as Colonial Britain was convinced of the unsinkability of its Titanic, and its empire.
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Peter Pan (1960 TV Special)
The only critic that counts here is the child
16 July 2014
I don't even have to re-watch Peter Pan to rate it; all that counts is experience of a small child sitting in front of a black and white TV more than 50 years ago, and that child rated it as perfect, right up there with Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz.

Peter Pan was written and performed for children, and with the advent of television, it reached into the hearts of virtually all baby-boomers like me. A book could probably be written about what effect it had upon our generation, particularly the hippies of the Sixties.

Now I am old, or at least my body is beginning to show some of its age. I am sometimes a bit more absentminded than before. But in my heart there is still an ageless youth. I, like Peter, vowed not to grow old, and I haven't. What I have learned is that the soul is ageless.

But that is not entirely what Peter was talking about. He wanted to hold onto eternal childhood. That, I have lost; the door closed long ago with adolescence and adulthood. Peter warned us. I think we knew he was right, and as we became teens, we watched helplessly as our childhood faded (perhaps that's why some of us turned to illicit drugs). It is still a surprise how little we can really remember of the experience of childhood, and how lost is that sense of play, fantasy, wonder. How sad and dead is the adult world by comparison.

But when I put on that old 1960 television version of Peter Pan and listened to Mary Martin sing some of those songs, I was transported back to my childhood home, the snug happiness of a good, old-fashioned protected childhood of the 50s and 60s. My heart ached and my eyes teared. How many times I had seen this version of Peter Pan on TV. I had even seen a live performance, complete with actors flying on wires, somewhere off Broadway. To me, THIS is Peter Pan, not the Disney version or any other movie. Watching this as a child, you really believed you could learn to fly.

Now, to an adult's eye, the acting and sets must appear hopelessly inadequate, and crying out of CGI. But children don't need fancy sets when they have fantasy, for they can make forts out of piles of leaves. There is a lot of bad acting in children's movies, but this is an example of how it should be done for small children, at least with a fantasy subject. It is like reading a book to a child.

The music is perfect, creating just the right emotional response. I see Leodard Bernstein gets some of the credit, though I am not clear how much. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for Hershy Kay you will see that he was the collaborator and orchestrator for Bernstein on several projects, including this.

During Bernstein's lifetime, Kay didn't get much credit. I was told by someone who knew both of them well (the chairman of the music department of Columbia Univeristy), that Kay did most of the work, while Bernstein just sketched out some tunes, and this includes Westside Story. In other words, Bernstein paid Kay to do the orchestration and keep quiet, while he took all the credit. But the Broadway pros knew the real story. I mention this because I am not sure how much of the record has been corrected.

This, of course, is the sort of thing we adults worry about. It's amazing how much adults can find to argue about in America these day. And look at all the crazy wars and conflicts going on around the world. Sometimes adults can sure act like little children, and not in a good way.

As to the video quality, I can't complain because I, like 99 percent of America, watched this originally on a B&W set, with far less detail than today's digital video. And children are pretty easy critics to please, or at least they were way back then.

I could see taking this material and music and remaking it so it would be more effective for older kids and adults, if only they would stick relatively close to the original -- something most remakes don't do. The Disney animated version just leaves me cold, and the various movie versions I've seen over the years were at best OK. The key is retaining the focus on childhood fantasy, something most adults simply can't do. And that is the the strength of this version.

There is a reason for adults to watch this: Mary Martin. She created so many roles on Broadway that were later made into movies, but rarely appeared in movies, herself. I suspect her style worked better on the stage, but here, on this television recreation of the Broadway who, it is perfect.
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An unpretentious Western that delivers
14 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
To call this a "B Western" is to do it an injustice. B Westerns were long on action, shooting, horse chases and short on acting, and, most of all, character development. And they were intended as second billing to an A feature.

Rawhide Years has solid acting all around, and some truly enjoyable singing (and fine acting) from Colleen Miller. Tony Curtis delivers a relaxed, low-keyed performance in the manner of Hitchcock's dictum: Don't act! The result is some remarkably good acting for the Fifties.

The movie is similarly low-keyed, and delivers a pleasant, interesting tale. There is a bit of a who-dunit in the river pirates that puts some meat on the plot, and there is character development to the Curtis role that shows a con man with a conscience who becomes a cowpoke and, ultimately, a man.

The Arthur Kennedy character has an even stronger element of character development, and the twists add greatly to the story's interest. Kennedy's is, indeed, the most interesting acting.

And then there is Peter van Eyck, the bad guy almost to the point of caricature -- Boo! Hiss! -- at least by the end of the movie. He all but ties Zoe to the railroad tracks. I kept having to double check that I wasn't seeing Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles. I suspect Korman was parodying van Eyck -- and there is some resemblance.

There is no strong moralizing here, just an entertaining story. If there is any lesson, it is that appearances can be deceiving, and it can be hard to know who your friends are. The opening, where the crew of the riverboat mistakes some logs for pirates hints at this, as does the Kennedy character.

Rawhide Years has a good storyline that keeps moving and keeps your attention. In the end, the story ties the threads together nicely. It is not a great movie, just a good, solid, entertaining one, and that's all it sets out to be.
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Does not stand the test of time
6 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Save yourself the trouble. There is nothing to see here you probably haven't before, and better, especially if you have seen High Noon.

With the corny opening theme song by Dimitri Tiomkin, it is painfully obvious that this is going to be a second rate attempted sequel to High Noon. The scenes of trees amid the hilly desert brush are virtually identical, except this version is in wide screen color -- and minus the political moralizing that torqued off the conservatives.

It worked at the time, judging from the box office. And why not? Wide screen color spectacles were still new in the Fifties, and it wasn't bad enough to leave the theater. But today we have the pause and eject buttons. I made it through to the end, but only with great difficulty and frequent use of the pause button.

Unlilke High Noon, I just didn't care about the characters. There was no coherent thread to the story, just a series of events, until about an hour in we finally shift to Tombstone. Then the dialog perks up, and the score starts to imitate a Rachmaninoff symphony.

Spoiler alert:

And then there is a gunfight. At the O.K. Corral.

If there is any reason to watch this movie it is to see some of the secondary players in off-character roles: namely Frank Faylen, the father of Dobie Gillis and taxi driver in It's a Wonderful LIfe; and Dennis Hopper as the baby faced Billy Clanton.

Look, any movie with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas can't be all bad, but this one comes close because their hearts don't really seem to be in their roles.

The most interesting scene is watching Kirk Douglas shave. I mean, just how does he shave that cavernous dimple? We see him whisk a straight razor across his face and, presto, no stubble -- and no bloody nicks. He tells Earp: "I like a sharp razor." Right. Call me a cynic, but that was no more a real razor than they were using real bullets.

Still, it is of some cinematic historical interest, mainly for its influence on the spoof "Support Your Local Sheriff." And the bit where the bad guy is swinging from a chandelier seems to have been the inspiration for a similar scene in Gremlins.

I'm giving this a 5, but if you try to imagine it without Burt and Kirk, and only have the anemic plot and script, it is down to a 4 or 3. Heck, I only finished watching it an hour ago, and I can barely remember the first half.
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Stands the test of time
29 June 2014
I didn't watch this when it came out, thinking it sounded lightweight, with a totally improbable plot. I finally gave it a spin after hearing it quoted on NPR, the part where the Dukes teach Commodities for Kiddies to Eddie Murphy.

Look, this is a pretty dumb movie that splices together ideas from many different sources. The characters are cartoonish and the plot leaks like a sieve. Yet, out of it all comes something reasonably creative and entertaining.

In short, I enjoyed it. And I do not suffer foolish movies gladly.

Why did it work?

  • Skilled comedic acting all around. We've got some early Saturday Night Live alumni, including a current U.S. Senator who actually did graduate from Harvard (who plays a really dumb baggage handler), and some genuine, seasoned actors in Don Ameche (who's previous film was with Jamie Lee's father), Ralph Bellamy and Denholm Elliott. I think the actors were having fun, and it rubs off on the audience.

  • I actually cared about and liked the main characters: Akroyd, Murphy, Curtis, et al. - - this despite being highly unrealistic.

  • Good pacing. The plot pulls you along fast enough that you never have time to think about how stupid it is (well, not too much).

More important, the film gets you to suspend disbelief early on. The opening scenes of Philadelphia are the most realistic part of the movie, and helped along with a loud dose of Mozart -- highly reminiscent of "Hopscotch."

At about 4 minutes in we meet Winthorpe and see him go to work. He is obnoxious, and Akroyd's acting is not realistic, but the movie isn't either, so he is setting the tone. In essence, Landis is telling the audience: This ain't Shakespeare, despite the Mozart. Take it or leave it. He is also setting the quality bar low, so it can only get better, and it does. Smart. (Akroyd's acting becomes more genuine later in the movie, and he did a fine job in Driving Miss Daisy).

Then at 6 minutes we meet the Duke brothers in their sprawling estate (filmed on Long Island) and the tone becomes that of a fable, a la Prince and the Pauper. At 9 minutes, Eddie Murphy does his Porgy thing pretending to be a lame beggar. The Dukes beat him with a briefcase, yet the absurdity of the acting brings a smile to your face. At 10 minutes, the Dukes enter their private club, and I'm hooked.

About 50 minutes in we feel like we're in a 1980s version of It's a Wonderful Life, as Winthorpe tries to go home and his butler pretends not to know him. There's something eternal in that theme.

We're dealing here with a particular genre that may be foreign to 21st century viewers: 1970s Saturday Night Live alumni, Animal House, Blues Brothers, etc. Blues Brothers is by far the strongest - a classic! So contemporary viewers had a sense of what to expect.

Yet Trading Places stands the test of time because we all (or most of us) like a nice story of revenge on mean, old rich people. Events in the news have only strengthened this theme. The ending is sweet.
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The People's Choice (1955–1958)
Patricia Breslin
7 June 2014
Patricia Breslin, I loved you. Sure, it was puppy love, but what do you expect? I was only 2 to 5 years old during the original broadcast of "People's Choice," but I was precocious. And besides, I mainly watched you in re-runs from the NYC television stations in the early 1950s, so I was probably at least 6.

And then there was your co-staring role in "Crooked Road," on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a show I will never forget, along with Walther Mathau as the crooked deputy. By the time you appeared on The Twilight Zone, season 4, "No Time Like the Past," I was truly ready to appreciate your maternal charms. You were the mother I always wished I had had.

Now, when I happen upon a vision of you on a wonderful old television time capsule, it as though I were in love with you all over for the first time. I wonder how many thousands, nay millions, of once young American males feel the same way about you?

You, Patricia Breslin, are my ideal, the virginal girl of my pre- pubescent fantasies, a woman I shall always seek, and never find, except in my dreams.

Unless, of course, I find a way to travel back in time. Somewhere. In time. Must go back. Focus! Concentrate! Ohio. Or is it Willoughby? Whatever.
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