Red River (1948)

This story begins in 1851 when Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his buddy Groot (Walter Brennan) break away from a wagon caravan to go south to Texas to raise cattle.  The caravan they were with was attacked by Indians later on, and Dunson lost the woman he left behind and had promised to send for.  They come upon a young boy named Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift, in his first film).  Garth is adopted by Dunson, and they build a sizable cattle empire over the next 14 years.

During that time Garth had gone off and fought in the Civil War, and the need for cattle in Texas and The South, their primary market, dried up as carpetbaggers took over the area after the war.  He needs to make a large cattle drive up to Missouri, which is not friendly with southerners and there has been news of raiding parties destroying herds and killing the hired hands of others doing cattle drives.

John Wayne’s grit seems fitting for a character like Dunson.  He writes his own rules even at the expense of alienating everyone, especially those who have known him the longest.  I don’t claim to have watched many John Wayne movies, but this seems to be the type of character he seemed most at home with: cold, distant, tyrannical (but with good reason).  This is in significant contrast with Garth’s character, who is softer but more likable and can get the men to work with more loyalty.  This tension adds nice layers and depth to the story.

Tess Millary (with a lovely performance from Joanne Dru), adds another layer to the story as a woman who falls for Garth but acts as a sounding board for both sides.  She brings an interesting outsiders perspective, which culminates in the final fight.  I will probably watch She Wore a Yellow Ribbon soon, which matches Wayne and Dru again.

Garth’s growth shows throughout the film, especially after he takes over the convoy from Dunson.  He still shows his youth though, in negotiating a price for the cattle.  He does, though, develop a need to overcome his surrogate father and become a man.  It also worked out great that in the final fight, they use their fists instead of guns.

Is this the greatest western every? No, but it’s worthy of consideration in this list of movies.

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The Philadelphia Story (1940) and High Society (1953)

Today I’m going to do a double-movie review.  The Philadelphia Story starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart, and its musical remake High Society starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.

I generally am not a fan of remakes…at all.  I find they take away from the original and most of the time fall well short of the original.  However, this was a different time for Hollywood, and High Society was adapted and tweaked enough to make a workable, excellent musical.

This is a retrospective look at these movies.  While I enjoyed them both, I don’t see myself going back and watching each before reviewing.  I also enter this review with a bit of an unfair bias to High Society.  I watched this one first, and then went back and watched The Philadelphia Story.  For that reason, I tended to like the remake more than its predecessor.  There were many similarities between these two movies, even down to the script.  In one of the first scenes featuring Tracy Lord (Hepburn/Kelly), a socialite who is preparing for her second marriage and protecting her father’s playboy tendencies and Mike Conner (Stewart/Sinatra), the reporter from Spy magazine who is getting an exclusive on her wedding, Tracy’s words and actions were virtual mirrors of the other movie.

While the trio of Kelly, Crosby, and Sinatra is far inferior by comparison to the acting talent of Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart, they work very well given the fact that High Society is a musical.  Grant/Stewart work well in acting, but I wouldn’t want them to sing, and as Crosby/Sinatra fail in comparison as actors, the opposite is true if you ask those acting tandems to sing.

It’s also hard to go wrong with a musical that features Louis Armstrong.

Because of the similarities in script and progression, I started tuning out on The Philadelphia Story fairly early.  I believe I had also recently seen Bringing Up Baby, which was another Hepburn/Grant screwball comedy.  I found Hepburn’s performance  incredibly annoying in that one, which is unfortunate because I have nothing both the deepest appreciation and respect for her as an actress.  That probably hurt my opinion of her and the film.

It may just be me but Grace Kelly reminds me a lot of January Jones (specifically as Betty Draper in Mad Men).

It was interesting to note that this was Grace Kelly’s last movie before becoming the princess of Monaco, and her engagement ring in the film was her own.

In conclusion I found both of these movies enjoyable, and The Philadelphia Story is probably the far better of the two, but I personally give the edge to High Society.

My rating: Each movie gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Stalag 17 (1953)

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Stalag 17, a story about American POWs in World War 2.  The primary barracks the story centers around has a number of men who have attempted to escape, but every one seems to get caught, and the prisoners suspect a mole in the barracks.

I remember watching this movie in middle school, but in all honesty I remember very little of it.  It was a bit of a surprise to see how much shenanigans the prisoners got into.  It makes sense though to try to make the best of a bad situation.  One of the characters, clearly the comic relief of the movie, lived up to his role.  I found Animal an entertaining, fumbling buffoon of a character who provided more than his share of laughs.

The audience learns very early in the movie how the Germans find out the secrets of the barracks.  It seems simple and I found myself saying “Figure it out! Figure out what’s different in the barracks when they find out the information!”

William Holden won an Academy Award for his performance in this movie, and I must say that was very well deserved.  He takes on a calm, almost disinterested mercenary role just out to make the best of his circumstances, even if it means becoming friendly with the guards.  He is also the obvious mole suspect. As the primary suspect, though, he is not the actual mole.

This movie was told from the perspective of Cookie, William Holden’s character’s assistant.  He seems to be younger than everyone else, and interesting because he has special knowledge of

Stalag 17 is both entertaining and engaging.  I enjoy studying history, so a movie like this, though fictional, draws good parallels from what actually happened behind enemy lines.  While it’s probably not everyone’s favorite, it’s got drama, comedy, and suspense.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), a look back.

As I said in my previous post, I have watched 231 movies thus far in the Revised and Updated 501 Must-See Movies book.  Now that I have undertaken the task of reviewing each, there are quite a lot to go back and review.  I am currently watching Stalag 17, and while I’m watching, I will review All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

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A few excerpts from the book:

“Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, this devastating film was a milestone in anti-war movies, particularly as it is an American movie seen from the German side.  The penultimate scene, when the young soldier sees the beauty of a butterfly amidst the carnage, is justly celebrated…So realistic were these sequences that they have often been used in documentary films of the war.”

There were a number of things that impressed me with this movie.  The progression of story, level of acting, and effects given the time period all contributed to an excellent story with a unique perspective.  As the book so said, this was an American movie written from the German perspective.

The movie follows seven idealistic school boys who sign up for the army after an enthusiastic teacher gives an impassioned speech about how patriotic and dutiful it would be for them to join the war effort.  I found it interesting listening to virtually the same speech when Paul Braumer, one of the boys, returns back to the same classroom a couple of years later.  It’s very different given what had happened in the hour or so of the movie, a number of those original seven killed, and the Braumer gives a more realistic view of what takes place during war.

The idealism very quickly vanished from the original 7 soldiers the story follows.  One of the tougher scenes to watch was when Braumer got into a hand-to-hand fight with a French soldier, and the result haunting Braumer for the rest of the film.  As with the actual war, the movie starts with the Germans very successful but ultimately running out of resources, and men, the war effort seems futile.

I cannot imagine how war would change someone.  It makes me think how much more carefully countries ought to be before entering into war. I am sure this movie was effective in bringing this to the forefront of American society.  It is movies like this that bring something such as the hardships of war into discussion.

I would recommend this movie, but it’s one that I would probably not want to watch more than a couple of times.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Hello world, and All That Jazz.

Hello.

I’ll start with a short story.  About 2 years ago, I was introduced to a book: 501 Must-See Movies.  After briefly looking through the book, I realized I had already seen quite a few, perhaps 80 or 90.  There were quite a few that I had thought about watching but never got around to seeing.  I decided to start watching through the list, movie by movie.  There were some I had wanted to watch, others that I hadn’t considered, but gained interest after reading about them, and still others I have no interest in watching.

I have always been a fan of the cinema.  As time has gone by, though, I find that today’s movies more often than not rely too heavily on special effects and sad cliches and predictable stories.  In my final semester of college I took a Masterpieces of Film class, which really got me interested in watching older movies.  Whether we slugged through Gone With the Wind, or I re-lived some of my childhood watching E.T., I found the older classics far more entertaining and engaging.  Now don’t get me wrong,  I do like some of what Hollywood is putting out today, but the vast majority of it just isn’t good.

This blog will serve as a place to review movies as I watch them.  I had originally just Tweeted when I was watching a movie for the project and where it was on the list.  I had kicked the idea around of doing a blog for some time and have finally taken the plunge.  As of this posting I have watched 231 movies from “the list.”  While I would have no problem watching through these ones again, others I’d rather just leave as is.  I will do the best I can to go back and review all of those already watched.

There are some ground rules, or things about me that influence how I review.  I am a Christian, and as such there are some movies in this project (National Lampoon’s Animal House, 9 1/2 Weeks, etc.) that will simply not get reviewed.  There is a good chance that I will make observations as they relate to the life of a Christian.

I will do my best to keep politics out of my reviews.  The exception would be, of course, if politics is influential in the story being told.  For the record I tend to lean more conservatively, and that will probably show at times, but as I said I will try to keep this to a minimum.

The book I am using is the 501 Must-See Movies, Revised and Updated edition.  The original book was put out in 2005, and this one came out two years ago.  The list is broken up into 10 categories, with about 50 movies in each category.  They are Action/Adventure & Epic, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Musical, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller, War, and Western.  I am not a fan of horror movies, so there will be very few of those reviewed.  Otherwise I’m open to all the other categories.