Thursday, November 29, 2018

Clothes Make the Man

This is my entry in the Richard Burton Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

Richard Burton was one of the most iconic actors of his day.  He was a Shakespearean actor who performed in plays for many years, mostly in productions of plays written by William Shakespeare.  He was also a frequent also-ran in the Academy Awards , ranking only behind Peter O'Toole's 8 nominations without an award.  (He was nominated 7 times, including one for today's movie).

Arguably it could be said that Burton is more famous for his off-screen relationships than his actual catalogue of film roles.  He was married five times (although two of those times were to the same woman, Elizabeth Taylor, which maybe only counts as one time.  Or then again, it maybe counts for 20 times... depending on how you feel about Elizabeth Taylor...)

Burton's birth name was Richard Jenkins, Jr.  He was made a legal ward (as opposed to being adopted) by his schoolmaster, Phillip Burton, and legally changed his name to Burton.

The Robe (1953): 

In Imperial Rome, Centurion Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) returns from abroad.  He is feted as he enters the city and is greeted by Diana (Jean Simmons).  Diana was a childhood friend of Marcellus, and in their youth he had pledged to marry her when they were mere children.

Diana is now the ward of Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger), and Tiberius is planning to marry of Diana to his nephew, Caligula (Jay Robinson).

Although Marcellus is rather blase' about his commitment to Diana, he is less than enthused about having her be married to his political enemy, Caligula.  The two are bitter rivals, born out by the fact that Caligula intentionally outbids Marcellus for two slave girls that Marcellus wants.

In retaliation, Marcellus intentionally outbids Caligula for Demetrius (Victor Mature), a renegade Greek slave that Caligula only wants as meat for the gladiator ring.

To make matters even more contentious, Marcellus frees Demetrius.  Caligula pulls some strings to get his revenge and has Marcellus sent to the most despicable post in the Roman Empire; Jerusalem.  There, circumstances lead to Marcellus being responsible to see to the execution of a Jewish rebel named Jesus.

At the foot of the cross where Jesus is executed soldiers play dice and gamble on the garments.  Marcellus wins the robe, which he immediately regrets because he has an attack of mental anguish which he blames on the robe because he thinks it is cursed.  He gives it to Demetrius demanding that he burn it.  But Demetrius has an epiphany and refuses.  He also tells Marcellus he is no longer going to serve Marcellus because he will now serve the Master, Jesus.

For the middle part of the film, Marcellus continues to suffer from mental problems and determines that the only solution is to find Demetrius and the robe and have the robe destroyed.  In this effort he is given a commission by the emperor top not only find his cursed robe, but to also weed out the followers of this new sect, who have been calling themselves Christians.

Of course, this being ultimately a Christian film, it was bound to happen that Marcellus converts to Christianity.  He is recalled to Rome, where Tiberius has died and Caligula is now the emperor.  Caligula has Marcellus arrested for treason, since he is no longer fulfilling the mandate given him, and refuses to divulge the location of the Christians, especially the leader, Peter (Michael Rennie).

The Robe and a sequel which featured many of the same actors in the same roles, Demetrius and the Gladiators, come across as astounding epics.  Your opinion on them may be influenced by your opinion on the Christian theology, but both are very good well-acted dramas.  Burton, of course, is the standout performer in The Robe.  But Victor Mature carries his own and Jay Robinson as Caligula is a treat, even though he seems to be over-acting out his butt.  (He was a former Broadway stage actor, and these two films represent his first roles in Hollywood).

Drive home safely, folks


Sunday, November 18, 2018

South of the Border

This is my entry in the Rock Hudson Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

The Undefeated (1969):

The Civil war has ended.  Unfortunately for Col. John Henry Thomas (John Wayne), the news comes a couple of days late.  His cadre of Union soldiers has just demolished another cadre of Confederate soldiers.  Thomas is distraught over the needless slaughter of men who should have lived to an older age.

Thomas and a group of loyal companions decide to round up a herd of wild stallions, the goal being to sell the herd to the States.  Thomas is joined by a cast of soldiers that include many names of which you have probably heard; Roman Gabriel as Blue Boy, the adopted Indian son of Thomas; Ben Johnson, a frequent guest star in Wayne movies, as Shortgrub, Thomas's second-hand man; Dub Taylor as the cook McCartney (That's MR. McCartney to you...).  The men round up horses and prepare to sell them.

But the people who represent the United States are trying to back out of the deal.  They are only prepared to take 500 of the 3000 horses Thomas and his crew have captured.  They also try to weasel out on the agreed upon price of $35 a head, instead insisting on $25 a head.   But Thomas insists it's all or nothing, and at the previously agreed upon price to boot.  He instead decides to take a counter offer from representatives of Emperor Maximillian in Mexico, and heads to Mexico with his herd.

Meanwhile, Col. James Langdon (Rock Hudson), of the former Confederate States has decided there is no use in living in a country that doesn't meet his standards and decides to pack up his former crew and their families and go to Mexico themselves, to offer their services to Emperor Maximillian. 

He has with him a cast of his own famous names like Jan-Michael Vincent as Lt. Bubba Wilkes, the potential husband of his daughter; Merlin Olsen as Little George, his burly blacksmith;  and Bruce Cabot as his First Sergeant, Newby.

Langdon burns down his ranch, rather than sell it to carpetbaggers, or leave it for them to take over and goes on a trek towards the border with his crew.  Both Langdon and Thomas have to deal with agents who are determined to prevent them from crossing the border, but both end up safely in Mexico.  (Or so it seems they are safe, anyway, but you know it's not going to end so quickly, don't you...?)

Eventually the two groups do hook up.  At first there is some animosity after Langdon learns that Thomas was on the other side.  But the two become somewhat partners as the former Union soldiers band together to help the former Confederates defend themselves against a band of Mexican banditos.  Later, Langdon invites Thomas and his buddies to a 4th of July celebration.  Which  ultimately breaks out in an old-fashioned, all-out (but good natured) brawl.

But all is not well in Mexico.  The Juaristas (the rebels who oppose Maximillan and his French rule) are on the rampage, and before this movie is over, both the Thomas contingent and the Langdon forces are going to have to come to terms that Maximillan's days are numbered as ruler of Mexico.  There is of course a rousing ending, and both forces do end up friends t the end.  Butwhat else would you expect from a Wayne movie?

There are a whole host of other recognizable faces in this movie other than those mentioned above.  Lee Meriwether plays Langdon's wife, but you will (or should) al;so be able to spot Royal Dano, John Agar, Richard Mulligan, Paul Fix and a host of other character actors who showed up in dozens of TV and movie westerns (and other genres of film).   See if you can count them all. 

Time to saddle up and head back to the ranch.  Drive safely, folks.  And watch out for banditos and rebels on the way home.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Spaced Out Computer

This is my entry for The Greatest Film I've Never Seen Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

Preface:  It may seem incongruous to the theme of my blog, but the truth of the matter is that, up until this blogathon, I have never watched 2001: A Space Odyssey in its entirety.  I tried to watch it one morning after coming in from doing my paper route when I was about 20, but I was tired and fell asleep sometime after the caveman segment of the movie.  I could remember the caveman segment pretty well, even before i watched it this time, but nothing else seemed familiar.  Not, at least, as from having watched it.

Of course, anybody who hasn't been living in a cave for all their life knows at least something about the evil computer HAL and the travails of the astronauts who have to deal with him/it.  And maybe you have seen the climatic sequence of the ending, which I have.  But everyting that occurs between the end of the caveman sequence and the finale was pretty much new to me.

I missed out on seeing this on the big screen last week.  A local theater chain has what they call "Flashback Cinema" in which every Sunday and Wednesday they devote one of their theater screens to showing classic movies on the big screen.   I didn't miss it because I had other things to do, however.  I missed it because I didn't know it was showing.  How great would it have been if I could have seen it in a theater.  I vow to pay attention to see what's coming from now on... (I did get to see "Patton" on the screen this week, and I will review it very soon.)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):

The opening of this movie really gets you ready for what's coming.  A blank screen with nothing but the soundtrack playing, but what a soundtrack.  The opening features the initial fanfare from Richard Strauss' opus "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (called "Sunrise").

The actual movie opens on the dawn of man.  A tribe struggles to survive by picking berries in a stark and barren environment.  Not only do they struggle against predators, a rival tribe chases them away from their watering hole. But then fate (in the form of aliens, although we do not yet know it) intervenes and puts up a black monolith in their midst.  The monolith hums to them, which, I guess, inspires them to figure out how to use bones as weapons, thus enabling them to take back their watering hole from the bullies who took it before.  A pure case of natural selection interfered with by outside intervention.  Obviously the aliens don't have the Prime Directive on their planet.

Flash forward some few million years.  To wit: 2001 A.D.  (Fitting, since the title of the film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, don'tcha think?)  On the moon a discovery has been made.  A giant black monolith (just like the ones the cavemen ran across.)  It has been buried under the surface of the moon for umpteen millions of years.  And it didn't get buried by erosion or natural movement of the sands; it was buried intentionally, by some alien force.

Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is dispatched to investigate the monolith.  He is burdened by the fact that a cover story about an outbreak of an epidemic has limited visitation to the moon base by other countries, including the Russians.  (Remember, the movie was made in 1968, prior to the end of the Cold War, so friendship and cooperation with Russians and the United states and its friendly allies was limited.)  Floyd ends up sending a crew of astronauts to Jupiter, to which it turns out the monolith is sending messages.

18 months later, the crew of the spaceship Discovery One is now approaching Jupiter.  Three of the five crewmen are in hibernation leaving Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) to carry out necessary work, with HAL 9000 (voiced by  Douglas Rain) to operate most of the technical aspects of the operations. HAL (a name, BTW, which has been pointed out as being one letter off from IBM) runs nearly everything, but has intelligence beyond what was possible, at least in terms of the 1968 timeline of the movie's production.  It also has a secret programming which neither of the awake astronauts knows about.

As a result, what HAL does on occasion is perplexing to the tw, and they discuss the possibility of shutting HAL down.  They think they are being secretive by discussing this in one of the space pods, but HAL can apparently read lips and discovers their plan.  HAL creates a ruse that lets him kill off Poole, and Gets Bowman out of the spaceship, then refuses to let him back in.  He also shuts down the containment system keeping the other three astronauts alive.  (HAL, as they say, seems unwilling to go gently into that good night...)

The rest of the movie is rather confusing (at least it was until 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which cleared up some of the confusion, although maybe not all of it...)  The clasasic space child scene at the end may also be familiar to some of those uninitiated with the film.  My suggestion is you watch both 2001 and 2010 in conjunction to get some sense of the story, but even by itself 2001 is pretty phenomenal.  And maybe one of these days I'll still get a chance to see it on a big screen.

 Time to fire up the jets and head back to Earth.  Drive safely, folks.



Thursday, November 15, 2018

The 10 Day Movie Challenge

The 10-Day Movie Challenge:

On Facebook, my friend Rachel (Hamlette) challenged me to this cool little project:

I have been nominated for the 10-day Movie Challenge. Every day I must select an image from a film that has impacted me in some way, present it without a single explanation, and nominate somebody to take the challenge.

As stated above I wasn't allowed to make an comments (or even reference what movie it was...)  However, as I told her when she did this same thing on her blog, it only said I couldn't comment on Facebook, at least as I read it.  It may be against the rules to even do it here, but then I've never been one to follow the rules...

Day 1: Turk 182.

The ultimate in one man against the system.  Timothy Hutton battles City Hall to get benefits for his brother Robert Urich, who was injured trying to do his firefighting job while he was off duty (and drunk, but that's not really the point.  OK, so it is with the City Hall).  Hutton becomes a one-man vigilante, wreaking havoc by leaving "Turk 182" stenciled over the landscape.  ("Turk" is his brother's nickname and "182" was his badge number as a firefighter.)

Day 2: El Dorado

Couldn't possibly do this without at least one John Wayne movie.  I chose El Dorado, which  is basically a remake of an earlier movie, Rio Bravo. And it is also my all-time favorite Wayne movie.   I like this one better, mainly because I think his co-star, Robert Mitchum, is a better actor than Dean Martin.  Besides which, how do we know if Dino was just acting or if he really was drunk?  John Wayne was the epitome of good guys in white hats (although many times his hat wasn't white...)

Day 3: The Warriors

This was the second feature in the first drive-in movie trip I ever made on my own (as opposed to with my parents).  I no longer remember what the primary feature was that evening (which just goes to show how memorable that one was...), but I definitely remember this one.  The outfits the gangs wore stayed with me.  Compared to the head bad guy pictured above, which is pretty sedate, some of those gang threads were pretty cool.

Day 4: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

This one, if I were tied down to it, would probably be my favorite movie of all time.  The movie itself, if you read the review linked above, is a trip in itself.  John Lithgow (pictured above) is over the top as the villain of the piece.  I watch this one at least once a year, and every time I see stuff I missed before. 

Day 5: A Clockwork Orange

As a film, A Clockwork Orange is somewhat of an acquired taste, especially if you are not into violence.  The movie ranks as one of only two movies that were originally rated X that got Oscar nominations for Best Picture (the other was Midnight Cowboy, which actually won the award).  Depending on your political and moral views, you may find the ending a bit flawed.  My love for the movie has a lot to do with the ending, however, because of my love for movies of one man fighting the system and eventually winning.

Day 6: They Live

I can't say enough about director John Carpenter.  He is my favorite director.  And although I could have included any one of the 5 movies Carpenter directed with Kurt Russell, this one stands out in the theme I gravitated towards in this series I picked (that of one man, or sometimes a group of men, fighting against the system).  I wish I had a pair of those sunglasses.

Day 7: Star Wars

Did you really think I was going to leave this one out?I was 15 when it came out, and I was enamored with the story.  Star Wars is the epitome of one of those "movies that define a generation" that some highbrow critics refer to as being the big picture for a certain age group.  And yet, it manages to rope in new converts even now, some 40+ years later.  Not that's staying power. 

Day 8: Pleasantville

Gee, the whole idea of bringing a modern-day sensibility to one of those happy-go-lucky TV shows of the 50's just rings a bell with me.  Tobey Maguire, whom I have only seen as SpiderMan in any other movie is the best part of this, but Reese Witherspoon is the girl I wish i'd known in high school...

Day 9: An American Werewolf in London

How much did this one have an effect on me?  Well, I saw it once a week for every week it was out in the theater.  And probably would have watched it even more if work and school hadn't interfered...  This one is one of the first to combine both comedy and horror into one movie, and it deserves a place in both genres Hall of Fame.

Day 10:Patton

This one had more of a peripheral effect on me than a direct effect, at least as far as my childhood goes.  Somewhere back in the dawn of this blog I mentioned that my family went to see Patton at the drive-in.  I don't remember much of that outing, but because of the language in the movie, my father refused to allow us kids to go to another PG movie.  I actually had to beg and argue to get to see Star Wars.  And if you've seen Star Wars, you already know there wasn't a filthy word one in it.  I appreciate Patton even more today than I probably would have at age 8 or 9, which is how old I was when we went to see it at the drive-in. Patton is my hero because he is such an individualist.  BTW, I got to finally see this in it's full form on the big screen just yesterday, and it is as phenomenal as it is on a TV screen.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Phoning It In

This is my entry in the Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema and The Flapper Dame

Grace Kelly was an up and coming Hollywood starlet who chose the good life of being Monegasque royalty over the glamor of being Hollywood royalty.

But in the pre-history of becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, Kelly made several prominent pictures for Hollywood.  In only her second film she soared to fame as the wife of Gary Cooper's Marshal Kane in High Noon.  From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to being one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite leading women, starring in not one, not two, but three of Hitch's films in the space of two years.  In succession from 1954, Hitchcock filmed Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, all of which featured Kelly as his leading lady.

Arguably the most well known of these was her role as Jimmy Stewart's girlfriend in Rear Window, but she excels in all three roles.  In Dial M for Murder, Kelly plays the wife of a former tennis player, Tony Wendice.

(Just a side note:  I wonder what Alfred Hitchcock had against tennis players.  The villain in this movie; a former tennis player.  In Strangers on a Train, one of the main characters is a tennis player.  I'm not entirely sure, but I would be willing to bet that either of the two villains in Rope played tennis.  Tennis players cropped up in Hitch's Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, too.  Could it be that at some point in his life, Hitch had been jilted by a former lover who left him for a tennis pro?)

Did you know Dial M for Murder was originally filmed in 3D?  It was.  It accounts for some of the odd angles that the film has.  The movie was shown in it's 3D format during the first few days of it's original theatrical run, but played to low numbers of audiences, so a hasty decision was made to throw out the 3d format and just run it in it's regular 2d form.  Both were available.  The 2d form was given to theaters without the ability to show 3d movies.  after the debacle at 3d movie theaters, they all used the flat form instead.  I wonder if someone had spiked Hitch's drinks to get him to agree to film a 3d movie.  It certainly doesn't seem like his themes would lend themselves to that format. At any rate, the 3D craze was already dying out by this time, anyway.

Dial M for Murder (1954):

There are two kinds of marriages.  One is a happy marriage where the two spouses are in love with each other, no matter what comes their way.  In a Hitchcock film, this would be tantamount to disaster.  After all, who would get interested in a suspense film where everything was hunky-dory?

 In the Wendice household, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) has become aware that his marriage to Margot (Grace Kelly) has been falling apart for some time.  It seems Margot has been carrying on an affair with an American crime novelist, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).

Divorce is not an option for Tony.  He married money.  If he divorced Margot, he would be out of the house, but also out of money.  So he devises a plan to murder his wife, thus insuring that he keeps his extravagant lifestyle going.  To that effect, he blackmails a former college class mate, C. A. Swann (Anthony Dawson), to commit the murder. Tony has some information on Swann's activities that he threatens to reveal if Swann does not agree.

Tony arranges an alibi for himself and leaves a key to the apartment for Swann to use.  He then arranges an elaborate ruse which involves him, Tony, calling home to arouse his wife out of bed so Swann can strangle her while she is on the phone.  Unfortunately for Swann, Margot is not willing to go gently into that good night. She ends up stabbing Swann with a pair of scissors.

Now, instead of having a dead wife, Tony has a dead would-be murderer on his hands.  And he must somehow deal with the presence of the man in his apartment.  Of course, the police are called and the situation develops as how to resolve the situation.  Tony uses every wiles available to try to avoid his complicity in the event, and as a result, Margot is arrested because she apparently killed Swann because he was blackmailing her for her affair with Mark.

In reality, it was Tony who was blackmailing her.  He of course knew about the affair, hence the reason he wanted to murder his wife, rather than divorce her.  The police inspector investigating the story, Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), initially believes that Margot is guilty and she is convicted and sentenced to die.

But he becomes suspicious, and during his subsequent investigations becomes convinced that Tony had something to do with it.  But how to break down Tony's alibi?

Thus the final reel becomes a battle of wits.

Well, folks, time to make that drive home.  Drive safely.