My next full length review with be up on Monday morning. The change in schedule is due to my participation in the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe . I will be contributing a piece on the 1960 film, “Peeping Tom.” In the meantime, I thought I would post seven short takes on some other films that I have recently watched.
The Sand Peebles (1966) Directed by Robert Wise
When “The Sand Peebles” premiered in December 1966, the U.S. was already deep into its “quagmire” in Vietnam, a foreign policy disaster fueled by false fears that if one domino (Vietnam) fell, all the others in Southeast Asia would surely all fall too. Though set in 1926 in China, the analogy to Vietnam and the depiction of racism, prevalent at the time as well as the colonialism is all too clear. “The Sand Peebles” is a three hour anti-war epic about the effects of wrong-headed foreign policy. Steve McQueen gives what is arguably his finest performance as a rebellious ship engineer. Richard Crenna is superb as the ships’ self-righteous Captain, as is Richard Attenborough as one of McQueen’s shipmates who falls for a local Chinese girl. Visually, the film is epic and stunningly photographed. Only weak spot is Candice Bergen’s non-existent performance as a missionary.
The American Friend (1977) Wim Wenders
Dennis Hopper is the perfect actor to play Patricia Highsmith’s amoral sociopath Tom Ripley. Wenders’ film is so rich in atmosphere that one almost forgets the plot is a bit murky. Still the look of the film is extraordinary unique, at times both harsh and other times exquisitely beautiful. Hopper, who was in a bad way with drugs and alcohol during this period of his life (read my interview with Hopper biographer Peter L. Winkler), still manages to be inspired enough to give a fine performance along with his magnificent co-star, the excellent Bruno Ganz as a picture framer and reluctantly hired hit man.
The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947) Felix E. Feist
Vicious and twisted low budget crime film with Lawrence Tierney as a murderous killer on the run. Quirky characters and situations dominate this quickie “B” film; the good husband is an alcoholic, the nice girl meets an unexpected fate, and the police eyewitness, a gas station attendant, is a card sharp who hustles the cops in a card game while going along on the man hunt for the killer. Surely this film must have been an influence on a young video store clerk named Quentin Tarantino.
Pretty Poison (1868) Noel Black
A delicious and devilish performance from Tuesday Weld highlights this cult classic from the 1960’s. Anthony Perkins is the sap who gets caught in her web of deceit and murder. Excellent script from Lorenzo Semple Jr. and nicely directed by a young Noel Black who never again lived up to this high a level again.
Gloria (1980) John Cassavetes
Former gun moll helps a young Puerto Rican kid whose family is killed when the father, a mild mattered accountant for the mob, was going to squeal to the police. Gena Rowlands is excellent as the former mistress/whore of a big time hood. She’s tough, smart and ready to shoot from the hip. The young kid is a bit to “grown up” to be believable but Rowlands, a good soundtrack from Bill Conti and some nice camera work from Cassavetes who captures the seedy feel of 1980’s New York City make this a one of the filmmakers’ most accessible and best films.
Funny Girl (1968) William Wyler
Filmed on a grand scale, Barbra Streisand debut film is still nothing more than rags to riches story. The long running musical was turned into a Streisand songfest removing tunes that did not feature diva Babs and adding new ones ensuring the focus was always on her. Streisand is undeniably enjoyable in the role of Fanny Brice but the script drags the film down especially as we move into the second half.
Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz
Recently released for one day in theaters in celebration of the film’s 70th anniversary, which I happily took advantage of, “Casablanca” ranks just about in the top tier of every classic film lovers pantheon. Has there ever been a film with so much well-known dialogue? And the music, you cannot forget the emotionally charged “As Time Goes By,” which I have not been able to get out of my head! The film has become iconic, cementing Humphrey Bogart’s reputation, which already took a giant leap forward the year before with “The Maltese Falcon,” as a leading man. As Rick Blaine, Bogie is tough, tender, a cynic with a soft spot, a man with a code and a moral heart. As Ilsa, Ingrid Bergman is worth the emotional suffering Bogie goes through, she is fantastically alluring. Claude Raines is a particular standout as Captain Renault, the rapport between him and Bogart jumps off the screen. The rest of the cast, Paul Henried, Peter, Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Dooley Wilson, Conrad Veidt and. S.Z. Sakall are Warner Brothers perfect. The film’s influence culturally has been felt through the many years from The Marx Brothers in “A Night in Casablanca” to Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam”, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Usual Suspects” and everytime you, me and so many others have uttered one of the many iconic lines from this film. “Casablanca” is being released in Blu-Ray on Tuesday March 27th.