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BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!
Note: If anyone on this list dies after 19/06/2012, they shall not be replaced.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Million-Word Picture
For those of you whom are unfamiliar with the story of 'Dorian Gray', you really need to read more. It is only one of the most inspired and intelligent tales ever committed to paper! Seriously, you really ought to be ashamed of yourself. Go to your nearest book depository and purchase a copy of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' post haste to ameliorate your grievous error. GO NOW!!
But I digress. In Oscar Wilde's original novella, the mordancy and erosiveness of his captivating and ingenious wit circumvented the tired tropes of Victorian Gothicism and permitted the more philosophical Faustian themes of the tale to take centre stage. It was that perfect amalgamation of the irreverent and the meditative that convinced me to name the book as the greatest literary work of all time; and it was the refined visual style of director Albert Lewin that finally - after viewing a total of six meager adaptations of the novella - satisfied my high standards for the book's adaptation. Certainly, the film does not have an efflorescent effect on its source material (man cannot reach a higher standard of perfection than that which is seen in Wilde's novella), but it does as much justice to it as is physically possible.
There is so much to commend about this film that it can be rather a daunting task to do justice to its multitude of virtuous qualities. Perhaps it would be best to compartmentalise the film under three banners:
1) Mise en scene
Not much really needs to be written about Harry Strandling Jr.'s cinematography. Its 'deep focus' meticulousness is really just breathtaking and, although I dare not belittle the talents of the brilliant Gregg Toland, markedly more sophisticated than the comparatively fastidious imagery of Orson Wells' flawed masterpiece 'Citizen Kane'. The brilliance of the production design is equally apparent, with Dorian Gray's baroque apartment being possibly one of the most attractive fictitious properties I have ever seen in my life. The editing, too, is excellent; with not a single scene overstaying it's welcome and not a single rough transition or continuity gap to speak of. What is admittedly less impressive than these features, though, is the score by Herbert Stothart. Despite a nice oriental influence, it really is just another pedestrian Old Hollywood musical arrangement. Fortunately, to alleviate this minor flaw Lewin repeatedly plays Chopin's 'Prelude' (to the point that it becomes an important plot device).
The great Hurd Hatfield (who?) portrays the titular character and, despite playing Gray quite differently from how he's depicted in the book, does a wonderful job. In much the same way that Buster Keaton and Keanu Reeves fail at conveying emotion, Hatfield inexplicably succeeds as his simultaneously wide and hawkish eyes offer the viewer an ingress into the clinical mind of a sociopathic Satanist (or Egyptian feline worshiper). George Sanders is even better as the poisonous Lord Henry Wotton, whose hedonistic charm has a lot to answer for after the tragic unfolding of this ghoulish tale. Peter Lawford is slightly awkward as David, but luckily that's what the script called for; whilst Donna Reed and Lowell Gilmore are solid in their respective roles as Gladys and Basil Hallward (uncle and niece). The standout performer, however, is Angela Lansbury, whose angelic presence on screen fuels one of the film's most aggressive emotional blows. An Oscar nomination well deserved let me assure you.
The screenplay for 'The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)' is stupefyingly underrated. It is terrifically paced, classically structured, and often extremely suspenseful. To address the use of otherwise clumsy narrative techniques such as third-person narration and montages, the film, like 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' and 'The Man Who Wasn't There', is able to 'get away with it', as it were, as the events of the film are supposed to serve as catalysts for the protagonist to evolve emotionally rather than physically. In other words, the screenplay's focus is not so much on plot as it is on the journey of the individual.
Ultimately, this is a truly beautiful and intelligent film - with an extremely underrated screenplay, to boot - and one that should be remembered for eternity (or at least longer than the portrait would ideally last).
The Company You Keep (2012)
In the wake of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it's only appropriate that we should get a generic political thriller to remind us of one of the US' earlier international farces: the Vietnam War. 'The Company You Keep', directed by and starring Robert Redford (yeah, he's still alive), is that thriller.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a widowed lawyer and father who gets exposed by investigative journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) as a former member of Weather Underground (Google it) responsible for the death of a security guard during a botched bank robbery. Forced to go on the run, Grant must dodge the police as Shepard starts to doubt whether Grant is actually guilty of the guard's murder.
Seeking to combine a chase movie with a detective story, the film is bogged down by superfluous characters, caricatured villains, and a third-act that feels more like a soap-opera than a suspense picture. I wouldn't go so far as to say the film has a bad script, but it does have a clunky one. What makes this even more egregious is that 'Company' is filled to the brim with great veteran actors such as Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Julie Christie, and Susan Surandon (to name a few ), which almost always indicates that the producers have less faith in the script than they do that a Justice League film will actually be made (we all know it won't).
I don't want to make out that this was a bad film, though. In its own unambitious and minor way, it's reasonably entertaining. It could be argued that the actors alone are worth the price of admission. But I can assure you of one thing: when you leave the multiplexes after seeing this, you'll be hard pressed to remember even the last minute of it.
Me and the Big Guy (1999)
Comic Relief from Orwellian Dystopia
Whether you love it or loathe it (I am of the former category), you cannot deny that reading George Orwell's modern literary Dystopian classic is one hell of a depressing experience. The book realises every fear that one could possibly harbour against governments, feeding the reader's suspicions of 'their obedient servants' possible totalitarian tendencies and reducing them to nothing but paranoid carapaces of their former selves. Well, this little known comedy short should act as the perfect tonic for accelerating your convalescence.
'Me and the Big Guy' tells the story of Citizen 43275-B, a subject of the oppressive Oceanian regime, whom eerily celebrates his oppressed lifestyle whilst maintaining a disposition so jovial that any sane man would want to put a bullet in the back of his head within five minutes of meeting him. Each and every evening, he returns to his sterile apartment to engage in a somewhat one-sided conversation with a live, two-way video-feed of 'the Big Guy' (known by the greater populace as 'Big Brother'). One day, after Citizen 43275-B tells a story so mind- numbingly inane that even the cast of that pathetic sitcom 'Gavin and Stacy' would take offense, 'the Big Guy' vents his frustrations on this scrawny dapifer of verbal diarrhea and, after 43275-B tries to play word games and all other manner of flippant activities with the very manifestation of omniscient authoritarian callousness, permanently shuts off the surveillance feed. It is then that we learn that 43275-B is in fact a closet political dissenter and aspiring revolutionary whom has just tricked the pansophical Big Brother into switching off the telescreen. 43275-B then retrieves a hidden diary and mentally recites an alleged quotation from Jean-Paul Sartre: "So long as a man can look into the eyes of his oppressor, he is free."
It is a genuinely inspirational message (a rarity) that makes you wonder why Winston Smith just didn't feign masochistic inclinations when O'Brien was 'coercing' him into proclaiming that two plus two equals five. For that matter, why was he so blatantly morose all the time?! Surely the thought police would have been focusing their iniquitous gazes on the introverted intellectuals rather than the loud and obnoxious patriots. As Mel Brooks once said, 'if you're loud and annoying, people don't notice you'.
In terms of the short's production values and acting, I wasn't exactly mesmerised. The two principles were by no means bad, but neither did they exactly excel at playing their respective parts. Frankly though, none of that interests me here. I was just too damned inspired by that supposed quotation.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to View
THIS REVIEW IS ON THE THEATRICAL CUT OF THE FILM
Spielberg, what horror have you wrought?
Buoyed by the success of 'Jaws' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (both films that I consider to be somewhat overrated), the young auteur Steven Spielberg decided that the time was right for a vanity project. The project? A screwball WWII film littered with numbing spectacles straight out of Cecil B. Demille's period epics.
On paper, such a project boasts great potential. One cannot deny that, amid all the atrocities and horrors of the Second World War, there was an underlining sense of heightened and morbidly hilarious tragedy that, in the right hands, would be the perfect fodder for farce. It also has the added benefit of attracting the adoration of critics for it's gutsy agenda and subject matter. Yet, through the lens of one of Earth's most naturally gifted filmmakers, it is an unparalleled abomination of comedy.
If one wanted to summarise in a mere four words just what is wrong with this film, I would humbly suggest that you use these so ordained vocables: 'IT NEVER SHUTS UP!' Every single second of '1941' is filled with explosions, car crashes, plane crashes, brawling, and gun fights. I gathered that the film was supposed to be a farce, but farces only really work when one has a sense of escalating catastrophe. With '1941', there is no sense of escalation because nothing really escalates; it's uninhibitedly mad from the get-go and it's uninhibitedly mad by the end. Indeed, the only vaguely quiet scenes in this film are those featuring the villains (Toshiro Mifune and the great Christopher Lee deserve to have their name associated with a better Spielberg picture than this), and even they are sullied by a grating cameo by Slim Pickens.
The controlled and demonstrably contrived anarchy of '1941' made the hour and fifty minutes it took to watch this film feel like the longest and most grueling one hour and fifty minutes of my life. It's not that I have a distaste for screwball shenanigans, considering that almost all of my favourite comedies in some shape or form incorporate such pantomimic elements of that titanic arena of absurdity that we call farce; it's more that I dislike comedies that have almost no concept of the constitutions of a good joke. Though such a thing is considered subjective, I dare you to deny that my definition is an all-encompassing one. The constitutions, or rather constitution, of a good joke is a sharp contrast. Take any joke, good or bad, and you'll find that the reason it is either good or bad is because the contrast between two separate ideas is either elegantly or poorly highlighted.
Well, the contrast in '1941' is very, very poorly highlighted. I'm guessing, from the film's narrative, that it was something along the lines of 'War is a serious business, but the participants are adult children'. Well, it gets the 'adult children' aspect right, what with the crew of a Japanese submarine emerging from the water with a naked night swimmer on their periscope and fighter pilots blowing up the petrol stations of innocent, elderly citizens to the sound of heroic themes by John Williams; and what with US military personal rioting in Hollywood Boulevard whilst a Benny Hill sex romp ensues between a zoot suit wearing dancer and a sex-crazed soldier (that culminates in what appears to be a rape... charming) and an officer having sex with a girl he fancies as the two pilot an aeroplane over a crowded city with reckless abandon; aaannnndddd what with a platoon shooting out lights in Hollywood Boulevard whilst people are still standing beneath them just because an air raid siren has sounded and a black out has not gone into immediate effect... AND WHAT WITH civilian patrolmen stationing themselves in Ferris Wheels that can somehow roll perfectly down peers just in case any 'Japs' show up on the horizon (which of course they do).
What it doesn't do is highlight anything resembling the reality of war, something the film sorely needed to do if it wanted to get a laugh out of us during the many elaborately choreographed slapstick sequences that I'm sure cost more money than the United States presently owes to China to film. Instead, we get innumerable scenes of intricate physical comedy that seems uncertain about whether it wants to emulate Jacques Tati or 'The Three Stooges'.
Perhaps I wouldn't mind so much if the film had some colourful dialogue that I could endlessly quote to befuddled acquaintances. But it doesn't. In fact, the film has so little wit that I'd swear it was a big-budgeted 'Death at a Funeral', but then I would be doing that film a disservice for failing to acknowledge it's ability to recognise a need for contrast. The only vaguely witty jokes in this film are the ones about ethnicity, and it's a bit sad when a film that had so much money go into it can only make good jokes about such pedestrian topics.
And it's almost pitiful that the man responsible for such brilliant films as 'Duel', 'Schindler's List', and 'Minority Report' can produce something so obnoxiously unfunny. And I thought 'The Terminal' was bad...
How does he do it? How does Steven Soderbergh do it? How does he manage to turn a film with a great cast and a bloody terrifying premise into a piece of remediless tedium?! How, how, HOW?!! It's not as though he has to try very hard. The film, after all, is about a damned global pandemic! But Soderbergh, in his independent American film sagacity, would much rather spend the majority of his allegedly terrifying parable of mother earth's diabolical revenge plot showing us static shots of people talking about the direr implications of a disease than actually showing us the blasted chaos. Not that I am adverse to listening to exchanges resplendent in scientific jargon that concern widespread death and pandemonium, but, seeing as this is a primarily VISUAL medium, it would be nice to actually see a few more people falling in front of buses and salivating at an alarming rate than hearing Kate Winslet talking about some asinine supposition that an average individual touches their face four to five times a minute. Call me old fashioned, but I like disaster films to be more aesthetically interesting.
I will grant you that my views are slightly barbarous in this regard, but I have a few more 'bones to pick' in the name of a more righteous anger, though. They come in the form of objections to the film's needlessly muddled plot, which juggles multiple story lines and ultimately fumbles with most of them. Certain threads, such as Damon's paternal struggles and Fishburne's quest for a vaccine for the disease, are indeed relevant to the film's overriding story arch at one stage or another, but I fail to see how Jude Law's arch contributes anything to the film other than the overused dictum 'the worst thing we have to fear is fear itself'; and what does Cotillard's story have to do with anything? Maybe in other circumstances I would trust that the writer had included these threads to rectify small plot contrivances that they could not otherwise remove, but by the mere fact that these arches don't even have a conclusion to really speak of, I just suspect they were included simply to fill in time. Hell, even the main stories didn't really go anywhere. Come to think of it, this film doesn't even go anywhere (other than the whole planet, but I assume you know I am writing figuratively). It doesn't even have a third act! It just consists of an admittedly nicely paced first act, an overly long second one, and... an ending. Just an ending; an ending where the fricking twist is something we've already been told about repeatedly within the film itself. I won't reveal the twist to you, of course, but I will inform you that it is only slightly more surprising than the ending to 'Titanic', and only marginally less predictable than the ending to 'Fight Club'.
As usual, Soderbergh's direction and cinematography (Soderbergh working under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews) lack any sort of energy or drive. Although the lighting has improved this time around (many scenes in 'The Informant!' were akin to having someone use a mirror to refract the sun's rays onto your eyes), the whole thing still looks like a slideshow (the only difference this time being that the film's globetrotting narrative permits proceedings to be elevated to the level of excitement usually found with a showing of an acquaintance's holiday snaps).
The film does have some redeeming features, though. The cast, for one, are mostly very believable in their respective roles, particularly Jennifer Ehle, Jude Law, and Elliot Gould. The script, for two, is also impressively realistic in its depiction of the mayhem produced from the threat of Armageddon. For a final three, there is a refreshing absence of hyperbole, something that is practically a hallmark of this genre of film.
All this can't change the fact that Soderbergh is just a bad filmmaker, though. Admittedly he does have a good sense of pace, but his continued efforts to turn fascinating premises into unleaded dullness simply make him a menace to society. This is the man who made a spaceship orbiting an effeminate planet, a case of corporate farce (well, I find that exciting), a heist film about an assortment of Hollywood Adonises draining Las Vegas dry, and George Clooney robbing banks boring. Surely he is some sort of demigod.
A Time to Kill (1996)
The premise of 'A Time to Kill' is relatively simple: little black girl is raped by big white men, bigger black father (played by designated scary black man Samuel L. Jackson) is vexed by said rape and in retaliation kills the offending white males (and injures a white officer of the peace in the process), and the media (mostly white), district attorney (white), and Ku Klux Klan (white, surprisingly) descend upon him like vultures. Jack Brigance, a hotshot lawyer who doesn't play by the rules (though would rather get Sandra Bullock to break them for him), takes black father's case.
Of course, with a simple premise comes a need for a substantial query: can a single man or a state better serve justice and should a judiciary be designed around idealistic or pragmatic sentiments? The problem is, though, that the film tries to answers these questions. From 'A Time to Kill's opening moments the audience is made painfully aware of the director's adamancy that we invest our sympathies with Jackson's character. The quick-cutting and distorted angles of the film's introductory rape sequence offer vicarious punishment for the viewer that makes us not only feel nothing but emphatic passion for the raped child, but also unconditional hatred towards her attackers (who are by no means the most difficult people to despise). This means that, regardless of the odd Horatian jab at insincere affirmative action advocates, Joel Schumacher clearly wants us to feel that the cosmically correct outcome of this trial is for the father of the victim to be found innocent of charges that were very rightly made. In other words, this film might as well be called 'Vigilante Justice: The Wave of the Future'.
The filmmakers go even further by forcing the audience want the audience to be diametrically opposed to and even repelled by all parties featured in the film who are opposed to Schumacher's desired conclusion, even if they are parties of a somewhat honourable disposition (such as the son of the policeman who gets shot). By doing this, 'A Time to Kill' supports fascist ideals of vigilante justice, thus is conservative propaganda. Yet it tries to cover this up by throwing the race card on the proverbial table (a card which essentially permits persecuted minority groups to be placed above the law). This means that 'A Time to Kill' combines two of the worst attributes of both sides of the American political spectrum and in the process becomes a frightening hybrid of oligarchic ideologies and victim mentalities that nobody in their right mind would want to take credit.
Despite all this, 'A Time to Kill' is strangely dynamic drama. Maybe it's the thrill of watching Armageddon fall upon a small and decidedly fragile town, with white supremacists having Molotov cocktails thrown at them and courtrooms playing host to drunkards and snide doctors; or maybe it's because Schumacher actually does a pretty good job of directing some utterly wonderful supporting actors (Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Kurtwood Smith, Oliver Platt) and some rather mediocre main ones (Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock).
At any rate, this piece of populist exploitation works like an inexplicable charm. Unlike Grisham's novel, the film hooks you from the get-go and keeps you practically on the edge of your set until the beautifully delivered closing statement by McConaughey (his talent did not live through the 90's, but this scene is at least a marvellous requiem to it), after which things starting getting a bit anti-climatic.
Ultimately, 'A Time to Kill' is a very solid film that does not deserve to be condemned purely on the basis of its fallacious morals. Not as intelligent or well made as 'The Pelican Brief', but certainly just as thrilling.
Klaatu Barada Keanu
1951's 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' was one of the better tales of spacial conflict from an era that was otherwise rather lacking in intelligent sci-fi. Unlike its peers, 'Day' was more of a cautionary tale about nuclear warfare than it was B-grade exploitation. It centred around an alien named 'Klaatu' who came to earth on behalf of a group of alien civilisations to warn mankind that, if we did not cease and desist with our atomic shenanigans, than we would, for lack of a better phrase, be turned into puppy chow.
Although some parts of Robert Wise's film have not aged particularly well, such as the awkward Americana and the inexplicable decision of the aliens to land specifically in Washington DC when there are over a hundred over Earth capitals that would surely have offered equally impressive photo opportunities, they're all relatively minor sniggles that ultimately do not detract from the enjoyment of what is a clever, thoughtful, and even occasionally witty piece of Cold-War sci-fi.
The same, however, cannot be said for the 'sniggles' I have with the 2008 remake of the film.
Forgetting the bland performances, the humdrum special effects, and the prosaic direction, this film still manages to be almost shockingly bad just on the level of how it tackles some of the admittedly interesting ethical conundrums it sets out to explore, mainly because it mistakes its solutions to these problems as foreshadowing an advancement in human evolution when really they just mark the beginning of an arduously prolonged and humiliating end for the species. And even though I love the original, I don't regard this film with pronounced vitriol just because it isn't an exact replica of that classic. I'm perfectly willing to admit that that film had its problems (some of which I outlined above), and I'm even willing to admit that I found Keanu Reeves' Klaatu a lot more interesting than Michael Rennie's take on the character (though I still regard the latter portrayal affectionately), but it's a pretty sad indictment of a film to say that the best thing in it is Keanu Reeves' acting.
Also, I think Jaden Smith might possibly be the worst actor in the history of the world.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
A Dull Dostoyevsky Dramedy
If one is going to merge two short films together, one should at least establish stronger links between them (a tenuous one in the form of a blind Rabbi simply does not suffice). Yet Woody Allen is evidently content with the near-terminal drudgery of his screenplay as he directs his duel tale of existentialist infidelity and Jewish despondency.
To give you a brief overview of these stories, half of the film follows the catastrophic developments of affluent ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal's (Martin Landau) affair with emotionally volatile stewardess Dolores Paley (Angelica Huston). Dolores wants Judah to annul his marriage to the blissfully ignorant Miriam (Claire Bloom), but Judah is not too keen on the prospect. Unfortunately, Paley is not too keen either on the prospect of Judah just discarding her like a Mark Twain novel and decides to put pressure on her lover. This proves to be an unacuminous move on her part as Judah recruits his brother to annul her metabolic processes. It works, but Judah ends up having moral reservations over the murder. The other half of the film depicts the HI-larious trials and tribulations of frustrated filmmaker Clifford Stern (Woody Allen) as he is forced by his disenchanted wife (Joanna Gleason) to direct a documentary about his successful and impossibly obnoxious brother-in-law Lester (a very amusing Alan Alda). However, Clifford is bewitched by one of the film's producers, a woman named Halley Reed (Mia Farrow).
The film, of course, ends with the separate protagonists meeting by happenstance at a wedding reception and engaging in a pseudo- philosophical discussion about the nature of guilt and the unfairness of the universe. And, Allen, of course, has to telegraph his nihilistic leanings by having amoral cad Judah 'walk off into the sunset', as it were, and Lilliputian moralist Clifford look morosely into the camera. An Oscar nominated script, people!
It just defies believe that the screenplay for this film was actually nominated for an Academy Award. How exactly can great Gordian farces like 'Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)', 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', 'Nuns on the Run', 'The Dinner Game', and 'Burn After Reading' be snubbed whilst blunderous trite like this gets a top mention? Now, I have always tried to respect the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their encouragement of higher technological and intellectual content in films, but really, the Academy is not doing themselves any favours by blindly bestowing Oscar nominations on venerated screenwriters just because they are venerated. It was bad enough that 'Raging Bull' lost to 'Ordinary People' for Best Picture in 1981 and that 'Miller's Crossing' was all but entirely snubbed during the 1991 Oscars.
Thankfully, Woody Allen's sophisticated and intermittently acerbic wit prevents the task of viewing this film from falling into a level of internal haemorrhage inducement. The acting is generally passable, too. And, to Allen's credit, he did make a penance for his sins with 2005's 'Match Point', a true Hitchcockian triumph whose screenplay was deservingly nominated for an Oscar.
After Hours (1985)
A Scorcese Comedy Doesn't Sound Right for a Reason
Martin Scorsese's idiosyncratic 'After Hours' is, if nothing else, an interesting film. It explores thematic and visual avenues that most films would barely dream of exploring. Regrettably, it chooses to pursue these avenues through comedic means rather than dramatic or thrilling quasi-philosophical ones, which is highly detrimental toward any effort to maintain the paramount stable of great comedy: that every single scene and story element must have some type of structural or humorous payoff. This is not always necessary with thrillers or epics (though it is certainly beneficial), but with comedies it is absolutely mandatory. It is arguably the cinematic equivalent of telling a joke well; no matter how witty or inherently funny the concepts that are addressed within the gag are, the transference of the joke teller's understanding of the humorous merit of those concepts will only be actuated successfully if every cadence (camera shot), pause (edit), and phonetic (actor) involved in the regalement is predetermined with tremendous precision. Frankly, Scorsese just wasn't up to the task.
The editing is just absurdly ostentatious. We're not even ten seconds into the film before over two dozen shots are thrown at us. Once again, if this was some type of Nicholas Roeg-esque Lovecraftian Horror film (or a pop-political conspiracy movie), that would all fine and dandy, but this is a midnight Kafkaesque cringe comedy an emotionally disturbed 'Out-of-Towners', if you will ; we're not supposed to get a headache until the third act! It was a sign of Scorsese' declining adeptness as a filmmaker, really, and it is perhaps the recognition of these tragic auspices of directorial ineptitude that make the film just that little bit harder to watch. Yet, while the editing is distracting, 'After Hours' is no 'Cape Fear (1991)'.
The screenplay brazenly borders the line between Daedalian farce and abrasive pointlessness, revealing its amateurish design with every plot turn (though more frequently 'plot contrivance') and development. By no means aiding the credibility of the script is the fact that the writer, Joseph Minion, plagiarised a good deal of the damn thing (some esoteric comedian's standup routine was the primary fatality). There are flashes of genius in it, of course (a cash register key is a surprisingly efficient plot device), but the lack of polish is really quite repellent at times.
I suppose 'After Hours' is successful at being a work of particularly grim jocularity, but it is essentially the cinematic equivalent of a joke without a punchline. With less Kafka and more farcical frivolity, the end product might have been an open-ended joke of a more satisfying mould.
The Boys from Brazil (1978)
Stupid, But Fun
Ira Levin's novels were known for containing outlandish plots that, against all odds, appeared plausible due to the understated way with which they were portrayed. What they were not known for was an intelligent prose style. As such, they were perfect fodder for film adaptations. After 'The Stepford Wives', 'Rosemary's Baby', and 'A Kiss Before Dying' were successfully brought to the screen, 'The Boys From Brazil' was the next viable candidate for the film treatment. And for good reason. It's plot - which I refuse to impart - is so absurd that even William S. Burroughs would do a double take. All the film needed to excel was a fresh-faced auteur with a knack for subtlety and nuance to capture the quiet menace of Levin's novels. Instead, it got Franklin J. Schaffner. Now we have Laurence Olivier as a Jewish grandpa, Gregory Peck as a Nazi (Dr. Josef Mengele, to be precise), and Steve Guttenberg as a Zionist. And that's only the first fifteen minutes...
However, whilst Schaffner abandons any attempt at capturing the quiet menace of the book, he does deliver the sort of well-structured, competently made thriller that an old-school director of his ilk is so adept at making. You're intrigued to follow Olivier's Yiddish caricature around the world as he pieces together the perverse conspiracy, encountering bizarre, scene-stealing characters along the way played by the likes of Rosemary Harris, Uta Hagen (making a rare film appearance), and Bruno Ganz. And you're intrigued to watch a group of Nazis viciously and spectacularly murder a bunch of old guys for no apparent reason, especially when Peck is hamming it up as their leader.
It's a seventies thriller through and through, replete with killer Dobermans and a gloriously Germanic score by Jerry Goldsmith that could legitimately rival the best of Wagner and the Strauss dynasty. You either like that sort of thing or you don't. But for my money, it's cheesy, it's stupid, and it is VERY memorable.