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  1. With Hollywood westerns, a little bit of research goes a long way - in my lifetime, I've had more success with this genre of movie than perhaps any other, all because I do a little research before choosing what to watch. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962) is the twelfth of fourteen collaborative westerns with John Ford and John Wayne (the first and ninth, respectively, being "Stagecoach" (1939) and "The Searchers" (1956)). It is perhaps the most beautiful western I've ever seen. Loaded with famous actors, every single major and minor star outperforms in this deceptively sad meditation upon grief, love, and any of a half-dozen other basic human traits, all attending a costume party in what is most likely mid-19th-century Colorado, and cloaked as a moral dilemma involving the death of another human being. Never have I seen John Wayne play a more important part with less screen time than in this film. Jimmy Stewart is clearly the star - he has to be - but it's Wayne who completes this movie, and who transcends himself in a role so touching that you may feel your eyes moisten in what is one of the most poignant endings of any film I've ever seen. A death itself cannot be considered tragic (everyone who has ever lived, has died), but certain deaths are inherently more tragic than others, and when a piece of history is buried alongside an anonymous hero, lost forever to the earth, and made known only to an audience who desperately wants to jump inside the screen and construct a proper memorial - that cannot be considered a romance, or an action film, or even a western; it can only be classified as a full-blown tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. The next time you and your date are hunting around, looking for a movie to watch, remember this thread: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is required viewing for everyone who cares about great film.
  2. Gosh I've seen Cloris Leachman a lot lately - it's so easy to become familiar with actors and actresses in older films, because there just weren't as many. Leachman is the very first thing you'll see in "Kiss Me Deadly," a genuine classic, independently made, archetypal example of film noir from 1955. (The lower-body shots are certainly a stunt-double (either that, or they were sped up), because I'd bet my bottom dollar that Cloris Leachman couldn't run that fast. Interestingly, that opening shot was the very first time Leachman ever appeared on camera - likewise Maxine Cooper, who plays Mike Hammer's secretary, Velda.) Mike Hammer, a stereotypical Mickey Spillane detective, is played by Ralph Meeker, who has a somewhat similar role in Season 1, Episode 1 of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" later in 1955 - I suspect playing Hammer is what got Meeker his part in HItchcock's excellent "Revenge" (which you should watch on Hulu, if you're a member). Just in case you hear the name Christina Rossetti, and don't know who she is. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Boy, what is it about 1955? There is a *very* disturbing, albeit non-graphic, scene towards the beginning of this movie - certainly more than enough to make you pity Cloris Leachman. Wow, about the car bombs: I *just* saw an episode of "The Saint" called "The Careful Terrorist" which used a "double-bomb" method, planting an obvious one, but also a second, non-obvious one that was supposed to be the *real* agent of death. That episode, shall we say, "borrowed" that sequence of events from this film - fortunately, the "good guy" in both cases was somewhat superhuman in his intuitive abilities, and had the wits to figure out the sinister plot. This may be the most violent movie I've ever seen from the 1950s; the difference is that none of the violence is graphic (which, to me, makes it scarier) - I'm surprised at just how far they're willing to go with this. "Thugs" is too gentle of a word for what these mobsters are. Hammer is led to Christina Bailey's (Cloris Leachman's) "roommate," Gabrielle (Lily Carver), and it's very hard to tell what to think of her - this is one of the main elements in Film Noir - it's the story line, not the character development, that drives things. We know nothing about *any* of these people - it's almost Photographic in a way, since we're capturing moments in time. This particular film, after all, had a major influence on the French New Wave movement. This film has allegory written all over it - this is *not* the finish you'll be expecting. What a fascinating movie this was - a perfect fusion of Film Noir and hard science fiction. Jean-Luc Godard, a seminal figure in French New Wave cinema, was apparently deeply influenced by "Kiss Me Deadly," and it's not hard to see why - who knew that *Mickey Spillane* would indirectly influence an entire movement in Europe?! In "The Usual Suspects," I mentioned how annoyed I am at at internet know-it-alls who try to sound smart by misusing the term Film Noir (which "Kiss Me Deadly" most certainly *is*). Now, I'm going to say that I'm equally annoyed by people who misuse the term MacGuffin (which the suitcase in "Kiss Me Deadly" most certainly *is not* - when the reveal is made, the viewer realizes they've just seen a film unlike anything else they've ever seen before - it was no fluke that those opening credits were rolling in reverse order). "Kiss Me Deadly" is available for free, with good quality, on oldmovietime.com (and there are no Czech subtitles - I'm not sure why it says there are).
  3. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** "True Grit" is a continuance of 'Hollywood Classics which I've never before seen.' It begins with a surprise murder by Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), then a distressingly *non*-surprising gathering at the Courthouse, where they're going to be hanging three men that day. Why people have always wished to gather to witness others being violently killed is beyond my capability of understanding. And in case you think our species has evolved since the days of the Wild West: Aug 14, 2014 - "20,000 Watched the Last Public Hanging 78 Years Ago" by Mark Murrmann on motherjones.com Hating human beings, but loving cats and dogs, is perfectly justified, don't you think? Hey, I have an idea! Let's all have a get-together, and push our kids on swings while three men await their deaths! Anyway, daughter Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is understandably furious at the murder of her father, Frank Ross (John Pickard). Mattie is one of the witnesses to the public hanging, and thinks the cold-hearted judge (who "flips the switch") is *just* the man she needs to try the murderer of her daddy, and it's hard to blame her. Interestingly, Kim Darby was 21-years-old when she portrayed 14-year-old Mattie - she really does have a youthful appearance. Mattie reveals to us that she's from Dardenelle, in Yell County, Arkansas, establishing the setting of "True Grit." Frank Ross (Mattie's dad) was killed in Ft. Smith, just west of where the courthouse is, and one of the westernmost places in all of Arkansas. A pretty telling scene occurs when the Sheriff tells Mattie that Tom Chaney is now in "Indian Territory," which is out of his jurisdiction, and only U.S. Marshals can pursue him there. He names three of them for Mattie: the best tracker, the most merciless (Rooster Cogburn, played by John Wayne), and the straightest - Mattie immediately asks the Sheriff where she can find this "Rooster Cogburn" - she's out for vengeance, plain and simple. I'm very curious why Cogburn wears the eye-patch. This seems to have caught on as a generic "tough guy" symbol, and I wonder if this picture had anything to do with it - I suspect some older, pirate-based movie started it before this. Rrrrrrrrrr there any you can think of? Defense attorney Goudy (I didn't name these people) was played by Alfred Ryder, a character actor who was in many television shows, including "The Man Trap" - the first (non-pilot) episode of "Star Trek." (Darby, by the way, had the lead in the "Star Trek" episode "Miri" as the eponymous character - an important role.) In the same scene, there's a man sitting in the very front row of the courtroom, in what can only be described as a "bit part" - non-speaking, uncredited, and only on camera for maybe thirty seconds total. "True Grit," it turns out, was Wilfred Brimley's very first movie, and this is him - I think (but am not sure) that he's the somewhat stocky, somewhat balding man in the beige leather jacket towards the right of the photo: The only reason I even knew he was in here was because Amazon X-Ray listed him - there is *no way* I would have picked this up on my own. Brimley was personal friends with Robert Duvall - who plays Lucky Ned Pepper - and I strongly suspect that's how Brimley got the part - he was born in 1934, so he would have been only 35 when this was filmed. I'm not convinced this man is Brimley, but he's somewhere in the courtroom: When you see this film, concentrate on the initial, extended, one-on-one conversation between Mattie Ross and the Texas Ranger, Mr. La Boeuf (Glen Campbell). This conversation came across as stilted and poorly directed - essentially, an interplay between two inexperienced actors (which they both were) - nevertheless, this one falls on the Director, Henry Hathaway, and he didn't make it work. It didn't ruin the film, of course, but it was simply not a good scene. A very interesting note: I later read, long after I wrote the preceding sentences, in the "Trivia" section of the IMDB website, that Hathaway hated Campbell's performance, calling it "wooden," and only had him in the movie so he could have a hit song associated with it. If this *isn't* the worst scene in the movie, then that worries me. I. Do. Not. Like. Kim Darby in this role. I hope to God she gets better, because I have a feeling this film is going to hinge on her acting abilities. So far, Darby is every bit as "wooden" as Campbell - maybe more so. However, *this* gentleman, Chen Lee (H.W. Gim) knows how to slice bacon! As of right now, I'm 50 minutes into a 2'10" movie, and two of the three leads can't act worth a damn. I know that Duvall is going to show up soon, and so is Dennis Hopper - right now, I'm praying for a miracle, or at least that these two, along with Wayne, can act "louder" than Campbell and Darby - it must be so in order for this to be a good film: fingers, crossed. The film is half over, and we just met two horse thieves: Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon Dennis Hopper (thank goodness - btw, when is the last time Dennis Hopper has been spotted in a role that involves being very "off?"): Maybe now, we won't have to watch Wayne attempt to carry the entire movie by himself - Wayne was a good actor, but he wasn't good enough to carry a film when he's handicapped with Campbell and and Darby. Well, five minutes later, so much for either Quincy or Moon possibly saving the film. Now, we have to hope for Pepper (Duvall), who will be along shortly. For those of you into biker flicks, Jeremy Slate played the leader of the gang, "The Born Losers," a sub-par but highly influential movie that was the first of the "Billy Jack" enterprise. For those few of you who saw the film, here's a little memory stimulant to help you remember Slate's role, that of gang leader and lead antagonist, Danny Carmody, Billy Jack's (Tom Laughlin's) nemesis and gadfly: With Quincy and Moon gone, and over halfway into "True Grit," I'm painfully reminded that - just as with all the other art forms including the culinary arts, wine, music, and sports - I don't like "movies" per se; I like *good* movies. And so far, this simply isn't one due to the sub-par acting and the plot, which is thus far moving at a snail's pace. Why have I heard so much about "True Grit" throughout my life? I refuse to look until it's over - I'm just going to try and enjoy it, or at least to glean whatever I can from it. The extended, character-developing dialogue that Darby and Cogburn had, about 1:15 into the film, was *so much better* than the dialogue that Darby and La Boeuf had early on, that maybe it was mostly Glen Campbell, and not as much Darby, who was completely devoid of acting talent. I really enjoyed listening to those two talk with each other, and the viewer really learned quite a bit about Cogburn in the process. This is a *very* imposing gang that Pepper has, and that Cogburn, La Boeuf, and Darby are going to have to face by themselves (Duvall is third from the right): The whole, extended attack scene, complete with rattlesnake pit, made up for a *lot* of the film's first half of ennui. It was exciting, dramatic, well-acted by everyone, and just plain fun to watch. In many ways, it might have been an inspiration for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It is, by far, the high-point of the film, and enough on its own to make the movie arguably worth watching. Yes, it was a long, painful build-up, but it was one heck of an extended piece of suspense - even La Boeuf died a complete hero, winning over the hearts of all viewers. The near-mythical lawyer "Dagget" ended up being played by John Fielder, another famous character actor (who also played in "Star Trek," as Administer Hengst in "Wolf in the Fold.") He, too, deserves his own thread - he has done so much with his career, including being the voice of Piglet in "Winnie the Pooh." Dagget, to a much lesser degree, was to "True Grit" what "Keyser Söze" was to "The Usual Suspects." How do you not at least "like" a film that ends with such a sweet shot?
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