Anthony Quinn

The Buccaneer (1938, Cecil B. DeMille)

Even if you give The Buccaneer a lot of its historical absurdities and classic Hollywood whitewashing, even if you give it a motley crew of murdering (but not raping, good family men) pirates getting giddy and doing a singalong while they row themselves through the bayou to fight for Andrew Jackson against the British, even if you give the film lead Fredric March’s accent, it’s got a lot of problems. Without even mentioning how director DeMille gives everyone a slave, American, British, Pirate. Like, he likes it. It’s creepy.

Especially at the opening when you want to be enjoying Spring Byington doing a brief cameo as a capable (and rather sexy, like what is up what that dress) first lady Dolly Madison who was to suffer men trying to rescue her when she’s doing it herself.

The big problem is The Buccaneer himself. Not March, who’s rather likable even with that accent and able to whether the silliest of DeMille’s jingoism. But the character. So he’s a pirate who doesn’t rob American vessels and doesn’t kill passengers, unless they’re asking for it (everyone gets a chance to disembarck). He’s in love with New Orleans society girl Margot Grahame, who grossly comes on to Andrew Jackson (Hugh Sothern) at one point. Not because it’s in character, but because no one–not the four-ish screenwriters, not director DeMille, not Grahame herself–knows what to do with the character. She’s there to give March a reason to fight to be an American. For the pretty, well-spoken girl who gets shown up in every one of her scenes with guardian aunt Beulah Bondi. Just because Grahame’s got nothing else to do. She’s in love with a pirate, if only he’d go legit for her. She’s just not the female lead, so she’s got squat.

The female lead–and kind of protagonist, certainly more than March–is Franciska Gaal. She’s playing an adorable–literally squeaking–Dutch girl who ends up with March and his band. March becomes her protector and, accordinly, Gaal falls in love with him even though she’s seen his men kill an entire ship of innocent people and even try to kill her. She only escapes because pirate Fred Kohler, who met her in the film’s first scene, has been trying to rape her since that first scene.

The film does this whole “she’s not in any great danger with these pirates, oh, wait, no, it’d be better if the nicer one just killed her instead” thing for the first act and beginning of second, so you’d think you’re supposed to take it serious. But then you aren’t whenever Gaal’s supposed to be foolish instead of brave. Like, the movie craps on Gaal’s performance and all the potential for the character. After the setting up the movie to focus on those things.

Because, as Gaal later whines to March when her character does nothing but lather him with unrequited verbal admiration, all the men are acting like little boys and fighting. Once the movie starts moving toward the opening text exposition on Lafitte’s place in history, once all the fighting starts, Gaal gets dropped like a rock. Worse, there’s more with Grahame. No fault to her, but she and March have even less chemistry than March and Gaal. At least March is protective of Gaal. With Grahame, it’s bewildering. She’s supposed to be his obsession and they’re flat together.

Maybe the accent got in the way. But more likely Grahame’s character being really thin. And, really, March’s isn’t much better. He’s supposed to be this great pirate captain yet the only times things go right it’s because of Gaal or Akim Tamiroff as his main sidekick. Anthony Quinn’s all right as the second sidekick. Tamiroff’s in love with Gaal. He makes it cute. He’s the best performance in the film, with Walter Brennan a somewhat close second as Andrew Jackson’s dotting frontiersman sidekick. Gaal’s a far third.

Because there aren’t any standout supporting performances. Douglass Dumbrille’s okay as the governor who’s out to get March. Ian Keith’s bad as the bent politician, working for the British. Hugh Sothern’s hilariously bad as Andrew Jackson. Though at least he doesn’t play Jackson horny old man when Grahame offers.

Beulah Bondi is fine as the aunt. Some of the third tier supporting performances are solid. It’s a big movie. There are a lot of people around. They’re mostly all right. Even Kohler. He’s not good but he’s not bad.

Technically, the film’s competent. I mean, DeMille has annoying two shots because–apparently–of height disparities and Anne Bauchens never cuts to them well. Based on DeMille’s composition, it’s probably because he didn’t get the right shots, which is weird since it’s clearly big budget and so on. He saves his energy for the battle scenes, which really aren’t effective because March doesn’t do much. He tells the other guys what to do mostly.

He does have a sword fight, but it’s got a bad finish and leads into his second asinine patriotic speech (after the Americans have massacred a bunch of his men) and the movie doesn’t even try. DeMille doesn’t try with anything in Buccaneer. It gets annoying. The massacre of the pirates at their base is probably the best action sequence. But it’s in the middle of the rather long two hour and five minute film. And it’s a dramatic fail of a plot beat.

The Buccaneer clearly was a big production and DeMille and company do make an epic. It’s just not a successful one. The script’s alterately lazy, cheap, and dull. The third act only “saves” the film because it stops getting worse. It plateaus. And Gaal’s charming and March’s likable and you just want it to end so why fight it. It’s not a success, it’s a surrender.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille; screenplay by Edwin Justus Mayer, Harold Lamb, and C. Gardner Sullivan, adaptation by Jeanie Macpherson, based on a novel by Lyle Saxon; director of photography, Victor Milner; edited by Anne Bauchens; music by George Antheil; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Fredric March (Jean Lafitte), Franciska Gaal (Gretchen), Akim Tamiroff (Dominique You), Margot Grahame (Annette de Remy), Anthony Quinn (Beluche), Ian Keith (Senator Crawford), Douglass Dumbrille (Governor William C.C. Claiborne), Fred Kohler (Gramby), Hugh Sothern (General Andrew Jackson), Walter Brennan (Ezra Peavey), Beulah Bondi (Aunt Charlotte), and Spring Byington (Dolly Madison).


Last Action Hero (1993, John McTiernan)

Though pre-Internet, one can still find all sorts of trivia about why Last Action Hero supposedly failed. Apparently the studio rushed the release, not allowing for editing or proper post-production. That rush might explain why some of the special effects appear far cheaper than one would expect (I’m thinking of the magic beams appearing drawn and the gunfire lacking definition). But those excuses don’t refer to the film’s real problem–the child star in the lead, Austin O’Brien, gives one of the worst mainstream child actor performances ever. Forget the Episode I kid… O’Brien makes you wish someone would run him over just so the movie could stop.

Otherwise, Last Action Hero still isn’t very good, but it’s far from terrible. Michael Kamen’s score is amusing, aping the composer’s other action movie scores. But the score does signal the film’s problem–it’s not really aping Joel Silver movies or most Schwarzenegger movies, it’s aping even lesser works. It’s a Joel Silver movie without Joel Silver. It clearly needed him.

McTiernan’s direction is subpar. He does well with the action sequences, making them exciting against the odds (they’re intentionally absurd and have no dramatic weight)… but when it comes to the emotional, he’s got that awful O’Brien performance and can’t defeat it. The magic stuff is just awful.

It’s too bad because Hero‘s probably Schwarzenegger’s best performance. And Charles Dance is amazing as the villain. His performances alone almost recommends it.

But I can’t. Not with O’Brien’s depthless awfulness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Shane Black and David Arnott, based on a story by Zak Penn and Adam Leff; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Richard A. Harris and John Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Eugenio Zanetti; produced by Stephen J. Roth and McTiernan; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jack Slater), F. Murray Abraham (John Practice), Austin O’Brien (Danny Madigan), Art Carney (Frank), Charles Dance (Benedict), Frank McRae (Lieutenant Dekker), Tom Noonan (Ripper), Robert Prosky (Nick), Anthony Quinn (Tony Vivaldi), Mercedes Ruehl (Irene Madigan) and Ian McKellen (Death).


The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman)

The seventy-five minutes of The Ox-Bow Incident are some of the finest in cinema. The film is eventually a solemn examination of the human condition, quiet in its observations, with spare lines of dialogue of profound importance. But before this period in the film, which roughly lasts from twenty minutes in until the end, Ox-Bow is a peculiar Western, far ahead of its time.

As Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (in his Henry days) ride into the small, empty and nameless town, The Ox-Bow Incident establishes what’s going to be one of its major technical achievements. The use of sound–made even more spectacular later, during the scenes filmed on sets–is amazing, from Alfred Bruzlin and Roger Heman Sr. The dialogue in the opening scene–Lamar Trotti’s script, probably the best thing about Ox-Bow (it’s hard to decide what’s better, Trotti’s writing or Wellman’s direction)–the way Fonda and Morgan deliver it, the way the scene plays out, the way Wellman shoots it. It’s indescribable. I’ve seen Ox-Bow before, but I forgot it was so singular.

When the story does advance, it does quickly–the relaxed opening scene, establishing Fonda as the protagonist, is the only one of its kind in the film. After that scene, the film moves to its conclusion without taking any breaks or offering the viewer any relief. Wellman’s composition incorporates background for action and foreground for non-action, with both incredibly important. But it also keeps the viewer constantly busy, the film an active experience.

Trotti’s adapting a novel, so I’m guessing the one unconnected scene is from it. The scene, featuring more backstory for Fonda, doesn’t seem foreign to the film–even though it’s a big, busy scene and the last one before the film enters its final stage–because of that opening scene. Trotti and Wellman establish right off they’re going to do things a certain way and Fonda running into old flame Mary Beth Hughes for four minutes fits into that style.

Then Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn appear. The film’s about a lynching (the titular incident), with Andrews and Quinn as two of the lynched. It’s hard to describe how the film works from their appearance to the end because it is so singular. For example, Wellman later gives Fonda his biggest scene without showing his face. The storytelling works; delineating it might prove useful for a scholarly article, but certainly not for an informal response.

Both Andrews and Quinn are fantastic, as is Fonda, as is Morgan. The supporting cast–Harry Davenport and Frank Conroy in particular–are also great. Jane Darwell’s performance, after so many sympathetic roles, as a gung ho lyncher is terrifying. Paul Hurst, Dick Rich, William Eythe as well.

For such a short film, Ox-Bow is brimming with content. The way people talk to each other informs on their existing relationships, with Trotti never spending the time to expound. He doesn’t have to… it’s a wonderful script.

I’m trying to think of other amazing moments from Wellman, but after a point, every shot in the film is an amazing moment. Arthur C. Miller’s photography, instead of being constrained by the set shooting, is lush. The depth of each frame captivates.

The film ends on a strange note. Hopeful but resigned. I can’t believe I’d forgotten the film is so remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Allen McNeil; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Trotti; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Henry Fonda (Gil Carter), Dana Andrews (Donald Martin), Mary Beth Hughes (Rose Mapen), Anthony Quinn (Juan Martínez), William Eythe (Gerald Tetley), Harry Morgan (Art Croft), Jane Darwell (Jenny Grier), Matt Briggs (Judge Daniel Tyler), Harry Davenport (Arthur Davies), Frank Conroy (Maj. Tetley), Marc Lawrence (Jeff Farnley), Paul Hurst (Monty Smith), Victor Kilian (Darby), Chris-Pin Martin (Poncho), Willard Robertson (Sheriff), Ted North (Joyce) and Dick Rich (Deputy Butch Mapes).


Avenging Angelo (2002, Martyn Burke)

Avenging Angelo plays like a Sandra Bullock comedy from the late 1990s, except it’s Madeleine Stowe in the Bullock role and… I don’t know Stallone in the Keanu Reeves role, if Keanu Reeves did romantic comedies. Maybe still-on-“ER” George Clooney or someone. There aren’t any Italian movie stars in Hollywood right now… oh, obviously, Antonio Banderas playing an Italian. Anyway, instead of Bullock and Banderas, it’s Stowe and Stallone, which makes Avenging Angelo all of a sudden a very different romantic comedy. First, it’s a romantic comedy about the Mafia; that genre is rarely explored. But the reason it works as a romantic Mafia comedy is because of the second different aspect… Stallone and Stowe aren’t young. Stowe being a bored wealthy housewife on Long Island makes a lot of sense. Stallone as the bodyguard who’s always been too busy protecting Stowe (without her knowing, of course) to have a life of his own. Too little of the time lost angle is discussed in the film–it’s way too subtle, to the point I almost suspect the writers never went in and made it age appropriate for Stowe and Stallone, leaving it for Bullock and Banderas or whoever.

Stallone pretty much makes the movie; it’s clear from the beginning, he’s having a great time, whether it’s working with Anthony Quinn (in these scenes, Stallone doesn’t even bother acting, just spends them enjoying Quinn’s company) or doing the romantic comedy lead. The movie’s not long, so the first act is when Stowe actually has the most character-defining acting to do and she’s fine. There’s not much of a role (her husband is a louse, she misses her kid, her life is boring and shallow) for her to work with, but, since it’s a short movie, pretty soon she’s in full romantic comedy lead mode too.

A film made in 2002, Avenging Angelo has as much use of songs for background music as one made in 1988. There are at least six of these montages and the film’s got a nice Bill Conti score, so either the script really didn’t have enough going on (as it plays, the film’s sub-plotless) or Conti was just too busy… or I suppose they wanted to have enough for a soundtrack release?

Being a romantic comedy, the film hinges on Stallone and Stowe’s chemistry and they’re good together, but it’s understandable why the film didn’t get a theatrical release. Stowe never recovered from her disappearance from the screen in the late 1990s (at the height of her career) and Stallone’s fans never went for his comedic turns… and it reminded me a lot of Faithful (the comedy with Chazz Palminteri and Cher)–down to the action being centered around two people in a house. And no one ever asked for another Faithful….

But, all in all, it’s a pleasant, traditional romantic comedy. Perfectly fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martyn Burke; screenplay by Will Aldis and Steve Mackall, from a story by Aldis; director of photography, Ousama Rawi; edited by David Codron; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Eric Fraser; produced by Tarak Ben Ammar, Elie Samaha and Stanley Wilson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Frankie Delano), Madeleine Stowe (Jennifer Barrett), Anthony Quinn (Angelo Allieghieri), Raoul Bova (Marcello), Harry Van Gorkum (Kip Barrett), Billy Gardell (Bruno), George Touliatos (Lucio Malatesta) and Angelo Celeste (The Priest).


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