Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Guns of Navarone (dir by J. Lee Thompson)


The Oscar nominations are finally due to be announced on March 15th and the Oscars themselves are scheduled to be awarded at the end of April.  In anticipation of the big event (and the end of this current lengthy awards season), I am going to spend the next two months watching and reviewing Oscar nominees of the past.  Some day, I hope to be able to say that I have watched and reviewed every single film nominated for Best Picture.  It’s a mission that, with each passing year, I come a little bit closer to acomplishing.

Tonight, I decided to start things off by watching the 1961 best picture nominee, The Guns of Navarone.

The Guns of Navarone takes place in 1943, during World War II.  2,000 British troops are stranded on the Greek island of Kheros and the Nazis are planning on invading the island in a show of force that they hope will convince Turkey to join the Axis powers.  The Allies need to evacuate those troops before the Nazis invade.  The problem is that, on the nearby island of Navarone, there are two massive guns that can shoot down any plane that flies over and sink any ship that sails nearby.  If the British soldiers are to be saved, the guns are going to have to be taken out.

Everyone agrees that it’s a suicide mission.  Even if a commando team manages to avoid the patrol boats and the German soldiers on the island, reaching the guns requires scaling a cliff that is considered to be nearly unclimbable.  Still, the effort has to be made.  Six men are recruited to do the impossible.  Leading the group is Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), a natural-born leader who is described as having almost supernatural luck.  Franklin’s second-in-command is Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), an American spy who speaks several languages and who is an expert mountain climber.  Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren) and Butcher Brown (Stanley Baker) are both assigned to the team because they have fearsome reputations as killers, though it quickly becomes clear that only one of them kills for enjoyment.  Colonel Stavrou (Anthony Quinn) is a member of the defeated Greek army and he has a complicated past with Mallory.  Finally, Corporal Miller (David Niven) is a chemistry teacher-turned-explosive expert.  Waiting for the men on the island are two members of the Resistance, Spyros’s sister Maria (Irene Papas) and her friend, Anna (Gia Scala).  The mission, not surprisingly, the mission doesn’t go as planned.  There’s violence and betrayal and not everyone makes it to the end.  But everyone knows that, as tired as they are of fighting, the mission cannot be abandoned.

The Guns of Navarone was a huge box office success when it was originally released, which probably has a lot to do with it showing up as a best picture nominee.  It’s an entertaining film and, watching it, it’s easy to see how it served as a prototype for many of the “teams on a mission” action films that followed.  Though none of the characters are exactly deeply drawn, that almost doesn’t matter when you’ve got a cast that includes actors like Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven.  At it best, the film works as a triumph of old-fashioned movie star charisma.  Peck is upright and determined to do whatever needs to be done to get the job done.  Quinn is tempermental and passionate.  David Niven is cynical, witty, and very, very British.  Quayle, Darren, and especially Stanley Baker provide strong support.  Before Sean Connery got the role, Stanley Baker was a strong contender for James Bond and, watching this film, you can see why.

Seen today, there’s not a lot that’s surprising about The Guns of Navarone.  It’s simply a good adventure film, one that occasionally debates the morality of war without forgetting that the audience is mostly watching to see the bad guys get blown up.  Some of the action scenes hold up surprisingly well.  The scene where the team is forced to deal with a German patrol boat is a particular stand-out.

The Guns of Navarone was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Though it lost the top prize to West Side Story, The Guns of Navarone still won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Longest Day (dir by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, and Darryl F. Zanuck)


As my sister has already pointed out, today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.  With that in mind, and as a part of my ongoing mission to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture, I decided to watch the 1962 film, The Longest Day!

The Longest Day is a pain-staking and meticulous recreation of invasion of Normandy, much of it filmed on location.  It was reportedly something of a dream project for the head of the 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck set out to make both the ultimate tribute to the Allied forces and the greatest war movie ever.  Based on a best seller, The Longest Day has five credited screenwriters and three credited directors.  (Ken Annakin was credited with “British and French exteriors,” Andrew Marton did “American exteriors,” and the German scenes were credited to Bernhard Wicki.  Oddly, Gerd Oswald was not credited for his work on the parachuting scenes, even though those were some of the strongest scenes in the film.)  Even though he was not credited as either a screenwriter or a director, it is generally agreed that the film ultimately reflected the vision of Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck not only rewrote the script but he also directed a few scenes as well.  The film had a budget of 7.75 million dollars, which was a huge amount in 1962.  (Until Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, The Longest Day was the most expensive black-and-white film ever made.)  Not only did the film tell an epic story, but it also had an epic length.  Clocking in at 3 hours, The Longest Day was also one of the longest movies to ever be nominated for best picture.

The Longest Day also had an epic cast.  Zanuck assembled an all-star cast for his recreation of D-Day.  If you’re like me and you love watching old movies on TCM, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces go rushing by during the course of The Longest Day.  American generals were played by actors like Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne.  Peter Lawford, then the brother-in-law of the President of the United States, had a memorable role as the Scottish Lord Lovat, who marched through D-Day to the sounds of bagpipes.  When the Allied troops storm the beach, everyone from Roddy McDowall to Sal Mineo to Robert Wagner to singer Paul Anka can be seen dodging bullets.  Sean Connery pops up, speaking in his Scottish accent and providing comic relief.  When a group of paratroopers parachute into an occupied village, comedian Red Buttons ends up hanging from the steeple of a church.  When Richard Beymer (who is currently playing Ben Horne on Twin Peaks) gets separated from his squad, he stumbles across Richard Burton.  Among those representing the French are Arletty and Christian Marquand.  (Ironically, after World War II, Arletty was convicted of collaborating with the Germans and spent 18 months under house arrest.  Her crime was having a romantic relationship with a German soldier.  It is said that, in response to the charges, Arletty said, “My heart is French but my ass is international.”)  Meanwhile, among the Germans, one can find three future Bond villains: Gert Frobe, Curt Jurgens, and Walter Gotell.

It’s a big film and, to be honest, it’s too big.  It’s hard to keep track of everyone and, even though the battle scenes are probably about an intense as one could get away with in 1962 (though it’s nowhere near as effective as the famous opening of Saving Private Ryan, I still felt bad when Jeffrey Hunter and Eddie Albert were gunned down), their effectiveness is compromised by the film’s all-star approach.  Often times, the action threatens to come to a halt so that everyone can get their close-up.  Unfortunately, most of those famous faces don’t really get much of a chance to make an impression.  Even as the battle rages, you keep getting distracted by questions like, “Was that guy famous or was he just an extra?”

Among the big stars, most of them play to their personas.  John Wayne, for instance, may have been cast as General Benjamin Vandervoort but there’s never any doubt that he’s playing John Wayne.  When he tells his troops to “send them to Hell,” it’s not Vandervoort giving orders.  It’s John Wayne representing America.  Henry Fonda may be identified as being General Theodore Roosevelt II but, ultimately, you react to him because he’s Henry Fonda, a symbol of middle-American decency.  Neither Wayne nor Fonda gives a bad performance but you never forget that you’re watching Fonda and Wayne.

Throughout this huge film, there are bits and pieces that work so well that you wish the film had just concentrated on them as opposed to trying to tell every single story that occurred during D-Day.  I liked Robert Mitchum as a tough but caring general who, in the midst of battle, gives a speech that inspires his troops to keep fighting.  The scenes of Peter Lawford marching with a bagpiper at his side were nicely surreal.  Finally, there’s Richard Beymer, wandering around the French countryside and going through the entire day without firing his gun once.  Beymer gets the best line of the film when he says, “I wonder if we won.”  It’s such a modest line but it’s probably the most powerful line in the film.  I wish The Longest Day had more scenes like that.

The Longest Day was nominated for best picture of 1962 but it lost to an even longer film, Lawrence of Arabia.

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 4.13 “Werewolf Concerto” (dir by Steve Perry)


For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, we present to you the 13th episode of the 4th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!

Werewolf Concerto originally aired on September 9th, 1992.  It deals with what happens when a group of hotel guests believe that there might be a werewolf in the area.  Fortunately, Timothy Dalton is also in the area and he claims to be a professional werewolf hunter!

Or is he….?

You’ll have to watch to find out!

Enjoy!

James Bond Review: Octopussy (dir. by John Glen)


 

We’re at the home stretch in the Roger Moore-era of Ian Fleming’s James Bond film series. During his time in the role as Britain’s super spy extraordinaire we’ve seen him put his own personal stamp on the role. It was a daunting task seeing the role had been played by Sean Connery early in the film series and had done such a great job of making the character such a cultural icon that anyone following him would forever be compared. Moore doesn’t just hold his own, but has built such a loayl following in the role that many consider his portrayal of Agent 007 as the best in the series.

His Bond when compared to Connery’s portrayal was more the witty charmer who tried to use his wits and brains to solve problematic (usually dangerous ones) situations he finds himself in. Connery’s Bond was more the physical type whose charm belied a much darker personality streak that Moore’s portrayal could never pull off no matter how the writers tried.

The Roger Moore-era also redefined the franchise as more more about action and less and less thriller with each new film. This culminates in Moore’s most action-packed film in the role with the 13th Bond film (produced by EON) in Octopussy.

The film begins with one of the more impressive opening sequences in the series as we find Bond in the middle of an undercover mission in Cuba. This intro’s stunt work with Bond piloting a mini-plane in and around Cuban airspace to escape and, at the same time, fulfill his mission remains a highlight in the series where each new film tries to raise the bar in terms of well-choreographed and very complicated action scenes.

Octopussy sees Bond traveling to India, East and West Germany to halt the nuclear and warmongering ambitions of a Soviet general who sees his country’s nuclear disarmament talks with the West as inviting defeat for the Soviet Union. We also have the theft of priceless Russian treasures like the Faberge Eggs being used to finance this general’s plan to complicate bond’s main mission. The plot for Octopussy is a reminder of the time it was filmed in. Reagan and Thatcher had a strong control of the West and their confrontational attitudes towards the Soviet Union and it’s satellite states made people believe that the world was on the brink of war. This public sentiment affected the fiction and entertainment of the time with Cold War thrillers becoming ascendant once more.

As much as the basic outline of the film’s plot looked to be impressive on the face of it the way the story unfolded was quite a hit-and-miss affair. I put some of this on the shoulders of it’s director John Glen who seemed more interested in moving the story from one action scene to the next while paying just the minimum of lip-service to the quieter scenes that occur in-between.

This being Moore’s sixth Bond film we pretty much know how his Bond operates. So, it falls to fleshing out his rivals and enemies to help create a much more interesting film beyond the extravagant action scenes. We learn about the agendas and personalities of Bond’s rivals through too much exposition info dumps. Even the title’ character of Octopussy (played by Maud Adams) we don’t get to learn much of other than a brief personal history dialogue she has with Bond the first time we meet. Of Bond’s two enemies in the film one is the warmongering General Orlov (played by Steven Berkoff) who comes off like an over-the-top caricature with a distinct speech pattern to match. The other is the exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan who comes off a bit more fleshed out as Octopussy’s covetous partner-in-crime. Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan plays the role with a sense of panache and joie de vivre that at times he’s able to match Moore’s Bond in the charisma department whenever the two share the screen together.

What should interest people about Octopussy are the very action scenes I spoke about earlier. From the opening sequence in Cuba to a thrilling race against time that traverses from East Germany to West Germany to stop a nuclear weapon from detonating it’s no wonder some people consider Octopussy as a favorite. I enjoyed the film for these very sequences despite missteps in the overall execution of the plot and inconsistencies in the performances of the cast. Yet, the film had the DNA to be much better and after repeated viewings one could see that in the hands of a different filmmaker and changes in the cast this sixth Moore-era Bond film had the potential to be one of the best.

Octopussy would mark the start of the franchise’s decline in the face of much more violent and action-packed action films of the 80’s. The film tried to keep up with this rising trend in action filmmaking during the 80’s. It was able to succeed in a fashion in making the series much more action-packed (though quite bloodless in comparison to what was about to come out of Hollywood in the coming years), but in doing so the film’s storyline and characters suffered that the film doesn’t hold up the test of time unlike some of the early Connery and Moore films.

On a side note, the film did have one of my favorite Bond song’s with Rita Coolidge singing “All Time High” in the intro sequence. A song title that was quite ironic considering that the film definitely didn’t hit an all time high.

James Bond Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


For the past few days, the Shattered Lens has been taking a journey through the history of the James Bond film franchise.  Today, we continue that journey by taking a look at 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.  This was the 10th film in the “official” James Bond series and the 3rd to star Roger Moore as 007.  It was also the first of Moore’s films to be embraced by contemporary critics and it’s still considered to be one of the best films in the entire series.  It’s also one of my personal favorites.

The Spy Who Loved Me opens with one of the most of brilliant pre-credit sequences in the history of the franchise.  British and Russian submarines are mysteriously vanishing.  M (a returning Bernard Lee) summons James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate.  Not surprisingly, Bond is with a woman at a ski resort when the summons comes.  As Bond starts to leave, the woman says, “But James, I need you.”

“So does England,” Bond replies.

Now, this was long before my time so I can’t say for sure but I always like to imagine  that line got some applause when it was first heard in theaters.  It is with that line (and, even more importantly, with his self-assured but humorous delivery of that line) that Roger Moore truly claims the role of James Bond as his own.  No, this scene seemed to be telling us, Moore would never be Sean Connery.  But he would be James Bond.

After leaving the chalet, Bond finds himself being pursued by several Russian agents.  This downhill ski chase, filmed by real people who were truly putting their lives in danger in the days before CGI, is one of the most exciting of all the chases to be found in Bond films and it builds up to a perfect climax.  After Bond manages to kill one of his pursuers, he skis right over the edge of a cliff.  Luckily, he has a parachute in his backpack and, of course, it’s a union jack parachute.  Again, I like to imagine that audiences applauded at this moment.

Bond’s escape leads to the opening credits and, even more importantly, Carly Simon singing the film’s theme song, “Nobody Does It Better.”  Seriously, I love this song.

Both MI6 and the KGB discover that the plans for a submarine tracking system are being sold on the Egyptian black market.  Suspecting that this is connected to the missing submarines, both James Bond and the Russian agent Anya Asamova (Barbara Bach) are sent to Egypt.  Bond and Anya team up to find the plans.  Along the way, they are attacked multiple times by Jaws (Richard Kiel), a hulking man with steel teeth.

Eventually, Bond and Anya discover that the man responsible for the missing submarines is Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a shipping magnate who is planning on destroying the surface world so that he can start a new society underwater.  The two secret agents work together to defeat Stromberg even though Anya assures Bond that she’s going to kill him as soon as their mission is completed.  Remember the man who Bond killed during that opening ski chase?  It turns out that man was Anya’s lover and she’s only putting off getting her revenge so that she and Bond can save the world first.

With its confident mix of humor, intrigue, and spectacular action, The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most popular of the Bond films.  It’s certainly one of my favorites.

Along with From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is the most romantic of the Bond films.  Roger Moore and Barbara Bach have a very real chemistry and, as a result, you actually care about whether or not Bond and Anya will still be together after the end credits.  As played by Barbara Bach, Anya is one of the strongest of the Bond girls.  For once, Bond and his lover are truly equals.  For anyone who doubts the importance of having a strong Bond girl, I invite them to compare this movie to The Man With The Golden Gun.

For those who are more into action than romance, The Spy Who Loved Me will not leave them disappointed.  This film features some of the best set pieces in the history of the Bond franchise.  Along with the ski chase at the start of the film, there’s also a genuinely exciting car chase that features Bond and Anya being pursued by a helicopter piloted by Caroline Munro.

(Speaking of cars, this film also features one of my favorite Bond gadgets — a car that doubles as a submarine.)

Karl Stromberg makes for an interesting villain.  His plan makes absolutely no sense but he may be the first Bond bad guy to motivated by perverted idealism as opposed to pure greed.  As you would expect from a Bond film, his secret underwater HQ is quite an impressive set.  However, the best thing about Stromberg is that he employs Jaws.  With his stainless steel teeth, Jaws was the best henchman since Goldfinger‘s Oddjob and he proved to be such a popular character that he actually returned in the next Bond film.

One final note: As has often been noted, The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond film to have absolutely nothing in common (beyond a title) with the book that it was based on.  This is largely because the literary Spy Who Loved Me wasn’t really about James Bond.  Instead, it told the life story of Vivienne Michel, a Canadian woman who just happens to meet Bond towards the end of the book.  Fleming reportedly considered this book to be a failed experiment on his part and reportedly he only sold the film rights when he was assured that only the book’s title would be used.

That said, I recently read The Spy Who Loved Me and it’s not that bad.  Vivienne Michel is a compelling character and it’s interesting to, for once, see James Bond through the eyes of a lover as opposed to the other way around.  If it is a failed experiment, it’s still an experiment that’s worth reading.

As for the cinematic James Bond, he conquered the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me so it only made sense that, in his next film, he would attempt to conquer space.  We’ll take a look at Moonraker tomorrow.