Saturday, May 16, 2020

Why the 60s Was the Greatest Decade for War Films

This is my entry in the 6 from the 60's blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe

"War is man's greatest adventure" - Ernest Hemingway

War movies have been around ever since the invention of movies.  It may not have been among the first subjects. After all, a decent war flick does involve a bit more than some slapdash makeup to create a Frankenstein monster, or even to create the illusion of traveling to the moon.  But take it as fact, once the concept of motion pictures took off, quite naturally the adventure of war became a target to transfer to the screen.

I can't actually tell you what the first war movie was.  I gave up trying to find a website that would tell me.  But as early as 1911, war was depicted on film.  The Fall of Troy, a 1911 short film from the silent era seems to be one of the first, however.

Over the years, war became increasingly a good draw at the box office.  Some of the classics would have to include (regardless of political messages they may have had):  Birth of a Nation (1915), Battleship Potemkin (1925), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Sergeant York (1941), From Here to Eternity (1953), Patton (1970), Platoon (1986), Gettysburg (1993), Black Hawk Down (2001) and Fury (2014).

(Author's Note:  For brevity, I only chose one movie from each decade.  This is not necessarily the best movie, just my choice as a representative of the decade. If a movie you favor was not chosen, it does not mean I think it's less than the one I actually chose. Your opinion may differ.)

You will notice, of course, that the 60's are missing from the above list.  That's because, in my opinion, the 60's were the best decade for war films.  The primary subject for war films during this time period, of course, was for the then fairly recent conflict of WWII.  The one we actually could hold our heads high and proudly state "We won!"

Of course, it didn't hurt that some of the biggest names in show business were associated with these films.  I mean look at the cast listing of the six movies I am using as a representative:  Stanley Baker, Ernesst Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, James Coburn, Sean Connery, Vince Edwards, Henry Fonda, James Garner, William Holden, Trevor Howard, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, David Niven, Gregory Peck, Donald Pleasence, Anthony Quinn, Cliff Robertson, Frank Sinatra, Rod Steiger and John Wayne, just to name a few.  Plus you had such stalwart directors as Robert Aldrich, John Sturges and Daryl F. Zanuck behind the camera.

Of course, the following six are only a representative of the whole decade, not necessarily the unanimous best.  They are some of my favorites, of course, but as you will see, I also chose these six because I have already reviewed them in depth in other posts on this blog.  Some of the others not included, but well worth checking out from the 60's output of war films are:  The Alamo (1960), The Battle of Britain (1969), Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Green Berets (1968), Hell in the Pacific (1968), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Where Eagles Dare (1968), and Zulu (1964). (Still an incomplete list, but it will get you started.)

My favorite war movie of the 60's is not one that involves actual war action.  I consider The Great Escape  (1963) to be the best of the bunch, however.  It is actually based on a true story about the planning of and escape from a Nazi P.O.W. camp near the end of WWII (based on an account written by one of the P.O.W.s who witnessed the events, Paul Brickhill).  The all-star cast makes this an intriguing movie.  The ending is somewhat of a downer, I warn you in advance.  I won't spoil the ending more than that, but watching the likes of McQueen, Bronson, Garner, Coburn and the like as they plan the escape is rather riveting.  As a side note, I used to call my folks every week when they were still alive, and I would play this movie without the sound in the background as I talked with them. (It helped me focus on the conversations, believe it or not...)

Another great escape movie is Von Ryan's Express (1965).  In this film, Frank Sinatra plays a downed pilot named Ryan who becomes the ranking officer in an Italian P.O.W. camp during WWII.  As such, he makes a general nuisance of himself, earning himself the rather disparaging nickname of "Von Ryan" (insinuating that he has Nazi sympathies).  The ultimate goal at the end is the commandeering of a prisoner train that is transporting the Italian P.O.W.s to a German P.O.W. camp after the Italians have surrendered.

 The Dirty Dozen (1967) is a different animal altogether.  In this film Lee Marvin is an officer given the task of training a dozen malcontents into a crack force of soldiers destined to create havoc at a secret Nazi rest area for officers of the German army.  And the all-star cast of this one has people who have memorable scenes which will stick with you long after you watch it.  Don't miss the great performances of Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland just to name a few.

On the heels of that escapade comes another story about a cadre of men with a goal to disrupt the Nazi's and their nefarious deeds. The Guns of Navarone (1961) involves a group who must somehow disable a couple of devastating guns in a mountain stronghold that is creating havoc with troop movement of the Allies.  Gregory Peck and David Niven are among the stars of this great adventure.

In The Devil's Brigade (1968) William Holden is the leader of a cadre of American and Canadian soldiers with a task to capture yet another Nazi stronghold.  Like the Dirty Dozen, many of Holden's charges are malcontents who must be whipped into shape before proceeding on their mission.

Rounding out this sextet of great 60's war movies is another one that is actually based on fact.  John Wayne heads yet another cast of familiar names staging the historical D-Day invasion of France, then under Nazi control.  The Longest Day (1962) focuses on more than just Wayne, however.  Most of the big names are listed above, but you will recognize quite a few more of them, depending on your movie watching history.  And the fact that it's all pretty much true to the actual conflict is a history lesson that for once you might not mind enduring.

Looking back, the fact that all of these are representative of only one conflict, WWII in Nazi Germany, may seem a bit choosy.  But the fact is there is not a dud in the bunch.  And they were all made during one decade. For more in depth discussion on each entry, please click on the links to see my thoughts on each.  Or better yet, devote a weekend to just watching the movies.  I guarantee you won't be bored.

Drive home safely, folks.


Monday, May 4, 2020

The Promise of The Chosen One

The mantle of "hero" is never an easy one to bear.  People look to you to rescue them from every plight that befalls them.  Not an easy job.  Even if you are faster than a speeding bullet, or have every gadget known to man in the pockets of your tool belt, or even if you can manipulate time and space to make the bad guys just disappear into another dimension.

But what if, just what if, you are just an ordinary guy who has less power and intelligence in your entire body than Superman or Batman or Dr. Strange has in their pinky finger?  What if you are just some shmo who everyone thinks in the promised savior but you know yourself to be just some guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

That's exactly what happened to Ty Farrell.  He's just a struggling actor trying to make a paycheck on a cheesy 50's sci-fi superhero series as "Captain Zoom". But far far away in another galaxy, the planet of Pangea is on it's last legs fighting off the evil overlord Lord Vox.  And the little electronics wizard brother of the leader of the resistance is searching for a champion to help them in their endeavor.

And he thinks he's found it when he stumbles across a broadcast of "The Adventures of Captain Zoom", a kiddie sci-fi show originating on Earth.

The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space (1995):

In a galaxy far, far away, the residents of the planet Pangea are in a desperate struggle to avoid the taking over of their planet by Lord Vox of Vestron (Ron Perlman)

In the struggle a young warrior, Tyra (Liz Vassey) leads the people to thwart the evil machinations of Vox.  But in a raid on the base of operations Tyra is captured.

Back at home base, things are looking bleak, despite the promise of their spiritual leader, Sagan (Nichelle Nichols) that "it is written" that a promised one will appear.  

 Most of the people accept her predictions, but young Baley (Gregory Smith), the young brother of Tyra has become exasperated with Sagan's platitudes.  Instead, being the electronics genius of the clan, he uses his knowledge and equipment to search for a hero on his own.

And he thinks he finds it in the person of Ty Farrell ( Daniel Riordan). 

Farrell is the star of a TV show on a planet far away, "Captain Zoom".  But young Baley thinks his exploits are real and thinks that Captain Zoom is just the hero the people need to defeat Lord Vox.  So he uses his equipment to bring Zoom to the planet of Pangea.

Of course, you and I know Farrell is just an actor, although no one on Pangea knows what that is...

Farrell:  I'm not a hero.  I'm just an actor.
Simulus: What's an 'actor'?
Farrel: I pretend I'm somebody else, for money.
Simulus: Oh, a spy... kill him.

Vox has plans to subjugate Pangea and discover the ancient wisdom hidden somewhere on the planet.  He also wants Tyra to marry him and become his queen (because he is, after all, just a horny man who has needs other than the desire to become king of the known universe...)

Meanwhile, back at home base, Farrell is having trouble coping with his new situation.  For one thing, everyone thinks he really is Captain Zoom, despite his efforts to dissuade them.  And they think he is the chosen one come to deliver them just as Sagan's prophecies have foretold.

Of course, due to his ineptitude, while actually trying to rescue Tyra, he too is captured, mainly because Vesper (Gia Carides) i, Vox's high priestess, has clairvoyant psychic powers.  But she only has these powers as long as she remains a virgin.  (Don't get ahead of me here...)

Vesper has the hots for Zoom, and she tries to work her powers on him.  But Tyra and the captain escape from Vox's fortress spaceship.  Unfortunately for Vox, this is a surprise because Vesper failed to foretell of the escape.  (OK, now you can catch up...)

Eventually Farrell is informed of the sad fact that Baley used all of his available isotopes in brining Zoom to Pangea and the bad news is it will take thousands of years before more can be made.  But Tyra tells him that the quest for ancient wisdom in the hidden cavern that both she and Vox are searching for may also contain information that could restore him back on Earth.  So he reluctantly joins the quest.

Farrell is essentially the essence of The Peter Principle (a theory that eventually a person rises to a position of which he is too incompetent  to perform the duties to which he is assigned... sound familiar?)  Farrell is far from the hero that the people of Pangea think he is, but he has an ego to match just about anyone in Hollywood so he thinks he can be whatever they want (as long as it isn't too strenuous...)

The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space is a real hoot.  Unfortunately I don't think it's ever been released on DVD.  However, there is a poor quality recording of it on you tube (in three parts, but not to worry it's only about an hour and a half long in toto).  I had the fortune of seeing this when it was first broadcast on Starz back in 1995.  It's a made for TV film, and the special effects are negligible, but don't go into it expecting a Star Wars knockoff.  Go into it for the comic performance of Zoom and his would-be worshipers.


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Two Is One Too Many

This is my entry in the Love Goes On Blogathon hosted by Moviemovieblogblogii

 There are certain things that just don't mesh.  One of those is men and women have differences in the ways they approach life, which explains why some marriages are rocky.  And that's just when men and women co-exist in the same household.  Imagine them trying to co-exist in the same body...

The premise of All of Me is just that.  The comedic talents of Steve Martin are put to the test in this underrated gem.  Imagine a guy whose real dream is to be a jazz musician but having to perform duties as a lawyer because being an artist just doesn't pay the bills.  Not only that but having to kowtow to rich people because, after all, money is what really makes the world go 'round.

Martin and Lily Tomlin are a perfect match in this film.  Martin is the aforementioned layer and jazz musician wannabe and Tomlin is a rich spoiled brat who is dying and wants to transfer her soul into the body of her stable master's young daughter.  No comments here about soul transference from this author, just in case you are one who believes such a feat is possible.

The whole set up, however, depends on you believing such a feat is at least possible.  Martin's character is a realist who thinks Tomlin is bat shit crazy, at least until the accident that puts her soul in control of half of his body.

All of Me (1984):

Roger Cobb (Steve Martin) works as an attorney in a law  firm, but he is dissatisfied with his lot in life.

For one thing, his boss, Schuyler (Dana Elcar) is dragging his heels in making Cobb a full fledged partner in the law firm, even though Cobb is his imminent son-in-law.  He is dating the boss' daughter, Peggy (Madolyn Smith, familiar to those of you who have seen Urban Cowboy as the rich woman Bud hooks up with when his marriage is on the rocks).

Also Cobb really doesn't like the penny-ante duties to which he is assigned.  Not to mention that his real love is when he gets to sit in on the jazz music sessions where he plays guitar with his friend Tyrone (Jason Bernard).

One of those unappealing jobs he gets with the law firm is helping rich heiress  Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin).

Edwina wants to transfer her vast wealth into the name of Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant), the daughter of he estate's stable master (Eric Christmas).

She isn't doing this out of a beneficial desire to improve the life of Terry.  Rather she has plans, with the help of a mystic, Prahka Lasa (Richard Libertini), to transfer her soul into the body of Terry after she dies.

Roger thinks the whole idea is nuts, but he is just there to perform the legal duties.  But when he tells Edwina her idea is stupid Edwina responds with telling him to get out and goes to Schuyler to try to get him fired.

During this session she does indeed die and her sould is transferred to a bowl in preparation for the transfer.  But an accident knocks the bowl out of the window where, guess what, it conks on the head of Roger.  Now Edwina's soul inhabits Roger's body.  Not his whole body, however.  Roger still has control over one side and Edwina has control over the other.

The rest of the movie involves an attempt by Roger to get this unwanted presence out of his body.  The fly in the ointment is, now that it has proven that the whole idea was feasibly possible, Terry is not in the mood to follow through.  Which leaves Roger to scramble to find a way to get rid of Edwina.

Roger's initial disgust with Edwina does transform over time, however.  Eventually he and Edwina come to terms where she is willing to let Prahka transfer her soul into some flowers just to let Roger have back full control of his body.  But Roger's new found respect and even growing love for Edwina have him trying to get the original transfer to come to fruition.

The best parts of the movie involve some of Roger and Edwina trying to cope with the co-occupancy, including a rather funny scene where Roger has to go to the men's room.  Also at one point Edwina has to take over full control of Roger's body as he has actually fallen asleep during the divorce trial he is administering for his boss.

In recent years Martin has distanced himself from these kind of wacky performances.  But if you loved The Jerk, you will be glad to know that this was still during that screwball phase of his career.  Tomlin herself relies mostly on her vocal abilities since she is not a physical presence for most of the movie.  But she can pull off the annoying spoiled heiress pretty well even without the phyisical presence.

Time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.