Wednesday, 30 September 2009

High Sierra

Movie Review: High Sierra

Year of Release: 1941
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Raoul Walsh
Cast: Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart

Plot outline: An aging ex-con sets out to pull one more big heist (IMDb).

High Sierra is the last time Humphrey Bogart is forced to take second billing, and for good reason. He’s a tour-de-force in this crime epic, and pretty much carries the entire movie. The script by John Huston is good, but not as tight as some of his better efforts. While it does a good job moving through quite a bit of story, many of the supporting characters are underdeveloped and forgettable. This is compounded by patches of uncharacteristically trite dialog and ill conceived comedy. But the movie makes good use of the scenic beauty of the Sierra Mountains with dark cinematography that makes it foreboding in the manner that would develop into film noir. High Sierra is a great role for Bogart that - with a tighter script - could have been part of a great movie. (FML)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Lawrence of Arabia

Movie Review: Lawrence of Arabia

Year of Release: 1962
Country of Origin: UK
Director: David Lean
Cast: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif

Plot outline: Epic rumination on a flamboyant and controversial British military figure, T.E. Lawrence, and his conflicted loyalties during wartime service (IMDb).

Mr. Dryden: “If you give them artillery, you’ve made them independent.
Gen. Allenby: “Then I can’t give them artillery.
Col. Brighton: “It’s your decision.
Gen. Allenby: “No. I’ve got orders, thank God. Not like that poor devil; he‘s riding the whirlwind.
Mr. Dryden: “Let’s hope we’re not.

Set in the trackless expanses of the Middle East in World War I, the movie shows T. E. Lawrence’s attempt to make a nation of the Arabs, something quite different from the continued exploitation intended by the British crown. He is posted to spy on King Feisal and report back to HQ, but he is a two-edged sword who ends up identifying more with the Arabs than his British countrymen.

Lawrence of Arabia is a movie which celebrates the silence and emptiness of the vast Arabian desert. It was produced in a time when only the best would do. Clearly, David Lean only used the finest snippets to make his epic. The vast shots across the shimmering desert showing a miniscule rider approaching, the glorious sunsets, the Arab encampments, the battles, all combine to make this movie a must-see masterpiece. The story is both epic and personal, the performances are all first rate, the dialog is excellent, and the cinematography is legendary ... in short, it’s very hard to find any fault with David Lean’s creation. It also does a masterful job of character development: we learn that Lawrence is quite an uncommon man, right from the first few frames. Meant to be seen in 70mm, Lawrence of Arabia will undoubtedly lose some of its majesty on even the best high definition television. This is a larger-than-life production meant to be seen on a larger-than-life screen. With the exception of a few shots of the sun which burned through the stock when they tried to actually shoot it, everything in the movie is real. In an age where CGI has become routine as a way to cut costs, the difference between thousands of actual, human extras versus thousands of computer-generated extras is astounding. It is a pity that epics such as this may never be made again due to Hollywood’s obsession with formula movies. Lawrence of Arabia is a modern classic that has to be seen to be believed. (GC, FML)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Monday, 28 September 2009

Teacher's Pet

Movie Review: Teacher's Pet

Year of Release: 1958
Country of Origin: USA
Director: George Seaton
Cast: Clark Gable, Doris Day, Gig Young, Mamie Van Doren

Plot outline: A tough city editor assumes a fake identity to study journalism with a lady professor who's criticized his work (IMDb).

Teacher's Pet is an overlong but enjoyable romance revolving around a seemingly mismatched pair. Though the movie is essentially a prototypical romantic comedy (the fake breakup is usually a dead give-away), it's hard not to get wrapped up in this simple, effective little story. The sassy 34 year old Doris Day was sexy (quite different from the later "professional virgin" roles that she became famous for). But, with Clark Gable at 57 (just 4 years before his death), it's a bit of a stretch to think these two could be a match. Gig Young, playing Erica's comedically perfect boyfriend (he's won the Nobel Prize, can dance professionally, and plays a bongo!), steals every scene he's in. Gable delivers an expectedly charismatic, hilariously deadpan performance. It's clear that the movie would have benefited from the removal of a few needless subplots, though this is a relatively minor complaint for a movie that is otherwise breezy and likeable. (DN)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Desert Fox

Movie Review: The Desert Fox

Year of Release: 1951
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Henry Hathaway
Cast: James Mason, Cedric Hardwicke, Jessica Tandy

Plot outline: The life and career of the respected World War II German General Erwin Rommel (IMDb).

What you get from The Desert Fox is that while being an acknowledged tactical genius, Rommel was either not too bright in other areas; i.e., unable to see Hitler’s true character despite his abandonment of perfectly good armies in Africa and at Stalingrad, or a flagrant opportunist; as long as he's OK, to hell with everything else. This is where I think the screenplay is too forgiving. Rommel may have been a heckuva soldier, but he served one of the worst tyrants in modern history. Nevertheless, the characters are vivid. James Mason is stellar as Rommel. Sterling support from Cedric Hardwicke as Dr. Strolin, Jessica Tandy as Frau Rommel, and familiar faces George Macready, Everett Sloan, Richard Boone, and Leo G. Carroll as German officers, with savoury (and animated) Adolf Hitler impression provided by Luther Adler. Directed by Henry Hathaway, with cinematography and music by Norbert Brodine and Daniele Amfitheatrof, the movie contains quite a bit of actual WWII footage to placate action fans while the bulk of it plays out in conversations between the various parties. Sets and costume were very impressive with good attention to detail. I noticed that Rommel correctly wore both the Pour le Merite (Imperial Germany's highest decoration) and Iron Cross at his collar. I would have liked to see more of the events that established Rommel’s credentials as a great tactician and warrior, but we are required to take this for granted. All in all it is a good watch, but don’t be too sure you’re getting good history here, more like beatification. (GC)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 26 September 2009

They Died with Their Boots On

Movie Review: They Died with Their Boots On

Year of Release: 1941
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Raoul Walsh
Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn

Plot outline: Romanticized biography of General George Armstrong Custer and his last stand (IMDb).

They Died with Their Boots On marks a rather low-key, fitting farewell to the intense, onscreen pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Their final scenes, as charismatic General Custer leaves his supportive wife for the doomed battle with Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn, are moving. As an onscreen couple in British and American period epics, the two generated an intense energy, and one gets a sense the actors were also saying farewell to their bygone roles, before de Havilland embarked on her quest to get richer, more prominent female parts, and Flynn more or less became trapped as an aging action hero. As an accurate historical chronicle of Custer's years from cadet to famously determined General, the movie is sandwiched tightly between fleetingly acceptable and hogwash. Even those unfamiliar with Custer's life will sense the screenwriters are responsible for the stereotypical villain: former cadet school bully Ned Sharp (colourfully played by a young Arthur Kennedy) becomes a greedy exploiter, before voluntarily and honorably redeeming himself, Hollywood style. Warner Bros. have used a sparkling print for their superb transfer, and Max Steiner's lively score booms from the movie's original mono mix. Another well-produced Errol Flynn release - and for film buffs, look fast for Gig Young, unbilled in an early speaking role in the movie! (MH)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Movie Review: D.O.A.

Year of Release: 1950
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Rudolph Maté
Cast: Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland

Plot outline: Frank Bigelow, told he's been poisoned and has only a few days to live, tries to find out who killed him and why (IMDb).

Rudolph Maté's D.O.A. opens with what is quite possibly one of the greatest beginnings of all time. A disheveled man strides calmly into a police station and walks firmly down the halls of the large building while the credits role. As they come to an end, he arrives at the homicide division of the station. "
I want to report a murder," he says. "Who was murdered ?" a detective behind a desk asks. "I was," he replies. D.O.A. is police jargon for "Dead On Arrival," and that’s pretty much what Edmond O’Brien is as he arrives at the police station and begins his tale to the detective. O’Brien appeared in dozens of movies, often as a reporter or editor with alcohol problems, like he did in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In this movie he got one of his only chances to play the leading man, and frankly I can see why the pudgy actor was not more often chosen. He just does not have the charisma to carry a full length performance where he appears in nearly every frame. Nonetheless, Maté surrounded him with enough interesting characters and situations that O’Brien’s limitations as an actor did not seem to detract as much as they would in a more conventional story. For example, his preoccupation with women and their apparent attraction to him did not ring exactly true. Maté started out as a cinematographer, and became highly regarded. In this movie his great eye for camera angles and lighting is apparent and many of the scenes are classic, making the movie better than it has a right to be. The jazz club scene with the musicians jamming really is admirable and gets you into the crazy world they inhabit. The story is great but some of the dialog is really laughable, especially in the frequent phone calls between O’Brien and girlfriend Pamela Britton and his other encounters with women. Giving great support to the production, Beverly Garland appears, as do Neville Brand and Luther Adler, all of whom provide interesting moments that help D.O.A. live in that shady film noir world where nobody is innocent and everybody finally pays. The score, by Dimitri Tiomkin, is well done and keeps the pace moving. (GC)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 21 September 2009


Movie Review: Gandhi

Year of Release: 1982
Country of Origin: UK, India
Director: Richard Attenborough
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen

Plot outline: Biography of Mahatma Gandhi, the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British through his philosophy of non-violent protest (IMDb).

In the middle of this epic movie there is a quiet, small scene that helps explain why Gandhi is such a remarkable experience. Mahatma Gandhi, at the height of his power and his fame, stands by the side of a lake with his wife of many years. Together, for the benefit of visitors from the West, they reenact their marriage vows. They do it with solemnity, quiet warmth, and perhaps just a touch of shyness; they are simultaneously demonstrating an aspect of Indian culture and touching on something very personal to them both. At the end of the ceremony, Gandhi says, "We were thirteen at the time." He shrugs. The marriage had been arranged. Gandhi and his wife had not been in love, had not been old enough for love, and yet love had grown between them. But that is not really the point of the scene. The point, I think, comes in the quiet smile with which Gandhi says the words. At that moment we believe that he is fully and truly human, and at that moment, a turning point in the movie, Gandhi declares that it is not only a historical record but a breathing, living document. This is the sort of rare epic movie that spans the decades, that uses the proverbial cast of thousands, and yet follows a human thread from beginning to end: Gandhi is no more overwhelmed by the scope of its production than was Gandhi overwhelmed by all the glory of the British Empire. The movie earns comparison with two classic works by David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, in its ability to paint a strong human story on a very large canvas. The movie is a labor of love by Sir Richard Attenborough, who struggled for years to get financing for his huge but "non-commercial" project. Various actors were considered over the years for the all-important title role, but the actor who was finally chosen, Ben Kingsley, makes the role so completely his own that there is a genuine feeling that the spirit of Gandhi is on the screen. Kingsley's performance is powerful without being loud or histrionic; he is almost always quiet, observant, and soft-spoken on the screen, and yet his performance comes across with such might that we realize, afterward, that the sheer moral force of Gandhi must have been behind the words. Apart from all its other qualities, what makes this movie special is that it was obviously made by people who believed in it. (GT)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 20 September 2009

To Have and Have Not

Movie Review: To Have and Have Not

Year of Release: 1944
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall

Plot outline: A skipper-for-hire's romance with a beautiful drifter is complicated by his growing involvement with the French resistance (IMDb).

To Have and Have Not was Howard Hawks’ answer to Casablanca and while he never quite equals Michael Curtiz’s classic, he does deliver a good picture thanks in large part to Lauren Bacall. Making her movie debut at only 19 years of age, Bacall exudes the confidence and charm of a veteran actress, easily matching star Humphrey Bogart’s considerable screen presence. The chemistry between the two makes the movie, and the sparks flying on screen didn’t stop when the camera’s stopped rolling, as Bogart married Bacall in 1945. Bacall’s great chemistry didn’t stop there though. Her scenes with Dolores Moran (who found her role reduced in favor of Bacall’s) are dynamite, especially the subtle gag when Bogart asks her to fan some fumes away. Despite her relative inexperience, Bacall refuses to allow anyone to overshadow her, yet she goes about it in such a subtle, seductive way, that you can’t help but admire her. To Have and Have Not is considerably weaker when Bacall is off screen, as the rest of the cast is somewhat lacking, especially compared to Casablanca. Dan Seymour has neither the intensity of Conrad Veidt nor the presence of Sydney Greenstreet, and thus makes a sub par villain, while Walter Brennan’s character seems to exist solely as a plot device. Finally, while the script does a good job maximizing the Bogart-Bacall romance, the abrupt ending will no doubt leave some scratching their heads. (FML)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

They Drive by Night

Movie Review: They Drive by Night

Year of Release: 1940
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Raoul Walsh
Cast: George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart

Plot outline: Two brothers struggle as wildcat truck drivers; one comes to harm, the other is accused of his friend's murder (IMDb).

They Drive by Night is generally regarded as George Raft’s best Warner Brothers movie. But, the truth is that Raft probably comes off the least effective among his co-stars. The beautiful Ann Sheridan was allowed the most memorable, snappy dialogue, which she delivered as only Sheridan could; Ida Lupino was finally given the chance to display her acting range as the murderess; and Humphrey Bogart got the opportunity to shed his patented B-picture tough guy in a brief yet compelling scene where he expresses his bitterness both at his injury and having to accept what he perceives as his brother’s charity. Raft, on the other hand, maintains his tough yet cool composure throughout and is not afforded a single scene to match the dramatic intensity of Lupino or Bogart. Perhaps his shining moment comes when he trades punches with a pugnacious fellow trucker. Critics and fans have noted that the movie succeeds best as a straight trucker drama and loses momentum once its focus shifts to Lupino’s determined and unbalanced infatuation with Raft, a plot device borrowed from Bordertown (1935), starring Paul Muni and Bette Davis. At that point the wisecracking Sheridan becomes less visible while Bogart disappears almost completely from the movie, only to pop up briefly in the courtroom and in the final scene. An almost painfully trite addendum to the obligatory happy ending. (SO)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Public Enemy

Movie Review: The Public Enemy

Year of Release: 1931
Country of Origin: USA
Director: William A. Wellman
Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods

Plot outline: A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war (IMDb).

The Public Enemy is the movie that made James Cagney a star. Gifted at swaggering, tough guy roles, he was at the same time very appealing. This had the unwanted side effect of glamorizing crime lords, but it is doubtful that studio executives lost much sleep over this. As well they shouldn't have, as these movies all have the moral that crime doesn't pay. Contrary to popular opinion, the best moment in the movie isn't when Cagney shoves a grapefruit in his girlfriend's face, but when he and his buddy Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) hear that one of their own is dead, not by a rival gangster, but from being thrown off his horse. Even when they march into the stable in a welter of cold fury, you don't quite believe they're actually going to execute the horse, and yet they do. In a movie that begins and ends with high-toned messages about the evil hoodlums do to society, this was likely originally intended to illustrate the rapacious inhumanity of these gangsters (a horse?), but there's no denying its intrinsic black comedy. Studio-imposed moralizing aside, this is a movie with a wicked sense of humour - witness the scene in which a swishy haberdasher feels up Cagney's bicep while measuring him for a suit - that makes up for an occasionally stale plot. (BK, CB)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 7 September 2009


Movie Review: Sahara

Year of Release: 1943
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Zoltan Korda
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Bruce Bennett, J. Carrol Naish, Lloyd Bridges, Rex Ingram

Plot outline: An American sergeant leads a group of allied soldiers on a retreat across the North African desert during World War II (IMDb).

Humphrey Bogart may have top billing, but Sahara is basically an ensemble movie. The various allied soldiers are all well written, especially Rex Ingram as a Sudanese soldier, and everyone gets a moment to shine. The Germans on the other hand, are a bit more one-dimensional.Nevertheless, Sahara celebrates valor and sacrifice, and also goes beyond many war pictures in weighing exigencies of war against moral regard for the life of an enemy soldier, in balancing patriotism with cooperation among soldiers of various nationalities against a common enemy, and in a theological dimension that more than once indicates whose side God is on. There’s a humorous discussion between Ingram (the Sudanese muslim) and Bennett (the Texan): After listening to the muslim’s defense of polygamy, the Texan comments laconically that his wife wouldn’t like such an arrangement; whereupon the muslim admits that it’s the same with his own wife! The well-done action scenes and the somewhat somber third act make Sahara hold up well over time. Of course, having Bogart in the cast doesn’t hurt either. (SG, FML)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 6 September 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire

Movie Review: A Streetcar Named Desire

Year of Release: 1951
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Elia Kazan
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Plot outline: A fading southern belle tries to build a new life with her sister in French quarter in New Orleans (IMDb).

Based on the play of the same name by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire is a superbly crafted drama. Vivien Leigh gives the penultimate performance of her career, ironically as another southern belle. In this movie, however, she is far more tragic. While Marlon Brando gives the most intensely riveting, sexually explosive performance in movie history. The line most vividly remembered is screamed by Brando: "
Stellaaaaa ... !!! ", but the best line is spoken by Leigh - as she is taken to a rest home: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Still this brilliant movie belongs to Brando. He received the first of four consecutive Best Actor nominations and became an instant international sensation. Along with Montgomery Clift and James Dean, Brando completely revolutionized American movie acting. The term 'method' became a part of the language of cinema. Elia Kazan directs with purpose and authority. He wound up with a movie that raised the ante on the level of naturalistic acting in film. The movie is highly verbal and is paced leisurely, but for the patient viewers the payoff is huge! (P)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Maltese Falcon

Movie Review: The Maltese Falcon

Year of Release: 1941
Country of Origin: USA
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet

Plot outline: A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette (IMDb).

There have been better detective movies, better mysteries; Chinatown, for example. But, no other movie defines the genre as well as The Maltese Falcon. All of the stereotypes are there. The fast-talking tough guy detective, who can size up a situation quicker than anyone. His loyal Girl Friday, willing to obey orders no matter how outlandish. The femme fatale, beautiful but duplicitous. The money, the slang, the cops, the guns, the hit men. Evening is eternal. And colourful bad guys, all too ambitious and greedy to avoid their fate either in prison or the morgue. Its greatness comes in gathering all the elements of its style with such forcefulness. And the cast is outstanding. Could it have been made without Humphrey Bogart in the lead? Sure, but it wouldn't have been as good. Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet - all lend their inimitable Hollywood personas to their memorable characters. John Huston's crackling dialogue and confident direction aspire to greatness. Like all things, however, the movie is not perfect. The editing is below the usual Warner Bros. standards, and the climatic scene of Greenstreet discovering the true nature of the black bird is marred by an anonymous voice over. The line "Fake! It's a phony! It's lead! It's lead! It's a fake!" is clearly not delivered by any of the actors present in the room. Such flaws are trivial, of course, and don't reduce the pleasure one receives from viewing such a great movie. If anything, they are like a beauty mark on the face of a lovely model, which confirms her true identity as her style is changed by varying attires. (BK)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars