Growing up one of my favorite shows was Hogan’s Heroes. I watched it religiously and one of the side effects was doing a lot of reading about the real POW camps as well as the history of world war II (got one of my few perfect grades on a paper about the SS in high school that way.) Regretably the show doesn’t hold up as well as I’d liked (though I still enjoy Werner Klempner’s performance) Though it led me to watch one of the films that it was slightly based on Stalag 17, still one of my favorite Billy Wilder/William Holden films. So I decided to dedicate this week’s selselection to several of the other world war II escape films.
It’s almost embarrassing when all you know about a movie comes from watching one of the parodies first. Regrettably this was very much the case with The Great Escape. Make no mistake Chicken Run is a wonderful movie, but you really shouldn’t judge the film that inspired it on it’s merits. After that all I knew about it was there was a scene where Steve McQueen passes the time in solitary confinement bouncing a baseball against the wall.
The Great Escape was amazing. While Steve McQueen is listed as the star it is really an ensemble film with Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and the rest have equal time telling the story of the adaptation of the true story about how 76 prisoners escape from a German POW camp (at least temporarily)
What makes this film so good is meticulous pacing and attention to detail. While I had never read about this particular escape what I had read about POWs in general made many of the details very familiar. Everything from the logistics of digging a 100 foot tunnel from getting the proper foundations, the air pump they built to make the tunnel breathable and most importantly how to hide all of the dirt. (Especially when it’s a different kind of dirt than the dirt you’re trying to mix it with.)
And of course we finish it all with Steve McQueen driving a motorcycle.
The next film on my list was much more light hearted and comical. It The Secret War of Harry Frigg, Paul Newman plays the title character a private in the US Army who has escaped from the stockade numerous times. Because of this when five Generals get captured he is regarded as the perfect choice to rescue them.
The generals have been placed in a prison that was originally a five star Italian hotel with every luxury. On top of that since they’re all the same rank, they’ve been planning their escape through committee and getting nowhere. In order to break this deadlock, Frigg gets promoted to major general in order to be able to give the generals orders. However when he gets there he is quickly seeduced by the luxury of the prison (as well as the former owner of the Hotel, a beautiful contessa.)
This was a mostly fun film. Though as far as quality it’s rather unfair to put it back to back with The Great Escape. I enjoyed Paul Newman playing a puckish trickster character that contrasted nicely with Tom Bosley’s deadpan performance as one of the generals.
For this week’s selection I thought I’d do something different with movies that inspired popular sitcoms. This was harder than it sounds because I’d seen most of the obvious ones like MASH and Private Benjemin, and I didn’t really have any desire to see any of the lesser known ones like Gung Ho. I briefly considered watching but figured that was just as based on the Neil Simon Play as it was the film.
The first film on my list, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, (which for some reason I constantly remember as Alice Doesn’t Work Here) was my main reason for this weeks theme. While I don’t think I was ever a fan of the show it inspired growing up. But Alice was one of those show that was a ubiquitous presence when you were channel surfing in the afternoon, so I knew about it, knew of the movie it was based on and, most importantly, knew it was a Martin Scorsese film.
Ellen Burstyn plays Alice Hyatt a thirty five year old housewife trapped in a loveless marriage. She’s suddenly freed from this when her husband dies in a driving accident. In need of work to support herself and her ten year old son she follows her dream to become a singer and to return to her hometown of Monterey, California. Regretably this doesn’t work out and she ends up as a waitress at a greasy spoon in Tuscon Arizona where she finds new friends and love in a hunky rancher played by Kris Kristofferson.
This was an interesting film that took it’s time going through Alice’s life. The humor was quiet and low key and sweet I liked the little things about it like Alice finally making friends with her coworker the abrasive Flo.
Despite liking the tile character, I wasn’t that big a fan of the show Mr. Belvedere. It was one of those eighties family comedies that was nothing but an endless string of “very special episodes”. But since I didn’t even know it was based on a movie before I did my research for this week and I just had to sate my curiosity.
In Sitting Pretty (I can’t believe I missed the pun until I watched the movie) Maureen O’Hara and Robert Young play Tracey and Harry King, two parents in desperate need of a full time baby sitter for their three sons and Great Dane. After several false starts (most of the local babysitters have heard about them) they finally get an answer for their add from a Lynn Belvedere. Thinking this is a woman, they hire sight unseen. When they meet Mr. Belvedere, played wonderfully by by Clifton Webb, it’s too late to back out. Fortunately Mr Belvedeere is incredibly competent in everything he does (and never lets you forget it) so soon the kids and dog are under under control. However, Nosey Neighbors, and misunderstandings make the whacky hijinks flow.
This was a really fun little farce. With lots of wonderful comic performances that I will recomend to everyone.
I Can’t believe I had to be reminded of this but a very happy birthday to Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln! While the two never met I still like to pretend that they would have enjoyed each other’s company over drinks as this picture implies.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sn1w1yJKKEFor this week’s selection I went with an old favorite, seventies car chase films. I used to love these things, Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, even (especially) the Blues Brothers. These days I find them mildly gratuitous , and one of the reasons I make a distinction between porn and erotica (i.e.. Anything where the plot is just a thin excuse to link cathartic moments together)
The first film on my list, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, starts with a stickup which consists of our “heroes” race car driver Larry (Peter Fonda) and his mechanic Deke (Adam Roarke), holding a supermarket manager’s wife and daughter and phoning the manager and extorting the stores funds. The plan is to use their take (150,000 dollars) to fund a NASCAR career, but it’s hard to sympathize with them as they’ve already revealed themselves as brutal criminals.
From there they make their getaway in their souped up Chevy Impala. Their’s one catch,. Larry’s one night stand Mary (Susan George) took being dumped rather personally and stows away with them. From here it’s all a race to safety as they are doggedly pursued by an eccentric captain in the Sheirff’s department (Vic Morrow).
I’n not sure what I thought of this film. As I said before, it’s hard to identify with our protagonists. (Along with their brutality none of them are very bright) But there’s pretty good stunt work which is surprisingly realistic for the genre. (The Impalla, and the Dodge Charger they replace it with get beat up as much as the police vehicles and the need to stop for repairs are important plot points)
The next film on the list, Vanishing Point opens with car delivery driver, Kowalski (Barry Newman) about to drive his car into a road block. We almost immediately flash back two days with him leaving Denver to deliver a Dodge Challenger to San Francisco (having just finished his last delivery) on the way he makes a bet with the drug dealer he gets his uppers from, he will finish his run in fifteen hours.
On the way he runs two motorcycle cops off the road as they are trying to stop him for speeding and from there the movie turns into an hour long car chase. As this goes on he gains the attention of a black DJ named Super Soul (Cleavon Little) who turns him into a modern folk hero. And while this goes on he meets a variety of eccentrics including a prospectror hunting rattlesnakes for a revival meeting, two effeminate holdup met and a nude biker.
This was an interesting film that didn’t hold with any formula. I’ve liked Cleavon Little since seeing him in Blazing Saddles and always thought it was a shame that he didn’t have more starring roles, and he’s great here. Barry does a great job of portraying Kowalski as a haunted soul with a dark past addicted to the adrenaline rush of driving because it’s all he has left.
For this week’s entry I decided to get my Science Fiction fix on with Alien Invaders, specifically what TVTropes likes to call “Aliens in Cardiff” which is to say stories where the aliens invasion occurs in places where the world might not notice. This can be a very effective strategy though it’s gennerally done so the writer and director can do their story in an area they are familiar with.
In our first film Attack The Block. Our alien crash in a housing project in South London only to run into a street gang who were in the process of mugging a nursing student. They hunt down and kill it with relative ease. Unfortunately taking it home as a trophy leads the rest of the aliens back to their block. Now “heroes” have to defend against the siege.
This was a fun action piece which does a wonderful job mixing comedy, horror and action. It also sneaks in a surprising amount of social commentary. Our protagonists led by Moses (played by John Boyega of Star Wars fame) they are shown as nothing more as brutal irredeemable thugs but as the movie progresses we are allowed to learn more about them until we’re rooting for them.
And the aliens are great. Ferocious things with fur so black they almost look two dimensional with the only details of them you can see is their huge sharp glowing teeth.
Lots of fun.
Our story tells the story of a young woman whose finance is abducted by aliens the night before her wedding. The aliens replace him with one of their own. Over the next year it’s discovered that many of the men in town have also been replaced. Sooner or later she begins to notice somethings strange about her new husband but by then the aliens have replaced half the men in town for the sinister purpose of breeding with human women.
This film was hokey as hell and the subject was unbelievable even by the standards of fifties sci-fi. There was some potential for paranoia but that was blown by the monsters and what the monsters were doing from the very beginning so even when they do things like replace the police force any feeling of dread is missing.Also in a way the aliens are strangely sympathetic since they are trying to preserve their species… also most of the men the were replacing were jerks anyway.
For this week’s selection I returned to one of my favorite genres, Swashbucklers, specifically pirates.
I’m embarrassed to admit that all I knew about Henry Morgan was the brand of Rum though I did know about the mass pardon he provided to all pirates in the Caribbean provided they quit.
Black Swan begins at that point with one of Morgan’s former allies Captain James Warring played by Tyrone Power who is sent to hunt down one of the pirates who refused to surrender, Captain of the titular Black Swan, Billy Leech (played by a nearly unrecognizable George Sanders) While doing this he also woo’s the beautiful Lady Margaret Denby (played by Maureen O’Hara.)
This was mostly a fun film with a great cast. My only real problem with it is it dates badly. Perhaps it’s my own fault being too PC, but the change in cultural values is glaring. The most obvious being that in this case, “Romance” seems to mean “stalking and harassing the love interest until she gives in.”
The next film on the list, The Princess & the Pirate, Is a Bob Hope comedy with Hope as a cowardly actor who is thrown together with a beautiful princess played by Virginia Mayo when the ship they are traveling in is attacked by the dreaded pirate, The Hook. They escape with the help of one of the pirate’s crewmen who gives them a treasure map and hilarity ensues.
For the most part the plot’s just a vehicle for Hope to chew up screen time. When he’s not spewing hilariously anachronistic jokes, he’s doing some great physical bits like hiding under furniture that the villain happens to be sitting on and a great mirror bit with the Hook, and finishing with a great in-joke cameo!