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The Odd Couple II (1998)
I wish it wasn't the last.
It is sad to think that we will not have any more gems from either of these two screen legends. Lemmon was a great actor, as can be seen in any one of his many films (particularly, "Days of Wine and Roses," "Glen Garry Glen Ross"). He had a broad range, and could play comedy with the best of them ("Mr. Roberts," "How to Murder Your Wife," etc.) Matthau was a breed apart, having done many dramatic roles in is early career ("The Kentuckian," "Fail Safe"), but it was light comedy where he truly shined. He was one of those true "naturals." So, after the "Grumpy Old Men" successes, they are paired for "The Odd Couple II." From the broad range of commentary here, there are those who celebrate this film, and those who think it is lame. I feel it has good performances in a so-so plot, but it think it was a bad choice. They were both great in the first "Odd Couple," but who can deny that they abdicated the roles of Oscar and Felix to two consummate professionals, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall on TV? They polished those roles to perfection, and they had done all that could be done with them. It was pointless for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau to go there again.
For me, "Grumpy Old Men" is how I would like to remember them. That film had a good story, and was supported by a great team of veterans, Burgess Meredith in particular. In that film, even the out-takes are great.
"The Odd Couple II" reminds me in many ways of "Tough Guys." Both films had legends, both as teams and as individual actors, so when Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster appear together for the last time, you want for them to have something really special. That is what we wanted for Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau. These films are okay, but only because the actors are in them. They are not good enough movies to honor their memories.
The Fighting O'Flynn (1949)
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in his best role!
For some reason, this film is not available for purchase anywhere. Strange, since so many worthless products are easy to locate. It is sad that this movie is so disregarded, in that this movie is Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.'s best performance. You could argue that Gunga Din is a better movie, and that is true. Still, Fairbanks' performance as O'Flynn far outshines his work in Gunga Din. He holds together a slim plot line, and has some of the wittiest dialog you will ever find in a movie. O'Flynn's character is a charmer, loved by men and women, and somewhat of a con man. The dialog has many nice touches. For example, O'Flynn knocks unconscious one of the French soldiers (Henry Brandon), who later gets the drop on O'Flynn. In an off-hand remark, O'Flynn says to the Frenchman, "You must have a terrible thick skull." A great touch. Perhaps because Fairbanks was the producer and wrote some of the screenplay, we are getting more than the run of the mill swashbuckler. His pursuit of the almost painfully prim Lady Benedetta (Helena Carter) is full of poetry, romance, and charm, and she even remarks that his words are "
very nimble and very Irish." The supporting cast are all veterans, and good performers. Aside from Helena Carter, Richard Greene portrays excellently the weak and corrupt Lord Sedgemonth. Arthur Shields and J.M. Kerrigan provide great repartee in the lighter moments. Patricia Medina is great as Lord Sedgemonth's paramour, Fancy Free, who "only likes the good life," and says the Lord Sedgemonth must do the right thing by her, "
give me money." Add to this a remarkably good musical score, and you have a great and entertaining movie. It is obvious that this film suffered from a small budget, since it was shot in black and white, and if nothing else, this film screams for color. Perhaps it could be looked upon as a lesson on how to do more with less. Fairbanks, in this film, is every bit of the "presumptuous popinjay" he is accused of being by Richard Greene. You could hardly spend a better 94 minutes.
Ulzana's Raid (1972)
Forget the allegories, this is simply a great film.
The first issue on this film is the question, "Is the print I am looking at complete?" When Ulzana's Raid was scheduled as a late movie on network TV, I set the timer to capture it. After viewing it, I was stunned. I watched it several times, trying to savor every detail. I could see, however, that network TV had edited out some graphically violent scenes.
I purchased a home video version, but was disappointed. It had some of the graphic images restored, but some other scenes were missing from the purchased version that I had seen in the network TV version. For example, there is a scene between Lloyd Bochner and Douglass Watson, the post commander. Watson is listening to the oily Bochner attempting to weasel out of the detail to chase Ulzana. Watson is taking snuff during the scene, which is fascinating in its statement. It is a revolting exhibition, and it leaves you with the question of why anyone would do anything like that. Leaving it out of the film disturbs the balance, in that it is yet another example of the white man's questionable behavior. We already knew the Apaches were a little eccentric.
Also missing is the scene between Lloyd Bochner and Bruce Davison where Bochner is selling the young lieutenant on the notion that he recommended Davison for the mission instead of he himself weaseling out of it. The naive lieutenant is most grateful. This scene is important in that it emphasizes DeBuin's naiveté, and shows the integrity of at least one of the cavalry officers.
There is another scene deleted where McIntosh is reading from the Rukeyser's bible, and deriving obscure facts about the family that had been decimated by the Apaches. It was almost wistful in its statement of how the twists and turns of life depend on trifles.
And there is the question of Mrs. McIntosh. Aimee Eccles plays the part, a credited role, but she appears as no more than a shadow in the two versions of the film I saw. Is something missing here also? Ulzana's Raid is a carefully constructed mosaic, and it is terrible that a "director's cut" is not available.
Much of the commentary on this cult film addresses allegorical aspects, but I never got that from the film. I think it is more interesting to focus on Jorge Luke's character Ke-Ni-Tay. I have been able to identify Luke in a couple of films, most notably for me was Sunburn, wherein he plays a thug. He is evidently a veteran of the Mexican cinema, with 110 entries in the IMDb for his appearances. He handles this role with just the right touch.
From the outset, Ke-Ni-Tay is shown as the superior man in most ways. He is extraordinary in his job, and more than competent. He is also a philosopher and teacher. He tells the lieutenant why the Apaches torture and kill their captives. "You not know about power. In this land, man must have power. Each man who dies, the man who kills him, takes his power." He also explains why Ulzana left the agency. "Ulzana is at agency long time. His power is very thin. He had old smell in the nose. The smell of dog, of women, of children. Man with old smell in the nose is old man. Ulzana wants new smell. The smell of bullet. Pony running. For power!" Ke-Ni-Tay is also a joker. When asked by the lieutenant if he knows Ulzana, Ke-Ni-Tay says, "His wife is my wife's sister. His wife ugly. My wife, not so ugly."
Ke-Ni-Tay appears also to rate higher in the Apache pecking order as well. When Ulzana is finally cornered, and he realizes the raid is over, Ke-Ni-Tay confronts him with the death of Ulzana's son. Ulzana willingly submits to his own execution, and Ke-Ni-Tay performs the act with honor and respect, but without hesitation.
Ke-Ni-Tay is an honorable man. When asked by DeBuin if he will kill the lookout, he says, "Ke-Ni-Tay sign paper." There is no question he will follow through.
Ke-Ni-Tay is also a loving and loyal friend. His relationship with McIntosh goes way beyond a Lone Ranger and Tonto association. Their bond is shown subtly and beautifully by Director Aldrich, through looks and simple gestures. There are no words of sentiment between them, but their friendship is strong. Ke-Ni-Tay worries that the lieutenant will not ride back to help McIntosh. McIntosh rebukes the lieutenant for his implied insults to Ke-Ni-Tay simply because he is an Apache, as the lieutenant's hate for Apaches grows throughout the film. When asked if Ke-Ni-Tay can be trusted, McIntosh says simply but emphatically, "I trust him." At the end of the film, Lieutenant DeBuin is a wiser man than when he began his journey with Ke-Ni-Tay. As he leaves Ke-Ni-Tay to deal with the burial of Ulzana, DeBuin salutes him, with the simple address of "Scout," as he takes his leave.
Ke-Ni-Tay is one of the most fascinating characters in film. His character is carefully constructed and revealed, and his stature grows throughout. He is complex and heroica man one would be honored to know.
Ulzana's Raid is a cult film for sure. Look at the number of comments it has received here. This is a provocative and evocative masterpiece. Hopefully, this film will be restored to its original release. It deserves it.
Donovan's Reef (1963)
This is why you go to the movies. Because it's fun.
Donovan's Reef is fun. It has a decent story, good characters, and stunning scenery. This is why you go to the movies, isn't it? If compared against Ford's acknowledged masterpieces, Dononvan's Reef does not measure up, but measured against other escapist films, it is a great movie. John Wayne's performance is consistently good, and as always, believable. Wayne was so real in his films, that he is never considered to be a good actor, but if you look at his body of work, you have to admit he could do it all. His Guns Donovan character is certainly up to snuff, and he does well with what he has. His interaction with Lee Marvin as Boats Gilhooley is as good as any of his other brawling, head-butting clashes with legends like Ward Bond or Victor McGlaglen. Lee Marvin is very funny and clever in his scenes, and very rarely over the top. He could always deliver on a character that was supposed to be likable, but mentally ill.
Aside from the fun, we have a significant plot element of prejudice considering the behavior of Guns, Boats, and Andre, where they hide the Doctor's half-caste Polynesian children from the All-White Bostonian daughter, Amelia. Paradoxically, we have Chinese stereotypes in the form of goofy looking morons with toothy grins and heavy accents. Still, in the end reason prevails in that the young Leilani shows wisdom beyond her years. When she sings a prayer of thanks to the goddess of the canyon where Guns chops down their Christmas tree, Amelia asks if she believes in gods and goddesses. Leilani replies, "I believe in one God, as we all do, but I respect the customs and beliefs of my people." Amelia subsequently accepts the cultural differences with a gracious bow to Leilani, who is being honored as the last hereditary princess of the island. That is a nicely done scene.
If you focus on what Donovan's Reef isn't, it will be a disappointing film. If you enjoy it for what it is, you will have a great time.