Yul Brynner

The Ten Commandments (1956, Cecil B. DeMille)

While Yul Brynner easily gives the best performance in Ten Commandments, until the second half of the movie Anne Baxter gives the most amusing one. She's an Egyptian princess and she's going to marry the next pharaoh. The next pharaoh is either Brynner or Charlton Heston. Cedric Hardwicke is the current pharaoh and Brynner’s dad. Heston is Hardwicke’s nephew, though no one knows Heston is actually an adoptive nephew because mom Nina Foch pulled him out of the river. His real mom had to get rid of him because Hardwicke’s dad, pharaoh at the time, was going to kill all the newborn Hebrew male babies because a falling star told them a newborn male Hebrew baby would lead the enslaved Israelites out of bondage.

So, you know, it's hard to really get into the zone with Commandments when the historical inaccuracies, regardless of whether the filmmakers knew they were inaccurate at the time, slap you in the face. There's already a big artificially enforced narrative distance because director DeMille comes out at the beginning to tell you to be scared of Frankenstein—wait, wrong movie—but director DeMille does introduce the film and tell of its historical accuracy. Sure.

There's also the enforced distance from DeMille’s bible-y but not actual Bible narration. Sadly he never says anything about like, “And lo, Anne Baxter was hot for Charlton Heston’s shiny bod.” It’s a scenery chewing part for Baxter and many of her scenes end with her almost staring into the camera, punctuating her actions in the scene (it occasionally feels like DeMille is doing some kind of Mae West gag). Baxter’s miscast, but has good chemistry with her costars, even if that chemistry never really amounts to any actual sincere moments. Maybe other than Baxter not being able to stand Brynner, which gets less funny in the second half after she has to marry him.

The first half of Ten Commandments—well, more than half; up until intermission—the first half is Heston getting stuck finishing a project Brynner screwed up on because he couldn’t get the Hebrew slaves to build a monument city for Hardwicke fast enough. Heston becomes quickly sympathetic to the slaves’ plight after the Egyptian foremen want to run a trapped old woman (Martha Scott) down with these giant statue pieces. Water bearer Debra Paget tries to save her, can’t, kind of gets stuck, which causes her beau, John Derek (who’s actually greased up more than Heston throughout), to try to save them. He punches out an Egyptian to do it, causing the foreman to stop construction so they can kill him first. Paget goes to get Heston who saves the day because Charlton Heston.

It doesn’t take long for Brynner to conspire against Heston, who’s getting the slaves to work by being nice to them; Brynner screwing with things for Heston eventually leads to Heston finding out he’s adopted and he’s Hebrew. As such, Heston decides he’s got to go become a slave incognito, even though Baxter keeps trying to talk him out of it. Heston gets cast out of Egypt once he gets busted, so Baxter is stuck marrying Brynner. Heston is ostensibly going to pine away for Baxter but once he runs into Yvonne De Carlo and her six horny sisters, his heart starts to mend. It helps De Carlo is willing to share the hole in Heston’s heart with God, who happens to frequently visit a nearby mountain and Heston wants to give him a piece of his mind.

Before intermission, Ten Commandments is always moving. There’s always something going on, always some subplot percolating and then boiling over. Least effective (initially) is star-crossed lovers Paget and Derek. See, Paget’s a really hot slave so all the guys want her, like master builder Vincent Price and scumbag narc slave Edward G. Robinson. And then there’s this fake subplot about Hardwicke’s big party, which occurs but isn’t really a big party. It’s foreshadowing of the second half’s scale issues.

Ten Commandments takes a hit in the second half. There are the plagues, there’s Heston the Silver Fox, there’s the Red Sea, there are the dead firstborn sons, there’s all sorts of stuff and it’s never impressive. The Ten Commandments’s special effects aren’t spectacular. They’re not even particularly inventive. They seem like they were difficult to pull off, but they aren’t the better for that effort. A lot of the problem is the lousy matte shots. Loyal Griggs does an okay job with the photography throughout—there’s not much he can do when they’re shooting exterior scenes on a sound stage, Commandments has a crappy sky backdrop—but he does well with the epic exterior shots and so on. Well, the orgy scene is a little goofy photography-wise but it’s just a little goofy overall.

But until the actual exodus occurs, the second half is mostly Heston threatening Brynner with a plague if he doesn’t free the slaves. Brynner tells Heston to stick it, plague happens, Brynner tells his advisors to stick it, then Heston to stick it, then another plague. By the end of the movie, Brynner’s kind of trapped in this pitch black comedy about being way too vain and way too stupid. Only he wasn’t stupid in the first half. But whatever.

Baxter’s less fun in the second half too because the chemistry with Heston is gone. It’s not like she hits on godly Silver Fox Heston and there’s some spark. There couldn’t be; a spark would light his robes on fire. It’s also indicative of the biggest second half issue—Heston. He ceases to be the protagonist and instead is some kind of bit player who comes on to scare, confuse, or inspire the other cast members. The movie never figures out how to handle Heston now getting divine guidance or how much he knows about what’s going to happen. There’s a disconnect between script and performance on it too, at which point Commandments is just out of luck because DeMille’s already established he doesn’t give a crap about directing the performances.

If he did, he would have gotten enough coverage of dialogue scenes between Heston and Baxter editor Anne Bauchens isn’t stuck doing a harsh cut every single time they go from medium to long shot. Every single time. Actors are on different marks and stuff. Looking in other directions. It’s very lackadaisical, which the movie might be able to get away with if DeMille actually had some great special effects sequences in store. He’s got some enormous scale sequences in store, but what DeMille delivers after all that obviously outstanding coordination between his set decorators and the production managers and whoever yelled at extras? It’s decidedly lacking.

Maybe if there were some booming Heston performance to hold things together but nope. And Brynner and Baxter’s second half arc fills time but is far from successful. It gets time, but that time never pays off. It comes closer than the Robinson stuff, which also never pays off but also gets a lot less engaging as time goes on. It’s too bad; Robinson gives one of the film’s better performances.

Everyone’s basically okay. Except Paget. And Derek’s really one-note. And Price. And Judith Anderson’s mean nanny. And, kind of Hardwicke. Like, you want to cut Hardwicke slack because he’s miscast, but he’s also thin. Like. The part’s thin, he’s miscast, but the performance is still slack. Baxter’s good with him though, probably better than with anyone else. Poor De Carlo comes in before intermission, gets back burnered for her six sisters to make their play for Heston, comes back in, gets more to do, then disappears once intermission’s over. She gets one more significant scene, where Baxter gets to chew up the scene around her. So bummer for De Carlo.

Foch is good as Heston’s adoptive mom.

Pretty good Elmer Bernstein score.

It’s a lot of movie. Some of its good, some of it isn’t, some of it is impressive, more of it isn’t. Brynner’s performance is about the only unqualified plus.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille; screenplay by Æneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, and Fredric M. Frank, based on material from books by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, J.H. Ingraham, and A.E. Southon; director of photography, Loyal Griggs; edited by Anne Bauchens; music by Elmer Bernstein; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Charlton Heston (Moses), Yul Brynner (Rameses), Anne Baxter (Nefretiri), Cedric Hardwicke (Sethi), John Derek (Joshua), Debra Paget (Lilia), Edward G. Robinson (Dathan), Nina Foch (Bithiah), Yvonne De Carlo (Sephora), John Carradine (Aaron), Martha Scott (Yochabel), Judith Anderson (Memnet), and Vincent Price (Baka); narrated by Cecil B. DeMille.


Futureworld (1976, Richard T. Heffron)

Futureworld ends with a ten minute chase sequence. It feels like thirty. The movie runs 107 boring minutes and I really did think thirty of them were spent on Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner battling evil robots. And not even Danner. Fonda. Just Peter Fonda running around giant underground maintenance rooms.

Fonda and Danner play reporters on special assignment to cover the revamped Delos resort. A few years earlier–in Westworld–all the humanoid robots went crazy and killed guests. Fonda wrote the expose on it. Danner is the TV newswoman who used to work for Fonda and he fired for not being newsy enough. He calls her “Socks.” The film is one long diss to Danner. It gets worse as it goes along; the “Socks” thing takes a while to get introduced and then the script uses it every sixteenth word.

Neither Fonda nor Danner appeared in the first film. The only returning actor is Yul Brynner, who appears more in footage from Westworld than he does in Futureworld footage. Behind the camera, composer Fred Karlin and cinematographer Gene Polito (sharing credit this time with Howard Schwartz) both return. Karlin’s score is godawful. Polito and Schwartz’s photography is adequate. It’s not their fault the movie’s a bore.

Mayo Simon and George Schenck don’t have much of a story. Fonda suspects something is wrong at the reopened resort, Danner doesn’t. Company man Arthur Hill assures them everything is fine. But mad scientist John P. Ryan is actually doing bad things. It’s unclear for a while what the bad things are, but they’re bad in the montage sequences so they must be bad. There are a lot of montage sequences in the first half of Futureworld. It’s scene, montage, scene, montage. It seems budgetary–get to the exposition sequences as fast as possible, skipping any action sequences.

It helps Futureworld (the resort) only shows up in the first third of the movie. It’s a cheesy futuristic bar with holographic chess a year before it got to a galaxy far far away. It’s silly, but not fun. Because Futureworld isn’t any fun. Director Heffron plays it all straight, something Fonda can’t do and Danner seems unclear about.

Fonda is not good. It’s not entirely his fault, his character spends the beginning of the second act devolved into an even more patronizing jackass (to Danner) than before. The situation changes when Stuart Margolin shows up. He knows the dirt on the robots (or something). It’s a terribly paced, poorly written sequence. But Margolin’s at least likable.

Danner’s kind of sympathetic. Not her character, because she doesn’t have on, but Danner. You feel for her being in this movie. Towards the end, you sort of assume Fonda agreed to do it stoned but why did Danner agree. She should’ve fired her agent. Especially since the movie ought to be a relative no-brainer.

Killer future robots instead of killer Western robots.

But there isn’t much robot action in Futureworld; though the script fixates on the possibilities of robot sex in the first act. It’s not really a thing afterwards, even when there’s robot sex. That robot sex features one of the only two robots in the second half of the movie (of consequence).

The script does a lot to increase its efficiency (like taking place entirely underground–or on obvious sets–in the second half). With a better script, better production, better director, better actor (no script was going to make Fonda’s performance better, he’s a miscasting epitome), Futureworld might be able to work.

Instead, it’s a dull attempt at cheap “intellectual sci-fi.” It’s long, goofy, and never professional enough to take seriously. It’s strange Westworld creator Michael Crichton gets zero credit on the film, but reasonable. Who’d want their name on it?

Though, heavy John P. Ryan as a subdued bad guy scientist is at least interesting to watch. The material’s all bad, but Ryan’s a strange enough casting choice seeing how he essays it… it’s mildly diverting. As opposed to Hill, who eventually gets some Danner-esque sympathy. Not as much, but some.

Futureworld’s bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard T. Heffron; screenplay by Mayo Simon and George Schenck, based on characters created by Michael Crichton; directors of photography, Howard Schwartz and Gene Polito; edited by James Mitchell; music by Fred Karlin; produced by James T. Aubrey and Paul N. Lazarus III; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Peter Fonda (Chuck Browning), Blythe Danner (Tracy Ballard), Arthur Hill (Duffy), John P. Ryan (Dr. Schneider), Stuart Margolin (Harry), Jim Antonio (Ron Thurlow),and Yul Brynner (The Gunslinger).


Westworld (1973, Michael Crichton)

Westworld is a regrettably bad film. It doesn’t start off with a lot of potential. Leads Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are wanting. But then writer-director Crichton starts doing these montages introducing the behind-the-scenes of the park.

Oh. Right. Westworld is about an amusement resort with humanoid robots. Benjamin and Brolin are guests. Benjamin’s not over his divorce, so he’s got to man up. Brolin’s a man of few words, less facial expression, and no mystery. Crichton’s direction of the actors in the first act should’ve been a clue for problems later on.

The behind-the-scenes procedural about the maintenance of the robots has a lot of potential. It eventually fails because the set is so poorly designed and Crichton and his cinematographer, Gene Polito, often shoot through walls. Everything looks like a set. Even when it shouldn’t, because Polito’s photography is so bad. And someone needed to explain head room to Crichton because he really doesn’t understand it.

Alan Oppenheimer plays the park supervisor. He’s okay. Okay is pretty good in Westworld. Benjamin is occasionally likable, but he’s never good. Crichton avoids him too much to ever give him the chance to be good or bad. When there’s the big chase scene–robot gunslinger Yul Brynner is out to kill Benjamin–Crichton sticks with Brynner for the first half. There’s a changeover to Benjamin after an atrociously executed ambush sequence where the footage between Benjamin and Brynner doesn’t match. It’s not just lighted differently, it’s obviously different locations because Polito and Crichton also don’t understand how depth works.

Westworld has a bunch of Western genre standards; Crichton executes them all poorly. And tediously. Every set piece in Westworld gets tedious. Crichton and editor David Bretherton can’t do the “action” sequences. They can almost do the mood sequences, when they’re showing the uncanny behind-the-scenes stuff. Then Fred Karlin’s music takes a turn for the worse and Crichton holds a shot too long and Polito’s lighting mistakes kill the verisimilitude. Westworld is a failing movie about something failing. Crichton has some great ideas. Not just for the story, but for set pieces. He just can’t execute them. He tries though. And it’s painful.

Karlin’s music is terrible. Set against Western tropes, it’s belligerently terrible. Crichton’s direction of the Western tropes is awful. It’s like he’s never seen a Western before. It’s singular, I suppose. It’s a singular way of directing action on an Old West set. It’s terrible too. Singular and terrible.

Around the halfway point, Crichton starts focusing more on Norman Bartold’s story. He doesn’t even get a name. But he’s guest in Medieval World, not Western World (Division Thirteen alert). It’s not like Bartold’s interesting–he’s trying to seduce multiple robot women without success–but Crichton still finds him more interesting than Brolin and Benjamin. And Crichton’s not wrong. They’re tiresome.

There’s a lot of future technology and Crichton does manage to showcase those effects well. He really does. It’s like forty-five good seconds of eighty-five minutes. But some of its dumb. Like when Brynner gets a visual upgrade and can see in super-pixelated vision. He can’t make out detail because the pixels are so big. Crichton does point of view with the computer visual stuff. It too kills the moment.

If there are any moments with Brynner. Crichton’s bad direction becomes clear when Brynner shows up. Along with Polito’s inability to match lighting between shots. But it’s kind of fun to pretend when Brynner’s smiling, it’s because his robot is evil. It doesn’t matter.

Because Westworld, even with killer robots and defenseless guests, has no stakes. Who cares if the guests are danger? Benjamin is divorced and no one cares. Brolin is so thin he doesn’t even have that story. Bartold maybe had an implied wife in the setup in the first act but not once Crichton decides he’s more amusing than Benjamin and Brolin. He doesn’t have a name. Oppenheimer doesn’t have a name. Dick Van Patten’s got a recurring cameo. But no name.

Westworld is like a disaster movie’s set pieces strung together. More should make it better but the film’s so terribly made, more would just be worse.

Worst of all, Westworld gets worse as it goes. It disappoints, continuously. And it’s not the story disappointing, it’s how badly Crichton directs the scenes.

Campy would help Westworld. Not much else would help, given Polito and Crichton’s risible composition choices, but camp might help.

Oh, and Majel Barrett’s good. She’s good. Ninety-nine percent of the rest isn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by David Bretherton; music by Fred Karlin; produced by Paul N. Lazarus III; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin), James Brolin (John Blane), Norman Bartold (Medieval Knight), Alan Oppenheimer (Chief Supervisor), Dick Van Patten (Banker), Linda Gaye Scott (Arlette), Majel Barrett (Miss Carrie), Anne Randall (Daphne), and Yul Brynner (Gunslinger).


Anastasia (1956, Anatole Litvak)

Anastasia manages that fine line between being dramatic and a constant delight. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is magnificent, with Arthur Laurents’s screenplay–and Litvak’s direction of her–never quite letting the viewer in. It’s a mystery after all–is Bergman’s Anastasia really the last Romanov. Laurents and Litvak construct a narrative where that question doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as why the viewer would ask it in the first place.

Of course, they can only sell that approach thanks to Helen Hayes, who plays Bergman’s potential grandmother. And Hayes only works as well as she does because she’s got Bergman and Yul Brynner to play off. Hayes is wonderful in the film. Let me check the adjectives–Bergman’s magnificent, Hayes’s wonderful–should Brynner be breathtaking? No. But only because he’s not. Except when Martita Hunt’s around to lust after him in one of the film’s finest subplots.

Brynner’s commanding, sympathetic, antagonistic. He’s the closest thing the viewer has to an ally in the film, if not an analogue. Initially, it’s Brynner who can prove, to the viewer, Bergman’s character’s authenticity. Then it’s Hayes. Then it’s Bergman. But, like I said earlier, the authenticity of identity isn’t the point of Anastasia. The characters are the point, the actors, the experiences, Litvak’s awesome direction.

Anastasia is a stage adaptation; it has a number of the telltale signs–distinctive supporting characters, a limited number of indoor locations where scenes take place–but Litvak breaks them over and over. He and photographer Jack Hildyard have this fantastic crane shots (sometimes “breaking” ceilings). They, and the CinemaScope frame, make Anastasia larger than life, right from the start. Because Litvak’s style for the film isn’t melodrama. It’s practically noir, with Brynner and (fantastic) sidekicks Akim Tamiroff and Sacha Pitoëff as these schemers planning a con. And Bergman’s able to fit into it and out of it. Her performance is, like I said, magnificent. Especially considering how well she weathers being out of the present action for two weeks. The film turns it into an unexpected boon for the final act. Laurents and Litvak. They do great work here.

Alfred Newman’s score is also important. It’s this overtly Russian stuff, which doesn’t always fit the scene exactly right. Newman emphasizes the Russian influences over the scene’s “needs;” it’s perfect. Because Anastasia is about Russia, while still being very much about Bergman (as a movie star).

I haven’t seen the film in years and, from the first scene, I remembered how much I love it. Just gets better on every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anatole Litvak; screenplay by Arthur Laurents, based on a story by Guy Bolton and a play by Marcelle Maurette; director of photography, Jack Hildyard; edited by Bert Bates; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Buddy Adler; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ingrid Bergman (Anna Koreff), Yul Brynner (Bounine), Akim Tamiroff (Boris Adreivich Chernov), Sacha Pitoëff (Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin), Martita Hunt (Baroness Livenbaum), Ivan Desny (Prince Paul) and Helen Hayes (The Dowager Empress).


The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges)

Apparently, no director has ever needed a good script more than John Sturges. His work in The Magnificent Seven is static, the camera as disinterested in the film’s goings-on as the majority of the cast. He lets the camera sit and stare, cutting when it wakes up from its nap. He also appears not to have shot enough coverage for the film–or any explanatory establishing shots, so there’s no good sense of the film’s setting. The lack of coverage means the cuts are ugly and fades are overused. Elmer Bernstein’s omnipresent score (poorly) covers Sturges’s ass throughout, the glue holding whole sequences together.

Before we started the movie, I told the fiancée the theme was the best thing about The Magnificent Seven. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty much the only good thing… Yul Brynner’s the lead and the protection of the farmers is the story and the scenes with them together are brain-numbing. The only time Brynner ever shows any life is during the bromance scenes with Steve McQueen. Those are mostly all of McQueen’s scenes so he doesn’t do anything else. Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughan actually have characters and Sturges treats them well (all Sturges needs is some real content–even the illusion of depth–and The Magnificent Seven doesn’t even make an exiguous offering). Their stories are the only time Seven gets interesting (the McQueen and Brynner bromance, however, is all the more amusing since Brynner hated McQueen). James Coburn has so little to do in the film he’s practically invisible.

The biggest problem–besides the terrible writing and the Hispanic cast speaking lame English dialogue–is Horst Buchholz, who has the most important role in the film. Buchholz is German (with the accent to prove it), playing a Mexican farmboy who wants to be a gunfighter. Calling his performance bad is like calling the sun hot.

Technically, the film’s in between. Great day for night photography, terrible sets. Whenever they get on a set, which is often, Sturges’s ability oozes from an exposed boil. The lifeless shots get even worse.

The Magnificent Seven is a chore of a film to watch, even though, in a historical sense, it’s rather important. Lots of filmmakers saw this film and then made good movies instead of ones like it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and produced by John Sturges; screenplay by William Roberts, based on a film written by Kurosawa Akira, Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Elmer Bernstein; released by United Artists.

Starring Yul Brynner (Chris), Eli Wallach (Calvera), Steve McQueen (Vin), Horst Buchholz (Chico), Brad Dexter (Harry), Charles Bronson (O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), James Coburn (Britt), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old Man), Rosenda Monteros (Petra) and Jorge Martinez de Hoyos (Hilario).


Triple Cross (1966, Terence Young)

Looking up Triple Cross on IMDb (I look up everything on IMDb to fill out my little film-viewing record), I noticed the user comment. IMDb user comment’s are almost always terrible and, since I usually check a record after watching a film, amusing. This comment read, “Plummer’s no Connery.”

Well, obviously not. Christopher Plummer can act.

There are some comparisons to a James Bond film, of course–Plummer is constantly insubordinate and constantly bedding the ladies (though, much like the first three Connery Bond films, only three). I guess Terence Young also directed the first two Bonds as well. Triple Cross is not a Bond film simply because the supporting cast matters. You like them. You feel for them. I don’t know of a Bond film except (maybe) Goldeneye that succeeds in that regard.

Still, Triple Cross has a lot of problems. Young is a rather mediocre director and, for the first twenty minutes, I kept thinking that the British deserve not having a significant film contribution if Young is their idea of a “premier” filmmaker. Plummer is charming in the role, but there are few moments of actual depth. The most effective scene–between him and a Nazi general, played by Yul Brynner–is soon diminished–someone felt it necessary to bring Brynner back. Probably to fulfill his screen-time requirement….

Romy Schneider, who I know is famous, is good as one of Plummer’s romantic interests. There’s a lot of good acting in Triple Cross, but it’s usually for naught. I don’t know if the film is too honest in its historical portrayal or not enough. Probably the former. Films rarely suffer for taking dramatic license with history. The guy from Goldfinger, Goldfinger himself, is in it and does a good job too. World War II movies of Triple Cross‘s era peak with The Great Escape, but there are some other reasonable ones in there. They just weren’t made by Terence Young, apparently.

Still, I got the R2 DVD for like six dollars on eBay (from the UK, including shipping, which is quite a feat), so I’m happy enough. I don’t think Christopher Plummer has ever been bad and it’s nice to find a film where he’s the lead.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Young; screenplay by René Hardy and William Marchant, based on a book by Frank Owen; director of photography, Henri Alekan; edited by Roger Dwyre; music by Georges Garvarentz; produced by Jacques Bertrand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Plummer (Eddie Chapman), Romy Schneider (Countess), Trevor Howard (Distinguished Civilian), Gert Fröbe (Colonel Steinhager), Claudine Auger (Paulette), Yul Brynner (Baron von Grunen), Harry Meyen (Lt. Keller), Georges Lycan (Leo), Jess Hahn (Commander Braid) and Gil Barber (Bergman).


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