Saturday, September 20, 2008

Taking Inventory as of September 20

Gunman’s Walk with Van Heflin, Tab Hunter & James Darren; (1958)
The Burglars with Jean-Paul Belmondo & Omar Sharif; (1971)
The Group directed by Sidney Lumet; (1966)
Tell No One; French with subtitles; (2006)
Band of Outsiders with Anna Karina; directed by Jean-Luc Godard; French with subtitles; (1964)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart; directed by John Huston; (1948)
There Will Be Blood with Daniel Day Lewis; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; (2007)
The Red Heroine accompanied by the Devil Music Ensemble; silent with Chinese and English intertitles; (1929)


Gunman’s Walk was directed by Phil Karlson. This film only adds to my growing appreciation of PFA. This was a film I was completely unaware of and it turned out to be an outstanding film. Lee Hackett (Heflin) is a rancher with two, grown sons – Ed (Hunter) and Davy (Darren). Lee is an old-school rancher. He settled the land the old fashioned way – with a six shooter, his two fists and four fingers of whiskey. Now he looks around to see his world changing and he doesn't like it. Gentrified is the word we use today. Lee has more issues than nostalgia and a wild streak. He has a strained relationship with his sons. Competitive, proud and racist are just some of his better traits. He also has his sons call him Lee, orders them around like they were children and seems to want to be their friend rather than their father.

Ed takes after his father but doesn’t quite measure up and he resents him for it. Davy is more even tempered and his father is dismissive and nearly contemptuous of his younger son’s ways. Lee’s character really descends into murky waters. At the beginning, he could be dismissed a prideful old man trying to relive his youth by dominating his sons. However, by the end of the films, he has lied and compromised his ethics for Ed. Ultimately, he is forced to kill his own son in self-defense. Left with the spectre of having killed his older son and disowned his younger son (for dating a half-breed Indian), Lee is inconsolable. For the first time in his life, he asks someone (Paul) for help and presumably that is his road to redemption.

This film was really Shakespeare masquerading as a Western. The main conflict was between father and son even though they are more alike than different. Lee's lack of parental responsibility is the root cause of Ed’s ruination. It’s not quite a simplistic though. Paul had the same father but turned out much different so one cannot lay the sins of the father on the son. Ed took Lee’s credo and perverted it to the point where the only area he exceeded his father was in being more amoral.

At its core, this is Van Heflin’s film and he is up to the task. Tab Hunter was a little weak in the role but serviceable. James Darren didn’t have much to do but made the most of his limited screen time in a role that was designed to be the object of Lee and Ed’s contempt, disrespect and pity.


The Burglars is a remake of The Burglar. The Burglars removes the sexually frustrated overtones of the original and veers to a more playful film. The film reminded me of 1970's James Bond film (with Roger Moore). There is a famous car chase that reminds me of a Bond film. Spectators are cheering the action on-screen. Belmondo hams it up a little too much but overall this is an enjoyable film. There are a couple standout scenes. Dyan Cannon has a clapper for her lamp (Clap On! Clap Off!). As she gets slapped around by Belmondo, the lights go on and off. In another scene, Belmondo get dumped out of a dump truck and tumbles down a hill. The scene is shot in one take from the bottom of the hill. It is clear Belmondo performed this (and one a moving bus) stunt by himself. Sharif commands attention and his portrayal of a crooked cop serves as an effective foil to Belmondo's joie de vivre thief. Their stand out scene is in a restaurant as they verbally duel about the jewels Belmondo has stolen. In a nutshell, this lightweight film is precursor to modern action films - suspense, action and humor combined. Belmondo and Sharif are at the top of their game, Ennio Morricone composed the score, the film was shot in Athens and Dyan Cannon looks as good as she ever did.


The Group is a jumble of plot lines. Eight women graduate college in the early 1930's and their soap opera lives play out for the next two and a half hours. Mary McCarthy wrote the novel by the same name. Apparently, it was a bestseller and critically well regarded. However, the film gets bogged down by too many characters. The actress whose appearance and performance stood out was Joanna Pettet as Kay, the mentally unstable one who plunges to her death on December 7, 1941 (while scanning the skies with binoculars looking for Nazi warplanes). The film does boast an impressive supporting cast including Larry Hagman (as Kay's abusive husband), Hal Holbrook and Richard Mulligan. This film is notable for being Candice Bergen's debut. I think she even had top billing (although they may have been billed alphabetically). She is off-screen most of the film and has one of the smaller parts of the octet.


Tell No One - I didn't enjoy it so I won't say much. Mika'ela Fisher as the female assassin steals the film with just a handful of scenes.

Mika'ela Fisher in Tell No One


Band of Outsiders is the rare Godard film with a discernible plot. More importantly, it has the enchanting Anna Karina (Mrs. Jean-Luc Godard at the time). Karina plays a more innocent young woman in this film which was made one year before Pierrot le fou. The plot is boilerplate pot boiler but Karina's presence, Godard's faux gravitas narration and nice performances from Claude Brasseur & Sami Frey as the other two legs of a love/crime/existential triangle make this film eminently enjoyable. The most famous scene is an extended sequence featuring Karina (wearing a man's fedora), Basseur and Frey dancing The Madison in simple & repetitive sequences while Godard provides some comedic narration about their inner thoughts.


I can't add much that hasn't already been said about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and There Will Be Blood. For those not aware, Daniel Day-Lewis based his speech pattern on John Huston's voice. Day-Lewis is particularly effective playing the intense anti-hero (Gangs of New York). I would have liked to know more about what motivates Daniel Plainview or why he is a misanthrope. As for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it was very enjoyable. My only complaint would be that Bogart performance delved into ridicule but perhaps that is because so many have parodied his performance as Fred Dobbs.


The Red Heroine was not a great film but it served as an interesting historical artifact. I wonder why the film had English intertitles. Was it originally intended for a release in the US and Europe? Even as early as 1929, some kung fu tenets are already establish - wire work while flying through air vertically (as most famously and gracefully depicted in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), the puff of smoke appearance, and the long haired, bushy bearded kung fu master (maybe that some basis in historical fact). Also present were the intertitles in Pidgin English and one villain with a severe bucktooth overbite. Another criticism is that the film wasn't cropped correctly so the bottom line of the intertitle was frequently unreadable. Combined with the Pidgin English I could sometimes not understand, I struggled with the dialogue. Fortunately the plot was simple enough that it was not a problem. Speaking of the plot, 30 minutes and 3 or 4 characters could have been excised from this plot.

I was surprised by the violence and skin in the film. The Chinese Generalissimo had a pleasure palace full of concubines wearing short shorts and tight, skimpy halter tops. Given the black & white film and primitive film stock, it frequently looked like the women were nude. In later films, the good guys (or girls) often spared the lives of the villains but the Red Heroine killed two men with her sword while they were on the ground. She was tidy enough to wipe their blood off her sword using the bottom of her tunic.

The Red Heroine played at the 4 Star. I haven't been out there since last year. I hope the 4 Star makes it. It seems to have abandoned most of the Hong Kong films for art house films, second run and an occasional first run engagement (Sin City opened there although that was 3 years ago. Actually, I hope there is another SF Asian Film Festival this year.

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