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Wild Rovers (1971)
Don't Bother With This Mess
The late sixties/early seventies was a great time for westerns -- McCabe and Mrs. Miller came out the same year as Wild Rovers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid two years before, and, of course, William Holden was just coming off of The Wild Bunch when he was cast here. Alas, this is not a great western. The first problem is that Blake Edwards seems intent on making a grand spectacle, along the lines of Duel In The Sun or The Big Country, rather than the more introspective westerns that reinvigorated the genre. Note, for instance, that the movie has an overture and an intermission, Hollywood spectacle staples. The photography is spectacular -- sometimes -- but poorly handled. For instance, in the movie's opening shots we see a pair of cowboys beautifully silhouetted against a big sky as they come riding, riding... Riding somewhere for a long time. This underscores the poor editing in this film: make your point and move on, don't just pile shot on shot of the same thing -- but perhaps I'm being too harsh here, as the "restored" version may not be true to Edwards' vision. But it is precisely that vision that is the movie's main flaw: there are numerous plot lines (some of which are never resolved) and the focus on the main characters is lost. Rambling and self-indulgent, this could have been a good western; instead, it gets lost in its own pretentiousness. What should have been a tale about two cowboys and their scheme to rob a bank becomes a steaming mess of plot lines. I find it interesting to compare this film to Edwards' comedy work with Peter Sellers or his ventures into the private detective genre, which are far better written, edited, and directed.
Really Bad SF movie
Several people have written reviews of this film that I agree with, so I'm not going to get into detail here. Let me just say: 1)The science was completely bone-headed. Just throwing the words "black hole" and "singularity" and "wormhole" into your script doesn't make for good science; 2)The convoluted plot has umpteen story lines, only one of which is satisfactorily resolved. (Maybe two, if you include the unnecessary Matt Damon nonsense, which could easily have been cut); 3)Really good actors get really stupid lines. McConaughey drawls his way through, Michael Caine is used to bad scripts and takes it in stride, the rest of the cast just looks confused; 4)And just what is this starship crew supposed to discover that will aid the dying Earth (no spoiler, you get this quest right away)? A livable planet where Earth's populace can go once they rediscover technology?; 5) Why, in the name of Time (a concept second only to gravity, or maybe idiocy, in this brightly-colored piece of trash), take three hours to deliver this gibberish when Roger Corman could have wrapped it up in 105 minutes?
Hands of a Stranger (1962)
Return of a Theme with Under-known Actor
The plot is very standard here. If you have seen The Beast With Five Fingers, The Hands of Orloff/Mad Love, or even the Michael Cain vehicle, The Hand, you know what this is about: guy gets new hands sewn onto his wrists, gets an itch to go out and strangle pe0oople . (This is a twist on the Eyes Of A Murderer concept, which may be reviewed other places. One difference: these are not necessarily the hands of a murderer being grafted onto the gifted pianist's wrists, in fact we never do learn whose hands these were -- but murder ensues nonetheless. So the question is: why watch this? For me, the interest was with the young actor (denied lead billing) and the men's incredibly greasy hairdos. Leaving hair for another day, we have James Stapleton who reminded me of a young Ray Liotta, but (as another reviewer perceptively noted) was directed as Hurd Hatfield. Too bad. One or two Liotta humorless laughs and we would have had an Academy performance. Such is the danger of being born between two film concepts, Hatfield and Liotta. Let this be a warning to would-be thespians: is now your time? Or should you go back to that comfortable barista job? (James Stapleton changed his stage name to James Noah. He got work for years, but not much and I think, given the proper role, could have been dynamite.)
A Wretched Movie
There is nothing to recommend this turkey. I like Warren Oates but even he can't enliven the terrible dialogue, rotten script, stupid editing, and the horrid, horrid soundtrack. Plot? Oh, something about somebody wanting to kidnap Leslie Caron, or kill her, or something. But it's all a ruse to set up another guy who works for the organized crime syndicate that's run by the government. Something like that. Stay away. Especially if you like Warren Oates; you don't want to remember him this way. One thing that's of interest: listening for Gordon Pinsent's Newfoundland accent. But you don't want to remember Pinsent this way, either.
The League of Gentlemen (1960)
Great caper movie
I first saw this movie fifty years ago. I loved it then and, after seeing it on TCM, love it now. The plot: a disaffected English Army officer recruits other vets to pull off a heist. The Gimmick: They are all ex-officers of His/Her Majesty's armed forces so the caper is pulled off with military planning. Bonus Humor: The lampooning of military life. I suspect that this film greatly amused many a British vet in 1960, just as Ocean's Eleven amused US audiences that same year. Fifteen years after WWII ended, many men were having second thoughts about the value of service and the nature of honor and duty. The men carrying out this caper (and this is a Caper Film, like Topkapi or the Italian Job) are all disaffected, some turned to criminal ways. Jack Hawkins' character is not a criminal, but has just been declared redundant by the British Army and forcibly retired after twenty-five tears of service. Add a failed marriage to that (nicely drawn in a few lines of dialog) and you have a man seeking some kind of satisfaction in his battle with Society, just some kind of recognition that he is more than a non-entity. During the heist, as Hawkins' car rolls down the street, the camera shoots up to show us the buildings belonging to the great English newspapers of the day. Without any direct comment, the camera has revealed some of Hawkins' motivation. This is a tight script (written by Bryan Forbes, the motorcyclist in the League), even at two hours, but all the stuff that wasn't developed is lightly traced in. I think that movie makers could study this work with profit. As slow as some of the action might seem to American audiences now (lots of dialog, few explosions), there is hardly a line or a shot that doesn't serve a purpose. If you enjoy caper movies, this is one of the greats. If you want post-WWII history or a treatise on class system decline, that's here as well. Add in great acting, great script, crisp direction and camera-work, you have a marvelous movie!
Invitation to the Dance (1956)
Amazing Dance with Animation
The first two segments of this film may or may not impress you, but do watch the third: "Sinbad the Sailor". Kelly plays an American sailor in an exotic Oriental market. He rubs an old lamp and a genie appears, played by an amazingly talented kid. After a bit of messing around,the genie gets a sailor suit, too. Then they open a book to a picture of a wonderous land. The genie transports them inside and all the rest features the two dancers (mostly Kelly alone) dancing with animation.This segment is much longer than any other live-plus-animation sequence until Mary Poppins excepting, possibly Song of the South whose sequences were nowhere near so complex as this. Kelly dances with an animated dragon (that wraps around him), into a harem, is chased by the Sultan's guards, has a long sequence with one harem girl, and then a very long sequence with the guards. This is amazing work for 1952, especially when you remember that every bit of the animation is hand-painted on cels. Hanna-Barbera (then with MGM doing Tom and Jerry directed the animation. (Kelly also did a famous dance number with Jerry in Anchors Aweigh eight years earlier.) Walt Disney advised. This is swell stuff and any fan of animation should give it a look.
Good movie with a hidden message
The movie's premise is easy to grasp: A man is asked to donate his kidney in order to save the life of his father. The catch: The father has never acknowledged this son who is the issue of a brief affair while the father was on a hunting trip in Canada. Complication: The mother is Native; the father, of course, is White. The man lied to the woman, said he was single. He was married and one of his children by his wife (who is not a donor match) has suddenly arrived on our hero's doorstep asking for the favor of a kidney. Pretty much all the action is between the main character and his half-brother, except for flashbacks to the affair between the Native mother and the White father. The suspense lies in seeing whether or not the guy will donate the kidney but the interest lies in the sub-text: Whites exploit Natives. Whites leave. Natives are ignored for a long time. Whites suddenly reappear, asking for a body part. Natives are told: "You will be a good person if you do this. You will be less than that if you don't." I think all kinds of people can relate to this sudden imposition on them of moral philosophy by amoral non-philosophers.
The Deadly Affair (1966)
Good, but flawed spy film
First of all, I liked this movie. I could watch it several more times but there are some irritating things about it. Anyway, this is one of the essential LeCarre spy movies. It is unfortunate that the studio renamed Smiley as Dobbs, but James Mason plays George Smiley, and does so very well. Smiley/Dobbs is a cuckold because his wife just can't help it. This is not very well played out in this film which hints at, oh, impotence and nymphomania (does that still mean anything?). The point, for LeCarre, was that Smiley's betrayed love is a metaphor for the political betrayal that is his stock in trade. Who better to discover a traitor than the betrayed man? The plot is genius: a cabinet minister dies, possibly a suicide, after Smiley/Dobbs interrogates him about possible Communist connections. Smiley/Dobbs thinks there is something more to this; he thinks it might be murder. Assisted by a superannuated cop, he seeks the truth, and finds it. All this is well-done: a good story, good acting, good photography, etc. But! The soundtrack is often terribly inappropriate. Lumet must have known this and at one point the soundtrack ends with a phono needle being scratched across vinyl -- the one truly cool moment in the use of the music. And sometimes the editing is wretched: choppy, major speeches interrupted with meaningless shots -- I don't know who to blame for this except Lumet. Still, with all its flaws, a movie worth watching, especially if you are interested in Cold War spy thrillers.
The Last Hunt (1956)
Good, but could have been Great
I saw this movie (at a drive-in with my family) about the time, or not long after, it came out. I was eleven or twelve. I remembered scenes from this flick for fifty years until seeing it again on TCM. These scenes (a frozen buffalo hide, a guy sharpening a skinning knife, the white buffalo and its hide, and the final unforgettable scene) stayed with me for years. The movie still has power, though not as much as the mental rewrite I gave it over a half century ago threading together the scenes I recalled (nothing about the sex in my pre-adolescent memory). I found the editing and cinematography pretty poor when I looked at it a second time but the story was still good. I recall my father saying after the movie, "I thought Robert Taylor said he wasn't going to do that kind of role any more." I don't know what he meant. This is perhaps Taylor's best movie. He plays a very nasty villain. And maybe that's what my father was talking about. Anyway, a curious and interesting western, exploring themes that western writers had opened up long before but were new to Hollywood. It's too bad that the lead native roles were given to Russ Tamblyn and Debra Paget, but that was 50's Hollywood. Worth watching, but mentally re-edit this film and see if you can't come up with a classic must-see.
People who complain about the ensemble cast and disparate story lines are missing the point. This is a movie about ordinary people caught up in the great drama of history. All the people have their own lives to live (as is pointed up in a Kennedy speech clip during the credits) but all are affected by the event that is to take place. War movies frequently have this concept. This is a peace movie about people whose lives will be changed by an outside event. (Disclaimer: I remember in June 1968 my wife, an early riser, sitting on the edge of the bed saying, "Robert Kennedy was shot." I knew right away what that meant: Nixon would be president, four more years of war... Yes, I was one of those ordinary people who was affected by this historic event.)
Bad Company (1972)
A very fine western
People who put down westerns have probably never seen Barbarosa, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, One-eyed Jacks, or this fine film. Released in 1972, Bad Company reflects some of the values of its day (thus proving the value of the western genre). Our heroes begin by dodging the draft in the Civil War, then proceed across the plains in a manner true to history if not to romance. But the basic theme is that of parentless youths set adrift to discover their own values. Superb acting throughout -- veteran Jim Davis, for instance -- and excellent production on a small budget. My favorite quote: an outlaw about to be hanged demonstrates some fancy gun-work with an unloaded revolver. He wows the audience, hands the gun back to Jim Davis, and mutters,"Hell, I'm the oldest whore on the block."
A Great Western and an Examination of Myth
Barbarosa is one of the best westerns ever made. The subject here is myth and the people who become mythic heroes. Barbarosa is, on the one hand, a legendary bandit and, on the other, an ordinary Texan who steals for a living: "Cattle, horses...Anything except sheep. You couldn't give me one of those wooly bastards." A young man on the run becomes Barbarosa's companion, then his acolyte. Both men are looking for a place in the world and the role they find is that of outlaw hero, players in a mythic drama that gives them meaning. The myth is that of the Outlaw Lover ( as in Hughes' The Outlaw or Brando's One-Eyed Jacks ) and both Nelson and Busey play their roles to perfection. The directing is excellent and the dialogue nigh perfect -- a great western! A swell movie!