Saturday movie #10

Junior Bonner
Junior Bonner

On Saturday evening I watched a Steve McQueen movie, “Junior Bonner.” I like this movie a lot. It has been a number of years since I last watched it. The movie stars McQueen in the title role. In the movie he plays a rodeo cowboy who travels from rodeo to rodeo in his old convertible, towing his horse trailer. He arrives in Prescott, Arizona, his home town,to take part in he rodeo. There he reconnects with his father Ace, played by Robert Preston; his mother Ellie, played by Ida Lupino; and his brother Curly, played by Joe Don Baker. There are other familiar faces in the cast, such as Dub Taylor as the bartender, Ben Johnson as Buck Roan, and Bill McKinney as a friendly rival in the rodeo.

Sam Peckinpah directed the movie. I must say that this was the least violent film directed by him that I can remember. In fact, there is only one person in the film whom I found to be unlikable. I don’t know, but you might even like that person.

Don’t get me wrong; there is conflict, but for the most part it takes place in the dialogue and shows in the acting. While some punches are thrown, nobody seems to hold a grudge. The most violent exchanges occur in the rodeo ring between cowboys and bulls.

Why do I like the movie? Part of the reason is the acting performances. Also, it was released back in the early 1970’s, before CGI took over the movie industry. Issues are raised that have no easy solutions, and the movie doesn’t pretend to have the solutions. In the end, McQueen’s character tries to do what he thinks is best for the individual members of his family. Who can do more than that?

Saturday movie #9

The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man

After Indiana University’s disappointing loss to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament Friday night, I decided to watch a light-hearted movie from the 1930’s. So I chose “The Invisible Man.” It is a movie about a scientist who experimented upon himself, and while successful, drove himself mad. Cheery, don’t you think?

The movie starred Claude Rains in his first Hollywood movie. He had a large speaking part, but it was hard to tell if his facial expressions went along with the words. Gloria Stuart played the perpetually distraught fiancée, Flora. Henry Travers plays Flora’s un-mad scientist father, and William Harrigan is her unlucky suitor, Kemp.

There are many extras who play buffoonish police constables and villagers. All seem to have amazing faces. Una O’Connor plays the wife of the pub owner. John Carradine has a small, uncredited part as one of the villagers. Also, Walter Brennan had an uncredited part. To be honest, I didn’t recognize Brennan until I did a spot check in Wikipedia.

The movie was directed by James Whale, who is best known to me as the director of “Frankenstein,” which was made two years prior to “The Invisible Man.” He also directed “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Showboat,” and “The Man In The Iron Mask” among many others.

The story is loosely based on the book of the same name by H.G. Wells. I don’t know what Wells thought of the movie, but it is said that he generally thought his books would not translate well to film.

One last thing, when the movie started I was struck that the opening music was the same as in the Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe; the first of which was made seven years after “The Invisible Man.” . I love that music! Oh, and I like the moviea lot as well.

Saturday movie #8

Hour Of The Gun
Hour Of The Gun

I had hadn’t planned on watching “Hour Of The Gun” on Saturday. Because high school and college basketball is in the final tournament stage of the season, I had planned on watching “Hoosiers,” the best basketball film of all time. But, I first watched my Indiana Hoosiers beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, and I knew that “Hoosiers” would be anti-climactic. So I went with “Hour Of The Gun.”

There have been many movies concerning the battles between the Earp brothers, led by Wyatt, and the Clantons. The first that I remember seeing was “My Darling Clementine” starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp. There was also “Gunfight At The O.K. Corral,” “Tombstone,” and “Wyatt Earp.” There have been more, but those are the ones that I remember.

“Hour Of The Gun” is unlike most of these movies in that it begins with the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and moves forward from there. I particularly like this movie for the actors who played Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, James Garner and Jason Robards. It seems to me that they brought a feeling of true friendship to the film. They would criticize each other, but at the end, despite their differences, they were there for each other. The other films that I mentioned also had memorable Earp/Holliday duos: Henry Fonda and Victor Mature, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, and of course Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid. If Garner and Robards was the most satisfying duo for me, Costner and Quaid was the least. That’s just my opinion.

None of the movies is completely historically accurate, though “Hour Of The Gun” comes close in many respects. Dramatic license is always issued in movies that are based in fact. If you watch it, I think that you’ll like it.

I’ll get around to watching “Hoosiers” some other time.

Saturday movie #7

Good Night, And Good Luck.
Good Night, And Good Luck.

Cindy and I went to see “Good Night, And Good Luck.” when it came out in 2005. At the time I thought that it was just an historical drama about the communist witch hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, and the reaction of Edward R. Murrow of CBS news. It does a fine job on that level, focusing on a few incidents in a troubled time. But that is just the surface.

When I watched the movie on Saturday, I was struck again about how much the movie is something of a cautionary tale about the relationships between politics, the news media, and entertainment. In some respects the movie seems more enlightening and relevent today than it did ten years ago.

Many of my favorite actors are in the cast. George Clooney plays Fred Friendly, who was Murrow’s friend and co-producer of “See It Now”. Clooney also co-wrote and directed the movie.

David Straithairn plays Edward R. Murrow. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal. I had seen Straithairn in many roles in many movies but never caught his name until this movie. My second favorite role of his was as Erwin in “Sneakers.”

Pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. plays Joseph Wershba; Jeff Daniels plays Sig Mickelson; and Frank Langella (post Dracula and pre-Nixon) plays William Paley.

There are a lot of other familiar faces in the cast; and other historic figures, such as Senator McCarthy appear in archive footage. The movie is in black and white. Everything seems true to the time it is portraying. I am surprised that no one developed lung cancer from all of the cigarette smoking that goes on in the film.

There is one more reason I recommend this movie, and that is the music. Dianne Reeves and a small jazz combo did the sound track for the movie, and appear in a number of scenes. The soundtrack won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. If you don’t want to see the movie, at least listen to the music.

Saturday movie #6

A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda

It has taken a few days, but I’m finally getting around to writing about the movie I watched on Saturday. It was one of my favorite comedies “A Fish Called Wanda.” You might have thought, based on past writings, that I don’t watch comedies; but I do. I’m just very  particular about what I think is funny. “A Fish Called Wanda ” is very funny!

The story was conceived by John Cleese, who also worked on the screenplay with director Charles Crichton. Most people in the U.S., including me, became aware of Cleese as a member of Monty Python. I also remember hearing recordings of an earlier radio program he had been on, “I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again.” In “A Fish Called Wanda,” Cleese plays barrister Archie Leach. You probably know that Archibald “Archie” Leach was Cary Grant’s birth name.

Fellow Python alum, Michael Palin, plays animal lover Ken Pile who suffers through most of the picture. I love it that he is able to yell “Revenge!” near the end of the movie.

Kevin Kline plays Otto. It seems to me that Kline refuses to be typecast in the roles that he chooses. Otto reads philosophy to prove that he is intelligent. Ah, if only that was all it took. One regret that I have in life is that Kline and I attended Indiana University at the same time, but I never met him. Of course, if we had been in the same degree program…but we had different goals in life.

That brings us to Jamie Lee Curtis. She plays Wanda Gershwitz in this funny caper movie. Every man in the movie wants her to be his love interest, and she plays it for all she is worth. I have to admit that while she is an attractive woman ( the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh after all), I never saw her as a sex symbol…until this film. It was like she could throw a switch and turn on the sex appeal. It amazed me!

So, as always, I’m not giving spoilers, or very much information about the actual picture. I encourage you to watch “A Fish Called Wanda” either for the first time, or as revisiting an old friend.

Saturday movie #5

Eye of the Needle
Eye of the Needle

Tonight the Oscars will be given out to people in the film industry by people in the film industry. Let us hope that no one gets a broken arm from patting themselves on the back. In honor of the Academy Awards I am writing about a movie that got no nominations for an Oscar. It seems fitting.

Yesterday I watched “Eye of the Needle,” which is a 1981 film based on Ken Follett’s 1978 novel. The novel was originally titled “Storm Island,” scene of much of the action. And there is a lot of action in the movie.

The basic plot is about a German spy, played by Donald Sutherland, during World War II. He has information about the D-Day invasion that he is trying to get out of England and into the hands of Adolph Hitler. Along the way he meets a married British woman, played by Kate Nelligan, on Storm Island.

I only have two minor complaints about the movie. 1) For me the story seems to move too quickly. I’m pretty sure that is was written and cut that way to keep the excitement level high, so I shouldn’t complain…I suppose. But a more moderately paced movie would have suited me better. 2) Donald Sutherland’s English accent didn’t ring true to me. I’m sure his accent was better than any I could do, and it was consistent throughout the movie, but it struck me as false. Maybe I’ve seen him in too many other movies where he wasn’t using an accent.

Offsetting my quibbles was the fact that one of the most minor roles in the movie, Squadron Leader Blenkinsop, was played by one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was credited as the last actor in order of appearance. At least he got a credit.

I like thrillers, and this movie was certainly thrilling. There is no air of inevitability in the way the movie ends, even though we know how the war ended. I recommend that you find a copy of the movie and watch it…unless you are 13 or younger.

Saturday…er…make that Sunday movie #4

Dodge City
Dodge City

There is a reason that I don’t have a movie from Saturday to write about I didn’t watch any movies on Saturday, so I’m making up for it on Sunday. In my next post I’ll explain why I didn’t watch any movies on Saturday. Today’s movie is “Dodge City” starring Errol Flynn and the lovely Olivia de Havilland.

Like most movies set in the historical American west, there is very little historical fact in the movie. But it is still a movie worth watching. Westerns are often used as morality plays, and good usually wins out in the end. I grew up watching these movies on television when I was very young. That’s why I am such a good person, I suppose. Do I hear sniggering in the balcony?

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz who also directed Flynn and de Havilland in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Captain Blood.” They also starred together in five other movies, many of which I like very much. I was surprised to learn later in my life that they weren’t married to each other. Of the two, I believe that de Havilland was the better actor. Or maybe I was just enthralled with her good looks. I can be shallow that way.

Also in the movie was Alan Hale, frequent sidekick to Flynn and father to The Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island.” Bruce Cabot played the villain and Victor Jory was his main henchman. Ann Sheridan was the singer and dancer in the saloon. Ward Bond also had a small role in the movie. I had forgotten that.

I had also forgotten that the temperance meeting that Alan Hale’s character attended was put on by the Pure Prairie League. And yes, that was the inspiration of the name for the Country Western group.

I’ve read that “Dodge City” inspired Mel Brook’s “Blazing Saddles.” I suppose that could be correct. I just know that I enjoy watching the film every couple of years. It made for a fun Sunday afternoon.

I hope to be back on my Saturday movie write-up next week.