★★★½

The Little Foxes (1941, William Wyler)

The most impressive things about The Little Foxes are, in no particular order, Bette Davis’s performance (specifically her micro expressions), Patricia Collinge’s supporting performance, director Wyler’s composition, director Wyler’s staging of the narrative (adapted by Lillian Hellman from her play and set in a constrained area but a living one), Herbert Marshall’s performance, and Gregg Toland’s photography. Actors Teresa Wright and Charles Dingle almost make the top list. They make up the second tier. Then you get into the other great supporting performances and things like Daniel Mandell’s editing or the set decoration and it goes on and on.

Because The Little Foxes is an expertly made film. The script is strong, Wyler’s got Gregg Toland shooting this thing, Wright’s character got hidden range (too hidden), and Davis can do this role. Davis and Wyler didn’t get along but the conflict never comes through because Davis’s character is supposed to be so against the grain. Bickering with the director through your performance is a great way to generate grain to move against.

Even though Wyler does a great job translating a play to the screen, the film skips a little too much. Wyler and Toland have this great foreground and background action thing going so they can get multiple things done at once (occasionally with middle ground action too). But it’s a device to keep Little Foxes lean. The first thirty-six minutes, taking place over a day, sings. Wyler gets done with it and it’s like the film is just starting. He’s introduced the cast, he’s introduced the setting. It’s laying the ground situation in action. It’s awesome.

And for a while it pays off and just keeps getting better. Little Foxes is about the machinations of a nouveau riche Southern family in 1900. Well, not quite riche enough but almost. Davis and brothers Dingle and Carl Benton Reid (in a sturdy but inglorious performance) have a plan, they just need Marshall–as Davis’s convalescing husband–to get on board. Only maybe Marshall thinks the family is awful. Foxes has some peculiar politics, with Marshall and Richard Carlson as progressives (and the only decent white men in the picture).

Collinge’s part in the film, reductively, is to forecast the possibilities for Wright’s future. Collinge does a great job with it and the scenes are beautifully written–her relationship with Wright in the first act is a standout both for acting and cinematic brevity–but she disappears in the third act. She’s got no place in the story, which is kind of a problem because the story was the family and then it just turns into this business deal thing.

It’s too abrupt, but Wyler’s able to make it at least flow a little thanks to Toland and Mandell’s contributions. There’s a throwaway scene in the third act where Carlson gets to slap around porto-bro Dan Duryea. Not to fault Duryea with that description, he’s awesome in the part. Lovably dopey and still somewhat dangerous. So Wyler gives the audience a reward for sticking through the mussed third act.

Even though the grand finale is part of that mussing, Davis and Wright really bring it together and make it work long enough for Wyler and Toland to finish the movie. Dingle and Marshall also go far in making it happen, but it’s Davis and Wright. It’s got to be the mother and daughter showdown, even though the film never exactly promised such a thing. And you get to see Wright develop her character without an inch from Davis. Is it an inch in character or out? Doesn’t matter, makes their scenes beyond tense. Maybe because Davis wasn’t in the second act much. The Little Foxes, with Marshall, Wright, Carlson, Collinge, and Jessica Grayson just sitting around enjoying each other’s company in one scene, becomes almost genial. Wyler doesn’t promise happiness, but he does acknowledge people actually enjoy life.

Davis has to come back with a vengeance to remind the audience there is no happiness, no enjoyment. Because the world’s a bad place. It’s actually a really downbeat ending even though everyone kind of gets a happy ending. Characters win, humanity loses.

Foxes has got some problems–it’s too short as it turns out–but Wyler and company turn in an excellent picture. Confident, beautifully shot, beautifully acted, well-paced. But in that confidence is a lot of safety. Wyler’s most ambitious with his composition, not the film overall.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Arthur Kober, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Lillian Hellman, based on the play by Hellman; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Meredith Willson; produced by Samuel Goldwyn; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Bette Davis (Regina Giddens), Teresa Wright (Alexandra Giddens), Herbert Marshall (Horace Giddens), Charles Dingle (Ben Hubbard), Patricia Collinge (Birdie Hubbard), Jessica Grayson (Addie), Carl Benton Reid (Oscar Hubbard), Dan Duryea (Leo Hubbard), Richard Carlson (David Hewitt), John Marriott (Cal), and Russell Hicks (William Marshall).


No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir)

There are two big sequences in Rules of the Game. There’s the hunting sequence, which concentrates on the rabbits and pheasants before–and as–they are killed for sport. The animals are hunted without motive or enjoyment. Until a line in the third act connects events, the hunt is mostly just a way to inform Nora Gregor of husband Marcel Dalio’s infidelity. The second sequence has Gaston Modot, as Dalio’s gamekeeper, hunting Julien Carette through Gregor and Dalio’s party.

Why is Modot hunting Carette? Well, Carette’s after Modot’s wife, of course. Gregor and Dalio’s own infidelities and extramarital romances also come to a head during the party, but with far less violence. And Modot is the only one who gets much attention from the society party guests (as he’s shooting up a country estate).

Director Renoir and co-writer Carl Koch offer these events without judgment, without encouraging judgment. They present these moral dalliances of society folk and their domestics as inexplicable, but entirely predictable. Renoir isn’t willing to condemn anyone–not Modot, who’s a bully to his wife (Paulette Dubost), nor Mila Parély (as Dalio’s mistress). It just wouldn’t be any fun if the viewer cared enough about the characters to dislike them.

The film amuses and mortifies, usually at the same time. The opening titles carry the subtitle “a dramatic fantasy,” which is about as serious as Renoir takes it. It can’t be funny if it’s serious. It’s not a cop out on Renoir’s part–the film has limited potential as a melodrama anyway–but it also doesn’t completely connect. By going for the absurd humor in every situation (until the end, anyway), Renoir keeps everything at a distance.

Lots of great performances, including Renoir himself in the film’s most likable part. Carette is likable too, but annoying. As an actor, Renoir is never annoying. Dubost is great. Dalio is great. Toutain is pretty good. Gregory is a little too tragic (she’s playing for the melodrama while everyone else is playing for the absurdism). Parély is good too, even if she eventually just gets to show off her ability to do hysterics.

Technically, the film’s marvelous. Renoir and his four cinematographers showcase the exteriors of the country estate, maintaining its place in nature while completely otherworldly as its populated by these absurd, tragically awful people. And Marthe Huguet and Marguerite Renoir’s editing is phenomenal.

It’s brilliantly made, brilliantly constructed, but never human. Its caricatures run–gloriously–wild.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jean Renoir; written by Carl Koch and Renoir; directors of photography, Jean-Paul Alphen, Jean Bachelet, Jacques Lemare and Alain Renoir; edited by Marthe Huguet and Marguerite Renoir; music by Joseph Kosma; production designers, Max Douy and Eugène Louriè; released by Distribution Parisienne de Films.

Starring Nora Gregor (Christine de la Cheyniest), Paulette Dubost (Lisette), Marcel Dalio (Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest), Roland Toutain (André Jurieux), Jean Renoir (Octave), Mila Parély (Geneviève de Marras), Julien Carette (Marceau) and Gaston Modot (Schumacher).


Life of Brian (1979, Terry Jones)

Life of Brian operates most significantly on two levels. The first level is the intellectual one, where the audience is invited to anticipate if and how the film will juxtapose Graham Chapman (he’s the Brian whose life the film concerns) against Jesus. Brian is the kid down the block who just never impressed quite so much.

How Life of Brian negotiates Jewish humor is a different level entirely and not one I’m knowledgable enough about to discuss.

So there are those two levels, but then there’s the third salient level of interaction for Brian. The one with the dumb jokes. The easy gags. Monty Python knows how to pace those jokes out, where to place them not as the final punchline (though occasionally penultimate) but to propel the scenes. Even though Brian is slow, it’s frantically moving at all times. Julian Doyle’s editing is a big deal. This pace, the gorgeous location shooting, the Monty Python guys playing multiple roles each–Doyle has to do everything just right. He never lets the film be in on the joke. He carries through the film’s visual agreements.

Because Brian is a filmed on location Bible epic. The production values are amazing. Director Jones manages to be enthusiastic about the sets but never showy. Peter Biziou’s photography is phenomenal. Brian’s a technical marvel.

It’s also hilarious. The script, the performances, just great. I’m a John Cleese fan so I’m always hoping he’ll give the best performance of a Python, but he doesn’t in Brian. Chapman’s awesome in the lead. He’s not exactly a calm in the center of the comedic storm, he’s just blissfully unaware. Chapman sells that bliss.

Jones–as an actor–is great. Michael Palin’s got a good bit as Pilate. But my favorite is Eric Idle. He gets a lot of the dumb jokes and he makes them work.

There’s excellent supporting performances from everyone, with Sue Jones-Davies (as Judas’s sister and Chapman’s love interest) standing out. Spike Milligan’s hilarious too.

So, Life of Brian. It’s great. I wish I’d seen it sooner. And now I need to go because I’m trying to come up with a painful pun to exit on.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Terry Jones; starring and written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Jones and Michael Palin; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Julian Doyle; music by Geoffrey Burgon; production designer, Gilliam; produced by John Goldstone; released by Orion Pictures.

Also starring Kenneth Colley (Jesus), Sue Jones-Davies (Judith), Terence Bayler (Gregory), Carol Cleveland (Mrs. Gregory) and Spike Milligan (Spike).


The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)

So much of The Sound of Music is exquisite, the film’s got enough momentum to get over the rough spots. The film has three and a half distinct sections. There’s the first, introducing Julie Andrews to the audience, then introducing Christopher Plummer and family to the Andrews and the audience, which then becomes about Andrews and the kids. The second part has Plummer returning after an absence, with Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn along with him to give him something to do. Then there’s the strange part following the intermission, which probably played better theatrically when one really did get up and leave the film for a period. When it returns–and Plummer and Andrews’s romance takes off (at the expense of almost everything else)–the film is different.

Then the final part, with the Nazis out to capture Plummer, is entirely different. Unfortunately, director Wise is most ambitious in the setup of the film. He knows if he gets all the establishing stuff right–with Andrews, with Plummer and the kids–everything else will work out. The final part of the film with the family on the run is strong, but it’s action. Wise is doing this action thriller. It works because his direction is good, Ted D. McCord’s photography is glorious throughout, ditto William Reynolds’s editing, and there are some amazing sets. And some good humor in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay to lighten things appropriately.

This dramatic conclusion overshadows how briskly the film has changed itself. Andrews and Plummer are wonderful arguing and flirting, but their romance itself is tepid. Both of them get better scenes regarding it with Parker than they do with one another. And Wise doesn’t take the time to progress that part of the narrative organically when it comes to the kids, who are actual characters in the first hour of the film only to become likable accessories in the last hour.

The Sound of Music has a lot of things Wise has to get right in the first hour and he gets them, lots of things he has to establish so he can lean upon them later. It’s fine, but it’s never as good later on, whether with returning characters or song encores. The handling of the songs in the first hour and a half are glorious. Once intermission hits, Wise is in a rush and the film suffers. There’s so many great stagings in the first part–down to using an adorable puppet show to get in another song–the remainder, with far fewer group songs and instead questionable duets, can’t measure up.

Still, Wise has got all the right pieces. Plummer and Andrews, even when they don’t have much to do, are great doing it. There’s also Ben Wright’s odious villain, who Wise and Lehman had been foreshadowing (but not enough). The Sound of Music gets through the choppy waters to succeed. It just could’ve been better.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the stage musical book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and ideas by George Hurdalek; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by William Reynolds; music by Irwin Kostal; production designer, Boris Leven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta), Portia Nelson (Sister Berthe), Ben Wright (Herr Zeller), Daniel Truhitte (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia), Gilchrist Stuart (Franz), Evadne Baker (Sister Bernice), Doris Lloyd (Baroness Ebberfeld), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl) and Eleanor Parker (The Baroness).


Assassination (2015, Choi Dong-hoon)

Assassination is not effortless. Director Choi makes it look effortless, whether he’s doing an intricate action sequence or one of the film’s many complicated expository scenes. But then there’s also the entire structure of the film, which opens with one character as protagonist, slowly moves to another, but keeps the initial character around as antagonist. All of the film’s storytelling gymnastics work because Choi actually wants to let his actors impress, not the plot machinations.

The script, from Choi and Lee Ki-cheol, is phenomenally constructed. Assassination is about Korean freedom fighters–in 1933–plotting to assassinate a Japanese general and a collaborating Korean businessman. There’s all sorts of double-crossing, all sorts of complications. Choi takes his time with what should otherwise be contrivances, working the scenes–in no small part thanks to some beautiful photography from Kim Woo-hyung–until he finds the honesty in them. Choi, through his direction and he and Lee’s script, wants the viewer to understand what Assassination is doing and how it’s getting there. There’s a sincerity, which lets contrivances pass, but there’s also the acting.

Great performances all around. Jun Ji-hyun, Ha Jung-woo and Lee Jung-jae are the leads, but it takes the film a while to get them all introduced. Assassination runs almost two and a half hours and couldn’t really be any shorter. When Choi does run into problems, it’s because he can’t go twice as long. But the supporting cast is all great too–especially Oh Dal-su and Jo Jin-woong.

Only in the last few minutes of the film does Choi go too far. He knows he can do it, but his victory lap–which is a combination of that sincerity towards the filmmaking and letting his actors show their considerable talent–is one too many. I’m not sure where Choi could’ve taken Assassination to maintain the sublimeness he finds in combining period espionage and action and, although I wish he’d found it, he brings the film to an uneven, but considerably successful conclusion.

Assassination is excellent, epic filmmaking. Somewhat odd title though. A little too on the nose.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Choi Dong-hoon; written by Choi and Lee Ki-cheol; director of photography, Kim Woo-hyung; edited by Sin Min-kyeong; music by Jang Young-gyu and Dalparan; production designer, Ryu Seong-hie; produced by Ahn Soo-hyun and Choi; released by Showbox.

Starring Jun Ji-hyun (An Ok-yun), Ha Jung-woo (Hawaii Pistol), Lee Jung-jae (Yeom Seok-jin), Jo Jin-woong (Sok-sapo), Choi Duek-mun (Hwang Dok-sam), Oh Dal-su (Young-gam), Heo Ji-won (Myeong-Woo), Lee Kyoung-young (Kang In-Gook), Kim Eui-sung (the butler), Park Byung-eun (Kawaguchi) and Kim Hae-suk (the bar owner).


The Naked Jungle (1954, Byron Haskin)

If there are faults with The Naked Jungle, ones not the result of having to follow the Hays Code–which the film skirts thanks to Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall’s excellent dialogue, Eleanor Parker’s fantastic, intelligent performance and Charlton Heston’s brute force approach–they fall on director Haskin. The film is well-directed with Parker and Heston’s character drama, even with the special effects heavy expository shots, but Haskin refuses to get too far into any characters’ perspective, which cuts down on the thrills.

Oddly enough, I just realized the film opens on a shot from Parker’s perspective. One she even discusses with co-star William Conrad. But, even when it would serve a scene to go with the character’s perspective, Haskin does not. He’s lucky the script and actors can carry it.

But that odd directing misstep, which is most problematic in the third act, can’t overshadow Haskin’s excellent work in the rest of the picture. Parker’s a mail order bride, Heston’s her plantation owner–an extraordinarily good one, the film carefully reveals–husband. They don’t get along. Parker does some great work from her first scene (that one with Conrad); she establishes herself quickly. Heston’s more of the one with the internal character arc. Parker–and the viewer–are basically just waiting for him to grow up. And it’s a lot of fun watching him grow up. On one hand, there’s this refined (while still playful), thoughtful performance from Parker. Heston’s not refined or even playful. He’s really good at being a complete jackass. He runs with it. It works out.

It’s forty-five minutes into The Naked Jungle before the possibility of action thrills get revealed, but then the script puts it off even more. The character drama is the most important part of the film. Once it’s resolved, then Heston gets to be an action star. Somewhat late into the thrills even–by the time he comes to the rescue, The Naked Jungle has gone through many of its excellent special effects process shots. Some great matte paintings in the film.

What makes the film so peculiar is the script. Maddow and MacDougall are deliberate in how they make work Parker and Heston’s relationship. Until they’re a duo, the action barely ever plays to anything but furthering their personal conflict.

It’s rather neatly done. And beautifully acted. Heston clearly loves the role as white savior, Parker’s magnificent, Conrad’s fun as serious comic relief. Great photography from Ernest Laszlo and an effective Daniele Amfitheatrof score round it off.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall, based on a story by Carl Stephenson; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Joanna), Charlton Heston (Leiningen), William Conrad (Commissioner), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), Norma Calderón (Zala), Romo Vincent (Boat Captain) and John Dierkes (Gruber).


Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

Out of the Past always has at least two things going on at once. Not just the double crossings, which is so prevalent lead Robert Mitchum even taunts the bad guys with it, but how the film itself works.

Daniel Mainwaring’s script–which gives Mitchum this lengthy narration over a flashback sequence–gives the impression of telling the viewer everything while it really leaves the most important elements out. The whole plot has the bad guys coming out of Mitchum’s past (hence the title), but the way he deals with them has all these elements from between that past and the present. It means Mainwaring and Past can surprise the viewer, but it also gives Mitchum this rich character. As much exposition (not to mention the flashback) as he gets about his past, the complications all come from the unexplained things.

And Tourneur’s direction matches this narrative style. He, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and editor Samuel E. Beetley have foreground and background action. A scene will focus intensely one character, but in contrast to the scripted character emphasis. The visual disconnect pulls the viewer, causing a palpable, beautifully lighted edginess.

And Mitchum and his nemesis slash alter ego Kirk Douglas also have that edginess; they’re uncomfortable with one another but reluctantly. It’s wonderful.

All the acting is great–especially Paul Valentine and Rhonda Fleming–and, of course, femme fatale Jane Greer and good girl Virginia Huston.

The narrative tricks–while always beautifully executed–aren’t necessary. Past would be better without them.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, based on his novel; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; music by Roy Webb; produced by Warren Duff; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffatt), Kirk Douglas (Whit Stefanos), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Steve Brodie (Steve Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Paul Valentine (Joe Stefanos), Wallace Scott (Petey), Richard Webb (Jim), John Kellogg (Lou Baylord), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels) and Dickie Moore (The Kid).


This post is part of the 1947 Blogathon hosted by Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina Of Speakeasy.

Henry V (1989, Kenneth Branagh)

Director (and adapter) Branagh splits Henry V into three sections. They aren’t equal, they don’t match the act changes (usually); Branagh lets photographer Kenneth MacMillan open up the film to (outdoor) light while Patrick Doyle’s score becomes essential. The first outside, daylight sequence–Branagh (as Henry) gives his troops a rousing speech–defines the rest of the film. Even when it gets dark and violent in the subsequent, breathtaking battle sequence, there’s still a lot of light. That light carries over into the finale, which is light comedy featuring Branagh bantering with his betrothed-to-be Emma Thompson.

The problem with that finale is it requires Branagh’s Henry to be a likable character in a way Branagh’s never been concerned about. He’s a king, not a bashful suitor. It’s an odd conclusion, with Thompson not speaking English and coming off like a possession to be had. With Branagh’s strange comedic handling, the whole thing is off.

Until Derek Jacobi, as the modern day chorus, guiding the audience through the film, gets in the last word, Henry is almost in trouble. Not a lot, but more than one would expect given how Branagh goes from being expert to sloppy in one scene.

Branagh’s excellent. Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Michael Maloney, Christopher Ravenscroft, all astounding. Branagh gets these beautiful performances in long, usually close-up takes. And gives a great one of his own with the same treatment.

The battle scene is an amazing intersection of artifice and reality.

Real good stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Branagh, based on the play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Kenneth MacMillian; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by Bruce Sharman; released by Curzon Film Distributors.

Starring Kenneth Branagh (King Henry V), Brian Blessed (Duke Thomas Beaufort of Exeter), Paul Gregory (Westmoreland), Nicholas Ferguson (Earl Richard Beauchamp of Warwick), James Larkin (Duke John of Bedford), Simon Shepherd (Duke Humphrey of Gloucester), Charles Kay (Archbishop of Canterbury), Alec McCowen (Bishop of Ely), Fabian Cartwright (Earl Richard of Cambridge), Stephen Simms (Lord Henry Scroop), Jay Villiers (Sir Thomas Grey), James Simmons (Duke Edward of York), Christopher Ravenscroft (Montjoy), Paul Scofield (King Charles VI of France), Michael Maloney (Louis the Dauphin), Emma Thompson (Princess Katherine de Valois), Geraldine McEwan (Alice), Harold Innocent (Duke Philippe of Burgundy), Edward Jewesbury (Sir Thomas Erpingham), Danny Webb (Gower), Ian Holm (Captain Fluellen), John Sessions (Macmorris), Jimmy Yuill (Jamy), Judi Dench (Mistress Nell Quickly), Robert Stephens (Auncient Pistol), Richard Briers (Lieutenant Bardolph), Geoffrey Hutchings (Corporal Nym), Christian Bale (Robin the Luggage-Boy), Michael Williams (Williams), Shaun Prendergast (Bates), Patrick Doyle (Court) and Robbie Coltrane (Sir John Falstaff). Derek Jacobi as Chorus.


Scroll to Top