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"Spite Marriage" is a dividing line for Buster Keaton, the film where
he began to lose control of his career. It's still a delightful movie
with innovative comedy and a moving storyline, once you get past the
odd and ill-fitting retooling of Buster's screen image in the first
Elmer Gantry (Keaton) runs a laundry, which allows him plenty of time and access to fine clothes for stalking in the guise of a rich suitor stage star Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian). Trilby attaches herself to fellow star player Lionel Benmore (Edward Earle), but when Benmore takes up with a society beauty, Trilby decides to marry Elmer to show him up, to her later regret.
"Spite Marriage" is Keaton's last silent comedy (except for a short called "The Railrodder" he made near the end of his career). It's better than several of the features he made before being picked up by MGM the year before, specifically "College," "Go West," "Three Ages," and "The Saphead." But it falls short of classic Buster, often because of the role played by Buster himself.
For almost all of the first 30 minutes, viewers have to adjust to the novel notion of Buster the idiot. After an abrupt opening, we see Buster fumbling around on horseback, wiggling lovelorn in his seat as Trilby performs on stage, and finally sneaking on stage to make a mess of the show. It is funny, but in a frustrating, jerky way.
Too often the film calls attention to Buster's fish-out-of-water character, particularly when he joins the cast and stumbles over assorted props, to the annoying amusement of the audience. In his earlier films, Buster was a stoic victim of mayhem, rather than producing it himself. This made the comedy work without lessening the character. Here, you can't help but emphasize with the theatrical agent who moans: "Shoot him! They'll think it's part of the act!"
There are also odd bits of sympathy trolling. We see him bring her a stuffed dog doll with a tear running down one eye. After he discovers Trilby has left him, the camera lingers on the doll one last time, as an overt nod to Elmer's pitiful state. It's like something out of Harry Langdon.
But there are compensations throughout the early part. Trilby's play, "Carolina," is a wonderful send-up of theatrical conventions. When Lionel makes his entrance as a wounded fugitive, he stops to acknowledge the applause. "A scratch is nothing to a Southern gentleman," he tells Trilby's character, a goofy line that gets a nifty callback late in the film.
Sebastian is a big part of why "Spite Marriage" works as well as it does. For the first time, I watched a Keaton feature not pining for Sybil Seely. Trilby is no gentle flower, but rather a scheming, petty character who uses Elmer's affection for her own ends. As an ex-spite boyfriend, I could relate to this. Most important, she is very funny, especially in a scene in a speakeasy where she gets drunk and loses her cool when she sees Lionel with his new babe. It's a great use of Buster's expressionless manner by director Edward Sedgwick and the MGM team, playing it off Sebastian's scowling and histrionics. She also takes a fall as well as Buster, which helps.
The movie's most famous scene uses her athleticism to splendid effect, where he tries to put his unconscious bride to bed. He tries to sit her on a chair, only to have her roll off. As other reviewers here note, it's easy to ignore the effort she must put forth, keeping Buster hopping without apparently moving a muscle.
The finale, aboard a yacht, is the film's best sequence. Ironically, as historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance note in their helpful DVD commentary, this was one part of the movie Buster didn't want to do, probably concerned he was repeating "The Navigator." But "Spite Marriage" takes the same idea in different directions, and most importantly, ramps up the laughter while giving us Buster in take-charge form. A key bit of business involves his wearing a captain's hat, which seems to signal a sense of newfound authority for the performer.
Alas, it was not to be. Buster's subsequent work for MGM, while quite profitable, would run the gamut from weak to awful, with Buster himself anything but in charge. "Spite Marriage," with its misplaced emphasis on poor, stupid Elmer, would inaugurate this trend, but it's more of a piece with his days as silent comedy's master clown. Keep this in mind, and you will have a good time.
"Body Double" shouldn't work. Its plot is ropey, its filmic influences
obvious, its lead actor a total blank in terms of industry profile. Yet
not despite but because of these things, as well as director Brian De
Palma working at his visual apex, "Body Double" sneaks up on you to
become an inventive, highly rewatchable comedy suspense film.
Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is having a bad day. In one afternoon, the struggling actor loses his job, his residence, and his girlfriend. But fortunes change in Hollywood. A new friend sets him up in a mushroom-shaped manor with a panoramic view of Los Angeles and a telescope aimed at the bedroom window of a beautiful woman who struts about in the near- nude. Jake, inherently weak, can't help but look, an unhealthy obsession that may cost him his life.
"Body Double" is remembered today mainly for the breakout performance of Melanie Griffith, who plays porn actress Holly Body with a lot of skin and brio. It's also one of De Palma's most obvious nods at the films of Alfred Hitchcock, specifically "Vertigo" and "Rear Window," whose plots get almost conflated here.
All this might seem a bad idea; imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery yet on its own it can't help but feel like a weak artistic premise. But De Palma's interest in Hitchcock extends beyond specific cues and references. "Body Double," like "Rear Window" and "Vertigo," works as an exercise in pure cinema, playing the viewer the same way Hitchcock did, as a kind of partner in voyeurism with the down-on-his-heel protagonist.
Wasson doesn't leave a big impression in this movie, and he didn't have a big career after, but he proves the right man for this part. He's a nice guy too used to being stepped on, easy meat for the less angelic denizens of the City of Angels. Asked if he is working, he can only mutter: "I was in an episode of 'Hart To Hart' that was pretty good." (Wasson actually was on that series before taking this part.) His pain is our pain too for the duration of the movie, something Wasson milks rather well in his low-key way. When he is caught with the panties of the woman he pursues, it's like we the viewer are caught as well. It wasn't our idea, but in a way we did go along with it, watching in guilty silence as it were.
The plot, particularly as it relates to the web Jake finds himself in, relies too much on coincidences and sudden character changes. I would say this is a bad thing, except it works so well in drawing you into the movie, actually playing like a layer of meta-comedy on top of the overdose of filmic fantasy. Can things get even weirder than Jake getting a starring role in a porno film? Well, now imagine that film transforming itself into a Frankie Goes To Hollywood video.
This is a very '80s film, with its pastels and glitz backgrounds, Griffith's bleached punk hairdo, and a cordless phone with long antenna that Jake pushes down whenever he hangs up. It carries much the same vibe of that cultural touchstone, "Miami Vice," though "Body Double" actually reached screens a month after that show hit TV, so unlike Hitchcock, no imitation was intended.
Funny bits abound, too, sending up La-La Land in a genial but sharp way. Jake has the news of his firing broken to him by his agent, who knows the score because he also manages Jake's replacement. An acting class is an exercise in psychological masochism where an oval neon sign proclaims "Actors Advance," though that sentiment is reduced by the other neon words "Pay In" stuck in the sign's center. Dennis Franz has much fun here as a caustic director of Grade-D horror cheapos, which is De Palma's way of sending himself up along with everything else. Griffith gets off many of the best lines, though most aren't repeatable here.
De Palma at his worst can be pretty bad, but he's a director of finesse and polish who thrives on projects that allow him to toy with viewer perspectives. Here we get one of the more enjoyably goofy examples of that, a genre-twisting time capsule that still feels very fresh.
This review is for the shortened, two-hour, forty-one minute version.
John Wayne threw everything he had into making this film, at the apex of his stardom, and just for that, and the sacrifice it honors, I want to celebrate it. I just can't.
"The Alamo" presents the story of the heroic last stand of some 180 Texas irregulars against the massed might of Santa Anna's Mexican army, featuring Wayne both as director and actor (playing Davy Crockett, one of the defenders at the siege.) It's full of great images, solid performances, and affecting scenes. Also, it's terribly long (even the edited version I saw runs over two-and-a-half hours) and weakened by a tendency toward preachiness and lazy sentiment.
Is it entertaining? I say yes, albeit intermittently, even though it doesn't adhere to the facts and feels rather underbaked in the story department. Print the legend, as Wayne's patron John Ford was often quoted as saying, however spuriously, and "The Alamo" sort of does that, pushing the story as an exercise in rah-rah sentiment which strangely veers into liberal platitudes about republicanism and respecting one's foe even as he's bent on killing you to the last man.
Reading the reviews here, you get the sense more than you do with IMDb takes on other Wayne movie how much he attracts negativity from people who see him as an avatar of American imperialism. Yet "The Alamo" is the last film of Wayne's which deserves such opprobrium. The film soft-soaps the viciousness of Santa Anna, whose no-quarter approach to riot control did him in as an effective ruler, and sets up the title edifice as a kind of coming together of multi-ethnic harmony. Even given the context of legend-building, this plays way too good to be true.
The script, by Wayne's favorite writer James Edward Grant, pushes buttons without mercy or subtlety. This is the film where Denver Pyle, as one of the Alamo's defenders, marvels about the Mexicans bent on the slaughter of him and his comrades: "Even when I was killin' 'em, I was proud of 'em."
Wayne took a lousy part, a character already brilliantly defined on TV by Fess Parker, and did what he could with it. As director, he selflessly ceded the stage to his co-stars, especially Richard Widmark as a tough, no-nonsense Jim Bowie and Laurence Harvey as Col. William Travis, the most interesting character in the picture. Harvey, burdened somewhat by an on-and-off English accent, gives Travis a veneer that makes him likable, even as he plays loose with the facts in keeping his men in the fort. Harvey at least is clearly enjoying himself, and for that his scenes have real color and vim.
Some reviewers here say the film is cheated when cut a half-hour from the version first released in roadshow form. Certainly what I see here felt compromised by the absence of a resolution to a story arc involving a bad-guy American named Emil Sand and the woman he seeks to pressure into marriage. But it wasn't like I wanted this movie longer.
The finale at least is terrific. Call it "Wild Bunch 1.0" for the way Wayne shoots the battle itself, all quick cuts and grisly deaths with hardly a dollop of sentiment. It's visceral filmmaking, and shows Wayne could shoot action, however lacking Widmark and others found his direction in terms of character development.
Ultimately, "The Alamo" works okay as cinematic entertainment, aided greatly by William H. Clothier's cinematography which gives every shot that epic feeling that came so naturally in the 1960s and rarely thereafter. It's not entirely empty otherwise, Wayne's affable performance is on par with his later work and Grant manages to write some good dialogue here and there, like when Bowie learns the fate of his wife. But for such a legendary moment in American history, one is left wanting for much more.
If people typically talked in fantasy stories the way they do in this
2011 revamp of "Conan," no one would ever read them.
In the opening narration, Morgan Freeman tells of "cruel necromancers" (as opposed to your nicer type of body snatcher) and "spirits of unspeakable evil" (which makes one wonder how the words trip so melodiously from Freeman's tongue.)
Then there are the lines delivered by other characters, like "She is the pureblood we seek" and "She saved my life. For that she has my loyalty."
The film's main villain, Khalar Zym, has a penchant for Big Statements, like "Your death shall herald a new age of Acheron...and we will cast all rivals into oceans of blood!"
Nobody talks normally in "Conan The Barbarian." It's all very stilted, high-reaching declamations of ersatz Shakespeare that become more of a drag the more it goes on. Alas, this matches up pretty well with a patchy, convoluted story.
Conan (Jason Momoa) is a barbarian prowling his ancient world on a quest for vengeance. Khalar Zym sacked his village and killed his father in quest of a mask to summon the spirit of Zym's dead wife. Can Conan stop Zym before he finds the final thing he needs, the blood of a woman (Rachel Nichols) residing in a peaceful monastery?
Two things prevent me from titling this "Faux-Nan". One is Momoa, who has both the brawn and the authority to play the title role, better than Arnold Schwarzenegger did back in 1982. Momoa has a sense of humor, too, which the script allows him to show only briefly near the beginning. The other positive is the fight scenes, which, except for a silly battle on a tilt-a-wheel near the end, are visceral and pack a punch.
In his director's commentary, Marcus Nispel talks about designing the movie to work like a video game, with Conan completing various levels by doing battle with one or another of Zym's henchmen. This is all-too- apparent in the final product, as the narrative rushes Conan from one fight to another with no logic. The only purpose to these scenes is to give us a big finish, where Conan and his crew yell and wave their swords at the sky in slow motion.
Nispel steps on the gas right away and keeps his foot planted there the whole movie. The intensity is exhausting. Also predictable. When Conan is born, will his father (Ron Perlman) lift him to the sky? You bet. How about hollering like a maniac while doing it? Why not?
That Nispel and the writers don't use Conan's creator Robert E. Howard for any story points, other than the first sentence of the movie, is surprising. Oddly, they do work in some of the goofier, less sensible elements of Arnold's version, like the opening village invasion and Conan infiltrating a black-magic ceremony at the end in a borrowed robe. You feel throughout this movie a director grasping for big visuals, at the expense of telling a story.
"Conan" tells a story, alright. When you take a product people know and attempt to revive it on screen, you better have a clearer idea what you are doing than these people did.
Don't expect too much from this Mel Brooks send-up of silent comedy
and, well, you'll probably still be disappointed. Just not as much.
Mel Funn (Brooks) is an out-of-work movie director who has an idea for how to get back in the business: Make the first silent movie in over 40 years. To get the backing of Big Picture Studios, Mel and partners Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) set about signing Hollywood stars to the project. Can Mel stay off the sauce long enough to see it through?
"Silent Movie" was Brooks' first film after owning 1974 with "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein"; as a result he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. You want to do a silent movie, Mel? Sure, why not? Well, maybe because Brooks' type of comedy was more verbal than visual. "Silent Movie" too often plays like a movie whose maker thinks it's funnier than it really is.
Take the cameo appearances of several big-name stars, another sign of Brooks' clout. Burt Reynolds has fun playing up his own ego, and so we do, too, while mime Marcel Marceau gets the funniest line in the picture (also the only line.) But the other stars brought in - Paul Newman, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, and Anne Bancroft - showcase their amiability more than their comedy potential.
The physical comedy gets really labored and obvious at times, not what you got watching the silent clowns, or even "Blazing Saddles." When Mel and his two buddies try to recruit Liza, for example, they dress as knights in bulky suits of armor. Instead of engaging Minnelli in conversation while trying to look natural in their odd attire, the three just bumble around in a commissary, knocking down tables and chairs until Liza pulls a face, recognizes Mel, and asks to be in his movie. End scene.
This strained gagginess extends to various sight gags. When we see a nurse in a hospital reading a smutty book, we can see patients on monitors behind her falling out of their beds, crying for help, etc. It's not much of a joke, but Brooks the director then pans over to put these monitors in close-up for a few seconds.
The movie does have moments of genuine funniness, albeit in the same patchy way as the later Brooks' comedies "High Anxiety" and "History Of The World Part I." When we first see Mel driving down a street, a card tells us we are in "Hollywood, Film Capital of Greater Los Angeles." The plaque on the door of Big Pictures' boss (Sid Caesar) reads "Current Studio Chief."
Caesar is pretty funny, too, as is Bernadette Peters as a sexy vamp who is sicced on Mel to take his mind off the movie. I love her big entrance, on stage inside a giant banana, from which she is peeled to deliver her silent catchphrase: "Ba-Ba-Loo!" Both Marty and Dom make for enjoyable company throughout, although they don't do much more than ogle ladies (Marty) or eat (Dom). In the technical department, John Morris's score and Paul Lohmann's cinematography are non-distractingly enjoyable.
The big negative in this film, as with "High Anxiety," is Brooks. There is no funnier white person in living history, but he doesn't work as an actor, even in a farce. He's always smiling too much, pressing too hard to show us what a nice guy he is. Of course, it doesn't help that he's his own director here. (Brooks did better work as the lead in the 1983 remake of "To Be Or Not To Be," which he didn't direct.)
"Silent Movie" is funny enough in spots and has enough of that old Brooks magic to make it pleasant if forgettable viewing. You can't help wanting more, but if you are like me, you're almost satisfied to get what you do.
The greatest film comedian of all time? Well, if he had made better
sound films than this, I think that would have been indisputable. Or as
his partner here, one Jimmy Durante, may have put it, "indispicable."
Buster Keaton's transition to sound went over well at the box office. He had some of his biggest hits in talkies, including this one. But watching "Speak Easily" makes you wonder why. It doesn't move like classic Buster. It doesn't make you laugh like classic Buster. It just gives you Buster, playing a fish out of water - too convincingly.
As Professor Post, Buster is urged to leave his lonely sinecure teaching the classics at a fancy college and "go out and find life." Led to believe he has just inherited $750,000, he does so, and meets a troupe of traveling showpeople. Falling in love with one, Pansy Peets (Ruth Selwyn), he decides to take them to Broadway on his dime. Only he doesn't really have as many dimes as he thinks.
There are actually three comedy legends in this film. In addition to Durante, who is the troupe's combination comic and piano player and pretty good here with his miles-of-malaprops-a-minute manner, you have Thelma Todd. People who talk about Buster's tragically curtailed career should take stock of Todd, who died at 29 just as she was poised to take off in an era of funny women. She shows a lot of her realized potential here, as a gold-plated vamp who latches onto Buster when she learns he is putting on the show.
"Have you ever thought seriously of marriage?" she asks Professor Post.
"Yes, that's why I'm single," he replies.
There is also a sequence where Todd's character attempts to blackmail Post by having him caught out in his bedroom, something that could really happen back in the 1930s. This is set up by a beautiful two-hand drunk scene (just watch Todd's reaction after gulping Buster's cocktail!) before moving on to a variation of a routine Buster did many times, trying to carry an unconscious woman to bed, before Durante shows up to give the sequence a terrific capper. The scene is so good it belongs in a much better movie.
Durante isn't overbearingly antic here, but he has little to do except tell lousy jokes and string along the willing professor (whom he calls "that guy with the face") about his dog-and-pony show's prospects. Selwyn's a weak female lead, even with a fourth Hollywood legend, gossip-page pioneer Hedda Hopper, playing her overprotective mother.
Buster is at the center of what's wrong. He's not convincing as a professor, and his comedy mannerisms tend to be slow and obvious. It's been said he struggled in the sound era when MGM tried to make him play sad and sympathetic. There's some of that here (in the beginning Post is warned his lonely condition may drive him to suicide) but also a tentative quality to his line readings, long pauses and repetitious head bobs that may be his famous drinking problem showing up on screen or else just difficulty managing the different demands of talkie comedy.
The film limps along, an occasional funny line or good physical comedy bit standing out all the more for the tedium around it, until reaching an awful finale where the show makes its Broadway debut with assorted mayhem both on- and offstage. Every tired gimmick is trotted out, while Buster overplays Post's idiocy for the sake of some lame slapstick. It's a real wince-producing conclusion that leaves a more sour aftertaste than "Speak Easily" deserves.
People who want to see the worst of Buster will be disappointed with "Speak Easily," though not nearly as much as those who come to it wanting to see more of why he was so great.
Hollywood has glamorized crime for decades. What better way to push
back against this message than grace you with the sight of a pudgy,
shovel- faced woman screeching at her man for getting too touchy-feely
with their latest mark?
Martha (Shirley Stoler) is a bitter nurse with a brutal manner and a need for love she can only find in Ray (Tony Lo Bianco), a con man she meets after answering a letter from a "Friendship Club."
"Do I have to tell the truth?" she asks a friend.
"Whose puttin' you on the witness stand?" replies the friend, played by future "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Doris Roberts.
That everybody loves Ray is part of the problem. He's as attractive as she is not, and whenever he works his con on some shy spinster or swoony old woman, Martha gets angry. That's when the film veers from black comedy into considerably darker material.
I see what Leonard Kastle was aiming at here with his harsh and often brutally effective screenplay. I only wish he had let someone else direct it. Alas, he let Martin Scorsese go after a few days of shooting, because the guy was taking too much time on set-ups. That kind of style is sorely missed. "The Honeymoon Killers" tells the real story of Martha and Ray, a pair of con artists who bilked, and eventually killed, some very sad and trusting people. That it's not for the faint-of-heart speaks well for Kastle's humanity, his willingness to push against the Hollywood filter, but as a film it struggles with the seriousness of its material.
Firstly, the film suffers from being made on the cheap. Apparently for many of the set-ups, there was no Take Two, and you see the results. Lines getting garbled or muffled by someone dropping a coat on a chair. A boom mike slipping into a shot. A murder victim whose tongue is still moving after she is pronounced dead.
Second, I can't say I want to go out and see another Shirley Stoler movie after this. She evidences no subtlety in her central performance. Lo Bianco performs better, but his wheedling accent is like something Hank Azaria would use for a walk-on character on "The Simpsons." Since the film is pretty much just these two, it is rendered more painful for their lack of believability. Why must Martha huff and shriek so whenever Ray is working his cons, in plain view of the person they are conning? It's like Kastle doesn't trust you enough to twig onto the feral nature of this couple.
Finally, there are the obvious left-wing clichés Kastle plants to give his film a timely message. A couple of the victims are characterized by their inane patriotic banter. Another is a cross-clutching Catholic. Kastle wants to use them to mock the middle-class values that surround Martha and Ray, who alone seem alive to the static nature of suburbia (Ray: "One little jail after another with ten feet of grass between them.") But it clutters the film with subtext it can't carry. Also, this feels too much like patronizing people who have already been victimized enough.
What the film does quite well is showcase Martha and Ray's twisted natures in service of their crimes. A lot of reviewers have problems with why Ray takes up with dumpy Martha. I didn't. Martha is the one person who sees him for what he is, and loves him for it. Plus, she's kind of a surreal mother figure, as several characters note. He's as desperate to be loved as she is, and just as sick. She may kill the victims, but he's the one in the mood for love when it's over.
I can't recommend "Honeymoon Killers," but it has a power like few films you come across. Crime films should be brutal at some level, and this one certainly is. It's like the tagline in the trailer says: "See 'The Honeymoon Killers,' and then just try and forget them."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The best way to explain "Champagne" only makes it more confusing. It's
a comedy that only works as a comedy when you watch it as a drama. Pull
that off, and you get some clever, period-rich entertainment, but only
if you watch it again. That's something a first viewing may not entice
you to do.
"The rich are different than you or me..." F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that famous line around the same time young rich girl Betty (Betty Balfour) decides to board an ocean liner by ditching an airplane in the middle of the Atlantic. What a great way to sail away with her boyfriend (Jean Bradin), especially since their union is much opposed by her American plutocrat Daddy (Gordon Harker)! He sees the boy as a fortune-hunter. But what if there is no fortune left to hunt?
This Jazz Age-spirited comedy of status and love is remembered today as an early silent effort from director Alfred Hitchcock, who later dismissed it as his worst ever. But "Champagne" is better than most of his silent films and certainly way above later sound films of his like "The Paradine Case" and "Jamaica Inn." It also rates better than the later Hitchcock comedies "Mr. And Mrs. Smith" and "The Trouble With Harry."
"Champagne" has technique coming out of its ears, too, from an opening shot of a party seen through the bottom of a champagne glass to a startling transition shot of a leap off a balcony. Balfour is a fun lead who draws a rooting interest, a bit too smug in her wealth but with a palpably good heart. The ending is clever and quick in a very Hitchcockian way.
What the film doesn't offer much in is laughs, a problem for a comedy, especially a light one like this. Instead, you get rolling ship decks and overacting supporting actors. Harker, ever the ham, overdoes his cigar chewing and facial tics for lack of any substantive comic business, while Marcel Vibert as a maitre d' rubs his hands and raises his eyebrows with antic abandon.
Igenlode Wordsmith in an October 2012 review pointed up the problem of the second half of the film, namely all the comic potential left on the table when Betty gets work at Vibert's cabaret. By this time we have a good idea that Betty's problems aren't as serious as they seem, so we should be allowed to watch Betty cut loose and raise havoc. Instead, Hitchcock works up the suspense with a character played by Ferdinand von Alten whose place in this film is reminiscent of Ivor Novello in "The Lodger," that of a sinister, silent type, always on the lookout...or something.
I liked von Alten's performance quite a lot, particularly the second time I saw it, which is what makes a big difference. When you watch for the comedy, you do see it. But it's in the background. In the foreground is the suspense element Hitchcock works, and at times overworks, in the second half.
What compensates for this, and raises "Champagne" to the level of a mild recommendation, is how Balfour's character is used. She's both annoyingly carefree in her rich-girl cocoon and admirably spirited and independent in her drive to be who she wants to be, whatever the cost. Bradin, ironically, plays a bit of a stick who has more in common with Betty's father than she does, but her devotion to both men makes us care for all three. It also a striking issue, namely how much people can love one another when they not only fail to understand each other but don't see the need.
Seeing them come to terms with this is what makes the film work as a comedy, yet it's not enough unless you take their problem seriously, which as a comedy this isn't geared to do. Balfour's engaging if light performance does all it can to square the circle, and it's enough, just. "Champagne" may not be that substantive otherwise, but it's worth a sip.
Geoffrey Unsworth's sterling cinematography and Sean Connery's
startling stuntwork are the only two worthwhile takeaways from this
dodgy period piece that can't decide whether to be a caper comedy a la
"The Sting" or a serious suspense yarn.
Edward Pierce (Connery) is an ostensibly respectable member of 1855 London society who harbors a crooked secret: He likes to steal. When he targets a shipment of gold en route via train to the British Army in the Crimea, he goes all out, enlisting the support of ace safecracker Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to boldly go where no crook has gone before.
Well, it's an interesting set-up, anyway. But writer-director Michael Crichton doesn't do much with it, except set up Connery for his big stunt. We see Connery, very clearly without benefit of stuntman, climb upon a moving train and duck under a series of stone bridges that could have easily decapitated him, his only safety measure apparently being the two giant brass counterweights he had nestled in his pants.
It's unforgettable viewing, yet it doesn't add a thing to the story. We know Pierce is going to make it, or the movie would have a different title. So this death-defying stunt actually manages to become somewhat tedious, even with Unsworth's sterling lenswork playing the hulking Connery against a whooshing rural countryside. This is Unsworth's last film, and boasts his signature sheen. No one captured the outdoors quite like him.
Before they break into the safe, Pierce and Agar first need to get four keys, requiring three different break-ins. Again, any suspense here is of the title-restricted variety. Some attempts at comedy are introduced, but don't get much farther than entendres of the double- and single- variety. Sutherland's Irish accent wouldn't survive a Lucky Charms casting call, while third-billed Lesley-Anne Down flashes her big blues and giggles. Beautiful she is, subtle she ain't.
A big problem for me was why to root for Pierce and his crew. Most of the film seems bent on making us like them, yet they commit some heinous acts to get what they're after. Speaking of heinous, why does Crichton subject us to a real scene of a terrier killing rats? It's not like we need it storywise. I guess it's there because Crichton thought it was properly authentic.
You do get authentic details in this movie, like criminal argot (a "betty" or "twirl" is a key, a "crusher" is a cop, a "tightener" is a drink), a public hanging, and a doss house. There's also something called a "Bateson's belfry" which Crichton apparently made up, though at least that works for the story. Crichton was a meticulous researcher who enjoyed ideas, but "Robbery" lacks the energy of his more future- oriented yarn-spinning. He's working with a real story this time, and seems uncharacteristically hemmed in by it.
Watching Connery is always worth something, but after that train scene I can't help but feel this was nearly at too high a cost. Even though he lived to make other movies, it still wasn't worth it.
Frank Sinatra's got those little-town blues in this lovely if overlong
potboiler co-starring his Rat Pack consigliere Dean Martin and a number
of characters summed up by Sinatra in a single word: "Dames!"
Just out of the Army, Dave Hirsh (Sinatra) is a once-promising writer who wakes up after a drunk in the town he thought he left for good 16 years ago. Reacquainting himself with his shallow brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), Dave finds himself disgusted by the middle-class hypocrisy all around him. But making a clean break from Parkman, Indiana proves difficult when Dave falls for a pretty college teacher (Martha Hyer) who admires his work.
"Some Came Running" is an example of a film that doesn't work despite some strong talent around it. Sinatra plays his role smoothly yet with a striking naturalness, especially early on. Cinematographer William H. Daniels paints his canvas with lurid colors that immerse the viewer. Martin does fine work as a smoothie card-sharp with a cold heart, while Shirley MacLaine steals her scenes with amusing panache. Walking around with a rabbit-doll purse and too much make-up, she makes the most of lines like: "What am I, a tramp or something?"
Actually, her character Ginny is more like a doormat, someone who thinks Dave is just swell and can't wait to be his girlfriend, never mind what he thinks. Dave wants the schoolteacher, Gwen, who if you were quoting Sinatra's music, might be called "the fair Miss Frigidaire."
Watching Dave plead his case to Gwen is agonizing, and director Vincente Minnelli can't get enough of it. It's horrible dialogue, perfunctorily delivered by Hyer. Between her and the writers, Sinatra has nothing to work off here.
Him: "I think I'm in love with you."
Her: "You said that with the ease of a man who's said it often to quite an assortment of women."
Him: "So help me, I didn't know there were women like you."
The whole relationship between Dave and Gwen kicks off when she looks at his unfinished manuscript (which is helpfully labeled "Unfinished Story by Dave Hirsh") and, after reading it in one afternoon, declares it perfect for printing as is. Whereupon Dave declares "Of course!" and agrees to send it to the Atlantic straightaway. The magazine even prints it, too.
Of course, true love never runs smooth, especially in a Sirk-y melodrama with "Peyton Place" affectations. While the small-town atmosphere of Parkman gets much play, one never sees how Dave is so hampered by it. He annoys his brother by getting in the newspapers over minor scrapes, but Dave is pretty much a free man here, as his card-playing expeditions with Dean Martin's "Bama" character demonstrate.
Watching Sinatra and Martin together for the first time is a real treat, especially with MacLaine in the mix. Here again, the script bites off more than it can chew by giving Bama some serious issues it never develops, but watching the two men play cards and cut wise in a bar is fun. Dino and Frank's scenes utilize the stars' easy charm and humor, even if they don't add to the story.
But then again, what story? It's all boils down to a silly romance we can't wait to end, and something that passes as social commentary about people living lies in small towns. I don't think James Jones, who wrote the novel this was based on, had anything like this story in mind. I enjoy watching Sinatra in it, but it does him no favors.
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