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49th Parallel (1941)
billboard-type wartime propaganda
21 March 2005
This is really a pretty silly film, whose Nazi protagonists are portrayed with all the realism of the mustache-twirling villains of melodrama. When one is trapped behind enemy lines and trying to make it to neutral territory, is it really likely that one is going to flaunt one's Master Race ethics in everyone's face, and engage folks one encounters along the way in debates about the virtues of Natonal Socialism???? However, in the film these incidents allow the "good guys" to indulge in virtuously indignant denunciations, which have the intended effect of rousing the audience's political blood pressure. The ending - involving Raymond Massey as a hobo who encounters the remaining Nazi fugitive - is really, really weak, almost making a joke of these characters who supposedly represent evil personified. The acting is not bad in the Canadian roles, e.g. Laurence Olivier, Glynis Johns, etc. and some of the photography is pretty good as travelogue. We also get a little education about the Hutterites, a religious sect resembling the Amish. (The film does not tell us, however, that the Hutterites' sojourn in Canada was a temporary one, having as pacifists emigrated there from the north central states of the U.S. to evade American participation in WWI.) The score, by the great British composer Ralph Vaugan-Williams, transcends the material. Altogether the film has minor interest as an example of wartime propaganda, but hardly stands well on its own as drama.
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5 Fingers (1952)
great movie
8 August 2015
This 1952 classic is well worth watching. An added attraction is that it is based on the true story of Albanian Elyesa Bazna, code name Cicero, who served as valet to the British Ambassadaor in Turkey (Sir Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull-Hugessen, if you must know) and funneled secret allied documents to the Germans.It's based on the book Operation Cicero by L.C.Moyzisch, who was Cicero's German contact. Mason, in a superb performance, plays Cicero, and Danielle Darriex plays Countess Staviska, Cicero's treacherous partner. Mason does a wonderful job of making us almost root for the suavely brash spy. Veteran character actor John Wengraf does a great job as Count von Papen, and Michael Rennie is Colin Travers, the British security agent who is sent in to uncover Cicero. Fine writing and acting all around, with a great director, Joseph Mankiewicz, and the distinctive sounds of Bernard Herrmann's score. There is a wonderful plot twist at the end that is well worth waiting for. Don't miss this underrated gem.
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falls flat
4 April 2011
This blockbuster would seem to have all the ingredients that should make for a good movie - sweep and grandeur, a top-notch cast, historical interest. But somehow it left me cold. The script is leaden, trite and formulaic. The battle scenes, despite a fantastic display of pyrotechnics later in the movie, are rather mundane and go on for too long, as if we don't get the point. The part of Baroness Ivanoff was obviously grafted onto the film to provide a vehicle for Ava Gardner whose contribution to the proceedings is minimal. I know Dmitri Tiomkin was a very popular film composer but his music always strikes me as nervously skittish and strangely disjunct; film music should never draw attention to itself and Tiomkin's always seems to be trying to. It's true that the production values are first rate; there is nothing like the color values of the old, extinct Technicolor process. But still it's a rather long haul to get through this well-meaning but ultimately disappointing effort. For a very much better take on China versus the West at this time, see "Sand Pebbles," a far superior film.
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what a surprise!!!!!
3 April 2000
Never heard of this wonderful movie till American Movie Classics (bless 'em) showed it recently. What a cast!! Jason Robards, Charles Bickford, Joanne Woodward, Henry Fonda, Paul Ford, and Burgess Meredith - how could a movie with such a blockbuster array have received such little attention? (This was the seemingly indestructible Bickford's very last movie appearance, and he looks as robustly granitic here as he did 30 years prior.) Everyone involved puts in fine work; Meredith especially shines as the catankerous yet wistful old doctor. The production values are extremely high; the movie is great-looking, although, truth to tell, the director's background as primarily a television director does show through just a bit. However this entertaining suspense comedy does keep one involved, though I must admit I saw the surprise ending coming. Don't miss this overlooked little gem.
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this is NOT film noir
22 October 2014
I was drawn to this one, as many viewers were, by the presence of the great Edward G. Robinson and the legendary George Raft. However, not even their presence can salvage this stinker.

First off, one thing must be made clear: there seems to be, in reviews of this flick, the idea that any crime drama in black & white is "film noir," a phrase which is widely overused. This movie follows none of the conventions of film noir and cannot be called noir by any stretch of the imagination. Actually it seems to have the appearance of a made-for-TV drama.

Secondly, the script is simply atrocious. It is loaded with so many clichés, overripe formulations and contrived dialogue that it feels like it was written by Ed Wood. A leaden phrase like "Women are what make life a pleasure for men," comes to mind. What a howler!

Thirdly, anyone with any knowledge of espionage knows that, historically, neither the Nazis nor the Communists employed elements of the criminal underworld; such cannot be relied on.

Fourthly, this is as great an assemblage of lousy actors as I have ever seen in one flick. The level of acting is simply terrible, and that includes Robinson, who, as noted elsewhere here, phones in his performance. This is probably to be expected, with such a lousy script. Why he signed on to this effort is beyond me; he must have needed the money badly. And this flick also shows that Raft, despite his reputation, was no great actor. Audrey Totter is a familiar face, but she's nothing to write home about either.

Lastly, the concluding scene aboard the ship is so contrived, patched together and full of improbabilities as to defy belief.

To summarize in two words, skip it.
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love this flick....
7 July 1999
This has become a yearly viewing treat for me and my son. The source of the movie's charm is the wonderful writing of Jean Shepherd, on whose colorfully nostalgic short stories of growing up in 1950's midwest U.S. this film is based. The fact that this low-budget sleeper has become such a well-loved holiday movie by so many is a tribute to Shepherd. My one reservation is that I think Darren McGavin is a bit miscast as the father; they could have used someone a tad more 'salt-of-the-earth-ish'. Also, we could do without Randy's 'piggy' scene. Having said that, there are so many wonderful moments here: the 'double-dog-dare-ya' scene ("Does anyone know where Flick is?"), the tire-fixing scene, the famous lamp, "you'll shoot your eye out", and on and on. This wonderful movie is good clean fun with a lot of nostalgic warmth.
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a laugh riot
9 July 1999
One of the last of the stage musicals to be transferred to the screen, and what a delight! An absolutely blockbuster comic cast (this was one of the last films Buster Keaton made) is led by the incomparably zany Zero Mostel in a non-stop carnival of raucous and primarily bawdy humor. Right up with the classic comedy films.
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excellent sex farce
18 September 2000
This entertaining bit of froth stands up well, as Robert Morse, the neighborhood Lothario, attempts to instruct Walter Matthau in the How-To's of philandery (why he should be interested in philandery when he is married to the incredibly built Inger Stevens is an unexplained mystery). Of course the many delicious cameos by such as Phil Silvers, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, et. al. keep the film bouncing merrily along. Well worth a see.
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The Academy overlooked this one; make sure you don't.
5 February 2014
What a pleasure to know that the film industry is still capable of putting forth rich, intensely layered, insightful character-driven movies like this one. Speaking as a musician I have to say that this is the most accurately insightful portrayal of how actual musicians work together that I have seen on film. And what a wonderful cast!! Christopher Walken and the sadly departed Phillip Seymour Hoffman live up to their usual high standards here. I had not been familiar with the work of Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir but they acquit themselves well. Plaudits to all of them for working so hard to master the ability to look like string players. The richness of the story - the multiple personal conflicts among the players - analogized to an actual piece of music, the Beethoven op. 131, is a brilliant concept, beautifully executed. This is a totally involving and - in the end - moving story. You don't have to be a musician to be drawn into it, but it helps. It's a crime this flick never made it to the Oscars.
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winner, and still champion
16 June 1999
Despite James Cameron's slick and bloated effort, this is still the best film about the Titanic's sinking. No phony romantic subplot was created here. The stories of the fascinating people who were actually there, as recounted in Walter Lord's magnificent book, suffice perfectly well to move the story forward. The acting is superb all around, and the effects stand up well for a 1958 movie. A powerfully compelling true story told in a powerfully compelling way.
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Perfect World - lousy movie
19 July 1999
Even Clint Eastwood is not immune to the law of averages; he's bound to turn out a dud once in a while (e.g., "White Hunter, Black Heart") and this is a dud. Look up 'phony' in the dictionary, and you'll find this picture listed; everything about it rings false.

A con (Costner) and his cellmate escape from prison. During the course of the escape they take a small boy hostage. Eastwood is the Texas Ranger who must track him down.

Costner's con, you see, has suffered abuse as a child, so of course he turns out to be sort of an avenging angel against abusers, protecting the boy from his cellmate and generally acting as a shining defender of kids in general. (The reality, which is that victims of child abuse overwhelmingly go on to become abusers themselves, would not make for so warm and fuzzy a story). Predictably, the kid and the con go through a protracted bonding process wherein Costner turns out to be just a peachy-keen swell sort of guy, just right to fill in for the dad the boy doesn't have. The fact that he has kidnapped the kid, kills two people in the course of the movie, terrorizes a family that has shown him and the kid hospitality, subverted the mother's religion in the eyes of the child, and brought untold emotional suffering to the kid's mom (whom we see for no more than 5 minutes total) is not supposed to interfere with our sympathy for this crumb.

Laura Dern's function here, in the part of a penology expert assigned to the case by the governor, is to supply the opportunity for the boringly predictable little P.C. sermonettes about gender oppression and female empowerment that movies must have nowadays (is there a federal mandate at work here?).

Clint still has it in him to make a good thriller, e.g "In the Line of Fire", but he shows signs of being seduced by the siren song of trendy social issues and 'victimology'. This movie smacks more of Oprah Winfrey than of Harry Callahan. Forget it. Watch "Magnum Force" again instead.
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good one
7 August 2002
Not much to add to the generally favorable reviews contained herein, except to wonder at the relative scarcity of this flick on tv. It's a puzzlement, considering its intelligence and high quality. Michael Caine reeks malevolence and malice as Graham Marshall, the cutthroat executive on the make. He really is one of the great actors of our day. Highly recommended.
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A Simple Plan (1998)
gritty, grim & gruesome but good
24 June 1999
A truly dark morality tale which also happens to be a superb mystery/suspense movie. Sort of like "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" relocated from Mexico to some deliberately nondescript wintry northern town. It's horrible and fascinating to watch these three hapless nonentities become progressively more ensnared in the fatal ramifications of their "simple plan". A nice change from the mindless blow-em-ups and witless romances we have so many of nowadays. Billy Bob Thornton's performance as the slow-witted Jacob is, as has been noted, superb.
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Kazan's a genius
12 October 1999
This beautiful story has not a nasty or mean-spirited person in it, though there is plenty of conflict, tension, and human drama, arising from the grinding poverty and the human failings of the well-intentioned people involved. Kazan's genius is shown by the way in which he absolutely draws us into this tale and makes us care deeply for everyone in it. There is much here that touches me personally, as the story has many echos of my own father's childhood in South Boston. In the end, the movie is a statement of the triumph of the spirit, and we leave feeling uplifted, a feeling we get all too rarely in movies of this post-modern and ironic age. This movie deserves its place as one of the all-time great movies, and Kazan deserves a place as one of the greatest directors.
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About Schmidt (2002)
you must be of a certain age......
16 March 2004
I was perplexed by the number of negative comments herein on this excellent black comedy, until I realized that most of the people who enter comments appear to be in the earlier stages of their life journey. This flick can truly be understood only by those of us who are closer to the end than the beginning. The hollow disappointments of life, the realization that much of what we do is ultimately futile, and that we have failed at life's biggest task - making a difference - are the themes that underlie this tale of an Everyman nearing the end of his journey. It is one of Nicholson's finest roles, and he has created the perfect screen persona for Warren Schmidt, hesitant, awkward, slow-moving and a bit ponderous, with a face that reflects his astonishment at each new revelation. This is truly a movie with some depth, and despite its darkly rich comedy, the closing scene is close to heart-breaking.
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when nausea calls......
8 July 1999
Having enjoyed Jim Carrey's mildly entertaining debut in 'A.V. - Pet Detective', I gave "When Nature Calls" a shot.

I hope Carrey has been shrewdly investing the big bucks he's been getting to make these movies, because I don't see how he's going to parlay this junior high schmuck routine into a lifelong career.

I don't know whether the script (such as it is) is weaker than in the first one, or it's just that this shtick wears progressively thinner and thinner (and more and more annoying), but suffice it to say that before the thing even finished I abandoned ship to watch a press conference by Richard Gephardt. The press conference was more amusing.
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Action (1999–2000)
1 October 1999
There seems to be no end to how far television producers are willing to go in plumbing the depths of depravity, crudeness, meanness, sexual license and perversion, and overall human nastiness. There seems to be a mad race to get to the bottom of the sewer. All this is celebrated, of course, as "pushing the envelope", and lauded with words like "hip" and "edgy". The joke is that this show is billed as "for mature audiences" and yet it is dumped right into 9:30 time slot, just right for the junior high and up crowd, as well as being marketed directly at these young people. The first commercial I saw on this show was for a video game!

Are we surprised that the young people of our country are becoming more and more devoid of human sympathy and compassion when network tv seeks to immerse them deeper and deeper into an imaginative world that models the very worst in human behavior as funny and cool??? How can we be surprised that boys are sexually assaulting girls at younger at younger ages when we are destroying the natural innocence of childhood by bringing this moral sewage into the environment???

All concerned with this program and all the others of its ilk should be ashamed of themselves. Of course the hip and cool and cutting-edge crowd finds it laughable to consider such concepts as decency and common morality, but in ancient Athens the crime of "corrupting the young" was a serious charge. Socrates was not guilty of it, but the people that produce this garbage certainly are. Go ahead and laugh.

I enjoy contemplating the thought of all the childless Gen-xers who doubtless love this show, at some point in the future having to monitor their own children's tv viewing. Considering what Action and South Park are like in 1999, and the rate at which these shows are outpacing each other in "edginess", I can only imagine what those future parents will have to deal with in 2010. Good luck.
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Affliction (1997)
strong story deflated by a flawed finish
16 July 1999
What if, at the end of "Cool-Hand Luke", in the scene where Luke is being driven away to die in the warden's station wagon, we had been treated to a voice-over on the historic cruelty of the Southern prison farm system??? Would have sorta deflated the whole movie, wouldn't it have??

This is the effect of the Hillary Clinton-ish little speech on male violence we get at the end of this otherwise strong story which leads us up to the tragic conclusion that Wade cannot escape the forces that shaped him. That little monologue clubs us over the head and deflates the whole movie, transforming it from a moderately engrossing story with a good feeling for tragic destiny, to a social uplift screed.

Wade's daughter, who we sympathise with at first, I found to be somewhat of an unlikeable little whiner by the end, especially when she snubs Wade's desperate efforts to buy her a Big Mac because "junk food is bad for you." (When she whined "I want to go home" for the 100th time, I wanted Wade to say "Fine by me!", and turn the truck around). Coburn's performance is a bit ham-handed and the script doesn't help him at the end when it calls for him to "congratulate" Wade at the point when the son seems, a bit too obviously, to have finally become his father. The murder mystery subplot seems a cheap device to try to give the movie some box office boost, and is completely gratuitous.

Having said that, Nolte's beautifully-paced performance does have a gripping urgency to it, as Wade tries more and more desperately, against the odds, to escape his destiny. The tone of the movie is wonderfully bleak and foreboding, and the sense of impending doom is well-conveyed. The final scene, of Wade sitting, drinking, at the kitchen table with the window framing the burning barn outside, is a memorably powerful image. Unfortunately it is destroyed by that awful voiceover.

The movie is still, however, far superior to most of the dreck coming out of Hollywood nowadays.
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changing standards
19 November 2002
I found this mildly engrossing, if a tad dated and a bit of a period piece. Certainly it's always worth watching Lionel Barrymore. But the thing I found interesting - almost disturbing, really - is the change in attitude toward alcoholism since the time this play was written. Even though Wallace Beery's character is clearly struggling with alcoholism, the scenes in which he falls off the wagon are played for straight-out laughs. The dinner scene, in particular, in which everyone at the table finds his drunkenly boorish behavior amusing, is almost painful to watch in light of how we view this affliction today.
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Alice (1990)
confused effort which ultimately flops
16 June 1999
I saw this recent Woody Allen film because I'm a fan of his work and I make it a point to try to see everything he does, though the reviews of this film led me to expect a disappointing effort. They were right. This is a confused movie that can't decide whether it wants to be a comedy, a romantic fantasy, or a drama about female mid-life crisis. It fails at all three.

Alice (Mia Farrow) is a restless middle aged woman who has married into great wealth and leads a life of aimless luxury with her rather boring husband and their two small children. This rather mundane plot concept is livened up with such implausibilities as an old Chinese folk healer who makes her invisible with some magic herbs, and the ghost of a former lover (with whom she flies over Manhattan). If these additions sound too fantastic for you, how about something more prosaic, like an affair with a saxophone player?

I was never quite sure of what this mixed up muddle was trying to say. There are only a handful of truly funny moments in the film, and the endingis a really preposterous touch of Pollyanna.

Rent 'Crimes and Misdemeanors' instead, a superbly well-done film that suceeds in combining comedy with a serious consideration of ethics and morals. Or go back to "Annie Hall" or "Manhattan".
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El Stinkeroooo, big-time
1 March 2009
I should begin by saying that I despise Michel Moore as much as any rational person can, and that my politics are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun's. However, there is no way that I can say anything good about the flick. The words jejune, sophomoric, infantile, and ham-handed come to mind. The script is simply way-out over-the-top, and is less a script than a right-wing polemic. I do not see how respectable actors such as Jon Voigt and Dennis Hopper could have associated themselves with this piece of garbage. There is no subtlety at all; watching it is like letting yourself be hit upside the head with a two-by-four. Avoid this one at all costs.
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Anastasia (1956)
25 December 2014
What a wonderful movie!!!! They simply don't make them like this anymore. Start with the most mundane matters, the production values. The glorious wide screen aspect ratio is a delight, as is the wonderful Technicolor process, which gives us a vividness that is sorely lacking from movies nowadays. The great Alfred Newman wrote the score. Then consider the acting - first rate on all fronts. Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergmann play beautifully off each other, and Akim Tamiroff shines in the type of role he excelled in, the sweaty, seedy, slightly comic con artist. Martita Hunt is wonderful as the slightly loony lady in waiting. Helen Hayes is off the charts as the Empress Dowager, in what was evidently a comeback role for her. To watch her display her ambivalent emotions as she deals with what could be her long-lost granddaughter are a revelation. Finally, the script; it impishly refuses to engage the central question - was Anna Anderson really Anastasia, or an impostor? By the end, the question doesn't seem to matter, so beautifully has the script dealt with things like lost hopes, wishful thinking, doubt, deceit, treachery, nostalgia for a lost world, romance, and amnesia. Don't miss this great story, beautifully told in a lavish production.
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tooooooooo looooooooooong
18 December 2011
Otto Preminger was never a director noted for conciseness or brevity, and this movie is, as long as we're in legal territory, Exhibit A for why he could have used a very stringent editor. I have to be once again the turd in the punchbowl of encomia here and side with the minority who ask where the emperor's clothes are. I was drawn to the movie by the wonderful cast; the great Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara Eve Arden, of whom we don't see enough, and the great character actors Arthur O'Cpnnell and Murray Hamilton. It's a long movie and I spread it out over 2 nights. The first night I found myself reveling the proceedings, all in glorious, nostalgic black and white. The second evening I found myself starting to look at my watch and by the end terminal boredom was setting in. The movie is just plain too damn long. And it would have been worth it if there were any surprise revelations or plot twists, but there aren't. Verdict announced, end of story. We find ourselves asking to what end did we sit through almost three hours of courtroom dialogue. An interesting premise is that raised by one viewer, who advanced the idea that this is Preminger's critique of the American justice system. Maybe so, but even if that were the case, he could have done it more succinctly.
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3 November 2012
I find I'm the skunk at the garden party with this flick. I found this highly acclaimed docudrama repellent, but not for the reasons one might suspect. It was repellent - as well as incomprehensible - to watch Leach's developing interest and fascination with Fred West. Anyone watching this movie should first do some Googling to find out the details of what Fred and Rosemary West perpetrated. If anyone deserves to be called human monsters, it is this pair. In the light of this knowledge, the script's clear intention - to me anyway - to actually make West into a figure of sympathy is disgusting. Knowing the nature of his deeds, his weeping and the crying about the "baby" (complete with colorful regional pronunciation of the word) are repulsive. It was also interesting to see the British treatment of prisoners in interrogation: allowed to wear their own clothes (no prison uniforms) and pretty much conducted like afternoon tea. As at least one other critic has observed, it is incomprehensible how any morally sentient human being could develop any sympathy with this fiend, as Leach evidently did. As the relationship between Leach and West is at the core of this narrative, and her motivation remains unexplained if not inexplicable, the whole movie does not wash.

It was nice of the producers to include the photos of the actual victims in the closing credits. During the movie itself there is minimal emotion at their loss; the burial of their remains is portrayed with as much moral weight as the burial of a pickle jar.
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great nostalgia trip
18 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
It hardly seems possible that I was in the fourth grade when this lavish spectacle came out. I can still clearly recall the massive p.r. blitz and the hype surrounding its release. There was a special air of adventure around the movie that was more common in those days, when Hollywood was striving for increasingly fabulous and star-loaded vehicles, to compete with television's increasing inroads into viewership. This special quality has been completely lost in these days when cinematic `product' is churned out in an undifferentiated stream. It's impossible to imagine, except in a few rare cases , that kind of aura surrounding a contemporary movie.

When our family went to see it (yes, there was a time when families went to the movies together! yes, there was a time when there were movies suitable for the whole family to watch!) I remember being completely swept away by the spectacle, the romance, the sheer sweep of the thing. I was too young at the time to recognize many of the actors who put in the plethora of cameos, but it's fun to do so today. The movie's main theme quickly entered the popular music repertoire and became practically ubiquitous. The problem in evaluating the movie now is not to allow fond nostalgia to interfere with an objective assessment.

[**** minor spoiler **** ] The movie is a tad dated, but not, I think, fatally so. It still stands up as a fast-paced adventure yarn with a touch of tongue-in-cheek comedy and a certain archness (as witness the very final closing words in an aside to the audience) bestowed by David Niven's strong lead. The chemistry between him and Cantinflas works well, and Robert Newton provides a good foil as Mr. Fix. Shirley Maclaine, however, is miscast. (For a real hoot, by the way, click on the `full cast and crew' link of this movie in IMDB, where each and every actor, including ALL the extras, is listed alphabetically. What a riot!)

One previous viewer complained about a lack of character development. Yes, and one doesn't go to a hardware store to buy hamburger, either.

And the exotic locales have lost none of their appeal. One quibble would be the Spanish scenes, where Jose Greco's Flamenco routine and the overly long subsequent bullfight sequence impede the flow.

There is no question that the super-wide screen format of Todd-AO, which used a special fish-eye lens for the scenery shots, and which was shown on a special curved screen in the theaters, was essential for the travelogue atmosphere of the flick. To see it on a tv-sized screen degrades the movie's impact considerably. I had looked in vain for years for this to be broadcast or re-released in letterbox and I am happy to see TMC has done so as of August, '03 ! As predicted, the letterbox format, and the rejuvenated print, reinvigorates this nearly unique film, which I somewhat hesitantly venture to call a classic.
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