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History lessons should be bound by the facts
28 April 2010
The question of this movie's lack of action scenes has come up, and the point was made that the movie works as a "tutorial" or history lesson. Well, if that's the case, poetic license goes out the window and the movie must be judged more stringently on one central criterion-- does it get the facts right.

As history has sorted things out, serious questions have arisen about Halsey's competence at Guadalcanal, and the consensus seems to be that he was found wanting. The greatest tactical error he made was in falling for a Japanese ruse, and sending his main force on a long chase northward, away from the scene where the actual battle unfolded.

I know a movie made in 1960 can't be expected to emphasize a "hero's" shortcomings, but the issue did come up in 1944, and Nimitz seriously considered whether Halsey should remain in command of his battle group. That deliberation was well known, and its omission was a deliberate choice by the movie makers.

In 1960 sanitized biographies of war heroes was par for the course-- to take a "warts and all" approach would've distinguished this film and, I believe, made it a better one.
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The screening of these 3 films was a national event in the 1950s.
29 June 2009
This comment about the "Samurai Trilogy" starts on the page for Miyamoto Musashi (Samurai I). My first viewing of the second episode was memorable because I got to take the train into town all by myself, and view it in a Tokyo theater. The first episode had just been shown on base, in a sort of cultural exchange, and my parents saw it and were pleasantly non-outraged-- I was a 9-year-old samurai-movie addict, and they believed enthusiasm beyond a certain intensity should be curbed. It was the same conflict as comic books some few years earlier. Technicolor was a big deal back then, especially in Japan, and it became the issue on which my viewing of "swordfighting movies" was decided-- the ones in color were historical films worth viewing, and even had something to teach. The black-and-white ones shown in Irumagawa and surrounding villages-- I had to sneak off to see. Ichijoji no Ketto (Duel at Ichijoji Temple) shows Miyamoto-san's achievements, while barring no holds on the issue of what they cost him. The romantic subplot continues, though its development in the western sense (toward union, wedded bliss) is thwarted at every turn. The issue is always a conflict between love and duty, and each deferment of gratification spells out a new step in the redefinition of the national character that is being mapped here. Again, some of the importance of all this is lost, even to modern Japanese audiences for whom the issues are long settled-- at the time, though, they were cliffhangers. A new character is introduced, Kojiro Sasaki who will emerge in part 3 as a rival for Musashi-- his equal except for certain features in their respective character. By the way, the score is excellent and haunting-- it extends like a symphony through all three parts, and has a leitmotif "hook" that will cause your ears to pick up in recognition, perhaps years from now, when you hear it again.
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This trilogy was an event of national importance back in the 50s.
29 June 2009
This is the third part of a comment on The "Samurai Trilogy," following those on the pages for Miyamoto Musashi (Samurai I) and Ichijoji no Ketto (Samurai II). Ketto Genryujima (Duel at Genryu Island) can be seen as part 1 come full cycle, as the young Kojiro seeks validation through a confrontation in arms with Musashi. In fact this is mostly his movie in spite of Mifune's top billing, and Musashi's love interest Otsu is likewise partially eclipsed by her rival and foil Akemi and her machinations. The climactic finish is deferred many times, but each bit of side action comes forth with a sense of necessity, and its ethical principle is illustrated in a way that comes naturally from the context, and is not imposed with a didactic tone. By the time the duel happens, both participants have grown as men-- appreciative of the grand scheme of things, humbled by the small part they play, and respectful of each other. We do see the hateful side of the "bad guy," but such glimpses are then followed by an honorable act of some sort, or by evidence that he has reflected on his methods, and come to see a better way he should've followed. Inagaki's films, especially these three, have always been the best-regarded of the "classy" samurai movies-- I lived in Japan during the time these films were made, and I can tell you there were plenty of "trashy" ones! Today's pulp doesn't hold a candle. However seriously these films were taken in Japan, in the west there's been a tendency to pigeonhole them as samurai flicks, and the trilogy is only recently being seen as one major work, though I've still yet to see it shown all at once, as a single entity. Why that is, I'll never know, as the whole thing is uniform in quality, and the parts work as an epic accumulation as well as they stand on their own. The first episode did win the Oscar for best Foreign-language film, but interest in the rest of the trilogy was sporadic-- the films were issued and re-issued under generic-sounding names over the years, and when spoken of together it was in an off-putting way, simply as Samurai 1, 2 and 3. But Inagaki's masterpiece is the capstone of a distinguished career that began in the prewar silent era, and though he was deemed too "Japanese" and too specialized in Bushido culture and the prewar past by western critics, this work transcends all those inapt criticisms and is very satisfying fare to native and foreign viewer alike-- I am delighted to present the intact trilogy in support of these claims. (Look for it on YouTube, on the cuFFBlinks channel).
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A milestone in Japanese postwar social development.
29 June 2009
The importance of the Miyamo Musashi saga has been lost somewhat today, even in Japan. These were not just early high-quality color samurai movies, not just great films-- they were a nationwide event, and a milestone in Japanese social evolution. The early 50s were a time of postwar healing, and there were unsettled questions about the national character. The Miyamo Musashi saga used the past to dramatize issues of morality-- and, even more important at the time, morale. Japan had no problem westernizing and living under the rule of law under terms imposed by victors in war-- the knotty issue was, how much of the past do we keep alive in our daily thoughts and actions, and just how much of the real Japan, the one we remember, will our children and grandchildren inherit, once the aftermath of global war has subsided? Watch these films with such then-important issues in mind, and your experience will be deepened and enriched. All three episodes are directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and star Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto-san, in a performance that is perfection. Miyamoto Musashi shows the young samurai aspirant as a hot-headed, imperfect man, neither hero nor monster-- but possessed of a fierce dark force that could impel him toward either outcome. The question of women looms large in this trilogy-- how to treat them, what kind of woman to honor and what kind to avoid, and just how the diametrically-opposite traits of women work in the world, whether at odds or in harmony with those of men. All these issues are played out without preachiness, in the actions of real people, well-drawn characters whom we meet and get to know before the episode ends in a series of parting of ways. (continued on the page for Ichijoji no Ketto)
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Calcutta (1969)
defensive reviews
23 March 2009
I wish people who review movies would do exactly that, and not go flying off on political tangents that aren't necessary or relevant. Yes, Kolkata is different 40 years after this film was shot. What bearing does this have on a film made in 1968? And I don't know why one commenter berated the United States in such broad-sweeping terms, beginning with the false assumption that "we" don't know about our own slums-- and the implicit idea, about as inane as it gets, that American filmmakers don't make films about poverty in America. It's hard to find American films that are NOT critical of their own country-- I know this because I pay some degree of attention.

Not that diatribes against the U.S. have squat to do with this film under consideration. It is a FRENCH film.

There are plenty of sites people eager to vent their bigotry against other peoples and other nations can go, and be welcome.

As for this movie, it "speaks" for itself-- mainly by presenting the subject with as little interpretive voice-over as is possible. To see it attacked on trumped up ideological grounds-- well, it makes my jaw drop.
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The Loved One (1965)
Read his lips!
13 March 2008
I can only echo the excellent comments of others who've heaped praise on this unique movie-- it's on my 20-best-ever too, for sure.

I do have a kind of eccentric technical point to make that might be of interest, so here goes.

One of the reviewers warned of "dubbing and sound issues," but I wonder if a deliberate cinematic trick isn't escaping his notice.

Whenever Harry, the pet cemetery owner, is talking to his (evil twin) brother the Blessed reverend, he calls him "Will" (name in the credits is Wilbur)-- but that isn't what his lips are saying! If you watch carefully, there are at least a couple of cases where it looks pretty obvious he is saying "Satan!" Assuming this is true, it's a wonderful subliminal trick possible only in movies-- definitely adds to the hilarious-but-creepy impression of "the Blessed Reverend's" black-helicopter appearances from on high.

Anybody else see this? If not, I might just be nuts-- in my comment on the movie "the Third Secret" I noticed another example of just such a use of dubbing to convey a subliminal message. Only in that movie, the "subconscious" word (said by the lips but heard as another word) has to do with a key element in the plot-- namely how many patients the murdered psychiatrist had at the time of his death.

In this case the trick is incidental, kind of a throwaway-- one of the many extra touches that are strewn so generously throughout. Or of course it could just be dubbing and soundtrack glitches!
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Spooky and erotic
26 December 2005
Pamela Franklin is at her precocious best in this tale of "psychoanalytical" intrigue with boundary-crossing sexual overtones. Precocity often took her into territory it's now fashionable to call "inappropriate," such as the schoolgirl love interest she played with a randy old artist in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." Though understated and implicit in "The Third Secret," her emotionally-troubled character's relationship with Stephen Boyd's character is in this same vein. All of 18 when I saw this in theatrical release, I was captivated. The movie is still a guilty pleasure, though you have to suspend a lot of disbelief to get back in that naive early-60s groove when sexuality was still portrayed indirectly through characters who were not exactly the Free Spirits that populated such films later in the decade.

Look for a spooky cinematic trick toward the end of the film, when Stephen Boyd's character is just starting to unravel the big Secret. Pamela makes a statement about how many patients her father had-- Stephen thinks he misheard her, and asks her to repeat what she said. Watch carefully for the "subliminal" trick, which could easily go unnoticed-- it made the hair on my arms stand up.

Hokey in parts, and based on some then-commonplace misconceptions about psychiatric disorders, the movie still works if you can accept it on its own terms. At the very least its understatement is a refreshing change from the noise-saturated frantic bombast of today's not-so-spooky films, with their mindless reliance on sensory overload and oh-so-special effects.
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