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Comanche Station (1960)
One of the great side-lined Westerns
Story details by other reviewers of Commanche Station are well written; I would like to look at details of this side-lined Western.
To fully understand the nature of Randolph Scott Westerns you have to think the 1950's; I can because I was there, watching every ' cowboy film ' that came out. Westerns then were part of a boys everyday life. I remember at the age of 8-10 riding around my home town on an imaginary horse; we even formed imaginary posses!.....and Westerns were being shown at local cinemas every week.
Randolph Scott played other parts in his long career but achieved a curious fame as a man-of-few-words cowboy. What was it that drew audiences to him despite his limited acting ability?
It is simply this. He was tall and lean, epitomising the rangy, half-starved loner who is doomed, like the Flying Dutchmen to roam the western badlands fruitlessly. He was stoic, thin- lipped, stern-looking, brooding, with sad eyes, forever looking to the next horizon, as he does in this film. If you look into Scott's face there's faint suggestion of longing, a faint wistfulness, hidden by a determined effort to hide any weakness. It's a face that no other western hero has, making Scott a magnet on screen......in the light of this,his acting ability was not in question.
Comanche Station also has a surprisingly good performance from Claude Akins; in fact, stealing a few scenes from Scott. He epitomized malevolency and cold cunning, but smiled easily, perversely emphasising points he made in the character. One long observation his character made concerning Nancy's return to her husband was loaded with cynicism and spite....perfect.In the action scenes he showed himself also to be a fine horseman.....if that really was him firing a rifle on horseback!
Nancy Gates cruised thru her role with little impact; but what western girl didn't?......in the hard, troubled world of the 1950's clearly defined male cowboy, there was little room for strong females.
Commanche Station is a great Western because of it's love affair with the very nature of the genre; tall enigmatic men, the outback, the wide open spaces, the tumbled rocks that threaten to hide hoards of Indians, and the ever-present but unloved horses, surely the most unsung animal of all time.
You'll remember this film because of these things; but mostly because here, encapsulated in 70 minutes, are all of the elements and nuances that all great westerns have or should have.
What more do you want?!
Runaway Train (1985)
One of the great acting roles
I'll keep this simple.Other commentators can guide you through the film. Suffice to say that there are many fine performances in a film of great production values.But you must see this film for one particular performance. Jon Vought grabs his part as Manny Meinham and takes it beyond every other similar part. His acting is a world away from even the best Oscar winners.But this only applies to the first part of the film.His performance in the second part is simply extraordinary.It is compelling, astonishingly convincing and totally absorbing, such that you can't wait to see his next scene. The end scene will, not maybe, stay with you all your life. But don't take my word for it.Extend your film experience and see Runaway Train
The High and the Mighty (1954)
All at sea in the air
High and Mighty is 52 years old now and I'm afraid it shows it. Most of the reviewers of this film have been very generous in their comments, but appear to have their rose-coloured spectacles on.Billed now as the first disaster movie, the real disasters were the special effects, the woeful script, and the lamentable lack of tension throughout the endless film.Thankfully the little boy on board had the good fortune to sleep through it all.
Don't get me wrong; I saw this film in St.Ives,Cornwall, as a lad, and thoroughly enjoyed it; but must you judge a film on how it appeared to you many years ago? Today, I didn't see much Oscar-winning material in a film that knew where it was going, but had no idea on how to get there.Maintaining tension in such a close confine,requires a great script and great directing. This was achieved with memorable effect in 12 Angry Men, in spades. The High and the Mighty is star-studded but none of them gets a actorial break, except Jan Sterling for 8 minutes.; John Wayne's agent should have looked the other way, and Claire Trevor drifts helplessly from scene to scene, to little effect.Robert Newton relentlessly gazes thoughtfully off-screen,determined to keep his face in shot; even a declaration of love fails to move his impassive stance.Robert Stack reprises his Totally Wooden Introspective stereotype, and fails completely to convince, at least me, that he's a pilot with a problem. To my mind, it's as if the director,Wellman,said, "Well folks, there's the set; now do your stuff".Actors, every actor,MUST be directed so that every second they're in front of the camera, is used to further the story; looking at some scenes in this film, I had the distinct impression that Wellman had left the building. The only bright spot was to see, that in 1954, they still had Boeing B-17G's flying around!
Wagon Master (1950)
two cowboys help a wagon train to roll West
Other reviewers have described Wagonmaster splendidly.But I would like to look at it's main lead, Ben Johnson.
I was 10 when Wagonmaster came out, and by then Johnson had become a hero to us boys in St.Ives,Cornwall.Johnson had worked his way up to the Travis Blue role the hard way; from being a rodeo man to John Waynes sidekick.We were fascinated by his horsemanship in his early roles, and were completely sold by his neat act of jumping off a horse whilst it was still moving.Very soon, every lad at school was Ben Johnson, as we charged around on pretend horses. His appeal was in his drawl, the measured, laconic delivery he had. His approach was the easy, deliberate action of a cowboy who was completely honest, trustworthy and dependable. In Wagonmaster he got his break, and with Harry Carey Jnr., formed a memorable parnership. Careys' exuberance somehow balances Johnsons nonchalant style, and they epitomize the young West, it'sdangers, hopes and sorrows.You just know, that as long as they are around, everything is gonna be OK.
For me Ben Johnson is as much a part of the screen West as any of the Western stars, like John Wayne and Gary Cooper. There was no one quite like him, and his roles, small or big, linger in the mind.
The elegiac Wagonmaster is his legacy to Western genre
The Last Wagon (1956)
A renegade half-Indian saves the day in the Old West.
The Last Wagon is not in the Premier League of great westerns; but it should be. Delmer Davis has fashioned an exciting, pacey film, which has all the finest ingredients of the American West.The story is never less than interesting and absorbing,and sometimes superlative. Richard Widmark plays Commanche Todd perfectly, displaying ruthlessness, kindness, charm and craggy reliability, in equal measure.The Widmark easy grin trademark is evident, which only he can switch on, lending light relief to a grim story.
But for me the film is notable for a love scene that compares easily with that of the famous train meeting between Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint in North by Northwest. Felicia Farr as Jenny, and Todd, fetch up in the rocks of the wild prairie, and Todd makes his move. Then follows a curiously compelling verbal exchange that is achingly romantic,full of blossoming love and yearning, and charged with heady excitement.You can almost hear Farr's rapid heart beating. For one brief moment Felica Farr makes herself the most desirable women on the planet.When the kiss comes it makes your heart sigh. Then it's back to the action, and the film pulses along to a satisfying conclusion. But it will be Farr's breathlessness, sensuality and desirability that lingers in the mind.There have been countless Screen Goddess's;but only a few like Felicia Farr and Eve Marie Saint, have been able to effortlessly radiate true sex appeal
Ladies in Lavender (2004)
Two sisters take in a washed-up Pole, who finally leaves
There is a scene in Ladies in Lavender where the young Polish stranger, played by Bruhl, entertains the Cornish folk at a barn dance.I just knew that this was going to be the high point in this disappointing, meandering, and finally pointless film.
It takes more than a few tear-soaked scenes by Dench, many baleful-eye scene-stealer by Smith, and endless surf-and-shingle shots of Cornish coves, to make an entertaining film; and films MUST entertain.
Why Charles Dance concluded that this short story would stretch into a winner, is a mystery.There is not one idea, notion, or subject in this film that hasn't been done before. The script is light, with little substance; people simply have Nothing To Do! The set pieces are artificial, with artificial actors striding about aimlessly; there are many unrelated scenes that serve no apparent purpose; some scenes are prolonged for no real plot purpose. Two aged Cornish yokels have vignettes here and there which are, frankly, embarrassing.Reminded me of the two grouchers in Sesame Street;no purpose.
The actors tried their best. This stuff is meat and drink to Judy Dench and Maggie Smith; but neither is able to prevent a curious distance between the sister characters, which diminishes their realism.I did not care for these two, who appeared to have everything down in Cornwall, except hobbies and Something To Do.
David Warner should really have declined his role as the Doctor with no patients, and even less interest in his work; and I didn't buy the notion that all Bruhl had to do was wince at his poorly ankle, and Warner appeared by his bedside! Margoyles seized her role with more enthusiasm, and barnstormed thru the cast. Bruhl's meteoric acquisition of the English language is nothing short of miraculous and thus ,unbelieveable.The ensemble acting was poorly directed. Worse, was the limp ending, which just went out with the tide. At that stage, I vainly hoped the film would redeem itself with some effort at resolution; no such luck.
Films MUST entertain. Lavender didn't because the short story was too short; the acting wasn't enough to save the trite plot, and the helmer, Charles Dance, still has his L plates up.
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
The merchant of Venice gives out a loan too far.
The Merchant of Venice is one of those Shakesperean plays that tends to bland rather than grand. Having said that, it is like comparing a Gold medal to a Silver medal; both are gongs to die for.So what does director/screenwriter Radford make of this piece? For a start, he scores brilliantly by taking on cinematographer Benoit Delhomme.Delhomme effortlessly evokes the 1590's with scenes that transport the viewer to that age.Use of close-ups and gentle panning engages us in a time long gone, allowing us to absorb the rich dialogue against a convincing back-drop.Costume and art direction is faultless, and the editing is good.
Which is more than can be said for the sound, or the dialogue direction.Shakespeare is at it's best on stage, with strong, clear voice projection. On film this is not so necessary practically, but woe betide any director who allows his Shakespeare actors to mumble; but so they do in this film, with one or two exceptions.The Bairds words are far too important to be lost in the pop-corn-crunching auditorium of a modern cinema. Jeremy Irons floats competently through the role of Antonia, without much enhancement to his career.Lynn Collins is just right in the role of Portia;unlike Goldenhersh,who is all wrong. Ralph Fiennes is....well, Ralph Fiennes. John Sessions and McKenzie Crook do what they can in minor roles, and Anton Rodgers is virtually invisible as the Duke.
None of them stood a chance against the riveting Al Pacino.Is there no bounds to this great actors thespian spread? He is simply compelling as Shylock, and you cannot take your eyes off him.Watch him closely,his every nuance, his eyes and mouth, his hands and body; he isn't just acting Shylock; he IS the Jew of Venice; and here's the best part; your heart goes out to the man in his last scene, standing there,shunned, shoulders drooping,eyes wide in disbelief. Despite his blood lust for revenge, his cruel intransigence, you actually feel sorry for the guy.It is a memorable performance, and easily worth the entry fee alone.
There are some obvious cuts in Shakespeares text, and on action; neither is acceptable in a Shakespeare production. However,Pacini's Merchant is a must-see, especially if you want to see great acting and brilliant cinematography. Go see it.
Red River (1948)
A ruthless cattle boss struggles to get his herd to market
Red River can be compared favourably with many fine Westerns produced, since Tom Mix first jumped into a saddle.But it falls short of being a great Western in several important ways. It really depends on what you think a good Western should consist of. Essential, I think, are tall,lean, dusty loners, enigmatically appearing from the horizon.These lantern-jawed men must face insurmountable odds and win.There must be plenty of guns and sweat-streaked horses about. There must be a hapless heroine, who has nothing-to-do, and she must at some point, despise the loner she will learn to love later. There must be immediate conflict,and it doesn't matter between who.There must be a counter-balancing comic cowboy who is always right, and a crooked bar owner. The villain must despise everything that moves, and be the fastest gun around.
Red River has all of these attributes and more.The story revolves around cowpuncher Dunstan(John Wayne)who is looking for a cattle ranch to run.With the help of Nadine(Walter Brennan)and a lad he virtually adopts, this dream is realised. Soon his large herd of cattle needs to be sold, and the film is about this huge endeavour. And it is this huge herd of cattle that gives Red River a unique sweep and grandeur that encapsulates and epitomise the Old West.The sprawl of cattle is everywhere in the picture, and the viewer is drawn into a long-forgotten world of man and beast on the Great American outback. The herd has a life of it's own as the riders struggle to drive them a thousand miles to the railhead. Cinematographer, Russell Harlan, perfectly captures the breadth and scale of the outback, and gives the film a memorable ambiance of light and shade. John Wayne stands tall as the grim Dunstan, and gives a good performance. Walter Brennan is outstanding as Nadine, having already cornered the market on Best Supporting Actor Oscars,(three).John Ireland is excellent as the edgy Cherry Valance, but is wasted by the Director. It is Montgomery Cliff, however, who steals the show as Garth. Not so much for his acting, which is very good, but more for the curiously compelling image he portrays on screen, in all his roles; somehow you can't take your eyes off him.He is stern, ruthless, compassionate and tender; sometimes all at once.He alone is the complete person in the picture, a varied mix of emotions and mood that all of us are prone to.It is a memorable performance. The downside of Red River is the wavering script, which tips some actors into a pit of absurdity from which there is no escape.Joanne Dru as Tess, incredibly falls in love in 2 milliseconds. One minute she is pounding the chin of this stranger; the next she is stroking it.
But the best of Red River is the best of all Westerns, the best of all human spirit and endeavour. Along with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, this movie should be in everyone's collection. I liked one Brennan line;"I don't like strangers;they never good news me"
Oh, it did lack one important element; where,oh where, was Ben Johnson?
King Rat (1965)
A gritty prison camp film, well directed and with great photography
There are many WWII prison camp films, but King Rat stands out for its gritty treatment of how prisoners survive in there bleak and painful worlds, where the meaning of hope has long been forgotten. George Segal as Cpl King knows all the angles, and has funds to buy what he wants. He lives the easy life while others suffer around him.Soon he meets up with James Fox, an RAF Officer and buys him as well.A man with little redemption potential you might say; but then the unexpected happens. King Rat effectively explores the roles of the prisoners in relation to their survival.It shows that staying alive is not necessarily to do with determination, or courage, but often due to darker actions, where hate is a cohesive force to survival. Segal is excellent as the well-heeled Cpl, if a trifle too bright-eyed. Fox starts off in third but hits top gear later as the troubled Flight Lt.However,his curious ballet-like gait does seem out of sorts for a Jap prison camp. Courtney makes a fine Provost Marshall, but somehow lacks the steel for the job, and finally fails to convince. King Rat tops the prison camp movies, including The Great Escape, for it's honest and gritty, realistic exploration of hate and redemption. Brian Forbes can be proud of this film, not the least for the outstanding photography,( Oscar-nominated), and excellent acting. See it.
Stage Beauty (2004)
A pulsating movie, with directorial energy; and a great ending.
Stage Beauty grabs the 17th century genre, and fans out to be one of the best of the period films.Pausing only for title breath, it plunges into the world of early theatre when men were women, and women were....er..not actors.Acting was not as we know it, and histrionic gestures ruled the boards.Billy Crudup, from his first scene is mesmerising as the male actor immersed in female roles.He is utterly believable in the part, and eventually wrings extraordinary pathos from his role. Danes spiritedly goes with him and has her moments too, in a pacy story that embraces all manner of theatre life 300 years ago
The themes of death and birth are explored in a most unusual way, that results in a brilliant, and satisfying, ending. Rupert Everett shines as Charles II, in a curiously foppish depiction. But none can outshine the sweep of Cruddups performance, packed with nuance and sensitivity. Everywhere he creatively goes, the viewer goes with him. Only Mark Rylance comes to mind, who could possibly play the part. Richard Eyre has helmed a great movie, easily worth a re-watch and a definite addition to any DVD library. Haven't seen it? Lucky you; you have a visual treat in store.