31OCT2019 – Happy Halloween!

Even a Man who’s pure at heart
And says his prayers by Night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the Moon is full and bright

Wolfsbane Blooming in October 7

There haven’t been any really good horror movies lately so I think this year I’ll just put up my links to the Universal Classic Monster Movies.

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/12/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-1/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/12/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-2-dracula/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/14/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-3-frankenstein/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/17/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-4-wolfman/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/19/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-5-the-mummy/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/21/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-6-the-invisible-man/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/23/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-7-the-lesser-works-and-a-final-verdict/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/02/22/dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-1931-version-a-classic-monster-movie-review/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/28/psycho-an-ocf-classic-movie-review/

 

Happy Halloween.

 

Destination Moon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The 1950 motion picture Destination Moon is in several aspects an odd duck.  It was an independent production under George Pal’s control.  He worked with Robert A Heinlein to adapt his novel Rocket Ship Galileo into a screen play.  In point of fact the plot changes involved make the movie and the book completely different stories.  For Pal who would go on to make such sci-fi classics as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide this was a chance to make a realistic space flight movie with Heinlein providing the scientific accuracy.

After a government project to build an advanced rocket motor is sabotaged and abandoned a plan is hatched to overcome the loss of government funding in rocket design by recruiting patriotic business leaders to pool their resources to pay for and build a Moon rocket.  General Thayer and Dr. Charles Cargraves were the moving force behind the earlier government project and Jim Barnes is the principal industrialist who uses his aircraft design facilities to build the atomic powered rocket.  Along with Joe Sweeney who provides radio and communication expertise (along with Brooklyn-accented comic relief) these men will be the crew to travel back and forth to the Moon.

When local bureaucracy threatens to tie up the launch in the courts, the team decides to launch immediately.  Just as the sheriffs are arriving to serve the launch injunction the crew is riding the elevator up to the cockpit.  The ship takes off and the crew gets to experience the pain of eight gee take off acceleration and the nausea associated with zero gravity conditions.  Shortly after taking off they discover the need to do a space walk to repair equipment.  One of the astronauts carelessly allows his magnetic boots to become separated from the ship’s hull while not holding onto his tether and begins floating away from the ship.  One of his mates has to use an oxygen cylinder as a makeshift rocket to rendezvous with the lost man and bring him back.

As the rocket approaches the Moon, errors in the navigation (or should I say astrogation) force the crew to expend to much reaction mass from the rocket to land in their planned destination.  Mission control on Earth begins calculating how much weight must be removed from the ship to balance the reduced capacity of the ship’s fuel load.

Meanwhile the crew investigates the Moon.  The first thing they do is claim the Moon for the United States (for the good of all mankind).  Using a Geiger counter General Thayer discovers large deposits of uranium.  Later on, one of the astronauts takes a picture of Joe Sweeney holding his arm up in such away that it looks like he is holding up Earth in the sky behind him.

The calculations on the fuel are distressing.  The ship has to be lightened by over a ton.  The crew starts removing everything that isn’t required to get the ship back to Earth.  But even after sawing off any metal components of the ship that can be removed, they’re still short by one hundred ten pounds.

Barnes, Cargraves and Thayer realize that someone has to stay behind and each one of them tries to convince the other two that he is the one to stay based on authority, age or responsibility.  Meanwhile Sweeney takes it upon himself to take the last space suit and leave the ship.  He tells them to leave without him.  But Barnes figures out a trick to get them below the weight limit.  With a rat-tailed file Sweeney puts a notch in the outer door frame of the air lock.  A heavy oxygen cylinder is hung outside the ship from a line that runs through the notch in the door.  With the door closed the airlock is pressurized with only a slow leak from the notch.  Then Sweeney ties the space suit to the other end of the line.  Once Sweeney reenters the ship the outer door is opened and the weight of the cylinder drags the space suit out the door.  Then the ship launches back to Earth.

And the movie ends with the words THE END followed by “of the Beginning.”

Destination Moon is a landmark.  It is the first reasonably accurate portrayal of actual space flight.  Coming nineteen years before Apollo 11 it is remarkably realistic.  Now as cinema it definitely isn’t King Lear or even King Kong but it’s excellent propaganda for a space program.  And it does contain all the correct tropes of the time.  If you are a sci-fi fan this movie is a must see.

The Best Years of Our Lives – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Nineteen Forty Six was a pivotal year in the American Century.  The United States had won World War II by harnessing the minds and bodies of its people and focusing that output single-mindedly on victory on the battlefield.  It had required all its young men to drop their lives and join the most powerful fighting machine ever assembled.  But equally extreme was the disruption that this mobilization had on the rest of the population.  The industrial capacity of the country was shifted over from producing cars and clothes for the populace to producing battleships, tanks, munitions and supplies needed to maintain millions of men across a far-flung battle field that spanned the globe.

And those industries had to produce this war-time materiel with almost none of their regular workers.  They had to train women and older men to take the places of their husbands, sons and fathers.  Other disruptions existed because of the male deployment.  Marriage and family growth were often postponed until after the war.  But equally disruptive were the last minute marriages and even conceptions that were consummated in defiance of the war’s demands.  Many a young woman had to raise a posthumous child to a father who would never return to his family.

But finally the war was over.  By dint of the effort of millions and with the help of a couple of atomic bombs the war was won and done.  Now these millions of soldiers. sailors, airmen and marines were returning home to their families and friends.  But in many ways, the returning men were strangers in a strange land.  They were changed and so was the country.  Whereas, for the last four years, they had been the focus of all that went on, now they were being deposited back in the country to try and restart their lives where they left off.  But things were not where they left off.  The jobs they had had before their enlistments were either being done by someone else or didn’t even exist anymore.  And the meager but regular paychecks they got from Uncle Sam would soon disappear.

And finally, many of these men were physically or mentally wounded.  In addition to the injured and maimed a great number of them were victims of what today we call PTSD.  The experiences they had lived through had left a mark on their minds that only time might heal.  The ones that had lost limbs had the added physical and psychological difficulties associated with these losses.

The Best Years of Our Lives was a movie that ambitiously attempted to portray and speak to these realities.  And this was an innovation for the times.  Up until this point Hollywood portrayed America’s wartime experience through a patriotic lens that glossed over many of the harsh realities that existed.  But this movie cast a veteran who had lost his hands in the war (Harold Russell) as Sailor Homer Parrish one of the returning servicemen.  The realities of divorces and unemployment and the depression associated with the alienation and various disruptions impacting the former GIs are openly addressed and nothing is glossed over for the sake of sparing the audience.

Frederic March and Dana Andrews along with the above-mentioned Harold Russel are the protagonists.  They meet on the airplane ride back to their home town of Boone City and the three men bond over the relief and anxiety associated with leaving the service and returning to civilian life.  March is a forty-something infantry sergeant named Al Stephenson and Andrews is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry.  But whereas Captain Derry was a highly paid officer and a gentleman in the service he returns home with his only civilian work experience being a soda jerk at the local drug store.  Alternatively, Stephenson trades in his infantry grunt existence for the comfortable lifestyle of a bank officer.  Homer Parrish returns home to the pity and awkward glances from friends and family associated with his missing hands.

Al Stephenson reintroduces himself to his wife Milly and his son and daughter.  Milly (played by Myrna Loy) tries to make Al feel at home but they both are ill at ease trying to take up their relationship where it left off.  Finally, nervous about heading to bed early he drags Milly and daughter Peggy off to the local watering holes to drink away his nerves with scotch.

Meanwhile Fred Derry reaches his father’s home to discover that his young wife Marie has moved out into her own apartment downtown and is working as a cocktail waitress in a night club.  He heads out trying to find out what night club Marie is working at.

And finally, Homer is home with his and his girlfriend’s families celebrating his return and talking about his future.  But he becomes so unhappy with the tense and nervous atmosphere that he leaves to hang out at his Uncle Butch’s bar.

And so, all three ex-servicemen coincidentally meet up at Butch’s Place.  And there we see Al and Fred get royally drunk to distract themselves from their domestic issues.  And in this impaired condition Fred flirts mildly with Peggy Stephenson.  Finally, Butch tells Homer his family wants him home and Milly and Peggy manage to drag Al and Fred into the car and after Fred fails to gain entry into Marie’s apartment building, they drive both men back to the Stephenson apartment where the fall-down-drunk men are bedded down.  During the night Peggy hears Fred Derry crying out.  He was reliving a nightmare where some of his comrades were shot out of the air.  The next morning, he apologizes for waking her and she sympathetically assures him that she didn’t mind.  Peggy gives Fred a lift to his wife’s building and this time he gets in.  Now we meet Marie.  Fred married a very beautiful woman (played by Virginia Mayo) whom he had only known for days when he was deployed to Europe.  Now we see that Marie is a selfish, materialistic woman who expects to be supported in the style she has been accustomed to as a night club denizen.  While Fred has a thousand-dollar severance payment from the service they live it up.  But when the money runs out the couple begin to battle over Marie’s dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile Al and Milly reconnect and talk about their children and Al’s future with the bank he left when he enlisted.  Al tells Milly that he feels responsible to help all the other veterans who didn’t come home to a good job and need some help to get their lives back on track.  He uses his position as a loan officer to help fellow veterans who need GI loans to try to catch up with the new world they find themselves in.  This puts him at odds with the bank president but Al perseveres to champion his fellow vets.

At Homer Parrish’s house we meet Homer’s sweetheart Wilma and find that although she is demonstrably in love with Homer, he is withdrawn and morose.  She asks him why he hasn’t asked her to marry him.  But he tells her he doesn’t want to ruin her life by tying her down to a helpless cripple.  Homer is so unhappy that he explodes in frustration when he thinks his little sister and her friends are gawking in a window at his prosthetic hands.  Finally, Wilma tells Homer that her parents want her to leave town to forget him but she wants him to marry her.  Homer decides to let her see just how helpless he is when he removes his prostheses.  But instead of recoiling from his injuries she embraces him and proves to him that she wants to be with him.  They set the date for their wedding.

An additional story line involves a romantic attachment that grows between Fred Derry and Peggy Stephenson.  When Al finds out about his daughter’s romance with the married Fred, he angrily confronts him for involving his daughter in an extra-marital affair and Fred stoically agrees to break it off.  But even with Peggy out of the picture Fred and Marie fall apart and he leaves home while she declares her intention to get a divorce.  When he leaves, he intends to leave town and start his life over somewhere else.  But while waiting for a flight at the airport he roams through the warplane graveyard and climbs into a bomber.  While reliving some disturbing memory from the war he is discovered by a man who is reclaiming the old planes for construction scrap materials and is told to get out of the plane.  Fred asks if he has any jobs available and manages to convince the man that he is a good prospect and so Fred restarts his life again in his home town.

Now the three ex-servicemen meet up at Homer’s wedding where Al, Milly and Peggy are friends of the groom and Fred is the best man.  Now that Fred is no longer married, he and Al no longer have a reason for fighting and at the end of the night Fred and Peggy come back together and decide to marry.

 

Back in 1946 when winning an Academy Award actually meant the movie was good, The Best Years of Our Lives was competing against It’s a Wonderful Life.  And I think The Best Years of Our Lives won because America needed to move beyond the simplified vision of life represented by It’s a Wonderful Life and recognize the harsh realities and ugly side to life that came along with the changes that the war generated such as the liberation of women and the choice of some of them to embrace a life style that did not value a traditional family role.  But acknowledging the problems facing the returning vets made this movie resonate with the American people.

In my opinion it is one of the best films ever made.  The acting by March and Loy is exceptional and Andrews, Russell and several other players are also excellent.  It captures the feeling of the time and who the American people were back then.

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

Cyrano de Bergerac – An OCF Classic Movie Review

With enormous trepidation do I write this review.  In this year 2018, surrounded by the mores and mentality currently on display in the former realm of Christendom, how can you explain, never mind, recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac?  To a generation that embraces Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and the Kardashians how do you justify Cyrano’s chaste love for Roxane.  To a world that needs safe spaces to cower in at the very hint of harsh language how do you explain two men fighting to the death with rapiers over an insult?  It’s ludicrous to even consider.  The very word honor has ceased to have an explicable meaning.

No, there is no way.  This story can only be presented to an older generation.  And even to them, watching it would be a jarring exercise in switching gears from the world of Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton to the chivalry of seventeenth century France.  So, I cannot expect any sympathy from a modern audience for such a story. Even when this movie was filmed in 1950 the plot was considered much too sentimental.  In fact, the only saving grace it had was the tour de force performance of its star Jose Ferrer.  Even critics who savaged the rest of the production including the rest of the cast, declared Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano as a masterpiece and his recital of Rostand’s words inspired.  And so, they were.  Ferrer’s mastery of the material only seems the more convincing compared to the journeyman competence of his fellow cast members.

For those who have read this far but do not know Rostand’s plot, Cyrano is a musketeer in the employ of the King of France in the seventeenth century.  He is also a poet and a deadly skilled swordsman.  He also possesses a very large nose about which he is devilishly sensitive.  One word or even a glance at his nose is enough to trigger a duel from which the offender will exit without his life.  And Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxane his distant cousin and one of the most beautiful women in Paris.  Because of his relationship with Roxane he is compelled by his sense of honor to help her in whatever she asks.  Unfortunately, what she asks him is to help his rival in love to succeed in his courting of Roxane.  When Cyrano meets this rival Christian, he discovers that he is unable to string romantic words together in a way that appeals to Roxane.  So, Cyrano must become Christian’s coach in writing and speaking poems of love.  And finally, when it becomes too difficult, he uses the darkness of night to impersonate Christian under Roxane’s balcony and succeeds in winning her love for Christian with Cyrano’s own passionate declaration of love.

There follow several obstacles, a nobleman as rival to Christian who is also his superior officer in the army and a war with Spain.  Marriage, sorrow, misunderstanding and death stand in the way of true love.  But revelation finally occurs, if too late to allow for happiness.  All of this is brocaded with a script that Ferrer delivers with wit and panache.  For a man of the late nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century it is a treat and for those afterward a puzzle only.

Recommended only for the true sentimental idealist.

The Maltese Falcon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Back in late October of 2016 I reviewed Dashiell Hammett’s crime novel “The Maltese Falcon.”  To describe the review as highly enthusiastic would be an understatement.  I raved about the book.  Well, I’ll almost repeat the performance for John Huston’s film.  There are differences, of course.  And if you had read the book before seeing the movie you’d feel that both Bogart and Astor were physically miscast.  But the movie on its own merits is superb.

John Huston based the movie quite faithfully on Hammett’s book.  Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade, one half of the San Francisco based private detective firm of Spade and Archer. He’s also his partner Miles Archer’s wife Iva’s former lover (now that’s a complicated sentence!).

The story opens up with Spade’s secretary, Effie Perine, announcing a new client, Miss Wonderly (played by Mary Astor).  Wonderly starts telling a tale to Spade and also Archer as he walks in during the story.  The story is a fabrication about a make-believe teen-age sister who has been spirited away cross country by a real gangster named Floyd Thursby.  Spade and Archer agree to tail Thursby in return for some also very real hundred dollar bills that Wonderly pays them.

Archer is shot and killed during his surveillance and this begins a sequence of events that involves Spade in a confusing search for the truth about a globe-trotting quest to obtain the legendary Maltese Falcon.  We meet corpulent Caspar Gutman played by Sidney Greenstreet, who is the ringleader behind the search.  Then there is Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, a mincing effeminate who sometimes works for Gutman and sometimes doesn’t.  There is Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s young triggerman who would rather shoot his opponents than negotiate terms.  And finally, we have the good cop/ bad cop duo of Detective Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.  They show up at strategic moments to inform Spade that he is everyone’s favorite suspect in several murders.

The exact details of the plot are too much fun to spoil so I won’t go into much detail but suffice it to say there really aren’t any innocent parties involved unless you include Effie Perine.  Wonderly, which isn’t the last fake name she’ll go by in the film is up to her neck in the crimes but she becomes Spade’s femme fatale in the story.  Spade is a ruthless but strangely honorable character who lives by his own logic.  The criminals (almost everyone) spend the entire movie double-crossing each other in various iterations.  They all prove, with some prodding from Spade, that there is indeed no honor among thieves.  But the plot moves along smartly and by the end all the loose ends are neatly tied up and Sam Spade is sort of the last man standing.  Bogart even gets to apply an ironic tagline to describe the futility of the whole mad enterprise.

When I said that Bogart and Astor were physically miscast it’s because in the book Spade is described as a tall muscular blond-haired man.  Bogart is none of those things.  And in the book Mary Astor’s character is a woman in her twenties which at the point when this movie was made could hardly describe Astor.  Regardless, they make the characters their own.  And especially Bogart’s Spade is iconic and basically defines the Sam Spade character for most of the people who have heard of the Maltese Falcon.  The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Greenstreet and Lorre are so interesting and memorable that at certain points in the movie they push even Bogart out of the spotlight.

If you’ve never seen the Maltese Falcon then shame on you.  In fact, if I had my way people would read the book first and then watch the movie.  But this is a fallen world we live in.  So, I guess I’m already asking too much to recommend a black and white movie.  Highly recommended.

To Have and Have Not – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I think it’s a pretty remarkable fact, that of the seven films Humphrey Bogart was in that I consider worth owning my least favorite is Casablanca.  It’s possible I’ve just seen it too many times already.  But I’ve watched the Maltese Falcon many times more and I keep putting it back on.  It’s probably just individual preference.  But for whatever the reason, it tells me that Bogart was in a relatively large number of excellent films.

Next up is “To Have and Have Not.”  This movie is based on the Hemingway story.  Several of the story elements seem to be repeated in Casablanca.  A French colony is the locale.  There are Nazis and their local collaborators as the heavies.  Resistance fighters including a husband and wife team are looking for help from Bogart’s character.  There is a damsel in distress as the love interest.  And there’s a singer at a piano that entertains us here and there.  Honestly, I actually prefer this earlier film to Casablanca.  It seems less strained.

Bogey is a charter boat captain named Harry Morgan and Walter Brennan is his first mate Eddie.  Eddie is a garrulous alcoholic and Harry’s best friend.  They’re on a two-week charter out of Florida to the French island of Martinique.  Martinique is part of “Free France” but under the thumb of the Nazis.  Harry meets Marie Browning, played by a very young Lauren Bacall, as she is stealing the wallet of Harry’s charter client.  He takes the wallet from her and discovers from the contents that the client was about to skip out without paying him.  Grateful for her unwitting help he strikes up a friendship with her.  Of course, under the circumstances, their relationship is always awkward and tentative.  He calls her Slim which rankles her so she calls him Steve probably from spite.  But for all their verbal jousting the sparks begin to fly and it’s easy to see that their relationship will be at least one of the major plot lines.

The hotel where Harry, Marie and apparently anyone involved in the resistance ends up staying is owned by, of course, Frenchy, or so he is called by Harry.  He is the clandestine leader of the resistance.  Several of his friends get into a gun battle with the local police and this leads to Harry and Marie falling under the suspicious eye of the local police chief.  He seizes their passports and money and grills them for information on the resistance.

Being strapped for cash Harry accepts a job ferrying some resistance fighters onto the island, Paul and Hellene de Bursac.  Paul gets shot during a sea voyage while evading the harbor patrol.  Harry acts as a cut-rate trauma surgeon and removes the bullet.  The police finally decide to put the squeeze on Harry by grilling Eddie this triggers a confrontation that Harry controls with the help of a few well aimed bullets.  Throughout Marie is at Harry’s side, for the most part, trading wisecracks and supporting the cause.  Eddie supplies the comic relief and Hoagy Carmichael as Cricket plays the piano and employs Marie as an ersatz lounge singer.

Bit of well-known classic Hollywood trivia, the sparks flying between Harry and Marie were mirrored in real life between Bogart and Bacall and they shortly afterward became man and wife in real life.  And the chemistry they had translated excellently to film.  Their sparring courtship is fun to watch and although stylized in the manner of director Howard Hawkes’ staccato bantering dialog it comes off as interesting and of its time.  Highly recommended.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – An OCF Classic Movie Review

There is a school of thought that says Bogart became a big star because of the Maltese Falcon.  It was his first role that extended his acting range beyond the gangster parts he had been doing up to that point.  And the story was a popular book and John Huston’s script was a pip.

So, I’m sure Bogart was more than anxious when he had a second chance to work with Huston.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was once again based on a popular book.  And once again Huston’s script is a pip.  Bogart is an American named Dobbs in Tampico, Mexico who is broke and looking for an opportunity to make some money.  After some difficulty collecting back-wages he teams up with two other Americans.  Walter Huston, John Huston’s actual father, plays an old gold prospector Howard and Tim Holt is Curtin who hopes to make a stake before returning to the United States.  The three men discuss what it would take to make a prospecting expedition to the Sierra Madre.  By an amazing coincidence Bogart wins the amount they need off of a lottery ticket and donates it to the expedition.  On the train ride at the outset of the journey to the Sierra Madre, the partners encounter bandits.  This is followed by a long trek through jungles and desert and mountains.  And just as Dobbs and Curtin have become discouraged and want to give up the search Howard mocks them with the news that they’ve been surrounded by gold for the last day but they were too ignorant to see it.  The partners get to work and start a mining operation that rewards their hard work with generous amounts of gold.  And at this point we begin to see the destructive effect of greed and mistrust.  Pretty quickly Dobbs becomes dangerously suspicious of his partners and all remnants of amicable relations evaporate and all that is left is the business of harvesting the gold.  During this time there are episodes involving a claim jumper and later the bandits return.  A very well-known exchange occurs between the head bandit and the partners.  The bandit is pretending to be a policeman and when asked to show his badge he sputters, “Badges?  Badges?  We don’t need no stinking badges!”  The return journey also contains some interesting episodes that eventually split up the partners and leads to open warfare between Dobbs and Curtin.  For the better part of the movie we’ve been watching as Fred C. Dobbs slowly descends into gold madness.  Now he reaches the point of attempting murder.  The end of the movie follows the last scenes where we learn the fate of the partners, the bandits and the gold.

For me this movie is an almost perfect gem of a tale.  It has an interesting blend of humor, adventure and a study of human nature.  Toward the end, Bogart is almost over the top in his manic portrayal of Dobbs but he is an interesting character.  Tim Holt plays the most sympathetic character as Curtin but without a doubt, Walter Huston steals the show from everyone else as the old prospector Howard.  His character is colorful, glib, humorous and just plain engaging.

I highly recommend this movie for everyone.  It’s a classic and timelessly entertaining.

The March of the Wooden Soldiers – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I guess this qualifies as a fantasy too but to me it’s a holiday classic, thus the title.  Every year during my childhood at Thanksgiving time WPIX (Channel11 in NYC) would show “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.”  And even back then it was obvious that the movie was a throwback to an older time.  What passed for costumes and “special effects” in this film would outrage even a toddler from today.  The action was often interrupted while the romantic leads would burst into an operatic rendition of some fairly soporific song.  Some of this is explained by the fact that the film was a reworking of a musical light opera that was staged under the name “Babes in Toyland.”  And in fact, all of the movie’s shortcomings were even the subject of mockery on an episode of the Simpsons.

But none of this is at all important because of two extenuating circumstances, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or as their characters are named Stanny Dum and Ollie Dee.  Laurel and Hardy are the show.  These two clowns keep the audience from wandering away, at least until the Wooden Soldiers are unleashed.  Stan and Ollie move from one failure to the next, at every step, irritating every mean or impatient character they meet with their fumble-fingered efforts and their simple-minded attempts at cleverness.  As I said, until the climax of the movie, they are the show.

The plot, such as it is, involves Stan and Ollie trying to prevent the evil miser Barnaby from evicting the Little Old Lady that Lives in the Shoe.  One of her children is Little Bo Peep who is in love with Tom-Tom the Piper’s Son.  After Stan and Ollie are foiled in attempting to steal the mortgage from Barnaby and are sentenced to be banished to Bogeyland (a place outside of Toyland where the savage Bogeymen live) Bo Peep agrees to marry Barnaby in exchange for forgiving the mortgage and releasing Stan and Ollie.  This leads to further tomfoolery by Stan and Ollie.  When Barnaby is defeated again in his desire to marry Bo Peep he conspires against Tom-Tom and gets him banished to Bogeyland.  After the banishment, evidence is discovered by Stan and Ollie that exonerates Tom-Tom and proves Barnaby’s guilt.  At this point Barnaby flees to Bogeyland to take command of the Bogeymen and lead them against Toyland.

The inhabitants of Toyland, being feeble nursery rhyme characters are helpless (mostly) against the savage Bogeymen.  And all seems lost until suddenly Stanny Dum realizes that an earlier blunder of his would now be Toyland’s salvation.  Working for the Toymaster he misunderstood Santa Claus’s order to make six hundred wooden soldiers one foot tall and instead made one hundred wooden soldiers six feet tall.  Stan and Ollie activate the army and the soldiers get right to work and rout the bogeyman in stirring fashion, all to the accompaniment of the music that gives the movie its name, The March of the Wooden Soldiers.

I have to confess that even at my advanced age I always feel a thrill of excitement as the Wooden Soldiers assemble and march to the beat of the song and provide in their mechanical and disciplined way the just desserts that Barnaby and the savage Bogeymen so richly deserve.  And right up until the very last frame Stan and Ollie are right there snatching personal defeat right out of the jaws of victory.

This movie is a museum piece with a hackneyed plot, obtrusive and boring songs and awful special effects.  But Laurel and Hardy are worth the price of admission, namely your time.  They are worthy buffoons who exaggerate our own foolishness.  And for the little boy in every man, the Wooden Soldier battle is a stirring pantomime that actual little boys will enjoy.  Highly recommended for the child in all of us.

Gunga Din – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“…

So I’ll meet ’im later on

At the place where ’e is gone—

Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.

’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals

Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,

An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!

Yes, Din! Din! Din!

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

(Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling)

 

Kipling’s poem celebrates the courage and loyalty of Indian water bearer Gunga Din.  The 1939 film builds on the bare sketch of the poem and adds in the British soldiers from Kipling’s Soldiers Three stories.  Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. portray Sergeants Cutter, MacChesney and Ballantine.  The three sergeants are comedic partners in crime constantly in trouble for their off-duty brawling and ridiculous escapades.  But they are also ferociously courageous and loyal to the British Army to their core.  And attached to the regiment that the sergeants serve in is the regimental bhisti (or water carrier), Gunga Din.  Gunga Din is also a minor partner in the sergeants’ syndicate.  He convinces Cutter that they can cart off a temple made of solid gold that’s just there for the taking.  Superimpose the sub-plot of Ballantine’s upcoming nuptials as a threat to the triumvirate and then top the whole thing off with a Thuggee Mutiny planning to drive the British out of India.

Sam Jaffe plays Gunga Din and along with the three co-stars they chew up the scenery and move the plot along smartly.  By the climax we find out why Gunga Din is a better man they are.  And we get to see the British Army (or the Hollywood version of it) unleashed on the Thugs.

The movie features a goodly amount of action adventure scenes but for me the stand out is the comedy.  The exchanges between Cary Grant (featuring his most over the cockney accent) and Victor McLaglen are very funny and make me wish they had co-starred in other action comedies.

It goes without saying that the movie could never be made today.  It features language and plot elements that would be labelled, racist, sexist, colonialist and white supremacist.  And if they got around to it, I’m sure the critics could come up with an angle that made it homophobic and transphobic too.  But it is solid entertainment that creates a comedy adventure out of the reality of the British Raj.  Of course, this is a Hollywood fantasy version of the Raj.  In this version, the British Army is powerful and the generals are competent and all the good Indians are loyal subjects of the Queen-Empress and all the bad Indians are disloyal, murderous followers of Kali, the goddess of death.  In this version the non-commissioned officers are anxious to re-enlist every 11 years without fail.  But it’s got fight scenes, battle scenes, comedy, pathos, dynamite tossing and even an elephant-based jail break.  What else could anybody ask for.