Movie Review – “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964)

 

 

“Cheyenne Autumn” is another case where the story of how the film was made is far more interesting than the film itself, much like “Spartacus.” This is the last western that John Ford ever made and was based on the true events of Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878, as group of nearly 200 Cheyenne Native Americans marched from their designated land in Oklahoma, given to them by the American government, back to their homeland in Wyoming.

Ford chose to make this his last western as a way to apologize to the Native American community after decades of portraying them as the heartless villains in his other westerns, such as “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” Instead of the rugged cowboy risking his life to save a town or a girl from the clutches of the evil Indians, the roles are reversed – The Native Americans are the heroes for fighting for what they believe in, and the cowboys are the villains for trying to stop them.

That being said, “Cheyenne Autumn” takes a lot of artistic liberties with history, namely the path the Native Americans take to get back home being vastly different and the many side plots of other forces trying to stop them outside of the U.S. cavalry. And although Ford made this film as a way to show his love and passion for the Native American people, it is not without the Hollywood touch that tends to be a bit racist. Namely, several of the lead roles for the Native Americans are played by non-native actors, with the biggest one being Ricardo Montalban played Chief Little Wolf and Gilbert Roland as Chief Dull Knife.

 

 

So the whole idea of racial equality is muddy and unclear with this film – it’s hard to promote a message about the power of Native Americans when you don’t cast native actors in the lead roles.

Beyond this, “Cheyenne Autumn” has no sense of direction or plot. Large chunks of the film are dedicated solely to side plots that never connect to the main plot. This includes a nearly 20-minute sequence involving an elderly Wyatt Earp (played by Jimmy Stewart) hanging out in a saloon and playing poker. Earp never meets up with the Cheyenne, nor does anybody in the town he’s in – it’s all just comedic filler. Even the presence of Jimmy Stewart in this role doesn’t help the meandering plot and dull pacing. But the biggest offender of this huge scene is that it isn’t funny, thus wasting everyone’s time in a film that’s nearly three hours long.

As the final western made by John Ford, it is admirable to make this film as an apology to those who didn’t need to be portrayed as the villains. Ford was the one to start the trend of Native Americans being the antagonists in most westerns, which would lead to so many things about cowboys and Indians. So to see the same man that started this trend come forward and say it was wrong of him to do gets my respect.

However, beyond this, there is nothing special about “Cheyenne Autumn.” It is dull, without emotion or passion, and is a sign that the western genre was dying as the energy and flare for the dramatic is missing. If you’re curious about this film, it’s better just to read up on the behind-the-scenes than it is to actually watch this film.

Final Grade: D+

 

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Movie Review – “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963)

 

 

There’s an innocent yet touching charm to “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” that really made it infectious and fun from start to finish, mostly powered by the relationship between its likable yet traumatized father and son (Glenn Ford and little Ron Howard). The joy they go through feels honest, while their conversations about life and dealing with death feel down to earth, all while they both deal with the lose of the person they cared about the most in the world. It never comes off as preachy or heavy-handed, finding the right balance between drama and comedy to make it heartfelt.

Glenn Ford plays Tom Corbett, who recently lost his wife, leaving him to raise their son Eddie (Ron Howard) alone in New York City. After the two take some time to adjust to their new lives without a wife and mother, Eddie decides that the only way they’ll both be happy again is if they find another woman who can be both. Thus, Eddie decides to play matchmaker and find his father a new wife, whether he’s ready for another relationship or not.

Ford plays the role of single father with dignity, strength and compassion, all while trying to keep up with Eddie’s shenanigans. He is selfless in his pursuit to give Eddie the best life he can without his mother, despite both of them still being in a lot of pain over her lose. Little Ron Howard, yes the same Ron Howard that would directed “Apollo 13” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” has far more class and charm than you would ever expect from a child actor, even out-acting Glenn Ford in some scenes about handling his mother’s death. Together, they create a touching and inquisitive relationship that serves as the backbone of this movie, helping to keep everything in perspective.

 

 

Yet the film is as funny as it is charming, as Eddie over does it on the matchmaking and ends up finding multiple women who would all desire to be with his father. Eddie’s innocence plays a key factor into all of this, taking a lot of what his father says to heart and dumping it onto these women in the classic child manner. Roberta Sherwood plays their live-in maid, who serves as the voice of reason as their lives get more and more chaotic and filled with women, all while she learns Spanish over a record. The standout amongst the many women is Stella Stevens as a would-be Miss America contestant afraid of socializing and embarrassing herself, who is surprisingly intelligent and sophisticated while taking everything in stride.

Overall, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” perfectly balances the tragedy of losing a family member and the comedy of trying to find a quick replacement. It’s built upon the relationship between it’s two leads and how much they really care for one another, without sacrificing anything for laughs. Every performance is stellar, especially from the leads, and the film always feels honest and heartfelt. It’ll have you smiling throughout, just like it did with me.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” (1960)

 

 

Fun fact – this is the first time I’ve watched a Doris Day movie. And from watching this one film, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” I can see why she was such a beloved and charming actress. She is strong-willed, determined and passionate while remaining focused on her goals of raising a family and making a difference in her community. Day’s performance is the highlight of the film, as she remains witty and calm throughout the chaos of her busy life, raising four small boys in a tiny New York City apartment while her husband (David Niven) gets roasted as the newest Broadway critic.

To be honest, this wasn’t a film I took too seriously with any other characters, aside from Doris Day as she works through all these hardships, including moving into a new home out in the country, with a smile and a witty comment. David Niven is in the middle of all this chaos and loses his mind a couple times, but Day’s character is right there to be his moral compass and guide him to be better than he is. As a result, their on-screen relationship is hot-headed and chaotic, but caring and rewarding at the same time.

 

 

Day plays the role as the kind of mother you would want to have help you through your most difficult times. She puts her own wants and desires aside to help her family without any resentment or animosity. Yet when she needs to get angry or upset, she’ll strike back as hard as she can to stand up for herself. To her, being a mother is the greatest job in the world, but it isn’t the only thing she can be.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.” It’s not an overly complex movie, but it filled with laughs and clever set pieces, especially as Niven’s character tries to make everyone happy only to make no one happy. Doris Day excels as the star of the show and leaves a great impression on the audience with little more than her charm and wit. A great little comedy with a stellar cast.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “My Fair Lady” (1964)

 

 

“My Fair Lady” is based off the famous stage play, featuring one of the same actors to reprise their role on Broadway (Rex Harrison as the intelligent yet self-absorbed professor Henry Higgins), though nowadays seems more known for how it messed up its casting of the lead actress.

On Broadway, the role of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney uncultured flower girl the professor takes in to teach her how to speak properly, was played by Julie Andrews. While Rex Harrison was immediately offered to play the same role, the studio didn’t do the same with Andrews. Ultimately the studio gave the role to Audrey Hepburn, who could barely sing and had to be dubbed over during all of her musical scenes.

This actually worked out for Andrews, as it gave her a chance to play the role she has become well-known for – “Mary Poppins” which she won Best Actress for, while Hepburn didn’t even get a nomination. And while “My Fair Lady” won Best Picture, among seven other Academy Awards, the poor casting choice has certainly tainted its legacy.

 

 

Beyond this though, “My Fair Lady” is a charming film about the class divide in England and how both the rich and poor divide themselves. There’s an air of snobbishness to both Professor Higgins and Eliza, like they both think they’re better than the other and their way of life is superior. Higgins preaches about intelligence and culture, while Eliza and her father (Stanley Holloway) see nothing wrong with a little hard work and adversity, and both are too stubborn or proud to give the other an inch, making their working relationship as fiery as their personalities and as loud as their screaming.

The music is as classical as its time period, showing off its colorful language and vocabulary while remaining whimsical and enchanting. It follows the pattern of speaking its music, rather than singing, especially from Rex Harrison as the music plays to his tune rather than the other way around, but that makes this musical even more unique and fascinating. Rather than the music serving as a emotional punch to many scenes, it showcases the power of the English language in all of its subtleties and complexities, much like what Professor Higgins is trying to do for Eliza. The music is a tool that, when used effectively, adds another layer of wit to this movie.

 

 

Hepburn is fine in the role of Eliza Doolittle, as I found her Cockney side endearing and oddly natural while her drive to improve herself is admirable. Even if Hepburn couldn’t sing, its her non-musical scenes that really stand out.

Though the real star of the picture is Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins, who goes all in on being the most irredeemable man on the planet. He is set in his ways and refuses to budge for anyone, wanting to share his knowledge and insight with the rest of the world, though does so in the most condescending manner possible, all while giving Eliza endless reasons why he treats her like a worthless bug. He’s a man who believes he’s thinking with his heart, but cannot get past his own ego and intellect.

Overall, “My Fair Lady” is a charming experience with a sordid history. I have no doubt this would have been much better with Julie Andrews in the leading role, but on its own this film does not disappoint. Its strange use of singing works surprisingly well and the performances are stellar. As a film about the class difference, it has a unique way of going about it by showing that one side isn’t necessarily better than the other. Even if this didn’t win Best Picture, I’d still highly recommend checking this out.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Ocean’s 11” (1960)

 

 

I don’t say this too often, but there are remakes out there that are better than the originals, even if they are few and far between. Most of the best remakes are the ones that you probably didn’t even know were remakes, like Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” or Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and even “The Maltese Falcon,” the film that started the film noir genre, is a remake. These retellings often take these old fashion stories further than the originals ever could or tell them in a far more captivating way. In this case, the original Rat Pack’s “Ocean’s 11” pales in comparison to Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” mostly due to pacing and a lack of tension from the original.

These films do have nearly identical plots – A group of eleven highly trained professionals decide to pool their talents and cunning to simultaneously rob the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. In the original 1960 version, these men were part of the 82nd Airborne in World War II and are led by Frank Sinatra, while in the remake these men come from around the world and barely know each other while being led by George Clooney, both playing the titular Danny Ocean.

Both films boast an all-star cast for their times, with the 1960’s version going all-in on singers-turned-actors like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and big name actors like Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, while the remake of course had actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. Where they differ is how these characters interact, with the original going for a more natural and authentic feel. Their conversations are straight to the point and bare-bones, while the remake is full of wit and snappy-dialogue. Neither is inherently worse than the other, since their interactions set the tone for the rest of the film, but in a film that has to quickly set up eleven different personalities, it is nice to see some charisma.

 

 

But the biggest difference between these two films is the tension during their heists and how it is practically night-and-day. In the original film, these guys are nonchalant about everything, trying to look as cool as possible while robbing casinos. As a result, they make it look mundane and easy to rob the place that by the time the heist starts, the tension of their plan succeeding has all but faded. In the remake, they stress how impossible this task is and how they’ll fail if they make one wrong move, with each scene racking up the suspense higher and higher. I don’t get that these guys will fail their mission if they make one wrong move in the original, because they make it look so effortless.

Watching these two is like seeing some guy in a suit steal candy from a baby carriage like it was nothing, and then watching another guy being chased by the cops with a huge bag of money in hand, and see him steal the candy along the way.

Overall, “Ocean’s 11” felt like a bore, especially compared to the Rat Pack’s other big hit, “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” It is your typical heist film with a slight sense of humor, but never to the point that it overwhelms the dry tone. Outside of Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr., you don’t get to know any of the other guys, to the point that side characters like the reformed mobster Duke Santos (Cesar Romero) and a drunk Shirley MacLaine have more character than half of these guys. There’s nothing too special here, and I would highly recommend checking out the remake over this film any day.

Final Grade: C

 

Movie Review – “The Best Man” (1964)

 

 

“The Best Man” makes me so glad that I’m not a politician and never will be one.

According to this film, politics is a cut-throat competition that will stop at nothing to defeat the opposition just to get a better chance at more power, only to have your beliefs, ideals and personal life scrutinized and deflated by the entire nation. It’s a area where honesty and trust goes to die, and the only thing that truly matters is not the values of the nation, but looking out for number one.

 

 

I respect “The Best Man” for not pulling any punches and showing us two men (Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson) who believe they’re good people that have what it takes to be the next president of the United States. But ultimately resort to every dirty rotten trick in the book to gain the upper hand over the other, exposing the underbelly and nasty side of politics that most believe is necessary to achieve success. Henry Fonda in particular feels authentic as always, as a man who wants to be more than he is, but has a hard time dealing with shadier side of politics, feeling that he shouldn’t have to resort to such low tactics to win the heart of the nation.

This is a film with no easy solutions and presents the ever-evolving world of politics as a chaotic, greedy one that hides behind empty promises, television interviews and smiles. It is based off the stage play by Gore Vidal and it often feels like a play, most of the film taking place in two or three interchangeable locations and relies heavily on the flowery speeches of politicians and its leading performances. It has just enough going on to keep you invested in the struggle for power between these two men, so it is certainly worth a watch.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “In Cold Blood” (1967)

 

 

Imagine if “Psycho” was shown entirely from Norman Bates’ perspective, going into excruciating detail about the mental trauma he was going through and how it messed with his sense of right and wrong, and you’d probably get something like “In Cold Blood.” This film adds to this perspective by giving it all a distinct documentary feel, by casting actors with little to no acting experience, and filming everything on location, including the actual house in which these terrible crimes took place in.

“In Cold Blood” is based off the book of the same name, written by Truman Capote, which itself was based on real events, chronicling the tales of Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and “Dick” Hickock (Scott Wilson), two ex-convicts that learn of a easy way to make lots of money by invading an ordinary suburban home. Things go horribly wrong, and a family of four is murdered, while Perry and Dick hit the road to hide from these crimes, all while feeling no remorse or regret for what they did.

Part of the reason I feel “In Cold Blood” worked as well as it did in 1967 was because it hit on the paranoia, fear and lose of innocence that America was feeling at the time when this news really hit. Not that there weren’t murders before this time, but rather senseless, violent killings that had no motives or logic to any of it, just death to innocent people for no good reason. The movie touches upon the fear that this could happen to anyone in our country at any moment, meaning no one is truly ever safe.

 

 

“In Cold Blood” is unsettling, to say the least. It portrays Perry and Dick as men who could snap at just about any moment, from little moments like the two of them picking up glass bottles on the side of the highway with a little boy and his grandfather, to quiet moments with just them talking about how they won’t go back to jail. It takes the time to delve into their psyche, trying desperately to explain what makes them do it, without ever giving a definitive answer, leaving these men shrouded in enough mystery that you don’t truly relate to them. That being said, the only reason this film works is because of the manic-depressive performances of Robert Blake and Scott Wilson that make each scene a wild, unexpected ride.

Overall, I respect “In Cold Blood” for taking so many chances for a film in 1967 and telling an authentic tale that is often very hard to sit through. Having the main characters of your film be murderers with no remorse is one thing, but to do so in such a brutal, documentary-like style makes this an unforgettable film. Any film about a serial killer, or tries to get into the mind of a criminal, owes everything to “In Cold Blood.”

Final Grade: B+