What follows is a fascinating story of the tug-of-war between duty and desire, as Bobby, who only wants to get well so he can skate again, must face the fact that he has a gift, apparently from God, and that with great gifts come great responsibilities.
The film has a few holes. Bobby and a helpful priest are practically the only two major characters who are non-Latinos, yet there's no explanation or particular attention given to why Bobby is so deeply immersed in a culture other than his own. Bobby is shown to be such a decent fellow, such a mensch, that his reluctance to use his new-found healing powers seems unlike the young man we've watched before this point. And there are questions about the mechanics of the healing process that arise because they are not well explained before we see alterations in them. When one healing plays out completely differently than the ones that came before, we're left wondering why we didn't know about this possibility, when knowing of it would have sharpened its effect. Also, a sequence involving Bobby's girlfriend in a crack house seems a huge digression and a poor substitute for further exploration of a huge change in the relationship between Bobby and the film's antagonist, a vicious thug who is the father of Bobby's girlfriend's son. It would have been wonderful to get more of the juice out of that dramatic shift instead of a confusing and seemingly pointless adventure among dope addicts.
Yet the film asks some interesting questions and poses some intriguing possible answers. Writer-director (and art director!) Steve Garrett (who also plays the priest) obviously knows his Ambrose Bierce, and he films with style and gets some fine performances out of his actors, particularly Renee Victor as the girlfriend's grandmother, who nurses Bobby after his accident.
A very nice film from a promising filmmaker.
Therefore, his very last film, "Sea Fury," came as a surprise to me. In this British film, made only a few months before McLaglen's death, he is actually at one corner of a love triangle and displays much of the roughneck quality that infused so much of his early work. In this British film, McLaglen's first in his native country since silent days, he plays a tugboat captain who is tempted by a young woman's mercenary father into falling in love with her. The father knows that such a husband for his daughter would not live long and would make her wealthy at his death (at least by the standards of her Spanish village). The captain knows he should not be so foolish as to hope for the love of a girl fifty years his junior, yet hearts and minds do not always think alike, and the captain's heart overrules his wisdom.
Lucianna Paluzzi, who would later make a bit of a splash as the bad Bond girl opposite Sean Connery in "Thunderball," is here a deliciously innocent yet wildly tempting young girl, and most of her scenes leave no doubt that any man with a heterosexual heartbeat would have trouble not falling for her. One who does is a sailor played by Stanley Baker, one of Britain's better leading men of the period, albeit one who did not rise to quite the worldwide fame of his contemporaries like Richard Burton and Richard Harris. Baker's sailor signs on as a seaman aboard McLaglen's tug, and trouble of course arises when he and the girl fall hard for each other.
What seems bound to become a rather typical love-triangle movie turns out not to be, due in part to the very age difference between McLaglen and the girl, something that (unlike in many Hollywood films) is not ignored but actually confronted in the drama. Also, the film is a wonderful slice of a life that is at once quite real and quite unfamiliar to most of us. The Spanish village where the sailors live while waiting on news of wrecks they can sail out to salvage, and life aboard the tugboats, are both given a most believable and interesting depiction. They're not mere locations but living, breathing unique situations that seem rooted in reality.
The final portion of the film is a terrifically exciting sequence aboard a wrecked ship in which the actors seem to be in almost as much danger as the characters they portray. The whole movie is much more exciting and affecting than I ever expected it to be, and it is a touching and quite fitting farewell to Victor McLaglen, one of the most remarkable figures in film history.
In any event, it's a lovely film for the time, with Arbuckle and Keaton both simply wonderful. The funniest gag (at least to me and my 8-year-old) is the variation on the old clown car gag, where Keaton opens the door to a standard sedan and 49 guys get out (I counted)! Keaton's famed athleticism is well evident, but I was surprised at how strong Arbuckle was, as well. He tosses Alice Lake into the river as though she weighed twenty pounds. Arbuckle's great foil Al St. John (n mean athlete himself) is prominently figured and has a great chase sequence up and down a tree with Keaton while they both (for unknown but surreal reasons) pretend to be monkeys. The acknowledgment throughout the film that they are making a movie is funny and ices the cake of this primitive but very funny film.
"Suspense" should not be judged by the standards of modern television, of course. It was an inexpensive and rapidly staged, under-rehearsed show, like much of live television, and errors and glitches were unavoidable. This episode, though, highlights many more of the problems of the era and none of the grandeur.
Wow. It really holds up. And looking at it through the eyes of someone who's been acting for thirty-odd years rather than the eyes of a teenager really makes a difference. There's some really fine work in this movie. I've never quite believed Burgess Meredith did (or could do) a day of hard labor like bucking barley in his life, and it's very tempting to think of what someone else might have done with the part. (Lewis Milestone tried to borrow first James Cagney and then Humphrey Bogart for the part. Neither would have been terribly convincing as guys who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, and I have a hard time thinking of Bogart in the role. Cagney would have been very interesting, even if not quite right.)
This time through, I paid close attention to the acting work of people I'd never given much thought to in that regard, as far as this movie goes. Charles Bickford is really good, and Betty Field is superb. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture (of 1939!!), but none of the actors was nominated. Of course it was a tough year, one of the toughest ever. But in another year, I suspect Lon Chaney Jr. would have been nominated for the performance of his career. His performance has been so imitated over the years that it might not seem so special nowadays, but I tried to find something to critique about it and I simply can't. He's believable and heartbreaking without seeming, to my eyes, the least bit forced. But the standouts are Leigh Whipper and particularly Roman Bohnen, who play Crooks and Candy, respectively. Whipper had played Crooks on Broadway and his experience with the role shows. Crooks's forthrightness about the burdens of being the only black man in a white community are a little startling for 1939, as is his disdain for the whites who enter his "sanctuary" uninvited. Bohnen is just remarkable, one of the most heart-wrenchingly touching performances I've ever seen. (Not surprisingly, he gave another such performance as Dana Andrews's father in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.)
Aaron Copland's music and scoring were both nominated for Oscars. Copland only composed six feature film scores (the others: OUR TOWN, THE NORTH STAR, THE RED PONY, THE HEIRESS, and SOMETHING WILD). OF MICE AND MEN was his first. Every score of his I've heard is a masterpiece, and it's hard to say which is "best." Suffice it to say that his first is a contender, and one of the best film scores ever written.
Although based on Steinbeck's novel, the film owes much to the play Steinbeck also wrote. Lewis Milestone manages to avoid any sense of being stage-bound, though his wide-open-spaces shots are quite limited. I was really impressed by his staging. There's one really nice shot of Meredith and Bickford talking in a barn. As Meredith leaves, the camera pulls back, keeping both actors in frame, until the entire interior of the barn is revealed and shown to be huge, much larger than it had felt. It's a simple shot made by a clear master.
I'm not a great fan of Gary Sinise's remake, particularly as to how the ending was handled. The one great advantage Sinise had was color. There are shots in the 1939 version where I could imagine the color and where I felt robbed by its absence. It's not a black-and-white film that particularly exults in its black-and-whiteness. Had it had a larger budget, perhaps it could have been made in color, which would have served it very well. But all in all, I'm thrilled that this favorite of mine for decades holds up and actually exceeds my fond memories.
It's a thriller. It's a suspense movie. I suppose there's a laugh or two buried in it somewhere, but this ain't your father's Woody Allen movie. While there are elements of the premise that I found not entirely comfortable buying into, taken as a whole this is one of the best suspense films I've ever seen.
Colin Farrell (whom I've always liked, here in a performance light years better than anything I've seen him do before) and Ewan McGregor are brothers, blue-collar types with high aspirations to something better than their current respective jobs, working in a garage and in their father's failing restaurant. Terry (Farrell) has a gambling problem and Ian (McGregor) is afraid his new girlfriend is going to find out he's not the toff he pretends to be. Both of them suddenly find themselves desperate for money, with no place to turn. That is, until their rich uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) shows up unexpectedly. They lay out their stories to Uncle Howard and beg him to get them off their respective hooks. He seems willing, but he's got a favor to ask in return.
That favor catapults the two brothers into a nightmare, and it launches the audience into a thriller which, for all its stretching of credulity in certain areas, is the most believable one I've ever seen, I think. I kept thinking, "This is probably how real people would act if they found themselves in this situation." The difficulty I have with it is that there are certain decisions that I found highly possible but not necessarily the most likely. But the characters' responses to their situations seemed at times almost documentary in nature.
I cannot compliment too highly Colin Farrell. Far more than McGregor, he made me feel I was watching a real, live person reacting to real, live circumstances. It's one of the most naturalistic and believable performances I've seen in a very long time, and my appreciation of him as an actor has soared. McGregor, on the other hand, while perfectly adequate and able, I suppose, seemed not really to inhabit the world he moved in. It's not a bad performance at all. It's simply that, next to what Farrell was doing, and what John Benfield and Clare Higgins were doing as the boys' parents, it seemed less real to me. I also very much liked Sally Hawkins, a sort of Scarlett Johannsen lookalike, who plays Farrell's girlfriend. Like the others, she seemed to really live the life she was portraying.
Woody Allen. Wow. This is a film I'd never have expected from him. What a revelation. I like this film as much as any of my favorite Hitchcocks (though that's faint praise from me, since Hitchcock leaves me appreciative rather than delirious with pleasure). As an intellectual and emotional experience, Woody Allen's film, I'd have to say, has out-Hitchcocked the "master of suspense."
In any event, in any life, there is what happened and then there is the truth, and the two may not always equally serve our understanding of the event or life in question. It is true that "Hollywoodland" takes occasional liberties with specific facts, in no less way than Shakespeare took liberties with the real life facts of Hamlet or Julius Caesar. But as Alfred Hitchcock said, drama is life with the dull bits left out. What matters is not whether a costume is the right shade of blue or whether there's really a gas station at the intersection of Sunset and Benedict Canyon. What matters is whether the essence of a true story has been faithfully told. And "Hollywoodland" does a superb job of portraying that essence, who George Reeves was, what his world was like, and what impact he had on those who knew him and those who only knew of him. Allen Coulter, the director, has done a splendid job capturing the era and has paid enormous attention both to period detail and to the details of the lives of the real-life characters. Only Reeves's fans (and not even many of them) will notice the pinkie ring on Ben Affleck's finger or the widow's peak in his hairline or the exotic Alvis auto he owns, yet these are all completely authentic to the actual Reeves. More importantly, Coulter has done an exemplary job of making Reeves into a human being, one whose dreams we ache for almost as much as he does in the story.
Adrien Brody, as the fictional detective whose story provides the audience a window into Reeves's life, is solid and manages to bring a little charisma to the comparative low-life he plays. Diane Lane is superb as Reeves's lover, the sexually hungry but aging Toni Mannix. And Ben Affleck does certainly his best dramatic work ever as George Reeves. In makeup, and with his own matching cleft chin, Affleck sometimes looks astonishing like the real Reeves. But more importantly, he captures the haunted quality of the actor on a treadmill to oblivion, as well as the immense charm for which the real Reeves is widely remembered in Hollywood. Although the script does not give any of the actors the kind of deeply meaty scenes that win Oscars, some of the hardest work to do is for an actor to excel in scenes that don't require fireworks. Affleck in particular does so in this film, and I think it does him credit. He is reported to have researched the role intensely, and it shows. The performances of Larry Cedar, Bob Hoskins, and Lois Smith also stand out especially distinctively.
The cinematography is stunning, with the frequent flashbacks clearly distinguishable from the "present day" scenes without the distinction being glaring or even obvious. And the musical score is elegant and very evocative of the time.
It is perhaps inevitable that die-hard Superman fans, for whom George Reeves is not so much a human being as he is a sort of superhero himself, will find things to carp and cavil about in this film. As a researcher with over thirty years of in-depth study of Reeves's life, I can split hairs over details pretty easily myself. And I suspect, too, that some of the complaints will be about the depiction of things that are actually true, but which don't show Reeves in a worshipful light. All I can say is that I have spent my adult life studying, admiring, and trying to understand the man whose story this film tells, and I think George Reeves would be touched and proud of the care these filmmakers have taken. I highly recommend "Hollywoodland."