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Wee Willie Winkie (1937)
Maybe Shirley's Best
I've seen "Wee Willie Winkie" dozens of times and it's always fresh and interesting. Shirley doesn't dance and only sings a little. John Ford directs in his straight ahead "cavalry" mode, with the usual hearty horseplay, humor and heroics. There's a touch of tragedy when gruff Sgt MacDuff dies. The Sarge is played perfectly by the great Victor McLaglen, who made a career of playing tough, but lovable sergeants (see John Ford's cavalry trilogy with John Wayne), is terrific holding his own with the angelic Shirley. Incidentally, they also appeared in Ford's great "Fort Apache". The film is based on a Rudyard Kipling adventure, but Wee Willie is a boy in the written story, of course, the role becomes a girl's for her. The story takes place in Northwest India, where Shirley and her widowed mother arrive at the British outpost to stay with the colonel, who's Priscilla's grandfather. The colonel, portrayed by C Aubrey Smith is of course, the universal ramrod straight arrow who is befuddled by his granddaughter. Sgt MacDuff takes a liking to Priscilla and renames her Pvt Wee Willie Winkee. He lets her participate in drills, but he gets in trouble for it. He gets her a uniform and carves a miniature rifle. Kodha Khan, a rebel chieftain is captured and held in the fort's jail, but his tribesmen spring him during a dance held by the British officers. A patrol led by Priscilla's mother's beau, Capt "Koppy" is ambushed and Sgt MacDuff is badly wounded. He dies and Priscilla sings a heart rending "Auld Lang Syne". After the sergeant's funeral, Wee Willie goes with the treacherous Muhammad Dihn to talk to Khan in an effort to avert war. The regiment moves out to get her back safely. Priscilla charms Khan, who is well played by Cesar Romero, and he agrees to meet with the colonel. Shirley does it again, war is averted and the family is reunited. This is done in such a great manner that Shirley's cuteness doesn't overwhelm the picture. By the way, the colorized version features some really odd hues that don't seem natural. Altogether it has great acting, superior directing and a solid plot.
The Winds of War (1983)
More concerned with the battle of the sexes than WWII
This is a long, boring and basically tiresome look at the beginnings of the bloodiest, most vicious and destructive period of history, but that's not important compared to the bed hopping, infidelities and deceit by the principle characters. The central character is Pug Henry, stolidly played by rock steady Robert Mitchum, who is a fictional character. Henry is a confidant of FDR and goes all over the place, meeting real and fictional people involved in the buildup to the conflict. If you're watching this to get an understanding of the causes of the war, you'll be disappointed, because the script is more interested in who's cheating on who, who's betraying who and who's sleeping with who than with who's shooting who. Pug meets Hitler, Churchill and Stalin along with other military and government bigwigs. Fighting the war is in the background, almost an afterthought. The battle scenes are short and not especially well done compared to the sexy or back room dealing ones. The big finale is typical of the show. One of Pug's sons is a pilot stationed at Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese attack, one of Pug's sons and his wife stroll around the bomb blasts and explosions as if they're walking their dog. A pilot (it might be Pug's son, but I don't remember for sure) gets out of a plane with burns and shredded clothing and reappears seconds later in a fresh, crisp uniform and flies off to take on the enemy. The battle of the sexes trumps World War II.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
I've watched this dozens of times
While "Alice in Wonderland" isn't as highly regarded as many Disney feature cartoons, it's one of my favorites for many reasons. I love the colorful characters, especially the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat. The voice actors are letter perfect, no one else but Sterling Holloway could be the Cheschire Cat, Ed Wynn is the Mad Hatter and Jerry Collona is perfect voicing the March Hare. The various sequences are visually appealing and while the music isn't as memorable as "Pinnochio", "Dumbo" or "Snow White", it suits the action. The animation is peak level with bright colors, sharp character drawings and smooth movement. I've watched more times than I can count and I'm sure the next time I watch it, I'll see things I missed before.
Ellery Queen (1975)
My wife and I really looked forward to watching this show every week during its all too short run. Jim Hutton was excellent as the boyish but shrewd Ellery, David Wayne was outstanding as his father, Inspector Queen and Tom Reese was terrific as the lumbering Sergeant Velie. John Hillerman, later Magnum's sidekick, was super as the arrogant Simon Brimmer, Ellery's rival, and Ken Swofford was good as the down to earth reporter, Frank Flanagan. The mysteries were enacted and the clues spread around so you could play at home. I don't think we got more than a couple right. Some of the shows were adapted from the Ellery Queen books and some were originals, but all were very fine quality. Very good guest stars were featured every week, some were up and coming, but many were old veterans. I would love to get this on DVD.
The Blue Max (1966)
Great World War I aerial combat
"The Blue Max" features great WWI dogfights, but the hero and the plot don't measure up to the combat footage. George Peppard is Bruno Stachel, who rises from mud covered grunt to a lieutenant in the German air force in World War I. He's assigned to a fighter group facing the British on the Western front. He meets Capt Heidemann, (Karl Michael Vogler) his commandant, a no nonsense leader trying to keep his planes in the air and his pilots alive. Also in the squadron is Willi Von Klugermann, the top pilot, an aristocrat who is dallying with his aunt (Ursula Andress). Willi is played by Jeremy Kemp with panache and style. Bruno is a commoner among the rich and pampered pilots and doesn't fit in with them very well. However, Bruno is a skilled pilot and a fine shot. He becomes a successful, experienced killer who quickly racks up victories, and has his own turn with Willi's aunt, leading to his downfall. When the action is in the air and unit politics, it's terrific. When it comes back to earth, it's not so good. The dependable James Mason is excellent as the general, Willi's uncle, who is apparently oblivious to his young wife's escapades. Good acting, spectacular aerial cinematography and interesting look into the pilots' interactions and class divisions are grounded by a less than sympathetic hero and meandering plot. Still, the action makes this film well worth a look.
Fort Apache (1948)
The best of the U S Cavalry trilogy
John Ford's famous cavalry trilogy is kicked off by this fine film, "Fort Apache". Sterling cast, led by the rugged John Wayne at his best, Henry Fonda in a fine, multi-layered portrayal, the steady Ward Bond, the still adorable Shirley Temple, reliable old hands such as Pedro Armendariz, Guy Kibee and the great Victor McLaglen. Virtually every actor and actress is letter perfect. Fonda in particular gives an outstanding performance, showing Col Thursday's humor and humanity along with his vanity and rigid stubbornness. The Duke gives his usual picture of the Western hero. The first half of the movie introduces us to life on a frontier outpost. New recruits are drilled by crusty old sergeants, command is given to a new colonel, who has many reservations about his command and contempt for his adversaries, the Apache. Thursday looks on his assignment as a slap, considering it a sideline posting against a second rate enemy. Thursday isn't the only new arrival, Lt O'Rourke, the son of the fort's sergeant major, arrives from West Point. The colonel's sweet, attractive daughter also arrives. Training, patrolling, drilling and fighting are broken by military politics, horseplay and crackling dialogue. A look at the quotes section will reveal some real gems. The Apache are regarded with respect by those experienced in fighting them. The colonel's dismissal of their fighting abilities and strategies leads to the climactic massacre, John Ford's answer to Custer's last stand. Capt Yorke (Wayne) survives the wipe out and is given command of the regiment at the close of the movie. John Ford's visionary directing, superior casting and acting, brilliant dialogue and spectacular scenery make this a classic, and the best of a great trilogy.
Genghis Khan (1965)
Goofy tribute(?) to one of the most ruthless men in history
I haven't seen this in years, but I remember it has some exciting battles, some good acting by Omar Sharif, Michael Hordern and Stephen Boyd, some great acting by James Mason and Robert Morley. I guessing that none of the actors were Mongolian or Chinese. Historically inaccurate, but kind of fun, sort of like some of Erroll Flynn's movies, like "The Charge of the Light Brigade". In recorded history, Genghis Khan was a murderous, merciless tyrant, not the idealist he's seen as in this picture, just wanting to unite all the tribes and live their lives out riding around on their horses not being bothered by the meddling Chinese. Even with all that said, it has some spectacular action and some interesting scenes that do have some historical veracity.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Why didn't this win best picture Oscar?
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is just an incredibly credible film! This should have easily won the Oscar for best picture, but of course, it wasn't a serious or "important" picture. But, long after whatever did win is forgotten, WFRR will be watched and enjoyed. The performances are terrific, especially Bob Hoskins as hard boiled Eddie Valiant. Christopher Lloyd is both funny and frightening as the villainous Judge Doom, Joanna Cassidy manages to be the sane and secure anchor in the chaotic half Toon, half natural world. The great cartoons, Bugs, Mickey, Daffy, Donald, Porky, Dumbo and the rest actually look as if they are as real as the humans around them. Roger Rabbit and his knockout wife, Jessica, are terrific creations, and I hope we see more of them. The humor is both timeless and topical. The movie follows the traditional tough P I film formula seen in, among others, "The Maltese Falcon" and "Chinatown". Other reviews have detailed the plot, so I won't belabor it here, just check out not only the feature, but also the extras on the DVD. Simply a great movie and a great accomplishment to meld the world of Toons and humans. 10!!!
Rumpole of the Bailey (1978)
Unforgettable, Unique, Undefeated!
"Rumpole of the Bailey" is the subject of a great series of books by John Mortimer, and most have been made into episodes of this terrific TV series. No one but the great Leo McKern could possibly be Horace Rumpole, henpecked husband, dedicated barrister, brilliant examiner, seeker of truth, clever investigator, tweaker of authority, and I hope I didn't leave anything out, the man you'd want defending you in Her Majesty's courts. The shows almost invariably start with Rumpole's introduction to his hopeless client. Rumpole gathers evidence to clear the unfortunate while navigating office politics, domestic crises and society's craziness. Each episode is enjoyable on its own, but try to see them in order to see how relationships begin, flourish, wither and end or continue to grow stronger. Leo McKern is perfect as the quick-witted Rumpole and he's well supported by the rest of the cast who appear in varying numbers of shows. Of course, each installment features an unexpected twist, which leaves Rumpole triumphant or, rarely, humbled. These exploits are great, if you think Perry Mason or Matlock are great, catch Rumpole.
Run Silent Run Deep (1958)
The Best Submarine Movie
"Run Silent, Run Deep" is a super sub movie. Two Hollywood legends, Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, are in top form as a sub commander and his executive officer, respectively. Old hands Brad Dexter, Jack Warden and Don Rickles head a good supporting cast. The film portrays the danger, dirt, grease and claustrophobia of a WWII submarine patrol. The movie is based on a memoir by a WWII submarine officer, so the accuracy is there. A quick outline of the plot is that Cmdr Richardson (Clark Gable) had his sub hit and sunk in the Bungo Straits, a very dangerous hunting area for U S subs. After his rescue, he's brought back to Hawaii, and is assigned to a new sub. His second in command, Lt Jim Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster), meets him and they don't exactly hit it off. The boat goes out on patrol, and Richardson wants to return to the Bungo Straits. Bledsoe isn't so sure that's a good idea or in accordance with their orders, but Richardson finds "conditions of special advantage", and the boat goes there. After several tense chases and pursuits, Richardson discovers the Japanese secret tactic which has sunk his sub and others. This is a great undersea war story. Fans of WWII films and sub movies will be rewarded with a great story, top drawer acting and terrific action.