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Rendezvous in Space (1964)
Don't Confuse this with the Other Frank Capra Films or Documentaries
Capra, in the previous decade, had done a really good number of fun and top quality documentaries. So I had high expectations for this one.
This review is to keep you from having that same experience. This short has its ups and downs, but I'm hoping you can avoid the disappointments and confusions it might otherwise bring you.
There is some good stuff here, so you will be rewarded for watching, but I think the opening minutes are a puzzle. The first minutes are the views of one rocket launch after another, after another, after ... yes, really, they go on for a loooong time. It is not a spoiler to say that one blows up ... but the next shot is of a scientist/engineer who thoughtfully writes something in his notebook, and there are more rocket launches ... so we don't understand what the point is of all the rocket launches. No one explains what we are seeing or why.
Finally we get a quick audio and shot of an astronaut reporting from the early 1960s, one-person Mercury ship, and then another long long time of watching the Earth from 100 miles up over the Atlantic, and more Atlantic, and then we're told to watch for Africa, and a long time later we wish Australia a "good night", as we look at footage of Earth from 100 miles up.
And THEN it gets to be like Frank Capra for a little while. We see a cartoon moon (voiced by Jim Backus) getting worried by all the rocket launches and complaining to Mr. Space (voiced by Paul Frees), who says mankind has no reason to go to Mr. Moon. Next is a series of man-in-the-street interviews done by Danny Thomas, who is the narrator for the rest of the film ...
... which turns into a depiction of a kind of mini-shuttle taking astronauts and supplies to an orbiting, nuclear powered, space station. There is a quick "Rendezvous in Space" fulfilling the title.
For almost half of the short, it is just the shorts of rockets and the Earth. The very short cartoon and interview clips are played for laughs. The trip to the space station and back is pretty static animation.
If you are into old space documentary for historic reasons, it's not a bad look at one 1964 mission concept that didn't make it. (The mini-shuttle is not the "Dyna-Soar" plane, more like the "lifting body" vehicle (with aft-section cargo and equipment modules) that was shown in the "Marooned" movie. The space lab is neither Skylab nor the old MOL orbiting lab.) The need for isometric exercises is shown correctly, inside the space lab. There is an amusing sequence in which some experimental flowers there complain about continually trying to face the sun during the 45 minute days.
If you like seeing the old faces and hearing the old voices again, you can pick out the people who voiced Fred Flintstone and Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Danny Thomas was incredibly popular at the time.
But if you were interested in Frank Capra's last documentary, it's a disappointing comparison to his others.
(I will UPDATE this just a bit with personal stuff ... I was one of the smart-aleck space-nut kids that loved the Space Program. I saw this a little after the New York World's Fair, but I don't think my family saw it there; it was a little after, at some museum or something out in the country. We were in something like a planetarium and it was projected up on the curved ceiling. (The idea that we had pictures of rocket launches, and color film of the Earth from 100 miles up, that was a new thing and people were fired up about it. So it's fair to say that not many objected to the long "looking down on the world" sequence, or to all the rocket launches. I remember liking them myself, but getting tired after a while. (It is worth remembering that this film is probably intended to be a part of a bigger exhibit.)
Countdown to Looking Glass (1984)
the Gingrich interview alone makes it worthwhile
One thing has changed since this movie was shown in 1984. ... At the time, it had been a decade since the war in Vietnam had ended. America had lost its stomach for war, and this film about getting into another one would touch lots of nerves.
Now, three or four wars later (who's keeping count anymore?), it should be required viewing.
"Looking Glass" is the name given to the President's flying command post, called that because there are two such planes that look very much alike, mirror images of each other. One is real, the other is the decoy. A chilling piece of information that would convey, if the two planes ever took off, that we really are in a shooting, nuclear war. And as the steps towards the Big War are taken, there is a "countdown" to the takeoff of the Looking Glass command post and decoy. Hence the title.
Gritty realism, a strong strong strong feeling in my gut that, if "it" ever happened, "it" could look exactly like this. I remember that sober churning inside, when I saw this some time in the 1990s. Only this week I was reflecting on how little they actually spent on special effects, but what an explosive wallop they got out of the effects they had, fast paced by the script, the sets, the commentators, everything that HBO had available to tell the story from a network's point of view.
The film had to make me think, and I immediately realized what was the most hard hitting memorable scene for me.
(Not a spoiler, discloses nothing, and is very early in the film) The news anchor turns to interview a "talking head". It is Newt Gingrich, as he was back then, a young young congressperson on his way up.
The anchor points out that the crisis is very deadly. Gingrich agrees.
"We may die," the anchor persists. Again, an agreement.
Then the anchor asks "Is there anything worth dying for?" And Gingrich responds "Tragically, the answer is 'yes'".
He points out that if the US were to back down, we would be submitting to slavery, and that our freedom is worth dying for. Freedom does not come cheaply and should not be yielded. He comes across as more than a leader, certainly a statesman, and in this film performs the thankless job task of saying something we might not want to hear.
I have said this before -- I say a movie is very, very good if I have continued to remember and ponder on it, years and years later. And Looking Glass has stayed with me in that way.
most disturbing, but also most humane. genuine classic.
Recently someone asked for 'that most disturbing movie of all time', and received replies in the form of lists. Regardless of whether or not this tops your list, I claim that one does have to see Freaks (1932). Any discussion of "the most disturbing movie of all time" would have to include a mention of this film.
The film concerns people with birth defects and other deformities and was made, not with makeup, but with actors and actresses that had these conditions in real life (i.e., the siamese twins are real conjoined siblings; and the "pinheads" are actual microcephalics).
If one has a shred of humanity within oneself, then you'll be able to sit through this and try to see the movie through the eyes of the freaks. The chills come as one thinks about what really -would- happen if sideshow exhibit people decided to take their revenge on those that humiliate and exploit them. And you will understand that the "monster" in this film is not the very weird looking people, but perhaps one of the "beautiful" "normal" persons.
Good reasons to see it include its impact since its release (the IMDb "movie connections" page for it is extensive). Lots of other people have seen it and can't forget it and they talk about it. Cultural references are out there; every time you hear "one of us, one of us" you will revisit that special feeling and horror. It was banned because it came on the scene just as the censors were given control, so it wasn't shown for decades. See "trivia"; there are still parts of the USA in which it is technically illegal to show this film.
And that you possibly will be like me, and think about it, and reflect on it, for the rest of your life.
It might not be your particular "most disturbing movie of all time", but as part of one's education, one sit-through is required, if you can stomach it.
We'll Take Manhattan (1967)
I Would Not Mind Seeing This Again
Summertime TV fare used to include pilot episodes of show ideas that were not bought. "We'll Take Manhattan", if I remember correctly, was one of these.
I absolutely loved the main idea. Yes, (the show says) the Dutch did indeed pay some natives about $24 in beads for the island of Manhattan. But, according to an old something-or-other (a document on an old piece of leather? I forget), those Indians did not own Manhattan; instead, they were just visiting from another part of the New York area and laughed all the way home. So . . . the rightful owners of Manhattan were the original Indian tribe that did live there, and it so happened that there had always been a member of the tribe living on the island, and the current one was the tribe's chief, a wizened old man -- and the rightful owner of the whole island.
Very cute, and I've never forgotten it. But I don't know what a second episode would have been about. Perhaps, then, I understood why the series never was bought.
The Bubble (1966)
If I ever make a 'List of Worst movies' ...
... this will certainly be on it.
The landscape in this movie is a bunch of dirt roads, with weird stuff stored by the side of the roads. Like you would find stored by the side of the roads in the back lots of a movie studio. Things like the bottom half of the Lincoln Memorial.
Yes, I think it is fair to say that some movie exec looked out the window and said, "There's a whole bunch of weird junk stored behind the movie studio. Let's see if we can film a movie back there, for free, where we never film any movies." The only reason this was not as dreary as it could be was that it was possible to re-release it in 3-D, and there is one scene (the "floating tray of beer" scene) where that was a little fun.
Around that time, the Guy (Michael Cole) was starring in The Mod Squad. And as for the Girl (Deborah Walley), well there was a time when guys would line up to see her in a movie. Amazing that Cole and Walley got talked into this movie.
MisteRogers' Neighborhood (1968)
I Hope, REALLY Hope, they never stop showing Mister Rogers!
There are an awful lot of shows with the message "look at me look at me look at me" and with the purpose of making money.
Amongst all of programming, there are very few shows with a Real Message, serving a Real Purpose. But Mister Roger's Neighborhood is definitely one.
The purpose and message of the show was to be an integral part of the upbringing of people. The FACT that so many teenagers and adults were so drawn to it shows how basic and necessary it was.
Add to that the fact that the target audience includes each and every small child that comes along, and the show would, and did, continually regenerate itself and abide with us.
The show kept it real. It was a "television visit" with a normal, nice grownup, who called the viewer a "television neighbor" or "television friend". When the time came for some puppets and make believe, Rogers would refer to it as "make believe". Sometimes he would show the puppets without the hands in them, and explain and show how the real people would work the puppets and make the voices.
Even with the puppets and make believe and costumes and purple pandas, Fred managed to keep it more real and more grounded than you'd guess -- the themes were such that, when you saw what he was getting at, you wouldn't -think- "hey that's interesting!" ... instead, you would -feel- the recognition down in your stomach.
On one show a goat was stealing, stealing food. Later, Mr. Rogers asked the viewer "Did you ever think about doing something bad, something that would hurt the ones you love? That is a lonely feeling, isn't it?" And by asking the audience to search for that, deep inside, he made the connection. Not a 'suspension of disbelief'. Instead, an examination of what's real.
Mr. Rogers ALWAYS kept it real.
The Long, Long Trailer (1953)
Fun. Good. Worth the time.
Yes, there is a little of the "I Love Lucy" type comedy in this movie -- Desi has to fight with the trailer's shower, and the kitchen does dump all the flour and spices all over Lucy when the trailer is moving -- but my wife and I were glad to see that kind of humor only makes up about ten minutes of this full length movie.
Instead, the themes are that this couple are engaged to be married and then they are married and are newlyweds, and the wife has the brilliant idea of making their home in a trailer. There is fighting and loving, and their honeymoon is an odyssey as they move the trailer from one trailer park to another, passing through the mountains and through spectacular scenery. All the while, the wife persistently tries to make their trailer "their home".
The end result, you might find yourself agreeing, is that this is an enjoyable "date movie". My wife loved it.
I liked it, too. Although it's about all the problems that come with setting up a trailer as one's home, the movie also makes it look like fun.
Or at least tolerable. Take notice of the scene in which the husband parks the big car and the long, long trailer, and then has to feed something like a half dozen parking meters for it. A lot of screen time depends on the careful maintenance of the big rig and the big car to pull it.
This is a period piece now. I don't see trailers like this on the road anymore - they've been replaced with RVs. And the big, big convertible car they drove is no longer manufactured - today, they'd have a Hummer or SUV.
If you are like me, the driving scenes will have you (squirm) a little whenever your brain notices "they don't have seat belts!" Yes, she is lolling around and relaxing on that front seat like it is the couch in their living room, and if they had an accident she'd fly right over the windshield. Or through it. (Squirm.) Hey, no one had seat belts back then.
And there are no superhighways; this is before those. So the big "highway" they talk about goes from the center of one town to the center of the next town to the center of the next, with a lot of traffic lights and a yellow line down the center of the road. That was fast travelling in the 1950's.
How much do I like this movie? A lot. I think of it as what "masterful" movie-making was like back then. Watch the thing, and try to just get a feel for the times.
Kisses for My President (1964)
Unbelievable Bad Taste
Easily made my list of most insultingly bad movies -- and I have tried to not be a negative guy. But, to put it all in one line, this film doesn't even seem to be an honest treatment of what actually is a good idea, and is a slap in the face of feminism and a slap in the face of the office of the presidency.
Even considering that it predates the feminine revolution, it represents the worst of the pre-1968 culture that thought women were silly things that had to stay in the kitchen keeping pots and pans bright and shiny.
If you wonder about a female president, read up instead about the presidential campaigns of folks like Patricia Schroeder, Hillary Clinton, or Elizabeth Dole. See "Commander-in-Chief" starring Geena Davis.
If, instead, you wonder what it would be like to be First Husband, take a look at the life of Prince Philip, who has already lived this role in real life. Read about a powerful man who marries a princess, and finds himself given a free hand in raising the kids while his wife runs an empire.
But you are still thinking of watching this movie? Here are my opinions. I will warn you when the spoilers start.
* * * * *
"A woman, Polly Bergen, as president?" I asked. "And a macho star like Fred MacMurray as First Lady?" This had all the signs of being a first class 'what-if'.
And it could have been. Its first minutes seemed a really good take on "What Would Be Different?" She'd have to clutch her mink coat while taking the oath, she'd have trouble with a couple of bigots at least, and the husband would have some adjusting to do.
There is a very nice scene in which the Vice-President commiserates with the First Husband about being on the sidelines.
And there is then some really good stuff about "What Would Be The Same?" The Soviets give the new president some grief, and Polly Bergen (a successful businesswoman in real life) proceeds to kick Russian Communist butt -- the Soviets settle down, exactly as if she were Margaret Thatcher, or Golda Meir, or Indira Ghandi. The film seems to think a woman president could be great.
But, then ... the writers seem to poop out. They run out of good ideas, and fall back upon really insultingly bad old-style stereotypes. And yes they change their stance, they seem to think a woman president would self-destruct immediately.
Spoilers, Warning. As if they said "Oh the girls would really love this" the film dwells more and more on how neat it is to live in the White House with a full staff. Yes, butlers and maids running around with fancy suits and white gloves. A permanent vacation from housework, how could the female audience resist! (But you thought this was a film about democracy and government? So did I. Apparently Hollywood thought the average female would get bored with things like global crises.)
The final shot, when the president has to leave the White House after resigning, is of the White House butlers and maids bowing deeply to the camera ... The End.
What the ...? "Resigning"? Oh, yeah ... the first female president, according to 1964 Hollywood, would have to resign because she fainted. Yes, the woman fainted. And why did she faint? Because she got pregnant, of course she would faint, wouldn't she? And of course, you can't have a fainting, pregnant president, so she resigns and the butlers and maids bow to her as she leaves.
Utterly unbelievable. Nobody becomes president who would willingly resign for such stupid reasons. We had almost two hundred years of government here before a president resigned. And women don't faint and give up when they get pregnant -- some women have had babies in the wild. Governor Jane Swift of Massachusetts went right through labor and had her kid without even turning over the office of governor temporarily.
It's insulting even to modern day MEN like myself to think that a female president would pull a Victorian swoon and resign, after spending years of campaigning to cap a life's political career as president to just resign.
Look ... I watched this movie because it might have been an interesting speculation about an American 'Queen Victoria'-type, but it turned into a horrible piece of sterotyping that defied belief.
Really. It took me a while afterwards to pick my jaw off the floor. Monumental bad taste.
The Shrike (1955)
Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage ...
I saw this movie after I had been married for a while, and have thought about it a .lot. in the decades since. Why, you ask? I understand that so much of it, even the ending, will ring true for a certain type of person. And for others, it may seem unbelievable.
But love is not the wonderful live-happily-ever-after kind of thing that Hollywood loved to show in the old times. Love hurts, love drives you crazy, love makes you miserable sometimes.
Among your group of married people you know, there may easily be people who are trying frantically to extricate themselves from their relationship, or tragically and pathetically dream about it. If you discover who they are, ask .them. to see the movie or play and tell you what they think.
As Ferrer wanders through a doorway, beginning to move from "sad" to "crying" to "blubbering", it may seem over the top. Beware, you are just too used to what Hollywood and Broadway have been feeding you. Consider, instead, that this could indeed happen just this way in real life. This is a truly realistic movie.