Friday, April 17, 2015

A Distant Trumpet

I recently watched Raoul Walsh's A Distant Trumpet (1964). I wasn't expecting too much. It's rating on IMDB was 6.4 and the critics hadn't been kind to it. They liked the color, and some were impresses with the use of subtitles for the Apaches speaking their own language but overall it was seen as dull.

But I decided to watch it myself and I wasn't too impressed. The movie had the obligatory love story as Troy Donahue is tempted by his commander's wife, just as his fiance arrives at the fort.
Early in the movie we see some Apache atrocities as men are buried alive up to their neck to allow the ants to eat out their brains, and we later see some troopers who were burned to death. Lt. Hazard (Troy Donahue) says: "There are the bodies of Kroger and Florita. Piper, tell Captain Gray that we will pursue the Indians as long as we have food and water. All right, now take a good look at them. It's going to make killing Apaches a lot easier They were buried alive. Those ants are eating their brains out!"
Lt. Hazard has an Apache scout, White Cloud, who was once a great chief. But White Cloud was conquered by the whites and then became friends with them. General Quaint, the man who conquered and then became friends with White Cloud, sends Lt. Hazard and White Cloud, to negotiate with War Eagle, the last Apache hold out. The movie does have War Eagle speaking in Apache, and there are English subtitles.

War Eagle : For many days my eyes watched you. You followed you like the wolf across many mesas, down the canyons. Why?
Lt. Hazard : I search for War Eagle. 
War Eagle : I am War Eagle
Lt. Hazard : I come from General Quaint. 
War Eagle : I know Quaint
Lt. Hazard : And he knows you. War Eagle : I do not believe you know him
(Hazard hands War eagle a jeweled lizard that Quaint has given him)
War Eagle : The lizard. What does Quaint want?
Lt. Hazard : Your surrender
War Eagle : You say this to me? Do you know I can kill the two of you! I lift my hand and you are dead!
Lt. Hazard : If i do not return General Quaint will find you and you will be dead and all of your people. But if you surrender to General Quaint you will live a long time. 
War Eagle : The hang me? 
Lt. Hazard : No. you will take your people to the border where General Quaint awaits you. You will not be punished. By his word you will live on your own land. On your own reservation in Arizona. And I promise that I will protect you and give you food and clothing. You will live in peace. And you will remain their chief.
War Eagle : How do I know this?
Lt. Hazard: Because you must trust me. 
War Eagle : Why?
Lt. Hazard : Because I'm here. Because I trusted you. 
War Eagle : (Asking White Cloud) You are a brother of the Chiricahua. You trust the Blue Coats?
White Cloud nods yes
War Eagle : You are a snake who crawls on his belly. You think you are one of them. But they will spit on you when they no longer need you. You do not believe me! You are a fool! 
Lt. Hazard : No. He is not a fool. You are. A man is not a man who lets his people die when it is hopeless. These are your children. Will you let them die because of the anger in your heart. Be like a father who loves his sons. Tell them to live. War Eagle : I am a father and I love my sons. Tell me again what I must do. 
Lt. Hazard : You must trust my promises and surrender. 
War Eagle : I hear you speak. I do not hear it in my heart. 
Lt. Hazard : We will camp down the mountain. 
War Eagle : No! He will stay with me! Then he will see who is the fool and who speaks the truth.
Lt. Hazard : By the time the sun comes up I want your answer

The next day War Eagle said : I surrender. Not because I am afraid but because I am tired of war. Always I wanted peace. But your men in Washington, no, they sent soldiers. They killed out women and children. They destroyed our men with bullets and whiskey. They took our land, our freedom. They drove us like animals. 
Lt. Hazard : Those days are over
War Eagle : My heart has found faith in your words. I dream of my Arizona Valley. The trees with nuts, the bushes with berries, the antelope standing where water runs.
Lt. Hazard : That's right War Eagle. You're valley. Let's take your people home.

At the end of the movie we have War Eagle and White Feather riding together in to the fort.
What makes the movie interesting to me is whether Raoul Walsh was commenting on the 1964 Civil Rights situation in America. At this time we had two different approaches that were advocated. Malcolm X led a group that wanted the separation of blacks and whites, and rejected any discussion of integration. Malcolm X wanted to continue to fight, and use any means necessary, to achieve their goals. Martin Luther King, on the other hand was in favor of peaceful integration.
Was Walsh commenting that he felt that the best path for black Americans was to go the way of Martin Luther King, and peacefully integrate? When War Eagle first talks to White Cloud he sounds like Malcolm X. "You are a snake who crawls on his belly. You think you are one of them. But they will spit on you when they no longer need you. You do not believe me! You are a fool!" Lt. Hazard tells him "No. He is not a fool. You are. A man is not a man who lets his people die when it is hopeless. These are your children. Will you let them die because of the anger in your heart. Be like a father who loves his sons. Tell them to live." War Eagle says "I am a father and I love my sons. Tell me again what I must do."
The heroic character in the movie, Lt. Hazard, tells War Eagle that he must think of his people and give up the anger in his heart. He tells him that to fight is hopeless. It was at this time that Martin Luther King was saying "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools" and "I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear." It seems that the movie, and Walsh, agreed with the viewpoint of Martin Luther King and used the movie to express that point.
A subpar movies becomes much more interesting if we look at it as Raoul Walsh's commentary on the contemporary Civil Rights movement in the U.S.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Greatest Show on Earth?

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) is on many Worst Best Picture Oscar lists. I decided to watch it again to see what I thought.

I was stunned at how good some of the circus acts were. The real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus' 1951 troupe appears in the film, with over 1000 of its workers, and with its animals and equipment. I don't think we will ever see anything put together like this again to show what the circus was like back then. It would just be too expensive.

Some of the animal acts, the trapeze acts and the clowns were just tremendous. really, really entertaining. It was great to see the best clown of all time, Emmett Kelly and the flying trapeze scenes were done by some of the best trapeze artists ever. if you look at the film credits you will see all the famous acts who appeared as themselves. You will also see many the famous people who were spectators in the film, including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who came to watch their friend Dorothy Lamour.

I think the circus scenes were great, and I don't think we will ever see anything like it again on the screen (without using CGI)), but ultimately the plot let down the movie.

There were a few plot lines going on. The main was the romance between Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston. There was also the subplot of James Stewart, as Buttons the Clown, always in makeup and hiding from something in his past. Then there was Lawrence Tierney, playing a gangster and trying to muscle in on the show.

None of the plots were good and they let the rest of the movie down. The worst scene was after the train crash, and people were dying all around, and Charlton Heston was trying to rally people to put the show on. Betty Hutton soon joined in as the :Show "must go on" became the rallying cry, even though people were dying all around then and lions and tigers were wandering around loose. A really terrible scene that a good director would have handled much better.

But, the movie is still worth seeing for the great circus scenes, but It definitely was not a good Best Picture Oscar winner.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Carole Lombard in Warsaw

Carole Lombard died much too young. She died in a plane crash in 1942, while returning from a war bonds tour. She was only 33 years old.

She was great in Twentieth Century (1934) and in My Man Godfrey (1936), but two of my favorite movie with her were both set in Warsaw.

Nothing Sacred (1937) is a comedy  about a young girl from Warsaw, Vermont who pretends to be dying from radiation poisoning so she can see the big city. To Be or Not to Be (1942) is set in Warsaw, Poland and is a comedy about Nazism and the war. It was Carole's last film, and she died before she ever got to see it.

These were not your typical Hollywood movies. A comedy about a girl pretending to be dying, and a comedy about the Nazis, while World War 2 was still going on, were risky, to say the least. But they both became classics because of Carole.

Monday, February 16, 2015


I really liked American Sniper. It was really controversial, with some people seeing Chris Kyle as a villain while others see him as an American hero. I thought the scenes where the camera looked through the rifle's scope and had the viewer deciding whether Chris should take the shot were tremendous. Bradley Cooper was really good.

And how about Clint? He has probably made himself in to the best actor / director combination in history. As an actor he was in the iconic Dollars Trilogy. He was Dirty Harry and starred in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, The Outlaw Josey Wales and  Gran Torino. Iconic roles for a really good actor.

But then Clint also directed thirty seven movies including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Gran Torino and American Sniper.

Who else has had such a distinguished acting and directing career? Case can be made for Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen and Orson Welles, but Clint is right up there with the best.

John Cazale

John Cazale was only in five movies. All five were nominated for Best Picture (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part Two (1974), The Conversation (1974),  Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and The Deer Hunter (1978)

Three of the movies (both Godfathers and The Deer Hunter) won Best Picture Oscars.

John Cazale died on March 12, 1978.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thomas Mitchell

In 1939 Thomas Mitchell had a pretty good year. He won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for playing Doc Boone in Stagecoach. He also appeared in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gone with the Wind, Only Angels Have Wings and Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Not a bad year.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Alejandro Inarritu is looking pretty good to get the Best Director Oscar for Birdman, which has a pretty good chance of getting the Best Picture Oscar. Innarritu is not a newcomer to the scene, having made five movies since 2000. He is 52 years old and has made some really good movies.

Amores Perros (2000)
Imdb Rating : 8.1
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21 Grams (2003)
Imdb Rating : 7.7
Babel (2006)
Imdb Rating : 7.5
Biutiful (2010)
Imdb Rating : 7.5
Birdman (2014)
Imdb Rating : 8.1

Secret of the Incas (1954)

I had heard about this movie and when it recently popped up on YouTube, I thought I would give it a try.

Charlton Heston plays Harry Steele, an American living in Cuzco, Peru who has been searching for a fabled Incan treasure at Machu Picchu.

Also after the treasure is Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell), who will do anything he can to get his hands on the lost Incan starburst.

Robert Young plays an archeologist who is working with museums and with the Peruvian government.

The movie has been acknowledged as a major influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plots of the two movies is very similar as our hero battles the bad guys as he tries to solve the clues left about a fabulous treasure. The map room sequence where a ray of light enter a room, and then is reflected to show the location of the treasure.

Raiders' costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis noted that the inspiration for Indiana's costume was Charlton Heston's Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas: "We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series" and quipped that the film is "almost a shot for shot Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Not a great movie, but really interesting when you see the influence it had on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Killer of Sheep (1977)

I watched another of Roger's Great Movie picks, Killer of Sheep from 1977. I had seen it before and really enjoyed it , and I liked it even better this time. Roger says in his review : What he captures above all in Killer of Sheep is the deadening ennui of hot, empty summer days, the dusty passage of time when windows and screen doors stood open, and the way the breathless day crawls past. And he pays attention to the heroic efforts of this man and wife to make a good home for their children. Poverty in the ghetto is not the guns and drugs we see on TV. It is more often like life in this movie: Good, honest, hard-working people trying to get by, keep up their hopes, love their children and get a little sleep."
There are so many things I like about this movie. In the way the days just unfold it reminds me of the day in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. But it is even more realistic than that. It almost looks like someone's home movies. The film is grainy and the scenes are true. The movie is well worth watching just for the music alone.
Killer of Sheep is to 1977 Watts what Rome : Open City or Germany Year Zero were to Rome or Berlin in the 1940's. It is a neorealistic look at a society with all the glamour stripped away. But unlike those societies, which were the result of the World War, the society portrayed in Killer of Sheep, is the result of the complex historical and societal events that led up to it.
There probably isn't much of a market for great movies like this. The people who are going through this kind of life want to escape from it, not be reminded of it, and others don't want to admit that it exists. However, the critically acclaimed movies of Ramin Bahrani, (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo and Man Push Cart) do have the style and feel of Killer of Sheep.
A fascinating movie, really well done movie. Another great pick from Roger.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leolo (1992)

I watched another of Roger's Great Movies. This was from French-Canadian writer/director Jean-Claude Lauzon and was about a boy Leo Lauzon who preferred to be called Leolo. He lives in a disturbed fantasy world that is shared with the viewers. He thinks his mother was impregnated by an Italian tomato, which makes him Italian too.
The normal things that occur in Leolo's life are not examined, but every bizarre thought that crosses his mind is thoroughly dissected.
The movie is very well done and has an excellent film score. The music is as bizarre as the scenes it complements.
This is not a movie for all tastes. It pushes the envelope way too far for me. Bestiality, insanity, drugs, voyeurism, suicide; you name it, it's in here. Another coming of age movie, Breaking Away, where the main character also has a love for all things Italian, is more my style.
I know that this movie was really well done, and beautifully composed by a very talented writer, but it just made me feel too uncomfortable. But, for those who are a lot more twisted, and enjoy bathroom style humor, Leolo could become one of their "Great Movies."