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The Cardinal (1963)
One of Preminger's best works seems to have gone unnoticed
Otto Preminger's solemn, stately retelling of the rise of Stephen Fermoyle to Cardinal is an interesting albeit lengthy film that has not received its due over the decades since its release in 1963. The many trials and tribulations of Fermoyle's ascension in the Catholic church hierarchy to the College of Cardinals is dramatized by Tom Tryon in the title role. Tryon brings a brooding quality to his interpretation as a priest who has a literary gift that is frowned upon his superior, Cardinal Glennon, and a later, difficult personal decision regarding his youngest sister who is in labor and ready to give birth to her baby. A subsequent leave of absence from the church brings additional inner conflict to Fermoyle as he must choose between a woman's love for him and his devotion to the church and his calling as a priest. Further problems for Fermoyle include intervening in an explosive racial situation in Georgia and as an emissary sent to Vienna during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Tryon's humorless, if not quite wooden, acting brings a certain realism to the film's central character. John Huston and Raf Vallone are excellent in their roles of Cardinals and Romy Schneider is good as the woman who loves Fermoyle and wants to sway him forever from the pull of the priesthood. The film is wonderfully filmed by Leon Shamroy and scored by Jerome Moross, and has a solid cast of top character actors in bit parts. This film should rank as one of the best pictures of the last fifty years.
The Harder They Fall (1956)
Saga of ring corruption packs a kayo wallop
Humphrey Bogart's final film pulls no punches in its indictment of boxing as it chronicles the career of an unfortunate pugilist who is duped into a series of tank jobs that get him a coveted but undeserved title shot. Bogart, an unemployed press agent, is hired to promote and build up the pretender at the request of an unscrupulous manager, played by Rod Steiger. The film notes the brutality, mob violence, insensitive owners and trainers, bookies, fixes, hopelessness and despair of fighters who take frightful punishment in the ring while managers and promoters profit. A brief segment of the picture dwells on the misfortunes of an ex fighter who wound up homeless, penniless and addle-brained after a career in the ring. The movie is grim and cynical, with a hard-edged undercurrent throughout. Bogart and Steiger have the expected showdown at the end as their differences clash but not before the dark underbelly of boxing has been exposed. Budd Schulberg's novel is the basis for this film and old pro Bogart is wonderful and gets strong support from Steiger and several others, especially Harold Stone and Nehemiah Persoff. Jersey Joe Walcott, in a few brief scenes, has a nice turn as a sympathetic trainer.
In Harm's Way (1965)
John Wayne is the anchor is this lengthy but entertaining war film
Otto Preminger's opus of the Pearl Harbor disaster and its aftermath of the U.S. military's preparation for war with the Japanese is also a story of the lives of enlisted personnel, their families and relationships that parallel the Navy's operations in the western Pacific that kicks off World War II. John Wayne is the central figure in the story as Captain Rockwell Torrey, who is faulted for not pursuing and engaging the Japanese fleet, thereby reassigned to desk duty. Kirk Douglas, always edgy and intense, is embittered as a result of the death of his unfaithful wife, which has tragic consequences later in the film. Patricia Neal is Wayne's romantic interest and they are very appealing as middle-aged folk that have another chance at love after previous marital failures. Brandon De Wilde is Wayne's aloof Harvard-educated son who faults Wayne for abandoning him as a child. The film has many diverse emotional threads as the characters cope with the war and their own tenuous relationships, professional and personal. As with most Preminger films, this one has an excellent cast, although Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews have brief roles. Wayne redeems himself in a taught sea battle with Japanese destroyers, with very nice special effects. The film is a fine mix of military warfare, romance, tragedy, family estrangement and redemption.
Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
Homeward bound for the Northern Cheyennes
Mari Sandoz' sympathetic account of the flight of the Northern Cheyennes from Oklahoma's Indian Territory to their historical homeland in Wyoming is the basis of John Ford's final western adventure. The usual emotional mistreatment of the Indians, with broken promises, lies, the disrespect shown to their chiefs, indifference to the tribe's well-being, lack of proper nourishment and education by their white custodians sets in motion their northward trek. The Cheyenne migration comes to the attention of the War Department in Washington with orders to stop the Indians and return them to their reservation. The film has several hit-and-run skirmishes, with the fighting prowess of the Cheyennes keeping the pursuing soldiers at bay. Richard Widmark, a cavalry officer and Carroll Baker, a Quaker who wants to educate the Cheyenne children, are sympathetic towards the Indians' plight, in stark contrast to Karl Malden's Russian martinet who imprisons the Indians at Fort Robinson and vows to send them back to the arid Oklahoma territory. The film's measured and deliberate pace is in keeping with the plodding progress of the tribe's move north. The Dodge City sequence, which features a comical poker game, is a pointless twenty minute detour from the film's narrative and adds nothing to the plot. The wide-screen cameras of William Clothier capture the beautiful scenery of Monument Valley, director Ford's favorite shooting location. Gilbert Roland, Ricardo Montalban and Dolores del Rio are excellent in various Cheyenne roles.
The Misfits (1961)
A moody, introspective drama
This story chronicles the lives of three men and a divorcée in the Nevada mountains. Clark Gable, in his final film, is a wandering, over-the-hill, middle-aged cowboy who corrals wild mustangs for slaughter with Eli Wallach, his buddy and an aviator whose plane locates and traps the horses for Gable's unerring lariats. Marilyn Monroe, always fetching, has rid herself of her husband and has come west to find meaning for her life. Montogomery Clift is a washed-up bronc and bull rider, and the four major characters come together, with each one beset by emotional traumas from their pasts. A major theme throughout the film is regret about disappointments, missed opportunities, failed family and personal relationships. The unhappy, wistful thread of the movie is mirrored by the stark black and white photography and the distant mountain vistas. The beauteous Monroe is coveted by the three men but seems partial to Gable, perhaps of his detached persona and laid-back approach to life. Wallach makes no secret of his obsession with Monroe and spares nothing in his attempt to win her for himself. Clift, along for the ride because of Gable's taunts about the disgrace of earning wages, brings his usual brooding quality to the film and seems disillusioned because he has no psychological anchor in his life. Thelma Ritter, always excellent in supporting roles, appears with Monroe early in the story but disappears midway through and is not seen again. Gable's stunt work with the wild horses is thrilling and is the film's highlight but may have cost him dearly with the wear and tear he took doing these scenes. The film is a fine coda to the careers of two of Hollywood's most storied personalities.
The Command (1954)
Okay cavalry-Indian dust-up
A cavalry troop is assigned to escort a wagon train through hostile Indian territory by an inexperienced captain who is also a doctor. Guy Madison, the film's star, is directed to lead the column by the late commander, which causes resentment within the soldier ranks. In addition to having his authority and fitness for leadership questioned, Madison must also fight the spread of smallpox among members of the wagon train and protect his column as it moves westward. The movie's action sequences are essentially a series of running fights with the Indians which are enhanced by wide-sweeping CinenaScope cameras. James Whitmore is the sergeant who comes to respect Madison's unorthodox but effective battle tactics and Joan Weldon is in for the romantic angle with Madison. Ray Teal and Carl Benton Reid, two familiar old-school character actors, are among the cast members.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Colonial conflict has scenic grandeur and beautiful music
The French and Indian War, circa 1757, is the setting for this entertaining slice of American history, replete with bravery, sacrifice, romance and treachery. James Fenimore Cooper's novel, a difficult and ponderous work, flows on screen here with simplicity and great beauty, and is enhanced by fine direction, acting and a beautiful, sweeping music score. Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe headline a solid cast that brings to life this early American work that Cooper himself failed to do. The British, in dire straits for military support, enlist the colonial militia to fight the French and their Indian allies at the risk of leaving their families defenseless in the face of their dangerous foe. The battle scenes are violent, drawn-out affairs, especially the Fort William Henry debacle that commander Marquis de Montcalm couldn't prevent. A major underlying theme of the picture is a Huron's blood vengeance quest against a British colonel which sets in motion the ambushes and animosity that define the movie's narrative. Russell Means and Eric Schweig along with Day-Lewis are the story's heroes and essay the bravery, loyalty and courage of the noble red man.
Tupac Shakur's prophecy
This picture is a disturbing but gripping urban thriller that details the lives of four youngsters who drift aimlessly day by day in search of manhood and self-respect. The film offers a realistic slice of street life in a rough neighborhood where families struggle to keep young teens in school and out of trouble. Peer pressure, petty crime and violence mark the lives of the principals and the lure of a gun and its power result in a showdown between the reluctant Omar Epps and the psychotic Tupac Shakur. The young men are on a macho trip throughout the story, squaring off with rival gangs, the police, authority figures and each other. The movie doesn't dwell on the scourge of drug use and pushers but instead essays the coming of age of black youths in an urban war zone and the many pitfalls they encounter as they approach adulthood. Samuel L. Jackson and Queen Latifah are great in supporting roles and the movie has a nifty hip-hop soundtrack that adds pace to a solid uptown crime drama.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Sean Connery excels in this tense military thriller
Stripped to its bare essentials, this film is a seek-and-destroy mission involving a Soviet state-of-the-art submarine whose captain secretly intends to defect to the United States while pretending to follow orders to patrol the North Atlantic with another Soviet sub. The hero of the film is Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Jack Ryan who somehow divines Lithuanian sub captain Sean Connery's purpose and Ryan has some narrow escapes during the film's many tense moments. Connery is very good and is supported by a solid cast. Fred Dalton Thompson always has his moments and Scott Glenn strikes a chord as the USN sub captain. Too bad that Joss Ackland, with his menacing, steely glare and duplicitous manner didn't have more screen time. A nod also goes to Sam Neill and James Earl Jones. The final underwater chase sequence is a clever, well-done coda to a tense political/military thriller and is one of author Tom Clancy's best screen adaptations.
Good film stumbles at the finish line
Fine drama borrows its theme liberally from the classic "The Postman Always Rings Twice" but manages to establish its own identity in the style of the noir thrillers of the past. A fish seller and his wife take in a wayward drifter who learns the ropes of the business and becomes the odd note of the triad, at the market and in the home. Edward James Olmos and Maria Conchita Alonso, husband and wife team, give young hunk Arie Verveen the sense of family he never had and soon Alonso and Verveen find a way to consummate their subtle but growing passion for each other right under Olmos' unsuspecting nose. An unannounced visit by Hollywood wannabe comic son Steven Schub kicks the drama into higher gear but an unsatisfying ending ruins what was up to that point an interesting movie with its myriad and complex threads of family life. Music score is nice and the end credits are highlighted by a jazzy, moody trumpet solo.