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"It's like something out of a dream."
As Luke Skywalker sits in a swamp on an alien world talking to his droid companion R2-D2 he unwittingly gives that most accurate of all descriptions for this movie. The Empire Strikes Back does indeed seem like the stuff of dreams. The images, the music, a beautiful princess, a city floating in the clouds,...the atmosphere is surreal and unearthly. One critic aptly stated that it was hard to believe this movie was even filmed on earth. This epic battle of good versus evil in a galaxy far, far away has elements of all your favorite space, fantasy, and swashbuckler stories. It strikes a responsive chord somewhere deep in your memory. Again Luke says it best with his observation that "there's something familiar about this place."
From the outset, Empire Strikes Back was in a class by itself, far outshining its two companions in the trilogy, Episodes Four and Six. Even the newest Star Wars offerings, Episodes One, Two, and Three don't quite measure up to this 1980 blockbuster. George Lucas now has access to much more wondrous technology to tell his stories but he has fallen into the trap of relying too heavily on computer-generated images. When this technique is overdone what you end up with looks kind of like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. That's okay while you're trying to find a good seat in the theater, but when the actual movie starts the audience expects to see something a little more real. By contrast, when you watch ESB you have to keep REMINDING yourself that it's not real! That's the highest compliment you can pay a sci-fi movie.
Well, Empire is back in the stores again. For a limited time of course. I look forward to the day Congress declares this movie a national treasure like The Wizard of Oz. Then maybe George Lucas won't be able to yank it off the store shelves whenever he feels like it. If you're like me, a Star Wars fan from way back, it's time to get reacquainted with an old friend. If you still haven't seen The Empire Strikes Back at all, shame on you for putting it off so long. But I envy you the adventure you are, I hope, about to discover.
Our Man Flint (1966)
Rollicking good fun.
This movie is something of a minor masterpiece. It should be in every home library. Sure it's a little silly but so was the decade of the 1960s that spawned it. Derek Flint (James Coburn) was America's answer to the British super spy James Bond, hence the title Our Man Flint. But all the 007 and Matt Helm movies together aren't as much fun as this spy spoof. Colorful and well-directed, it doesn't take itself too seriously and throws in some good gags to keep you chuckling. Jerry Goldsmith does another excellent musical score, as good as or better than anything from the 007 genre.
Our Man Flint is pure escapism and a good investment if you can find it. James Coburn is no longer with us, and like any great work of art Our Man Flint is even more valuable now that the artist has died.
Dark Shadows (1966)
Move over, Buffy.
Warning: Soap operas are habit-forming, and this is about the most addictive one ever filmed. Dark Shadows, the daytime serial which ran in the 1960s broke new ground to say the least. A vampire (Barnabas Collins) is released after a 170 year imprisonment to wreak havoc on his old stomping grounds. There's witchcraft, ghosts, romance, unrequited love, bodies buried in the cellar, duels to the death, werewolves....Any one of these elements is enough to build a story on. Put them all together and you've started a new religion. No wonder DS had such a dedicated cult following. Now it's back, released on DVD and unless I'm badly mistaken a whole new generation is out there getting hooked on this crazy show. The old B&W episodes are fun to watch and the restored color programs look better than ever.
This show is well worth restoring. One reason; never before or since have so many gorgeous actresses been gathered together in one place. For us guys that alone makes it worth a look. Lara Parker is stunningly beautiful as Angelique. Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans) came to the series from Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club. Need I say more? Nancy Barrett (Carolyn) is a blonde bombshell in her own right. And we certainly can't leave out Alexandra Moltke (Victoria Winters) who on a good day tops them all. No wonder the plain-looking Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) couldn't score with Barnabas. She had no chance against competition like that. And like any soap there are plenty of handsome hunks for the ladies to admire. David Selby, Roger Davis, Joel Crothers, and of course Jonathan Frid (Barnabas) to name a few.
Dark Shadows is remembered as being campy with lots of bloopers. You see overhead microphones, malfunctioning props, actors flubbing their lines. But this just adds to the fun. It was more like a stage play than a TV series. As a daily show with so many special effects they were in uncharted waters. They did well considering the technology available at the time. On a limited budget they even had to borrow equipment from other sets on occasion. As the star, Jonathan Frid was carrying a tremendous workload. He rarely got enough sleep so he was bound to flub now and then. Some days even without makeup he probably looked like one of the undead.
For those of us over 40 seeing these shows again is like going to a reunion. The DVD set includes interviews with the surviving and now much older actors, a sad reminder of how much time has passed. But life goes on and vampire tales are hot stuff right now. Youngsters who are seeing all this for the first time will laugh at the bloopers. But they'll keep coming back for more. Some of the bloopers are not really bloopers at all. They're just life the way it really happens. We all flub our lines and drop things in our daily lives. And when Quentin yanks that sword off the wall, unintentionally sending a few other items crashing to the floor, well that could just as easily have been part of the script. Indeed, it might have made the scene more intense. Dark Shadows is the most far-fetched soap opera ever made. But at the same time it's the most believable because the characters stammer, stumble, and bang their heads on low hanging objects just like we do. That's why we love them. And that's why we'll always love this show.
The Enemy Below (1957)
Entertaining and educational.
What's really impressive about this movie is the photography. When you see Robert Mitchum actually standing on the deck of a destroyer with depth charges going off behind it, you know somebody went to a lot of trouble to get all this on film. That destroyer is no movie set. You'll find very few backdrops and special effects here except for underwater shots of the enemy U-boat, and even those are above average. It all seems ahead of its time somehow, the brilliant color footage, the musical score, and the attention to detail.
The Enemy Below is a fascinating study of WW2 anti-submarine warfare. Although the ending is a little corny, the anti-war message is timeless and quite appropriate. Especially now (Oct. 2004) as America is being dragged into another real conflict. It's certainly worth a look.
The War Lord (1965)
This is the role Charlton Heston was born to play.
If you're under 20 years of age this flick is going to look a little strange to you. There are no super-women wielding swords in battle, very little profanity, and the only sex is in PG form. Made in 1965, The Warlord is an accusing yet romantic look at medieval Europe. It's no Disney movie, but you could still take the whole family to see it.
The cast is first rate. Forget El Cid. This is the role Charlton Heston was born to play. You can pretty much say that about all the great actors in this story, most of whom are gone now. Richard Boone, Guy Stockwell, Maurice Evans, Michael Conrad,...but thank heaven we have them all assembled here in this exciting yarn about the middle ages. There's plenty of action, romance, and even a little comic relief. Men will enjoy the kick-butt sword fights, (Heston kicks one guy in the groin actually,--crude but effective). Ladies should enjoy the romance if they can remember that this is happening in the year 1060, long before the women's movement. The hero Chrysagon fights two empires for the love of one woman, says the promo. Even in 1965 that was enough for most women. The peasant girl Bronwyn, played by Rosemary Forsyth, has scores of men killing each other over her, although quite unintentionally.
Other good ingredients: a rousing and romantic musical score, and some well-done outdoor photography of Chrysagon's tower fortress and the battle scenes.
All in all, this is a great movie to watch on some Saturday afternoon. It will take you away from your problems for a while to a time and place long ago. And since medieval Europe really stank, it will make today's world look pretty good to you again.
Hour of the Gun (1967)
Great film, bad timing.
Hour of the Gun is a superb western with a top-notch cast and a most memorable musical score. So why was it a box-office flop? Unfortunately it came along at a time when westerns were on their way out, no longer fashionable. The hour of the "ridiculous gun" had arrived. Westerns were soon replaced with parodies of westerns such as Support Your Local Sheriff, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, etc. Fun movies to be sure, but the cynicism which had begun to take hold in America in 1967 and made them hits was a death knell for serious films about the old west. For me, Hour of the Gun has stood the test of time. It's as absorbing now as when I first saw it. If it were re-released today, would it succeed at the box office? Probably not. Although the cynicism of 1967 is gone, it has been replaced by male-bashing. This film is strictly for guys. There's no female lead character or even a minor one. No wonder Hour of the Gun is still consigned to the rotten tomatoes bin. Although it's a darn good movie, its "hour" may never come, at least not in our lifetime.