Short Takes – Bogie, McQueen, Cassavetes and More…

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.

11 comments on “Short Takes – Bogie, McQueen, Cassavetes and More…

  1. Saw Pretty Poison on TCM a few years back and loved it. As for Gloria, another wonderful NYC film from my man Cassavates. I wonder what became of that kid in the movie. “I’m the man…” lol


    • John Greco says:

      Hey Michael,

      I saw PRETTY POSION way back in ’68 and loved it then. Never understood why it died at the B.O. This recent viewing of GLORIA was my first time and I loved it. Gena Rowlands was terrific. Cassavetes was a great filmmaker. He really caught the feel of the city. Have no idea what happened to the young boy. According to IMDB GLORIA was his only screen appearance.


  2. The Lady Eve says:

    I just watched “Pretty Poison” the other night. Underrated! Very curious to see “The American Friend.” Love your short takes, John.


    • John Greco says:


      PRETTY POISON should be better known. Wonderful little film. Think you will like THE AMERICAN FRIEND if you have the opportunity to catch it. Thanks, as always.


  3. KimWilson says:

    The Sand Pebbles is so depressing. You’re right about McQueen giving a good turn here. I didn’t like Bergen in the film, either, but I’m not sure if it was her or her character.

    The American Friend is a creepy film and Hopper is most assuredly creepy.

    I liked Rowlands in Gloria, but I didn’t really like the film…does that make sense?

    I adore Funny Girl, but I’m a big fan of musicals. Love Omar Sharif in this.

    And, what else can I say about Casablanca–a classic.

    Haven’t seen the other films you discuss.


    • John Greco says:


      Thanks. I think Candice Bergen does well with comedy (I loved her in Murphy Brown) but I never cared for her as a dramatic actress. I like your description of THE AMERICAN FRIEND and Hopper was always at his best when he’s creepy.Rowlands awas great in GLORIA. I have seen films where I have loved the performances but the films overall were not great, most recently, Glenn Close and Janet McTeer were both excellent in ALBERT NOBBS but the film was disappointing. For me, FUNNY FIRL was too much Babs and the story got lost in the process, and yes, we’ll always have CASABLANCA!


  4. Judy says:

    John, interesting selection of movies! Must agree with you that I found ‘Funny Girl’ a disappointment, far too slow and repetitive and dragged down by the script as you say – I loved Streisand in ‘The Way We Were’, but had too much of a good thing in this. I love ‘Casablanca’ though and can’t see it enough times – was also lucky enough to see it on the big screen a few years back. I haven’t seen the others you have reviewed here.


    • John Greco says:


      I knew we would agree on CASABLANCA, Hollywood filmmaking at its best. I am actually not a fan of THE WAY WE WERE. Found it too slick. For romance and intrugue i will stick with Bogie and Bergman. Thanks!


  5. John,
    You’ve given us a lot to think about while waiting on your next review. I actually like your throwing us a few bones, finding a few obscure films for us to entertain ourselves with.
    I’ve seen Sand Pebbles, Gloria and Funny Girl of course. The Devil Thumbs a Ride has peaked my curiosity the most. I love any and all crime dramas. And low budget is even better! I’ll see if I can find it.
    I need to get over and read the Blogathon posts then I’ll be back for your next review.



    • John Greco says:


      thanks, Glad you enjoyed this. i may throw in more of this kind of stuff if it is received well. THE DEVILS THUMBS A RIDE is as low budget as they come and worth seeking out though it is tough. My copy is from a VHS tape I recorded back in the 90’s rented from Blockbuster. I think there was DVD release but it may be out of print. Hope you can find it.


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