Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Monday, July 2, 2012
Because as I said, this is not altogether incredible stuff.
Monday, April 30, 2012
See also my review of the film.
Monday, December 5, 2011
|Ancient Babylon, from Intolerance.|
What saves the effort is the big ideas wrestled with on the screen. The story, which should be familiar to all, involves a potent mixture of war, intrigue, the attempt by a great man to secure his legacy and his fear of dying and having his life stand for nothing (a timeless concern that haunts us all). Aurelius is only on screen the first hour, but it is his conflict that drives the action here and his alone. The rest of the players are simply reacting to conundrums the great philosopher plays out in his head, while an empire and unknowing mass of people swirl in the whirlwind of unrealized thought and deed that he leaves behind (great men are often agents of chaos, whether they intend it or not).
For Boyd it is a frightening moment, one in which he truly becomes a son of Aurelius, for like the departed emperor, his life's work is made meaningless by the whims of a populist mob who has lost all sense of self. For the audience living in uncertain times, both then and now, it is strikes a chord of warning. When a society forgets its pride, when it ceases to defend itself and work toward greater ends, then it truly loses its way and its worth. The penultimate scene, wherein the throne of the empire is auctioned off to the highest bidder, shows how much and how little the title has become, thanks to collective social abrogation Commodus and his reign of terror gave voice to.
Friday, November 11, 2011
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that The Manchurian Candidate is avante garde filmmaking masquerading as a boorish crowdpleaser (and in doing so, mimicking one of its lead characters quite intentionally). The end-result is a film that may chronicle the dark and often difficult to discern Cold Way conflict better than any other effort, minus Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Only, unlike Kubrick’s dark and wickedly cynical slice of satire, Frankenheimer plays it straight and serious. Audiences today might snicker at the lengths the Chinese government undertake in the film to train and condition an assassin capable of propelling their candidate to office, but the kernel of truth within what is obviously hyperbole and artistic license is worth mentioning.
|The Rosenburgs -- Guilty as Hell|
Monday, August 22, 2011
Thankfully, the convergence of skill and craftsmanship behind Charade make it almost impossible to dislike. The 1963 film boasts a talented cast led by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, a delightful score and a spy game stratagem that unfolds with exactly the right mixture of playful shenanigans and baited-breath. There is nothing approaching greatness in this movie, but whoever goes looking for greatness in romantic comedies is bound to be disappointed. Fun, formatted with typical cleverness, is more what we are after – and we get to have quite a lot of fun in this semi-serious romp of a picture.
|Parade of Fools.|
Saturday, August 6, 2011
|Alone with duty...|
|A movie of manners.|
Some rather un-Ford like cynicism even creeps into the end of the picture when Wayne chooses not to refute a newspaperman’s virtual deification of Fonda’s foolishness. Wayne remains focused on his service, and in this regard, seems to operate under the presumption that the truth will not ultimately enable his attempt to fulfill his duty. This is a dangerous maxim to put forward, of course, but in Ford’s hands, it feels more thought-provoking than the “my country right or wrong” phrase that found new life as America descended into Vietnam.
The nuance and characterization that made Fort Apache so interesting are largely absent in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Ford’s second cavalry film. The only one of the three shot in color, this film jettisons the Fonda character and then largely repeats the same plot without him. The main difference is that Wayne is virtually in command this time and he is tested not by another officer, but by events beyond his control (an Indian uprising). Charged with being the guardian for this desolate outpost of civilization, Wayne’s duty is to protect his troop and the White settlers who depend on them for their very existence. However, at the same time, Wayne knows being officer and gentleman means more than just being following orders, and with this in mind, he attempts to fulfill his duty, satisfy his morals and deal as fairly as possible with the Indian aggressors.
Wayne cleverly avoids an all-out war with the Indians by stealing their horses – itself ironic, given the Old West stereotype that Indians are horse thieves. What Ford wants his audience to understand is that the warrior who finds a way not to fight is every bit as glamorous as the one who charges to certain death. In this sense, the end of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon intentionally unfolds in exactly the opposite fashion of Fort Apache’s ill-fated climax. And unlike Fonda, who is one dimensional and stubborn, Wayne is presented as the complete officer. His solution to the Indian threat protects the American interests he oversees and avoids bloodshed at the same time.
This near-perfect ending matches nicely with the film’s booming Technicolor vistas, but it somehow feels less tangible than the ugly truths we were forced to swallow in Fort Apache’s dénouement. Perhaps, having experience cynicism in the trilogy’s first outing, I was unprepared for Ford’s return to his more typical brand of optimism?
Rio Grande, the third and final film, is hailed by some as Ford’s not-so-subtle comment on the Korean War. Personally, I think that is something of a stretch. However, this is the only film in which the Indians are presented in evil terms. Wayne also makes what he ultimately judges as mistakes, only to erase his errors – in reality, judgment calls based on incomplete information – with a triumphant charge into an Indian camp.
Along the way, there is great deal of singing and some of the novel of manners approach explored with such success in Fort Apache returns in the form of Wayne courting Maureen O’Hare, who plays his sassy and ready-for-divorce Southern wife. Wayne’s and O’Hare’s son is also present in the cavalry troop, with Wayne blustering he will not display even an ounce of special treatment toward his offspring. Unfortunately, for all the attempted fireworks, the estranged couple’s interplay never goes anywhere, and as delightful as O’Hare is, we end up feeling like she is there simply because the plot calls for it. Wayne’s son fails to torment him as much as he could, either.
|Wayne & Ford on set.|
That Ford clearly decided to make less complicated films after Fort Apache should not surprise. The entire reason he made the trilogy in the first place was to generate enough cash for his studio so he could make The Quiet Man. Accordingly, there is some truth in the argument that this trilogy is formulaic and designed to sell tickets. But to dismiss these films as nothing more than a means to an end would be a massive mistake.
The actual notion of masculine duty itself has also probably never been given a more thorough treatment than it has in these three pictures, either. By setting politics completely aside and taking his audiences back to a time and place that most have forgot, Ford successfully illustrates the notions of service and heroism. These were men on the edge of the world, and regardless what history would say about them today, they were serving an ideal and safeguarding a way of life in incredibly dangerous and inhospitable places. Being reminded of such service from time to time cannot be a bad thing…