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A Film for Historians...Plodding and Slow
If you go to see this film expecting another trite and mundane rendition of the life of President Abraham Lincoln, you will be sorely disappointed. "Lincoln" is a plodding account of the 16th President's efforts to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, which, coincidentally, mirror the final months of his life. Spielberg's effort to lend humanity to another episode of history falls short of the mark. During the initial 10 minutes my wife and I looked at each other as if to say, "I hope the next two hours and twenty minutes don't move as painfully as this." Everything "Lincolnese" eventually gets trotted out, from two enlisted men reciting the Gettysburg Address (shades of the MGM short of the 1930's where the blind soldier does the same, not realizing that he is speaking to Lincoln himself), to every "Lincolism" that can possibly be squeezed into the script. SPOILER ALERT: Eventually, we come to understand how a presidentially approved conspiracy leads to the amendment's passage, but we get there much in the way that we would get from Philadelphia to New York by way of London. Daniel Day Lewis, Hal Holbrook, and Tommy Lee Jones are magnificent actors, and do yeoman's jobs supporting a script that is, at times, laughable. The film could very well have ended with Lincoln leaving the White House for Ford's Theatre, but it still moves on. If the anti-climax of showing Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address was an absolute necessity, I personally would have faded to black with highlights on the faces of Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, who, in reality was standing only feet from the President as he delivered his speech.
Not one of the better episodes
This particular episode holds your interest until you reach the (predictable) twist at the end, which then makes the entire story implausible. Everything in the "abandoned" town is perfectly to scale, and realistic down to the nth degree. The hungover couple, Barry Nelson and Nancy Malone, actually believe they are on earth. The sun shines, the breeze blows, the train they ride on looks (on the interior) like a modern coach on the 20th Century Limited. Then comes the end...the alien child "playing with the pets that Daddy brought all the way from earth" on a train set that looks like it was created by a 12 year old. The couple must have been REALLY hung over to be fooled by this set up. The viewer feels like he/she has been had!!!
In My Top 5 List - of "Zones" I Don't Watch...
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" has to be one of the most boring "Zones" ever made. It was on Sci-Fi this morning, and, as usual, I changed the channel. I put it in my Top Five list of the worst "Zones" ever produced. Dull and predictable, and not worth watching. Serling worked this theme to death (earthlings in the hands of aliens, who often were giants), and in this particular version, it just doesn't work. Anyone who hasn't seen it before, will quickly figure it out. This is another Serling philosophical mood piece, perhaps paralleling the plight of those in prisoner of war or concentration camps, where the imprisoned may lose interest in finding out where they are or fighting their captors. William Windom, as the soldier who is the last to "drop in" is the only one curious to make the effort, and it doesn't take long to figure the outcome.
Probably the Best Zone Ever Written
If I was sucked into that old conundrum, "Suppose you were trapped on a desert island...in space...in a locked room...etc. and could only bring one episode of the Twilight Zone with you, which one would it be???" By far, it would be "Walking Distance." I was thirteen when I first saw it as it premiered in 1959, and despite the fact that I have seen it probably dozens of times since, it never loses its magic. Those who view it for the first time now may criticize the acting, sets, dialog, etc...but putting it into the perspective of its age...it was wonderful. After all, being transported back from 1959 to 1934 would not be as significant today (2008) as being transported back to 1983. The changes in the former are probably far less dramatic in scope to us now who have experienced it. Television was the biggest technological advancement then (with automobiles not far behind)...look at us today with computers, the internet, IPOD's, DVD's, Gameboys...and the list goes on.
So Gig Young was able to transition more easily back 25 years, and as Martin Sloan, he doesn't even realize it until he sees his old house, knocks on the door, and finds his parents still living there. "Mom, how can you be here?" he stammers, as he recalls her death. "Pop" Sloan is not stilted, as many critics may imply...he speaks simply the way a puzzled Midwesterner might, given the implausible set of circumstances into which he has just been thrust. He now has two sons...one who is eleven and one who is 36...and they are one in the same. "Mom" is merely a secondary character...the typical "weak woman" role of the times, who panics, and then steps immediately into the background to let "Pop" Sloan deal with the "Madman" who has presented himself at their front porch. When "Pop" finally comes to the realization of the truth, he confronts Martin...not is a hostile way, but in a fatherly way, with a mixture of sadness and sympathy: sadness at what his son will become, but with the sympathy to confer a father's words of wisdom, which finally enable Martin to return to the present and deal with his life in more peaceful manner.
"Walking Distance" has a message for all of us. Yes, it's true that you can't go home again, but you can apply those lessons learned at "home" to today, in order to make our lives a lot better.
Ghost-Town Gold (1936)
Stock "Three Mesquiteers" Western
Played to death on New York's Channel 13 cowboy theater shows in the 1950's, "Ghost Town Gold" became one of my favorite "Three Mequiteers" westerns...right up there with "Riders of the Whistling Skull." Typical Robert Livingston - "Crash" Corrigan - Max Terhune fare with lots of action and shoot 'em up, made even more appealing with the addition of Kay Hughes as the love interest and a crazy old miner that "haunts" the ghost town using ghostly booby traps and weird sound effects to protect "his" gold. I loved it as a kid and tried to locate it for years...finally finding the videotape...and re-living my misspent youth!
The Undying Monster (1942)
One of the Better Non-Universal Horror Mysteries
I first saw this movie on television in the mid-50's and as a 10 year old, found it pretty scary. It seemed to have disappeared from the tube for quite a while, and the next time I was able to catch it (short of buying the video) was this year on American Movie Classics. It had lost none of its mystique, and even made more sense, seeing it as an older adult. This is a superb rainy Saturday flick for anyone that...in Detective Christie's words...doesn't want to "...tax their poor brain..." It rates as a better B grade mystery than it does a horror film, and little inconsistencies in the plot line don't really detract. Unlike other horror films of the 1940's, there is not too much comedy relief to spoil it, and the acting is better than average. The major fault to me is: Where did Oliver Hammond get those gashes in the initial attack on Kate O'Malley??? Did Kate do it to him? (Possibly). Or the dog? (Probably) If Oliver was victim of the family curse and turned into a werewolf to attack Kate (which seems to be the premise, as Oliver's Spaniel attacks him..."a good dog never attacks its own Master...") the film had to do a little dancing to make him look innocent. Without this, the already thin plot becomes even thinner, and you might guess the villain in the first 10 minutes and go home. But relax, and enjoy the mystery!
Hitler--Dead or Alive (1942)
Worse Than Plan 9 From Outer Space???
Three gangsters head for Nazi Germany to capture Adolph Hitler and claim a big monetary reward. With a lot of Fuherer imposter's, how would they find the "real" Hitler: Simple, he had a beer stein cut on his upper lip delivered during the famous Munich Beer Hall Putsch, and grew his trademark mustache to cover it up. All the boys had to do was keep shaving "Hitlers" until they found the real one with the scar. And how did they learn to speak German??? Simple: (in Ward Bond's words) "...from driving a beer truck in Milwaukee..." To everyone who tells me that "Plan 9 From Outer Space" was the worst film ever made, I simply reply: "You haven't seen 'Hitler: Dead or Alive." Watch it for laughs!