Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

Synopsis: Murderous outlaw establishes police state town where every single crime is a hanging offense, and... um, he’s the hero. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “the tall-tale saga of a frontier legend.” 

What Did I Learn?: Justice is the handmaiden of law, and law is the handmaiden of works both ways. 

Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, is Bean’s brand of justice really any better than the iron grip of Frank Gass (Roddy McDowell)? 2) The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is by its own description a “tall tale” and isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, but I’m pretty sure that even in 19th Century Texas, you couldn’t establish your own town, and then selectively enforce the rules of the state. Oh, and I had a bit of trouble believing Maria (Victoria Principal) would stay with him as long as she does, even though he continually professes his undying love for Lily Langtree. 

Rating: Written by John Milius, and directed by the legendary John Huston, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a very enjoyable farcical Western that features a number of memorable cameo performances. My only complaint would be that it tends to drag in places, and it really loses a lot of energy after Bad Bob (Stacey Keach) bites the dust somewhere in the second act. 7.5/10 stars.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

There Was a Crooked Man (1970)

Synopsis: Motley-yet-likeable assemblage of Old West bandits matches wits with, um...the world’s nicest, and most honest and compassionate prison warden?!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Crime doesn’t pay. That is, unless you work at it.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) See: “Blurb From the VHS Jacket.” 2) There’s nothing like fried chicken when it’s still hot and crispy. 3) If you’re going to rip off a very important businessman, it’s a really good idea to leave town immediately afterwards. 


Really?: I had a great deal of trouble believing Paris Pittman’s (Kirk Douglas) heel turn right at the end. Ok, we know he’s a thief and a con artist, but up until the last 15 minutes, we’re led to believe that he’s also a relatively decent guy who wouldn’t murder his accomplices in cold blood. 

Rating: There Was a Crooked Man is rollicking, funny, and highly enjoyable early 1970s amoral Western that features a great cast (Henry Fonda co-stars as the decent, but often screwed-over Warden Lopeman, and Burgess Meredith nearly steals the show as an elderly outlaw) and an outstanding performance from Douglas. Sadly, it’s marred by a rather unsatisfying ending (see: “Really?”). 8/10 stars.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Dang – this would have been perfect for my tribute to “Revenge” movies

Synopsis: It’s a really bad idea to piss off Jeremiah Johnson. Oh wait, that sounds a lot like the Synopsis of Nevada Smith

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Soured by civilization’s ways and wars, Jeremiah Johnson sets out in the mid-1800s to become a mountain man, seeking solitude in a wilderness whose purity he never questioned.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever asked to forge a pathway through a sacred burial ground, don’t do it. Seriously, even if there’s nobody around, don’t do it!


Really?: 1) Ok, I realize Jeremiah is hungry, and inexperienced in the ways of mountain living, but who in their right mind would plunge into a stream in order to catch a fish in the dead of winter? 2) Wait – Jeremiah Johnson is a pretty good-looking guy. Why in the world would he choose a life of solitude (more or less) on a frozen mountain-top when he might otherwise marry the girl of his dreams and live in comfort? Redford does a great job with the role, but I have to wonder if he was miscast. 3) I know that Jeremiah wants vengeance for the murder of his wife and adopted son, but taking on the entire Crow nation on their territory seems awfully foolhardy. 

Rating: Jeremiah Johnson is a powerful, and haunting adventure that was shot entirely in some very remote corners of the Rocky Mountains. While the film might offend some modern sensibilities with its use of the Crow nation as the hero's eventual antagonists, it’s important to remember that the movie treats all of the Native Americans that Jeremiah encounters (friends and foes alike) respectfully, and it's still well worth watching. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Hellcats of the Navy (1957)

A few people know that I share a birthday with the late, great Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States. To mark this occasion (Reagan would be 106 today) I have decided to review the only film that features both Ron and Nancy together. Oh, and this would have been perfect for my salute to submarine movies, back in 2013. 

Synopsis: Submarine commander with mellifluous voice informs senior officer that the secret of command is the ability to abandon valued crewmen at the first sign of trouble. (I wonder if Don Regan or Oliver North ever watched this movie....) 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Based on a true incident, submarine Commander Casey Abbott (Reagan) leads a daring mission to enter the heavily mined Tsushima Straits to sever a vital link between the Asiatic mainland and the Japanese home islands.” 

What Did I Learn?: The Gipper was pretty good at presenting a reassuring air of authority, but overall, his acting was rather wooden. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You're a die-hard Reaganite.

Really?: 1) Wait – how could the submarine house Navy frogmen when SCUBA gear was invented after the war? 2) So, the screw gets caught in a cord, and Commander Casey is the only one who can swim to the back of the boat and untie it? I realize senior officers go out on “away” missions all the time on Star Trek, but would that really happen in real life? 3) Wait – Abbott claims that his chart, which depicts a safe passageway through the minefield could change the course of the way, and then we later find out the Japanese have rearranged the mines? Didn’t anyone envision that possibility? 

Rating: Hellcats of the Navy is an unoriginal, by-the-numbers B-movie that’s memorable for the simple reason that it co-stars a future President and First Lady (she’s barely in this picture, by the way, and her scenes don’t add very much), and includes a cameo appearance by former Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. While I fondly remember Reagan as one of America’s better presidents, I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Maybe. Take a drink any time Abbott says or does something heroic.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Sea of Love (1989)

This would have been perfect for my Al Pacino film fest in 2012.  Oh, Happy Groundhog Day!

Synopsis: Burnt-out middle-aged detective and dumpy partner investigate hot chick who might be a serial killer. Wait...wasn’t that the Synopsis for Basic Instinct

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In search of a killer, he found someone who’s either the love of his life....or the end of it.” 

What Did I Learn?: “(M)aking people feel good about themselves so that they'll cooperate with you” is a surprisingly effective life strategy. 


Really?: 1) Ok, I realize the title of the movie is Sea of Love, and the playing of old music/records provides a clue for the detectives, but how many times do we have to hear that song? Heck, there’s even a scene when Pacino and John Goodman sing it together at a police banquet. It’s still playing in my head! 2) So, what was the point of Keller (Pacino) nearly-arresting that Iranian bodyguard near a private school? Did somebody figure the trailer needed a scene of Pacino waving his gun and looking tough? 3) I guess New York City cops don’t face any consequences for sleeping with murder suspects. 4) Funny how Ellen Barkin gets second-billing in this movie and it takes her character, what - an hour to finally appear? 

Rating: Sea of Love isn’t a great film, but it’s generally credited with reviving Pacino’s career after a string of duds, and it’s still a compelling (if slow-moving) thriller with a surprise ending. 8/10 stars.