OCF Classic Movie Reviews – The Sting

Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic?  Hell yeah!  The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies.  Everything about it exudes quality.  The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism.  The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.

The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago.  Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw.  Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces.  George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era.  I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie.  Newman is at his best.  Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization.  His mannerisms are fantastic.  One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money.  Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella?  He and I went to fifth grade together.  If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City.  Yafalla (which means do you follow)?

The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman.  There are twists, turns and surprises.  The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way.  It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner.  But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending.  When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it.  “I’d only lose it anyway.”

Give it a try if you’ve never seen it.  Highly recommended.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – Capra Corn – The Films of Frank Capra – Part 1 – It Happened One Night

Anyone who has watched TV around Christmas has probably seen a Frank Capra movie because every year they play “It’s a Wonderful Life” non-stop for a week straight.  And that’s a really good Capra film.  But Capra made a bunch of good films in his day and some of them are among my favorites.  And my all-time favorite is “It Happened One Night.”  Filmed in 1934, it stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in a screwball comedy that wants us to believe that an heiress on the run from her father would meet up accidentally on a bus with a reporter who needs her runaway story to salvage his newspaper career.  Their trek from Florida to New York begins with each despising the other and ends up, of course, with them falling in love.  But of course, the course of true love is never smooth and never was that truer than with this goofy tale.  The key to the success of this movie, for me, is the chemistry between Gable and Colbert.  He is the seemingly self-confident man of the world.  He knows it all and claims to be able to write a book about every skill from how to correctly dunk a doughnut, to how to thumb a ride on the highway.  She starts out as the arrogant little rich girl.  Pretending to need no one’s help and always in charge.  Once they broker a deal to travel together to their mutual interests, they proceed to heckle each other and bicker until they pretty convincingly fall in love.  My wife and I have always thought of this as a pretty much perfect date movie.  It has a little something for both sexes.  Gable gets to strut and brag in his king of the jungle act and Colbert is the sarcastic little woman.  In one of my favorite scenes Gable is demonstrating his various “foolproof” methods of thumbing a ride.  After a string of failures, he dejectedly admits maybe he shouldn’t write that book after all.  Colbert says she’ll get a ride and won’t even have to use her thumb at all.  Of course, she walks over to the rod, lifts her skirt above her knee and the first passing car slams on the brakes and the emergency brake too.  An amused Colbert says to the glum Gable that she had just answered an age-old riddle.  He asks what and she replies “that the limb is mightier than the thumb.”  And he viciously replies “well why didn’t you just take off all your clothes and you could have gotten a hundred rides?” to which she serenely replies “when we need a hundred rides I will.”

As I mentioned earlier, the couple don’t smoothly move from reluctant partners to sweethearts without obstacles and by the last reel misunderstanding and anger almost conspire to destroy this match made on a Greyhound Bus.  But of course, happily ever after is bound to be in a Capra film so the fear of tragedy is never serious.

The movie is full of little details of life in depression era America and the vignettes with the denizens of the bus and other locales add charm to the story.  Capra filled his depression era movies with scenes of the common people displaying compassion and camaraderie in the face of adversity.  The scene where the bus riders amuse themselves with a relatively untalented singing performance is amusing and appealing if a little contrived.

If you’ve never seen the movie, I unreservedly recommend it.  If you don’t like it then I recommend you do not read any more of my reviews.  Our points of view on film would be just too far out of synch to allow any value to you.  And may God have mercy on your poor shriveled soul.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews: The Caine Mutiny

As our first official classic movie review, I’ve picked a beaut.  “The Caine Mutiny” is a World War Two movie made nine years after the war had ended.  It is an adaption of Herman Wouk’s novel and stage play.  This movie has a cast that included star, Humphrey Bogart, veteran actors like Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Jose Ferrer along with character actors like Lee Marvin and Claude Akins.  It follows the crew of the USS Caine, a minesweeper under the command of a very difficult captain, Philip Francis Queeg played by Bogart.  A series of incidents convinces the officers that Queeg is a dangerously paranoid lunatic.  It all comes to a head during a typhoon when the officers relieve Queeg of command.  This sets up the finale of the movie, a court martial of the officers who mutinied against their captain.  Jose Ferrer portrays the defense counsel and his part is a tour de force.  He dominates the end of the movie and resolves the conflicting faults of the main characters by identifying “the true author of the Caine Mutiny” and placing blame where it was deserved.  All of the veteran actors perform admirably with Fred MacMurray being especially notable for his character portrayal against type.  There is one weak aspect to the movie.  One of the primary strands of the plot is the story of young Ensign Willis Seward “Willie” Keith played by neophyte actor Robert Francis.  A love story between Keith and his girl at home, May Wynn, is woven into the plot.  In my opinion it is a weak element and a distraction.  Some of the stronger elements involve humor stemming from the crew’s experience of Queeg’s erratic behavior.  But for all of his extreme behavior, Bogart comes off as a strangely sympathetic character and the lack of a truly heroic character seems fitting and realistic.  I think Wouk was capturing the actual experience of war.  The fear and uncertainty that even the sane individuals felt humanizes the behavior of someone like Queeg.  I think it will strike a chord for many people who have had to work together under crisis conditions.

Who will like this movie?  I guess folks who like court room dramas are likely candidates.  Even though it’s a WW II movie and mostly takes place on a war ship it’s not really a war movie.  But it is about navy men and it does reflect the time when it took place.  One interesting historical detail is the social reality of the place of black sailors in the US Navy of the time.  The mess-boys are the cooks and all of them are young black men.  They have an important plot element and I’m sure if Alec Baldwin and Dave Letterman ever review this movie on TCM they’ll denounce the rabid racism of the United States and the military then, now and forever.  Luckily for all of you I just think it’s an interesting footnote on a different time.

In conclusion, to quote from Captain Queeg, the Caine Mutiny can be counted among “the greatest, I kid you not.”

Tolkien: A Very, Very Long Story – Part 1 – On the Screen vs. the Mind’s Eye

Okay, The Lord of the Rings, the big enchilada. Tolkien wrote about a half a million words about his war of the ring. His son Christopher has made a cottage industry of publishing every scrap of draft paper that his father ever scribbled and analyzing them as if they were papyrus palimpsests of the lost plays of Sophocles. In the last sixty plus years an unending stream of analysis both professional and personal has been generated about these books. Everything that could be said has been said and about a million times. So, what possible justification is there for me to add to the ocean?

Well, it’s my damn blog and I want to. So, without further ado…

I read the Lord of the Rings when I was about twelve. I was highly impressed. Obviously as I matured my opinion of the story was based on an evolving baseline of experience with fiction and personal experience of the world around me. Over the years my personal preferences among the various characters and scenes have altered somewhat. But my overall opinion of the work is still very high and very enthusiastic.
Over the course of the time I have been a fan of the Lord of the Rings, Hollywood has from time to time attempted to produce motion picture versions of it. Some of these were animated films. One was drawing superimposed over live action frames of film (Ralph Bakshi’s film). Recently a sophisticated live action and CGI combination was produced by Peter Jackson and managed to win the Academy Award for best picture. The relationship between these films and the text is the subject of this post.
I will state categorically that none of the film versions of the Lord of the Rings before Peter Jackson’s version ever succeeded (except in very small sections) in capturing the feeling of the book. The inability to draw the viewer into the reality of the story was always too strong. But in the Jackson version it succeeded.

Okay, here come the qualifiers. Do not confuse the above statement with an unconditional endorsement of every aspect of the movie. There are any number of things about the movie that I object to (some extremely strenuously). For instance, Denethor is rendered as a terrible man. I do not think that reflects Tolkien’s intent or description. Also, some aspects of the treatment of Frodo and Sam’s friendship is oddly portrayed and off-putting. The super human abilities of Legolas seem exaggerated and some of the silly treatment of Gimli are annoying. A hundred little and not so little problems exist.

Getting that out of the way I will say that Jackson’s movies bring the Lord of the Rings alive. In a certain sense these films will give Tolkien’s work a chance to become part of the mythology of the whole human race. Because although millions of people have read the books, billions of people will see the movies. Not every viewer will be impacted deeply by the story but enough of the books comes across in the films that the films will act as an amplifier of the story in the digital realm we now inhabit. So, on balance the Jackson films are a net positive for the Tolkien lovers of the world.

I’ll cut this first Tolkien post short here. After all this is an endless pursuit. Best not to drone on too much. But I’ll end with my opinion on the best scene in the Jackson films. And I’ll specify I’m talking about the extended versions. The best scene is the Ride of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Minas Tirith. It was stirring and well done. Feel free to leave your opinion on the best scene in the comments.

TCM Goes Full Nitwit

Like many right-wing folk I was raised on the movies that were made in the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Many of the movies made in the ‘30s and ‘40s possess a charm and appeal completely lacking in later decades.  They reflect (or maybe echo) qualities of a culture and people that are appealing even to the decadent descendants of that world living in the tattered remains of today.

That’s why even though Robert Osborne, the late host of Turner Classic Movies, was an obvious member of the Hollywood leftist fraternity it was still worth my while to tune in to TCM and watch the films.  For the most part I didn’t even mind listening to him discuss the movies either directly to the tv audience or as a dialog with some other Hollywood boob.  As annoying as it was to hear Osborne discussing aspects of the film with the likes of Alec Baldwin or Sally Field it was still bearable for the most part.  Osborne rarely went full tilt commie during these discussions so the tooth gritting quotient was still acceptable.

As Osborne aged, management must have decided that they needed a succession plan.  To this end they installed an auxiliary host in the person of Ben Mankiewicz.  Ben is the grandson of a Hollywood screenwriter and a strident leftist who appeared alongside the “Young Turks” during the 2016 presidential election results while they were melting down on camera.  Occasionally his moonbattery has been on display but like Osborne he was usually able to keep his affliction under control.

Well, last month Osborne died.  I guess Mankiewicz is nominally the host now.  But several new hosts have been trotted out.  Diversity, of course, is being touted in the choice of genders and races on display for these new hosts and based on the complete lack of name or face recognition associated with them I’m guessing they are essentially unknowns and therefore extremely economical employees for TCM to utilize.  Well, what can you do?  It’s not as if Osborne was any big star.  I think his claim to fame was that he knew some of the golden age actresses personally and was able to get them to appear on the show for interviews.  These new hosts blather on from their points of view but they’re not that much worse than the old act.

But now we’re reaching a new level of abuse.  Tonight, the presentation of “The Bad and the Beautiful” was co-hosted by Alec Baldwin and David Letterman.  Now this is a level of toxic television viewing that I would compare with having to listen to Sauron chatting with Saruman about the latest advances in orc breeding.  We have reached the limit.  I assume a meltdown is imminent.  It will probably occur during a John Wayne western and will involve words like imperialism, cultural appropriation, patriarchy and racial genocide.  At that point, I’ll either have to cancel TCM or shove my foot through the LED screen.

To combat the sense of loss I feel at having to cede yet another familiar cultural facet to the leftist demolition brigade I have decided to add classic movie reviews as a regular part of this blog.  In the past I have endeavored to mix in a few sci-fi and western movies into my normal “current events” posts.  Going forward I propose to increase them and expand the selection to golden age and equivalent quality later films that I think will be of interest to my readers (and you know who you are!).

So farewell Robert Osborne, you were a mostly benign lefty host of TCM.  You are sorely missed now that we know what’s coming next.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

In the first installment of this post I documented my education into the real world of scientists, how they saved the world from giant mutated insects and invented important stuff like flying cars. That time period was the 1960s. It was a carefree time full of youthful high jinx such as race riots and the Manson Family. Fast forward thirty years to 1993. A little movie came out called Matinee. It was about the 1960s. The movie employs a device that I like to call “a movie within a movie.” It’s called that because within the movie you are watching there is a movie being watched by the characters in the movie! It’s a wild concept.

The name of this internal movie is MANT. That’s a portmanteau for man-ant. The eponymous victim of this movie has been transformed from a man into a hybrid man/ ant creature. Once again radiation is involved and eventually the MANT reaches gigantic proportions. And right on schedule arrives the scientist that has glasses and a beard and explains all the technical jargon about this scientific problem. And by an amazing coincidence it’s our old friend Dr. “You’re Wiser Than We Are” from “The Thing from Another World” (Robert Cornthwaite). I mean, what are the odds? He makes such valuable pronouncements as “human/insect mutations are far from an exact science” and “My friend, you’ve suffered some of the worst that our little friend the atom has to offer. It can power a city or level it!”

I was fascinated by the changes I noted in Cornthwaite between the time he was in “The Thing” and “Mant”. No longer was he sympathetic toward the monsters. His allegiance had shifted back to humanity. I attributed this change to the smoldering resentment he felt after the Thing back-handed him into a wall in the earlier movie. Such ingratitude by the monster pushed our friend back into the Humanity First camp once again. I knew this was valuable information. I wrote it down!
Outside of the movie Mant (but inside of Matinee) a teenage girl (played by Lisa Jakub) is swept up in the drama surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis (and the premiere of Mant) in the southern Florida town of Key West. This girl is the daughter of beatniks and she has her world view changed by exposure to a young Navy brat who also happens to like horror movies. When the movie ends Lisa has gotten over her prejudices against military families and monster movies. What does this have to do with this post? Well it does link us back to the military but hang in there. I have another half-baked segue coming up.
Fast forward to 1998 and a blockbuster called Independence Day erupts onto the cinematic stage. Now it just so happens that there is an ex-Navy pilot named Russel Kay and by a strange coincidence (or is it) his daughter is played by Lisa Jakub! But her love of a navy brat in the last movie has landed her in this movie in a family headed by a delusional alcoholic ex-military flier. Although it’s not apparent how she feels about horror movies she definitely suffers some of the worst of what our friends the aliens have to offer. In Independence Day, the role of scientist is handled by Jeff Goldblum. He is an environmentalist computer scientist who’s always worried about recycling and is totally opposed to nuking the aliens. He’s worried that fallout is worse than extermination of the entire human race by death rays. But by the end of the movie he comes around and cheerfully nukes the aliens on their home base.
I was thinking of dragging this forward by following President Whitmore forward into Lake Placid (well the crocodile is very large) or following Jeff Goldblum into Jurassic Park and Independence Day 2 which has all kinds of scientific mumbo-jumbo and giant creatures but I’m getting tired.
Suffice it to say that even really stupid people and fat-headed scientists can see reality if monsters and giant insects start slapping them around.
And now my patient readers, the payoff.
All of this research has allowed me to formulate a unified theory of scientific behavior. Apparently all scientists are morons and can only learn about reality by being hit over the head by it. Therefore, I propose a new policy. Whenever a scientist dictates a policy based on fat-headed stupidity he should be forced to endure the solution himself until he either sees the error of his way or dies from the paradox of settled science.
For instance, if a climate scientist declares CO2 the death of the planet then he should not produce any of it himself. Now, I don’t propose that he cease breathing. Even though technically respiration is nothing but exchanging O2 for CO2. Let’s just let him slide on the breathing. But that’s all. No internal combustion engines or heating systems or electricity. In fact, nothing produced by technology supported by the industrial revolution. So that also eliminates batteries and solar cells and everything else made in a factory. And finally, I remind everyone that burning coal or oil or even wood produces CO2. So, this scientist is telling us to give up every bit of science going all the way back to the paleolithic age. So, let us limit our friend the scientist to killing fur-bearing animals and eating their flesh and wearing their pelts for warmth. Of course, he’s probably a vegan but we all have to make compromises when inconsistencies crop up.
That’s my plan in a nutshell. It should be amusing to see Al Gore dressed like Fred Flintstone and trying to catch a squirrel for breakfast.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 1

On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid I used to watch Million Dollar Movie on Channel 11 and was able to enjoy such science fiction classics as “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”  Right away I figured out that really big creatures that had been exposed to atomic radiation really liked to attack.  But as I became more sophisticated in my sci-fi viewing I eschewed such childish cinematic offerings in favor of more cerebral tales.  No more ridiculous giant crab stories.  I graduated to “Them” which is the realistic depiction of an attack by giant ants exposed to atomic radiation.  In this classic of the fifties I learned that scientists were old and wore glasses and looked like Santa Claus (except for the girl scientists who were young and didn’t even look like Mrs. Claus and tended to end up with the FBI agent who starred in the film, who in this case was James Arness of Gunsmoke fame).  And the best ones had British accents (or at worst New England accents).  Also, no matter what their area of specialization (e.g., physics, botany or myrmecology) they were all equally adept at battling giant creatures exposed to atomic radiation.  And they were full of esoteric and valuable information.  I found out that the plural of antenna wasn’t antennas but rather antennae!  This inspired in me a life-long love of the classical Greek and Latin languages.  And the most important characteristic of scientists was their love of knowledge.  Because of this thirst for knowledge, they were willing to venture into tunnels and basements where even the ubiquitous soldiers in their WWII vintage uniforms were afraid to go.  It also meant the scientists were very likely to be munched on by the mutant du jour of the story.  But you know, science.  So that is how I came to admire scientists.  They were cool and smart too.  And they always, always, always figured out how to kill the monsters.

But one Saturday, Million Dollar Movie was playing another sci-fi film, “The Thing from Another World.”  I was suspicious at first.  If it was from another world how did it get here?  Had it been exposed to atomic radiation?  Would there be enough scientists?  These doubts plagued me.  But I decided to give it a whirl.  Encouraging signs emerged quickly.  The creature was indeed radioactive and there was a whole passel of scientists assigned to this movie.  One of them even had a New England accent so things seemed to check out.  And reassuringly the US military was available for monster eradication duty once the scientists had done the heavy lifting of analysis.  Early on a problem arose.  This creature was man shaped.  He was bald and had strange hands with hypodermic finger nails.  But he was no more than eight feet tall.  This was highly irregular and seemed to throw into doubt his qualifications for his own movie.  Also the scientists in this movie were extremely assertive and gave the military officers a lot of lip.  And it seemed they didn’t know their primary function, figure out how to kill the monster.  This was very confusing.  The leader of the scientists kept saying that regardless of how many humans the creature killed, science demanded that no force should be used against it.  He kept saying (in a really annoying intonation) that the creature “is wiser than we are” and that “it’s our duty to die to preserve the knowledge this creature possesses.”  Even as a youngster I intuited that this head scientist was what we called back then “a loser.”  How could this be?  He was a scientist!  He had the answers.  I found this very puzzling and dispiriting.  I searched for some reason for this failure on the scientist’s part to want to kill the monster.  Eventually I developed an hypothesis based on a detailed comparison of “Them” and “The Thing from Another World.”  At first glance nothing jumped out.  But once I checked the cast members it all became clear.  As mentioned above, in “Them” the part of the FBI Agent and eventual boyfriend of the scientist’s daughter is played by James Arness of “Gunsmoke” fame.  It turned out that the part of the Thing was played by none other than James Arness!  Well obviously if Arness was the prospective son-in-law of one scientist, then it stood to reason that a fellow scientist would not turn on him.  What was at work here was the kind of professional courtesy that, for instance, police confer on each other’s family members.  Now it made perfect sense.  Crisis averted.  I could become a scientist without becoming a loser.  But I was troubled by all that talk of monsters being wiser than us.  And not killing them but instead letting them kill us.  It was very strange.

Fast forward forty years.  I work as an engineer.  I am surrounded by R&D PhDs.  They all look and sound like the head scientist in “The Thing from Another World.”  They drive Priuses and have Tolerance and Coexist, Bernie and Free Tibet bumper stickers on their cars.  And suddenly it all makes sense.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

Open Range – A Short Movie Review

True Grit: The Duke, The Dude and The Dutiful Daughter; Part I

True Grit – Part 2, Rooster Redux

Having been born in the fifties of the last century I am familiar with westerns from the early days of Hollywood and the later era in the sixties.  Now these two styles were as different as night and day.  The earlier movies represented a simpler more idealized version of the old west.  The sixties represented the era of the anti-hero and the anti-heroic west.  Both of these periods produced memorable films.  I have favorites from both periods and depending on the mood can enjoy either.  In the last twenty years, some good westerns have been made.  Interestingly they represent an evolution that contains aspects of both these earlier film types.  Unlike the earlier films, they do not represent an idealized world and at the same time they lack the relentlessly negative depiction of the sixties western.  Let’s say it’s a more balanced approach.  So, some of these new movies appeal to me for a variety of reasons.  Some are remakes of earlier classics.  One of these, True Grit, I’ve already reviewed.  Some are new stories like Open Range.  I’ll say what I like about this story and why.

The plot of the story is a familiar one.  It’s settlers versus herders.  A small herd owner passes through a town run by a rich tyrannical landowner, Denton Baxter (played to the hilt by Michael Gambon) who controls the sheriff and attacks and kills any free grazing herders that come through his land.  His men attack and kill one of the cowboys and injure another.  The herd owner, Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), and his lead man, Charlie Waite (Kevin Costner), come back to the town to get a doctor for their shot friend and to get justice.  The narrative runs to a climactic gun fight.   Mixed in is a love story between Waite and the doctor’s sister, Sue Barlow (Annette Bening).  Seeing as Costner and Bening aren’t kids anymore, the love story is appealing to people of my generation and fits in with the theme of a changing world closing off one familiar lifestyle while opening up a better one to those willing to see.

So, this is a pretty standard plot.  Why do I like it?

First off, the look and feel of the movie.  It must have been filmed in the Canadian Rockies.  The panoramic views and the outdoor scenes are fantastic to look at.  The scenes in the town look good.  They spent enough money to make the sets look authentic.  The soundtrack is first rate.

Second, the portrayals by all the leads and many of the supporting characters are well done and very engaging.  I’m a fan of Duvall’s and the chemistry between him and Costner makes the movie work.  The Costner/Bening love story is understated and enjoyable.

Third and most important, the gun fight at the end is epic.  Our heroes Duvall and Costner line up against five men and then fight their way through the rest of the gang to stay alive and win the day.  So why is it so good?  Well first off, these have to be the loudest guns ever fired.  Even sitting in my living room, I can feel the percussion rattling my teeth.  Honestly, I doubt there were Iowa Class battleships with guns this robust.  Secondly, Kevin Costner was lucky enough to own revolvers that were twenty-five-shooters.  He would peel off ten shots at one adversary before moving on to another dozen shots at the next opponent.  This can be both dramatically useful and conducive to a gunfighter’s health.  And finally, the bad guys are so enjoyably bad.  One villain even brags about how much he enjoyed shooting someone in the head just as he himself gets shot practically right between the eyes.  The lead villain, Baxter is continuously issuing threats and insults at anyone he sees and is thoroughly despicable.  It’s truly a pleasure seeing him dispatched by our heroes’ thunderously loud and apparently infinitely loaded shooting irons.

Open Range is one of my favorite modern westerns.  In style, I think it throws back more to the pre-sixties westerns.  But it is so well-acted and generally well made that it actually updates many of the conventions it adheres to and gives them new life.  I highly recommend it.  And the ladies like it too.  So, throw it in for date night.  You can’t go wrong.

 

True Grit – Part 2, Rooster Redux

True Grit: The Duke, The Dude and the Dutiful Daughter; Part 1

So, who’s the better Cogburn?  Of course, there’s no answer to this.  If I were to guess on the consensus among the populace, I’d speculate that voting would be strongly divided by age.  Anyone under the age of forty (I’m guessing) would be more likely to be in the Bridges camp.  Anyone over the age of fifty would favor the Duke.  Chronologically then, I should be in the Wayne camp.  But it’s not that simple.

These are both fine films.  And even though I have fond memories of enjoying the older film over the years, I found the Coen Brothers film incredibly entertaining.  And it’s going to be hard to separate my judgement on the comparative virtues of the Cogburn portrayal from my overall feelings for the two movies.  But that is what I will be trying to do here.

I’ll start by comparing both film portrayals to the novel.  It is fair to say that both films depart in places from the book.  Overall, I’d say that the newer movie diverges by adding additional plot elements while the older film removes some elements that give the book a harsher plot.  These differences in part, exist because of the differences that exist in film-making practices between 1969 and 2010.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the novel and the 2010 film portrayal of Rooster is the greater animosity between Cogburn and LaBoeuf.  In the 2010 movie LaBoeuf and Cogburn have such a major falling out that the joint expedition is ended not once but twice.  A subtler difference is the increase in the amount of bantering mockery that Rooster heaps on the Texas Ranger.  Although the tone and even the flavor adheres to the book’s character it is an amplification of the actual text.

The obvious change to the story line between the book and the 1969 movie is the conclusion of the story.  In both the book and the 2010 movie, we read that after the desperate ride to save Mattie from the snake bite, Mattie loses her arm to the venom.  Also, she never sees Rooster again.  In the 1969 movie, she makes a full recovery and Cogburn meets up with her at her family home shortly after her recovery.

Taking into account the conventions that existed in 1969 against grittier subject matter, I do not feel either portrayal can be shown to excel the other in fidelity to the spirit of the book.  And I would say they both are excellent translations of the book to cinema.

But that’s a cop out.  Somebody has to win and someone has to lose.  Surprisingly, I’m choosing Bridges.  Events in the last few decades have prejudiced me in favor of tougher portrayals of the world.  I find the more realistic version of things more useful and more honest.  And even though it has more to do with the Coen Brothers skills as film makers than Bridges acting skills in the scene, I greatly admire the affect produced by the scene where Cogburn rides and carries Mattie to save her life.  So, even though the Duke is an iconic figure and his Rooster Cogburn was one of his best parts (and won him his only Oscar), I’m giving the prize to the Dude.  He definitely abides.

The First Urban Fantasy:  A Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas to all from the management of Orion’s Cold Fire.  Now the title of this post is admittedly a stretch.  But it is a ghost story and it does take place in an urban center.  I guess it would be adding insult to injury to claim steampunk status too, so I won’t.  I gladly confess I’m a huge fan of this tale.  I first remember running into it as a boy when my older cousin played Mr. Fezziwig in a grammar school production.  I don’t remember much about that production other than the fact that Fezziwig was actually wearing a gray wig.  Since then I’ve read the short book and attended several professional and amateur stage productions.  But the most substantial proportion of my involvement with this story is the hundreds of viewings of the various film versions that have been made over the decades.  Discounting such travesties as the episode made as part of the old television series “The Odd Couple” and the one starring the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, I have watched at least seven separate films.

 

Among the few versions that I still watch, the oddest one is the musical from 1970 starring Albert Finney.  With Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley it includes a scene of Scrooge being installed in Hell by his long dead partner.  I’m not particularly fond of musicals and Finney hasn’t really got a singing voice so there any number of painful moments in this film but the comical aspect of Scrooge is highlighted and allows this version to serve when children are present and might otherwise become bored.

 

Until recently I was of the opinion that the best version was the 1951 edition starring Alistair Sim.  It had a good British cast and possessed a script that amplified the meager details of the novel with some dramatic details of the back story between Scrooge and his sister on her death bed.  It also fills out the history of Scrooge as a businessman and shows us some details of Marley’s death.  It remains in my reckoning a very good film.

 

But as with all other things in life, age alters our opinions and our point of view even about Dickens’ masterpiece.  Of late, I have come to favor the 1984 television version starring George C. Scott.  The balance of the cast is British with Scott the only American.  The script is relatively close to the novel although there are a few touches having to do with Scrooge’s nephew and wife that are innovative.  But in several aspects I find this later version to be the best.  First is the character of Marley.  The actor portraying this ghost is the best of any that have acted the role.  The feeling and meaning he puts into his lines is perfect for that part.  Next is the child playing Tiny Tim.  He is without a doubt the most diminutive and fragile looking child imaginable.  He enhances the reality of what we know is Tiny Tim’s probable fate.  And finally, there is Scott’s part.  He is a powerful man who displays his ruthlessness openly.  George C. Scott was a very good actor and it shows.  He interacts with the spirits as an equal.  He defends his point of view as you might imagine a rational egoist would.  You feel his gradual awakening to the error of his world view as a visceral experience and not just a logical progression.  He captures the transformation that Dickens was portraying.  It’s well done.

 

So, now why do I enjoy this story?  I believe that Dickens’ story captures some essential truth about what it means to be human.  He is trying to show us that in order to save ourselves we have to save those around us.  And not through some social construct (“are there no prisons, are there no workhouses”), but by touching the lives of those around us and lending a hand to the weak.  As a right wing fanatic this is an important lesson to remember.  If you object to the idea of the socialist state then you must instead reach out to the people around you and make things better yourself.

 

So for me this story is a cautionary tale.  Don’t forget that the people out there are real and they are someone’s children.  And they can hurt.  Watch out for them.

 

I’ll end this on a happy note.  As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, every one.”