The Batman (2022) – A Science Fiction – Fantasy Movie Review

Last night I went to go see the “The Batman” with my two older grandsons.  We hadn’t gone to the movies since before the whole COVID mess and I figured with them on Easter vacation from school it was now or never.  They’d heard good things about the movie.  I was skeptical about it because Batman was being played by Robert Pattinson.  And I remember he’d been the actor in those lame Twilight vampire movies that teenage girls were so excited about a while ago.  But I figured it would still be fun hanging out with these descendants of mine.

So, we met up after their work hours.  These two guys are working on their holiday and doing nine hours a day of manual labor.  I told them I was embarrassed that I never had the work ethic they have at that age.  I drove to the nearest cineplex for the last night of the movie’s run.  But I wasn’t familiar with the town or mall it was in, so I was amazed to see that the mall was almost completely empty.  All the biggest chain stores like Macy’s and Target were vacated and even most of the smaller stores were boarded up.  It felt like we were walking onto the set of a zombie movie.  There were barely a dozen people walking around in the mall at 6:45 at night.  The theater was empty except for the ticket seller, popcorn girl and the ticket taker.  It was pretty creepy.  But they still got their popcorn and drinks.

The plot of the movie revolves around the familiar scenario of Bruce Wayne acting as an avenging angel stalking the streets of Gotham City fighting against organized (and disorganized) crime as the caped crusader.  In this iteration James Gordon is a police lieutenant who has teamed up with Batman to allow the city to benefit from Batman’s vigilante activities.  The current crime spree is a series of high-level city government officials being murdered by the Riddler.  The mayor, police commissioner and district attorney are murdered gruesomely and their killings are videotaped by the Riddler and shared with the public on-line.  The Riddler highlights the corrupt activities of the men he’s murdered and announces that he will be “unmasking” the full depths of the partnership between organized crime and the present city administration.

Batman starts following clues that the Riddler provides specifically for him.  And in the investigation, he meets up with Selena who has her own secret identity as the Catwoman.  They become romantically involved, sort of, and together they discover the link between Batman’s father and the crime boss Carmine Falcone (played ably by John Turturro).  We find out that Falcone is also Selena’s father.   Mixed up in Falcone’s vice trades like drugs and prostitution is Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot also known as the Penguin.  The Penguin ends up shedding light on the origins of Falcone’s control of City Hall.  The details of this old history illuminate the basis for the Riddler’s campaign of vengeance against the city’s power brokers including Bruce Wayne.  By the end of the movie, it’s clear what the Riddler was up to but it isn’t in time to prevent a plot to blow up the sea wall that keeps the river out of Gotham’s downtown.  And it also barely allows the foiling of a massacre at a political rally being held for the reform candidate running for mayor.

Of course, Batman must almost single-handedly prevent thirty, gun wielding acolytes of the Riddler from shooting Gotham’s citizens like they were literally fish in a barrel.  But in doing so he learns that his negative role as a vigilante seeking vengeance is too limited to help save Gotham City.  And that he must become also a positive force to help people survive the mayhem all around them.

So, what did I think?  Well first of all, this movie is almost three hours long.  That’s really long.  And the movie is unrelentingly bleak.  Bruce Wayne in the few scenes when he is not Batman looks almost suicidal.  There are no lighter moments in this movie at all.  There is a grittier and uglier feel to this movie than, for instance, in Nolan’s Dark Knight movies.   On the other hand, the action scenes are very well done.  This Batman apparently has a much more capable armor than the Dark Knight had.  He is blasted by machine guns and even a shot gun and not only survives but doesn’t even show any damage to his suit.  And a chase scene on a crowded expressway is pretty spectacular, even if absurdly unrealistic.  On the negative side, Selena does utter the phrase “white privilege” at one point which annoyed me mightily.  But on the whole the movie is an effective and enjoyable Batman movie.  I recommend it to fans of the genre.

Leaving the theater, we were the only people in the huge mall except for a guard who escorted us to the only door still open in the building.  Our car was the only vehicle in this enormous parking lot and as we walked through the eerily empty space, we reflected on its resemblance to some of the darker corners of Gotham City that we had recently visited.  We spent the long ride home discussing the pros and cons of the film and all decided that it had been a worthwhile expedition.  I got them home an hour later than I had estimated and their parents told me of the unbelievably early hour they had to get up for work the next morning.  I felt awful getting them home so late but the boys still claimed it was worth it.  Score one for nonconsecutive generational male bonding.  Now, bring on the great grandsons.

The Master of Ballantrae (1953) – A Movie Review

Here’s a later installment in Errol Flynn’s catalog of swashbuckling movie roles.  The story is loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The story is a wild tale with Errol Flynn playing the title role as Jamie Durie, a Scottish noble in the 18th century who goes to war to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne of Britain.  But when the Stuart pretender is defeated, Durie and an Irish comrade have to flee Scotland leaving Durie’s brother to inherit Ballantrae and possibly Jamie’s fiancée.  During his exile he is hijacked by a treacherous sea captain, captured by pirates and then turns pirate himself before returning to Scotland with a fortune to claim his bride from his supposedly duplicitous brother.  But when his brother saves him from an English hangman’s noose they are reconciled and his fiancée escapes with him for a life of adventure.

This was Flynn’s last feature with Warner Bros. but the story moves along very smartly and he can still swashbuckle with the best of them.  The script was good enough.  I especially liked the pirate sequence.  All of the colorful character actors were way over the top but I think they provided just the right atmosphere for a light-hearted romp of an adventure story.  If you’re looking for an old-fashioned adventure story, this is it.  Errol Flynn makes it work one last time.

Out of the Past (1947) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is one of the quintessential film noirs.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, an auto repair shop owner living in a small town.  He has a girl, Ann Miller who is in love with him and a deaf-mute boy who helps him with his shop.  But he is hiding from his past.  He was Jeff Markham, a private detective that was sent on an assignment by underworld boss Whit Sterling (played with good natured panache by Kirk Douglas) to find a girl who stole $40,000 from Whit and shot him for good measure.  The girl, Kathie Moffat is hiding out in Mexico and while staking her out Jeff falls entirely in love with her and the two run away to live their lives far from Whit Sterling.

But Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher, hunts them down and demands the $40,000 to keep from telling Sterling about their double cross.  During a fistfight between Jeff and Fisher Kathie shoots Fisher dead.  While Jeff buries Fisher’s body Kathie skips out on him.  Jeff decides to take on the new identity as Jeff Bailey and settles in the small town of Bridgeport, California.

But now one of Whit Sterling’s men arrives in Bridgeport and recognizes Jeff.  He summons Jeff to Whit’s summer house on Lake Tahoe.  When Jeff gets there, he finds Kathie has reconciled with Whit and now it’s Jeff’s turn to square accounts with the underworld boss.  There is a complicated scenario where Jeff is supposed to recover some tax documents that Whit’s accountant is using to blackmail him.  But it’s really a set-up whereby Jeff will be the fall guy for the accountant’s murder.  And, of course, Kathie is part of the double cross too.  There are a number of reversals but finally Jeff arranges a deal with Sterling such that Kathie will be on the hook for Fisher’s murder and Jeff will be cleared of all the various crimes he’s been framed for in return for the return of the tax documents.

But Kathie decides to upend the deal by murdering Sterling.  Now she and Jeff are on the run for the various murders that have been committed and Jeff realizes that he’ll never have that small town life he tried to escape to.  He and Kathie die in a hail of bullets as he drives their car into a police ambush.

Interspersed between the action scenes we have the love story between Jeff and Ann.  She’s a gentle woman who believes that Jeff has a good side that exists beneath the tough persona that he projects to the world.  And her belief in him propels him to try and escape from the criminal existence that Kathie has drawn him into.  But fate eventually claims his life and leaves Ann to mourn him.

As with all good film noir, the plot is an awful mess.  All of their terrible choices propel the protagonists to their bleak fates.  But the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Mitchum is at the top of his game with a tightly knit plot and lots of great lines to toss off.  Kirk Douglas is an affable crime boss and adds a lot to the film.  Kathie is a wonderfully dishonest femme fatale and is constantly double-crossing everyone in sight.  And the rest of the supporting cast is fine too.  I highly recommend this movie for film noir devotees and basically anyone who likes a good story.

The Big House (1930) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Other than Wallace Beery who starred and Lewis Stone as the Warden I don’t remember ever having seen any of the other cast.  This is a very early “talkie” and so the acting is a bit broad.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

An upper-class young man, Kent, is sentenced to ten years in prison for killing a man in an automobile accident while driving drunk.  He is put in a crowded cell with the two toughest prisoners.  Wallace Beery is “Machine Gun Butch” and the other prisoner is a master thief named Morgan.

Kent gets into conflicts with most of the prisoners because of his soft upbringing so he joins up with one of the prison rats and agrees to give information to the guards in return for lightening his sentence.  Kent has a beautiful sister Anne.  Morgan sees her when she comes to visit her brother and falls in love with her.  Because of a frame up by Kent, Morgan loses his imminent parole chance.  When an opportunity occurs Morgan escapes from the prison and goes to see Anne.  She figures out that he is an escapee but helps him escape pursuit.  Somehow or other they strike up a romance and he even comes home to visit her parents!

But eventually he is recaptured and arrives back in prison just as Butch is plotting a major jail break.  But Kent rats them out and the escape becomes a riot with Butch and his men holding the guards as hostages and both sides blazing away at each other with machine guns.  Finally Butch declares that he will kill all the guards one by one if his men aren’t allowed to escape.  When Butch kills the head guard, the Warden calls for the Army to bring in tanks to break up the riot.

Morgan decides to save the guards by locking them in a cell with a solid steel door and throwing away the key.  Butch decides that Morgan is the rat and goes gunning for him.  In the melee Kent is killed in the crossfire and butch and Morgan wound each other in a gunfight.  When Butch discovers that it was Kent who sold him out, he and Morgan reconcile with Butch dying of his wounds.  The tanks overcome the prisoners’ resistance and order is restored.  Afterward Morgan is hailed as a hero for saving the guards’ lives.  He is pardoned and upon getting out he is welcomed out by his fiancée Anne.

This movie is a parody of prison.  Butch and most of the other prisoners and guards are caricatures of the stereotypes that we would come to expect in movies about prison.  But I found myself enjoying the movie mostly because Wallace Beery is an enjoyable comic actor in most of the movies I’ve seen him in.  And how can you dislike a movie that features the prisoners setting up and betting on and cheering for their favorites in a cockroach race.  Especially when we find out that the race was fixed by the favorite being glued to the ground with bubble gum!  I don’t think I can recommend this movie for anyone in particular except for fans of Wallace Beery.  Good old Long John Silver.

Dune, Part 1; A Very Short Discussion of the Movie – A Science Fiction Movie Review

 

In November of 2021 Neil Dunn wrote an excellent review of Dune part 1.  Now that I’ve finally seen the movie, I can definitively say that his review was wholly accurate.  Let me qualify my comments by stating up front that I have inexplicably avoided reading the Dune books most of my life.  And now I am ready to amend that situation.

As I said this will be short.  The movie is a stylish and well-made science fiction film that uses the current state of the art in computer-generated imagery to great effect.  The battle scenes, the space ships and the creatures such as the sand worms are all impressively realistic.

The actors are very good.  With only a couple of familiar faces I was still highly impressed by the cast.  The plot was kept moving and the tension between the family dynamics and the political struggle was well done.

Read Neil’s review for a more in-depth and authoritative look at the story.   But as a new comer to the Dune universe I will gladly recommend this film to all fans of science fiction and more generally, to anyone who likes a good adventure film.

How the West Was Won (1962) – A Movie Review

“How the West Was Won” is a Western extravaganza with enough Hollywood stars for five films.  It consists of five vignettes that are strung together out of the fortunes of a family from the East caught up in the settling of the western frontier.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Karl Malden is Zebulon Prescott, a farmer in New York State who becomes disgusted with his rocky unproductive land and sells it to go west with his wife Rebecca, (Agnes Moorehead) and two daughters Eve (Caroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Along the way they meet fur trapper Linus Rawlings (Jimmy Stewart) who saves them from some nefarious river pirates led by Col. Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennan) but finally Zebulon and Rebecca are killed going over the rapids on their raft and Rawlings reluctantly gives up his wandering ways to marry Eve and start a farm by the river.

In the next vignette, Lilith has become a show girl and does a song and dance act in St. Louis.  A messenger informs her that a former admirer has left her a gold mine in California.  She joins another woman Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter) in a wagon train headed west.

When gambler/fortune hunter Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) overhears her good fortune, he follows her to California.  At first reluctantly and then gratefully, after he saves her life during an Indian attack, Lilith partners with Cleve.

But when they get to California, they discover that Lilith’s gold mine is played out.  Cleve leaves Lilith in the lurch to pursue his gambler’s life.  She receives a proposal of marriage from wealthy rancher Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) but rejects him because she doesn’t want a conventional life as a wife and mother.  But when Cleve overhears Lilith singing on a river boat, he realizes that they will both be happiest if they marry and combine their two adventurous lives together into a partnership.  And they do.

In the next story the Civil War has begun.  To dramatize this we even have a brief look at Raymond Massey portraying Abraham Lincoln.  Eve’s son, Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard) wants to follow his father into battle on the side of the Union.  Eve tearfully says goodbye and Zeb is swept along by the tides of war.

During this episode he manages to save General Grant (Harry Morgan) and General Sherman (John Wayne) from a Confederate soldier who was trying to convince Zeb to desert.  After the war Zeb returns home to find that both his parents are dead.  He leaves the farm to his brother and heads west as a cavalry soldier.

In the next vignette Zeb is a cavalry officer tasked with helping the Union Pacific Railroad cross the Great Plains.  The ruthless railroad boss Mike King (Richard Widmark) is angering the Indian tribes by laying down the track through the Indian hunting grounds.  Zeb has help from buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda), an old friend of his father.

They convince the Indians to accept the latest route but finally when settlers start filling up the area the Indians revolt and we watch as they stampede a herd of buffalo through the railroad worksite.  Disgusted with the railroad’ treachery, Zeb and Jethro leave for happier circumstances farther west.

In the last episode, we see Lilith as an old woman in San Francisco.  Cleve has died and an auction is proceeding to liquidate their estate to pay off debts.  All that will remain will be a ranch in Arizona that she hopes to retire to with her nephew Zeb Rawlings and his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and children.

Zeb was a sheriff and while meeting his aunt at the train in Arizona he catches sight of an outlaw Charlie Grant (Eli Wallach) that Zeb put in prison years ago.  He figures out that Grant means to rob the train when the next gold shipment is aboard.  Zeb recruits his old friend Marshal Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb) to go with him to guard the train.

The train robbery scene involves Grant and eight or ten of his men boarding the train and battling Zeb and Lou as they fight them off with rifles and hand guns.  In the ensuing violence the train is battered to pieces and finally derails in catastrophic fashion but Zeb puts a final bullet in Charlie Grant.  Then he returns to take up a peaceful life as rancher with his family.

The movie ends with a panoramic view of California including Los Angeles freeways and the golden Gate Bridge with a stirring speech by the narrator (Spencer Tracy) about the epic adventure that was the taming of the west.

So, you get the picture.  This is an extravaganza.  They put every actor they had into it.  I’ve even left out a few other for the sake of brevity.  So, what do I think?  As far as spectacle, the scene of the raft on the rapids and the buffalo stampede are exciting and in the wide screen of a theater must have been fun for the audience.  Some of the landscapes are truly beautiful.  The plot is very straightforward.  It covers the various stages of the westward expansion of the United States with a personal story.  The performances vary from competent to perfunctory.  This isn’t high drama.  I would restrict my recommendation to saying if you’re in the mood for an epic western movie (and you have three hours to spare) this movie would be fine.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Okay this one is an oddball.  What we have here is a sort of morality play mixed into a fantasy.  In the first half of the nineteenth century in the southwest corner of New Hampshire there lived a farmer named Jabez Stone.  He has a wife and a widowed mother and not much else.  Bad luck follows him and prevents him from ever catching up on his debts.  One day when disaster strikes, again, he cries out that he’d sell his soul for some good luck.  And the Devil (played amusingly by Walter Huston) shows up and talks him into the deal.  He provides him with a pot of “Hessian” gold and seven years of guaranteed good luck for the price of his soul.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

And indeed, Jabez gets all the good luck for which he could ask.  When his neighbors’ crops are destroyed by hail, his are spared.  He loans money to his neighbors and when they can’t pay him back, he makes them sharecroppers working his fields.  He builds a huge mansion on the hill and alienates his wife and mother and all his old friends.

Jabez’s wife Mary is a good friend of the famous American statesman, Daniel Webster (played by Edward Arnold) and she finally calls Webster in when she decides that something terrible has happened to her husband.  Jabez has changed from an honest friendly religious man into a greedy, hateful sinner.  He’s driven away all of their friends and taken up with a Jezebel named “Belle” whom the Devil has sent to keep Jabez from repenting.

On the seventh anniversary of his contract Old Scratch (as the Devil is called in that neighborhood of New England) comes to claim Jabez Stone’s soul.  By this point Jabez realizes the wrong he’s committed and is repentant but he knows his contract is binding.  But at this point Daniel Webster confronts the Devil and demands a jury trial.  Webster will represent the defense and the Devil gets to pick the judge, and jury.  The jury is made up of notorious criminals of the early American era including Gen. Benedict Arnold the infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War.  But the Devil stipulates that if Jabez is found guilty Daniel Webster’s soul will also be collected.

Webster uses all his gifts as an orator and appeals to the jury’s remorse for not fulfilling their birthrights as free Americans and lovers of life.  He reminds them of the simple joys of living a virtuous life and how each of them regrets the road he has taken.

Finally, the jury asks the Devil to see the contract and when he hands it over Benedict Arnold tears it up and throws it away.  The judge and jury disappear into smoke and Daniel Webster gives the Devil the bum’s rush out of Jabez’s barn.  The two victors return to the farmhouse in time to enjoy a homecooked breakfast with Jabez’s wife and mother and young son.

His neighbors arrive to alert Jabez to the fact that his mansion on the hill is in flames.  He smiles at them and tells them he’s glad and that all their debts to him are cancelled and to prove it he tears up his promissory notes and invites them to breakfast.  The movie ends on a comical note with Old Scratch sitting on a country fence, finishing up a pie he stole from Ma Stone and looking into his little book of prospects and then peering out into the audience and smiling and pointing at you!

As I said this is an oddball film.  The bulk of the film is a melodrama about a good man going bad through greed and pride.  I suppose the supernatural story is meant to be a metaphor for how circumstances can make even good people lose perspective on the what’s really valuable in life and let the pursuit of money destroy the good things they have.  I don’t know if I can recommend this movie unless I compare it to something like the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  That movie also shares a supernatural framing of the dangers of losing perspective on what makes life worth living.  If you didn’t like that better movie then you probably won’t like this lesser tale.  That won’t guarantee you’ll like this one but it gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is.

Marty (1955) – A Movie Review

Ernest Borgnine stars as Marty Piletti an Italian American living in the Bronx.  He’s a 34-year-old who works as a butcher in a small shop and supports his widowed mother in the house where he grew up with his brothers and sisters.  But all of them, even the younger ones have gotten married and only Marty is left hanging out with his friends who talk about women all night long but mostly can’t get a date.  None of them are matinee idols and Marty is probably the homeliest of the bunch.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When his mother, who worries that Marty will never marry, harangues him to go out to the Stardust Ballroom to find a girl, he laments that he’s been rejected countless times and is tired of it.  But he agrees to go and initially things go as usual.  Girls he asks to dance brush him off.  But a man comes by and asks a favor.  The other man is on a blind date and is unhappy about his date’s looks.  He wants to tell the girl that he has to leave but then have Marty take her home so she won’t feel abandoned at the dance.  Marty objects to the idea so the man finds someone else willing to escort the girl home for a five-dollar fee.

Marty follows the two men and witnesses the girl being callously rejected.  She refuses the offer to be brought home and the two men leave.  The girl is visibly devastated and leaves the dance floor and heads for an outdoor space to be alone.  Marty follows her and sees that she is crying.  Trying to cheer her up he approaches her and asks if she’d like to dance.  Overwhelmed by emotion she sinks her face in his shoulder and cries while Marty nervously pats her shoulder to comfort her.

In the next scene the couple are dancing and we meet Clara Snyder.  She is a twenty-nine-year-old school teacher.  Her relatively plain face has meant that like Marty she has never been in love.  The two hit it off tremendously.  Normally shy and tongue-tied Marty talks garrulously and exuberantly to this stranger.  And Clara is charmed that a man is so genuinely enthusiastic to be in her company.  They spend several hours talking while eating pie in a local diner.  At the end of the night Marty asks Clara to go to the movies the next night and they agree that he will call her next afternoon to decide on the details.  They both end the night deliriously happy to be in love.

But next morning his mother has had a change of heart and fears that if Marty gets married, she will be cast aside.  She tells Marty that she dislikes Clara even though she barely met her.  She tells Marty that Clara is old, unattractive and probably of loose morals because of her college education.  Also, Marty’s friends that saw Clara tell him that she’s a dog and not worth his time.  Now Marty allows himself to be persuaded by the people around him and fails to call Clara in the afternoon.  We see Clara at home that evening watching television with her parents and quietly crying.

But spending the night with his loser friends snaps Marty out of their spell.  He mocks their endless vacillation about what to do and their loveless lives.  He declares that he had a good time with Clara and if he has enough good nights with her, he’ll get down on his knee and beg her to marry him.  He then leaves them and heads to a phone booth to call Clara and change his life.

Marty is a straight forward story of two lonely people and the marvelous accident that brings them together and changes their lives for the better.  The movie has heart and even with the changes in social behavior between 1955 and today the humanity of the two main characters shines through and provides a timeless message, that there is beauty within.  Highly recommended as a date movie for couples.

The Westerner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this western story Gary Cooper is Cole Harden a drifter passing through Vinegarroon, Texas on his way to California.  But Vinegarroon is the home of “Judge” Roy Bean, the only law west of the Pecos River.  Bean (played by Walter Brennan) is a hanging judge who hands out rough justice based on being an advocate for the cattlemen.  If the cattlemen stampede a herd of cattle through a corn field and the farmer shoots one of the steers he’ll be hanged by Bean for the offense.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When Harden appears in the movie, he’s being led to Bean’s court house (saloon) because one of the locals recognized Harden’s horse as one that was stolen from a local.  Naturally the jury will declare him guilty but Harden manages to convince Bean that he is a friend of the famous actress Lily Langtry whom Bean greatly admires.  Claiming that he has a lock of her hair Harden gets Bean to “suspend” his sentence while evidence of his innocence can be found.  While Harden and Bean cement their friendship over bogus tales of Langtry and Bean’s rotgut whiskey the real horse thief walks into the saloon and Harden punches him out and retrieves the purchase price of the horse from his pockets.  When the thief attempts to shoot Harden, Bean beats him to the draw and thus reinforces the bond between the drifter and the hangin’ judge.

After this the movie drifts off into other directions.  Harden leaves town and while travelling through the area ends up working as a field hand for the Mathew family on their farm.  A romance blossoms between and Harden and the daughter Jane.  But we find out that Judge Bean has been persecuting the farmers and intends to drive them off their land through harassment and judicial malfeasance.  The farmers organize and decide to go en masse and shoot Bean to end their problem.  When Harden hears this, he gallops to Bean’s saloon and warns Bean.  Harden and Bean stop the plot and send the farmers away.  But Harden convinces Bean to remove all the cattle from the valley where the farmers live in exchange for Lily Langtry’s lock of hair that Harden claims to have.  Harden manages to get a lock of Jane Mathew’s hair for the purpose and when Bean fulfills his promise to move the cattle, he ceremoniously hands over the hair.

Now the farmers are triumphant and have a celebratory feast.  But while it is going on the cattlemen set fire to the fields and homesteads of the farmers and destroy the whole valley.  Jane’s father is murdered by the cattlemen and she blames Harden for the deeds she attributes to his friend Bean.

Harden forces Bean to admit that he was responsible for the fire and Harden leaves town to get a warrant for the arrest of Bean for murder and arson.  Coincidentally Lily Langtry is in the area for a concert and Judge Bean buys up all the tickets so that he can enjoy a private audience with Miss Langtry.  And the performance becomes the site of a shootout between Harden and Bean.  Eventually Harden fatally wounds Bean but before Bean dies Harden carries him backstage so Bean can see Langtry before he dies.

In the final scene Harden and Jane are a married couple on a rebuilt farm celebrating the return of the other settlers that had been driven out by Bean.

By the description, you can tell this is a very strange western.  The way I can describe it is a comedy for the first half of the movie that switches over into a more conventional melodrama.  From my point of view the comedic portions of the movie are the better parts.  Cooper and Brennan have a weird funny chemistry that makes the movie interesting and enjoyable.  The later romance and drama are okay but clash with the comedic elements.  I’ll recommend the movie based on the scenes with Cooper and Brennan even though as whole the movie is sort of a mess.

Battle of the Bulge (1965) – A Movie Review

This movie purports to be a dramatic portrayal of the pivotal WW II battle of the same name.  But the liberties that have been taken with respect to plot and characters make it almost unrecognizable when compared with the historical event.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The beginning of the movie interweaves scenes from the American perspective and the German view.  We start out meeting Lt. Col. Daniel Kiley, played by Henry Fonda.  He is an American Army intelligence officer stationed on the supposedly quiet section of the front line near the Ardennes Forest.  But he suspects that the Germans are planning an offensive in the area.  He makes a surveillance flight in a small aircraft over the forest and manages to get photos of hidden German tanks and also a high-ranking German officer arriving at the German headquarters in the area.  He passes this intelligence to his superiors, Gen. Grey, played by Robert Ryan and Col. Pritchard, played by Dana Andrews at their headquarters in the town of Ambleve.  Pritchard rejects Kiley’s suspicions about a German offensive while General Grey demands more proof.

Next, we meet the German officer that Kiley photographed.  It is Col. Martin Hessler, played by Robert Shaw with an outrageously over the top German accent, who is being given command of a large force of Tiger II tanks with the goal of breaking through the American lines and capturing Antwerp thus crippling the Allied offensive in Europe.  The Germans are sending out a party of their soldiers who have lived in the United States dressed as American GI’s. They will sabotage communication lines and road signs and try to hold the bridge over the Our river to allow the Tiger Tanks to advance.

Kiley manages to get some intelligence on the tank attack back to HQ just as the attack begins.  We see the Tiger tanks destroy the American tanks while sustaining almost no damage from direct hits.  And we are shown the Germans machine gunning large numbers of American prisoners.  But one other thing that Kiley learns during his surveillance of the German advance is that they are gravely short of fuel for their tanks.  They have only enough fuel to reach a large American fuel depot that is along the route to Antwerp.  Even taking a few extra hours to destroy the town of Ambleve where the American HQ is located is sorely argued against by Hessler’s commanding officer General Kohler.

When General Grey receives this intelligence about the fuel, he decides on a plan to attack the tank force with his tanks before the Germans can reach the fuel depot.  He wants to use the attack to delay the tanks long enough for them to run out of fuel.  When Hessler realizes the delay tactic he heads for the depot with a force of his tanks to obtain the fuel.  But the Americans at the depot spill thousands of gallons of fuel and set fire to it just as Hessler’s tanks arrive.  Hessler’s tanks are engulfed in flames and he dies when his tank explodes.  Without fuel the rest of Hessler’s force have to abandon their tanks and the last scene shows a long line of men walking back to Germany.

I’ve left out a lot of details.  This movie is three hours long!  Charles Bronson plays an American major who fights a rearguard action against the Germans until he is captured at Ambleve.  Telly Savalas is an American sergeant tank crewman who also runs a black-market store in booze, stockings and chicken eggs out of his girl friend’s apartment.  Savalas ends up finally saving the day when he machine-guns the disguised Germans who have taken control of the fuel depot at the end of the movie.

My thoughts on this movie are mixed.  Some of the action is interesting to watch.  Shaw as Hessler gives a compelling performance.  I enjoy his style.  Other than Shaw a lot of the acting is competent but not memorable.  The tank footage looks pretty good.  But the thing that I hold against this movie is that it misrepresents the events of a very important battle for which the details are very well known.  There was no race to get to a fuel depot in the actual battle.  The movie doesn’t show the fact that the battle took place during an horrendous frigid snow storm where the weather was as awful as the fighting.  The real battle was fought hand to hand in towns, forests and trenches.  If you are interested in what it really was like watch the episodes in “Band of Brothers” that chronicles the Battle of Bastogne.  So, my recommendation is unless you really like war movies and don’t care about accuracy don’t watch this movie.