Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Quo Vadis (dir by Mervyn LeRoy)

The 1951 best picture nominee, Quo Vadis, is actually two movies in one.

The first movie is a rather stolid historical epic about life in ancient Rome.  The handsome but kind of dull Robert Taylor plays Marcus Vinincius, a Roman military officer who, after serving in Germany and Britain, returns to Rome and promptly falls in love with the virtuous Lygia (Deborah Kerr).  Complicating Marcus and Lygia’s relationship is the fact that Lygia is a devout Christian and a friend to Peter (Finlay Currie) and Paul (Abraham Sofaer).

Marcus’s uncle, meanwhile, is Petronius (Leo Genn), a government official who has a reputation for being a bon vivant.  In real-life, Petronius is believed to have been the author of the notoriously raunchy Satyricon.  You would never guess that from the way that Petronius is portrayed in Quo Vadis.  We’re continually told that Petronius is a notorious libertine but we don’t see much evidence of that, beyond the fact that he lives in a big palace and he has several slaves.  In fact, Petronius even falls in love with one of his slaves, Eunice (Marina Berti).

The second movie, which feels like it’s taking in a totally different cinematic universe from the adventures of Marcus and Lygia, deals with all of the intrigue in Nero’s court.  Nero (Peter Ustinov) is a giggling madman who dreams of rebuilding Rome in his image and who responds to almost every development by singing a terrible song about it.  Nero surrounds himself with sycophants who continually tell him that his every idea is brilliant but not even they can resist the temptation to roll their eyes whenever Nero grabs his lyre and starts to recite a terrible poem.  Nero is married to the beautiful but evil Poppaea (Patricia Laffan) and there’s nothing that they love more than going to the arena and watching people get eaten by lions.  It disturbs Nero when people sing before being eaten.  “They’re singing,” he says, his voice filled with shock an awe.

It’s difficult to describe just how different Ustinov’s performance is from everyone else’s in the film.  Whereas Taylor and even the usually dependable Deborah Kerr are stuck playing thin characters and often seem to be intimidated by playing such devout characters, Ustinov joyfully chews on every piece of scenery that he can get his hands on.  Nero may be the film’s villain but Ustinov gives a performance that feels more like it belongs in a silent comedy than a biblical epic.  Ustinov bulges his eyes.  He runs around the palace like he forgot to take his Adderall.  While Rome burns, Nero grins like a child who has finally figured out a way to outsmart his parents.  “You won’t give me more money?  I’ll just burn down the city!”

And the thing is — it all works.  The contrast between Ustinov and the rest of the characters should doom this film but, instead, it works brilliantly.  Whenever Ustinov’s performance gets to be too much, Robert Taylor and Leo Genn pop up and ground things.  Whenever things start to get too grounded, Ustinov throws everything back up in the air.  The conflict between the early Christians and the Roman Empire is perfectly epitomized in the contrast between Robert Taylor and Peter Ustinov.  It makes for a film that is entertaining almost despite itself.

Quo Vadis was nominated for best picture but lost to An American In Paris.

The Land Down Under: THE SUNDOWNERS (Warner Brothers 1960)

cracked rear viewer

G’day, mates! Let’s take a trek through the wilds of 1920’s Australian outback with  , Robert Mitchum Deborah Kerr, and a herd of bouncing sheep in THE SUNDOWNERS. Fred Zinnemann, generally associated with serious, tense dramas like HIGH NOON and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, lends a lighter touch than usual to this sprawling, almost John Ford-esque tale of an itinerant sheep drover and his family, and the wife who longs to settle into a home of her own.

Mitchum plays Paddy Carmody, a stubborn Irishman who has to keep moving, unable and unwilling to be tied to one place. He’s a wanderer with a fondness for booze and gambling, and Big Bob is perfect for the part. Mitchum’s penchant for dialects make his Aussie accent more than believable, and his facial expressions, especially during the sheep-shearing contest, are priceless. Deborah Kerr is his equal as wife Ida, the tough Earth Mother who’s loyal to Paddy…

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The Fabulous Forties #26: The Way Ahead (dir by Carol Reed)


The 26th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1944 British film, The Way Ahead (or, as it was retitled when it was released in America, The Immortal Battalion).

Directed by Carol Reed (who was five years away from directing the great The Third Man), The Way Ahead is a British propaganda film that was made to boost the morale of both a weary British public and the army during the final days of World War II.  Usually, when we call something propaganda, it’s meant as a term of disparagement but The Way Ahead is propaganda in the best possible way.

The film follows a group of British soldiers, from the moment that they are conscripted through their training to their first battle.  (In many ways, it’s like a more refined — which is another way of saying “more British” — version of Gung Ho!)  As usually happens in films like this, the newly conscripted soldiers come from all sections of society.  Some of them are poor.  Some of them are rich.  Some of them are married.  Some of them are single.  In fact, when the film first begins, the only thing that they all have in common is that they don’t want to be in the army.

As they begin their training, they resent their tough sergeant, Fletcher (William Hartnell), and are upset that Lt. Jim Perry (David Niven, giving a very likable performance) always seems to take Fletcher’s side in any dispute.  However, as time passes by, the soldiers start to realize that Fletcher is looking out for them and molding them into a cohesive unit.  Under his training, they go from being a group of disorganized and somewhat resentful individuals to being a tough and well-organized battalion.

Though they’re originally skeptical that they’ll ever see combat, the battalion is eventually sent to North Africa.  However, their ship is torpedoed and, in a scene that remains genuinely impressive even when viewed today, the men are forced to abandon ship while explosions and flames light up the night sky.  By the time that they do finally reach North Africa, they are more than ready to fight…

The Way Ahead plays out in a semi-documentary fashion (it even features a narrator who, at the end of the film, exhorts the audience to stay firm in their commitment) and it’s a fairly predictable film.  If you’ve ever seen a war film, you’ll probably be able to predict everything that happens in The Way Ahead.  That said, The Way Ahead is a remarkable well-made and well-acted film.  The cast is well-selected (and features a lot of familiar British characters actors, some making their film debut) and David Niven is the perfect choice for the mild-mannered but firm Lt. Perry.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of war films in general, I was still impressed with The Way Ahead.

And you can watch it below!

Film Review: Logan’s Run (dir. by Michael Anderson)

So, last week, I asked for everyone to vote for which film I should watch on Sunday.  864 votes were cast and the winner was Michael Anderson’s 1976 cult classic, Logan’s Run.  So, last night, I sat down with my sister Erin and we watched Logan’s Run.  I have to admit that we both giggled a lot but we still enjoyed watching it.  (I should also note that Logan’s Run was filmed in Dallas and Ft. Worth and, even 35 years later, both of us recognized a lot of familiar landmarks.  The end of the film was shot at the Ft. Worth Water Gardens and we squealed with delight as we watched it and said, “We’ve been there!”)

Like most sci-fi films released before Star Wars, Logan’s Run takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth.  It’s the 23rd Century and  what’s left of humanity lives in an underground city where they’re governed by a gently condescending computer.  Civilization is now based around the pursuit of pleasure.  Everyone appears to live in the world’s biggest mall (probably because the “City” scenes were actually filmed in a shopping mall located in my hometown of Dallas).  It’s a city that’s essentially made up of slow-motion orgies, hot tubs, and crazy plastic surgeons.  Everyone dresses in these sheer tunics and it quickly becomes obvious that the world’s knowledge underwear was apparently lost during the move underground.  (Then again, this could have been because the film was made in the 70s.  Seriously, did nobody own a bra in the 70s?) 

Future civilization appears to have only one law and that’s that anyone who reaches the age of 30 has to go to Carrousel.  At Carrousel, everyone has reached their time limit levitate in the air, floats around in a circle, and then blows up.  Their fellow citizens assume that those being blown up are actually being “renewed” but actually, they’re just blowing up.  (In many ways, Michael Anderson’s direction of Logan’s Run is pretty pedestrian but the Carrousel sequence is actually quite visually stunning.)

Now, some citizens don’t want to get blown up.  These citizens are called runners and they greet their 30th birthday by attempting to flee the City and escape to the Outside and to a mysterious place they call “Sanctuary.”  Some of them end up getting caught and frozen by a bizarre little robot called Box (played, in a really odd performance, by Roscoe Lee Browne).  Those that don’t get caught by Box usually end up getting gunned down by the Sandmen.  The Sandmen are a group of nylon-clad fascists who are never happier than when they’re gunning down runners.

At this point, you may have noticed that it actually takes more time to explain the film’s backstory than its actual story.  Logan’s Run has a fascinating concept behind it and the plot has a lot of potential.  Sadly, the film itself doesn’t quite live up to that potential but the story is still intriguing enough to carry the viewer through some of the film’s more uneven moments.

Michael York is Logan

The Logan of the title is a Sandman played by Michael York (who, when he first appears in this movie, projects just the right sense of unthinking entitlement).  Logan is assigned (by the condescending computer) to infiltrate the runners and find sanctuary.  In short, he’s ordered to run.  However, as it quickly becomes obvious that nobody’s actually being renewed, Logan decides to run for real.  Along with a runner named Jessica (played by Jenny Agutter), Logan tries to escape the city.  Pursued by his best friend and fellow Sandman Francis (Richard Jordan), Logan and Jessica most deal with a psychotic plastic surgeon (well-played by the director’s son, Michael Anderson, Jr.) and his glam nurse (Farrah Fawcett!) as well as a tribe of feral children and a bunch of sex-crazed, naked people who move in slow motion.  (It’s a neat visual, to be honest).

Logan, Jessica, and Farrah

When Logan and Jessica finally do reach the Outside, it turns out to not quite be all it was cracked up to be.  (Or as Jessica puts it, in one of my favorite lines, “I hate outside!”)  They come across the ruins of Washington, D.C. which turns out to be inhabited by a thousand cats and an old man played by Peter Ustinov.  However, little do they know, Francis has followed them outside and, back at the City, the computer is still demanding to know the location of Sanctuary.

I enjoyed Logan’s Run but I’d be lying if I said it was a great film.  It’s basically a big, silly, entertaining film that makes sense as long as you don’t think about it too much.  I have a feeling that if I had seen this film in a theater, trapped in the same seat for 2 hours straight, I would probably be a lot harder on it.  However, Logan’s Run is the perfect film to watch in the privacy of your own home with a friend or two (or, in my case, a big sister).  The story is just good enough to hold your interest, you can openly giggle at the film’s more campy moments, and — once the action starts to drag — you’re free to move around and find something else to do until things get interesting again.

Ultimately, Logan’s Run shares the flaw that afflicts most sci-fi films that are about people trying to escape a decadent, dystopian society.  That is, the movie is a lot more fun when everyone’s being decadent and evil than when everyone’s searching for a higher truth.  When Jessica yelled that she hated the outside, I had to agree with her because the inside — even with everyone getting blown up at the age of 30 — was so much more fun.  Inside the city, they had slow-motion orgies, hot tubs, and really pretty clothes.  Meanwhile, the only thing that outside had to offer was Peter Ustinov reading a decayed copy of the Declaration of Independence.  Don’t get me wrong — I was jealous that Ustinov got to live with all of those cute kitties but it just couldn’t compare with the psychotic plastic surgeons of the City.  If that’s Outside, I can understand why everybody went inside.

(Personally, I call this the Matrix Rule.  Everyone talks about how great Zion is but, seriously, what type of toadsucker would actually want to live in that tedious, ugly little Socialistic state?)

Still, despite this, Logan’s Run is a watchable and entertaining artifact of 70s “event” filmmaking.  This film doesn’t have any scenes set in a disco but it really should. 

Among the actors, both Michael York and Peter Ustinov are a lot of fun to watch as they both found their moments to go over the top and made the most of them.  Perhaps my favorite over the top York moment came towards the end of the film when he shouted, “YOU CAN LIVE!  LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!”  When I first announced, on twitter, that I would be reviewing this film, I got a lot of replies from men who apparently had fond memories of Jenny Agutter in this film and her performance here is sexy and confident.  Plus, she gets to deliver one of my favorite lines of all time, “I hate outside!”  Still, if you want to talk about sexy and confidence, then you have to talk about Richard Jordan’s performance as the cocky Sandman, Francis.  Seriously, Francis is a Sandman who could bring me a dream any night of the week…

Sexy, Dangerous Francis

So, in the end, Logan’s Run is silly but fun, uneven but definitely watchable.  Thank you to everyone who voted for me to see this film.  And until next time, remember — “Theeeeerrrrreeee Issssssssssss Noooooooo Saaaaaaaanctuuuuuuuary….”

Earlier today, I did a google search and I discovered that Logan's Run was apparently spun off into a television show. Apparently, this is the cast of that show. They certainly look a lot more cheerful than their film counterparts.

Poll: Tell Lisa Marie What To Watch Next Sunday

So, guess what I did earlier today?  That’s right — I put on a blindfold, a stumbled over to my ever-growing DVD, Blu-ray. and even VHS collection and I randomly selected 12 films!

Why did I do this?

I did it so you, the beloved readers of Through the Shattered Lens, could once again have a chance to tell me what to do.  At the end of this post, you’ll find a poll.  Hopefully, between now and next Sunday (that’s August 21st), a few of you will take the time to vote for which of these 12 films I should watch and review.  I will then watch the winner on Sunday and post my review on Monday night.  In short, I’m putting the power to dominate in your hands.  Just remember: with great power comes great … well, you know how it goes.

Here are the 12 films that I randomly selected this afternoon:

Abduction From 1975, this soft-core grindhouse film is based on the real-life abduction of Patty Hearst and was made while Hearst was still missing.  Supposedly, the FBI ended up investigating director Joseph Zito to make sure he wasn’t involved in the actual kidnapping.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God From director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski comes this story about a Spanish conquistador who fights a losing battle against the Amazon.

Black Caesar In one of the most succesful of the 70s blaxploitation films, Fred Williamson takes over the Harlem drug trade and battles the mafia.

Don’t Look Now Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a married couple who attempt to deal with the death of their daughter by going to Venice, Italy.  Christie quickly falls in with two blind psychics while Sutherland pursues a ghostly figure in a red raincoat through Venice.  Directed by Nicolas Roeg.

The Lion In Winter From 1968, this best picture nominee stars Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Taking place on Christmas Eve, Henry and Eleanor debate which one of their useless sons will take over a king of England.  This film is also the feature debut of both Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

Logan’s Run — From 1976, this sci-fi film features Michael York and Jenny Agutter as two future hedonists seeking Sanctuary and instead finding Peter Ustinov and a bunch of cats.  Filmed in my hometown of Dallas.

Lost Highway — From director David Lynch comes this 1997 film about … well, who knows for sure what it’s about?  Bill Pullman may or may not have killed Patricia Arquette and he may or may not end up changing into Balthazar Getty.

Mystic River — From director Clint Eastwood comes this film about murder, guilt, redemption, and suspicion in working-class Boston.  Starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins.

Naked Massacre — From 1976, this stark film is something a grindhouse art film.  It takes the true life story of Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck and transfers the action to Belfast.  Also known as Born for Hell.

Night of the Creeps — From 1986, this film features alien slugs that turn an entire college campus into a breeding ground for frat boy zombies.  Tom Atkins gets to deliver the classic line: “Well don’t go out there…”

PetuliaConsidered by many to be one of the best American films ever made and one of the definitive films of the 60s, Petulia tells the story of a divorced doctor (George C. Scott) who enters into an odd relationship with Julie Christie.  Directed by Richard Lester, this film also stars Joseph Cotten, Richard Chamberlain, and the Grateful Dead.

What Have You Done To Solange? — From 1975, What Have You Done To Solange is a classic giallo that  features dream-like murders, disturbing subtext, and one of the best musical scores of all time.

So, there’s your 12 films.  Vote once, vote often, have fun, and I await your decision.

Voting will be open until Sunday, August 21st.