They play a French Count and Countess who find themselves sheltering a couple of American soldiers while their château is being occupied by Nazi officers. The total emotional control these two great artists exhibit here is extraordinary and they make the episode deeply moving and completely engrossing, despite conventional plotting and over-the-top direction.
Novarro's final scene is particularly fine and seeing Rainer and him perform scenes in extreme close-up, you cannot help but be impressed by their total emotional honesty and their extreme physical beauty (although Novarro was in his mid-sixties and Rainer in her mid-fifties).
Hollywood was spoilt for choice in the mid-sixties, and these two great stars should have worked a lot more at this time. So it is a rare privilege to be able to see them in this aptly titled episode 'Finest Hour'. It is certainly one of the finest hours of television you will ever see.
Add to all that the daring (for its day) story-line, Bette Davis at the height of her dramatic powers and at her most beautiful, and Mary Astor delivering what I think is one of the great screen performances of all time, and you have a very special film indeed.
Although the film may seem to have dated elements, especially in the depiction of the African-American characters, if you let yourself watch the film with 1941 eyes you will be richly rewarded. Besides which the wonderful Hattie McDaniel brings so much depth to what could have been a simple stereotype.
As you can tell, I love this film. I understand Bette Davis and Mary Astor loved working together - and you can see that on the screen. The scenes between the two of them are electric, with so much being said beyond the words. Thank God Astor won an Oscar for her work here. She truly deserved it.
To give the episode its due, it is actually pretty good. The story of an elderly Spanish man who claims his family legally own the Ponderosa, and a large part of the land around it, has resonance with the the land rights claims of indigenous people all over the world today, and Novarro manages to capture the dignified humiliation of a once great family reduced to being an object of ridicule living on the fringes of society. Perhaps he was drawing on his own fall from being a major Hollywood star. In any case he gives his scenes a greater depth than they perhaps deserve, and makes this episode unforgettable. Lorne Greene especially seems to pick up on this and matches him well in their scenes together.
This episode is a must-see for all actors.
Then we have Leslie Caron as his love interest. It looks like this part was hurriedly re-written for her after her triumph in AN American IN Paris. She performs ridiculous ballet routines in a seedy bar (you know the patrons would have booed her off immediately). You see she wanted to be a ballerina, but she gave it all up to support her blind father. He's played by Kurt Kaszner - an actor still in his thirties but donned with silly silver hair to make him look ancient and wise.
Then there's Louis Armstrong, sadly named "Shadow", and seemingly the only African-American in New Orleans. He's supposed to be Meeker's trainer, but he spends the whole movie playing his trumpet and leading absurd sing-a-longs at the local bar. He does have a couple of good acting scenes though. The excellent Gilbert Roland floats around the film's edges with nothing to do, while John McIntire adds pseudo profound narration to the story - told in flashback like a film noir.
Probably the worst sequence in the film, and that's saying something, is the ludicrous Korean War scene, with some stock footage, four soldiers, some sort of pine forest and a rear projected bridge deemed sufficient to portray a major world conflict.
So we have a boxing picture, a musical, a film noir, a war film, and a pseudo-Freudian psychological study all rolled into one! What more could you ask for?
It's hard to believe a fine hard-boiled director like Raoul Walsh oversaw this mess - he probably wanted to run straight back to Warner Bros afterwards.
But then the whole movie falls apart in the second half. Seeming not to trust the delightful simplicity of the story, the film-makers take the film into a completely unbelievable melodramatic direction. The criminal act committed is so extreme, that the small motivation for it seems ridiculously out of proportion, despite the best efforts of that fine actor Alex Dimitriades. And then things just get sillier, and more unpleasant, until the charm of the first half is completely destroyed. What a shame - because this could have been a genuine Aussie classic. What remains in my mind though is the excellent performance of Matt Day, whose emotionally true work almost makes the silly second half believable.
But who renamed this OPEN CUT? The original title was bad enough, but the new one, which has ugly sexual connotations (especially in a movie involving a rape), is just plain tacky.
But the movie is stolen by silent screen legend Ramon Novarro in one of his more substantial later roles. He essays his character perfectly, giving it much more depth than was in the screenplay. He also lends the part style, grace, dignity and humor (that "Pagan" sparkle never left his eye, despite his rather sad life).
In short, definitely worth seeing for the performances, and the gorgeous technicolor. What a shame the script and direction don't match them.
Through the astronomer's telescope we see the man in the moon winking at the man in the sun. Both begin to lick their lips and wriggle their tongues with excitement as they draw closer together. Finally the sun goes behind the moon, and the man in the moon's face suggests orgasm!!
Finally they part again looking exhausted and satisfied. And the sky explodes in an orgy of sperm-like stars, each one carrying a scantily clad woman or man.
Surely this must be the first gay love scene ever put on film. It's hard to believe it's happening in a 1907 movie. You've gotta see it to believe it.
Great mix of gorgeous special effects, slapstick comedy and eroticism. One of Melies best!
But someone at MGM, in their wisdom, cast them as Native Americans - a disastrous decision that doomed this film to failure even before it was begun.
Both struggle to make their characters even slightly believable, as they try to curb their Mexican passion into some sort of wise aboriginal spirituality. The spitfire in Lupe just can't help but surface, and all Ramon can do is try to maintain some dignity under that terrible wig. His singing is nice but anachronistic, and there is far too much of it.
Hard to believe this disaster was directed by Woody Van Dyke, who had made one of Ramon's best silent movies "The Pagan". Novarro was deeply ashamed of this film, and it's no wonder. What is saddest of all about it though is the way it wastes what could have been one of the most exciting star combinations of all time. Just imagine if Novarro and Velez were playing a pair of violently passionate Mexican lovers - what fireworks we would have seen!
Shame, MGM, Shame!
It is only her performance that makes this film worth seeing. All the other performances are forced and labored, especially those of the young people, who play "cute" in a very self conscious way. It doesn't help that, like so many films of the 1940s, the film is patronising in its treatment of the emotions of young people. At times it even ridicules them. No wonder youth would soon rebel and embrace James Dean as their hero.
Overall this is a B-grade attempt to make an Andy Hardy-like "all-American, apple-pie" type comedy/drama about young people and "real" values. It fails on every level, except that it allowed the magical Leatrice Joy to light up the screen once more.
What such intelligent and gifted actors as William Powell, Gig Young and James Whitmore are doing in this rubbish is hard to fathom. The scenes set in a Senate inquiry into Lamas' business operations are reminiscent of the real House Un-American Activities inquiries that were happening at the time, but in this movie I think we are supposed to be on the racist senators' side! Sexist, racist garbage - I wonder what Liz thinks of it now!
Under the skilful direction of Frank Borzage, Mary is allowed many moments to do what a silent screen actor could do better than any other actor - express emotion without words. There is one scene, involving the death of a child, that is amongst the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed - and it is virtually a silent scene. All the emotion comes from Mary. All actors should watch this scene and learn what great screen acting is all about.
The screenplay is a little meandering, and peculiarly episodic. Based on a stage play, I get the impression that the film follows the three act play structure - First Act:light romantic comedy, Second Act:Western melodrama, Third Act:relationship drama - and finally an epilogue to tie-up all the loose ends. It's not an unentertaining structure, but it does seem a little odd. Through it all Pickford, Howard and Borzage stride with great skill, to create a memorable film, and a triumphant farewell to one of Hollywood's greatest stars.
The film is brilliantly directed by Russell Mulcahy, who shows unusual restraint, without losing his dynamic and unique style. Some of his direction here reminded me of his work on "Queer As Folk", as he manages to stylise the action without sacrificing the emotional integrity of the screenplay (which was written by Fingleton himself). Although the film is set in the 1950s and 1960s, Mulcahy refuses to become a slave to the period, instead he utilises 21st century editing styles, including the truly thrilling use of split-screens for the race sequences, and a terrific electronic music score, to make this period tale utterly contemporary.
The performances are nothing short of spectacular. Jesse Spencer, who plays Tony, seems set for international stardom. With the face of an angel, and the body of a god, he can hardly fail to make an impression - but he can really act as well! He is ably supported by two of the greatest actors in the world today, and they're both Aussies - Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush, who play Tony's parents. The story focuses on Tony's relationship with his father, a very strained and complex relationship. Rush's performance is probably his best screen work to date (yes, even better than "Shine"!), as he creates a multi-dimensional being out of what could have been a cliched villain. And Davis just keeps getting better and better as an actress. As the long-suffering mother, she completely avoids cliche, and invests the character with zest, warmth, love and anger. She is dynamite! Tim Draxl is also impressive as Tony's brother John - at once jealous and proud, and Mitchell Dellevergin is perfect as the young Tony. All the performances are excellent, although I could have done without the comic cameo by Dawn Fraser, which harms the emotional intensity of one very important scene.
Perhaps the film hammers its themes a little too relentlessly, but it's easy to forgive a film that has this much heart. Given the right distribution I think this film will go on to great international acclaim, and strong box-office. Another Aussie classic to treasure!
Doug is his usual cheerful self, performing some amazing stunts, and lighting up the screen with his ebullient personality. Under the sure direction of Victor Fleming - making his debut as a director - the film never misses a beat, and is full of surprises.
There are a couple of moments of pure fantasy, including an insane dream sequence, and scenes set in Doug's brain and in his stomach! And the whole thing comes to a wild special effects climax when a dam bursts!
This gem is truly a neglected classic and deserves to be restored and released on DVD, so that we may all enjoy the cyclone of energy that was Douglas Fairbanks. 10 out of 10.
Later the prince is played by the excellent Wallace Reid, and his great love by the disarmingly innocent Dorothy Gish. They make a great team, and the scenes of fun and love-making at Heidelberg are terrific.
Standing in stark contrast are the brutal, and sometimes spectacular, scenes of war (though I suspect some of the long shots were stolen from "Birth Of A Nation" - D.W. Griffith produced "Old Heidelberg" too). What is especially notable is the anti-war sentiment, expressed at a time when World War 1 was raging in Europe. Two years later, when America entered the war, such sentiment would not have been allowed.
All in all this is a vivid little gem from the early days of cinema, that is well worth a look.
In the Barthelmess films of the early 1930s, there was a tendency toward a kind of tragic masochism, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the Barthelmess character. And we see it here again. Twenty years later we'd see another great actor being attracted to such roles - Marlon Brando. But Pabst steers the character's suffering (perhaps a symbol for a rather innocent USA suffering through a terrible war and the great depression) toward enlightenment. And the ending is both profound and a little subversive politically.
All the supporting performances are excellent, but Marjorie Rambeau stands out as Barthelmess' mother. The film is also quite risque for its day - with Richard obviously sleeping with rich older women for money, and fathering a love child. Pabst was bringing a real European sensibility to American cinema here - something that would soon become impossible with the Hollywood production code. It's a shame that Hollywood lost such a great artist, and even sadder that he chose to work in Nazi Germany instead.
In "Lost and Found" the same qualities just make their constant nasty conflicts annoying. They both have their moments - Glenda's drunken tirade at the Chinese restaurant is particularly superb - but the film drags on and on with a series of pointless screaming matches and tantrums. And when Paul Sorvino's talkative taxi driver arrives on the scene the film becomes barely watchable, and loses all sense of realism.
Extremely dull direction, poor scripting, awful music, and bad cinematography don't help. And why did they film all of Glenda's close-ups in soft focus!!! It looks ridiculous. Why couldn't they just trust her admittedly unusual, but still very sexy, face??
It's all a waste of two top actors at the peak of their careers.