Movie Review – “El Dorado” (1966)

 

 

John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.

 

Oh wait, my bad. That’s the plot synopsis for Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo.” Here’s the details on Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado.”

 

John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.

 

…Wait.

 

 

 

Yeah, right away I began to notice a lot of similarities between “El Dorado” and “Rio Bravo,” especially in terms of plot and story. Although “El Dorado” adds in new characters, including a family that is caught in the middle of this feud, and the outlaw being a business man planning to buy out all the water in the area, instead of a loose-cannon gunman.

 

But where the two differ is in their tone and atmosphere, as well as the acting. Outside of the comedic scenes between John Wayne and his ex-lover, “Rio Bravo” took itself very seriously, like the whole state of Texas was on the line if they failed their mission to bring this criminal in to face justice. The film reminded me a lot of another Howard Hawks western, “Red River,” with its somber yet meticulous pacing where dread and terror could be around any corner.

 

“El Dorado” on the other hand never takes itself too seriously, with Wayne having a lot more time for banter among his buddies, including the druken sherriff (Robert Mitchum) and a skilled knife marksman (James Caan). The pace is far more leisurely, taking its time to build things up and often going off to do things that don’t have an immediate payoff, like an injury that Wayne sustains early on, or the way that Wayne and Caan’s characters meet out of the blue. This makes “El Dorado” far more pleasant to sit through than “Rio Bravo” and offers a lot more that made me smile, especially through humor and simple conversations.

 

 

 

“El Dorado” also gets bonus points for having some better performances than “Rio Bravo,” namely from Robert Mitchum. His character goes through many different shades, from patient sherriff with wit, to a drunk man who has nothing to lose, to a old man looking to redeem himself, and Mitchum makes each of these sides feel like one whole man, filled to the brim with successes and failures. While “Rio Bravo” had Dean Martin as its drunk gunman, who nailed the humor and banter with Wayne, Mitchum nailed the tragedy of this character and poured on the sympathy.

 

But the biggest reason I take “El Dorado” is because there was no petty scuabbling between Wayne and his ex-lover like in “Rio Bravo,” which was so irritating and insufferable that it almost made me want to turn off the movie. Instead, “El Dorado” was a supportive, almost motherly figure with Maudie (Charlene Holt), who isn’t afraid to snap back at Wayne but knows that she cannot change his mind.

 

Overall, while “Rio Bravo” and “El Dorado” have their share of similarites, the two certainly set about it in different ways. One is a darker, tense tale of redemption and justice, while the other is a more pleasant, humorous romp about making things right. They’re both great movies in their own right, certainly worth checking out if you’re in the mood for a classic western. It is hard to go wrong with Howard Hawks directing John Wayne.

 

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Spartacus” (1960)

Just watching this to say I’ve nearly seen every Stanley Kubrick film. Nothing to see here.

Well okay, there is an interesting history to “Spartacus.” This film came about when actor Kirk Douglas was turned down to play the lead role in “Ben-Hur” which went to Charlton Heston. Douglas wanted to prove that he could play that same role better than Heston ever could and set out to make the best Roman epic Hollywood could make. Douglas ended up being the executive producer on “Spartacus” and wanted Anthony Mann to direct, but had many creative differences with Mann and instead went to Stanley Kubrick, who had worked with Douglas previously on “Paths of Glory.”

“Spartacus” is also one of the films to basically end the “Blacklist”-era of Hollywood by openly showcasing Dalton Trumbo’s name as the screenwriter even though he was a blacklisted writer. Douglas openly admitted that Trumbo wrote the script and “Spartacus” went on to be one of the highest grossing films of 1960, showing that Hollywood needed Dalton Trumbo.

 

So while the film started out as a petty way for Kirk Douglas to get back at the executives that turned him down for a role, it did end up saving the careers of hundreds blacklisted writers, directors, actors and filmmakers. A true showcase of selfishness becoming selflessness.

That being said, “Spartacus” is about as average of a Roman epic as you can get. We see the slave uprising, the evil greed of the Roman Empire and their need to suppress everyone around them, the leader of the slaves being very stoic and showing his men kindness instead of the hatred the Romans showed, and so on. Outside of the now famous “I’m Spartacus!” scene, I have a hard time remembering most of the plot.

I find the story of how “Spartacus” was made more interesting than the movie itself.

Final Grade: C

 

Movie Review – “The Pink Panther” (1964)

 

 

Boy, 1964 was the year of fun movies wasn’t it? “Goldfinger,” “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and now “The Pink Panther.” Screw 1939 or 1994, 1964 might be the greatest year of cinema.

These days, I hear little about the Pink Panther film series, at least anything good. Before watching this movie, my only exposure were the Steve Martin movies, who portrays the title character Inspector Clouseau as incompetent fool who doesn’t seem to understand how the world works. And most people seem to agree with me. But after watching the original film, I can see why Steve Martin’s performance is so infuriating to those who enjoyed the series.

In the 1964 film, Inspector Clouseau is played by Peter Sellers, a bumbling police officer who seems to be just a few steps behind the notorious jewel thief, the Phantom (David Niven). He travels the globe constantly searching for the next clue, alongside his wife Simone (Capucine). We quickly learn that Simone is working with the Phantom and stops the Inspector at every turn, but seems to have fallen in love with him, and at least two other men.

 

 

For all of his comedic antics throughout the film, what I enjoyed about Inspector Clouseau is that he was still great at his job. He was always on the trail and would set aside family and loved ones to complete his mission, always intelligently assessing the situation and coming to the best conclusion possible. His problem is that he doesn’t always look where he’s going and his body cannot keep up with his brain.

He’s not a mindless idiot, just uncoordinated and a little too dedicated to the job.

Originally, “The Pink Panther” was mostly going to be about the Phantom and his nephew attempting to steal the largest diamond in the world, the pink panther diamond. But as the filmming progressed, Peter Sellers stole more and more of the show and cracked up everyone on set with his bumbling personality. This convinced the studio to put Sellers in more scenes, until he ultimatley became the main character and got top billing. David Niven later noted that, while he played a jewel thief, it was Peter Sellers who stole the movie.

And while Niven does well with his role, playing the suave yet pompous gentlemen, Sellers gives us some great scenes in the later parts of the film.

My biggest complaint with “The Pink Panther” is how slow it starts out. There are small moments of goodness sprinkled throughout the first hour, especially between Niven and the princess who owns the diamond, but nothing substainial. But once it gets to an uproarious scene where Clouseau, the Phantom, his nephew and Simone keep going back and forth through the same hotel room and Simone attempts to hide everything from her husband, the film gets great, with one great joke after another leading to a hilarious punchline.

Overall, “The Pink Panther” may start out slow but it has one of the greatest comedic endings I have seen, which makes the whole journey worth it. Peter Sellers is wonderful in every scene, whether he is solving a crime or bumbling his way through answering the phone. It is not hard to see why this verison of Inspector Clouseau is so beloved and why Peter Sellers stole top billing for this movie.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

 

 

I would like to take a moment to address some glaring mistakes I’ve made in the past, in particular to my review of “Selma” and the terrible things I said. In that review, it came across like I said racism doesn’t exist and shouldn’t be an issue that is discussed when that shouldn’t be the case. It came across like I was speaking from a white priveledged perspective and as someone who has never seen racism, which made me look insensitive and, for lack of a better term, racist.

While this is long overdue, I do apologize for what I said in that review and any other time I’ve said something that you have taken as offensive. While it was not my intention to come across that way, it was clear that my perspective was skewed, unfocused, and selfish. While my opinion of “Selma” has changed very little since my initial review, I should have made it clear that I respected the film for its brutal honesty and being unrelenting in the face of the truth, much like Martin Luther King himself, which certainly does strengthen the film and its history.

For without the fight for equal rights and treatment from heroes like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the world would be much darker and prejudiced place.

This is what makes 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night” one of the most important movies of all time. While this film claims to be a murder-mystery, the true star of the film is prejudice and intolerance, set in a hot small town in Mississippi after the one man who make this town big is murdered, and the police officers begin throwing around suspects like they were tickets to the state fair, including to a visiting African-American, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier). The sherriff, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), quickly learns Tibbs is a homocide detective from Philadelphia and is given this murder case by his superior.

 

 

The film is less about solving the crime and more about Tibbs and the sherriff fighting and clawing at one another, in the hope of recognition and respect – Tibbs to show that any man, no matter his color or creed, can achieve any job they want to, and the sherriff to show he is worthy of being in charge of the law in this town.

They both just want to be created as equals, whether as a man or as an officer.

This is compliemented perfectly by Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger’s performances. Poitier is unflinching and unforgiving, and goes into the case expecting nothing but to prove his worth. Without scalding or hardly raising his voice above a whisper, he proves he is louder and stronger than anyone else.

Steiger, on the other hand, plays his role as a man who has laid back most of his life and let the answers come to him. This case is the first time he has been challenged, in more ways than one. He is quick to assume because it is easy, but he learns that police investigations are anything but easy. He comes across as a conflicted man, who wants to trust Tibbs but is torn by his prejudice.

Any scene between these two is racked with tense dialogue, each trying to dig in to the other. Any moment of silence is deadly as the two stare each other down, like a old western showdown.

I adore “In the Heat of the Night” for its timing, commentary on recognition and the tense atmosphere. The pacing moves just well enough to keep the mystery compelling, yet slow enough to let the quieter moments sink in. This is a quintessential picture for anyone who wants to understand and appreciate the evolution of mankind, myself included.

Final Grade: A

 

Movie Review – “The Time Machine” (1960)

 

 

The second film by George Pal adapting an H.G. Wells novel, the first being “War of the Worlds,” “The Time Machine,” falls into many of the same categories as the other adaptation – Good effects, lousy characters, but a great job adapting Wells’ message about the strengths and weaknesses of mankind.

H.G. Wells was way ahead of his time, coming up with ideas for science fiction stories in the 1800s and developing the blue print that every alien invasion and time travel story comes from.

“The Time Machine” follows inventor George Wells (Rod Taylor) who has developed a machine that allows him to travel through the fourth dimension of time. He demonstrates the device to his colleagues, but they can’t believe in such a contraption. When George gets fed up with living in the present, he uses his machine to travel into the future and see how far mankind has come in the year 802,701 A.D.

 

 

The film takes a while to get going, since George spends the first third of the film contemplating what the future will be like and why he has no interest in going into the past (even though he built in that function), as well as going into the future by just a few years. It doesn’t help that George comes across as the typical action hero who has to save the day.

Overall, I enjoyed “The Time Machine” for its unique approach with time-lapse photography and how far mankind will have come in thousands of years, whether that is forward or backwards. The pacing isn’t anything to write about and I don’t remember anything about the characters. This is worth checking out to see where time travel got its science fiction roots.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964)

Here’s something you don’t see everyday – A French melodrama with every line of dialogue in song. I give “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” points for being creative and one-of-a-kind, since this is something you never see outside of some plays.

When I say every line of dialogue is in song, I mean every single word. From casual conversations on the street between strangers to deep life-changing conversations on who people should marrying.

The film follows Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve), a young girl who lives with her mother in their umbrella store in Cherbourg, as she falls in love with a slightly older man Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) even though her mother forbids her from seeing him. Genevieve only seems happy when she’s with Guy but that quickly turns when he gets drafted and will be away for the next two years. Afraid of being left alone, she must decide to wait for him or marry a wealthy jewel salesman.

 

The story starts out simple enough and turns tragic as it progresses, which makes the operatic music scenes feel far more grandiose. While I can’t appreciate the French music offered in this film due to my lack of music knowledge and hardly ever hearing French music before film, I did feel the film benefitted from being done in song.

Without the music, this would have been a run-of-the-mill drama about choosing love and loneliness or happiness and wealth. But Deneuve’s performance is enhanced by her singing as her decisions carry more weight when she’s pouring her emotions out in song.

Imagine if “The Graduate” was entirely a musical, and you get a pretty good idea what this film is about.

I respect “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” more than I enjoyed it. I won’t remember some of the finer points of the plot or even entire characters, like Guy’s aunt, but I will never forget the film that was a musical from start to finish.

Final Grade: B-

 

Movie Review – “Fantastic Voyage” (1966)

fantastic-voyage

Sometimes a movie experience is heightened when you imagine yourself in the year the film was released, especially with films that came out forty or fifty years ago. The reason I praised “Arrival” as much as I did was because it came out the same week as the recent U.S. election and it instilled hope and communication amongst all of mankind in a time when that is what audiences needed to hear.

This film, “Fantastic Voyage” might seem kind of drab and ludicrous by today’s standards, especially with that title, but think of what movie-goers were dealing with in 1966. Science fiction had already explored the vast reaches of space, the Cold War was at its height, while also being in the middle of the Vietnam War, we were still reeling from the assassination of John F. Kennedy and fight for rights among African Americans was still underway.

Audiences still had “2001: A Space Odyssey” to look forward to, but there hadn’t been many sci-fi spectacles for some time. Perhaps the concept of aliens and space exploration had grown tiresome. So instead of going to another galaxy, we would look inside ourselves and see the wonders that our own bodies have to offer.

“Fantastic Voyage” takes place in the far-off future of 1999, when a secret government organization that can shrink anyone and anything to microscopic size for an hour is in danger. One of their leading scientists had recently discovered the key to make the shrinking process last longer than an hour and was attacked by Soviets and put into a coma. The attack caused a blood clot to develop in his brain and it is impossible to remove without killing him. The organizations’ solution is to shrink a submarine with a knowledgable crew of doctors, inject it into the scientists blood and travel up to his brain and destroy the clot from the inside with a powerful laser.

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This is one of those movies where you shouldn’t worry about the finer details, like why the shrinking process only lasts an hour, because there is a lot of fine work being done on what the human body looks like on the inside. The charm of “Fantastic Voyage” comes from imaginative landscapes of the blood stream, the heart, the lungs, ear drums and brain would operate on an active microscopic level and interacting with it. To see this vast black emptiness become populated with blood cells or the many cavities of the heart lay motionless as the submarine navigates its corridors is a colorful and personal journey that lives up to the title.

Imagine “The Forbidden Planet” except it all takes place inside the human body.

My only complaint with “Fantastic Voyage” is the mentality of certain crew members, in particular Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasance), when if even the slightest thing goes awry he demands they leave and abandon the mission. Granted, Dr. Michaels may or may not have had alterior motives, but this happens at least three times during the journey. It makes you wonder why he was put in charge of the mission when he is so quick to give up on it so many times.

Overall, “Fantastic Voyage” is a delightfully charming piece of 1960s science fiction. Short on logic and a shallow story, the film easily makes up for it with a tour through the human body unlike anything before or since. There are also plenty of quiet moments where the characters contemplate the genius that goes into creating all life, so there’s something here for everyone.

Final Grade: A-