Archive for February, 2010

Bad Day At Black Rock

Bad Day at Black Rock

Image via Wikipedia

Bad Day At Black Rock is one of those movies that always seems to be shown on Foxtel, usually at about 1am on Fox Classics. It’s a movie that I have always been curious about but could never actually be bothered watching until today, after the book A Rough Guide To Westerns recommended it. I am glad that I watched it.

The film has an all-star cast headed by Spencer Tracy as Macreedy, a one-armed stranger who one day gets off the train at the sleepy town of Black Rock looking for Komoko. This get the members of the small town into an uproar for reasons that become apparent as the movie progresses. It doesn’t take long for Macreedy to realise that he is not welcome in Black Rock.

We find out that there is a dark secret in Black Rock that Macreedy’s snooping around will eventually bring to light. This secret involves Komoko, who was a Japanese farmer living near Black Rock on land sold to him by the film’s villain Reno Smith. The land that Smith sold Komoko was useless but that Smith became enraged that Komoko was able to grow food on the land. The day after Pearl Harbour Smith and his cronies attacked and murdered Komoko. Now they are afraid that four years later Macreedy will uncover this.

Tracy gives a great performance filled with quiet dignity as Macreedy. Despite the fact that the whole town is against him and have planned to murder him Macreedy does not stop in his quest to find out about what happened to Komoko. The villains featuring Ryan, Borgnine and Marvin are menacing as they harass Tracy and await darkness to fall so that they can kill him. It is only after one of the posse hears why Macreedy is searching for Komoko that the tables start to turn. Komoko’s son was a GI who gave his life in Italy to save Macreedy. Macreedy wanted to take the medal that Komoko’s son received to Komoko Sr.The film comes to a head when Macreedy is double-crossed by Liz Wirth, which culminates in Macreedy being ambushed by Smith.

There is a lot of tension in the film as we all know what Macreedy’s fate will ultimately be, but as he is the film’s hero we hope that he will find a way out. It is a really good film to watch.

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Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Ted Lawson (Van Johnson) and his wife Ellen (P...

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Anyone who has seen the terrible Disney film Pearl Harbour from a few years back will be familiar with the premise of thirty Seconds Over Tokyo as the events of this film were featured in the second half of Pearl Harbour. This is about the Doolittle Raid where a squadron of B-25 Mitchell Bombers took off from an aircraft carrier to hit Japan as a retaliation over Pearl Harbour.

The acting, especially from Van Johnson, is a little over the top as Ted Lawson, whose story this is based upon, while we don’t see that much of Spencer Tracy who plays Lt. Col. Doolittle. Robert Mitchum is featured in the film too in one of his earliest roles.

Johnson, who died in December 2008 at age 92, is a little hammy in his portrayal of Lawson, whose plane crashed on the Chinese coast after bombing Tokyo and had to have his leg amputated. During the films ending Lawson does not want to see his wife until he has an artificial leg and has learnt how to dance, whilst his wife, played by Phyliss Thaxter, does not want him to see her because she has put on a little weight. Oy Vey!!! Such melodrama. In the end they embrace because they are both glad that Lawson has survived.

However despite the over acting this is a fine film with great scenes of the hulking bomber taking off on their dangerous mission from the confines of the aircraft carrier. Whenever Spence is on-screen he gives the audience a reassuring feeling that he is in control and that everything will be alright in the end. The film is even quite even-handed about their portrayal of the Japanese, which is quite surprising since the war in the Pacific was still raging when the movie was released.

The General

Cover of "The General (The Ultimate 2-Dis...

Cover via Amazon

The General is regarded as Buster Keaton’s greatest masterpiece. In my opinion it is indeed a fine piece of film making that seems to be more of an action or adventure film than a comedy.

The movie is based on true historical events from the American Civil War. It involves the theft of the train The General, by the Union Army and how the group who stole it, Anderson’s Raiders, were pursued by one determined Southerner named Johnnie Gray. The film is very exciting and some of the cinematography is brilliant, considering that the film was made in 1927 and there are a few amusing bits, but nothing really laugh out loud funny. The final chase between the Union train The Texas and The General from back to the south is particularly exciting, as is the blowing up of the Rock River Bridge.

The film is more of an action/adventure film than a comedy. Although it was a critical and box office failure on its release, it is now considered one of the greatest films ever made. I enjoyed the film but more as a historical artifact than as a piece of entertainment. It has moments of excitement and drama but it isn’t really a comedy film.

* 29 years later Disney made their film The Great Locomotive Chase which was also based on these events but from the point of view of the Unionist who stole The General rather than the South.

The Kid

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid

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This is a very short film, at just over 50 minutes in length, but it is very sweet. The comedy in the film feels a little dated, like typical slapstick of the kind that everyone else at the time was doing, yet the thing that makes Chaplin unique here is not the pratfalls that he takes, but the empathy that he evokes from the viewer. This was the first film to ever combine humour with melodrama.

It is the melodrama that sets this film apart from its contemporaries. It is schmaltzy, that’s for sure, but these scenes are some of the most famous in film history, especially the moving scene after the orphanage takes the Kid from the Tramp and after a struggle the two are reunited. The look of relief and tears on the faces of Charlie and 5-year-old Jackie Coogan as they hug each other in that scene is priceless and very moving.

Chaplin would go on to make many more brilliant films after The Kid that combined, namely The Gold Rush, City Light and Modern Times, but this is the film that started it all. Chaplin’s first great movie.

* Yes, The Kid, Jackie Coogan, did go on to play Uncle Fester in the Addams Family 40 years later.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

The Incredible Shrinking Man

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The Incredible Shrinking Man is another of those fifties sci-fi films that I have been watching lately. This movie is about Scott Carey who after being exposed to a radioactive fog whilst vacationing on his brother’s boat, begins to shrink. The first half of the film deals with Scott trying to come to terms on his condition and the effect that it has with his marriage. The smaller he gets the angrier he gets and the more tyrannically he becomes towards his loving wife Louise.

The 2nd half of the film is where the action begins. By this time Scott is small enough to live in a doll house. After Louise leaves the house for the shops, after being directed to by her increasingly angry husband, the families’ cat is accidentally let into the house, where Scott must try to escape it. The cat knocks him into the basement where he then has to battle a massive tarantula. In the film’s climax, after he gets his freedom Scott realises and accepts that he is not going to ever stop shrinking.

“And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears locked away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God there is no zero. I still exist.”

The film is incredibly enjoyable although the special effects are quite corny looking by today’s standards, but very effective. The scenes with the spider are scary enough for this arachnophobe to have to cover his eyes whenever it was on the screen. I only hope that the update that is due out later this year and starring Eddie Murphy (whose career of late has been built solely on playing Donkey in the Shrek films and remaking movies from the 1950s) is half as enjoyable.

Clash Of The Titans

Clash of the Titans (1981 film)

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Titans will clash. This is the idiotic and uncreative tagline from the new version of Clash Of The Titans, due to be released in April. While I am sure that the new film will be appreciated by those film goers who are able to turn their brains off for two hours, I am sure that I will prefer the original version. Whilst the new version will undoubtedly have lots of cool computer generated characters and use loads of motion capture technology, I prefer watching Ray Harryhausen‘s hand crafted and meticulous stop motion animation.

I could lie and say that Ray’s work on this film was state of the art, but in 1981 Ray’s craft had been equalled and surpassed by other creators that he had inspired. Clash Of The Titans looks very quant when compared to The Empire Strikes Back, which was released over twelve months earlier. What looked spectacular in the 1950s and 60s looks rather dated in the 80s, although there are a couple of great moments with Ray’s creations. The scenes where Pegasus is flying look really great as does the scenes with Medusa, while the Kraken looks like a standard Harryhausen giant monster. The only real miscue is Bubo the golden owl who is both annoying and unconvincing in a Jar Jar Binks kind of way.

Still this is a very enjoyable film. There are lots of renowned actors such as Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith and Maggie Smith (who looks as old here as she does in the Harry Potter films), as well as a brief appearance of former Bond girl Ursula Andress. It’s a fun movie and there is a lot of action. It is a typical Ray Harryhausen movie. I guess that Gen Yers won’t like this as they would prefer modern crap like Transformers and the worst of Uwe Boll, where there is a lot of fast paced mindless action and blowing shit up for no reason. Those people should just watch the big budget, computer made remake and ignore the original.

A Night In Casablanca

Marx Bros cropped

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I finally watched this movie this morning. It was the last film that the Marx Bros. made together and it’s not their greatest of moments. The film does feature a fair bit of the Marx’s trademark humour but other than the hotel room scene, which drags on a little too long, there is nothing that they had not done in earlier films. There are no classic Marx Bros. moments here. The film is primarily about Nazis and stolen Jewish artworks that were hidden in the hotel Casablanca. The plot is a little disjointed and there seems to be a bit too much going on a lot of the time. The Brothers don’t really get too much time to do their gags justice, with the exception of the amusing hotel room scene that I previously mention. That’s not to say that it is a bad movie, it is still more entertaining than anything that Adam Sandler has made in the last decade or so. While it may not be as hilariously funny as Duck Soup or A Night At The Opera it is still very interesting and worth a look.