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The Cardinal (1963)
Mixed Success Telling a Great Story
The Cardinal, directed by Otto Preminger, marked a period in the life of an Irish-American priest who rose to become a Cardinal-Archbishop. The movie, based on a best-selling novel of the same name that was published in 1950, suffered in comparison with the blockbuster book, which was a great read as well as commercial success in its day.
The movie has some excellent acting but the plot is often disconnected and poorly presented. The book is a long one and it seems as if some of the scenes were poorly selected. The scene where a churchgoer attributed a cure to the Virgin Mary resulted in a crowd of immigrants flocking to the church, a stereotype of the poor, uneducated Catholic. The young woman working with the parish priest of a rural, French community, performed by Burgess Meredith, presented a beautiful young woman who says she was meant to spend her life in service to the poor and the sick. It might have been a sincere effort to show youthful virtue but seemed a stretch to even the most devout Catholic.
Tom Tryon is badly miscast as Father Stephen Fermoyle, the main character, whose life draws upon the rich subject of Irish Catholic life in 20th century America. Directors will want to have a main character, who will have some star appeal but Tom Tryon seemed uncomfortable and awkward. Hitchcock used Montgomery Clift in the movie "I Confess" but Clift's acting was strong enough to make him credible. Carol Lynley as his wayward sister is excellent. However, the scenes showing Lynley as a vaudeville and nightclub performer while Tryon watched in horror from the audience was rather funny and not overly risqué. Maybe the movie is just dated.
I found the performances of Burgess Meredith and John Huston very convincing. One meeting between the church prelate and the bed-ridden parish priest was very moving with the Cardinal offering to give the elderly priest the last rites. Huston seemed to combine the gravitas of a high church official with concern for the faithful. Ossie Davis was outstanding as the priest from the state of Georgia fighting racism within his own parish and diocese, seeking help from the Vatican.
Fermoyle's relationship with the attractive Romy Schneider, while on a sabbatical to think about his vocation, seemed more to highlight the photography of Vienna and the mountains overlooking the Danube River than to highlight his self-examination of his priestly vocation. The foray to Georgia to help a black priest facing the Klu Klux Klan and the racism of his parish was timely in the1960's when the movie was made.
The Irish Catholic population in North America experienced phenomenal growth in the 19th century with successive waves of immigrants, particularly after the Irish potato famine of the 1840's. The second and third generation Irish benefited greatly from the education and social skills they received at Catholic schools, and the life of Stephen Fermoyle shows the idealized priestly vocation that many families aspired to give to their Church. With their love of music, their faith and family life, they formed a distinct culture within the American mosaic. This culture, based mainly in urban America, is what the novel captured. It is too much to believe a movie could be as effective and while the movie has some great photography and acting, it should have been much better
This is a splendid movie that shows Alfred Hitchcock at the top of his form. This movie came right after North by Northwest, also by Hitchcock, so it has to be one of the best one-two punches by a director in film history. The first half of the movie, dominated by the character of Marion Crane, is to me, the superior part, without any disrespect to the rest of the film. Janet Leigh's controlled performance is so convincing we feel every nerve-wracking moment after that first excruciating misdeed. From the opening scene over the skyline of Phoenix into the hotel room of Marion and Sam, I was drawn into the movie in a way that only a great movie can achieve. Audiences often complain that a movie can seldom measure up to a good book; however, a great movie can do visual tricks and show nuances very effectively in the hands of a great director. This movie is a case in point. The camera zooms into an envelope holding $40,000 or a peephole where Anthony Perkins, as Norman Bates, observes Marion undressing. The music is like chalk on a blackboard as the sharp violin strings heighten the nauseating fear that we feel along with Marion. The closeup of the police officer in sunglasses is almost terrifying. The pounding of the rain on the windshield is something almost everyone can feel and in this case, it seems like the world is crowding in on Marion. Scene by scene we go from one vignette to another. Vera Miles, as Marion's sister, and John Gavin, as Marion's lover, give brilliant performances as they try to get to the truth of Marion's disappearance. The supporting cast is outstanding, particularly Martin Balsam as Abrogast, the private eye. Anthony Perkins gives his career defining role, although he had many great roles. This was the only Hitchcock role for Leigh and Petkins and they made these characters their own. Highly recommend because it shows the great potential of film/making.
The Last Detail (1973)
Military Justice Delivered
One of the long list of excellent realist films of the 1970's, Jack Nicholson, Otis Young and Randy Quaid are outstanding in this story of a young seaman convicted of petty theft by the military and escorted to prison to serve an eight year sentence. Directed by Hal Ashby, Nicholson and Young are the two navy men duty bound to ensure the young seaman, Randy Quaid, arrives at the prison. The young recruit is unwise to the ways of the world. Raised on the wrong side of the tracks, he developed a habit of stealing but was never in serious trouble. Now, he is faced with a prison sentence after making the mistake of trying to take money from a donation box. Unfortunate for him, the charity was the favourite pastime of the wife of the base commander. Nicholson and Young soon realize that the military authorities have consigned a meek, and obedient puppy dog to time in hell. With the reality of the severe sentence handed out to the youth, his two military colleagues embark on a journey that he will remember. That's what the movie is about but more than that, it shows the two navy petty officers conflicted by the ordeal of having to fulfil "the last detail" of an unjust sentence. They feel there is nothing they can do and to be honest, the military are paid to carry out orders; not question those orders. The men in charge of this mission are horrified at the task, particularly Nicholson. Young expresses the fear that they could ruin their careers, taken down by the base authorities if they try to right the wrong. What we see are the two men trying to alleviate the young man's pain. But they know it's a short-term fling before a long journey through a dark night of humiliation, loss of freedom and brutality. In the space of a few days, they have fun drinking, eating and whoring and in the process try to teach the youth how to become a man. What they do accomplish is to help the young man with a few lessons as he learns to stand up for himself, to throw a punch when threatened and to send back food that is not to his satisfaction. The "last detail" is carried out. The petty officers may be given low marks by others of their generation or a later generation for not trying to abort the mission. However sad that might be, it does reflect the reality of life. I was moved by the performance of the three stars.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Jack Nicholson's Personas: Pianist and Oil Rig Worker
The character of Robert "Bobby" Dupea, performed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson, is the focus of this movie. Dupea is a character at a point in his life where he does not fit into either of two separate worlds, one is a world where he is free and the other where he is tied to his family's life of isolation, tradition and detachment. He was born with all the advantages others would envy, which he rejects for a life that his family no doubt feels is beneath his level.
When the show opens Bobby is living and working in an oil drilling region in Southern California. His partner is a café server named Rayette, performed by Karen Black. In that world, he hangs out with co-workers Elton and his family, where they booze, attend wild parties, go bowling and watch television. It's not a life that Bobby was born into but he can have fun with the women he seems to easily attract and not be tied down to the rigid life he knew growing up in a family of music artists. Bobby takes out his frustration on Rayette, who represents all the blue collar boredom he resents in his adopted life away from his own buttoned-up family. They have a rocky relationship in a small house where Rayette listens to country music, probably the last thing Bobby wants to listen to. When he meets up with his sister in Los Angeles, he finds out that his father has suffered two stokes. Partita, the sister, tells him to go home for a final visit.
The movie then switches to an island in Puget Sound, near Seattle, where his family of professional musicians resides. His sister Partita, an accomplished pianist, lives there with the ailing father and brother Carl, played by Ralph Waite, a pleasant enough man but very stiff in the horse collar he has to wear as the result of an accident that has curtailed his career as a violinist. The whole family is stiff by Bobby's standards with the exception of his brother's fiancée Catherine, played by Susan Anspatch. Catherine is a free spirit like Bobby, who is not totally at ease in the family's isolated world in Puget Sound. Bobby charms her when he shows his talent on the piano, playing Chopin. His family's island home is presented as a dark, damp, dreary place in the movie, which fits the mood. People living here must take a ferry to the "mainland". When Rayette is here, she is like a fish out of water. A telling scene near the end with a group of family friends brings her discomfort into focus; in this encounter, Bobby shows his devotion to Raylene but the ending shows Bobby is not ready to find a direction to his life. This is a powerful movie about family, freedom, social class, and trying to find purpose in life.
Carnal Knowledge (1971)
Nicholson & Garfunkel/Bergen & Ann-Margret
This movie shows us two male friends from college age to maturity and their relationships with women. Art Garfunkel as Jonathan and Jack Nicholson as Sandy are good friends with very different personalities who share a healthy libido focused on women, particularly Candace Bergen as Susan. The opening scene shows the two men attending a low-key social, with 1940's jazz music playing, where Sandy urges Jonathan to make a move towards Susan, the only other girl there. Susan soon becomes friends with Jonathan but also dates Sandy as both benefit from sexual encounters with her. The story uses a visual technique that makes the viewer feel like a voyeur watching their private conversations and encounters with women. Often filmed in the dark with the characters close-up to the camera, the movie kept my attention. Jonathan is the "sensitive guy" who women supposedly prefer so Sandy uses some of his honest conversational style to win over Susan. Later in their lives, we find Jonathan married to Cindi, played by Cynthia O'Neil, and passingly happy. Sandy is facing a mid-life crisis as his girlfriend, played by Ann-Margret asks him to marry. Sandy looks at women as if they have to meet certain physical criteria to meet his exacting standards--a few more inches here, a bit less somewhere else, as if choosing a partner is like picking a good cut of meat. The nudity is explicit by the standards of 1971. The film is not prudish in dealing with with sexuality. We see shower scenes with people getting dressed and undressed as common as lighting up for a cigarette. The movie has a certain European feel with scenes standing as little vignettes. One scene shows two women sitting on a bench watching a tennis match with neither speaking a word until both leave and we see the image of a lonely bench. Not an upbeat movie, it is an impressive piece of film-making about modern sexuality.
Hotel a lavish production lacking in storyline
This movie has a stellar cast and lavish hotel for a setting. Rod Taylor, as Peter McDermott, hotel manager, and Melvyn Douglas as Mr. Warren Trent, hotel owner, are the most interesting characters in the movie. New money hotel tycoon, played by Kevin McCarthy as Curtis O'Keefe, tries to take over a venerable hotel called the St. Gregory. Into this environment, we find a key thief, Karl Malden, swindler, Richard Conte, and a corrupt aristocratic couple, Michael Rennie and Merle Oberon. The opening credits are creatively designed but lead to false expectations as to the quality of the production. Edith Head, the legendary costume designer, once again makes her mark with her stunning wardrobes on female actors, Catherine Spaak and Merle Oberon. Carmen McRae appears as a night club singer and the street scenes and jazz music are very fitting for New Orleans. McCarthy is badly miscast and seems worlds away from his patented roles in b-movies of the 1950's. Douglas, in his limited role, represents the old money world of a hospitality industry that no longer exists: elegant on the outside but full of vice and inefficiency. Trent dislikes O'Keefe and his profits-first mentality, that would see his hotel stripped of its beauty and tradition. As hotel manager, Taylor is able to keep the St. Gregory from sliding into bankruptcy by smart public relations and his personal rapport with the staff. Taylor is the rugged, well- groomed guy, a smart operator with a heart, a role that suits him to a tee. He also keeps Douglas in line, almost like a dutiful son to an elderly father. The movie has a certain style, impressive setting and cast but there is no coherence in the meandering storyline with several subplots.
The Prince of Tides (1991)
Reliving a Troubled Past
Prince of Tides shows how one man suffers in his adulthood from the consequences of a deeply troubled childhood. Nick Nolte is the male lead who reaches a point in life where he becomes withdrawn from his wife. An attempted suicide by his sister triggers a series of events that forces him to face up to his past. Nolte is urged by his mother, played by Kate Nellgan, to go to New York from South Carolina to help his sister recover. He becomes the voice of his sister's past to her psychiatrist, Barbra Streisand as Dr. Susan Lowenstein. In trying to piece together the reasons for his sister's suicide attempt, he discovers his own ghosts and demons and in the process, falls in love with Dr. Lowenstein. Nolte shows his evolution from a rebellious and uncooperative bystander to a man who is softened by revisiting the life he and his siblings were forced to endure at the hands of their father and another incident where he, his sister and mother are physically molested. An older brother is lost in another tragedy. He returns to his mother to remind her of his tortured upbringing and to relive her own troubled past. There is a resolution at the end but like life, there is a price to be paid.
My Architect (2003)
A son seeks to understand his father's life
In this documentary, Nathaniel Kahn, son of architect Louis Khan, sets out on a journey to find out about his father. I knew nothing about Louis Khan, the father, and I found the documentary a thorough and revealing investigation of one very imaginative and unconventional human being. His son revisited his father's past from his birth in 1901-02 in Estonia, where as a child he suffered severe scarring when he burnt his face with hot coals, to his last day in Penn Station, New York City, where his body was found. As a young immigrant, he found his home town of Philadelphia a place where he could excel. Architects such as Philip Johnson and I.M. Pei agreed that he was brilliant, thinking and creating on a grand scale. Another from Fort Worth was visibly angry, comparing his work to a selfish flight of fancy. Through interviews with his partners and their families, we see the lengths he went to in order to keep secret three separate families with two born out of wedlock. One woman was bitter that he never lived up to his promise to marry her. An observer of his work felt that he had such an immense love for all people that he could not show love to the ones closest to him. Nathaniel also talked to taxi drivers and even the man who witnessed him die, who found a parallel in his relationship with his own father. Louis had three children with three women (married to one) and succeeded during his career in keeping his personal life a secret, except to a few people, because in his time, such a scandal would have shaken his career. His architectural works are now viewed as powerful achievements, although they met with decidedly mixed reviews at the time. Colleagues held him in the highest regard, while admitting they knew little about him. In the end, he died in Penn Station, New York, with no proper ID and lay in a morgue unidentified for three days. He was bankrupt after spending time in India and Bangladesh, where he was greatly revered. It was agreed that Louis was a workaholic with a limited output of the highest quality. At the end, we feel that his son Nathaniel would have gained tremendous insight into a life that had seemed mysterious and misunderstood, yet interesting, lived to the fullest and highly original.
Cher and Cage romantic comedy
Moonstruck is the type of movie that you can enjoy with your parents over a bowl of popcorn. The sexual indiscretions are treated with humour and honesty in an Italian neighbourhood of New York that is more like a village. One amusing scene shows Loretta played by Cher, a 37 year-old widow and daughter of an Italian family, as she makes her confession to the parish priest, who speaks to her on a first name basis. Then she runs into her mother, Rose, played by Olympia Dukakis, praying in church. This typifies the close society of her neighbourhood where the restaurants, churches, delis and corner groceries are meeting places for neighbours and family. The locale is New York City near the Metropolitan Opera, which enters into the story when Loretta and her new boyfriend, played by Nicholas Cage, go on a date. Coincidentally, they happen to spot her father, Cosmo, played by Vince Gardenia, with a girlfriend. Loretta has become engaged to Johnny, performed by Danny Aiello, who she fears will find out about her new boyfriend after his return from Italy. The new boyfriend also happens to be the brother of her fiancé. Things seem to unravel and then be resolved for the family, friends and neighbours under the influence of a full moon. Nicholas Cage and Cher seem to be made for each other in this movie as the still young widow and the hard-luck, angry butcher. It is all great fun for a group of people who have all seen their share of tragedy, success, and strained family relationships. Good luck and good sense does not always win the day. Yet, the movie is full of heart and is something of a lesson on how to put egos aside and let our best instincts work things out. Norman Jewison directed this delightful movie.
The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
An eventful Christmas for one English family
The Holly and the Ivy is a far cry from the usual Christmas story since it is more a family drama set during the Christmas season. It is a powerful story with excellent acting as the group gets together in a country village north of London in 1948.
The family made up of father, aunts, grown children and two male friends come together at the vicarage of the father, the parson in a local church. Ralph Richardson and Margaret Leighton, as father and daughter, have the key roles and are bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including Denholm Eliot and Celia Johnson.
During the evening and Christmas morning, family matters that had been ignored or kept secret, come to the fore. After a series of uncomfortable incidents and heart-to-heart talks, things change and everyone finds comfort and possibly a deeper purpose in this Christmas.
This is certainly a serious movie and totally entertaining. Unlike many of the fantasy films we see at Christmas, this offers a dose of reality. The sets are very plain as they were in most British dramas of that era but the acting is superb. It teaches the audience that Christmas and family difficulties are often played out together. In that sense, family Christmas gatherings may not be that different than they were 60 some years ago.