Monday, March 12, 2018

Clueless in London

This is my entry in the Marvelous Michael Caine Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

Prepare yourself for a shock.  Sherlock Holmes, that fantastic solver of mysteries that baffled Scotland Yard, never existed.  It's true!  He was the creation of a doctor who wrote the stories during a time when he was awaiting a position with a prestigious medical firm.  Sherlock Holmes was the creation of that renowned medical man... Dr. John Watson!

Without A Clue (1988):

In this entry, Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley)  is a brilliant deductive force who, due to circumstances of his profession, hired an out of work actor, Reginald Kincaid ( Michael Caine), to pose as his friend and supposedly the solver of intricate crimes.  But Kincaid is a bumbling fool who must be coached by Watson in what to say when he is posing as Holmes.

Early in the film, Watson, who is finally exasperated to his breaking point, kicks Kincaid out on the street.

 He then approaches his editor, played by Peter Cook, to propose a new series with "Dr. Watson; the Crime Doctor" as its hero.  But the editor, as well as the public, will have none of it.  It is Sherlock Holmes they want, and as the editor insists, "It is Holmes or nothing".

Circumstances are made even more difficult when Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) approaches with the Lord of the Treasury, Lord Smithwick (Nigel Davenport), with a serious problem.  Someone has stolen the plates used to make 5 pound notes.  The economy of the country is in serious jeopardy, and Smithwick only wants Holmes.  So Watson is forced to curtail his dislike for the bumbling Kincaid and induce him to come back.

On the trail of the plates, Watson and Holmes investigate Peter Giles, an employee of the treasury, and one of only three people, including Smithwick and his second-in command, who had access to the plates.   Holmes and Watson go to a remote village where Giles has supposedly been.  After investigating the town and the cottage, everyone, except Watson, believes that Giles and his boatman drowned while trying to cross the local lake in a fierce storm.

Watson, on the other hand, is convinced that the culprit is his old arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman).  And indeed Moriarty is behind the theft.  But to what purposes?  On the trail of Moriarty, Watson is apparently killed, leaving the bumbling Kincaid/Holmes as the only source of hope for the country in the retrieval of the plates.

Giles' daughter, Leslie (Lysette Anthony) does not know that Holmes is a fraud and retains hope that Holmes will succeed even after the death of Watson.  Or does she?

There are a lot of cute little twists and turns in this little gem and spoilers would ruin it, but I will say to watch and not take everything for granted.  The two stars of the movie are excellent together.  And the movie is quite an entertaining twist on the traditional Holmes narrative.  Caine really shines as the alcoholic, bumbling actor pretending to be Holmes. 

Might I recommend you make this a double feature, pairing it with They Might Be Giants, another movie with a twist on the Holmes story?  (That one features George C. Scott as a mental patient who actually is convinced he is the great detective).

 Well folks, time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  Drive safely.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Different Kind of War

This is my second entry in the Time Travel Blogathon hosted by Wide Screen World and Silver Screenings.

Take Japanese karate  chop-socky star Sonny Chiba  (next to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, probably the most famous of the Asian action movie stars of his day), give him a role as a army officer leading a group of soldiers through a war games trial, Use some hocus pocus of some sort to transport them through time to feudal era Japan, and have him and his cadre of soldiers join a group of samurai warriors from said era in a battle for supremacy, and you have the makings of one of the more bizarre entries in the science-fiction field to ever come to the theater.

Sonny Chiba had been a karate film star for several years by the time this film was made.  He got his start on Japanese TV, but made himself an international star in The Street Fighter, a Japanese karate movie along the same lines as much of Hong Kong's international output of the era.  Over the past 60 years he has had a prolific career, both in the martial arts movies that brought him to prominence here in America as well as some pretty good action and period dramas.  (He was featured in both Quentin Tarantino films Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2, and was a costar in the The Fast And The Furious series entry titled Tokyo Drift.

G. I. Samurai aka: Time Slip (1979):

On maneuvers, a Japanese army group suddenly finds itself in unfamiliar territory.  It's the same landscape, but there are missing things, such as a power plant that was in the distance.  Confusion as to what has happened to them ensues.  (Note:  the time travel sequence is some of the cheapest special effects you will ever see.  Apparently the movie was over budget by the time they filmed this sequence and they just had to use whatever was still lying around to get it on film.  This is the only real quibble I have with the movie.  I felt kind of cheated that it wasn't better filmed.)

The group is led by Lt. Yoshiaki Iba (Sonny Chiba), who looks a lot like a Japanese version of DC comics WWII hero Sgt. Rock.

It turns out that the soldiers have ended up 400 years in the past during what is referred to by the men as "The Warring States Period" of Japanese history.  The men are met by a cadre of samurai soldiers led by Nagao Kagetora (Isao Natsuyagi).  Kagetora immediately claims Iba as a comrade in arms and his oft repeated phrase is "you are from my tribe!"

(I'll interject something here.  I do not know if this movie is available with dubbing in English.  My copy is in the original Japanese with subtitles.  Much as I dislike trying to keep up with subtitles, I must point out that if there is a dubbed version, no one could possibly essay the enthusiastic performance done by Natsuyagi as Kagetora.)

The samurai warriors leave, but a different group of warriors, led by an attack of ninja archers who pop up from beneath the water attack the group.  Eventually the modern-day soldiers are able to defend against the attack, but a couple of soldiers are lost.

There is dissent among the soldiers.  Some try  to desert.  Some insist that whatever they do might change history.  Some are desperate to try to return to their own time.  (Not knowing exactly how they got there in the first place would seem to put a damper on that.)

Eventually, some soldiers are removed from the equation by Iba himself, exercising a sort of impromptu court-martial in the field.  By midways through the movie the initial 21 modern day soldiers has been reduced to a cadre of 11.  (One actually survives his desertion by deciding to join a family whose father and husband has been killed and becoming a surrogate father and husband for the family.)

Iba joins forces with Kagetora to defeat Lord Shingen, the local ruler.  You would think even with just one tank, one helicopter and a halftrack vehicle and a bunch of machine guns, that the modern day contingent would have a field day against medieval forces wouldn't you?  Not entirely.  There are about a thousand or so samurai warriors and they all have the bravery of unlimited potential.  In the process just about every modern day vehicle is taken out of the equation.  And of course there are a limited number of rounds for the machine guns and the like.

The finale is worth the wait.

Unless you are a devotee of Japanese cinema it is highly unlikely you will recognize most of the actors aside from Chiba (if you even recognize him), but I did notice a couple of familiar faces.  I admit wholeheartedly that I had to make use of the internet to spur my memory, but the guy who plays Katsuyori is Hiroyuki Sanada.  The movies I have seen him in include Rush Hour 3, 47 Ronin, and The Wolverine.  He was also in a low budget sci-fi movie I saw years ago called Message from Space. (He's the young kid who manages to board the helicopter and take out it's crew).  (Note:  He was also in The Last Sumarai, but since that is a Tom Cruise film, I have never watched it.)

Seek this one out if you like a good action movie, and if you like time travel stories this one is sure to be an interesting endeavor.

Time to go home now, folks.  Drive home safely.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Time Warped

This is my first entry in the Time Travel  Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Wide Screen World

It's an axiom of society.  If a guy tells you he's from the future, he must be crazy. But what if, just what if he really IS from the future?  12 Monkeys, a film by Terry Gilliam explores this possibility.  We tend to think along the lines of what our perceptions of reality have been formed.  Time travel is not possible, therefore anyone who claims they have either come from the future (or in another scenario, a modern person who claims to have built a time machine and actually used it to travel into the past or future) must therefore be a little off mentally.

But an adage that was once postulated by Arthur C. Clarke, known as one of the three Clarke's laws  once stated than "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  One could extrapolate from that idea that also any idea that one cannot justify by their own deductive intellect is therefore not reliable as an idea.

I personally believe that time travel is theoretically possible, although I do not claim to come from the future nor do I know how to build some machine that would help me accomplish the task. But would I willingly be a guinea pig to see if the process actually works?  Hell, yes. 

The following two features do not feature a man from the future trying to convince the modern day people of impending doom for the planet, however (at least that's not the main theme).  Rather both movies involve people from modern times ending up through circumstances in a future world of Earth.  Both have a rather bleak view of the earth's potential future, at least from the standpoint of the present (the 60's).

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960):

A pilot, Major Bill Allison (Robert Clarke), flies an experimental jet plane into the stratosphere.  The jet travels at supersonic speed and through the magic of rather iffy Hollywood theory, the pilot lands on an Earth some time in the future (although he does not initially know that.)  What he finds is his military base abandoned and in a state of extreme disrepair, even though he thinks he's only been gone for a few minutes.  It turns out, as the story goes, that the Earth has suffered a severe catastrophe.

Not, as you might expect from a movie from the 60's, from a devastating nuclear war.  But it was the result of nuclear weapons.  See, all those bombs being tested ripped a hole in the ozone layer, and let in cosmic rays from outer space, which turned the planet into a barren wasteland.  All of society has been forced to move residence underground.  But in the distance, the pilot can see the above ground city (which is a poorly done matte painting, but this is the only real quibble I have with the movie). 

The society, called the Citadel,  is ruled by a leader called The Supreme (Vladimir Sokoloff), who has been granted almost dictatorial rulership over society.   Everyone except for The Supreme and his second-in-command (Red Morgan) are deaf mutes.  They are also all sterile, there have been no new births in 20 years.

The Supreme's daughter, Trirene (Darlene Tomkins), however appears to be a last ray of hope because, although she is also mute, she is fertile and can be a bearer of children.  Which makes it convenient that Maj. Allison has shown up.

But the Captain does not trust Allison.  He is convinced that Allison is not from the past as he says but is instead some kind of advance spy for the Mutants, a race of people who live on the surface.  Convinced he is a spy he initially casts him into the Pit with the rest of the Citadel's mutant prisoners.  But Trirene has the hots for Allison and convinces her father that he is what he says he is.  (She is also telepathic...)

Allison is put in with a few other scientists who have also come from different eras of the past  (it turns out he was not the first to cross the time barrier).  The scientists convince Allison he can go back to his own time if he reverses the events that brought him to the future in the first place. The scientists tell Allison not to trust the Supreme and the Citadel.   But the Captain in turn tries to convince Allison not to trust the "scapes", which is what the scientists are called.

Chaos must ensue, of course, for Allison to actually make his escape to the past (his present).  It turns out that the "scapes" are not all to be trusted, as one of them engineers an attack from the inside with the help of the released prisoner mutants.  Whether Allison actually makes it back to his own time, and in what condition he will be in if it is actually him I will leave to you to find out by viewing the film.  This isn't actually as bad as it sounds, but the better movie for true admirers of real science in their science fiction will like the second feature better.


The Time Travelers (1964): 

In a laboratory, three scientists, Dr. von Steiner (Preston Foster), Dr. Connors (Phillip Carey) and Dr. White (Merry Anders),  try to perfect a window into time, although this window is initially only a "window", supposedly letting them see things as on a TV screen.  But just as a technician, Danny (Steve Franken, and yes he is related to Al Franken), shows up to tell them their power is about to be cut off, everything fries on the computers and this window actually becomes a portal.

Danny steps through the portal, and soon the others follow.  Of course, just as soon as they do, the portal vanishes and they are stuck in the future.  Once again, some devastating event has turned the future into a barren wasteland.  A group of red-skinned mutants, all looking like "Bull" Shannon from the TV series Night Court,  begin to chase the four

They end up in a cave where a mysterious force field ends up protecting them.  It turns out that the force field was generated by the inhabitants living underground.  (Yes, another society of people who had escaped the shattered world above ground for security of a society insulated from the bad old world of above ground.)

The underground civilization, led by Dr. Varna (John Hoyt) and his associate, Councilman Willard (Dennis Patrick) are desperately trying to complete the building of a spaceship that will take them to a planet near Alpha Centauri.  See the planet Earth is rapidly dying and the people living in the underground society are going to have to leave the planet if they want to survive.

Willard convinces Varna that taking the four newcomers with them will drastically reduce their chances of success, as they have everything down to a science as to how much food water and the like the people will need to make the trip.  But Varna does allow the scientists to use what resources are available to recreate their time portal and return to their own time.

Fate however intervenes, as the mutants above ground launch an attack, just as the spaceship is being boarded.  They destroy the spaceship and most of the colony on board already.  But a handful of the citizens and the scientists are able to finish the portal and escape to the past.  Upon arriving however, they find they are somehow living in a faster time rate than the actual present.  The scientists go to their lab where their former selves still are.  But they seem frozen!  No so.  The group from the future are living at an accelerated rate, estimated to be living at a year per second of actual time for their selves in real time.  (A concept that was used in an episode of the original Star Trek TV series, but I think this movie came out first.)

Fortunately the point at which the scientists re-entered the past is also a point in which the portal first materialized as a passageway into time and they find they can step through the portal again, albeit 100,000 years into the future.  It is dark and no one knows what is beyond the portal, but their choices are pretty limited, since they can't move or adjust anything in this present point.

Sounds awfully confusing doesn't it?  Wait until you see the final segment.  This movie was lampooned by the MST3K group, but the movie is one of the surprisingly more entertaining ones that that group made fun of.  Except for that rather bizarre and admittedly confusing ending, the acting and the story work out quite well.

Time to head home, folks (no pun intended)  Drive home safely.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Movies You Never Knew Existed

This is my entry in the Free For All Blogathon, hosted by Cinemaven's Essays from the Couch

The title of this entry is actually "Movies You Never Knew Existed (And May Wish You STILL Never Knew Existed").  So be forewarned.  Read beyond this point at your own risk...

Drive-in movies were an entity of their own back in the day.  Many of the movies were made on a budget that would barely get an hour's  worth of production time on any of today's multi-special effects extravaganzas.  No big names in these events, although some actors and directors did go on to greater things.  (Jack Nicholson got his start in Roger Corman made drive-in fare.)

For the most part, however, the production values were limited and substandard.  The goal was just to get out a film that might attract an audience, albeit the kind of audience that went in for such cheapjack fare in the first place.  Had I been of age at the time, these would have been the kinds of movies I would have been attending.  It takes a different kind of person to see the entertainment value of  a movie that has an actor wearing a carpet trying to pass himself off as a monster, after all.

Joe Bob Briggs, a movie reviewer who specialized in drive-in fare, was the inspiration for me to attend some movies back in the early 80's.  Briggs, who was a character created by Dallas Times Herald reporter John Bloom, had a regular feature every Friday in the paper in which he reviewed what was currently playing at the local drive-ins.  (An early incarnation of The Midnite Drive-In was an attempt to pay homage to JBB, and the title of this blog was influenced by that.)  I highly recommend seeking out two books that reprinted JBB's reviews; Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In.

Unfortunately since the re-inauguration of this blog I have been a little derelict in reviewing drive-in fare, so I am glad for an opportunity to rectify that neglect at least once more.

This Is Not A Test (1962):

In the 50's and into the early 60's, fears of nuclear war abounded.  It seems extremely prescient that this movie came out in 1962, probably about the same time that the Cuban Missile Crisis was occurring.  The movie is essentially a low-budget variation of Hitchcock's Lifeboat, in which a handful of people deal with an extraordinarily tense situation and try to survive.

The movie begins with a police officer, Sheriff Dan Colter (Seamon Glass), given orders to blockade a road.  No reason is initially given, but Colter does his job.  Over the course of the first 15 minutes of the movie he manages to stop about ½ dozen vehicles, making them all pull over, but he has no information to give them.

The group includes a truck driver and his passenger (a hitchhiker he picked up as it turns out),  a husband and his wife, who seem to be having marital problems of their own, an old man an his granddaughter in a pickup carrying chickens, and the ubiquitous hipster and his alcoholic girlfriend, who have just hit the big time on a gambling venture. 

Initially, no one knows why they have been stopped, but eventually the truck driver's passenger turns out to be a guy wanted for murder.   After the revelation, and the escape of the passenger, the rest of the crowd assumes that the roadblock was to try and capture the criminal and they think they should be free to go.  But Colter insists that they all stay until he is given orders to the contrary.

Then the police radio comes alive with the true situation.  Nuclear bombs are on the way, and Colter's mission is  revealed to be to prevent the chaos of a mass exodus.  He comes up with the brilliant idea of converting the truck driver's truck into a bomb shelter.  (Yeah, that'll work, but this is the 50's so people didn't know better, at least the people who were the average citizen who believed what their government told them)

The crowd, under the orders of Colter, begin to unload the truck.  If you are paying attention, the truck bears the name of the company as "Discount World" (along the same lines, I guess as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and some other discount stores).  But the truck has some entirely incongruous items on it.  It is a mishmash of things, but it has caviar and mink coats in it..."discounted" mink coats???

Several interactions occur between the characters.  The wife ends up hooking up with the truck driver, the granddaughter wanders off and encounters the escaped prisoner, and everyone tries to argue with the single-minded sheriff.  Ultimately they, for the most part, end up locked in the truck.  And the bombs are on their way.

This movie is far better in it's playing than it sounds.  Melodramatic in its own way, you can still enjoy it as a representation of how people viewed nuclear attacks in the 50's and how the average person might react to the impending doom.  Be prepared for a not so happy ending, however.    The radio broadcast on the police scanner is telling the truth.


Last Woman on Earth (1960):

A cheapjack drive-in fare that has virtually nothing going for it, Last Woman on Earth was directed by famed low budget director Roger Corman.  Originally released as a double feature with the more well-known classic Little Shop of Horrors, it is the story of three people, a man, Harold Gern (Anthony Carbone) and his wife, Evelyn (Betsy Jones Moreland) and Gern's attorney Martin (Edward Wain), who through some freak of nature manage to become the only three survivors of an event that sucks the oxygen completely off the face of the Earth for a brief period, thus killing every living creature that breathes.

The scriptwriter for this gem of a movie was Robert Towne.  Yes, the same Robert Towne who also scripted, among others, Chinatown and it's sequel, The Two Jakes, The Last Detail, and was also an uncredited scriptwriter on The Godfather, The Parallax View and a host of others.  This was his first outing as a script doctor, so he may be given a little slack, especially since it was for Corman, whose output never has been all that in quality.  (I'm speaking as a movie critic on that viewpoint, even though I really like much of Corman's stuff as a director and a producer... He did "discover" several big names in Hollywood director's circles after all, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian DePalma, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard and Martin Scorcese to name a few).  Robert Towne was also in the movie as an actor.  He was the one credited as Edward Wain.

The movie begins with Harold and Evelyn in Puerto Rico at a cock fight.  Early on we are given the impression that Harold is a rather low individual who only cares for money.  He treats his wife rather shabbily because he is a self-centered cad, money being his only true love.  Martin shows up trying to get his client to pay attention to the realities of life as Harold is once again being sued by the government for shady business practices.

Harold of course blows it off but invites his attorney to go with him and Evelyn out on his yacht the next day.  They decide to go scuba diving and this is what saves their asses.  Something, it is never really identified, happens on the surface and all the oxygen is completely sucked out of the atmosphere.  When they surface they find they can't breathe.  Their boat crewman is dead.  Having to use the rowboat to row ashore and the remainder of the oxygen in their air tanks to breathe, since there is no oxygen in the air to help them fire the engines of the boat or to allow them to breathe normally, they decide to cut through the jungle.  And here they finally find that they can breathe because, after all, plants live on carbon dioxide and exude oxygen.  But the however brief lack of oxygen has asphyxiated every living thing on land that survived on oxygen, both men and animals.

(A side note at this point:  If plants survive on carbon dioxide and everything above the water is now dead that exhales carbon dioxide, why aren't all the plants dying?  If you asked yourself that question, you may not be drive-in movie fanatic material, because logic is the farthest thing from the minds of drive-in movie writers.)

Harold being Harold immediately attempts to take charge of the situation and both Martin and Evelyn initially concede to his direction.  They move to the far side of the island, coincidentally a friend of Harold's house (who just happens to have been residing on the island...convenient isn't it?).  They have stockpiles of food and, since the fish weren't killed off in the event (although this brings up another question, since fish breathe oxygen maybe it wasn't just the oxygen tanks that saved the trio, maybe it was being underwater?)
 Things develop as would be expected in this situation.  A love triangle with the jealous, possessive Harold trying to hold on to his wife and Martin, just by treating her as she deserves to be treated, rather than as a possession, begins to develop a relationship that is more than just friends.  It ultimately comes down to Martin being exiled by Harold to the other side f the island.  But Martin has an ace up his sleeve, Evelyn having decided to leave Harold to go with Martin.  Of course, Harold isn't going to let this happen without a fight, which is just exactly what happens.  In the end we are left with not three but only two people left on the face of the Earth.   Which two?  The movie is only about an hour long, go watch it for yourself.  :-)

Panic in the Year Zero! (1962):

If the title of this blog entry is not completely true, this is the one of which you will most likely have heard.  It was on TCM not long ago in a spotlight on survival movies segment.  It was directed by and starred Ray Milland as a typical family man with his wife and two children trying to cope with what appears to be the end of the world.  It was a product of it's time, to be sure.  For instance, the idea that one could survive a nuclear blast if they weren't in the immediate vicinity of ground zero is a hinge point for believing the events of the movie could occur as shown.

Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland), his wife Ann (Jean Hagen), his son Rick (Frankie Avalon) and daughter Karen Mary Mitchel) leave early in the morning for a family outing. The situation turns dire pretty damn quick as the sky lights up and explosions are heard.  It turns out that someone has bombed L.A.  Ann tries to get Harry to drive back to L.A. to check on her mother. and he reluctantly gives in at the moment.  But traffic going the other way becomes a hazard as drtoves of people are trying to escape the dangers of L.A. and drive out of town.

Harry insists that they need to continue on the way to their original destination,. becoming the pragmatic 50's father figure, insisting that the survival of his family comes first.  Initially he tries to do the right thing, paying for a huge supply of groceries with cash, but when he tries to get guns and supplies from the hardware store, he comes up short of cash, (and an owner, Ed Johnson (Richard Garland)  who, knowing of the situation, refuses to sell the guns because of restrictions established by the government of a waiting period before the release of the arms.)  Harry becomes a bit more than pragmatic, punching out the owner (but leaving the remaining cash and his wallet full of credit cards to pay for it, so he's not entirely a looter.)

Another drastic incident occurs when he tries to buy a supply of gas.  By now he doesn't have cash left, definitely not enough to pay the extortionist prices that the gas station attendant tries to charge him ($3.00 a gallon for what was only about 34 cents a gallon at normal times.  Gee, sounds a bit familiar doesn't it?  Remember the price spikes after Hurricane Katrina hit?  Or the oil well explosion off the Gulf of Mexico?)

Harry and his family set up house in a cave, after abandoning their trailer (which is later found and commandeered by the same hardware store owner they "looted" earlier).  Harry and family have to run obstacles to get to their destination, however, which include having to avoid a trio of hipster hoodlums (played by Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman and Neil Burstyn.  Burstyn, BTW, was married to his more well known wife, Ellen Burstyn, at the time and Bakalyan, whom some people, including myself, could be mistaken for Roger Corman stalwart actor Dick Miller, played similar hoodlums over the years.)

When Harry meets up with Johnson again, he initially brushes him off, but Ann insists on trying to reconnect with society, so Harry ends up trying to go to the Abandoned trailer, but he finds Johnson and his wife dead.  Obviously they had been murdered, and Harry and Rick end up checking an abandoned farmhouse, where it turns out our three hipster hoodlums have holed up.  They have also taken the farmer's daughter, Marilyn (Joan Freeman), hostage as a sex slave.

Harry and Rick exact a little survivalist justice on the hoodlums and take Marilyn back with them to camp.  Of course the ubiquitous love interest between Rick and Marilyn has to be addressed, and eventually Rick and Marilyn are together when the third hoodlum shows up to try to get his revenge on the death of his partners.

What happens during the final reel is typical of the kind of endings such movies had in the 50's and 60's.  Watching this one, I felt alternately sympathetic with Harry and at times a little exasperated with him as his wife is exasperated with him at many times during the film).

Thank your favorite ultimate supreme being that the nuclear war that was feared in the late 50's early 60's never really occurred, and drive home safe, folks.


Friday, February 23, 2018

The Day the Academy Lost Its Mind

This is my entry in the 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon hosted by Outspoken and Freckled, Once Upon a Screeen and Paula's Cinema Club

The Best Picture award is always given to the best film of the year, right?  Not necessarily.  Arguments have been made for how better movies were passed over for the one that actually won.  As I told Kellee when I signed up, I always thought "Goodfellas" should have won instead of "Dances with Wolves", and although part of that has to do with my intense dislike of Kevin Costner, I must point out that I am not alone in the idea that Goodfellas was the better movie.  There is a large contingent of people out there that agree with me on that subject.

There are plenty of others that have their devotees who think the wrong movie got the award.  Some I agree with (Going My Way over Double IndemnityOrdinary People better than Raging BullTitanic was greater than L.A. Confidential? I could go on but those are three of my top issues.  I concede the argument whether Star Wars was better than Annie Hall, but I think ALL of the movies in the 1976 category were better than Annie Hall...)

One of the biggest Oscar snubs of its history, however, would have to be how two fantastic movies, The Quiet Man and High Noon, got passed over for Cecil B. DeMille's melodrama of circus life, The Greatest Show on Earth.  Why DeMille's extravaganza won while two decidedly better movies were passed over is a mystery to me.  I can only imagine that since DeMille had been around since the beginning of time (or at least the beginning of cinema) and was only now getting recognition by the Academy that the voters voted for it for old time's sake.  Or maybe the fact that it was the biggest moneymaker for the year of 1952.  (Of course, that no longer means much in Oscar decisions.  If that were the case Terminator 2 would have been up for consideration, and surely no one thought it was Oscar worthy... But maybe it was true in the 50's, I don't know).

The Greatest Show on Earth revolved around, just in case the title didn't give it away, the circus.  (Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey's Circus has that appellation as their motto.)  Like most other extravaganza's of the day, this revolved around multiple characters and, at least in this case, some of the cheesiest melodrama ever to grace the screen.

As far as the acting goes, I guess the best example of how substandard it was is the fact that none, not even one, of the actors and actresses were nominated for an Oscar that year.  Is it because there were way too many to choose from?  I highly doubt it.  And its not as if they were nobodies... You had Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton, and even Jimmy Stewart in it.  But none of them really pulls off anything better than what you might find on General Hospital.  Which basically this film is, a soap opera on the big screen.

The film was also up for best director, but fortunately clearer heads prevailed and the statuette went to John Ford for The Quiet Man.  (Best Actor went to Gary Cooper for High Noon, so at least the Academy didn't go completely bonkers that year.)  But I'd like to touch upon the two better movies that lost the Best Picture Award to this clunker.

High Noon (1952):

High Noon was a Western with a message. The message is that a man must stand up for what he believes is right, despite the fact that everyone seems against his decision.  Some people, including John Wayne, thought that the movie was a parable denouncing the HUAC's stance against former and current people in Hollywood with Communist leanings, although the director, Fred Zinnemann, insisted that this was not the case.

Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just married his love, Amy (Grace Kelly), a Quaker who has convinced Will to hang up his guns and step down as Marshall.  But unbeknownst to him, three gunmen from a gang whose leader, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), have just ridden into town.  The three gunmen (Sheb Wooley, Lee van Cleef and Robert J. Wilke)  are awaiting the arrival of their leader who has been pardoned by the governor and is en route to the town to take revenge on Will. who was instrumental in sending him to prison in the first place.

Will and Amy are encouraged to skeedaddle before the arrival of the train, and initially they do so.  But on the way out of town, Will's conscience and determination takes over and he heads back to town to face destiny.  He tries to get people to help him, trying to form a posse to defend the town, but he runs up against a group who just want to let things be.

Primarily working against him is his former deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), who resents the fact that Will didn't stand up for him in his attempt to take over as Marshall.  Pell walks out on Will after throwing down his badge.  Will also runs into problems with a former lover, Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado).  Helen tells Amy that if she had married Will, she would not desert him in his time of need, which amy seems determined to do.

The town is divided into two courts, some who disapproved of Kane's actions with Miller (friends of the outlaw) and some who are worried that the whole town may suffer as a result of the feud between Miller and the Marshall.  He cannot get anybody to help, not even the town's leaders.

Eventually Miller arrives and a showdown begins as Will faces the four alone.  You surely don't need me to tell you how the movie ends, but I think you may just be surprised at one or two of the events that occur before the final denouement.

The Quiet Man (1952):

John Wayne movies were notoriously shubbed over the years, and much of it probably had to do with his politics.  For years the political view in Hollywood has been of a liberal bent and Wayne was a staunch conservative.  He was quoted once in an interview that he was proud of the fact that he had helped run Carl Foreman, the writer of the previous movie in this entry, out of Hollywood because of Foreman's Communist connections.

But his politics must be viewed separately from his acting, (as should anybody), when it comes to awards such as the Oscars.  In actuality that is not always the case, but I am an idealist by nature, and I have a view that the best person should get the laurels even if I don't agree with his outlook on life.  (On a personal note, I think Scientology is a whack-job religion, but I would not have let that affect my voting on Best Actor and would have given John Travolta my vote for best actor in Pulp Fiction.)

The Quiet Man begins with Sean Thornton (John Wayne)  arriving in Ireland.  Thornton is a man on the run from the past (although you only get hints of it until about midway through the movie).  Thornton was originally born in Ireland but moved to America at an early age.  He grew up in America and became a prize fighter, and it is an event in his life as a fighter that has brought him to leave America.

His first goal is to acquire his birth home.  The cottage and land is owned by a wealthy widow, Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick), and Thornton has a competitor in wanting to acquire the land, Will Danaher (Victor Maclaglen), a local squire.  Thornton outbids him, but the widow probably would have sold it to him anyway because she doesn't really like Will.

Thornton becomes infatuated with a redhead woman he sees who turns out to be Will's sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara).  At first, as is the custom in Ireland, brother Will refuses to let Thornton court his sister, because he is still miffed over the slight in the contest to buy the land, but the town's residents conspire to convince Will that the widow, with whom Will is infatuated, will marry him if his sister is no longer in the house.

Once Will finds out the truth, after the marriage, he refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry.  Mary Kate wants Thornton to fight her brother for the dowry, but he refuses, since the reason he left the States in the first place was because he accidentally killed a man in the boxing ring.  The towspeople convince Will to release Mary Kate's furniture, but stilL refuses to give her her dowry, and Mary Kate refuses to allow Thornton to consummate their marriage as a result.

It all boils down to an ultimate donnybrook in the town between Thornton and Will.  The final knock down drag out is the highlight of the film.

So which movie do I feel should have won the Oscar?  Well, my love of John Wayne movies would suggest that I chose The Quiet Man, but you may be surprised to learn that I think High Noon is the better movie, despite the fact that my hero hated it.

Time to sail the old Plymouth back to the cottage, now.  Drive home safely.