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1910 – A -The Babe – 1992 – Directed by Arthur Hiller and starring John Goodman, In the role of his lifetime, perfectly cast as Babe Ruth. The film traces the early formulative years of George Herman Ruth before he became known as Babe Ruth. This film differs from the original attempt with William Bendix because it has excellent production values and a professional director who really knows what he is doing. Goodman gives us a tour-de-force as Ruth and is highly believable in the role. A very good supporting cast is put through the paces by Hiller and complements Goodman’s performance in every way. This is a story that needs to be told in a special way that both projects the humanity of Ruth and his legend as a ballplayer and public figure. It is fairly obvious from the film that there will never be another personality anywhere near as popular as Ruth was with the Yankees in the twenties and the thirties. Ruth was not merely a Yankee personality, he was a baseball personality.

Shortly after the turn of the century, Babe is put into an orphanage by his own father, who did not have the skills to raise him himself. At Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, Babe is raised by kindly Father Mathias, played by James Cromwell, and by the strict priests and nuns who did a very competent job of providing unfortunate children with the best upbringing possible, since the school mainly served as an orphanage. Ruth was actually adopted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1912, but is sold to the Red Sox in 1914. This is, of course, the origin of the Curse, as it was known in Boston for almost a hundred years, because the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees. Near the end of the film, as Ruth begins to decline rapidly, he meets a young boy he visited once in the hospital and hit two home runs for. The scene is reminiscent of the football commercial for Mean Joe Green who tosses his Jersey to the boy. The boy, Johnny, says “You’re still the best that’s ever been and this In the late thirties. Almost a hundred years later, Ruth is still considered the best baseball player of all time by the vast majority of fans in the world and he did it without steroids (except for the ones in the hot dogs he constantly ate). This film was once miserably attempted previously with William Bendix as Ruth, but failed because of poor production values and a dreadful script, (Bendix was always a good actor, so it wasn’t his fault). The Goodman film, however, has it all. Highly Recommended.

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1700 –B - Backlash – 1947 – Directed by John Sturges and starring Richard Widmark as Jim Slater, Donna Reed as the woman prop, and John McIntire and Henry Morgan in supporting roles. This film would be classified as an off-beat Western, some of which is very interesting. This is a story of man looking to exonerate his father from charges of a gold robbery. Naturally, when it comes to hiding gold, finding gold and keeping gold, there are a number of comlications and this film has a few of them. I like the part of the father who is willing to kill his own son for the gold; something a number of fathers might consider for their rotten kids (of course not my two darlings). Anthony Mann is quite good at making films like these, and John Sturges is a more action-oriented director, but he still pulls it off fairly well. Recommended.

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5001 - A -Back to 1942 - 2012 (China) - Directed by Feng Xiaogang and starring Zhang Guoli, Adrian Brody and Tim Robbins along with a superlative supporting cast of Chinese actors depicting the horrendous events of the Henan famine and refugee movement of 1942 that was comparable to about half of the entire Holocaust in the number of lives lost and 30 million lives involved.  Human suffering and loss of life in an unimaginable scale.  Feng almost duplicates his success of Aftershock, but with a little less emotional TNT than his first film.  The action sequences are first-rate and the director avoids the usual Japanese cartoon figures that are generally represented in hundreds of current Chinese TV series; all of which are shallow and one-dimensional.  The Japanese are stupid and the Chinese resistance is brilliant and always wins.  This film shows World War 2 in China in a FAR more realistic way than these current Chinese soap operas which have no basis in fact or reality.  It was reminiscent of The Good Earth (except it used many more professional Chinese actors)with its riot scenes for hunger, but did have a bland reaction to American support for China during WW 2.  No mention of the Flying Tigers, who were quite active during this period was made in the entire film; a minor omission.  The film is about Chinese refugees and their horrible plight captured by photographer Theodore White of Time Magazine during the events.  The film stands on its own merits.  It is not perfect, but it is certainly a lot better than most of the mediocre films that are shown during the other 51 weeks of the year in most American theaters.  I recommend the film without reservation.
 
 
 
 




1021 –B - Back to Bataan –1945 – Directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring John Wayne and Anthony Quinn. This film helped to cement Quinn as a positive screen persona (any war movie where you were a loyal fighting American put you in that category immediately). You can see the talent Quinn possessed in every scene he was in as he easily outacted the wooden John Wayne. The expert direction of Edward Dmytryk is realistic and his pacing is right on the money. One gets the feeling of revenge dripping through the entire film because of the earlier retreat and events at Bataan. MacArthur had indeed promised “I Will Return” and was now fulfilling his promise. Although a bit jingoistic in a few scenes, one still gets the feeling that the Japanese were every bit as brutal as described throughout the film. There seems to be a tendency to begin leaning on the PC button a bit too much recently with events concerning WW 2. Since Japan is now our allies in the Pacific, a lot of the younger generations have forgotten the true actions of the Japanese during WW 2. We even get some whiners who are sorry we dropped the atom bomb on them a few times. Believe me, they deserved it. And if you want a second opinion, ask any older Chinese person over the age of fifty and they will tell you exactly the same thing.

The story is partially true and partially the imagination of Hollywood. By this time, it was fairly apparent the US would win in the Pacific, so the tone of the film is much more positive than its predecessor, Bataan. There is a good relationship in the film between Anthony Quinn and John Wayne, even though Quinn is by far the superior actor. Quinn is especially believable as a ruthless fighting machine who hates the Japanese. The movie contains a number of good battle sequences that are superior to Bataan, but then it should be superior to that film in action sequences because the American army did a lot better job in the battles the second time around. In the space of just a few years, the US turned a catastrophe into a triumph by pure force of will and a tremendous war machine back home that outproduced Japan in every area of weaponry. Even though part of the film is imaginary I would recommend it for viewing because of the performance of Quinn and because it was still made in the actual era of the war. Recommended.

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1210 –A - Back to School – 1986 - Directed by Alan Metter and starring Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young and Robert Downey Jr. This is a fairly ridiculous comedy that I kept imagining how great it would have been with W.C. Fields, the older version of Rodney Dangerfield, in the lead role. But Dangerfield is great himself in this very silly movie. Robert Downey Jr. appropriately plays his son, and Sally Kellerman plays the romantic interest. Metter keeps the action and dialogue (which is quite funny most of the time) going at a crisp pace and we are never bored. There were a half dozen ways this film could have gone into the crapper, but the director and screenwriter deftly avoided almost all of the pitfalls. There was no excessive slapstick, no excess of corny gags, so overly sentimental speeches or situations. All of these could have ruined this hilarious film. The film is done with each of the comedians taking their roles and characters seriously, rather than playing them broadly. This helps push the plot forward much easier and is far more engaging to the audience.

Downey is having a hard time in college, so dad takes his substantial fortune and goes to college with his son; bribing Dean Martin (I loved this pun) to grant him admittance into the university. There he meets and woos a hot professor, Diane, played by Sally Kellerman. His son begins to do better in the dating category, also (as if Downey Jr. needed his dad for that). Initially, Dangerfield doesn’t do any work and hires professionals like Kurt Vonnegut Jr., to do his writing and studying for him (good choice). This was a bit similar to the Woody Allen cameo seen in Annie Hall, when Marshall McCluen appeared on a movie line to deflate a Columbia student’s ego. Eventually, however, Dangerfield and the audience are shown the importance of hard work in college and he begins to show the sexy professor that he more than just a sex object and funny guy. Dangerfield continually pokes fun at the well-deserved elitist targets of most universities and is right on target with almost all of his barbs. It seems the practical world is a hard thing for most professors to get a grip on to teach their students. I enjoyed the film, particularly when Dangerfield barbecues the ivory-tower types and educational elitists who couldn’t afford to buy even one of his suits. I recommend it highly.

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0134 –A - Back to the Future – 1985 – Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J Fox as Marty, a time traveler who tries to back in time to correct some of the things his father might have made mistakes doing and Christopher Lloyd as the scientist who creates the machine and the process that allows Marty to make the trip back in time. Time travel films are often very popular with audiences and most of the previous ones like The Time Machine and Time After Time usually are primarily serious films with occasional funny moments. Back to the Future is just the opposite. It is a comedy with occasional serious moments. But both formulas will work well if the right director and cast is behind them and this film works just fine primarily as a comedy with some serious moments. This film did so well at the box office that they had to make two more sequels. The first one is the best, however. This is a sci-fi comedy made with great skill. It is very difficult to unite those two genres successfully. Mel Brooks failed miserably when he tried to do it with Spaceballs and he made the two highest ranking comedies in film history.

The story revolves around time travel and the trip backwards into time is sometimes more fun than going into the future. The sequences with his mother in the place of his father is some pretty funny stuff. Marty, the Fox character, is able to see his life from a different perspective and tries to correct some of the things his father did or didn’t do. It is an interesting concept to consider. The film succeeds to a great degree because all of the able actors in the film follow the good instinct of the director to play their roles seriously and not be too broad in their interpretations. Audiences will have a great deal more of engagement in comedies that are comedic by circumstance rather than with planned gags and slapstick. This is a prime example of that principle. Eventually Marty comes to see the motivations of both his parents from a quite different perspective and this allows him to understand the both of them and himself much more than he did before he took his trip back into the past. I think we can all learn something by going back into the past and we don’t even have to go into a time machine in order to do that most of the time. I recommend this as a top popcorn movie.

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0135 –A - The Bad and the Beautiful – 1953 – Directed by Vicente Minnelli and starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Dick Powell and Walter Pidgeon. Douglas plays a ruthless director whose only goal is success of the film. He does not care about his actors or anyone else. Lana Turner is one his leading ladies along with Gloria Grahame and they are both treated like props in a Hitchcock film. Sullivan, Powell and Pidgeon give wonderful performances of Hollywood actors and executives who have a love/hate relationship with Douglas’ character. They cannot stand him personally, but they respect him professionally for his results. This is a wonderful insider story about Hollywood that is a bit similar to All About Eve, but it has Douglas as the overly-ambitious newcomer instead of Eve. Like Eve, Douglas is a ruthless, heartless individual who cares only about his own personal success. And like Eve, Douglas tries to manipulate all the people around him in any way he can (personal or professional) in order to come to the final result that he desires.

The plot is a bit convoluted, but considering it is Hollywood, anything is possible. Douglas works his way up to director/producer and in the process interferes with the personal lives of Turner, Powell and Sullivan. The only person who still believes in him after an abject failure is Pidgeon, another director. Pidgeon calls all of his former co-workers, actors, and partners into his office to discuss past transgressions of the Douglas character. Eventually, the vast majority of them come to realize that Douglas is really a loathsome individual, but on more than one occasion is able to produce a winner. There is a mentality in Hollywood that it is better to work with someone who has, in the past at least produced one winner in the business rather than to work with complete strangers who have no track record. It really doesn’t matter if you have treated them like dogs when you made your winning film. Better to be treated like a dog in a winning film than to be consigned to oblivion by a nice new film partner who cannot create a masterpiece once in awhile. I will not reveal the the film’s end, which is delicious, but suffice it to say that it certainly captures the true essence of Hollywood. This film is highly recommended.

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1961 –A - Bad Company – 1972 – Directed by Robert Benton and starring Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges as two cowboys looking for trouble. The story begins with a young man dressed as a woman, Drew, who is trying to avoid the draft for the Civil War. His mother gives him $100 and tells him to head West. When Drew, played by Barry Brown, reaches St. Joseph’s, Missouri, he is robbed by Jake Rumsey, a small-time thief in the town who is the head of a kid’s gang. While recovering from a pistol-whipping administered by Jake, Drew meets him again in a minister’s home and has a long fight that he loses with him. After the fight, Jake convinces Drew to join his little gang. There are a number of complications afterward with Drew generally taking the high moral ground in all of them except the ending, which I found to be a bit preposterous, but I will not reveal what that was. The film is entertaining and realistic up to the unlikely ending, which some viewers may disagree with me about. Recommended with reservations.

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0136 –B - Bad Day at Black Rock – 1955 – Directed by John Sturges and starring Spencer Tracy, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Walter Brennan. Sturges is a veteran director who knows has to create good characterizations from his actors. Occasionally, Sturges has problems with pacing and is a bit more comfortable with comedy than he is with dramatic fare. However, in this piece of work, he is able to deliver the goods. Tracy is oddly cast as a rugged WW2 vet who is investigating a murder. There were a number of actors that would have been better suited and more believable for this role. By 1955, Tracy was getting on in age and was not all that believable as a rugged traveling investigator. Someone like Burt Lancaster or Robert Mitchum would have been much better choices. Even John Wayne would have been a better choice, although he was not an actor of the caliber of Tracy. Anne Francis is another oddly cast member of the film. She is a lightweight, and to act with Tracy, you really have to be a heavyweight, so she gets blown off the screen every time they are together and there is really no chemistry there. Dean Jagger is wonderfully menacing as is Marvin and Borgnine, but the Walter Brennan character is a waste of that great actor’s ability.

This is nice combination of film noir and western even though it is presented in the modern era. Spencer is adequate as the WW2 veteran who comes to a lonely town in the Southwest and runs into a small crowd of psychopaths hiding the murder of a Japanese-American at the start of the war. Eventually, he makes an emotional attachment with Anne Francis, who tries to help him unravel the mystery of the death of the Japanese victim. This is one of the earliest of Hollywood films that examined the prejudice against Japanese-Americans during WW 2. This particular incident was repeated in hundreds of small towns all across the country during the war. The problem was that the vast majority of the incidents were never investigated. The film shows how Spencer is able to finally reveal the real reason he is in the town. The only truly unbelievable part of the film is Spencer trying to make us believe he knows karate. That was a pretty funny scene. But the rest of the film is fine and well done. I recommend it.

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1327 –A - Badman’s Territory – 1946 – Directed by Tim Whelan and starring Randolph Scott and Gabby Hayes. This is a story of a US marshal who goes hunting for his younger brother in No Man’s Land. No Man’s Land was the Oklahoma panhandle which was not under the legal jurisdiction of any state. Needless to say, this area of the old West was a major haven for all types of criminals seeking refuge from the law. Oddly enough, there was a certain amount of law and order in this area and the rules were rather strictly enforced. No one asked anyone else about their identity or business. The primary law was to mind your own business. Scott follows these rules and is strictly concerned about finding his brother without riling the James and Dalton gangs, which are prominent in this area. I will not reveal the end of the film, but suffice it to say there is a great deal of gun play and license with historical fact. But who cares about historical fact; this is a fun movie, so watch and enjoy it. Recommended.

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0138 –A - Ball of Fire – 1942 – Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper and polar opposites who are attracted to one another. Stanwyck plays a stripper named Sugarpuss and Cooper plays a stodgy professor doing research on slang. There are few elements of Blue Angel in this film, but only a few. Most of it is wonderfully original and the expert hand of Howard Hawks keeps everyone in character. Dana Andrews is great as Lilac, the mobster, who wants to marry Sugarpuss to keep her from testifying against him. His other option, of course, is to take her for a ride. Meanwhile, she is taking the professor for a ride of a lifetime. I really enjoyed this film and can recommend it to everyone. It might also be a good vehicle for a play in the future.
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0375 – A -Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (China) – 2002 – Directed by Dai Sijie and starring Zhou Xun, Chen Kun and Liu Ye. This is a tale of the repression of the Cultural Revoluton between 1971 and 1974. This is another gem to come out of Chinese cinema and is greatly undervalued in the West. The director Sijie is masterful in developing the sensitive aspects of characters we can root for in a horrendous political situation that tries to strip them of all of their intellectual curiosity. The Cultural Revolution is hardly known in the West. It was a lot more than mobs of robotic-like Chinese youths marching around the country with their red scarves and little red books. It was similar to the repressive communist states under Russian rule in the 1950s before the eventual breakdown of Russian communism in 1989. Fortunately, for the Chinese, it only lasted twelve years and not the eternal 72 years that occurred under the Russians. The Chinese were able to recover from the catastrophe after 1978. Russia is still feeling the effects of its seventy years of repression over twenty years after it ended.

The film is a story of two young Chinese boys belonging to educated families that are transported to a poor village to be reeducated culturally. They find refuge in two basic areas: the pursuit of the affections of the lovely young local seamstress and a hidden treasure trove of Western Literature that they uncover in the village. They begin reading the works of Balzac and other Western authors. The film has overtones of A Secret Garden and the ability of youth to overcome some unbelievable levels of repression by adults. Eventually, all three young people not only form strong emotional bonds, but come to completely reject the world of their parents and rightfully so. One of the tragic aspects of the film was that the eventual knowledge of knowing that the Cultural Revolution was a bunch of baloney from the start was not enough for the parents to protect themselves and their children. The parents’ lives are now ruined forever, but at least the children will have a chance in the New China. That is the hopeful premise for the film. I will not reveal the conclusion of the film, but suffice it to say it is highly instructional on the devastating effects of the cultural revolution on Chinese citizens. I can highly recommend this film.
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1962 – A -Bananas – 1971 – Directed by Woody Allen and starring Woody Allen, Louise Lasser and with a guest cameo by Howard Cosell and his famous hairpiece. This is one of Woody’s earlier, funnier films, as some might say, although I would disagree with that assignation. Woody plays Fielding Mellish (a name no one could possibly have), a blue collar worker trying to impress his goofy girlfriend, social activist, Nancy. Many of Allen’s fans liked his earlier films more than his later more sophisticated comedies and dramas. I count myself among those who prefer his later films because they have a great deal more substance than his earlier ones. That being said, there is nothing wrong in making a mindless comedy that is very funny. Practically anything that makes people forget their troubles for two hours and makes them laugh is a laudable achievement. Allen was always able to do that with his earlier slapstick films. He should not be vilified for moving on to more mature material, which, by the way, won him many more professional accolades and prizes than his earlier “funny” films were able to garner. This film, though uneven in places and having pacing problems, at least has crisp, funny dialogue. It was one step up from Allen’s previous “funny” films and one step closer to his sophisticated later films.

The film begins with Fielding trying to impress his lame girlfriend. He goes to a place a lot like Cuba and gets involved in the revolution there with a guy a lot like Castro. Fielding is nominated as president of the new republic and comes to the US for foreign aid, which is actually the funniest part of the film. As if the US would give aid to a leftist regime. But considering all the other dumb things our government has done in its history, this one is not too big a stretch. Mellish is put on trial (for what, not having any common sense? If that was a crime then over 50% of the country would have to go on trial) and is found guilty and released with the stipulation that he does not move into the judge’s neighborhood. This, of course, is the silliest part of the movie as Fielding has not really done anything wrong and his motivations were purely sexual in nature. The marriage of Mellish and Nancy is then consummated with the play by play done by Howard Cosell in the second funniest part of the film. Recommended.

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0140 –A - Bang the Drum Slowly – 1973 – Directed by John D Hancock and starring Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarity as two professional baseball players. Henry, played by Moriarity, is a talented pitcher, while Bruce, played by DeNiro, is a bumbling second-string catcher. This is not just your usual fluffy baseball story, it is a love story about two athletes going in different directions in life. One is going on to become a star and one is quickly going to come to the end of his life. Some critics felt the story line was corny and manipulative, but since the story is based on real-life incidents, how can a critic say anyone’s life is corny? Yes, the premise is a bit depressing, but there is a lot to recommend the premise as well. It takes a lot of human compassion to live with someone who is dying every day they are still alive. And it takes even more compassion to treat them like any other human being and not drip sympathy on them every day until their death. There are a number of very good lessons to be learned from this film. DiNiro can do anything and he takes this challenging role and turns in a superlative effort. Moriarity also turns in a very good performance and is sometimes underrated as an actor. Many actors are intimidated when they are in scenes with DeNiro, but Moriarity comfortably holds his own in every scene.

The setting is a nebulous baseball town team in the bushes. The bushes means it is in a small city in the minor leagues in the middle of nowhere. There are only three possible outcomes from playing baseball here. You are either on your way up and just passing through, or you are stuck here until the end of your career. The third possibility is what happens to Bruce. Initially, Henry joins in with all of the other players on the team giving Bruce a hard time because of Bruce’s mediocre talent. Bruce is very goodnatured and takes the ribbing in good humor. But when Bruce is diagnosed with a fatal disease, the atmosphere changes drastically. The rest of the team stops kidding Bruce and they all feel sorry for him, but Henry continues to tease and kid him so Bruce does not feel like everyone is just pitying him. They become the very best of friends as Bruce passes away. This is a tearjerker of the first magnitude and you will need two hankies for it, but it is still recommended and is a great date movie.

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0141 –A - The Bank Dick – 1940 – Directed by Edward F Cline and starring W.C. Fields as a bank detective, Edgar Souse. The last name of the main character is obviously meant to refer to his excessive drinking habit. There are other actors in the film, but they are merely props for Fields and no one (particularly Fields) takes any of them seriously. The plot, if you can call it that, is that Fields convinces the boyfriend of his daughter to embezzle money from the bank so the family can buy a nice house. We are supposed to believe that he and his future son-in-law get away with this ridiculous plan (as if neither of them would be prime suspects in real life). But we forgive the giant holes in the plot because the trip through the film is pretty funny and Fields is at the top of his game in this one. I can still recommend it as a great popcorn movie because as unbelievable as the story is, it is still funnier than the vast majority of modern comedies.

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0917 –A - Barabbas – 1962 – Directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Anthony Quinn as the thief, Barrabas, who was supposed to be crucified for his crimes. The film was made in Italy by Italian producers, so the production values are mixed. Italian filmmakers are great at making small movies, but tend to get carried away a bit when they are commissioned to make blockbusters. Dino DiLaurentis was famous for his blockbuster flops like The Bible and other forgettable attempts. This film would have fallen in that category, except that the might effort of Quinn, who was a top-notch actor, saved the film from the land of mediocrity. The movie is still a bit uneven, with scenes are a bit dull to scenes that are highly engaging. The cinematography ranges from inspiring to insipid at times. You could see the effort of the filmmaker to attempt to make a blockbuster, but you could also see it fall short in a number of scenes and in some production values.

The story begins with the crucifixion sequence and the magistrate allows the crowd to free either Jesus or Barrabas and the crowd chooses Barrabas. Where did all those people who were at the Sermon on the Mount go? After Barrabas gets his unexpected free ticket to freedom, Jesus is crucified and Barrabas is moved by his death. Rachel, played by Silvana Mangano, is the wife of Barrabas and becomes a follower of Jesus while both are incarcerated. She is later stoned to death by the same mob that freed Barrabas. Barrabas is then arrested and sent to work in the sulphur mines for twenty years. He somehow survives this ordeal and escapes the mine after a great explosion kills almost everyone in the mine. At this point, the film which had been very interesting and believable, now it goes off the deep end as we are asked to believe a middle-aged man is now sent to be trained as a gladiator by Jack Palance (great casting here). Barrabas somehow kills the trainer and gains his freedom from Nero (this is pure Hollywood fantasy and has nothing to do with history). He then becomes a Christian and is arrested with other Christians because of the fire set by Nero. The irony of the film is complete when he is eventually crucified and dies just like Christ for a non-crime, but just for being a Christian. In this scene, the film comes full circle. Recommended despite the unlikely gladiator event.

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1964 – B - Barbary Coast – 1935 – Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Miriam Hopkins as a woman of questionable character, called Swan, Edward G Robinson as Luis, another questionable character, Joel McCrea as Jim, the good guy, Walter Brennan, who made more money as a supporting actor than most leading actors, as Old Atrocity (love that name), and Brian Donlevy as Knuckles Jacoby. Swan arrives in San Francisco in 1850 to find out her betrothed has been sent to a better place by Luis. So, losing her meal-ticket, she must punch a new one. So she sleeps with Luis instead and becomes his concubine. Then she meets Joel McCrea and induces him to engage Luis in a series of conflicts. They sail off happily ever after and Edward G goes to jail. Somehow, there is something wrong with this logic. I can see Edward G going to jail and Joel sailing back to New York with his fortune. But why would he want a whore like Swan to run away with? Recommended with reservations about the taste in women that Joel McCrea projects on the screen.


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0142 –A - Barfly – 1987 – Directed by Barbet Schroeder and starring Mickey Rouke and Faye Dunaway. Rouke gives the best performance of his acting career in this relentlessly depressing film and Schroeder accurately captures the world of drunks, bums and alcoholics. Quite frankly, we are all glad to get out of the theater after this film and to know that we have absolutely nothing to do with this tortured world that Charles Bukowski writes about. The story is fascinating, but fairly disgusting in most aspects and falls under the category of sucks to be you and I’m glad its you and not me.

This is the tortured story of Charles Bukowski, whose talent as a writer and a poet were overshadowed by his dependence on alcohol. During the day Bukowski writes and at night he drinks and fights. He finds out that his slutty girlfriend, Wanda, played to perfection by Faye Dunaway, has slept with Eddie, the local bartender, who Bukowski hates. He is discovered by a publisher, Tully Sorenson, played by Alice Krige, who pays him five hundred dollars for this work and gives him a place to stay in her mansion. Bukowski soon tires of the high class life and feels trapped by it. He goes back to the streets where he belongs and begins drinking and fighting again. Tully follows him and tries to get him to come back to high society but she is beaten up by Wanda and Bukowski stays in a world where he obviously belongs. This is a world where people generally sleep or are non-productive in the daytime (with the exception of Bukowski) and then gradually come to life again in the early evening and drink and fight all through the night. I am sure that there are some people who find this lifestyle alluring, but I am certainly not one of them. Vampires at least are forced to sleep during the day and they don’t get stupid drunk each night like this collection of human misfits. The film gives the impression that all the women who inhabit this world are sluts and I am sure they are pretty much on the money. The men are nothing more than self-destructive brutes and one of the few people in the film who we are supposed to hate, the bartender, Eddie, is actually one of the few people in the film who work for a living. Drunks are not attractive in any way and are in need of AA. This is a fascinating study in human self-destruction. Recommended.

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0405 –A - Bataan - 1943 – Directed by Tay Garnett and starring Robert Taylor, Robert Walker, Lloyd Nolan and Thomas Mitchell. The tone of the film is dark and grimmer than most film noir efforts. Garnett deftly captures the period depression that was apparent from the beginning to the end of the film. Inevitable defeat wears heavy on both the viewer and on the people living through the actual nightmare that happened to the soldiers trying to hold on to an indefensible island. The US unpreparedness for WW 2 is starkly portrayed in the film and we can see most of the soldiers dressed and outfitted with weapons that are more generally associated with WW1 rather than WW 2. The incompetence of the US government and the US military is quite apparent, also. The soldiers must suffer for this incompetence by sacrificing their lives for their unprepared country and politicians. Taylor, a veteran of thirties Hollywood films, is able to translate the feeling of the Depression right into his role in this film. The Depression and the Battle for Bataan have a lot in common. Mitchell, another veteran of thirties films is quite comfortable in his role as a soldier on the losing side because he had made a number of films as an IRA fighter in Ireland. Nolan would go on to star in over another half dozen WW 2 films and dies in just about every one of them. His war characters are always sympathetic and the audience always roots for him.

This is the grim tale of the gradual defeat of and retreat from Bataan of US forces in World War 2. What lifts this film from being relentlessly depressing is the bravery and self-sacrifice of these men. These were the early days of the war when things were not going so well for the US. The picture depicts the determination of the men in a hopeless situation making the best of it and fighting to the last man. This film is also noted for an appearance of Desi Arnaz, years before the success of I Love Lucy on television. This film might appear dated from a technical standpoint, but it sure captures the atmosphere of what I like to call the Alamo effect; a group of men fighting the good fight even though they know they are almost certainly doomed. Despite the dark elements of the film, I can still recommend it at many levels.

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0145-A - The Battle of Algiers (France) – 1966 – Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and starring a group of relatively unknown actors who play their roles with relish as urban guerrillas in a movement against the French colonial powers in Algiers. Algiers for the Algerians is the theme of the film. It shows how ordinary people in a European colony, regardless of what colony it is, are quickly politicized into taking action against the colonial power that is occupying their country. This film is countered by the peaceful resistance philosophy of Gandhi in India, which was also successful in removing a colonial power. However, it appears as if the Algerians did not have a Gandhi within their midst, and even if they did, it was possible the French were not as flexible as the English were in dealing with colonials. This film really captures what it feels like to be the underdog and then succeeding.

The story starts with the occupation of Algeria by France. The French rule with an iron hand. They have soldiers all over the country, but have an enormous contingent of modern, well-equipped soldiers in Algiers, the capital. One looks at the heavily armed French and then looks at the poorly equipped Algerians and it would appear as if this was a mismatch of enormous proportions. The Algerians had no Navy, no Air Force and nothing but amateur fighters who may have fought previously for the French in WW2 or a bit later. It would seem as if the rebels had no chance, whatsoever. But the same could have been said for Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in Cuba, and they eventually toppled the better equipped army and air force of Batista in the coup of 1960. The same thing happened with the Algerians in their struggle with the French. Gradually, the solidarity of the populace against the French came to build higher and higher until the French broke. If the population refuses to cooperate with a colonial power economically, then that is one of the biggest blows it can land right from the beginning. The film highlights overcoming great odds with determination and having righteousness on your side. When I was young, I always thought the West was righteous and that anyone who opposed them was wrong. The West is clearly not always the good guys as we can see in this film. Sometimes the righteous might come from other parts of the world, whether it be in the Middle East, Africa or Asia. I can recommend it without reservation.

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1151 –A - The Battleship Potemkin (Russia) (Silent) – 1926 – Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and starring a cast of unknowns. This film chronicles the Russian Revolution and all the reasons why the people of the country rose up against the Czar. From war adventures that the country could ill afford to mistreatment of the farmers and working class; this film has it all and the cinematography is legendary. Eisenstein captures every element for the reasons of the great Russian Revolution. Common people were treated like dogs or worse. There was no equal application of the law; the rich received privileges and the poor had the privilege to serve them. Farmers were stripped of their produce. Workers were exploited on a daily basis. The absolute worst elements of capitalism were being practiced without any thought or consideration for the common man. There was no democracy in Russia in 1917. There was just despotic aristocracy and a great deal of class bigotry. The amazing thing is that there wasn’t a revolution much sooner. The dialogue is first-rate and has little to do with propaganda and more to do with basic human rights. It has taken the world almost a hundred years to fully understand the Russian Revolution because of the ardent anti-communist rhetoric that existed in the US from the time the film was released until well into the 1970s. Gradually, the American public became educated about the Russian Revolution and saw the Czar and the aristocrats of Russia in an entirely new light. A modern treatment of this film was done by Warren Beatty in Reds and that was a big success also in educating the American public. Eisenstein is unmatched in creating great scenes without dialogue and this film is proof of it.
The classic scene of the baby carriage rolling down the steps of a great building captures the element of horror without any blood or guts being spilled on the screen in beautiful technicolor. That scene was reproduced many years later in The Untouchables, obviously as a monument to the genius of Eisenstein and his film technique. The story of the excesses of the Czar and those in authority under him are shown without pounding the viewer over the head with dramatic scenes, but with scenes that gradually show us the absolute necessity of the working classes and the farmers, as well as the military men being pressed to such outrages that they had no other choice but to revolt. Highly Recommended.
 
 




1763 –B - The Bat Whispers – 1930 – Directed by Roland West and starring Chester Morris as Detective Anderson, Chance Ward as the Police Lieutenant, and Una Merkel as the romantic interest. This film may have been the prototype for the Batman series, although most of the content in this and other Bat films of the time have little in common with the modern Batman series. Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, does credit this series with the inspiration for his character, but he was careful enough not to copy too many details of the original. Morris, who went on to gain fame in the successful Boston Blackie series, plays this role competently in this remake of the 1926 silent version of The Bat. The plot generally follows an Agatha Christie And Then There Were None style with people disappearing one by one in a mansion. Interesting to see for historical purposes, but a bit dated when it comes to plot and character development. Recommended with reservations.


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1965 – B -The Beachcomber (England) – 1938 - Directed by Erich Pommer and starring Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester (his real life wife). This simple little film is quite entertaining because of the script and the delivery of the two top-notch actors. It is a story of a man who is wasting away on a South Sea island until a missionary comes to his aid and stops him from drinking, whoring and having a good time, in general. What could be better than to spend endless hours praying, talking about Christianity and making polite conversation with a woman who has no interest in sex whatsoever? When faced with this very difficult choice, the Hollywood version says that he lives happily ever after with her. In real life, he would run away screaming into the night until he found a decent bar and a not too decent woman. Recommended with reservations.

 



1966 – B - The Beachcomber (England) – 1955 - Directed by Muriel Box and starring Robert Newton as the beachcomber taking on the same role as Charles Laughton in the 1938 version (but this time as lead actor; he was in the 38 version as a minor player), Glynis Johns as the woman in the missionary position who attempts to redeem Robert, playing the role Elsa Lanchester played in 38, and Donald Pleasence, as the brother of Glynis who despise sinners. Not much different here from the original except a silly conclusion where they are all sentenced to get executed by the natives. We know that’s not going to happen. Newton is a bit over the top and not up to Laughton’s delivery ability. Glynis is ok as missionary woman and Pleasence is always good in any supporting role, so this film balances out with the original as watchable. This time Glynis is a bit sexier than Elsa, so there might be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for Newton. I still think in real life the beachcomber would have run away and back to his life of decadence. Recommended with reservations.


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1363 –B - Beach Red – 1967 - Directed by Cornel Wilde and starring Cornel Wilde as a Marine Captain landing on a Japanese-held island and Rip Torn as his company gunnery sergeant. Wilde is one of the few actors who was able to make a smooth transition from acting to directing. He debuted his considerable directing skills in The Naked Prey, a gripping misadventure tale about being hunted by African natives on a race through the jungle. Wilde continues his streak of creativity and savage screen perceptions in Beach Red. Focusing on various combat situations that result in grievous injuries, he does not quite achieve the level of success that he had with his first film, but still manages to entertain the audience with his stark realism. Beach Red has been condemned by some as having violence that is too graphic, but as shown by Saving Private Ryan later on, there is no such thing as violence that is too graphic in a war film. All this and much worse was seen by the actual men in combat. Recommended.

 



1630 –B - Beast of the City – 1932 – Directed by Charles Brabin in the pre-code era and starring Walter Huston, Jean Harlow and Wallace Ford. Huston plays the righteous Captain Jim, who is more than willing to kill his own brother in vigilante style if the law is violated. Jean Harlow plays the slut who seduces Jim’s brother, Wallace Ford into throwing his badge on the table and joining the bad guys in a caper that kills a child and a policeman. The court finds everyone innocent because courts are almost always incompetent in the movies. In real life, the courts are fairly competent most of the time. Vigilanteeism is generally not a good idea even though everyone concerned gets what they deserve eventually. Actually, there is not too much difference between this film and post-code films. By definition, all crimes had to be paid for in the code era and that was certainly followed to the tee in this film. Recommended.

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1261 – A -Beau Geste – 1939 – Directed by William A. Wellman and starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston, Susan Hayward, Broderick Crawford (a little out of place here) and Brian Donlevy, who won an Academy Award for Best Support Actor for this film. Three orphaned brothers, Beau (Cooper), Digby (Preston) and John (Milland) all join the French Foreign Legion together because of a family disgrace for a missing jewel. They are trained by Sergeant Markoff, played to the hilt by Brian Donlevy. Cooper gives one of his best performance in this film, and Milland probably gives the second best performance of his entire career (other than his academy-award winning performance in Lost Weekend). Donlevy also gives the best performance of his career as well as shown by his Oscar win. Donlevy never really made it as an A actor although he was in a score of films and performed admirably in most of them. But at least he was recognized for this one. Wellman was well- known for his successes as a director in films such as A Star is Born and Public Enemy. He was right at home working in adventure and action films (there were action sequences in Public Enemy) and he delivered the same kind of intensity in Beau Geste.

The story shows us Markoff being brutal in every aspect and an insurrection at the fort occurs. But before there can be any consequences, the fort is attacked by Tuaregs, or Berber Libyans. Casualties mount until all that are left are Markoff, John and a wounded Beau. During a struggle between John and Markoff, Markoff is thrown off balance by a dying Beau and then killed by John. John is the only one left to go home and now has redeemed his honor. The family disgrace over the missing jewel is finally solved when it is revealed that the aunt herself stole the original jewel. When John saw the jewel on display at the family residence, he knew it was a fake and wanted to spare his family the shame of displaying a fake jewel, so he pocketed the fake. Only the aunt and John knew the real truth about the jewel. The family was in dire financial straits and the aunt wanted to sell the original to raise funds while keeping the replica to give the impression that the family was in good financial condition. I will not reveal the ending of this episode which is the driving force behind the film, but it is a bit tragic. Recommended.

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1904 –A - A Beautiful Mind – 2001 – Directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe as John Nash, a math whiz at Princeton, Paul Betany as Charles, his roommate, Jennifer Connolly as Alicia, love interest of John, and a nice creepy performance by Ed Harris, as William, the slimy US Department of Defense toady. Ron Howard shows us a very deft hand in directing the eventual breakdown of Nash, and his film-making is always very professional at every level. The production values of the film are very good, but there seems to something missing from the end result. The viewer is left a bit unsatisfied with the ultimate destination of the film. Howard tries every way he knows how to give the audience what it wants (a happy or satisfactory ending), but he is unable to achieve it. The film is more of an expose on the ruthlessness of our government during the 1950s and its paranoia about communism during that period. When events and governments steamroller over people, the results are usually not too satisfying, so Howard had an impossible task.

The film shows Nash proceeding from Princeton to MIT as a teacher, where he fails to show up to teach his class one day. A female student comes to his office to object his disappearance and Nash punishes her by marrying the poor girl. Already a bit unstable, Nash goes from bad to worse when he starts working for Harris and the Defense Department on various ridiculous communist paranoia schemes, which, at the time, seemed very serious and rational. Gradually descending into a world of madness, the film sadly shows the deterioration of a beautiful mind. And that, I suppose, is the premise for the film. It is not very emotionally satisfying for the vast majority of the viewing public, as that public will always prefer happy endings. This film is doomed not to have a happy ending from the start and try as we might, we cannot find a silver lining to the grim conclusion. Howard tries his damnedest to give the film an acceptable level of audience closure, but I am not sure if he succeeded or not. My gut feeling is that he did not. I will not divulge the conclusion of the film, but it did leave me a bit unfulfilled. The bulk of the film, however, was very entertaining. In a lean year, I am picking this film to win the Best Picture Oscar for 2001. Recommended.

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* 0033 -A - Becket – 1964- Directed by Peter Glenville and written for the screen by Edward Anhalt, who did an outstanding job. The film stars the dynamic duo of Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. One critic said he hadn’t seen so much ham in one place since he had worked in a butcher shop in Union City. The vast majority of critics, however, felt that the dialogue crisp and forceful and that both actors were at the top of their game. I would agree with that assessment. Although nominated for nine awards, it won only one for best screenplay (so richly deserved). This film followed O’Toole’s tour-de-force performance in Lawrence of Arabia and he was expected to win best actor for Becket to make up for his unfathomable snub for Lawrence. But fate was against him again as both he and Burton (who gave an equally fine performance) split their votes for best actor and Rex Harrison sneaked in for his work in My Fair Lady. It would be fair to say of all the major actors in the history of the Academy Awards, Peter O’Toole was the least fortunate. My low opinion of musicals is directly related to my experiences of 1964 when I picked Becket to win Best Picture and O’Toole to win best actor. I then learned afterwards to never underestimate the academy’s love of musicals.

The story of Becket is about the eventual assassination of Thomas Becket, played by Richard Burton, the archbishop of Canterbury and the substantial debate that took place beforehand between him and Henry II, the King of England. When Becket takes his religious office seriously and threatens the authority of his old friend the latter cries “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”, the plea is misinterpreted as an order to have Becket killed. When Henry finds he has inadvertently had his best friend killed, he punishes himself and those responsible for the assassination. The movie is a marvelous examination into the nature of good friends whose wrath is unleashed when a good friend apparently betrays you. This film is ranked 33 on my list of greatest films of all time and one critic, whose name I will not mention to save him embarrassment, did not even have this film included in his top 1000 films of all time at the NY Times. Maybe he was busy watching musicals. This is a must see film for all movie buffs.

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1820 –A - Bedlam – 1946 - Directed by the talented Val Lewton and starring the equally talented Boris Karloff as Master Sims. Anna Lee as Nell tries to reform the asylum with the help of a Whig politician, but only succeeds into getting herself committed to Bedlam (the shortened name of the Bethlem Royal Hospital) and thrown in with the loonies. There are shades of Snake Pit, with Olivia DeHaviland, as an inmate in Bedlam. These types of films are usually popular with audiences because they are glad to be in their seats instead of these horrible institutions. Karloff eventually takes the big fall for his cruelty to the inmates in an ending which I will not reveal, but it is satisfying to the viewer. Nell, on the other hand, is rescued just in the nick of time, Hollywood style, by her Quaker friend. Recommended with reservations for myself at this institution in the near future.

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0149 –A - Being There – 1979 – Directed by Hal Ashby and starring Peter Sellers in one the best roles of his career as Chauncey, a mentally challenged individual with an IQ roughly equal to that of a borderline moron. He is ably assisted by a fine supporting cast including Shirley MacLaine as Eve, the wife of an aging politician and Chance’s love interest, Melvyn Douglas as Ben, his benefactor and major economic adviser to the president, and Jack Warden as the President. Everyone in the cast gives a first-rate performance and the dialogue is witty and diabolical. The film is wonderfully paced by the talented director, Ashby and there is never a dull moment in the film. Sellers, of course, steals the show from everyone else with his understated, yet over the top portrayal of Chauncey, the man that is so stupid, that in a place like Washington, DC, he is considered a genius. This tells us a lot more about Washington, DC than it does about the nature of low IQ.

The story begins with the master of a great mansion dying and leaving it to his heirs. They, in turn, find that Chauncey is still living in the mansion long after it has been closed. They now will be selling it to a new owner and inform Chauncey that his services are no longer needed. Chauncey has very little knowledge of the outside world other than what he has learned from television. He completely depends on what he sees on TV for his existence outside of the mansion. When he wanders around Washington, DC, we are certain that he will meet with disaster, but he not only averts it, he rises to heights that are almost impossible to comprehend. First, he meets a dying politician who is an adviser to the president, and also meets his much younger attractive wife. Both are captivate by Chauncey’s simple pearls of wisdom that are nothing more that simple observations of a TV show. Even the president of the US gets advice from Chauncey, which of course, is one of the most chilling scenes in the film because it so realistic. Can’t you just imagine some moron coming in off the street in Washington, DC and giving advice to someone like George Bush on the economy? Obviously, this must have happened or we wouldn’t have that multi-trillion dollar deficit now. I found the film to be hilarious and extremely creative. I recommend it highly.

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1967 –A - The Believer – 2002 – Directed by Henry Bean and starring Ryan Gosling as an Orthodox Jew who becomes a Neo-Nazi. It traces the life of one, Daniel Balint, a troubled student at a New York Yeshiva. Daniel has an identity crisis. Is he destined to be another long-suffering Jew like the millions before him, or can he obtain the power that he sees inherent in the Jewish God who dominates the behavior of Jew? Daniel initially opts to go for the power over others which is fostered by the Neo-Nazi movement. Unstated in the film is the sexual attraction that Daniel may have had for his fellow Neo-Nazis as he has no normal female relationships at the Yeshiva or afterwards. Daniel is constantly torn between his past and his current activities with the skinheads. Eventually, he decides to commit suicide when he is outed as a skinhead. Things could have been worse. He might have continued his gene pool had he been straight. Recommended with reservations.

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0038 –A - Ben-Hur – 1959 – Directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, Stephen Boyd, in the greatest role of his career as Messala, a boyhood friend of Judah, and a cast of thousands (sic). This blockbuster film was the one that bested Gone With The Wind for winning the most Academy Awards (11) for one film. This feat was later equaled by Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, although most critics still believe it to be superior to both of those films. Poor Stephan Boyd, who after the disastrous Fall of the Roman Empire, ceased to get any more major roles, did a good job in his role as Messala. Jack Hawkins and Martha Scott both in fine performances, as well. The film was a box office smash and made more than six times the money it cost to make. This is a film meant to be seen on the big screen; not TV, the computer or some other small electronic device. That is the nature of blockbusters; they are meant to be enjoyed in a real movie theater, not the tiny little dressing-room multiplexes they have nowadays, but in places like IMAX palaces.

The tale about two friends who become mortal enemies was written by a Civil War general, Lew Wallace, who may have been influenced by the Civil War with brother fighting brother. Early in the film, we see Judah’s family unjustly blamed for trying to kill a Roman governor parading through the streets. Judah’s mother and sister are imprisoned and Judah is sent away to serve as a slave. On his travels he meets Christ. The film goes on to show Ben-Hur serving as a slave on a Roman ship and surviving a vicious battle. Only he and the Roman Admiral, played by Hawkins, survive. He then comes back to Rome under the protection of the Roman Admiral whose life he saved. Judah trains a set of horses to race in the big chariot race to be held in the city. He then defeats his old boyhood friend in the big chariot race, where Messala meets a grisly end. He is once again united with his sister and mother who are miraculously cured of leprosy because in Hollywood, it is always good business to have a happy ending. The musical score by Miklos Rozsa is magnificent. This is considered one of the top half dozen epics ever made and is a must-see film.

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1498 – A - Best in Show – 2000 - Directed by Christopher Guest, but actually co-written and directed by Eugene Levy and starring Christopher Guest as Harlan, Eugene Levy as Gerry, Catherine O’Hara as Cookie, Fred Willard as Buck, and a superb supporting cast. Although it would have been easy to give this film a dog rating since it is about dogs and dog shows, it would not have been fair, because this is a very funny movie. Almost anything that Eugene Levy touches is funny (no, I don’t mean body parts). As we go through an array of eclectic dogs and dog owners, we come to see how quite ridiculous the whole concept of dog shows really are. Why not have pet goldfish shows? Or pet gerbil shows? They would be popular with many of the same people, I am sure. The film is meant to be silly and, of course, does not take itself seriously as it is a mockumentary to show the silliness of these shows. It reminded me of Borat for some reason. Recommended.

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0891 –A - The Best Man - 1964– Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Henry Fonda as William Russell and Cliff Robertson as Joe Cantwell. The film is wonderfully paced by the director, Schaffner and the production values are first-rate. The screenplay by Gore Vidal is based on a montage of political personalities of the past in US history, but certainly not John F Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, the main political figures of the period when the film was shot. The film was more reminiscent of political figures like Joseph McCarthy and Dwight Eisenhower or possibly Adlai Stevenson. These politicians seemed to influence the screenplay of Vidal a lot more than either Kennedy or Johnson. Also, major issues like the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and Women’s rights were pretty much afterthoughts or completely omitted as issues in the campaigns. Fonda gives a very nice understated performance and Robertson plays a rare bad-guy role quite convincingly. It is ironic that Robertson had also played Kennedy in a previous film – PT 109, but that was a military adventure and not a political film.

This political thriller examines the dirty underbelly of politics and the infighting it takes to become a successful candidate for your party of choice. Both nominees appear to be perfect candidates on the surface, but it would appear that every candidate has skeletons in the closet and that it is just a matter of time before your opponent finds where they are located. Cantwell has a problem with a past that may or may not include a homosexual encounter and therefore his own sexuality is in question. Russell is shown to have his own Achilles heel and Cantwell fights fire with fire. It is a very interesting process to see how candidates must abandon the real issues and spend most of their time fending off personal attacks and bad press. Eventually, rather than let Cantwell win, Russell throws his support to a third candidate. It appears as if form is far more important than substance to almost all politicians. The film does not hold up very well when compared to modern issues of economics. The American public would elect Pee Wee Herman if he had a solution for our economic woes. But image is still important. You can’t get elected if you have too many skeletons in your closet. I can recommend this film highly as an interesting lesson on the American political system.

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0098 –A - The Best Years of Our Lives – 1946 – Directed by William Wyler and starring Dana Andrews, Fredric March and amateur actor Harold Russell as a disabled veteran. The able women characters were played by Myrna Loy, Cathy O’Donnell and Teresa Wright. There is a strong case here for the women actually stealing some of the scenes from the men; that is how strong the female cast is here. The film won several awards including: best picture, director, actor, supporting actor, editing, screenplay, and original score. I might add it deserved a few awards for the female actors. Myrna Loy is the ultimate woman waiting for her man to come home and is as stable as a rock. Cathy O’Donnell and Teresa Wright, always a strong actress, play girlfriends trying to understand the moody men who have returned home from a horrendous war.

The story follows the men of the armed forces after they have returned home; it does not dwell on the war itself. It dwells on the war after the war. That would be the one where a man tries to fit in again into a gentle society with rules rather than a harsh society with no rules like war. One would think at first that the soldiers with severe physical disabilities like Homer (he lost his hands), would have the most trouble readjusting to civilian life, but that would not always be the case. There were thousands of guys like the Dana Andrews character, who returned from the war without a scratch on them, yet had a miserable time readjusting to civilian life. He was a big shot in the war. He drove a flying fortress bomber and dropped tons of carnage on the enemy. He had tremendous responsibilities every day and had to make life and death decisions. Now, society wants him to be happy as a soda jerk. There is just no way most men can make that transition. This film is timeless for veterans of every war because every war is almost the same for most veterans. There is always that sense of being disconnected from the rest of the society when you come back from a war; it is almost inescapable. Only veterans will know what I am talking about here. As long as there are wars, you will have thousands of men like these. This is a must see film and in the top 100 of almost every critic’s list.

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1968 –B - Between the Lines – 1977- Directed by Joan Miklin Silver and starring John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Micheal J Pollard and Marylu Henner . This film is more famous for having four actors who went on to varying degrees of good success in their careers more than the subject matter of the film, which to say the least, is a bit dated by modern standards. Marylu Henner doesn’t have to get coffee for the boys anymore and women are no longer limited to typing and being assistants to men. And there is also no possible way you can convince anyone above the fifth grade that Micheal J Pollard is a writer of anything except a signature for a credit card purchase. Jeff Goldblum, who arguably went on to the most lucrative career from this film, showed flashes of what he would deliver later on; breezy, sardonic repartee, that slightly overconfident smugness, and a convincing screen persona. Pollard gained his fame from Bonnie and Clyde and some other offbeat films, but never really made it to the A list of actors or even supporting actors. Henner was another actor, who despite her gorgeous good looks and great personality, never seemed to get a break for any film after her success with Taxi. The film is worth watching just to see these evolving actors searching for their voice. Recommended.

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0152 – Beverly Hills Cop –A- 1984 – Directed by Martin Brest and starring Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, in the role that spawned a number of sequels. As usual, the first in the series of films is best by far. We are introduced to Murphy’s character and his associations with various questionable personalities as a Detroit police detective. Axel meets an old friend who is murdered for his role in an illegal bond scheme. Axel is denied access to the case because of his close personal relationship, so he takes a vacation in Beverly Hills to try and solve the crime on his own. The Beverly Hills police are on the verge of giving him a one-way ticket out of LA when Axel finally cracks the case. I can recommend this film as a good popcorn movie because I enjoy Eddie Murphy in just about any comedy venue he chooses; whether it is stand-up, doing Velvet Jones or Mr. Robinson.


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0152 –A - Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – 1956 – directed by the gifted Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews in one of his greatest roles as Tom Garrett, who agrees to a scheme by a newspaper publisher to pose as a murderer based on phony evidence. Why does he do this? Because the newspaper editor is his future father-in-law and his future wife, Susan Spencer, played by Joan Fontaine, goes along with the scheme, also. When the only two people who can prove that Tom is actually not a killer die themselves, then Garrett is left to literally hang out to dry. In imminent danger of being executed for a crime he did not commit, Tom must come up with some device to delay his gruesome fate. I will not reveal how the story is finished, but I will say it is a rather inventive, but believable plot. Recommended.

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1969 – A - Beyond Rangoon – 1995 – Directed by John Boorman and starring Patricia Arquette (that’s the Arquette sister who can act), as Laura Bowman, a grieving American tourist in Burma during 1988, where there is tremendous political unrest. Director Boorman is a master of atmosphere (see Excalibur) and has the knack of making us feel we are right in the middle of the jungle with Laura. Boorman is also good with lush settings and sensual photography. He surrounds a well-written script with great production values and the end result is a first-rate film. The music itself is worth the price of admission. It is inspiring. I love films that have a big twist in the middle and this is one of the best of them. The lush surroundings of the film only tend to heighten the experiences of the scenes we witness on the big screen. This is a film to be enjoyed in a theater, not on a computer or even on television.

Laura is trying to forget the loss of her husband and child, who were brutally murdered in a home invasion. As she wanders around Burma in a semi-daze, she encounters rallies protesting the actions of the oppressive government in Burma and witnesses the fearlessness of Aung San Suu Kyi, who stares down armed soldiers with impunity. Already having lost everything in the world dear to her, Laura decides right then and there to become an ardent supporter of Aung because she has absolutely nothing to lose; what can they possibly do to her to make her pain worse? They can’t kill her because she is already emotionally dead. She can afford to be fearless. She throws herself into the protests with total abandon. One can sense the change in her personality as she transforms from one of the walking dead into a dynamo of political action. She virtually dares the government to do something about her. As a medical doctor, she provides as much help as she can until the rebels advise her to get out of the country before she gets arrested. The character of Aung San Suu Kyi is fascinating and it is amazing to see how she can emotionally strip her opposition away in many tense situations. This is one of those screenplays you will never forget and only come along once every few years. This is a positively riveting film and I recommend it and the fantastic musical score very highly.

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0039 - A -A Bicycle Thieves - Italy – 1948 – Directed by Vittorio De Sica and starring Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio, the victim of a bicycle theft and Enzo Staiola as his son, Bruno. This is a very simple story, but is profound in its meaning. The theft of a bicycle shortly after WW 2 in Italy would be as devastating to someone as getting their horse stolen in the Old West or your car stolen in the US. Not only are the economic ramifications terrible (lose your job, minimize work chances), but the social fall of not having transportation usually marginalizes you as a person in others’ eyes. This is basically the situation that Antonio, the father and Bruno, the son, find themselves.

After the theft, there is a desperate search for the bike, but early efforts are fruitless and a slow disintegration of the fortunes of both the father and son begins to occur. First, the father loses his job because he has no bicycle to perform his duties. This results in less money coming in and less food and comfort for his son. The father is so desperate, he is on the verge of becoming a bicycle thief himself, just so he and his son can survive. At the last second, he finds that he cannot do to someone else what has been done to him and cannot bring himself to steal someone else's bicycle. Besides, it would have been a terrible example for his son. This was in the back of his mind when he decided against stealing as a solution. The father takes manual labor jobs to temporarily tide the both of them over until he can save up for another bicycle. The work is demeaning and depressing, but at least it is honest work. Then, a sort of a miracle happens. Antonio spots someone riding what he is sure is his old bike. He runs down the rider and the bike and the rider is amongst his friends when Antonio catches up with him. Will Antonio make a stand and risk his life? And what lesson should he teach his son in this situation. I will not reveal the end of the film, but we are taken through a gamut of emotional reactions by the talented director, De Sica, who considers this his best film, as do most film critics. Voted best foreign film by the Academy Awards before they had the actual category. A must-see film.

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1199 – A - Big – 1988 - Directed by the talented Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks as Josh, a young boy who makes a wish to become big and is a man the next day, Elizabeth Perkins, his much older girlfriend, Robert Loggia, as Mr. MacMillan, the owner of a NY toy company that Josh gets a job with, and John Heard, as Paul, a competitive adult who cannot stand the success of Josh. The story is loosely based on an Italian film, Da Grande, but the actual story comes from an old German fairy tale about a ball of string. A boy wants to be older and as he unravels the string he gets older and older. He doesn't get wise until he is an old man and then lives out the rest of his life knowing that whatever age you are, you should do the best you can with it. Marshall does a great job of building the characters and weaving a story around them. She has a very nice touch for light comedy. Hanks, as usual, is always superb, but Robert Loggia steals every scene he is in. It is probably his best-remembered role in any film within his long career.

The story starts at an arcade where a very young teen, Josh makes a wish to be big to a fortune machine on the boardwalk and the next day he wakes up as a thirty-year old. He gets a job in a toy company, testing toys and there is a great bit with him and the toy company owner doing a duet dance on a FAO Schwartz (that is New York’s most famous toy store) over-sized piano. That scene is considered a classic in Hollywood history. Though happy with a lot of the things he learns as an adult, Josh wants to go back to being a kid and goes back to Sea Point (most likely Point Pleasant, New Jersey, or Seaside Heights, New Jersey), to make another wish and wakes up as a young teen again, but with some great memories. This is one of those rare feel-good movies that Hollywood makes by accident once every few years. There are no car chases, broken glass, shootouts or macho situations. There are no tawdry sex scenes, stupid dialogue or condescending comments, either. I can’t even begin to tell you how rare that is in a Hollywood comedy. Highly recommended.
 
 
 







0153 –A - The Big Chill – 1983 – Directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starring Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly and Jo Beth Williams. Kevin Costner was supposed to be featured in the film, but was left out in the final cut. This is pretty much a star-studded cast with great range. The story revolves around a reunion of friends in a country house setting in South Carolina. The movie reveals the insecurities of the individuals in the film, but also the insecurities of a generation. How roles have changed in society and the pressure to conform to those roles. It is also a bit dated because people don’t suffer from erectile dysfunction anymore. However, the strength of the film is the willingness of friends to listen to your whining. Searching for one’s bliss is often difficult, but with the assistance of good friends, it can be less of an ordeal as this film shows with great authenticity. Recommended.

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1804 –A - The Big Clock – 1948 – Directed by John Farrow and starring Ray Milland as George Stroud, a harried editor of a crime magazine, Maureen O’Sullivan, miscast as his wife (she is strictly a period actress, just like Charlton Heston; once you put them in modern films, they lose their screen effectiveness), Charles Laughton in a secondary role as the short-sighted publisher who fires George for taking a vacation (in real life, that would never happen because the time you spend in finding a new, experienced editor would take longer than the vacation itself), Elsa Lanchester, and the dependable Harry Morgan. The story is rather convoluted and involves the murder of Laughton’s mistress (I would have a mistress too if I were married to the Bride of Frankenstein). Laughton is the murderer, but he rehires Milland to find the killer. That part is interesting; the part with the blackmail by the mistress and the miscommunication with O’Sullivan is not too believable. All in all, an interesting film that I can recommend with reservations.
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1028 –B - The Big Combo – 1955 – Directed by Joseph H. Lewis and starring Cornell Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy and Jean Wallace. This is not a movie about a giant pretzel. This piece of film noir is about police lieutenant Diamond, played by Wilde, going after the cruel Mr. Brown, small-time gangster with a moll, played by Richard Conte, who became typecast in Hollywood as a gangster slime-ball for over a dozen films. Brown is aided by a bumbling assistant, played by Donlevy, who plots to overtake Brown (instead of just cold-bloodedly killing him like they would do in real life now) with the aid of Fante, played by Lee Van Cleef of future Good, Bad and Ugly fame. Donlevy’s character gets himself killed and then Brown turns his attention to Diamond, who has fallen for Brown’s moll, played by Jean Wallace. Diamond digs up a witness to put Brown away, but there is a great atmospheric shootout down at the docks before the end of the film, which I will not reveal. Recommended for a good popcorn movie along with a coke (combo?)

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0921 –A - The Big Country – 1958 - Directed by William Wyler and starring Charton Heston, Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Chuck Conners, Charles Bickford and Carroll Baker. The film has a stirring soundtrack created by Jerome Moross. The tempo of the film varies from intense to humdrum as Wyler is not as comfortable in the Western genre as he would later be in the Biblical epic genre (he made Ben Hur just a year afterwards). The actors give it their best shot. Heston is ok as a cowboy, but is much better in other costume dramas. Peck is certainly believable as a sea captain (see Ahab in Moby Dick), but he looks out of place as a cowboy at times. But since the script calls for him to look out of place, it might be considered excellent casting. Jean Simmons is always hot, no matter what role she plays and she is convincing as well. Chuck Conners is wonderfully over the top and tries to hold his own with the heavyweights in the cast. Charles Bickford is an old pro and carries off his role without a hitch. The only weak links in the film are Carroll Baker, who was a lightweight actress in a major role here and the hammy Burl Ives, who was a much better musician than he was an actor. The production values are first-rate and except for the pacing, the film is engaging.

This is a story of a fish out of water (as Peck is a former sea captain) coming out West to settle down in what appears to be early retirement. Before he can be part of the Terrill family, however, he must prove his manhood in number of ways for Patricia Terrill. First, he has to ride a bucking bronco, then he has a fight with Charlton Heston that seems to go on forever. He may not dazzle Patricia, but he has no problem seducing Jean Simmons as Julie.. And if I may say so, he is far better off with Simmons for a number of reasons. Eventually, they both ride off in the sunset after a certain amount of carnage has been committed by the two biggest families in the area. The point of the film is to be yourself and settle for the slightly less glamorous woman to spend your life with. Just like the song “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, make an ugly woman your wife”. Yeah, Jean Simmons is just so ugly. She makes Carroll Baker look like a housefrau. Recommended as a popcorn movie with reservations that if you are pressed for time, this is not the movie to pop in the DVD player.

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1600 –A - Big Deal on Madonna Street (Italy) – 1958 – Directed by Mario Monicelli and starring Marcello Mastrianni and Victorio Gassman. There is also a good supporting cast to provide plenty of laughs about a gang that can’t pull off a simple heist. The story begins with Cosimo getting jailed for trying to steal a car. He tells his friends he has a plan to make a big heist, but he is stuck in jail and they have to break him out in order to put the plan into effect. So these morons go for this story and spring Cosimo for the heist. The heist is a mess from beginning to end. The gang has to break into a private home currently occupied by a pretty woman before they can get into the safe of the pawn shop they are really after. Peppe begins to have an affair with the woman who lives next to the pawn shop and complications begin to occur. The heist is, of course, a predictable disaster and the gang is quickly broken up for the time being. This film is a lot closer to real-life Italians in crime than the Godfather movies. Most criminals of all nationalities are mostly incompetent, that is why most of them get caught. The fun is in the trip, not the final destination for this film. Recommended.

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1622 –A - Big Fish – 2003 – Directed by Tim Burton and starring Albert Finney as Edward Bloom, a master story-teller or big liar, depending on your sensibilities, Ewen McGregor as the young Edward, Jessica Lange as Edward’s long-suffering wife, Sandra, Alison Lohman as the young Sandra and Billy Crudup as William Bloom, Edward’s son, who is estranged from his father, but comes around when he is dying for a reconciliation. There is a pretty fine line between story-telling and lying as my family and friends well know. Sometimes, the lines get blurred and people confuse one with the other. That goes for both the storyteller and the listeners. The film goes on to relate a number of highly unlikely, but entertaining occurrences that give credence to the statement that fiction can be indeed stranger than reality. The film is mesmerizing in a couple of ways; the viewer gets hooked like the fish in the movie. I would assume the big fish in a little pond is an allegory for Bloom’s life as he saw it. It is a nicely told tale by a master of fairy tales on screen, Burton. Recommended.

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0156- A -The Big Heat – 1953 – Directed by Fritz Lang who produced the gem, M, years earlier and starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin in a classic film noir piece. Ford plays Bannion, a hard-boiled detective and Grahame plays the moll, Debby, girlfriend to Lee Marvin’s brutish (isn’t he always brutish?) aptly named Vince Stone, the gangster who enjoys murdering people. The moll befriends Ford and eventually turns on Stone, who then throws acid on her face to disfigure her (nice guy eh?). Stone then threatens to kidnap Bannion’s daughter. I will not reveal the ending, but everyone pretty much gets what they deserve. The film does not waste time in needless scenes to define the characters; it just gets right to the point of the story. Some would view this as a weakness if they like character development, but others would say it makes the film move quickly. This is a nicely done film and I can recommend it with some reservations, despite its acts of violence.
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1578 –B - The Big House – 1930 – Directed by George W. Hill and starring Wallace Beery as Butch Schmidt, Chester Morris as John Morgan, Robert Montgomery as Kent Marlowe, Lewis Stone as the warden, and a talented supporting cast who play prisoners very well, most likely due to their previous experiences as Hollywood actors in the twenties. This film is the granddaddy of the prison genre. But don’t let that fool you. Montgomery as Kent, is in the slammer for what we would today call vehicular homicide. He must navigate his way around the true lifetime criminals that inhabit the Big House, especially the big cheese, Beery as Schmidt. Stone plays the stereotypical warden who is willing to treat the prisoners fairly, but knows when to come down hard on them (I prefer sleazy wardens like Hume Cronyn in Brute Force). I will not reveal the ending of the movie, but is does fit into the usual Hollywood formula. Recommended.

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1578 -A- The Big Lebowski - 1998 – Written and Directed by the dangerous comedy team of the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, starring Jeff Bridges as Jeff or The Dude, John Goodman as the priceless Walter, who plots to keep all the ransom money (oh, there is a kidnapping in the film, by the way), Steve Buscemi, as Donny, who will always be remembered for his line in Armageddon “Embrace the Horror”, Julianne Moore, a first-rate actress willing to be a second banana in this film as Maude, who makes the introductions for the kidnapping negotiations, Philip Seymour Hoffman, another first-rate actor as Brandt, who plays a low-key assistant, Ben Gazzara as the highly believable Jackie, a loan shark and pornographer, John Turturro as Jesus, a role he can play, easily, and Sam Elliott as the Stranger, who narrates the film (as if it needs narration). One or two idiots who reviewed this film thought it was a serious movie and not a raving lunatic comedy which is the only possible type of film the Coens can make. The only problem the film has is too many characters and too many subplots. It would have been even better with less. But it is still very good. Recommended.


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0157 – A -The Big Red One – 1980 – Directed by Samuel Fuller and starring Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, and Robert Carradine. This is a WW2 film written and directed by someone who was actually in the action with the First Infantry Division, which is what big red one stands for. Fuller saw plenty of action in the European theater and many of the scenes are ones that he actually lived through during the war. The film traces the advance of the First Infantry from the beaches of Normandy to the death camps in Germany and the freeing of the unfortunate inmates there. Marvin befriends a small boy liberated from the camp whose malnutrition is so advanced that his life cannot be saved. The sergeant buries the child in the woods and then stabs the first German soldier that he sees who wants to surrender to him. While I can appreciate the intensity of the emotions of the director, I found the conclusion of the film to be a bit anticlimactic. Other than that, I can recommend the movie with some reservations.
 
 
 
 
 




1315 –A - The Big Sky – 1952 – Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Kirk Douglas. There is a decent supporting cast of B actors including Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt, and Arthur Honeycutt. The plot is a bit different from most westerns. It has an adventurer, Jim, who is joined by a buddy, Boone, played by Dewey Martin and a cute squaw, Teal Eye, played by Elizabeth Threatt, as well as a partner, Frenchy, played by Steven Geray. The group travels 2000 miles to trade with the Blackfoot tribe and runs into a number of problems, the least of which is a fight with some Crow Indians. The real threat, however, comes from the Missouri Trading company and a pack of traders headed by Streak, played by Jim Davis, who try and kill off their competition. They get eliminated in a showdown with Jim and his friends. I will not reveal which man the squaw chooses for her husband, but the other must leave her behind and go back with the group. Well, at least they got some skin they can get money for. Recommended with reservations (not the Indian reservation).

 
 
 
 
 
 
 


0159 –A - The Big Sleep – 1946 – Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart as Phillip Marlowe, Lauren Bacall as Vivian, his love interest, and a nice turn by Elisha Cook Jr. as a small-time crook. This is classic film noir at its finest. The scenes with Harry Jones (Elisha Cook Jr.) are the most poignant in the film and really capture the desperation of the seedy part of town. After a series of highly dubious events, Marlowe is able to mete out justice to those responsible for the death of Harry and gets Lauren Bacall in the bargain. Not bad for a day’s work. The ending, which I will not reveal, has a nice little twist to it, and is very satisfying. I can recommend this film without reservation despite some of holes in the plot. After all, it is Bogey and Bacall.

 
 

 
 
 



1625 – B - Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – 1989 – Directed by Stephen Herek and starring Keanu Reeves as Ted Logan, a good-looking airhead and Alex Winter, a geeky looking airhead. This is a forerunner to Dumb and Dumber, but it has George Carlin in it to try and make some sense of all the nonsense. Generally speaking, I don’t like movies about successful stupid people because there are enough of those in real life and too many talented people who go through life virtually unrecognized. That being said, the movie was flat out funny because both characters are endearing despite their limited intellectual capabilities. You don’t have to be smart to be funny, but George Carlin shows you can do both. The gag sags a bit in the middle of the film, but it has enough of that Back to the Future type of engagement to keep you attention. Recommended with reservations for those expecting a reasonable scientific explanation for anything that happens in the film.

 






1408 –A - Billy Budd – England - 1962 - Directed by Peter Ustinov and starring Terrence Stamp as innocent Billy, the alter ego of a young Hermann Melville, Robert Ryan as the sadistic John Claggart, the Master at Arms, and Peter Ustinov as the weak-kneed Captain Vere of the vessel, The Avenger. This, unfortunately, is one of those films that is always depicted as a critical success, but a failure at the box office. It really is a shame, but in 1962, people were not rushing to the theaters to see the last work of Hermann Melville. Ustinov must have known as the producer, director and long-time film veteran of the screen that this production had little chance of being a commercial success, but he went ahead with it, anyway. That will always be to his credit. I, for one, am an ardent admirer of all of Melville’s works and I was delighted to see this piece put to film. The movie marked the successful debut of Terrance Stamp, who went on to have a very successful career. Robert Ryan was perfectly cast as a heavy, as was Ustinov in the role of a bumbler. But in 1962 movie- goers were looking for action in their films, like Spartacus(which Ustinov was in) and Lawrence of Arabia. By the 1960s, sea adventure films were on a definite downturn as a profitable genre. All more the pity.

The story begins with Billy, the young and eager sea adventurer signing up for stint on the Avenger as one of the crew. Billy is young, naïve, honest, courageous and honorable. He is the alter-ego of Hermann Melville, who wanted to make a point to his readers that it often happens that people like this in real life are often punished for their virtues. Melville felt he had been punished for his during his lifetime. The story goes on to introduce the cruel John Claggart, who as Master of Arms, always enjoys dishing out the whip to any under his command who do not follow the rules of the ship. He is particularly looking to eventually crush Billy because Billy is the antithesis of everything that Claggart stands for. Claggart is old, cunning, dishonest, cowardly, and dishonorable. Eventually, Claggart gets his wish. Claggart falsely accuses Billy of conspiring to head a mutiny aboard the Avenger. Then Claggart bullies the captain into hanging Billy for this dubious (and untrue) crime. The film clearly illustrates the power of evil over good in some situations and that good does not necessarily overcome evil. Recommended.

 





0161 –B - Biloxi Blues – 1988 – Directed by Mike Nichols and based on the book by Neil Simon and starring Matthew Broderick as Simon’s alter ego. This is a story of one GI’s remembrances of basic training at the army post in Biloxi, Mississippi. The film tends to take a lighthearted view of the basic training process and instead, concentrates on the sexual coming-of-age process of the very young recruits. There are some very funny sequences with whorehouses and young soldiers, but it is certainly not material for young children, so be warned in advance that this is not a a “family” film even though it has squeaky clean Matthew Broderick in it. Other than that, the film stands up on its own without any sensationalistic sex scenes or excessive violence because it is well-written and does not need those crutches. I can highly recommend it to more mature audiences.

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0930 –A - The Birdman of Alcatraz – 1962 – Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster as the Birdman and Karl Malden, the jailer who eventually befriends the Birdman. The film is shot in black and white and this adds to the stark atmosphere of the prison on Alcatraz. The direction of Frankenheimer is well-paced and we are not left for wanting good dialogue on the screen. Lancaster, who won the best actor award the year before for his performance in Elmer Gantry, was still at the top of his game in this movie. He delivers a nicely understated performance, while maintaining the burning intensity of the personality within Stroud. Malden, ever the screen professional, draws from his great experience on the New York stage to deliver his lines with Stroud in a highly convincing fashion. Most of the action takes place in just a few primary sets, so the film has the feel of a play at times and that suits Malden’s talents very well.

This film is based on the true story of a convict named Robert Stroud, who, though convicted of a murder in Alaska and then another when he kills a prison guard is sentenced to death. His mother, played by Thelma Ritter, gets his sentence commuted to life in solitary confinement. He becomes one of the world’s foremost experts on birds while he is incarcerated at Leavenworth. He gradually is allowed more and more freedom to do his research as he becomes famous in the field of bird disease. Eventually, the Birdman is transferred to Alcatraz, where he is not allowed to have any birds and so he begins writing about the history of the US Penal system. This is an interesting study in human psychology. How can a man be so compassionate about birds and yet be so violent in human society? It is pretty much a question that is left unanswered. This film will not appeal to those who like a lot of action in their prison films, because there is very little. The question is raised whether a man’s actions in prison that achieves the highest level of intellectual pursuit can somehow excuse that same man for violent crimes he had committed in the past. Some will argue that he was reformed and others will argue that he must pay his debt to society. That issue is left for the view to decide. However, there is a great deal of good dialogue and wonderful acting by both Malden and Lancaster, who received an Oscar nomination for his role. Recommended.






0162 – A -The Birds – 1963 – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. The supporting cast adds their talents to this film as they did to just about every Hitchcock film ever made. Hitchcock was famous for accumulating secondary talent in his films. He saw little need for A name actors and actresses to be in his films because the star of the film was always Alfred, himself and his ability to use actors as props as a master storyteller. Make no mistake about it, Hitchcock is easily one of the greatest storytellers of all time on film. The movies he made were always about the story and almost never about the characters. There were exceptions, of course with Vertigo and possibly Notorious, but almost all of his other films centered upon the story rather than the people in the story. He always had a good guy who overcame obstacles. But in this film, the good guy is unable to overcome the obstacle of the birds.

This is a simple tale of how the world ends because it is for the birds. This is the only stab at science-fiction that Hitchcock ever embarks on, and he is not too bad at it. His subtle touch for suspense makes the revelation that birds are taking over the world almost believable. I couldn’t go outside for two days without looking around at the birds sitting on the telephone poles. There are a minimum of special effects used in this film in order to get the desired result. Fear is the desired result. Hitchcock is a master at building fear slowly, but surely, until it almost becomes unbearable. First, there are just a few apparently unconnected events resulting in a bit of discomfort. But then the events begin to steamroll into more significant events with more sobering consequences. Eventually, the finale is reached when a group of citizens including our hero and his romantic love interest have to hole up in a desolated house on the island and barely withstand a heart-pounding attack by the birds. And even though they survive the attack, we are left with the feeling they are still doomed as is all the rest of mankind when they leave the house. It was a great relief to get out of the theater and to see the world was still in one piece. Although the plot is simple, don’t underestimate the master of suspense because the conclusion is terrifying. Recommended.





1971 –A - Bite the Bullet – 1975 – Directed by Richard Brooks and starring Gene Hackman as Sam, a contestant for a cross country horse race, James Coburn as Luke, a friend of Sam’s who is competing against him, and Candice Bergen, as the unlikely love object, who is a bit of a whore (bad casting here. They were going to cast Shelly Winters in the role, but they couldn’t find a horse big enough for her fat butt. Also featured are Ben Johnson, a sick old cowhand taking his last shot, a punk kid hotshot, played perfectly by Jan-Michael Vincent, and another perfectly cast role for Dabney Coleman as the rich, unscrupulous Parker who wants to win at any cost. The cinematography of this film is magnificent and it richly deserved its academy award for it. The editing also won an Oscar. Highly recommended as a great western.






0969 –A - The Bitter Tea of General Yen – 1933 – Directed by Frank Capra in one of his least-known films and starring Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Toshia Mori and Richard Loo. Generally speaking, I do not care for Asian films that are depicted by Western actors, but I will make an exception for this one (and The Good Earth) because it is directed by one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history and the story is not stereotypical. Megan Davis, played by Stanwyck, is a fiancé to a missionary working in China. She becomes separated from him at a railway stationed and is kidnapped by Chinese warlord, General Yen, played by Westerner Nils Asther. Yen keeps her at his summer palace along with his concubine, Mah-Li, played by Japanese actress Toshia Mori and his aide, Captain Li, played by Richard Loo, who many may recognize as the Asian police lieutenant from Barney Miller of television fame. Yen then spares his concubine’s life for spying at the behest of Davis, the concubine and Li then betray Yen to the enemy and Davis is responsible for Yen’s downfall. I will not reveal the ending, but it not your stereotypical Hollywood ending. I can recommend this film with reservations because of its use of Westerners playing Chinese only because the story is compelling.
 




1674 –B - Black Angel – 1946 – Directed by Roy William Neill, this classic film noir entry stars Dan Duryea as an alcoholic pianist composer who goes around solving murders (that happens all the time in the music business, you know), June Vincent (who?) as the wife of a falsely convicted (aren’t they all?) murder prisoner and Peter Lorre as a shifty night club owner (perfect casting here). There is also a preview of Broderick Crawford as a policeman (a role he would master later in the hit TV series Highway Patrol). The plot borders on high camp, but we watch out of pure fascination because director Neill (of Sherlock Holmes fame) is so highly skilled in keeping the story going forward. I kept thinking this is really going to help Duryea with his next piano composition. Recommended with reservations if you are looking for reality to go along with your film noir.





1539 –B - Blackbeard the Pirate – 1952 – Fortunately directed by Raoul Walsh and starring one of England’s hammiest actors, Robert Newton as Blackbeard, whose real-life name was Edward Teach, Keith Andes, a B actor, as Robert Maynard, the good guy ship’s doctor who will inevitably get the girl, Linda Darnell as the sex object girl, Edwina (I love that name) who does little to push the story forward, and a miscast William Bendix, who I was sure was going to ask where Peg was any second. Despite these major flaws, the film is watchable because of the able direction of Walsh and a script that was halfway believable. The good doctor is trying to get the goods on Blackbeard’s adversary, Henry Morgan (the pirate, not the actor), so by the rule of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, he becomes the temporary ally of Blackbeard. Of course, there is the usual Hollywood sex triangle among Blackbeard, Robert and Edwina and we all know how that’s going to end. Despite the predictability of the love sequences, the rest of the film is fairly interesting to watch, despite the over-the-top Newton. Recommended with reservations if you are allergic to ham.

 
 
 
 



1405 – A -The Blackboard Jungle – 1955 – Directed by Richard Brooks and starring Glenn Ford and Anne Francis as two endangered teachers in the inner city (oooooooh). The capable Louis Calhern and a very young Sidney Poitier (who would go on to make his own classroom opera To Sir With Love), also add to the cast. Calhern plays just about every teacher I ever met when I taught in NY high schools; one who was crass, unconcerned about the students, and one who considered students lower life forms. This film is a fifties icon.

Dadier, played by Ford, tries to be understanding and is rewarded by getting tortured on a daily basis. I kept saying “listen to Calhern” throughout this movie. The story slowly evolves and shows halfhearted attempts by some lame teacher to communicate the arts to a group of what would now be called either special ed students or general studies students (that is educational coding for students who are too dumb to excel in academic subjects). Sometimes, it is a bit unfair to some promising students who accidentally get lumped in with the special ed students (like the character played by Poitier), but the system does not allow too much for mistakes that it makes in lumping various students together. I enjoyed the antisocial behavior that came naturally to Jamie Farr (much better in this than in MASH) and Vic Morrow, who obviously enjoyed being a bad teenager. These guys needed a few hours of detention on a daily basis for three or four days and then they would have shaped up a bit. Great music from Bill Haley was the first rock and roll song in a Hollywood film. Not very believable, but fun to watch. Recommended.

 



 
 


3602 -B - Black Dragons - 1942 - Directed by William Nigh and starring Bela Lugosi. It is your usual plot by the Japanese and Nazis to take over America from the inside by killing six important leaders and replacing them with clones invented by you know who. Actually more possible today than it was 70 years ago when this film was made. At the time, however, it was a pretty ridiculous idea. Fun to watch, anyway.

 







0164 –A - Black Narcissus - England – 1947 – Directed by Michael Powell and starring Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Flora Robson and Jean Simmons in a minor role. This atmospheric drama is fraught with sexual tension and focuses on the breathtaking views of the Himalayan valley and the isolation that is inherent in living there. Powell is legendary for creating atmosphere with his letter-perfect filming techniques, which have seldom been matched. You not only see the relative remoteness of the Himalayas, but Powell actually makes you feel lonely and detached during the film. The cinematography is breathtaking and completely communicates the isolation felt by all of the main characters. Powell also creates some of the best sexual tension ever captured on film. Nudity and sex scenes pale in comparison to the techniques used by Powell to stimulate the viewer’s imagination rather than hit him over the head with tasteless love scenes. Kerr is excellent and shows a wide range of emotions. David Farrar, a B actor, rises to the occasion and gives an exceptional performance. Jean Simmons shows off her exotic beauty and gives us a wonderful promise of many great performances from her in the future. The camera is absolutely in love with her image. Sabu, however, cannot act his way out of a paper bag, and is always cartoonish in his efforts to give an even performance.

We see a nunnery with Sister Clodagh, played by Kerr, in charge of an emotionally disturbed nun, Sister Ruth, played quite effectively by Kathleen Byron, who is jealous of Kerr and her supposed relationship with the worldly agent Dean, played by Farrar. Gradually, we see the disintegration of Byron, more do to the overwhelming isolation of the area, rather than anything else that is happening. But even though Sister Clodagh has no romantic interest in Dean originally, the infererence by Sister Ruth begins to make her question her own sexuality and feelings toward Dean. There are some light moments in the film with Sabu and Jean Simmons, but they are overwhelmed by this very exotic and forbidden triangle. I recommend this film highly for a few reasons. You will never see better cinematography in a film, ever. It is probably one of the best shot films in cinematic history. The other reason is the compelling dialogue and plot, which keeps you on the edge of your seat. One of the best small budget films ever made with greater scenery than the vast majority of blockbusters.


 




0166 –A - Black Robe (Canada) – 1991 – Directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Aden Young, Sandrine Holt, Tantoo Cardinal, August Schellenberg, Gordon Tootoosis and Raoul Trujillo. This film escapes from the usual Hollywood formula movies and has a nice, fresh feel to it. The unheralded cast is partially responsible for this. There are no A-list actors in this film, but they all give a very competent performance. Instead, the producers spent their money on production values and the exhilarating atmosphere and scenery of the North country. The viewer is left to decide for themselves whether religious intervention in the affairs of native Indian tribes was a good thing or a bad thing for the continuing existence of the tribes. A lesser-mentioned aspect of history not normally seen in the super PC American history books is that a lot of the violence that was perpetrated on the North American Indians came about as a result of wars between the Indian tribes themselves. Some tribes were far more ferocious and cruel than any of the European countries when it came to inflicting grievous losses to other tribes. It wasn’t the white man who wiped out tribes like the Mohicans, but other Indian tribes.

The story is about a missionary trying to convert Algonquin Indians to Christianity. Normally, I root for the Indians to cook the missionaries for supper, but I was a bit more sympathetic to the missionary in this film, but eventually, the Hurons, who are converted by the Christians are all massacred and the mission is burned to the ground. The interplay between the Hurons, the militaristic and paganistic Iroquois, the dubious Algonquins and the zealous Christians is quite interesting. The Iroquois come out on top in this conflict because in that day and age, military might was far more important than religion or who was right or wrong. It is fascinating to see evil overcome good on several occasions due strictly to the fact that the evil forces are stronger or better armed. It has absolutely nothing to do with moral considerations. In the end, did it matter that the Mohicans or the Hurons were more moral in their behavior than the savage Iroquois? Some would say survival of the fittest is in the natural order of things and others would say the separation of a savage from a civilized person is the ability to refrain from violence. What happens when one philosophy collides with the other? This film is one such result. I can recommend the film on more than one level. The cinematography is outstanding and the story is compelling and original in relation to most other films out there. Recommeded.

 





0177 – A - The Black Cannon Incident (China) – 1986 – Directed by Huang Jinxin and starring Gao Ming, Gerhard Olschewski, and LiuZifeng. Liu plays an engineer who is also a German interpreter for a mining company. He works well with a German national played by Olschewski. After he loses one of his chess pieces which happens to be a small black cannon, he sends a telegram to the hotel where he last stayed to see if they found it. The highly censored communications (now the internet) system misinterprets the telegram and the authorities make Liu resign his post; thinking he has lost a real cannon. He is replaced by an incompetent bureaucrat, played by Yang Yazhou and both the company and the Chinese authorities begin to lose a lot of money. I will not reveal the ending of the film, but it certainly illustrates the restraints that businesses must work under if they expect to operate in China. Recommended.





0177 –A - Black Hawk Down – 2001 – Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Ewan McGregor and Josh Hartnett. This is a story about a military operation that goes terribly wrong. It concerns a raid on Mogadishu to nab Somali warlord Aidid. Sam Sheppard and Orlando Bloom are also featured in the film which won two technical Oscars in the Academy Awards. The film highlights the frustrating role that unfortunate American troops have to play as the policemen of the world.

The initial raid was supposed to take about a half an hour, but because the heavily armed rebels (with RPGs), were able to shoot down two Black Hawk helicopters, the raid turns into an 18- hour battle. The film is infuriating at many different levels. The poor soldiers are left to their own devices without any significant back-up for 18 hours. It is a very good illustration of the higher level incompetence of the American military and the politicians that back this kind of policy. The nincompoops in Washington should be sent to these places for 18 hours of combat and see if they have the same opinion that they all share now. The whole operation is poorly planned and therefore poorly executed. The plans were made by incompetent generals with little or no reliable information. The editing and sound for this film are first-rate and both won Academy Awards. The action sequences, as would be expected with the direction of Ridley Scott, are intense and very well done. The film, by design, is made to make you feel uncomfortable being in this place and greatly relieved once you have left it. I am sure the soldiers in the battle felt exactly the same way as Ridley wanted to make the audience feel. I highly recommend it.

 






*0040 –A -The Black Stallion – 1979 – Directed by Carroll Ballard and starring an Arabian horse named Cass Ole as the Black Stallion. The good human supporting cast includes Kelly Reno as Alec Ramsey, the boy who is shipwrecked with a black stallion (how lucky is that?), Mickey Rooney as Henry the horse trainer, Teri Garr as Alec’s mother, and Hoyt Axton as his father. As you can see, this is not exactly a heavyweight cast, so how does this film get into my top 100? For one thing, the cinematography was easily the best of that year even though it wasn’t even nominated. There is an extreme prejudice in Hollywood for any cinematography done in animal or children’s movies. Only “serious” films seem to be eligible for the cinematography award. What a bunch of elitist baloney. The best photography is the best photography regardless of what movie it is in. The music is outstanding and so is the editing (which was nominated, but lost to the “serious” movies. This film brought back memories of Fury, a Saturday TV show I used to watch as a kid. Other shows featuring horses included The Long Ranger with Silver and Roy Rogers with Trigger. You would be hard-pressed to find too many kids in America who didn’t want to own one of these horses when they were young.

The story is simple enough. A ship burns and sinks while on fire and the only two survivors are a boy and a black stallion. They bond together on a deserted island and then are rescued. You sometimes wonder if they were better off not being rescued. The climax of the film has the horse winning an important race with Alec as his rider, but I thought it was anti-climatic and that they were both better off on the island. The real beauty of the film is the first hour. This is one of those little gems that you occasionally find and can comfortably put a label on as one of the best family films of all time. If my kids had been young when this film came out, I would have taken them to see it in record time. Make sure you make a point to rent it for your kids, because there isn’t a hell of a lot out there for good family entertainment that actually has a lot of substance. This is a must see film for people of all ages

 






0990 –A - Blade Runner – 1982 - Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford as Rick Deckhard along with Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, an out-of-control replicant. Also starring in the film are William Sanderson as Sebastion and Daryl Hannah as Hauer’s love interest (I didn’t know that robots could have a love interest). Ridley Scott is noted for his directorial action sequences and this film will not disappoint anyone looking for for a good action sequence. Harrison Ford plays this role much more seriously than his Indiana Jones characters. Rick is all business. But the actor who steals the film is Rutger Hauer. Roy is a computer that considers itself greater than human. It is Roy’s contention that robots are more noble than men because they do not lie, cheat or steal, so they are morally superior. Robots are also smarter and stronger than man. But Rick shows that man has a few things that robots do not have. William Sanderson plays a very interesting role as a software developer who is more sympathetic to machines than to real people. The film raises a few philosophical questions about man and machines and the interrelationship between both.

This is a futuristic tale of robots gone bad. A professional robot hunter is hired to rid the city of rogue robots who threaten to create havoc with their superior physical powers. The cinematography and music are outstanding and convey an atmosphere of despair and hopelessness. This is intentional on the part of the director, who shoots many shots in the rain and at night to give the impression of gloom and doom. The dialogue is also pretty good and the casting is first-rate. Hauer is perfect as a rogue robot. The philosophical question arises: who is more fit to rule the planet; humans or the robots. There is a very good argument for both sides in this film. Roy knows that he can physically outperform Rick any time he wants; he is also smarter than Rick. But Rick possesses some human qualities that Roy has not been able to imitate or master. One of those is creativity. Rick creates new ways of thwarting Roy and is very quick to react to a new situation, while Roy must react to a program and is not programmed to create new solutions to new problems in an instant. The other trait that Roy cannot imitate is love. Roy cannot love his female robot companion, played by Hannah. When she is terminated (robots don’t die; they get terminated), Roy cannot feel grief or cry for her. It is these traits that Roy most highly values and it is the reason he eventually spares Rick in their confrontation. Highly recommended.

 
 



0168 –A - Blazing Saddles – 1974 – Directed by Mel Brooks and starring Clivon Little and Gene Wilder along with a wonderful supporting cast. This is one of Brooks’ three best comedies. The other two are in the top hundred films of all time: The Producers and Young Frankenstein. This one is not quite as good as those other two, but it is certainly better than most films that pass for comedies. Mel Brooks has a good eye for poking fun at situations that need a good poking and the Old West is a prime candidate for his attack. Clivon Little really should have been played by Richard Pryor, who would go on to team up with Wilder on numerous future comedies. Little lacks that sassiness and anger that Pryor brings to the screen. Wilder, on the other hand, is always at the top of his game in any Brooks film and this one is no exception. His timing and delivery are impeccable, and his facial reactions are worth the price of admission. There is also a very nice cameo in the film by a football star from the Detroit Lions (when they used to be good), Alex Karras, who went on to do many more decent minor roles in the films of the seventies.

It is the story of a black man who becomes a sheriff of a small Western town well before there was any discussion of civil rights. Racism is handled so well by Brooks that you hardly notice at all that the sheriff is a victim of it. The town is dead set against a black man becoming sheriff, but is so desperate that they finally accept his appointment. Gene Wilder as his deputy looks like even a bigger mistake, but the town lets that one pass because Wilder is white. The racism comments are sometimes a bid edgy and tasteless, but for the most part, they probably capture the attitudes of the average townsperson of the West during this period of time. There was no such thing as PC in those days. The triumph of the black sheriff is funnier than it is inspirational. Do not expect to find much social significance in the film; it was made to be funny, not socially acceptable or significant. The campfire scene is the most memorable part of the film; it is a real gas. The funniest guy in the film, as always, is Gene Wilder, who is at the top of his game in this one. Highly recommended.

 
 
 
 

 

 
0402 –A - Blind Shaft (China) – 2003 – Written and directed by Li Yang and starring Li Yixiang, Wang Shuangbao, and Wang Baoqiang. The story is about two street hustlers who con a migrant worker who is very young (only sixteen) into taking a job working in an illegal coal mine. After the worker gets paid, they murder him for his signing bonus and repeat the scam over and over. The film shows the horrendous conditions of the China’s illegal mining industry, which is enormous because it gathers migrant workers from all over China who will eagerly risk their lives for a few hundred RMB a week (that is $30 a week US) in order to work 12 hour shifts in an unsafe and unhealthy environment. According to the director and producer of this film, they were threatened on several occasions by companies and government officials. I found the film to be entertaining and it seems it could have been made about any number of countries with illegal mines, but this one was a good choice. Recommended.
 
 
 



1326 – A -Blood on the Moon – 1948 – Directed by Robert Wise (The Hills are alive with the sound of Gunplay) and starring Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, a hired gun for cattlemen in their war against the farmers, Robert Preston as Tate Riling, the sleazy cattleman who tries to fleece the farmers before trying to kill them off, Tom Tully as John Lufton, one of the main farmers and Barbara Del Gedes as Lufton’s daughter and love interest for Jim. Garry finds out he has been tricked into intimidating honese farmers and then switches sides and begins a confrontation with Tate. The switch also allows him to get closer to Amy, Lufton’s daughter. As a result of this film, Del Geddes was able to buy an enormous estate in Dallas (only kidding). The film is in black and white and has elements of film noir, but I am going to place it decidedly in the Western category because there are six guns, rifles, a damsel in distress, horses and easily discernible bad guys. Recommended.


 
 
 



0946 –A - Blue Angel – 1930- Germany - Directed by Josef Von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich as Lola and Emil Jannings in a tour-de-force performance as the Professor who comes to ruin because of his love for a tawdry burlesque queen. This is considered a classic of the silver screen. It is usually one of the first films a film student is shown to enlighten them on the process of how a great film is made and how great acting can be measured. Von Sternberg may be a little bit stiff for some tastes, but one thing he certainly knows how to do is set up the audience for dramatic impact. He is also very good at slowly developing the two major characters in the film. German directors like Von Sternberg and Fritz Lang are often underrated because of old stereotypes held by filmgoers that early German directors were rigid and had little emotional range. Nothing could have been further from the truth as this film clearly shows.

The story takes us into the classroom of the professor and shows his concern and protectiveness for his students, who are curious about the burlesque theater and sex. The professor admonishes his students for being so juvenile for relishing a local singer/stripper named Lola. He visits the theater to see the act for himself firsthand and he meets Dietrich and is smitten by her immediately. Lola plays him like a violin and draws him into the world of burlesque little by little. During his visits to the café, the professor notices a clown who plays the fool, but seems to be somewhat of a tragic figure. Eventually, the professor is disgraced at his school and must resign his position to become a performer in the show that eventually goes on the road. He falls deeper into disgrace as he finally becomes a clown just like the one he saw when he first visited the theater. When the professor crows like a cock for his former students and colleagues upon his return to his home town; it is an unforgettable tragic scene. While at rockbottom and in his old home town, the professor tries one last time to rejoin the world of academia. I will not reveal the conclusion of the film, but it is wonderfully apt. This film is not dated in the least and holds up well in modern times. I highly recommend it


 




0170 –A - Blue Collar – 1978 – Directed by Paul Schrader and starring the talented trio of Richard Prior as Zeke, Yaphet Kotto as Smoky and Harvey Keitel as Jerry. Schrader is a director that knows how to use his actors well. He directs the action at a crisp pace and in some scenes, he achieves electrifying results. Prior shows us that he is much more than just a stand-up comedian in this film and one can see the great potential in Prior (never realized) for other great dramatic roles. What a pity he allowed his personal vices to shorten such a promising career. Harvey Keitel was another fine actor who more often than not booby-trapped his own career with substance abuse and fits of anger with writers and directors. This often led directors and producers to skip him for consideration for roles he might otherwise have landed with ease. The fact he was never used by Scorcese again after Mean Streets has a lot of significance attached to it. Scorcese had been very loyal to all the other actors that were with him from the start except for Keitel. Other directors and producers took note of this. Yaphet Kotto gives us another strong performance as Smoky and is always believable in just about any role he plays. The three of these dynamic actors make for great dramatic potential at any moment on the screen. The three are blue-collar workers in the Detroit auto business and are all party animals. The partying scenes have a sense of stark reality because it is fairly obvious that all three of the boys know how to have a good time in real life and they bring that expertise to the film. The music is a driving force in this film and Schrader creates that grim, working-class world that he was so good at doing in his previous film, Taxi Driver. The three hatch a scheme to rob the union safe, but they get away with very little money. They, do, however, come up with some very incriminating documents. The three also come up with the brilliant, Ralph-Kramdon idea of blackmailing a union that has mob ties. Naturally, one of them is murdered to get the document back, and Jerry then considers going to the Feds to spill the beans about the whole thing. I will not reveal the ending, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t a very good idea for them to try the blackmail thing. This is a highly believable script and I found the film compelling. Highly recommended.






1030 –A - Blue Dahlia – 1946 – Directed by George Marshall and starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and William Bendix. This was the third pairing of Ladd and Lake. This film noir piece tells of a Navy Lieutenant, Johnny, played by Ladd, who returns from action in the Pacific along with two friends, one of which is Buzz, played by Bendix, who has a serious recurring head wound, and George, played by Father Knows Best Dad, Hugh Beaumont. Johnny finds his wife living and partying in her love shack. He thinks about killing her, but figures she is not worth it. Even Buzz goes a few rounds with Johnny’s wife, not knowing who she is (how likely is that?). Meanwhile, Johnny somehow upgrades as he gets picked up by Joyce, a ganster’s moll, played by Veronica Lake (how likely is that?). Johnny’s wife is found murdered and he is the prime suspect. The police arrest both Johnny and Buzz, but eventually, there are clues that implicate Dad Newell, a smalltime gangster, played by Will Wright, who is associated with Eddie, the gangster husband of Joyce. This plot is pretty convoluted and confusing, but it is fun to watch and make a lot of wrong guesses about what will happen. Recommended.

 

 
 
 
 
 


1589 – B -The Blue Gardenia – 1953 – Directed by Fritz Lang and starring Anne Baxter, one of the queens of B movies, as Norah, a woman of questionable character, Richard Conte as Casey, a newspaperman also of questionable character, Ann Southern, a highly capable supporting actress as Crystal, Raymond Burr in his usual sleezy urban role as Harry Prebble, and George Reeves, before he becomes Superman, in the role of police captain, Sam Haynes. This is film noir at it sleeziest. Everyone is a lowlife or has major defects. Norah gets drunk and sleeps with Harry, who gets murdered. Casey covers the story and tries to help Norah rid herself of the murder charge using his superior investigative skills. Of course they both fall in "love" with each other. In some ways the film is depressing and in others, it is very realistic. One feels like taking a shower after the credits begin to roll. Recommended with reservations about the image of everyone in the city as being of inferior character.
 
 
 
 
 


0201 –A - The Blue Kite (China) - 1993 – Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang and starring Tian Yi, Wenyao Zhang and Xiaoman Chen. This film was banned in China because it shows the ideological mistakes of the communist party over the years before the opening of China under Deng Xiaoping. The three big mistakes were the hundred flowers campaign which encouraged criticism and then punished those who criticized, The Great Leap Forward, which was actually a great leap backward, although some progress was made in steel production, the overall economy was neglected, and finally the horrendous Cultural Revolution, which lasted for almost ten years and destroyed millions of valuable books and artifacts within China, not to mention millions of lives being disrupted or lost for no good reason. Mao was great for China in the beginning, but these three periods brought him down in stature. Fortunately, China has moved forward in the last 35 years despite these horrendous mistakes. The movie takes a look at each of these events through three events: Father, which captures the beginnings of the upheaval, Uncle, which is a polite form to call your mother’s lover, which is the person who takes father’s place and Stepfather, a complete unemotional union made for financial considerations. These three family events overshadow the major events taking place in China at the same time. A really incisive film. Highly recommended.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 



1352 –B - The Blue Max – 1966 – Directed by John Guillerman and starring George Peppard as Bruno, James Mason as the General, and Ursula Andress as anyone she wants to be because she is there strictly to look at (if only she could act). There are a number of other Hollywood B actors doing their imitation of World War Two Nazis even though there weren’t any nazis during the era of this film. One of the problems of the film are that the actors are trying to play Germans instead of trying to play people. A good war story is a good story regardless of where the setting is.

The plot is interesting, but marred by the sterotyping of German flyers and German generals and well as giving us the feeling they are acting more like Nazis than Germans before the Nazi era. For this, I believe we should probably fault the director, Guillerman, who never really went on to make any significant films; including this one. Guillerman fails to control either of his major actors from straying into Nazi-type role-playing and he even fails to control the supporting cast from doing the same thing. Despite the affected behavior of all the actors, the story is still a bit compelling. Bruno wants to be a war hero and shoot down 20 planes. He wants to be the number one Fokker in the German Air Force. He saves the Red Baron, Manfred Von Richtoven, the true number one Fokker in the Air Force. He is offered a place in the Red Baron’s squadron, but he refuses and goes on to get 20 kills of his own. After getting his hard-earned medal, the General sends him up in a new death trap plane so that he may die honorably. Why would you want to get rid of a national hero in a difficult war? Because he has an ego problem? If that was a good enough reason for the General to get rid of him, he should have taken up half the general staff including the General with him. There does not seem to be a clear protagonist and antagonist in the film, but depite that, it is still entertaining on a visceral level. What a guy, that General. Ursula must now find another Fokker pilot to replace Bruno. Her acting is about as artificial as her plastic surgery. She was made for still photographs and limited dialogue. Guillerman misuses her as well. Recommended with reservations







1279 –A - Blues Brothers – 1980 – Directed by John Landis and starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers, as Jake and Elwood, respectively. Landis is pretty good in creating fantasies for comedies. He is not capable of doing a serious film, but as far as doing physical comedy, he is more than capable of creating numerous situations for the actors to show their comedic skills. The film is stolen by Kathleen Freeman, who plays Sister Mary Stigmata, also known as The Penguin. Sister Stigmata is the head of a Catholic Orphanage who runs the institution with an iron fist and threatens both physical and emotional mayhem on the two boys if they fail in their quest to pay off the school’s debt. Of course the role is a stereotype of the worst that the Catholic nunnery had to offer. There were many nice, patient nuns who used to teach for the church and that still do so today. That being said, there really are nuns like this. We had one just like her in West Paterson, New Jersey at Saint Bonaventure Grammar School in both the 4th and 7th grades. Her name was Sister Aloysious, and she was FAR worse than the nun portrayed in this film. She must have broken over 100 of her pointers (mostly over the head of Jeffrey Lovas) during our 200 days of school in the 7th grade. She used to go into tirades of cursing and stamping up and down the class when we misbehaved. She was retired the year after our 7th grade finished. She made Sister Stigmata look like a saint in comparison.

The boys are instructed by Sister Stigmata and her threatening ruler to get $5000 to pay for a tax assessment for their beloved parochial school. Now, officially on a mission from God, they feel extremely comfortable breaking any law they have to in order to get the job done. In Landisville, bumbling idiots like these never get caught or punished; they merely drive into the sunset, usually followed by a half dozen or so black and white police cars. There is a lot of good music in the film, which is probably its strongest point. Belushi was strictly a physical comedian who depended a lot on the straight acting of Aykroyd, but they did make a good pair. The two were helped out by John Candy, Carrie Fisher and Henry Gibson along the way. One of the weaknesses of the film is that we don’t get to see enough of Sister Stigmata. She deserved double or triple the face time of the other actors. Recommended.

 
 
 
 
 
 


0204 –B - Blush (China) – 1994 – Directed by Li Shaohong and starring He Saifei, Wang Ji, and Wang Zhiwen. This film takes a more humorous view of government reform when two prostitutes are re-educated to become useful citizens in the People’s Republic. This film actually makes the CCP look good from the public relations standpoint, because everyone knows that prostitutes are a repressed segment of any society and at least the CCP was trying to do something about it within their country. It is the director’s job to make this situation funny; not an easy task. Instead of going for slapstick humor, the director turns our attention to the efforts of the two women to find new lives for themselves despite their unfortunate beginnings; it keeps them scheming all the time, like Ethel and Lucy in I Love Lucy. The film is also able to keep us emotionally involved with both women through threir ordeals and when things get serious, we are anxious for them. Involving the audience with your characters in a prime example of good directing and this director is good. Recommended.

 
 
 
 
 
 




1129 –B - Bob Roberts – 1992 - Written and Directed by the talented Tim Robbins and also starring Robbins, Gore Vidal, Brian Murray and Alan Rickman as some very nice sleaze. This film about the quagmire of politics is shot in similar fashion as Meathead used in his phony documentary of a rock band several years earlier. Meathead being Rob Reiner and the film being This is Spinal Tap. If you enjoyed that kind of film, you will most certainly enjoy this one. Bob Roberts touches all the bases on a home run about the sleaze factor in politics. I particularly liked the scenes with Alan Rickman, who is a wonderful over the top actor who should be used more in films. It is refreshing to see the main character as an emerging conservative, rather than another of the tired rising liberals usually portrayed in these kinds of films (The Candidate, The Best Man, etc). Political beliefs are not really all that important in the film; it is the backroom bargaining and the manipulation of the media that make the film entertaining, as well as the great job done by Robbins. Highly recommended.






1153 – A -Body and Soul – 1947 – Directed by Robert Rossen and starring John Garfield as Charlie Davis, a boxer who can’t escape the sleaze of the boxing underworld, Lili Palmer, and William Conrad as a heavy (sic). This is one of the granddaddies of the boxing genre and also some pretty good film noir. Garfield got nominated for an Oscar for this performance and the technique of filming inside the ring by the master cinematographer, James Wong Howe, earned the film the Academy Award for best film editing. This technique was later copied by Martin Scorsese in Raging Bull with great success, also. Garfield is offered the classic deal of throwing a fight for a lot of money. If he doesn’t, he could wind up with a lot less than empty pockets. I will not reveal the end of the film to you, but this is classic John Garfield (a highly gifted actor) and is a must-see film. Highly recommended.

 
 
 
 


0261 –A - Bodyguards and Assassins (China) – 2009 – Directed by Teddy Chan and an all-star cast including Zhang Honyu, Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Leon Lei, Wang Xueqi, Simon Yam, Hu Jun, Eric Tsang, Wang Po-chieh and Fan Bingbing. The film begins with the subject of the 1911 Revolution which changed China from a monarchy to anarchy, or a very loose version of democracy, depending on your point of view. The good guys in the film are the revolutionaries and the bad guys are the assassins sent by the evil empress Cixi to kill them. It begins in 1905 with Sun Wen, played by Zhang Hanyu, coming to Hong Kong to help overthrow the decaying Qing Dynasty. He is aided by Chen Shaobai, the chief editor of the China Daily, Li Yutang, who is a financier for the revolution, Li Chongguang, the financier’s son, Deng Sidi, a common rickshaw driver who sacrifices himself for the cause, Fang Hong, a fictional woman who knows martial arts, who dies in the revolution. Highly unlikely this character ever existed, and Yang Quyun, a university professor who is assassinated after the successful revolution. The film is chock full of violence and action, but it also has a very interesting historical perspective. I recommend it.


 
 




1516 – B -Bombardier – 1943 – Directed by Richard Wallace and starring Randolph Scott as Captain Buck, Pat Obrien as Major Chick (both of these guys must have had really embarassing first names, so they are using nicknames), Robert Ryan as Cadet Joe, Ann Shirley as Burt (a rather dyky name; Shirley you can’t be serious), and Brigadier General Eugene L. Eubank as the only person in the movie with a normal name. In a film that sets records for bad names of its characters, we find O’Brien and Scott engaged in a duel of bombing strategies. One favors close-up bombing and the other, realizing that means almost certain death for the crews, argues for much higher elevations for bombing. The trick is to maintain the accuracy you have at low-level bombing. The plot is pretty interesting as we can earnestly feel the Army searching for a quick answer since the film is made right smack in the middle of WW 2. It has a definite feel of authenticity and immediacy. I will not reveal the ending of the film, but it is satisfying. Recommended.





1229 –A - Bone Collector – 1999- Directed by Philip Noyce and starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Washinton plays Lincoln, a paralyzed forensics specialist who teams up with Jolie’s Amelia, who is an average patrol officer. (how come I don’t have any patrol officers in my neighborhood who look like Jolie?).

There are a series of murders by a clever killer who takes a piece of bone from each victim. Eventually, the talented pair begin to piece together the necessary clues that lead them to a book of short stories. The short stories reveal the names of victims and they figure out the next victim in advance. They arrive in time to save one victim, but not the other. Eventually, they figure out that the murderer is eventually going to come after Lincoln. I will not reveal how the final confrontation is resolved, but be rest assured that everyone lives happily ever after. Despite the pat Hollywood ending, I can recommend the film based on its intelligent storytelling. Recommended.




0041 – A -Bonnie and Clyde – 1967- Directed by Arthur Penn and starring Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, two notorious bank robbers from the 30s Depression era. One must understand the era before one can appreciate the movie. These people were not bank robbers or outlaws to the majority of the public at that time. They were folk heroes. They were people other people wish they could have had the guts to have been. There were millions who were out of work and wished they could have done the things that Bonnie and Clyde did, despite their anti-social behavior. It was a time of desperation and these were desperados. Of course, in the final analysis, they were criminals and had to be removed, one way or the other from the society of honest, hard-working and law-abiding citizens, but millions understood why Bonnie and Clyde did what they did. More than one critic had to recant their original reviews because they were so embarrassed by the critical and box office success of the film. Gene Hackman was very good in the film and it also was the debut of Gene Wilder, who added a bit of humor to the violence. The film was nominated for a bevy of awards, but only won two. Estelle Parsons for best supporting actress and Burnett Guffey for his brilliant cinematography. The FBI siege at the hideout sequence is unforgettable and beautifully choreographed by Penn.

The story begins when Clyde meets Bonnie living over a store that Clyde is robbing. He asks her if she wants to run away with him and lead a life of crime and she says it sure beats being poor during the depression. Along the road of their many robberies, they meet additional gang members played by Estelle Parsons and Gene Hackman. Parsons is not really a gangster, but is just tagging along for the ride. And quite a ride it is. The gang is relentlessly pursued by a renowned FBI agent and eventually, they surround the gang at a hideout, but the gang shoots its way out and escapes. However, the next trap that Bonnie and Clyde fall into, they are not as fortunate to get away like they did before. Penn does a great job keeping the film going at breakneck speed and even makes the characters sympathetic. This is a must-see film for all serious movie buffs.






0174 – A -Boogie Nights – 1997 – Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Mark Wahlberg as Eddie, a high school dropout and male prostitute, Luis Guzman as Maurice, a night club owner, (Luis used to teach with me down at Henry Street Settlement on the lower East Side of New York), Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner, a porn director, Heather Graham as Rollergirl, a porn star, and a great supporting cast including the talented William H Macy. There were about a dozen ways this film could have gone bad or have been nothing but sensationalistic crap, but it avoided every one of them. The director takes the actors through their marks with great precision and confidence and it shows in the film. Some of the characters are extremely likable despite their sexually excessive personalities. This is not an easy trick to pull off in a film. Burt Reynolds is absolutely believable and outstanding in this movie.

This film is about the golden age of porn in 1980 and follows one character for a few scenes and then goes on to another character. The process used by the director was quite similar to the method used by Robert Altman in Nashville years earlier. Some people like this process; my wife hated this technique. Personally, I find it interesting, but not as compelling as staying with one or two main characters. We follow the rise (literally) of Eddie and Rollergirl and the fall of some of the other characters such as Little Bill played by Macy. The film is visually stunning aside from the sex scenes and the dialogue is quite crisp. It is a fairly incisive film into the underbelly of Los Angeles during the age of pre-AIDs sex. Such promiscuity and sexual behavior now, during the age of AIDS, would, of course, be suicidal. But there was a time when people would meet have a drink and hop into bed without much more than knowing each other’s first name. In some instances, they didn’t even know each other’s name. The difference between the West Coast and the East Coast during this period was that the West Coast liked to film all the fun they were having. The East Coast would then eagerly watch the films made on the West Coast in sleezy XXX arcades strewn around the Times Square area accompanied by live “entertainment”. It is an age we will never see again. I can recommend it for mature audiences


 
 






1207 –B - The Book of Eli – 2010 - Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes and starring Denzel Washington as the wondering post-apocalyptic survivor, Eli, one of my favorite over-the-top actors, Gary Oldman as a crazed gang leader (gee, what a stretch for Oldman), and Jennifer Beals without her leotards from Flashdance as a blind concubine (now that’s a stretch). They spent 80 mil on this run-of-the-mill end-of-the-world epic. They could have spent one tenth of that and made the same film just as easily with no name actors, but then it wouldn’t have grossed 160 mil, so I guess that wouldn’t have been a good idea, after all. Anyway, Eli is transporting the last Bible to the West Coast for safekeeping because people there are more moral than people on the East Coast (I guess). Although considering the type of people that Eli is meeting along the way to the West Coast, it really doesn’t seem like he is going in the right direction. Recommended with reservations.

 



1031 – B -Boomerang - 1947 – Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, and Jane (Father Knows Best)Wyatt. This is a film noir story about a drifter who is picked up and charged with a murder he didn’t commit. A priest in Connecticut was shot dead and the police cannot immediately find the killer. Arthur Kennedy plays the drifter, John, charged with the murder. Andrews plays a State’s attorney , Harvey, and Jane Wyatt plays his wife. She is good at playing wives. Lee J. Cobb dominates the movie with his persona as the police chief who has the political pressure to get a suspect under arrest as soon as possible to satisfy the public and the papers. Eventually, the suspect confesses from lack of sleep, but Harvey is not convinced he did and continues his investigation. I will not reveal the ending of the movie, but it is fairly sobering. Recommended.





1193 –A - Borat (Cultural Learnings of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)- 2006 – Directed by Larry Charles and starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the maniac, Borat, from Kazakhstan; easily the most famous anything to ever come out of Kazakhstan. This film is easily the best comedy so far in the 21stCentury. If you can’t laugh at this movie, there is something seriously wrong with you. For the first few minutes of the film, one is not sure if this is a real documentary or a mocumentary. We find out it is the latter in very quick time. The trick is, of course, that many people in the film are sucked into believing that Cohen is actually making a documentary instead of a searing satire.

We trace the beginnings of Borat in his native country of Kazakhstan, where he is now public enemy number one, and meet his so-called family of illegitimate and illiterate sisters and brothers. Borat is proud of the high rating of his sister as one the ranking prostitutes in the country. The introduction of his relatives and neighbors and the third-world town that he lives in is hilarious. This film is so over the top with poor taste, one cannot even begin to address each of the taboos that Cohen tramples on; Anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and scatological humor are good starters. Not to mention beastiality, promiscuity, and anti-Americanism as chasers. Of course one must take all of these personality traits in stride because IT IS ONLY A MOVIE. It is not a real person and these are not the actual sentiments of the author and actor. It has elements similar to those found in South Park and if one likes that show, one will love this film. If one does not like South Park and finds it offensive, then they will find this film offensive as well. I personally think it will be very difficult for Cohen to make another comedy as good as this one in the near future and maybe not for the rest of his career. He is a highly creative artist and a master of lowbrow humor as well as a talented physical comedian. That is a fairly lethal comibination. Charles does a great job in directing Cohen and keeping him under control (and I use that word advisedly). As a movie, Borat is hilarious and I recommend it without reservation as it is now in my top 100 films of all time.


 
 




1635 – B -Bordertown – 1935 –Directed by Archie Mayo and starring heavyweights Paul Muni and Bette Davis, who seldom co-starred together in film. Muni plays a Hispanic man called Johnny, who wants to be a lawyer, but loses his first case and assaults the opposing lawyer for being smarter than he is. What a knucklehead (my wife’s favorite term). He makes things worse by getting a job as a bouncer in a border town and turning a honky-tonk into a respectable after-hours speakeasy. There, he meets the respectable Marie, played to the hilt by Davis, who wants to fool around with Johnny, but is married to some loser named Charlie, who she disposes of by killing him off in a garage while he is drunk by leaving the car running. I will not reveal how the film ends, but you know the code will make Davis pay for her nasty deeds. Nice piece of work. You feel like taking a shower after seeing these people in action because they are so sleazy; especially Davis. Nice job by Mayo in conveying the sleaze of a border town. Recommended.





0175 –A - Born on the Fourth of July – 1989 – Directed by Oliver Stone and starring Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic, a disabled Vietnam veteran. Cruise is unusually understated in this film and is not his usual over the top persona. Stone keeps him well in line with the character portrayed in the movie. And Stone was quite familiar with the material since he was a Vitenam vet, himself. He was familiar with all of the contradictions of the war both at home and in Vietnam. At home, you had the liberals and hippies who were against anything that had to do with the military or national defense. It didn’t make any difference if you honestly believed you should serve your country; you were considered a sucker. The conservatives, on the other hand, were against liberals and hippies because of their life-styles, haircuts and loose sexual mores. Sometimes the two groups actually even thought about the politics behind each other’s causes and were opposed for those reasons. In Vietnam, troops were divided as well. Most were against the war, but some thought they were doing the right thing for the right reasons and that was the real tragedy of the war. Kovic was one of those who believed he was doing the right thing.

The film deftly traces the evolution of Ron Kovic’s young life before entering the service. We are shown Fourth of July parades in Long Island that glorify past wars and veterans. Then he hears the famous Kennedy line “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” Kovic admires these men and wants to be like them. The clincher is when a Marine recruiter gives an impassioned speech at his high school about the Corps. Then Kovic, in a patriotic frenzy, enlists and gets his chance to be like his heroes by going to Vietnam. We fast-forward to Kovic’s second tour of duty (as if one were not enough), where he accidently shoots and kills a new member of the unit. Everyone tells him to just forget about it, but he can’t. His guilt leads him to be reckless and he receives a critical wound that permanently disables him. I will not reveal the end of the film, but suffice it to say that it hits close to home because I am a Vietnam vet myself. Stone gets it right (unlike his JFK debacle) in this one. Recommended






1703 –A - Born to Kill – 1947 – Directed by Robert (The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Music) Wise and starring Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor and Walter Slezak in a high-quality film noir special. Helen, played by Trevor, is recently divorced and on the prowl, she becomes attracted to a killer, Sam Wilde (not the Oscar kind of Wilde, but the wild kind of wild), who has no socially redeeming values. Helen dumps her rich boyfriend (sound choice, but highly unlikely in real life) and rolls in the mud with Sam. Then the police get on Sam’s trail and all the sleaze begins to unravel. I loved every second of this highly immoral film. I will not reveal the Shakespearean ending of the movie, but it fits the code. Highly recommended.



0176 – A -Born Yesterday – 1950 – Directed by George Cukor and starring William Holden as Paul, an honest professor, Broderick Crawford as a crook, Harry, Howard St. John as Jim Devery, a sleazy lawyer and Judy Holliday as Billie, the ditzy moll of Harry. Cukor was a master at directing melodramatic comedy and it shows here in spades. The dialogue is absolutely first-rate and there is never a dull moment in the film. Holden gives one of his best performances ever and Holliday literally does give the performance of her career. St. John is great as the sleazy lawyer and Crawford steals the movie as Harry. Crawford would go on to great success as the star of the fifties hit Highway Patrol on TV. This was the vehicle that led to that TV role.

The plot has Harry intending to marry Billie so she cannot testify against him (in real life, he would just ice her). Then he hires a tutor, Paul, a local college professor, to teach her some class (as if Harry has any himself). Naturally, Paul and Billie fall for each other and the triangle has some very funny moments. One is when Harry and Billie play gin. Billie is always picking up whatever Harry throws away from his hand and then eventually Harry throws her a gin card as well. Billie always goes gin on him and this infuriates Harry. Another is when Billie uses Harry’s own property against him to protect her new love interest from any harm. Billie threatens to go to the police if Harry harms a hair on Paul’s head. She promises to keep quiet and play ball with Harry if she can go run off with Paul. Harry considers dusting the both of them for a few minutes and then comes to the conclusion that is better to get rid of the both of them through cooperation and to protect his crime empire. Of course the film code will not allow this to happen and Harry is eventually brought down by the police. As Billie takes a fall, Paul is there to catch in a fittingly romantic climax. It appears as if Billie will do little, if any time for her role in the empire because she can always say she was coerced; and who wouldn’t believe her? There are a lot of funny bits in this comedy, but I will let the viewer enjoy them instead of describing them all. I can highly recommend this film as a premier comedy.


 
 


0178 –A- Bound For Glory – 1976 – Directed by Hal Ashby and starring David Carridine as Woody Guthrie and a strong supporting cast. Ashby is generally considered a lightweight director, but he rises to the occasion for this film and produces a beautiful period piece. He really captures the essence of the Depression, but doen not dwell on the sad and hopeless issues that were prevelant during the period. Instead, the film gives us a feeling of pulling together to beat this thing and that despite very tough times, the human spirit can rise to the occasion and overcome practically any adversity. David Carridine was another Hollywood personality that was considered to be lightweight by most professionals in the industry. He also rose to the occasion for this film and gave an outstanding performance. It was probably his best in his career with the exception of the Kung Fu series that successfully ran on TV for a few years. The supporting cast is letter perfect in the great tradition of the MGM studios, which spares no expense for costumes, props and other first-class production values that give the film its sense of period. It shows what can be done when everyone puts in a supreme effort.

This film is about famous American folk singer Woody Guthrie and his travels throughout America during the Depression. The cinematography and music in this film are outstanding as evidenced by the two Academy awards it received in each of these categories. This Land is Your Land was Guthrie’s most famous song and is highlighted in this film. There is one unforgettable scene of an approaching dust storm that symbolizes the onset of the Dustbowl period of the Midwest during the Depression. We follow Gutherie as he flees the Dustbowl and heads West with millions of others. The film is slightly reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, which was made many years earlier. The movie does absolutely no moralizing or politicizing about the benefits of socialism, it merely reveals Guthrie’s journey and experiences. In reality, Guthrie left his wife and family behind to look for work just like millions of other Americans at the time. His son, Arlo Guthrie, also became famous for singing and appeared in the film Alice’s Restaurant, which was also the name of his most famous song. This is both a tragic and inspirational film about the American spirit and about not giving up. I recommend it highly.
 
 
 

1565 –A - The Bounty – England - 1984 – Directed by Roger Donaldson and starring a rare combination of Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. I certainly hope that you can guess which roles Hopkins (Bligh) and Gibson (Christian) played. This was the fifth rendering of this great story, all of which I have enjoyed immensely and can highly recommend. I love any film about the South Seas. Hopkins, naturally, does a great job as a cold-fish Bligh and we already know how hot-blooded Gibson is in practically every role he takes. It is inevitable that this film was compared to earlier versions of the same story. The first successful Mutiny on the Bounty, was highly popular at the time of its release in the thirties with Clark Gable as Christian (he had to shave off his famous mustache for the role) and Charles Laughton in a wonderfully over the top performance as Bligh. That film is still considered to be the best of all these productions, because no one will ever match Laughton as Bligh. This film, however, is still very good in its own right and superior to the last remake that was done with the moody Marlon Brando in the role as Christian (by that time in the sixties, Brando had gained enough weight to play Bligh and might have been much better cast in that role than the tepid Trevor Howard). The waste of Richard Harris at the time in a secondary role instead of the role of Christian doomed the film to mediocrity). The casting of Brando as Bligh and Harris as Christian might have been electric. In this version, the casting is letter-perfect and no one can rouse himself into a greater state of passion than Mel Gibson. Oddly enough, one of my favorite actors of all time, Anthony Hopkins, seems to give too understated a performance for Bligh; making him far more sympathetic than the character portrayed by Laughton in the earlier version. Unfortunately, this is not what the audience wanted. They wanted things in clear black and white. Christian is supposed to clearly be the good guy and Bligh the bad guy. But of course, history had it otherwise and Hopkins chose to play it according to the truth of the facts rather than the preferences of the audience and, unfortunately, it cost him and the film in the long run.

If you don’t know this story by now, I can tell you that a young seaman mutinies against a highly competent, but brutal captain and casts him overboard to travel over a thousand miles at sea in an open boat with some other loyal crewmen. Christian and his cohorts then take off for Pitcarin Island to get away from the British. Everyone survives, but not without a great deal of trepidation. Highly recommended.


 


0936 –A Bourne Identity – 2002 – Directed by Doug Liman and starring Matt Damon as Bourne. If you change just a few letters in Damon’s character’s name, can you figure out what type of character Bourne will be? This is the Americanized version of James Bond written by Robert Ludlum. Bond and Fleming are infinitely more interesting than Bourne written by Robert Ludlum, but this isn’t about writing, it is about filmmaking. And the Bourne series of films spawned from this original film easily equal and sometimes surpass the Bond films in quality. Everything about these productions are first-rate; the actors’ performances, the cinematography and the scriptwriting. The only area that the series falls short in would be the music, which is understandable because it is up against one of the greatest movie score writers of all time in John Barry. Other than the music, however, the series can go punch for punch with the James Bond series. All the Bourne films are great popcorn movies and I can recommend them for good entertainment value. After all, spies are fun to watch as long as we don’t have to put ourselves in danger.





1816 –B - Bowery at Midnight – 1942 – Directed by Wallace Fox and starring the classically trained and understated Bela Lugosi as a professor who is an alcoholic drug addict, not too much of stretch for him there, Tom Neal, who is becoming a cult film noir figure for his work in Hitchhiker, as one of the unfortunates who attends Professor Lugosi’ s evening psychology classes that are given in the guise of a soup kitchen for the down and out. The good professor then makes into his servants as zombies for gang activities so he can make more money, I guess. OK, the plot is more than just a little unbelievable, it is just plain hilarious. A film that is destined to be on Science Fiction Theatre 3000 at some point in the future. But before it gets there, you have to see it. It makes Ed Wood productions look like Ben Hur. Highly Recommended for a good campy evening of fun.


 
 
 
 
0179 –A - Boys Don’t Cry – 1999 – Directed by Kimberly Peirce and starring Hilary Swank in her spectacular debut as Brandon Teena, a transsexual, and Chole Sevigny as his/her love interest, Lana. This is some pretty gritty stuff and quite a debut for Swank. Sevigny is also very good in the film as well. The essence of the film was rather taboo stuff in the late nineties (and still is for that matter). The sexual liaisons of transsexuals are not usually highlighted in Hollywood mainstream films, so the film had to be quite exceptional to make up for the loss of mass audience appeal that is built into the story and guaranteed it would not make a fortune at the box office. And yet, the film did quite well at the box office, despite having to play in several art houses and secondary theaters to obviously limited adult audiences. Peirce does a wonderful job in her first big film attempt at directing. She shows a special tenderness to both characters and does not let the film slip away into any sentimental quagmire. She is in full control from beginning to end.

The movie begins with a young man by the name of Brandon, arriving in a small Texas town and landing a job at a local ranch. Brandon is the strong, silent type, but you got the feeling there was something just a bit effeminate about him. At first, the viewer is telling themselves that this guy is gay, and surprisingly enough they are right, but not exactly. Brandon is a gay girl, not a gay boy. This is the first real shock of the movie. The film goes on to show the romance between Brandon and Lana and then the relationship’s uiltimate demise as the result of Brandon’s rape and murder by a group of Texas rednecks. The dramatic content of the film is undeniable, and what we consider to be the naïve character of Lana, who seems not to notice that Brandon is a girl, at first, is softened by the fact that, in the final analysis, Lana doesn’t really care whether Brandon is a boy or not. Other than this interesting consideration, the film delivers in all areas. The tragic conclusion only tends to remind us that there are still millions of intolerant Americans out there who judge a person by their sexual preferences rather than by who they are and what they do. I can recommend the film without reservation.






1865 –A - The Boys From Brazil – 1978 – Directed by Franklin J Schaffner and starring Gregory Peck and James Mason as lovable Nazis relocated in Brazil, pursued by the erstwhile Laurance Olivier, a Nazi-hunter of great renown. Gregory once confided to me at a wine and cheese party for the Columbia film department that this was one of his favorite roles of all time just for the fun of it. He absolutely loved playing Mengale, even though I told him that I thought George C Scott, originally cast, would have been better casting for that role. Gregory frowned and left our table after I said that; gee, so touchy. Anyway, the film is a great escapist yarn that has a thin thread of reality attached to actual events, but there seems to be a great deal of creative liberities taken with the historical realities. Schaffner does a good job of setting up the audience for the inevitable confrontations at the end of the film. The only element of the film that I found a bit distasteful was the casting of Steve Guttenburg in a serious role as Olivier’s assistant who is sent to gather more data from Brazil. Guttenburg is incapable of playing straight roles.

The film begins with Peck and Mason and all the other smug little Nazis partying as if a new world order was again to be created in Brazil. All the plans are in place and it is only a matter of time before the Teutonic Twins from Deutchland easily beguile the simpletons in Brazil’s political order (actually, they were far more successful in a country like Argentina under the Perons in the late seventies). News of the new stirring of Nazi activitiy reach the ears of Wisenthal, the Nazi-hunter from the US. He dispatches Steve Guttenburg to gather more data before he becomes involved himself. Naturally, like everything else that Guttenburg has ever done on the screen, he botches this job as well. Despite that unfortunate piece of casting, it is still a very intriguing film and even though I will not reveal the ending of how the boys wind up (they are being pursued by Olivier’s character, Simon Wisenthal), the ending is gratifying in a strange sort of way. The best part of the movie, however, is when Steve Guttenberg is killed. I believe it was the only film in which he was ever killed, though I am sure many viewers would have preferred otherwise in a large number of his films. Recommended.






0925 -A - Boys in Company C – 1977 - Directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens, Craig Wasson, Santos Morales, and Michael Lembeck as young men caught up in the Vietnam debacle. This fine group of unknown actors was able to take a serious subject like Vietnam and turn it into a MASH-like version of a black comedy. This is no easy trick. This is the light version of Full Metal Jacket as it follows five marines from boot camp all the way into combat in Vietnam. Speaking of Full Metal Jacket, this film is actually the film debut of R. Lee Emrey, who would make a spectacular splash in that film soon afterwards. Furie, the director, does a great job of keeping the pace of the film at a constant clip and the action never wavers. He also captures the realities of Vietnam without getting bogged down in any soapbox rhetoric. The essence of the film is the comraderie among the boys, not the war. Like MASH, the events are shared by the group and not by just individuals like many of the other Vietnam films made during this era. This is not a combat spectacular or a deep analysis of the psychology of the Vietnam War. There is no soul-searching about the politics of the war or the meaning of life for that matter. It is just five guys trying to get through a difficult situation by sticking together as much as they can.

The boys find out in quick fashion that Vietnam is a toilet containing meaningless combat, Vietnamese corruption, and incompetence from American officers of various ranks. The fine supporting cast gives more than stereotypical characterizations of both Americans and Vietnamese. There are distinct personalities from both groups in the film. The boys are offered a way out; all they have to do is throw a soccer game to the Vietnamese and they can spend the rest of their days behind the front lines playing meaningless soccer exhibitions. Well, I am sure you can guess the ending without my revelation, but I am very sure that most guys who were in this situation would have gladly thrown the game and any other game to get back to the rear; at least that’s what Maslow would have said. In the interim, however, I found the film to be very entertaining and it kind of reminded me of The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds not giving in to the guards and the prison. I can still recommend it without reservation.

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*0085 –A -Boys in the Band - 1970 – Directed by William Friedkin and starring Leonard Frey as Harold, Kenneth Nelson as Micheal, Peter White as Alan, Cliff Gorman as Emory, Frederick Combs as Donald, Laurence Luckinbill as Hank, Keith Prentice as Larry, Robert LaTourneaux as Cowboy, and Reuben Greene as Bernard. The film was a landmark movie that highlighted the gay lifestyle. Everyone in the cast does an outstanding job with the terrific dialogue provided by the outstanding screenplay. Especially good in the film is Kenneth Nelson as Michael, who has a secret about his roommate from his college days. The actor who steals the film, however, is Leonard Frey, who absolutely is riveting on the screen from his first scene until his last. He delivers his lines with all the authenticity that one could possibly imagine. He really should have been nominated for an Oscar for this role, but unfortunately, the film was made during a less enlightened era. If it had been made around the same time as Brokeback Mountain, it would have proven superior to that film in most respects (except for the photography).

The movie revolves around Harold’s birthday and the boys who are invited to celebrate it. One of the hilarious parts of the film is the prize for winning a game invented by Harold; the prize being a male hooker named Cowboy (probably named after Midnight Cowboy). Cowboy is wonderfully portrayed by Robert LaTourneaux (now there’s a stage name to rival the director in The Producers). The festivities turn a bit sauer, however, as Harold’s acidic wit is unleashed on just about everyone, but what really hurts is the fact that one of the guests may be, in fact, straight and how this is revealed, I will not mention as it would ruin your film experience. The game at the end is quite interesting regardless of one’s sexual orientation. There are no sex scenes or nudity in the film; it is all left to one’s imagination. The dialogue is so crisp that it does not need any stereotypical scenes often associated with gays. This is not a must see film, but it certainly was a very entertaining one for me and the acting is first-rate. I can heartily recommend it to anyone. This film is still clinging to its top 100 status, but is gradually sliding down into the ratings as new films come along and push it downward.






0869 – A-Boy’s Town – 1938 - Directed by Norman Tourag and starring Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan and Mickey Rooney as Tommy. Tourag does a great job of keeping the action moving at a crisp pace. This was the style of most thirties moviemakers. There are no lulls in this low-budget film. It shows how you can make a great film without spending multimillions of dollars. Shot in stark black and white, it is truly a no-frills film from start to finish. Tracy, who was by far the most dominant actor in this film, is generous and gives the glib performance of Rooney every chance to succeed. Rooney would become a much better actor in the latter part of his life; especially in roles like the trainer in Requiem For a Heavyweight. Rooney mentioned on several occasions that his favorite mentor in films was Tracy and that he learned more from him than any other actor in Hollywood. MGM was noted for their fine supporting casts in almost all their films and this one was no exception. Every member of the cast contributes to the finished product, which is quite impressive.

This is the classic story of the founding of Boys Town during the Depression, when millions of fathers left their families to find work in other places in the country. Mothers were left with multiple children to look after with little chance of gainful employment. The mothers sometimes died from overwork and the orphans were put into homes such as the ones portrayed in the film. Father Flanagan, starting with small donations and a lot of sweat and hard work finally puts together a small community of abandoned boys and provides them with more than book-learning. The community has a job for each boy and each boy is responsible for himself and for the community. Most American cities these days, would be fortunate to be as well-organized and as functional as Boys Town was in the 1930s. The film shows some of the emotional crises of the boys and how they and Father Flanagan deal with them. The movie does beg the question: what happened to the young girl orphans of the Depression? Were they forced to walk the streets to make their way in the world in any way they could? Did they have the same opportunities for a second chance like the boys in Boys Town? Was there a Girls Town? Actually, there was a Girl’s Town established in Missouri during the Depression, so the answer was yes to all of those questions. The film won an Oscar for Spencer Tracy for best actor and I would heartily recommend it for viewing; especially for younger audiences. See if you can find the funny line in the poster (it has to do with the previous poster).






1624 – A-Brainstorm – 1983 - Directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, Cliff Robertson and a riveting performance by Louis Fletcher, who deserved an Oscar nomination, but did not get one, for this great job. An unheralded star of the film was director Douglas Trumbull, who in essence, sacraficed his career at MGM to make sure that the film reached theaters and was not shelved for the insurance money due the film for the death of one of it’s famous stars, Natalie Wood, near the end of the film. There were many lurid rumors that surrounded her death. One was that she was having an affair with her co-star Christopher Walken. Another was that she was drunk and tried to swim in deep water and drowned. It seems the truth of the matter might never be known for sure.

Brainstorm is about the development of a new technology that people do not really know how to use correctly or safely. In that sense, the film was outstanding and ahead of its time. In essence, you are able to leave your own body and live out fantasies created by your own mind. You can even record the events of your fantasies. Unfortunately, there are some downside elements to the invention. For example, excessive sexual fantasies can leave the brain overstimulated to the extent you become a babbling moron or at least that is what is portrayed in the film. The other very interesting premise occurs when the sickly Fletcher realizes she is about to have a terrible heart attack and is most likely to die. Rather than panicking, she cooly records the entire sequence on the new invention and now there is a tape that recreate the sensation of death and dying. The question now is, should that tape be made available to any other living human beings? Would anyone who played the tape with the device attached to their brains die from the sensation provided by the tape? I certainly would not want to be the one to find out, but there are a number of nincompoops out there who would be glad to give it a try, I am sure (the entire cast of Jackass immediately comes to mind). The scenes with Louise Fletcher are unforgetable. Although the movie had a small problem with the ending, which I will not mention, it was, on the whole, outstanding. Highly recommended






1294 – A -The Bravados – 1958 –Directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck as Jim Douglas,a rancher who pursues the four outlaws that killed his wife, Lee Van Cleef, Stephen Boyd, Henry Silva and Albert Salmi, who get to play the bad guys. Joan Collins is, as always, the best actress from the neck down in film. King paces the film very well and there is never a lull. Peck, however, seems oddly cast as a vigilante type. He carries it off because he is such a fine actor with a very wide range, but I would think that someone like Charles Bronson or Steve McQueen may have been a better choice for this role. Both of those actors would appear in the same film just a few years after this one in The Magnificent Seven. Lee Van Cleef, before he became famous for his roles in spaghetti Westerns made with Clint Eastwood, is always delicious as a bad guy. Stephen Boyd tries his best, but really does not make an impression. He seems to have never had any good films except for Ben-Hur. Henry Silva is convincing as a quiet Indian and the unfortunate Albert Salmi (who would a few years later commit suicide) is perfectly adequate as another of the gang that supposedly raped and murdered Jim’s wife and stole some gold, as well. Rounding out (and I mean that in every conceivable way) the cast is Joan Collins, who looks so much better than she can act.

At first, this appears to be a tale of vigilante vengeance, but as the story unravels, it becomes much more than that. It is a cautionary tale for those who believe they can take the law into their own hands. However, I was inclined to kill them all myself, so I completely understand Jim’s motives. But blind rage can also be blind to justice as well. As he tracks down each killer, they all deny ever having seen his wife. But one of them, Bill Zachary, rapes a young girl and kills an old man for his gold before Jim sends him to his eternal reward. As Jim tracks down the fourth and final man, Lujan, a half-breed Indian with a wife, he finally uncovers the truth about what happened to his wife and how these four men fit into the scenario. I will not reveal the ending, but it is a bit of a surprise. This is a very well done Western. Recommended.






0937 –A - Braveheart – 1995 - Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Mel Gibson as Sir William Wallace, a 13th Century Scottish knight who challenges the authority of England. A strong supporting cast includes Patrick McGoohan as an English Lord and Ian Bannen as Robert the Bruce, a Scottish Lord who befriends Wallace only to turn on him at a key point in a major battle. McGoohan is predictably cold-hearted and Bannen is very good as Robert the Bruce. Gibson excels in these types of films and is a master of action sequences. His direction is impeccable in both the lively action scenes and the personal encounters between the major actors. Gibson has a fine instinct for observing the elements of emotion within actors and brings out the best of them for their performances. His personal and political life may be a mess, but his films are pretty much on the money. He is, however, much better in the costume drama genre than he is in modern settings (except for a few of his cop films). In that respect, he a quite a bit like Charlton Heston of a former era. Heston could never master modern roles as well. This is a story about the struggle of the Scots to remain free from the domination of the English. But the fragmentation within the Scottish royalty doomed their efforts from the start. Lords like Robert the Bruce were more concerned about their personal kingdoms and making individual deals with the British than they were about achieving a united and free Scotland. This is what eventually makes Robert the Bruce the greatest villain in the history of Scotland. We see the early rise of Braveheart in battles in which he is outnumbered, but wins despite the odds. He makes what he believes to be a strategic alliance with a major Scottish tribe leader, Robert the Bruce, played by Ian Bannen. As a deciding battle unfolds, his new ally turns on him and betrays him to the English. The film ends with the jailing, trial and execution of Braveheart, who turns out to be quite a cut-up at the end of the film. Whenever I am having a difficult day, I always make the allusion to the ending of this film, because no matter how bad my day is, it is certainly better than Braveheart’s day at the end of the film. I can recommend it as a very entertaining movie with the reservation that the ending was a bit too graphic for most people.






0181 –A - Brazil – 1985 – Directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Jonathon Pryce as a worker overwhelmed by the bureaucracy. There are a host of guest stars in this production. The original title of this film was One Day in the New York City Board of Education, but was changed at the last minute (only kidding). We see the individual, regardless of whom it might be, getting completely annihilated by the enoromous machine that is bureaucracy. Although the film is an allegory, it is one that most people can easily understand; bureaucracies drive us crazy. Bureaucrats are bullies and most of the work they do is to sustain their own jobs and not of any useful benefit to the public in any way. We have all had day to day experience with this type of insanity which Gilliam skillfully brings to the screen. I can recommend the film wholeheartedly as a former worker for the New York City Board of Education, the most convoluted bureaucracy in the world.






0182 –A - Bread, Love and Dreams (Italy) – 1954 – Directed by Luigi Comencini starring Vittorio DeSica as Antonio and Gina Lolobrigida as Maria. The story follows the familiar pattern of post-WW2 Italy where the people are still struggling to regain some form of normalcy. This story shows Antonio as a marshall of a small mountain town who wants to marry Maria, the local beauty. But Maria is not in love with Antonio; she loves his shy assistant, Pietro, played by Roberto Risso. Antonio finally gives up his pursuit of Maria and settles for a local midwife, Annarella, played by Marisa Merlini. I will not reveal the ending, but things get complicated in the small village when passions begin to get out of hand. I can recommend this film because of the nice performances of the lead actors.

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1349 -A - Breaker Morant – 1980 – Directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Edward Woodward as Breaker Morant, Bryan Brown as Peter Handcock and Lewis Fitz-Gerald as George Witton. This is a relatively unknown cast, except for Woodward, who went on to fame and fortune in American television in a popular series. The Australian supporting cast gives a lively performance and everyone is very believable in their military roles. The director Beresford does a wonderful job of unraveling the rationale for executing apparently blameless soldiers for doing what they thought best during a difficult guerilla assignment. Despite its low budget, the film has excellent production values and is never boring.

These three men are tried for murder during the Second Boer War for killing a civilian and unarmed prisoners. They were all guilty as could be, but none of them deserved the death penalty. These men were involved in guerilla warfare and there is a lot of grey area in that type of fighting. For example, how does a guerilla fighter take prisoners? The answer is, of course, you don’t. It’s not easy being a guerilla fighter. Killing civilians is another issue altogether. The men were certainly guilty of that, but, once again, there was some grey area. How do you handle an unfriendly civilian during a guerilla raid? Obviously, the best idea is to avoid all civilians until you can complete your assignment. But what if one accidentally discovers your squad? You could take him prisoner, but he most likely would slow you down. You could return to the lines and call off the assignment. But what if not completing the assignment results in the loss of many of your own comrades later? Should you sacrifice their lives or the life of this civilian? This is not like the Mi Lai massacre during the Vietnam era when Lieutenant Calley and his men slaughtered innocent Vietnamese villagers wholesale; men, women and children. He certainly deserved the death penalty, but only got a slap on the wrist at the time. So why should have these men been made to pay the ultimate price for doing what they thought was best under the circumstances? This incident led Australia never to place Australian soldiers under total British control again. Over 100 Aussies were court-martialed and ordered to be shot during World War One and every single one was commuted by the Australian high command except this group. This film is interesting to watch. Recommended.

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0185 –A - Breaking Away – 1979 – This film is directed by Peter Yates and stars a young Dennis Quaid as Mike, Dennis Christopher as Dave, Daniel Stern in his first film as Cyril, Jackie Earle Haley as Moocher and Barbara Barrie, who received an Oscar nomination for her role as Evelyn, Dave’s mother. This is one of the few coming of age films that one can watch without having the need to leave the room for any extended period of time for a beer or two. The coming of age genre is particularly hard to master for most directors, but Yates carries it off well. Some of the few other good coming of age films that I can remember seeing that was as good as this one was Stand By Me and American Graffiti.

This is a story about a group of outcast boys who are not rich enough or smart enough to attend Indiana University in the Midwest. They all have cycling in common and decide to enter a big team cycling race that is always won by Indiana University’s cycling team. Against great odds, they are successful and defeat the mighty university team. The plot of this film was as corny as it gets and yet I found myself rooting for the underdog boys even though I knew the ending of the film was certain to be the usual Hollywood ending for these formula movies. The reason I liked this film was that I was emotionally engaged despite the formula being applied. There are just so many fine scenes in this film; particularly the ones where the son, Dave, has his Italian fantasies. Dave dresses like an Italian, eats like an Italian and listens to Italian opera. He even courts a girl from Indiana University using his Italian persona, even though he is 100% Midwestern in every other aspect. I found these scenes to be extremely appealing and engaging. The chemistry between the four friends seems to be genuine and comes off as a motivating factor for the success of the movie. Barbara Barrie is absolutely perfect as the understanding mom who suffers through her son’s Italian fantasies and what she perceives to be an upcoming disappointment of losing a big race to a highly favored Indiana cycling team. I give the film my heartiest recommendation because it makes a social statement that you can overcome odds on occasion and in addition the film was highly entertaining.

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1512 –A - Bride of Frankenstein – 1935 - Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester as his spanking new bride, and Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, that’s Frankensteeeen (as per the pronounciation according to Gene Wilder, who played the Colin Clive role as the good doctor in one of the greatest comedies ever made) and the usual good supporting cast that always delivered for Universal Studios. Many consider this Frankenstein entry superior to the original one because of the atmosphere and character development of the surroundings and the monster, respectively. A line in this film led to the title of a modern film treatment of the life of Whale called Gods and Monsters. “A toast to a new world of gods and monsters”. Karloff, an underrated actor, was always good in anything he did and Elsa Lanchester does a high-camp, hair-raising job as his artificial mate. Colin Clive gives a nice over the top performance as Dr. Frankenstein and this particular film seems to have had much better production values than the original made just a few years earlier. It was evident that Universal studios made a bundle on the original and plowed a substantial amount of money into the sequel to ensure its success. And they were right on the money, because this sequel is clearly better than the original.

The basic plot finds Frankenstein not dead as the first film would have had you believe. He escapes from the wrath of the villagers to see another day by falling into a pit under the windmill that was on fire. Dr. Frankenstein, who, at the very least, should have been in prison for unleashing Frankenstein in the first place, is free to continue his ungodly experiments to make a mate for Frankenstein, so the monster will not throw any more little girls into the lake thinking they are flowers. Unfortunately, even ugly women, like the one Lanchester plays in the Bride of Frankenstein often think they can do better than the boyfriend they have. The bride rejects the friendly advances of the monster and prefers to try the bar scene, I presume, but she should have taken a good look at herself in the mirror. I thought she was getting a good deal with Frankie. After the rejection, all hell breaks loose and Frankenstein mutters his famous line “We belong dead!”, after which, it appears as if he and Dr. Frankenstein are (but don’t bet on it). Recommended.

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0042 –A - The Bridge on the River Kwai – 1957 – Directed by David Lean and starring William Holden and Alec Guinness. This is the greatest WW 2 prison camp movie ever made according to the vast majority of film critics. Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa have great supporting roles in this film. Holden had played serious roles before in such films as Sunset Boulevard, but this role cemented his ability to play both dramatic and comedic roles equally as well. Alex Guineness, of course, is one of the sublime British actors of all time and not capable of a bad performance. He would go on to win the Oscar for this portrayal. Hawkins would have future success in blockbuster films like Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean would also go on to make additional successful blockbuster films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago. Alec Guiness had a whole new second career with the original Star Wars trilogy as well as many other successful roles in between. He was also destined to be in Lawrence of Arabia. The supporting cast also does a very good job. The technical aspects of the film were letter-perfect and the production values were first-rate.

The plot of the film revolves around a moral dilemma of prisoners of war. Does the construction of a railroad in Singapore aid the enemy or give the prisoners a sense of purpose? There seems to be plenty to be said for both sides of the argument that goes on right to the very end of the film. The characterizations are memorable and Holden’s turn at playing an American POW was quite familiar to audiences because of his previous portrayal as a POW in Stalag 17 four years earlier. Alec Guinness was a master at portraying a dignified anyone. His role as Colonel Nicholson was a natural for him. As a matter of fact, the casting in this film is one of the best results in the history of film. Some members of the audience did not understand the philosophical aspect of the film, but found it to be entertaining, nevertheless. One critic was confused by the dilemma of the film (from the New York Times) and thought the film was confusing (instead of realizing that he was confused himself). The film won numerous Academy awards including: best picture, best director for Lean, best actor for Guinness, who , by the way, disliked Lean, but worked with him again on Lawrence of Arabia, best screenplay, best musical score and best cinematography, which it richly deserved. The film is on several top fifty lists of most movie critics, on the top ten list of many critics and is a must-see film.

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1417 –A - Bridges of Madison County – 1995 – Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep as killer gunslingers who have a big showdown where one is certain to get shot down (only kidding). Eastwood made a love story? And it was successful? Wow! Meryl Streep won the academy award for best actress in this film. That is not really a big surprise, as she is the best actress of the 20th century. The big surprise is that Clint Eastwood was such a romantic and could direct a romantic film with such insight and finesse. Eastwood has been successful in a wide range of films outside of the Western genre. His successes include modern cops as in Dirty Harry, a modern fight manager in Million Dollar Baby and a modern astronaut in Space Cowboys. Now, he adds the role of a modern photographer on the road who falls in love with a married woman. He pulls it off quite nicely, too. When one saw Eastwood in a Fistful of Dollars a few years ago, one might have been forgiven to think that this actor had less range than John Wayne and few, if any, would have guessed he would become a world-class director with a slew of hits and awards.
The story revolves around the summer of 1965 in Iowa, where a lonely Italian housewife, Francesca, played by Streep meets a photographer who works for National Geographic filming the covered bridges in the area. So the nicely detailed characterizations really help to set the film in motion. Her husband had taken the kids to the Illinois State Fair and left her behind like she was the laundry or something. Good for her, for having an affair with Robert Kincaid, the photographer played by Eastwood. This is my wife’s favorite movie and I said the film cuts two ways. Any man who takes his wife for granted deserves to have his wife have an affair. The opposite is also true. Women who take their husbands for granted shouldn’t be surprised to find out that hubby occasionally has a fling. The film just takes us along on a very pleasant romance at a pace where we can really believe the chemistry between the wife and the photographer. This was probably the best date movie of the year when it was made and now is still a great date movie if you see at home with a significant other. Highly recommended.
 
 
 

0188 –A - Brief Encounter – England- 1946 – Directed by David Lean, who was more noted for making epics than fine little films like this one. This is a gem of a little movie made on a budget lower than most modern commercials. It stars Celia Johnson as Laura, a suburban housewife, and Alec played by Trevor Howard as a general practicioner, who has an interest in preventative medicine. The filming in stark black and white add to the simplicity of the story. There are no bells and whistles in the production values. Everything in the film is focused on the two main actors. The dialogue is supurb and highly introspective. Many critics considered this one of the most romantic films of the first half of the 20th century. The director, Lean, does not miss one single opportunity to explore the characters of both lovers. Both actors give the best performances of their entire careers in this film. Celia Johnson seldom made any other films nearly as well-known as this one and her career ended in relative obscurity. Howard would go on to make a number of military films as a second banana, but never found another romantic vehicle anywhere nearly as effective as this film for the balance of his career.

The story begins with an accidental meeting of two strangers in a railway station. The initial meeting grows into a heavy romance and both participants are struggling with the consequences of their new relationship. Each lover questions themselves and their motives in the romance. Honesty is dripping with every single piece of the dialogue, which is what makes the film so fascinating. Seldom do we find two people who meet each other provide instant honesty from beginning to end of each conversation. It was such a refreshing possibility that audiences were absolutely wild about the film; particularly the women who dragged their husbands and boyfriends by the thousands to see this movie. I will not reveal how the situation culminates, but I will tell you that the film is extremely satisfying in every respect and I can highly recommend it as a classic of simple real romance rather than the artificial film romances depicted in later films such as Goddard’s Breathless. This film was released with very modest expectations and it grew into a monster hit that became an eternal classic. It is romance personified through simplicity and honesty. Many critics also consider Brief Encounter to be one of the top ten romance films of all time.
 

 
 
 
0191 –A - Broadcast News – 1987 – Directed by James L. Brooks and starring William Hurt as anchor Tom Grunick, the funny Albert Brooks as the bumbling Aaron Altman, who occasionally fills in for Grunick, Holly Hunter as Jane Craig, a talented producer and a great supporting cast including Robert Prosky, John Cusack and Joan Cusack also bolsters the film. The movie shows the everyday workings of a major television station and its news team. The stock of anchors rise and fall along with the events they cover. There are many laughs on the trip through the film, especially when Brooks is on the screen. He is a very funny man. The film was nominated for a number of Academy Awards, but was unable to garner any. I can heartily recommend this wonderfully-acted film to everyone.
 


1179 –A - Broken Arrow – 1950 – Directed by Delmar Daves and starring Jeff Chandler as Cochise and James Stewart as Tom Jeffords. Also featured as a love prop is Debra Paget. This is one of the first post WW 2 movies to portray the American Indian in a positive light. This is actually a triangle movie about the peace established by Jeffords with Cochise and the breakaway Apache leader, Geronimo, played by an authentic Indian, Jay Silverheels, or Tonto of Lone Ranger fame. Geronimo is constantly bedeviling the white settlers and mail couriers and Cochise must either support his new white blood brother or Geronimo. He decides to back Jeffords and then to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, is promptly punished by the white establishment by the death of Jefford’s new indian wife, Morningstar, played by the alluring Debra Paget. I will not reveal the ending of the film, but it does justice to the film. The film is based on historical data with some license for filmmaking. Recommended.

 


1972 –B - Broken Lance – 1954 – Directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Spencer Tracy in a miscast role as the Lorne Greene – type daddy of three sons of a white woman and one son by one of the ugliest actresses in film history, Katy Jurado. Naturally, the son by Katy, (Joe, played by Robert Wagner, another is the one that loves him the most and is in constant conflict with his other siblings, played with gusto by Richard Widmark as Ben, Hugh O’Brien (another miscast), as Mike and a believable Earl Holliman as Denny, who would go on to open a chain of eateries across the US; no, that is just a big fat lie. And why did Jean Peters always try to push herself off as an indian? She doesn’t even vaguely look like an indian. Joe sacrafices himself for a crime his father committed and does time in the cooler. When he gets out, he finds out his greedy little siblings had shunted his old man around and now control the Ponderosa, or this version of the Ponderosa. Joe eventually takes out his revenge. Never saw that coming. At least Ben Cartwright had the good sense not to go bed with somebody as ugly as Jurado. The only thing saving this film from a good dog panning is the fact I love seeing Richard Widmark go over the top and he does so in dramatic fashion in this film. He is just a guy you love to hate. Recommended with a reservation for Jurado who should have stayed on one in this film.

 


1025 –A - Brother Orchid – Directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Edward G Robinson, Ann Southern and Humphrey Bogart as the heavy. Robinson plays Little John Sarto, a crime boss on the run from Bogart’s Jack Buck mobster character. Southern plays Flo, Little John’s loyal girlfriend. Sarto becomes a monk who is hiding out in a monastary from his foes. The film deliciously captures the conversion of Sarto into becoming a “sucker” like all the other suckers in the monastery. The conversion is slow and believable because of the fine acting job by Robinson and the great supporting cast. Eventually, Jack Buck finds him at the monastery and Sarto must confront him and his own changed perspectives. I will not reveal the ending, but it is intetesting. This film has been copied numerous times by Hollywood, including the Whoopie Goldberg classic, Sister Act and a few others. I can recommend this film highly.

 


1973 –A - The Browning Version (England) – 1951 – Directed by Anthony Asquith and starring Michael Redgrave, Jean Kent and Nigel Patrick. Redgrave plays a pathetic figure of a teacher who is hated by both students and other teachers . Not only that, but his wife is fooling around on him. This might have been an appropriate moment for him to consider suicide, but he mucks on. A student gives him a going-away present book and that makes everything ok. I don’t think so. The rest of the school will still hate him, his wife will still fool around on him until he gets the gumption to do something about it, if anything, and his life will still be miserable unless he changes massive parts of his personality. We are supposed to feel sympathy for this antagonist, but all I felt for him was contempt for not being man enough to confront his wife. It is one thing to be a bad teacher, which he obviously was if he connected to only one student, but it is far worse to be a cold, unfeeling husband whose wife deserves to cheat on him. Recommend with reservations for the film to be relatively depressing.
 


*0035 –A - Brute Force – 1947 – Directed by Jules Dassin and starring Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, Hume Cronyn as the sadistic warden and Charles Bickford as Tom, Joe’s friend in prison. This is the best prison movie of all time according to many critics. The music by Miklos Rozsa at the beginning of the film will give you an idea of the intensity of the movie later on. The dialogue may be a bit dated, but no one will mistake the mood of the film; desperation. The brutality of Cronyn is wonderfully set against his usual casting as a nice, gentle man. The action in the last part of the film is explosive.

The story begins in prison, where Joe Collins, a violent, lifetime criminal, plans an elaborate escape with the help of a few other prisoners. Some of the other prisoners are also desperate to escape, as we learn from their flashback sequences. Joe meticulously plans every part of the escape with the lifer prisoner, Tom, played by Bickford. The escape is not a simple one. Tom will be driving the getaway truck, which is normally used to transport goods to and from the prison. Joe and a few selected prisoners will be working in a tunnel under the prison, doing official work and construction for the heinous warden, played by Hume Cronyn. Cronyn gives a wonderful performance. At first glance, you would not expect him to carry off this role very well with his mild demeanor and slight stature. But he plays the warden role to perfection. The break is scheduled to go off at a very specific time, but events occur in the yard that upset the planning. Somehow, the warden finds out about the planned break and sets a trap for the prisoners. As events unfold, the execution of the plan has to be pushed up to an earlier time. The men are able to overwhelm the guards in the tunnel and use one of them as a shield when they come to the surface. Guards are waiting for them with weapons and kill some of the cons. Above ground, the truck is stopped when the guards shoot Tom trying to crash the front gate. Then there is a final confrontation between Joe, who almost makes it out and the warden, who he kills before dying himself. This is a must-see film for film-noir fans and especially fans of prison movies.

 

1350- B - Buccaneer – 1958 – Directed by Anthony Quinn, who took the place of his ill father-in-law, Cecil B DeMille. Quinn was a great actor, but his directing ability left a lot to be desired and it showed in the film. The movie starred Yul Brenner as Jean Lefitte, the French pirate who aided Andrew Jackson against the British in the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson’s role is played by Charlton Heston. Both actors tried their best, but both of them were badly miscast. Brenner, who, looks nothing like a Frenchman, did not really have the demeanor of a pirate and Heston had no clue how to portray Jackson. Both men seemed lost in their roles. The only reason they were there in the first place is that they were both together in the original production of The Ten Commandments, made earlier by DeMille. DeMille incorrectly figured that if they were good in one film together, they would be good again in another. Another problem of the film was that ther was no antagonist, both Lafitte and Jackson were the good guys and the British were the bad guys. But you seldom saw any significant screen time about the British. Quinn is wasted in the film as an actor; in part due to his responsibilities as a director and in part due to more bad casting. There is more ham in this film than in most well-stocked delis.

The story begins with the planned invasion of New Orleans by the British and the realization of Andrew Jackson that his superior land forces would be at a disadvantage against the Navy of the British. He then aligns himself with a notorious pirate, Jean Lefitte, by exonerating him of his previous crimes if he were to help the US. Lafitte harasses the British just enough to cause them to make a bad landing in New Orleans and allowing Jackson’s land forces to practically wipe out the invading force. The film is very loose with the history of the event, but the battle scenes were well done and very impressive. Lefitte is easily the most interesting character in the film, but we really learn nothing about his origins or how he achieved the level of importance so great that the US government came to him for help. I will recommend the film as a curiosity to see why Quinn never became a successful director, but outside of the battle, the film is very shaky.

 
 


1293 –B - Buchanan Rides Alone – 1958 – Directed by Bud Boetticher, who did all the good Scott films and starring Randolph Scott as Tom Buchanan. This is a tale about a man who does not know how to mind his own business.

The film begins with Tom riding through Southern California before going back to his home in West Texas. Tom is pretty much a loner, so it is quite puzzling when he stops to help a poor Mexican seeking revenge on a powerful family that runs Agry, a border town between California and Mexico. Fortunately for Tom, the Agrys (the town is named after the family, so you can imagine how powerful they are in the town), also love to fight among themselves and so they are two factions within the family vying for control of the power over the town and its surrounding areas. Tom is a man of principle and that is a commodity in short supply in Agry. Once Tom decides to help the Mexican against the family, they band together to try and stop him. Recommended.

 


1521 –A - Buck Privates – 1941 – Directed by Arthur Lubin shortly before WW2 and starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello as well as a turn by the Andrews Sisters, a popular WW2 singing group. This is the film that put Abbott and Costello on the movie map. Let’s see; Abbott and Costello plus the US Army as a prop. What could be more conducive to comedy? Oddly enough, the film was made before Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of the war. You can see just how badly the US soldiers were trained and equipped just a few months before the war began. If one looks at the US army five years later and compares it to the soldiers that were being prepared in this film, it gives the appearance that is a movie about World War 1 and not World War 2. That aside, there are just so many covenient situations in a boot camp for Abbott and Costello to use as props, they probably couldn’t fit them into one movie.

The story begins with Slicker Smith (naturally played by Bud Abbott) and Herbie Brown, a knucklehead, selling neckties out of a suitcase on the streets of a city. They get chased from their spot by a cop and the boys duck into a movie theater. But the movie theater is now an Army Recruitment Center. Somehow, they are so stupid, that they enlist in the Army thinking that they are signing up for theater prizes. Meanwhile, a rich, spoiled playboy, Randolph (Lee Bowman) and his valet Bob (Alan Curtis) are also enlisting at the theater. Both men help to form a triangle with Judy (Jane Frazee), a camp follower and hostess. Slicker and Herbie now have the cop who was chasing them as their sergeant (things move fast in this movie). The movie mostly follows Randolph and his attempts to win Judy. He lets his company down for a shooting match, but wins a war game exercise to make up for it. Randolph then gets in to Officer Training School. Bob also gets in the Officer school and Judy announces she will continue being a camp follower and move to the facitlity with both of the boys as a hostess. In between all of this silly triangle junk is some very good comedy routines by Abbott and Costello. There is the drill routine and a nice sequence of craps in which Lou takes Bud’s money for a change. The film proved to be hugely popular with American audiences. Recommended with reservations about the sappy love story.

 


0193 – A -The Buddy Holly Story – 1978 – Directed by Steve Rash and starring Gary Busey as Buddy and a strong supporting cast. The film is a biopic of the tragic figure of Buddy Holly, a rising superstar in rock and roll who died in a plane crash just as his career was taking off. The film traces Buddy’s beginnings in Texas and a band called the Crickets. An error in early bookings gets them a gig at the Apollo and three white Texans have to entertain an all-black audience. After a shaky start, Buddy wins the crowd’s approval and his legend begins. The band breaks up and Holly goes solo. In Iowa, during a snowstorm, Holly makes the fateful decision to charter a plane along with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens and the flight never gets to Minnesota. This is a first rate biopic without over-glorifying the star. I recommend it heartily.

 


1974 –B - Bulldog Drummond – 1929 – Directed by F. Richard Jones and starring Ronald Colman, going against type, as a hard-nosed detective. Colman would come to be known as a first-rate actor who could handle the most complex emotional characters any role could challenge him with. For example, he played the very difficult role of Conroy in Lost Horizon (1937) with the greatest of ease and polish. He was a sophisticated actor with great range. That is why his choice for this film is a bit puzzling from both ends (the actor and the producer). I could see him selecting the role because as an actor, you usually are always looking for work and would normally take whatever came your way. But as for the producer; I have no idea of what he was thinking of. Colman was a man of small stature and a naturally gentle nature, the complete antithesis of a private investigator. But somehow, despite these obvious drawbacks, both the character and the film series were a great success. Go figure.

The story begins with a former British officer, Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, A wealthy veteran of WW1, who is bored with civilian life, so he opts for the dangerous work of becoming a private investigator. His first case is to investigate an extortion case involving (what else) a beautiful woman (Joan Bennet). This was the first talking film for Ronald Colman and it highlighted his pleasing, comforting voice. Talkies in 1929 were a relatively new phenomenon, and by today’s standards, the production values would hardly make the grade as a B movie. But for this time period, it was considered state-of-the-art technology and was even nominated for two Academy Awards (including Best Actor for Colman). In this story, Drummond is up against an arch-enemy, Carl Peterson, played by Montagu Love, that is very similar to Moriarity in the Sherlock Holmes series. This character was to appear three more times in three sequels to this film. Peterson is a master of disguises and aliases, just as Moriarity was with Holmes. Eventually, Drummond gets the better of Peterson in the film’s showdown, but is not able to kill or apprehend him. While some found this disappointing, it obviously sets up at least a second film. Colman really did not care for the character in real life and only played it one more time (1934) in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back. By that time, it was obvious that the Bulldog Drummond series was firmly in the B movie category and the series received no further Academy Award nominations. Recommended for historical purposes.

 
 


0194 – A -Bull Durham – 1988 – Directed and written by Ron Shelton, who played minor league baseball, and starring Kevin Costner as Crash Davis, Tim Robbins as Nuke Laloosh and Susan Sarandon as the slutty groupie, Annie E Savoy. The E in her middle name stands for easy. The movie unfolds at a leisurely pace and we see Costner as a catcher rotting away in the minors, despite his decent skills. Nuke is a promising young pitcher that needs to be babied by both Costner and Annie, but eventually Annie wants a piece of Crash as well. Sarandon is very convincing as a baseball camp follower. Costner is one of the greatest physically gifted actors in the history of film and has mastered dozens of difficult movie stunts. This role was a piece of cake for him. Robbins is always very engaging, but it was difficult for some in the audience to consider him the moron he portrays on the screen because of his innate intelligence. I will not reveal the ending, but it does have a nice twist and I can recommend the film to everyone.
 


1636 –B - Bullets or Ballots – 1936 – Directed by William Keighly and starring Edward G. Robinson as Detective Johnny Blake, Joan Blondell as Lee Morgan, Humprey Bogart as Nick Bugs Fenner, and Barton Maclane as Al Kruger. This film would be adapted into a radio broadcast in 1939. Johnny is an honest cop who tries to infiltrate a group of gangsters. This would be a thirties versions of an undercover cop. They don’t make’m like this anymore and some would say for good reason, but others would say these old cops and robbers films were pretty entertaining.

The story begins with Johnny becoming pals with Bugs. At first, the two do a little pushing and shoving, but eventually, after a few drinks, Bugs gives Johnny the OK to join his gang for a local heist. Even though the police know the heist is about to take place, they let the gang do its dirty work, so that Johnny will get in good with the boss. No one is hurt during the robbery, so all is well after the first job. Then things start to get a bit complicated. One of the guards in the next job is hurt during the robbery and Johnny must stop the gang from killing him, altogether. He warns them that it is better not to kill him, because it would put too much heat on the gang. Bugs reluctantly agrees with him, and orders the gang not to execute the guard. On the way back from the second job, Bugs compliments Johnny on his cool-headedness and tells him he will go a long way. At this point, Johnny is in solidly with the gang. But the local moll, Lee, who used to be Bug’s girl, falls for Johnny and creates a rift between the two men. I had a bit of trouble with this fantasy, because Bogart is a lot better-looking than Robinson, but then again, this is the movies. There is a big finale where the gang plans to pull a really big heist and where the police plan to pull the net on them. The applecart is upset again by the moll, Lee, who warns Johnny not to go because she is sure that Bugs plans to kill him after the heist. Bugs feels that Lee belongs to him and resents Johnny taking away her affections. Almost every scene in this film is a cliché, but at least it has two of the best in the business spouting the lines. Recommended with reservations.

 

0195 –A - Bullitt – 1968 – Directed by Peter Yates and starring Steve McQueen, Jackie Bisset and Robert Vaughn. The real star of this film is the car chase at the height of the movie. The story has politician Walter Chalmers played by Robert Vaughn trying to eliminate organized crime in San Francisco (good luck with that idea). He eventually leans on Frank Bullitt played by Steve McQueen (who eventually leans on Jackie Bisset, but in a much friendlier way), who is given the simple job of eliminating organized crime in San Francisco. As you can see, the plot is preposterous, but that doesn’t really matter; the car chase is so good, it makes up for the silly plot. Steve McQueen was great casting for this film and he did a lot of his own stunt driving in the film since he was a renowned racing car driver. However, for the really dangerous collision shots, doubles and stuntmen were used because McQueen was too valuable an asset to risk in those situations. The hills of San Francisco are great props for car chases. Robert Vaughn is perfect as the smug and overly-ambitious city politician. Jackie Bisset played somebody in the film, but I really can’t remember who it was because I was too busy drooling over her screen persona. I don’t care if she can’t act that well; she looks great. Sort of a female version of Ricardo Montlebon. This film contains one of top two or three chase scenes in the history of cinema, depending on whose opinions you believe.

The cinematography is outstanding as is Jackie Bisset in a totally meaningless role. Bullitt is given the thankless role of protecting a brilliant fellow (Ross, played by Felice Orlandi) who has stolen two million dollars from the Mob. Good luck with that idea. Without too much of a wait, two hitmen come to the seedy hotel where they are stashing Ross, killing him and seriously injuring one of the detectives guarding him. Bullitt looks into the hit a bit further and the two hit men chase him in the classic car chase scene and they die in the attempt. Bullitt finds out that the murdered man was not Ross, but a guy named Rennick, whom Ross paid to take his place (how did he get away with that?). Bullitt track down Ross at the Airport and another big chase ensues with Bullit shooting Ross at the end. All through these proceedings, the sleazy politician, Walter Chalmers, is covering his tracks all the way and trying to use Bullitt as his scapegoat. This film has very little socially redeeming value, but it sure is a lot of fun to watch. I recommend it without reservation.
 
 


1975 –A - Bulworth – 1998 – Directed by and starring Warren Beatty. The film uses John Jay Hooker, a Tennessee politician, as it’s role model. Hooker is supposedly a friend of Beatty. Beatty plays California Senator, Jay Billington Bulworth, who is running for reelection and is supposedly being stalked by an assassin at the same time. An admirable supporting cast gives a little heft to the film including Halle Berry as Nina, Oliver Platt, who always plays a good bureaucrat, as Dennis Murphy, Paul Sorvino as Graham, Jack Warden as the crotchety old Eddie Davers and Isaiah Washington as the crucial black community liaison for the black vote. By the way, if this is the way that Warren Beaty portrays his so-called friends on the screen, then I am very glad not to be one of his friends. Who wants their dirty wash done in public?

The story begins with Jay running for reelection and trailing in the polls. He has been a phillander and has also pandered to special interests in pursuing a moderate agenda. He plans a suicide by having someone assassinate him in two days so he can illegally collect a ten million dollar insurance policy. Knowing he has little time left, he begins saying and doing things he has wanted to do his whole life, but the actions of which were considered political suicide. Fun activities like smoking pot, rapping with the brothers, and drinking himself into a stupor. This supposedly makes him the darling of the media and reinvigorates his campaign. He then finds out that his girlfriend, Nina, is the hired assassin, but she tells him that she will not carry out the job now, since he is winning the election and is now anticipating a run at the presidency. As he begins his campaign for president, he is ironically assassinated by an insurance salesman, who is against his stand on socialized medicine. This was a terribly uneven film. On one hand, I found the Bulworth character to be unsympathetic and not worthy of a true antongonist within the film. His unsavory character was not attractive. On the other hand, I found the reaction of the public to his outrageous behavior to be very funny, and most likely the truest part of the story. Beatty does reinforce the fact that he is able to direct and act at the same time (a skill the vast majority of other actors cannot master) and produce a very nice finished product. Recommended with reservations.

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0196 –B - Bus Stop – 1956 – Directed by Joshua Logan and starring Marylyn Monroe and Don Murray. This is a simple boy meets girl movie that pits a rough and tumble rodeo man, Beau, played by Don Murray against a local lizard lounge singer in a small time bar, played by Marylyn Monroe. Well, what guy wouldn’t want to run away with and marry Marylyn Monroe? But Marylyn is high maintenance and wants to take a shot at success in Hollywood. How ridiculous, who would want to see her in a movie? Anyway, Beau chases her down and kidnaps her on a bus (how the hell do you do that, anyway?). After Beau comes to his senses, he lets Cherie go her own way, and then she decides to go Montana with him, anyway. Of course, after a few years of living on a rodeo cowboy’s wages in various trailer parks, Cherie may reconsider her decision, but we don’t see that in the movie. I can recommend the film even with the overbearing performance of Murray because Monroe is actually a fine actress and deserves some recognition as such.

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0197 –A- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969 – Directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katherine Ross. This is one of the most overrated westerns of all time because of the box office appeal of its two top stars. The story is entertaining enough, but there must be at least 100 westerns that are better and yet this film is always rated near the top of the western heap. The film follows Butch and Sundance through various escapades until things get too hot for them to operate in the US. They then try their luck in Mexico and do pretty well for awhile. Katherine Ross does a nice turn as woman of easy virtue who services both cowboys. This was a very popular premise in 1969, but is a bit dated now. Despite the small flaws, the film is very engaging and the characters are sympathetic. I would recommend it, even though it is not in the top 100 westerns.