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Columbo: Identity Crisis (1975)
Several have commented that the murderer gives up too easily.
Well - whatever the verdict of a jury Columbo has anyway proved that he is a double-agent who has killed one of the Agency's best operators. The murderer is finished whether a jury would convict him or not. Given that McGoohan delivers a splendidly world-weary performance the murderer may not even mind too much!
Some fine acting and direction here and the settings for most of the scenes are very attractive. If you like the average Columbo then you will love this. If you don't like the average Columbo then why are you reading this?
The Sea Wolves (1980)
This movie really is an oddity - as others have noted its hard to see it being made now and it was pretty odd to see it being made then. However, I'd encourage folk to watch it as its an old-fashioned yarn featuring some splendid cameos from a strong cast of supporting actors. As for the stars - well Messrs Niven, Peck and Moore aren't perhaps stretched too much but they do enough to show just why they were the stars. I think its called 'screen presence'. Peck's accent - a plucky effort and far from the worst I've heard.
A few minor points Why was the film made? Am I alone in suspecting that the director had a key role? Andy McLaglen had a penchant for casting favourite actors (a John Ford influence) and a scenario like this with ample opportunity to cast screen veterans would have appealed. He was also the son of the redoubtable Anglo-Irish actor Victor McLagan, an old soldier who (as you'll find elsewhere on IMDb)in the 1930s organised a semi-militaristic polo club called the 'Light Horse Brigade'. A coincidence - surely not, it must have appealed to McLaglen to publicise the story of another 'Light Horse' that did get to 'do its bit'.
On the German resistance. These were not crack Nazi stormtroopers - they were mainly merchant sailors (tho some would have had naval experience). They were also taken by surprise in a neutral port where they were happily sitting out the duration. Given those circumstances they put up a rather good fight in the film - and its to be noted four German survivors of the raid were advisers on the movie.
On people being shot in the arm. Were they supposed to invent extra British characters so they could kill them? On the whiskey - its the men's cover if the raid went off half-cocked as was quite possible.
On the dedication - Mountbatten was the wartime commander in the area of operations including the Indian Ocean. Being made so soon after his murder it must have appealed to McLaglen (British-born of Protestant Irish stock) to remind the viewers again that not all old soldiers get to live out their retirement peacefully. We should also recall the two teenage boys (one of them local) and the 83-year old woman killed along with Mountbatten in that terrorist atrocity.
Finally, I like the closing moments when the men are gazing at the burning ships. No champagne, no cheers, no high fives - just a comment of 'poor devils'.
I have to say that I'm enjoying Funland on BBC2(I live in one of the large areas of the country where digital TV remains unavailable)and I didn't really have that high hopes for it.
It is extremely strange - and some of the grotesque features are over the top (an editor should have been more in evidence at times) - but I want to know if there actually is a plot (rather like Lost!) so I keep watching despite suspecting all the questions may never be answered.
I think we have some fine little acting gems in there - Philip Jackson (Finch) is of course excellent as ever but also mentions in dispatches for Sarah Smart (Lola), Ian Puleston-Davies (Shirley) and Judy Parfitt (Mercy). Frances Barber (Connie) was rather wasted but you can't have everything
Most of all however it has made me laugh - and that strangely enough is something the League of Gentlemen never did...
You win some and you lose some
I'm a big fan of Peter Falk and his Columbo series - any showing is a must-see for me even where I have already viewed them a dozen times before since they aren't who-dunnits and Falk always gives a performance worth watching. Sad to say I think this is one of the two or three very disappointing episodes. Falk plays Columbo at half-speed, his two side-kicks are one (most would say two) too many, Vaughan has nothing to do and so ends up doing nothing, but most of all the pace of the first hour of the movie is far too slow.
So what went wrong. I suspect here we have a director trying for a twist on the Columbo formula - which is OK, it made sense to throw an off-speed delivery occasionally - and also experimenting with 'improvisation' by the actors. As we all know that sometimes comes off and sometimes crashes and burns horribly. In this case sadly the latter. The little quirky scenes in Columbo movies are a delight - but here almost the whole movie is made up of such scenes and so the plot gets horribly lost.
It should come as no surprise to fans of the Columbo genre that the director was Patrick McGoohan. A brave experimental director and actor - and here in 1976 given the opportunity to try something out. Sadly it doesn't work. However, given his fine performances in 4 other Columbo movies - and his fine direction in four other than this -I'm still a fan!
A Man Called Horse (1970)
Dated but seen in context...
This wasn't the first Western to be sympathetic to native American culture - but it was unusual in that respect. And compared to Dances with Wolves or Little Big Man it was far more honest in that respect - showing the bad as well as the good. Plains Native Americans lived a tough life-style. The film makes some mistakes in portraying Dakota culture - and some over-simplifications - but I can let those pass in the context - its a movie not a doctoral thesis.
So to the big problem - the casting. The lack of native Americans in the main native American roles is a big issue here. This would be a 10 for me if it had been addressed. We have Fijians, Australians and even 'Americans' in the roles - but would the film have been made at this time otherwise? I'm also not sure - but the (at the time) small pool of native American film actors may have been denuded by the fact Little Big Man and Soldier Blue were made at about the same time. Perhaps I'm being over-generous there though. As for Iron Eyes Cody - well everyone(?) thought he was the real deal. LOL.
My namesake Andrew has made some cogent criticisms and I'll answer a few of them. First, the Harris character is not sympathetic - in my view that's a strength of the film. Also don't fall into the trap that all English (or Welsh - he is Morgan!) noblemen were effete. Our colonial history is littered with folk from privileged backgrounds proving they were tougher than you might think. However, I suspect his lordship's feet might have been an issue...
On the Sun Vow - the film makes a good effort and Batiste makes it clear that this is a lengthy ceremony - not a few minutes. Its also clear the Dakota are worshipping the spirit of the sun - not the sun. Its animism not sun-worship. Others are more expert than I to comment on the true nature of Dakota religion. As for Harris's speech at the ceremony - listen to what he is saying again.
On to the portrayal of warfare. Yes Indian warfare was traditionally small raiding. But this is circa 1826 and western influences had crept in by this point. The Fox and Illinois Wars were frankly genocidal and were far from the only case of Native Americans being encouraged to eliminate 'troublesome Indians' by outside influences. The Iroquois earlier hadn't needed too much training... Its not too much of a stretch to see the Shoshone in such a role. As for the lines of warriors putting the Shoshone to flight - ahem. A bit of a far stretch... Don't assume disorganised fighters always beat organised ones - the history of the world proves otherwise.
Finally, a word for Jean Gascon - the Quebecois playing the metis Batiste. A lovely little performance - whatever you think of his hairstyle. LOL
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
A quirky but funny movie
Its the sort of idea that inevitably gets tried out as soon as it becomes technically possible. Inter-cutting classic film noir with contemporary work to produce a comedy film. Usually such ideas come a serious cropper - as was proved (as others have stated) by Zelig. However, this film hits it right on the mark. The design and editing allow for seamless cutting between the old and the new footage. The script is good and has the right level of absurd humour to make the film work. I'm not a fan of Steve Martin but its impossible to imagine anyone else matching this performance. Rachel Ward is beautiful and sassy. Its a film of its time - just made in time to catch the costume and musical talent of the past before they departed from the scene but made before the sort of hi-tech morphing and cgi which would have ruined its feel.
If you haven't seen it then watch it - if you have seen it then watch it again. This definitely rewards repeated viewings. Its no Citizen Kane but it is darned good entertainment if you share my sense of humour...
North West Frontier (1959)
An ignored masterpiece
As someone else said - they certainly don't make them like this any more! A strong script brought to life by some of the best character actors of the period. Full of excitement with strong moments of pathos and uncringeworthy moments of sentiment.
I have to comment on those who feel this is an imperialist romp. It is far more intelligent than that. The British characters may express imperialist sentiments but Van Leyden is allowed to refute them. That Van Leyden is revealed as the villain does not negate his arguments - he is not presented as a fanatic, just as a man on the other side for every bit as good reasons as the British are on theirs. Remember that whatever its setting this film is very much POST-Raj. Scott is also made hopelessly sexist (as his character would be) while Bacall's character is allowed to refute him. Its a subtle script - and shouldn't be under-estimated! Several reviews have referred to I.S.Johar as Gupta. It is a very fine performance. His character may be 'cringing' but forelock-tugging hadn't got a colour bar at the time when this movie is set. When roused Gupta is quite ready to stand up to Scott or most anyone else! It is also perfectly apparent that without his skills all on the train are doomed - his comments on the massacre are poignant especially when one recalls that the actor was born in what is now Pakistan. Train massacres were a terrible feature of the partition period with all religious groups suffering terribly.
Oh and what a cast. One expects top notch performances from the likes of More, Bacall, Lom and Hyde-White and we aren't let down. Eugene Deckers is very fine as the cynical arms merchant and Ursula Jeans (a child of the Raj herself) is a second strong female character to complement Bacall.
Oh and it has a happy ending too...
633 Squadron (1964)
I have a feeling this isn't the only time that Cliff Robertson played the trans-Atlantic star beefing up a late British war movie for the US market. However, Cliff is NOT playing a British squadron leader! There were a large number of Canadian and Australian flyers in British squadrons during WWII. We also have the fleeting appearance in the movie of an Indian pilot. I suspect Cliff is representing a Canadian - though there were also a few US volunteers flying in the RAF in WWII (as late as 1944 and in a bomber I'm not so sure about - but its not totally impossible!) The real casting problem is George Chakiris. Very Greek/Italian and not at all Norwegian in appearance or accent! Also he lacks the screen presence or acting ability of Robertson. Considering his sister's looks I can only assume that there was a Greek milkman in that Norwegian town in the 1930s! Maria Perschy looks suitably Norwegian (and stunning) and doesn't try too hard for an accent otherwise than educated English - which considering she was Austrian may well have been a very good thing! Oh but the film has real flying scenes of Mosquitos and a flying score to match the Dambusters March so its a film worth watching. The lack of CGI is a huge bonus (though it does present us with some very dodgy models in action and the memory they destroyed a few real Mosquitos making the film). It also has one of the most stirring old-fashioned closing lines in film history delivered as only Harry Andrews could.
So I'd recommend watching it with critical facilities on 'mute' - enjoy what's there to be enjoyed and ignore the rest of it!!!
The Way West (1967)
Over long but some good set-pieces
An attempt at an epic old-style Western from a journeyman director - he made a better stab at it later with Chisum. Perhaps its the lack of John Wayne and the rest of the John Ford rep but this is a film of striking set-pieces separated by far too much time! Douglas and Widmark both do some stirring scenery-chewing but this is a melodrama so that is allowed. Mitchum is laid-back and laconic as only Mitchum could be - and looks wonderful as ever. Not sure why others were surprised to see him in a Western - Mitchum made his share and some very good ones too (El Dorado, Five Card Stud and Bandido are all favourites of mine). The Fort Hall sequence is fun - just as a reminder that the Sioux and the French weren't the only folks that got there before the Americans! ;-)
Old Style Western entertainment
One of the last of the old-style Westerns (it always amazes me that it was made as late as it was). John Wayne doing his stuff as only he can - huge shoot-outs, classic fist fights, goodies and baddies amazingly clearly defined, thumping score, oh and that amazing landscape.
If you like Wayne you'll love this, if you don't then you'll hate it. Simple as that. Ben Johnson is superb - as ever, a much underrated character actor.
Someone mentioned the 'silly' title song. I have to disagree. I love those amazingly long opening titles and the grandiose pomposity of the theme tune and its voice-over. All moving into that classic opening shot of Wayne like an immovable great rock on horseback and the horizon. Probably (no definitely) my favourite opening to a movie.
True to history - if it ever is then its by accident. But what do you expect - its a classic old-style western! Finally, was this the last US movie to feature characters with (allegedly) British accents as heroes. ;-)