Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Defiant Ones

Cover of "The Defiant Ones"

Cover of The Defiant Ones

Directed by Stanley Kramer
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Written by Nedrick Young (story)
Harold Jacob Smith
Starring Tony Curtis
Sidney Poitier
Theodore Bikel
Cara Williams
Cinematography Sam Leavitt
Editing by Frederic Knudtson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date July 1958
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Defiant Ones is a brilliant film featuring great performances by Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. The premise of the film is that two prisoners, one black and one white, have escaped from a chain-gang whilst still chained together. The film examines the issues of race and racism in 1950s America. Both actors are in fine form and the movie is quite entertaining and interesting.

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Coming Up

I know that I have been really slack with this blog but hopefully things will start to pick up. After weeks of not watching any movies at all I have decided to start watching some again. I know that I have made these promises before but here are just some of the films that I plan to watch this year.

I wonder how many of these that I will actually watch.

Hopefully I can also clean up the previous posts that I have made, which I have already started to do.


Bloody Mama

Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Shelley Winters as ‘Ma’ Kate Barker
Pat Hingle as Sam Adams Pendlebury
Don Stroud as Herman Barker
Diane Varsi as Mona Gibson
Bruce Dern as Kevin Dirkman
Clint Kimbrough as Arthur Barker
Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker
Robert Walden as Fred Barker
Alex Nicol as George Barker
Release date March 24, 1970
Running time 90 min.
Country United States
Language English

Bloody Mama is an interesting movie, if a little bit over the top in its campyness, especially the portrayal of Ma Barker by Shelley Winters. It’s not a great film or even a particularly good film, but it is watchable exploitation from Roger Corman. Like much of Corman’s stuff it’s pretty F’d up. This is one of Robert De Niro’s earliest pictures and he gives an interesting performance as Floyd Barker, Ma’s junkie son. The film is not trying to be a faithful biography of America’s notorious crime family, but just an exercise in shocking and entertaining it’s viewers. The film is violent and there is a little bit of nudity BUT surprisingly very little bad language. Bloody Mama was something that I probably will only watch once.


One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by Bill Peet
& Dodie Smith (novel)
Starring Rod Taylor
Cate Bauer
Betty Lou Gerson
Ben Wright
Lisa Davis
Martha Wentworth
Music by George Bruns & Mel Leven
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release date January 25, 1961
Running time 79 minutes
Language English

One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a good way to spend an hour and a bit. It is typical Disney fare from the 50s/60s period. It is not a masterpiece but just an enjoyable film. Cruella De Ville is an enjoyable villain but I feel that she could have been given a bit more screen-time, while her theme song is great. (Especially the Dr. John version that is not featured in the film but the 1996 live-action version of 101 Dalmatians!)

One thing that I was not too happy about was the amount of rotoscoping in this picture. For those who aren’t up to date on rotoscoping, it is basically when animators trace over live action film, frame by frame. Usually they do this to make a characters movement look more believable, although it does take away a lot of the cartoony-ness from animated films and to my eyes looks a bit out-of-place. This is just my opinion, but I feel that the rotoscope was used a little too much on One Hundred and One Dalmatians.


The Untouchables

Cover of "The Untouchables (Special Colle...

Cover via Amazon

Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Executive: Raymond Hartwick
Written by David Mamet
Based on The Untouchables by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness
Starring Kevin Costner
Sean Connery
Andy García
Charles Martin Smith
Robert De Niro
Patricia Clarkson
Billy Drago
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg & Bill Pankow
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 3, 1987 (1987-06-03)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English 

The Untouchables is a very good picture about one man’s ruthless pursuit of justice at any cost. It is a semi-fictionalised account of Eliot Ness’ efforts in trying to bring down Al Capone’s criminal empire in the early 1930s, yet it is full of historical inaccuracies which do detract a little from the enjoyment of the film.

The main inaccuracy would be the portrayal of the death of Frank Nitti, one of Capone’s top henchmen. The movie depicts Ness throwing Nitti off the top of the courthouse during Capone’s trial, when in reality Nitti committed suicide in 1943, over a dozen years after Capone’s trial. (The only reason I know this is because I have watched numerous documentaries on Nitti and Capone on the Criminal Investigation channel!) De Palmer and Mamet are really taking liberties with the truth here.

Another thing I found a little incomprehensible is the fact that Ness would fight his battles with Capone and his cronies so openly and that many members of the public ended up becoming innocent victims. The prime example of this is the scene at the crowded station when they are trying to arrest Capone’s book keeper and a gun fight breaks out. Surely Ness and any other law enforcement officer would have tried to avoid this.

Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Capone is almost as a cartoon villain, although I am not sure if the reason for this is due to De Niro going over the top or the way it has been written. Sean Connery gives a good performance as Ness’ mentor Malone though, a role which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Costner is alright as Eliott Ness.

The Untouchables is one of those popcorn films in which the best thing to do is to switch your brain off before viewing it, and to look at it as being just a piece of entertainment rather than being a serious look at a historical event.


The Public Enemy

Cover of "The Public Enemy"

Cover of The Public Enemy

Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright &Harvey F. Thew
Starring James Cagney
Jean Harlow
Edward Woods
Joan Blondell
Mae Clarke
Cinematography Devereaux Jennings
Editing by Ed McCormick & Edward McDermott
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date April 23, 1931
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Public Enemy was the first of many gangster films that Warner Bros. made in the 1930s starring Jimmy Cagney as Tom Powers. It features one of cinemas most iconic scenes where Cagney shoves 1/2 a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. It is a great film and Cagney’s performance is quite menacing and the evil Powers, although a lot of the time he does have a weird smile on his face which I don’t know whether to attribute to Cagney having a lot of fun with the role, or whether it just shows the smug conceit of Powers.

It is worth comparing Cagney’s portrayal of Tom Powers with that of another of the great 30s cinematic gangsters in Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte from Scarface. Whereas Camonte wants to prove himself a bigshot and his bravery turns out to be a mere facade without any support from his family or friends, Powers is an angry young man who seems to have no fear. While Camonte is seduced by power and money, Powers only motivation seems to be that he is a truly evil person.

You can also make a comparison about the two gangster’s mothers. Whilst Camonte’s mother knows that what he is doing is wrong and will cause the downfall of the family, Powers’ Ma is oblivious, or at the very least turning a blind eye to, all of his criminal activity. When Powers’ dead body is dumped at his family home we know his Ma is in for the shock of her life, whilst Camonte’s mother seems to be expecting his doom.

I think that the only disappointment with The Public Enemy is the brief performance of Jean Harlow as a gangsters moll. Her accent is all over the place.

Either way both The Public Enemy and Scarface are gret films featuring truly charismatic performances from the lead characters.


Scarface

Scarface (1932 film)

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by Howard HawksRichard Rosson
Produced by Howard Hughes
Written by
Scarface by Armitage Trail
Screenplay by Ben Hecht
Starring Paul Muni
George Raft
Ann Dvorak
Karen Morley
Boris Karloff
Cinematography Lee Garmes &  L.W. O’Connell
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by United Artists
Release date April 9, 1932
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English & Italian

Firstly this is the original Scarface – AKA Scarface Shame of a Nation, not the 1983 version featuring Al Pacino. This is the 1932 version featuring Paul Muni and George Raft and directed by Howard Hawks. It is probably one of the most celebrated gangster films of the 1930s, with Paul Muni giving a great, charismatic performance as the ambitious villain Tony Camonte. His performance is perhaps the equal of James Cagney’s in Public Enemy or Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar, although he seems to be rather forgotten today. One criticism of the picture I have is that I do think that Boris Karloff was horribly miscast as the rival gangster Gaffney. It is very hard to believe that someone with a proper English gentleman’s voice (and what a voice) would be a hard-nosed gangster from Chicago.

This was a very controversial film in its time, with the censors demanding lots of cuts and even am alternative ending because it was felt that this movie glorified the life of gangsters. Fortunately the film was being financed by the richest man on Earth at that time, Howard Hughes, and he was able to make these changes to the picture, although when the censors still would not pass the movie he just released the original version in states that had very relaxed censorship regulations.

There were also several accidents on set with Gaylord Lloyd, brother of silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd, losing an eye after being shot by live ammunition!!!