Category Archives: Biopic

Teddy, The Rough Rider

Col. Theodore Roosevelt. Crop of Image:Theodor...

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Directed by Ray Enright
Produced by Gordon Hollingshead
Written by Charles L. Tedford
Starring Sidney Blackmer
Pierre Watkin
Cinematography Ray Rennahan
Editing by Everett Dodd
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date 24 February 1940
Running time 19 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I guess that it could well be considered un-Australian to watch a patriotic film about one of America’s greatest presidents on Australia Day, but that is just what I did yesterday. I found this short biopic on President Theodore Roosevelt from 1940 to be quite fascinating. There is no doubt from watching this short that Teddy was a great man and an interesting character and was someone who was loved by America and Americans.

This film gives a brief 20 minute overview of the great man’s public life. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it does skip his failure to return to the presidency in 1912. The film starts when he was NYC police commissioner, to when he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, to his military career leading his Rough Riders in the fight in the Spanish-American War, to when he became vice-president and finally president after the assassination of President McKinley.

Sidney Blackmer is quite charismatic (but slightly annoying) as the great man, and whilst this film purports to being a biopic I can’t help thinking that it had another, underlying message. The film was released in 1940 and Europe was at war with itself, but the USA was to stay out of any war at any cost and another Roosevelt, FDR, was in the White House. When in the film Teddy talks about standing up for smaller nations against larger aggressors in the final scene, it could be taken that he is talking to the American people and telling hem that Britain and Europe needs their help. However it would take another 12 months and an act of Japanese aggression at Pearl Harbor before the sleeping American giant would awaken.

Teddy, The Rough Rider can be found as an extra on the Knute Rockne All American DVD.

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Reach For The Sky

Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Daniel M. Angel
Written by Paul Brickhill, Lewis Gilbert & Vernon Harris
Starring Kenneth More
Muriel Pavlow
Lyndon Brook
Lee Patterson
Alexander Knox
Music by John Addison
Cinematography Jack Asher
Distributed by Rank
Release date United Kingdom 10 July 1956 (London)
United States 30 April 1957 (NYC)
Running time 136 Minutes

Reach For The Sky is the inspirational true story of Flight Commander Douglas Bader, who despite losing both his legs in a flying accident was able to become a hero of the Battle Of Britain, and then spent four years as a German prisoner of war.

Once upon a time this film, which was the most popular British film of 1956, would have always been shown on Australian TV. I remember seeing it many times on a Sunday afternoon, but it would be over 25 years since I can remember it last being on TV. (Perhaps ABC2 shows it nowadays late at night?!) Fortunately it has been recently released onto DVD by Magna Pacific, through their connection with Britain’s Granada International. It forms a part of their Silver Screen Collection, and is one part of a 3 DVD set, with The Heroes Of Telemark (starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris) and Malta Story.

I found rewatching Reach For The Sky to be a good experience. It is a very British film and I found Kenneth More’s portrayal of Bader to be a little clichéd, with all of the stiff upper lipped fighting spirit and courage that he showed. The crash that crippled Bader is well staged as are the WWII battle scenes, even if they do use some original and stock footage. Overall the film is a  very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.


Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Sam Zimbalist
Written by Dalton Trumbo
Book: Ted W. Lawson & Robert Considine
Starring Van Johnson
Robert Walker
Robert Mitchum
Spencer Tracy
Phyllis Thaxter
Stephen McNally
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Robert Surtees, ASC
Harold Rosson, ASC
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) November 15, 1944
Running time 138 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Anyone who has seen the terrible Disney film Pearl Harbour from a few years back will be familiar with the premise of thirty Seconds Over Tokyo as the events of this film were featured in the second half of Pearl Harbour. This is about the Doolittle Raid where a squadron of B-25 Mitchell Bombers took off from an aircraft carrier to hit Japan as a retaliation over Pearl Harbour.

The acting, especially from Van Johnson, is a little over the top as Ted Lawson, whose story this is based upon, while we don’t see that much of Spencer Tracy who plays Lt. Col. Doolittle. Robert Mitchum is featured in the film too in one of his earliest roles.

Johnson, who died in December 2008 at age 92, is a little hammy in his portrayal of Lawson, whose plane crashed on the Chinese coast after bombing Tokyo and had to have his leg amputated. During the films ending Lawson does not want to see his wife until he has an artificial leg and has learnt how to dance, whilst his wife, played by Phyliss Thaxter, does not want him to see her because she has put on a little weight. Oy Vey!!! Such melodrama. In the end they embrace because they are both glad that Lawson has survived.

However despite the over acting this is a fine film with great scenes of the hulking bomber taking off on their dangerous mission from the confines of the aircraft carrier. Whenever Spence is on-screen he gives the audience a reassuring feeling that he is in control and that everything will be alright in the end. The film is even quite even handed about their portrayal of the Japanese, which is quite surprising since the war in the Pacific was still raging when the movie was released.


Born Free

Directed by James H. Hill
Produced by Sam Jaffe & Paul Radin
Written by Book: Joy Adamson
Screenplay: Lester Cole
Starring
Virginia McKenna
Bill Travers
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Kenneth Talbot
Editing by Don Deacon
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release Date: 22 June 1966 (USA)
Running time 95 min.
Language English

Here’s another one of the types of movies that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Born Free is based on the popular book by Joy Adamson, and describes her relationship with Elsa the lioness, and her efforts to reintroduce the lioness to the wilds of Kenya.

I remember watching this film as a kid on TV but have not seen it for ages, until I bought the DVD today from Target for $10. It is a bargain for such a great movie. Sure Elsa has been anthropomorphised in that her personality makes her seem that she is almost human, but this she is cute and this is good family fun. The African scenery is just magnificent and the ending to the film is very uplifting, especially after the heartbreak that Joy undergoes when she releases Elsa to the wild.

The film won an Academy Award for best song due to the famous title theme which became a hit for Matt Monro. John Barry also took home an Academy Award for best original score, while the film also won the Golden Globe for best Motion Picture – Drama. This film was also followed by a sequel, Living Free.


The Return of Frank James

This is one ugly poster in which Henry Fonda looks to be suffering from Bells Palsy. Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck & Kenneth Macgowan
Written by Sam Hellman
Starring
Henry Fonda
Gene Tierney
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Walter A. Thompson
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Release date(s) August 16, 1940
Running time 92 min.
Country United States
Language English

I watched this film on Fox Classics the other night and whilst for some reason I don’t have too many westerns in my DVD collection (something I need to rectify), I did enjoy this particular film. This movie starred Henry Fonda as the anti-hero Frank James, the brother of the infamous Jesse James and member of the outlaw James gang. This film is apparently a sequel to 1939s Jesse James in which Jesse was double crossed by gang member Bob Ford played by John Carradine. The Return Of Jesse James involves Frank’s search for revenge against former friend Ford.

The film is a highly fictionalised account of Frank’s life after Jesse’s death but is very entertaining. It is a very good old-fashioned western film, with some hints to Gone With The Wind thrown in for good measure. There is even a bit of a moral dilemma thrown in for good measure when Frank has to decide whether to pursue Ford or to fight for the freedom of his farm hand Pinky, who is set to be hanged after wrongfully being arrested as an accomplice of Frank’s.

One surprising element to the film is who directed it. Fritz Lang was a German director known for films such as Metropolis and M, German Expressionism and film noir and not films from the western genre, although he did follow this up with some more westerns. This was just his fourth American made film. I still recommend this film and will probably buy it if I see it on DVD. (It used to be available at Big W before Christmas for $9.99)


The Wrong Man

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Uncredited: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Story: Maxwell Anderson
The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero
Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson & Angus MacPhail
Starring
Henry Fonda
Vera Miles
Anthony Quayle
Harold Stone
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Robert Burks
Editing by George Tomasini
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) December 22, 1957 (U.S.)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
Language English

This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I’ve made before.

Hitchcock’s cameo in The Wrong Man is the easiest one of all to stop as here he appears in silhouette and addresses the audience directly, to let the audience know that they are about to see a story based on the real experience of one man, Manny Balestrero, who was wrongly accused of committing a number of robberies.

This film is probably one of the least known of Hitch’s movies, especially when compared to his other 50s films such as Vertigo, North By Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window and Dial M For Murder, which were all made in the five-year from 1954-1959. However this is a very good film due mainly to the performance of Henry Fonda, as the man arrested and put on trial for crimes committed by a lookalike, and Vera Miles as his wife who is driven mad because of the incident. I really enjoyed their performances greatly.


Ed Wood

Directed by Tim Burton
Produced by Tim Burton
Denise Di Novi
Written by Screenplay:
Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Book:
Rudolph Grey
(Nightmare of Ecstasy)
Starring Johnny Depp
Martin Landau
Patricia Arquette
Sarah Jessica Parker
Jeffrey Jones
Lisa Marie
Bill Murray
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Stefan Czapsky
Editing by Chris Lebenzon
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures
Release date(s) Limited release:
September 30, 1994
Wide release
October 7, 1994
Running time 127 min.
Country United States

Edward D. Wood Jr. is world-renowned as having directed some of the worst movies ever made. He was a director with lots of ideas and ambition but little talent or money. Most of the actors he used in his films were made up of friends, freaks and weirdos, as well as a drug addled and past his prime Bela Lugosi. Wood may have had little talent as a director and his films may be ridiculed as some of the worst of all time and they have an ill-conceived weirdness about them, yet they retain a sincerity in them and are never boring, which you cannot necessarily say about some of today’s big budget blockbusters.Despite his lack of talent and success there are very few Hollywood directors who can say that they have had their lives and career lovingly immortalised on film.

Depp is brilliant as Wood, in another of his quirkier roles. He plays Wood as someone full of childish enthusiasm for the movie business, and who doesn’t see his own limitations. He idolizes the great Orson Welles and in his own mind he is just as successful. I know that Burton must have taken a few liberties with the film, but I wonder if Wood honestly knew that what he was making was shit, or is he really thought of himself as an auteur making great works of art. Perhaps this is my own cynical nature that makes me think this, but there is no cynicism at all in Burton’s film. He and Depp portray Wood with all the reverence reserved for legends.

I must also make mention of Martin Landau’s Oscar-winning performance portraying screen legend Bela Lugosi, the original Dracula. He gives a sympathetic portrayal of Lugosi, who at the time he met Wood had hit rock bottom. His career was in tatters and he was in the grips of morphine addiction. A running joke throughout the film is when Ed tells potential backers that he is going to have Lugosi starring in his next movie project the response is usually, “Isn’t he dead?”.

This is a great little film that is very funny and quirky. It is a fascinating look at the life of someone who never knew that he was a failure and never gave up on his dreams.