A Pirate’s Life For Me!: THE SPANISH MAIN (RKO 1945)


cracked rear viewer

Today we celebrate the birthday of classic actor Paul Henreid (1908-1992)  


THE SPANISH MAIN is one of those films where the acting is cranked up to 11 and tongues are held firmly in cheek. That’s not a bad thing; this is a fun, fast-paced romp that doesn’t require much thinking, a colorful piece of mind candy that doesn’t take itself too seriously and features a great cast. It’s not what you’d normally expect from director Frank Borzage, usually associated with weightier matters like 7TH HEAVEN, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, THREE COMRADES, STRANGE CARGO , and THE MORTAL STORM. Maybe after all that heavy drama, the veteran needed to lighten up a bit!

Paul Henreid  stars as our hero Laurent Van Horn, a Dutch captain whose ship is wrecked in the Caribbean waters near Cartagena. The Spanish Viceroy there, Don Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak ), is a tyrant who holds the…

View original post 415 more words

Here’s Looking at You On The Big Screen, CASABLANCA!


cracked rear viewer

Longtime readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite film. It’s blend of stars, supporting cast, script, direction, drama, romance, and humor is the perfect example of 1940’s Hollywood storytelling,  when Tinseltown was at the peak of its moviemaking powers . I’ve seen the film at least 80 times in many different formats, from broadcast television to cable and satellite, from VHS to DVD to DVR, but never before on the big screen – until this past Sunday, that is!

Fathom Events, in conjunction with TCM, presents classic films on a monthly basis in theaters across the country. In my area, they’re shown at Regal Cinemas in Swansea, MA, a half hour drive down the highway. I’ve been tempted to make the trip a few times, but never got around to it for one reason or another. But when I heard CASABLANCA was this month’s feature, I knew…

View original post 663 more words

Cleaning Out The DVR: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (dir by Sam Wood)


220px-Goodbye,_Mr._Chips_(1939_film)_poster

After watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, I watched another old best picture nominee that was sitting on my DVR.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips was nominated for best picture of 1939, a year that many consider to be one of the best cinematic years on record.  Just consider some of the other films that were nominated in that year: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Dark Victory, Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Love Affair, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, and, of course, Gone With The Wind.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips may not have won best picture but its star, Robert Donat, did win the Oscar for Best Actor, defeating Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Laurence Olivier, and Mickey Rooney.

Robert Donat plays the title character, a British teacher named Charles Edward Chipping (affectionately known as Mr. Chips).  The film follows Mr. Chips over the course of 63 years, from his arrival as a new Latin teacher to the last night of his life.  When he first starts to work at Brookfield Public School, the young and inexperienced Mr. Chips proves himself to be a strict teacher, the type who enforces discipline and may be respected but will never be loved by his students.  It’s only after he falls in love with the outspoken Kathy Bridges (Greer Garson) that Mr. Chips starts to truly enjoy life.

After marrying Kathy, Mr. Chips relaxes.  He becomes a better teacher, one who is capable of inspiring his students as well as teaching them.  After Kathy dies in childbirth, Mr. Chips deals with his sadness by devoting all of his time to his many pupils.

While Mr. Chips deals with both new students and headmasters who view him as being too old-fashioned, the world marches off to war.  When World War I breaks out and there is a shortage of teachers, the elderly Mr. Chips serves as headmaster.  Each Sunday, in the chapel, he reads the names of former students (many of whom he taught) who have been killed in the war.  In perhaps the film’s best scene, he teaches a class while German bombs fall nearby, keeping his students calm and positive by having them translate Julius Caesar’s account of his own battle against the Germans.

The bombing scene is interesting for another reason.  Mr. Chips was filmed and released in 1939, shortly before Britain declared war on Nazi Germany.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips is not just a sentimental tribute to a teacher.  It’s also a tribute to the strength and resilience of the British people.  With the world on the verge of a second great war, Goodbye, Mr. Chips said that it was going to be tough, it was going to be scary, and there was going to be much loss but that the British would survive and ultimately be victorious.

And, as we all know, the film was right.

While the Oscar definitely should have gone to Jimmy Stewart for his performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Robert Donat still gives a sweet and touching performance as Mr. Chips.  And the film’s ending brought very real tears to my mismatched eyes.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips may be sentimental but it’s sentimental in the best possible way.

Horror Film Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic (dir by John Boorman)


Exorcist2poster

The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films of all time and a personal favorite of mine.  But what about Exorcist II: The Heretic?  Well, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that The Heretic has not quite received the amount of critical acclaim as the first film.  Since it was first released in 1977, The Heretic has been widely considered to be one of the worst sequels of all time.  It’s a film that is often cited as evidence as to why not all successful films need a follow-up.

Myself, I have sat through The Heretic twice.  And yes, it is a pretty bad film but I have to admit that I enjoyed it each time that I saw it.  It’s not a scary film at all.  It’s not a successful horror film.  But, as an unintentional comedy, it’s hilarious.

The Heretic opens four years after the end of The Exorcist.  Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is dead, having had a heart attack during the first film while performing an exorcism on Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair).  In the years since, some in the Vatican have cast doubt on whether or not Merrin actually performed exorcisms.  It turns out that, contrary to everything that we saw in the first film, Father Merrin was actually something of a rebel.  His teachings are controversial.  For instance, he was convinced that everyone has latent psychic powers and that the demon Pazuzu possesses those who have the potential to be the strongest psychics.  Why?  Because those people have the ability to lead humanity into a shared global consciousness and…

Well, it gets a little bit complicated.  That’s one of the big differences between The Exorcist and Heretic.  The Exorcist kept things relatively simple.  The Heretic drags in a lot of metaphysical argle bargle.

The deceased Father Merrin has been brought up on charges of heresy.  The Cardinal (Paul Henreid, many, many years after Casablanca), assigns Father Lamont (Richard Burton) to investigate the circumstances surrounding Father Merrin’s final exorcism.

The presence of Richard Burton is what elevates Heretic from merely being bad to being so bad that it’s good.  As written, Father Lamont is supposed to be something of a naive idealist, someone who never met Father Merrin but who has been intrigued by his writings.  Reportedly, several youthful actors turned down the role and eventually, production decided to make Lamont an older man and they ended up casting Richard Burton.  Speaking in a shaky rasp and staring at the camera with bloodshot eyes, Burton appears to be at the height of his famous self-loathing in this film.  Burton is so miscast as an idealistic priest that the film becomes fascinating to watch.  Occasionally, the film tries to make us suspect that Lamont himself may be possessed but with Burton snarling his way through the role, how could anyone tell the difference?

Lamont tracks Regan down in New York.  Regan doesn’t remember a thing about the exorcism and appears to be an overly happy teenage actress.  (A good deal of the movie is devoted to her rehearsing a big dance number.)  She is under the care of psychiatrist Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher).  Tuskin has a device called the Synchronizer.  When two people are hooked up to it, they can literally see into each other’s minds.  They can share the same memories.  They can … wait a minute.  What the Hell?  The Synchronizer essentially appears to be little more than a blinking light but it can actually allow you to enter into someone else’s mind?  Doesn’t that seem like that should be a big deal?

Well, it’s not.  Everyone pretty much just shrugs and accepts it…

Through the use of the Synchronizer, Reagan, Lamont, and Tuskin get to watch a lot of scenes from the first Exoricst.  It also allows Father Lamont to have visions of Africa and another exorcism, this one involving a young boy named Kokumo.

This leads to one of my favorite parts of the film; Richard Burton wandering around a dusty African market and randomly telling people, “I am looking for Kokumo.”  It turns out that Kukomo has grown up to be a doctor and he’s now played by James Earl Jones, who appears to be amused by his dialogue.  Also showing up in the film’s Africa scenes is Ned Beatty.  Beatty plays a pilot who flies Lamont to Kokumo’s village.  “Have you come here before?” Beatty asks.  “Once … on the wings of a demon,” Lamont replies.

Well, okay then…

The first Exorcist worked largely because William Friedkin directed it as if he was making a documentary.  John Boorman takes the exact opposite approach here, trying to turn a cheap sequel into a metaphysical meditation on good, evil, and nature.  It’s amazingly pretentious and it would actually be rather annoying if not for the fact that Burton doesn’t make the slightest bit of effort to come across as being in any way emotionally or intellectually invested in his over-the-top dialogue.  When you combine Burton’s overwhelming cynicism with Linda Blair’s nearly insane perkiness, Louise Fletcher’s genial confusion, and James Earl Jones’s cheerful humor, the end result is something that simply has to be seen to be believed.

So, yes, The Heretic is as bad as you’ve heard.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #15: Casablanca (dir by Michael Curtiz)


CasablancaPoster-Gold

(This review contains spoilers but seriously, you should know all of this already.)

Is there anything left to be said about Casablanca?

Probably not.

As a film reviewer, I’m not supposed to admit that.  I’m supposed to come up with some sort of new, out-of-nowhere, batshit crazy way to look at Casablanca.  I’m supposed to argue that Rick was actually meant to be a survivor of abuse or that Victor Laszlo was some sort of precursor to President Obama or something.  Or, if that doesn’t work, I’m supposed to intentionally troll everyone by writing something like, “10 reasons why Casablanca is overrated” or “I hate Casablanca and I don’t care who knows it!”

But I’m not going to do that.

The fact of the matter is that Casablanca is as good a film as everyone says it is.  It is a film that everyone should see.  It is a film that quite rightfully was named best picture of 1943.  It deserves to be celebrated.  It deserves to be seen.  In fact, stop reading this review right now and go watch it.  Don’t let me waste another second of your time.

The thing with Casablanca is that it’s such an iconic film that everyone knows what happens, regardless of whether they’ve actually watched the entire film or not.  They know that the film takes place in Casablanca during World War II.  They know that Casablanca is full of refugees, spies, and people who are hiding from their past.  They know that Casablanca is policed by the charmingly corrupt Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains).  They know that Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) is the Nazi in charge.  (I nearly said that Strasser was the “evil Nazi in charge” but when you identify someone as a Nazi, is it really necessary to add that they’re evil?)  They know that Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is the American expatriate who owns Rick’s Cafe Americain and that everyone comes to Rick’s.  They know that Rick’s slogan is that he doesn’t stick his neck out for anyone but they also know that his cynicism hides the fact that he’s still in love with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).  They know that when Ilsa shows up at Rick’s and needs him to help her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), escape from Occupied Europe, Rick is forced to decide whether or not to get involved in the resistance.

And, whether you’ve seen the film or not, you know that it all ends on a foggy airstrip.  Ilsa wants to stay in Casablanca with Rick but Rick tells her that she has to get on the plane with Laszlo because, if she doesn’t, she’ll regret it.  Ilsa goes with Laszlo, leaving Rick behind.

And it may have been the right thing to do but how many viewers would have done the same if they had been in Ilsa’s high heels?  Throughout the entire movie, we hear about how wonderful Laszlo is but, whenever he actually shows up on screen, it’s always a little bit surprising to discover just how boring a character Victor Laszlo really is.  Unlike the troubled and deceptively cynical Rick, there’s not much going on underneath the surface with Laszlo.  Just as Rick overshadows Laszlo, Bogart’s performance overshadows Paul Henreid’s.  Bogart and Bergman have all the chemistry and the charisma.  Henreid, on the other hand, comes across as stiff and a little dull.  But, as the film suggests, World War II was not a time for self-doubt and self-interest.  World War II was a time when the world needed straight-forward, determined men like Victor Laszlo.

And, if the world needed Laszlo and Laszlo needed Ilsa, then that meant Ilsa had to get on that plane.

That said, I’ve always liked to think that Ilsa ended up leaving Laszlo in 1945 and immediately made her way back to Morocco.  Rick and Ilsa belonged together.

But until Ilsa comes back, Rick has his friendship with Renault.  “Louis,” he says, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  Did Bogart realize, when he delivered that line, that literally thousands of people would be repeating it decades later?  Bogart’s performance is probably one of the most imitated performances of all time.  Anyone who sees Casablanca thinks that they can talk about gin joints and hills of beans in Bogart’s trademark style.  Of course, they can’t and it’s a testament to the power of Bogart’s performance that it remains effective even after being endlessly imitated.

On Valentine’s Day of 2014, I saw Casablanca at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.  It was an amazing and romantic experience.  See Casablanca on the big screen.  It’ll make you love life and bring life to your love.

Needless to say, Casablanca is an intimidating film to review.  So, I’ll just say this: Casablanca is even better than you think it is.  If you haven’t seen it, go watch it.  If you have seen it, go watch it again.

Just resist the temptation to say, “Play it again, Sam,” in your best Bogart-like voice.

Because, seriously, Rick never actually says that line.