Category Archives: Drama

Black Legion

Cover of "Black Legion"

Cover of Black Legion

Directed by Archie Mayo & Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by Story: Robert Lord
Screenplay: Abem Finkel & William Wister Haines
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Dick Foran
Erin O’Brien-Moore
Ann Sheridan
Music by W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson & Bernhard Kaun (all uncredited)
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Owen Marks
Studio Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) January 17, 1937 (NYC)
January 30, 1937 (US)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Black Legion is a 1937 film that depicts an offshoot of the notorious Ku Klux Klan. Many of the messages contained in the film are just as poignant today as they were 70+ years ago, that is that in times of trouble that it is easy to blame and scapegoat migrants. Having recently read the ramblings of a Melbourne white supremacist who among other things labelled me a ‘race traitor’, shows that despite what some people say, deep racism is still around. Just by browsing the Anti-Bogan website you can see just how warped some people still are about these things.

In Black Legion Humphrey Bogart plays Frank Taylor, a factory worker who gets passed over for a promotion at his job, which goes to Polish American Henry Brandon. Taylor ends up falling for the propaganda of the Black Legion, a clandestine white supremicist organisation. Thanks to the ideas promoted by the Legion, Taylor begins to blame foreigners for his woes. There are consequences for Taylor as he loses his wife and child and then murders his best friend after letting slip his membership of the Legion.

The film is very well acted and the young Bogart is great. This was still a year or so before he became a big star. The film is a little preachy, but it is still totally absorbing.


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.


Lassie Come Home

Lassie Come Home

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
Produced by Samuel Marx
Written by Novel:
Eric Knight
Screenplay:
Hugo Butler

Starring Pal
Roddy McDowall
Donald Crisp
Dame May Whitty
Edmund Gwenn
Elizabeth Taylor
Nigel Bruce
Elsa Lanchester
J. Patrick O’Malley

Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cinematography Leonard Smith
Editing by Ben Lewis
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date October 7, 1943
Running time 89 minutes
Language English

Lassie Come Home is the type of movie that we rarely see anymore. It is a film that is accessible to everyone, whether they are 5 years old or 95. It is a classic family film with a great storyline and some real tear-jerking moments.

The movie is set in the depression era Yorkshire and features Lassie, the rough Collie who belongs to the Carraclough family, and in particular young Joe. Unfortunately the family can no longer afford to keep Lassie and have to sell him to the Duke of Rudling. Unfortunately for the Duke Lassie seems to always find a way to escape from his kennels and find her way back to Joe. Even when the Duke takes Lassie to Scotland, she finds a way of escaping and managing to make her way back to Yorkshire. We see all the perils that Lassie faces during her travels and the friendly (and not so friendly) people she encounters along the way.

There are some terrific performances in the film. The best performance is by Pal, the collie who played Lassie. (Pal was a male Collie by the way.) It also features very early performances by Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor, who were ably supported by veterans Donald Crisp, Elsa Lanchester, Nigel Bruce and Edmund Gwen.


Bill

Written by Barry Morrow & Corey Blechman
Directed by Anthony Page
Produced by Mel Stuart
Starring Mickey Rooney
Dennis Quaid
Largo Woodruff
Anna Maria Horsford
Harry Goz
Music by William Humeke, William Kraft
Cinematography Mike Fash
Approx. run time 100 minutes
Distributed by CBS Television
Country United States
Language English
Release date December 22, 1981
Bill is a movie that I watched several times when I was a kid. It is the story of Bill Sackter, a man who has an intellectual disability who lived in an institution for 46 years but is now living in the community trying to make it on his own. I think that it is kind of ironic that I watched this film so often as a kid as for the last fifteen years I have made a career working with people with intellectual disabilities.

Bill is played by Mickey Rooney, who won an Emmy Award for the role. Naturally he is not subtle with his playing of Bill but that is not so bad here. It’s hard for me to make an unbiased judgement of this movie though as I work with people with disabilities and can tell that reality is very different from the movies. I can see how the film tries to manipulate the feelings of the viewer but the story is quite compelling and Rooney’s overacting of the part helps us feel empathy for Bill. I know that there is a documentary about the real Bill Sackter that has recently been released but this is still an OK watch.


The Wrestler

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Produced by Darren Aronofsky & Scott Franklin
Written by Robert D. Siegel
Starring Mickey Rourke
Marisa Tomei
Evan Rachel Wood
Ernest Miller
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Maryse Alberti
Editing by Andrew Weisblum
Studio Wild Bunch
Saturn Films
Protozoa Pictures
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA)
Optimum Releasing (UK)
Release date United States: December 17, 2008 (limited)
January 23, 2009 (wide)
Running time 109 min.
Country United States
France
Language English
I’ve been watching professional wrestling ever since the first Wrestlemania back in 1984, so I am familiar with the sport/entertainment and some of the characters in it.
Whilst the movie is pure fiction and that Mickey Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” was never a real wrestler, I could see bits and pieces of other wrestlers in his make-up. There are several older past their prime wrestlers who still compete in school gymnasiums on the indy circuit. For example Abdullah the Butcher is 68 years old and still competes with no thoughts of retiring, while if you were one of the (very few) people who attended the Australian Hulkamania tour early this year you would have seen a main event consisting of 57-year-old Hulk Hogan and 61-year-old Ric Flair.
It is also very easy to believe that even a top wrestler from 20 years ago could now be broke, as evidenced by Ric Flair who rumour has it, never invested his money wisely, lived the lifestyle that he portrayed on TV, and has several ex-wives and children to support. Similarly Hulk Hogan has just been through a messy divorce and has tried to get his daughter into the music industry and has had to pay for his sons mistakes also.
It is easy to belive that a pro-wrestler could suffer from a heart attack despite being relatively (40s) young. Eddie Guerrero was just 38 years old when he died of a heart attack.
The best thing about the film is that the Ram character is believable and that the viewer believes that he could be a real person. We empathise with everything he is going through and we want him to succeed. He is not perfect but he is likable. I suppose that this film is very similar to Rocky.

Boys Town

Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by John W. Considine Jr.
Written by Dore Schary, Eleanore Griffin & John Meehan
Starring Spencer Tracy
Mickey Rooney
Henry Hull
Music by Edward Ward
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Editing by Elmo Veron
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date 9 September 1938
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Boys Town is a hard film to review for me because although I thought it was a great story, and Spencer Tracy’s fine portrayal of Father Flannigan was pretty good, there was one element that almost ruined the film for me. I am talking about Mickey Rooney’s performance as Whitey Marsh.

I have seen a few Mickey Rooney films and know that he can be quite a ham, but here his over-acting really affected my enjoyment of the film. The part really could have used a little subtlety instead of Mickey trying to steal every scene when he really didn’t have to. Perhaps I could put it down to him just being 18 at the time he made this film BUT… he had been acting in vaudeville and movies all his life so there shouldn’t be an excuse. Perhaps because Tracy’s  portrayal of Father Flannigan is very understated the director wanted to have the Mickster play his part way OTT.


Shanghai Express

Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by Adolph Zukor
Written by Jules Furthman
Harry Hervey (story)
Starring Marlene Dietrich
Clive Brook
Anna May Wong
Music by W. Franke Harling
Rudolph G. Kopp
Cinematography Lee Garmes
James Wong Howe
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date February 2, 1932
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Shanghai Express is a very interesting film from 1932. Set in civil war torn China but filmed in Paris, it stars Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lilly. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and according to one review that I have read of the film, is meant to be a statement about the love between the fame director and his starlet. Of course rumours have abounded about another affair that the German actress was having with her co-star Anna Mae Wong. Who knows what really was happening behind the scenes.

Dietrich plays the coaster Shanghai Lilly, who has been breaking the hearts of men between Peking and Shanghai for five years, since her heart was broken by ‘Doc’ Harvey, a British officer who she meets up with while travelling on the train. Lots of critics have raved about her performance but she really doesn’t have that much to do. She spends some time looking glamorous and smoking a cigarette and smirking her way through her scenes looking as though she is about to burst into laughter but she is out acted by her co-star Anna Mae Wong, who despite being on screen for a much shorter amount of time has a far juicier part and more screen presence than Marlene.

Then there is Warner Oland as the evil rebel leader Mr Chang, who holds the train passengers for ransom and rapes (off-screen) Wong’s character Hui Fei. Oland is best known as being a caucasian actor who played many Asian parts, especially the famed Oriental detective Charlie Chan. He is thoroughly despicable here.

Shanghai Express was nominated for best picture at the 1932 Academy Awards and while it is very watchable and a very good film, and  Wong and Oland’s performances are great, I don’t know if the film is that great. As I said Dietrich spends most of her time mugging for the camera rather than really acting, while Brook’s performance as ‘Doc’ Harvey is rather wooden.


Of Mice And Men

Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Lewis Milestone
Written by John Steinbeck (novel)
Eugene Solow
Starring
Burgess Meredith
Betty Field
Lon Chaney, Jr.
Charles Bickford
Bob Steele
Noah Beery, Jr.
Music by Aaron Copland
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Studio Hal Roach Studios
Distributed by United Artists
Release date December 30, 1939
Running time 111 minutes
Language English

The 1939 version Of Mice And Men is a film that has perhaps been forgotten a bit over time, especially when compared to some of the other movies that came out during  1939/40. It is quite easy to forget just how great this movie was and how iconic the performance of Lon Chaney Jr. is as Lennie. I guess part of the reason for it to be forgotten in this country could be because it was banned from being released here in Australia for about twenty or so years, thanks to our diligent Chief Censor Creswell O’Reilly who deemed this film to be morally inappropriate to be screened here because… well actually after watching the film I cannot see any reason for it to be banned other than we were (and probably still are) quite prudish. That there doesn’t seem to have been much outrage at the time that a best picture nominated film was banned from being seen by us Aussies is a bit of a concern.

As I said earlier in this post Lon Chaney’s performance as Lennie is quite iconic and it is a shame that it has been overshadowed by his latter role as the Wolf Man. The Lennie character and Chaney’s portrayal of him were parodied numerous times over the next two decades by animators Tex Avery at MGM and Chuck Jones at Warner Bros with the most obvious parody is the Avery cartoon Lonesome Lenny in which Lenny calls Screwball Squirrel ‘George’ and… well see for yourself.

Of course when ever you see a cartoon character talking about ‘tending the rabbits’ they are parodying Chaney.

Also I think Burgess Meredith’s performance as George should be mentioned. Most people only know Meredith as The Penguin from the Batman TV series or as Mickey from the Rocky films, so it is good to see him in his younger days. He gives a great performance as George who is always looking out for the ‘slow witted’ Lennie as can be seen in the final scene where he must make a harrowing decision.

Overall this is a prety good film. I have previously seen the 1980s version with Randy Quaid as Lennie but feel that this version was much better. It is of course based on John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel which is also a great read.


The Good Earth

Directed by Sidney Franklin, Victor Fleming & Gustav Machatý
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by Pearl S. Buck (novel)
Donald Davis (play)
Owen Davis (play)
Talbot Jennings
Tess Slesinger
Claudine West
Starring Paul Muni
Luise Rainer
Walter Connolly
Tilly Losch
Charley Grapewin
Music by Herbert Stothart
Edward Ward
Cinematography Karl Freund
Editing by Basil Wrangell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date January 29, 1937
Running time 138 min.
English

I like old movies but even I can see that one area where old-Hollywood got things dreadfully wrong was with race. Even in the 21st century this has been one area where the movies have struggled although things are better than they were when The Good Earth was made in 1937. Firstly you’d expect a film about Chinese farmers in China to feature Chinese actors playing the roles, but you’d be really wrong. Here Paul Muni of Scarface fame plays Wang Lung, whilst Luise Rainer won the best actress Oscar (her second) for her portrayal of O-Lan despite the fact that she did so with a heavy German accent.

Apparently producer Irving Thalberg wanted to cast and all Chinese cast but Louis B. Mayer thought that the film going public would not be ready for this. Anna Mae Wong was asked to play Lotus, the seductress, to give the film some authenticity, but she angrily declined the role because she was angry that all the main roles were played in yellow-face by Caucasians and that she would be asked to play the least sympathetic role.

Over-all the acting is hammy, the dialogue ridiculous and stereotypes abound. The film may have been tolerable if there had been Asians at least playing the Asian characters as the yellow-face just makes the film worse than it probably is.

By the way just a note to all Foxtel subscribers that everyone gets the movie channels free for the next two weeks. I saw The Good Earth on TCM.


Hatari

Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Howard Hawks & Paul Helmick
Written by Harry Kurnitz
Leigh Brackett
Starring John Wayne
Elsa Martinelli
Hardy Krüger
Red Buttons
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date October 6, 1962
Running time 157 min

Hatari is another manly John Wayne movie. It’s not as manly as The Quiet Man, but it is pretty close. Of course John Wayne is a man’s man, even if there are photos of him wearing women’s clothing which somehow hasn’t made it to the internet yet! (Perhaps he is so manly that the internet refuses to believe that he was into transvetitism!). Hatari is such a manly film that even the woman act manly, no matter how hot they are. In one scene that lasted about five minutes Elsa Martinelli smokes three cigarettes and drinks a beer. The film is just dripping with testosterone.

Seriously it is an enjoyable, although overlong, film. There are lots of exotic animals and dangers in the African savannah and there is also a lot of good-natured humour. With John Wayne you always know what you are going to get as he always plays the same type of character. Perhaps he didn’t need much of an acting range since he was so manly?!

I should also mention the music and that at the end of the film we are treated to Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk and the sight of three cute baby elephants running amok.  All in all an enjoyable way to waste 2 1/2 hours and best thing is that you can get the DVD from Big W for less than ten bucks.