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The Hunters (1958)
I read that the book on which this movie is based was one of the best to portray combat pilots. So I rented it last year from Netflix and enjoyed the photography of classic 50's era fighters and watching Robert Wagner act like a 50's rebel. Today I finally got around to reading James Salter's book, The Hunters, on which the movie is based. The book is actually about the tension between Cleve (the Robert Mitchum Character) and Pell (the Robert Wagner character)and it has an extraordinarily dramatic climactic battle and an ending that brought tears to my eyes. But virtually nothing in the book is in the movie! This is a classic case of Hollywood raping a serious book thinking they would clean up at the box office. If they had stayed true to Salter's novel, the movie would be a classic instead of a curio that we watch for a Technicolor thrill.
Bell Book and Candle (1958)
I researched this film a little and discovered a web site that claims it was actually an inside joke about the Post WWII Greenwich Village world of gays and lesbians. With the exception of Stewart and Novak, the warlocks and witches represented that alternative lifestyle. John Van Druten who wrote the stage play was apparently gay and very familiar with this Greenwich Village. I thought this was ironic because I first saw Bell, Book and Candle in the theater when I was in 5th or 6th grade just because my parents took me. It was hard to get me to a movie that didn't include horses, machine guns, or alien monsters and I planned on being bored. But, I remember the moment when Jimmy Stewart embraced Kim Novak on the top of the Flatiron building and flung his hat away while the camera followed it fluttering to the ground. As the glorious George Duning love theme soared, I suddenly got a sense of what it felt like to fall in love. The first stirrings of romantic/sexual love left me dazed as I left the theater. I am sure I'm not the only pre-adolescent boy who was seduced by Kim Novak's startling, direct gaze. It's ironic that a gay parable was able to jump-start heterosexual puberty in so many of us. I am in my late 50's now and re-watched the film yesterday evening and those same feelings stirred as I watched that hat touch down fifty years later . . .
Jet Pilot (1957)
Fascinating Piece of Cold War Progaganda
Someday a book must be written to explain the failures of great directors. This film is directed by the great Joseph Von Sternberg but not a touch of his greatness shows up on the screen. It is an unintentionally hilarious piece of overstated Cold War Propaganda relieved only by the leering glances of John Wayne at 23 yr. old Janet Leigh. There is nothing here to suggest it was directed by anything other than a studio hack. There must be a story in the fact that this film though completed in 1950 was not released until 1957. I saw this as a child and was, of course, transfixed by the flying scenes. It was not until a few years ago while reading Chuck Yeager's autobiography that I learned he did some of the flying at the behest of the Air Force. There are also scenes of what looks like the Bell X-1 (the rocket plane in which he broke the sound barrier). This film shows up on AMC quite often and, heaven help me, I sometimes can't turn it off as I wonder at the awfulness of it!