Movie #105: 12 Angry Men (1957)

Director: Sydney Lumet

Starring: Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Ed Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber

Academy Award Nominations (1958):

Best Director: Sidney Lumet

Best Picture: Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Reginald Rose

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“It’s these kids – the way they are nowadays. When I was a kid I used to call my father, “Sir”. That’s right. “Sir”. You ever hear a kid call his father that anymore?”

A 18 year old kid is on trial for the murder of his dad.  The case seems pretty straightforward and a guilty verdict seems inevitable.  A first vote produces an 11-1 count in favor of guilty.  Juror 8 (Fonda) is the lone dissenting vote.  As the jurors discuss and dissect the evidence, it becomes apparent that many elements of the prosecution’s case are unreliable and create a reasonable doubt for a number of the jurors.  Though some of the jurors are vocal in their insistence that the defendant is guilty, the most passionate of the group is Juror 3 (Cobb), the film’s antagonist.  He has had a falling out with his own son, who just so happens to be about the same age as the defendant.

Only three of the 96 minutes in 12 Angry Men takes place outside of the jury deliberation room.  By keeping the film here, the story remains focused and deliberate in demonstrating this part of the legal process.  Though some of the elements would not take place in real life, I thought Sydney Lumet did a great job in communicating and portraying the great weight the jurors carry in a murder case.

A wide variety of perspectives and prejudices are represented in the 12 jurors.  It was interesting to see how the various backgrounds, job fields, and life experience played into each juror’s temperament and the various tipping points for each juror to change their vote.  A variety like this helps each juror have some meaningful screen time.

"You lousy bunch of bleedin' 'earts... You're not goin' to intimidate me - I'm entitled to my opinion!"

“You lousy bunch of bleedin’ ‘earts… You’re not goin’ to intimidate me – I’m entitled to my opinion!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I'll kill him! I'll - kill him!" "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"

“I’ll kill him! I’ll – kill him!”
“You don’t really mean you’ll kill me, do you?”

Fonda and Cobb do well as adversaries.  Though the evidence and merits of the case are discussed by all of the jurors, these two are the leaders of the respective ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ camps.  I thought Fonda really shined as Juror 8, and his relatively calm and collective demeanor throughout helped him contrast with the fiery Jurors such as 3 and 10 (Begley).  It was also interesting that we only learn the names of two of the jurors, and that only happened at the very end of the film.  By keeping it that impersonal, it helps the audience connect with the character traits each juror can represent.

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Though the presentation is very simple, 12 Angry Men does a great job in expressing the significance of jury deliberation in a high-profile case.  Sydney Lumet’s film adaptation of Reginald Rose’s book comes to life with memorable, passionate performances and makes this essentially one-set movie engaging from start to finish.  I enjoyed watching this one again,

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Valentine’s 2014. Movie #91: An Affair to Remember (1957)

Director: Leo McCarey

Starring: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Charles Watts, Fortunio Bonanova, and George Winslow

Academy Award Nominations (1958):

Best Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner

Best Costume Design: Charles Le Maire

Best Music, Original Song: Harry Warren (music), Harold Adamson (lyrics), Leo McCarey (lyrics) for the song ‘An Affair to Remember’

Best Music, Scoring: Hugo Friedhofer

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“If you can paint, I can walk; anything can happen, don’t you think?”

Plot Synopsis: Charming handsome Nicky Ferrante (Grant) and glamorous nightclub singer Terry McKay (Kerr) are on the same cruise from Europe to New York where they will both be meeting up with their fiances.  However, it’s love at first sight for Nicky and Terry.  They spend every wonderful moment together and, when they stop off in the south of France, Terry even visit’s Nicky’s grandmother Janou (Nesbitt) with him.  Before they reach their destination, they decide to test their love.  They will meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months time and, if they are still in love, they will get married.  However, fate stops Terry getting there on time.

This was Leo McCarey’s second go around with this story, as he had originally made it as Love Story in 1939.  I haven’t seen that version, but from what I’ve read it’s fairly similar.  An Affair to Remember has been remade a number of times, and there are elements of the story that have been replicated in other films.  Love Affair (1994) is a retelling of the story with Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, and Kathatine Hepburn.  Mann (1999) is also a Bollywood remake.  The Muppets spoofed this film in the Muppets Take Manhattan (1984).

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What is it about this film that makes it so appealing?  Though the story itself by today’s standards is pretty typical of a romance film, An Affair to Remember is original and unique in the time it was originally released.  Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr set a golden standard for these two types of characters.  Each of their acting abilities are undeniable: Grant had that strong swagger and had complemented the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and many others throughout his career, and Kerr had already been nominated for 3 of her 6 Leading Actress Oscars by this point.  Of all the films I’ve seen Cary Grant in, I think this one is his best performance.  Though he’s certainly a great actor, most of what I’ve seen him in has been screwball comedies, which for whatever reason I just haven’t been able to get into or enjoy.

There is a good balance of story and settings in this film.  There’s just the right amount on the boat, visiting Nicky’s grandmother, and then in New York.  There is also a certain amount of realism in this film after each character parts ways with their original fiance.  Nicky wants to be a painter, and ends up having to do commercial billboard paintings to pay the bills.  Likewise, Terry returns to singing in a nightclub in Boston after breaking up with her rich fiance.  The romantic appeal of meeting at the top of the Empire State Building, and how Terry wasn’t paying attention and got into her accident, makes sense in a way.

An-Affair-to-Remember-1  Some of the most powerful parts of this film, in my opinion, took place at Nicky’s grandmother’s house.  The romantic connection, though perceived to this point, is really brought to light, and in a way I’m a bit surprised that Cathleen Nesbitt wasn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  I like the characters who act as a voice of reason and a respected outside observer adding that layer of perception and discernment.

The final scene when Nicky realizes why Terry didn’t make it to the Empire State Building, is very touching and well done.  It’s not too drawn out, and though the audience knows everything, and can probably see where the story will go, Grant and Kerr complement each other nicely.

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An Affair to Remember does a great job of making a somewhat predictable story seem interesting.  Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr complement each other well, and keep the story interesting without making it too sappy.  I’d probably watch this every once in a while, and I’d definitely recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

And just as another layer of influence this film has had, compare An Affair to Remember‘s poster with Sleepless in Seattle:

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Movie #58: The Desert Fox (1951)

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Director: Henry Hathaway

Starring: James Mason

Cedric Hardwicke

Jessica Tandy

Luther Adler

Desmond Young

Told through the eyes and following the research of British Lt. Col. Desmond Young, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel follows the last couple of years of Rommel’s life as he struggles with loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi war effort.  His eventual downfall starts when he disobeys Hitler’s order to stand firm in the face of overwhelming and unrealistic expectations at El Alamein.  He orders his men to fall back, defying his orders because he doesn’t want his Afrika Korps destroyed.

He is approached by a family friend to take part in an assassination attempt, and though he rebuffs his friend at first, eventually he agrees to take part.  This is after he is once again at odds with Hitler prior to D-Day.  After the assassination attempt fails, Rommel is charged with treason and must make a decision to admit guilt and receive an honorable death, or risk his wife and son’s safety by taking his case to public court.

This  movie is pretty straightforward.  It follows a biography written by Desmond Young, a British POW who briefly met Rommel early on in World War 2 and who later went back and learned how Rommel’s war went.  Each scene seems to be done with purpose, and it doesn’t waste time with comic relief and things of that sort.  It sticks with the story, portrays a strong relationship between Rommel and his wife and son.

The acting overall was good.  I especially liked James Mason in the lead role.  I always find it ironic when German characters are played by British actors and there’s no attempt whatsoever to speak with a German accent, let alone use the language at all.  Mason would reprise his role two years later in The Desert Rats, and in it he has a more distinct German accent and is much less likable.  One of the criticisms of this film is that it tries to put a positive spin on a dark part of human history.

Though the film is shot more like a documentary and less romanticized and sentimental, it still feels like it’s going easy on men who performed despicable acts.  I think there was a good balance of the struggle Rommel dealt with and the strength he had to stand and express his thoughts, use his brain, and not just blindly follow Hitler as he got crazier towards the end of the war. The Desert Fox finds a balance of a man with a crisis of conscience who is fighting on the wrong side.

For something somewhat comparable, I’d think of how Robert E. Lee led the armies of the Confederacy in the Civil War.  He wasn’t too particularly crazy about what the Confederacy stood for, but he also could not turn his back on his native Virginia.

The Desert Fox strikes a balance of a decent man caught on the wrong side of history.  I think a film like this really humanizes and tells a story that needs to be told.  Winston Churchill spoke of Rommel in the House of Commons in 1942.  Though they were on opposing sides, Churchill recognized and respected Rommel as a military strategist.  His crisis of conscience and willingness to stand up to Hitler, and ultimately die to save his family, gives a small bright spot to an otherwise dark time in our history.  I’d probably show this film, or parts of it, if I was teaching someone about World War 2 and more specifically Rommel.  Otherwise, I probably won’t watch this film, but I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to see it twice.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Attack! (1956)

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Attack!

During the Battle of the Bulge, an incompetent Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), has daddy issues and feels he needs to prove himself, even if it goes again conventional, and better, judgement.  His buddy, Lt. Colonol Bartlett (Lee Marvin), manipulates Cooney for his own gain.  Caught in the middle is Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance), his second in command Sfc. Tolliver (Buddy Ebsen), and their battalion, with Pfc. Bernstein (Robert Strauss).

Holy cow there’s a lot of name recognition in this film.  Most of these men made a bigger name for themselves in the years following Attack!’s release, but here we have a film where each character plays their part and they all mesh and work well together.

Shot in the 1950s, this film did not receive the cooperation of the US Defense Department, in large part because of its portrayal of certain officers in World War II.  Even though it’s an ugly side of the war: soldiers being used as pawns by incompetent commanders, it’s still a side of war that exists.  It certainly is not something that should be overlooked.

I was disappointed that Lee Marvin was an all-talk character, not going to the front lines, but he was a manipulator, and higher up, so it makes sense.

The real star of this film without any doubt is Jack Palance.  Though he would have to wait another 35 years to receive his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in City Slickers, Palance shows his versatility and strong stage presence in Attack! 

robertstrauss Robert Strauss, a familiar face from Stalag 17.

epsen  Oh hey it’s Buddy Ebsen, aka Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies.

This film was enjoyable, but one of the unfortunate pitfalls about this project is that a lot of films set in the same time period all tend to mesh together and seem the same.  Each one has its own merits, and I know the reviews stay pretty spread out, but they seem to deal with very similar conflicts, and in the case of this film, I’ve seen a number of the actors in other films like this.  Perhaps I’m just impatient or getting bored seeing such similar stories.

Attack! benefits from a cast that is familiar and talented with this type of film.  However, having this type of ensemble cast can make it seems very similar to many other films in the genre.  I’m glad I watched it, but probably won’t watch it again.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

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I went into this movie with very little expectations: I don’t know any of the cast, this was the last film the director directed, and by comparison to a lot of the other movies in the 501 Must-See Movies book it’s much less well-known.  A con man and serial killer posing as a priest is cellmates with a man who was part of a robbery that ended with two murders.  Ben Harper, the cellmate, has not revealed where the money he stole ended up, and Reverend Powell (Robert Mitchum) wants to take the money for himself.

Using his ‘priestly’ ways, Powell ends up marrying Ben’s widow Willa (Shirley Winters), and then pursues the money through the children.  Willa is eventually killed, and in a scene that was shot very well, she ends up tied to the front seat of her car which is at the bottom of a lake.  Her hair casually waves in the water as the surrounding seaweed also waves.  Powell then has no one in his way at home, and while he keeps his facade up for the townsfolk, he becomes increasingly disturbing to the children as his true nature comes forth.

The children eventually escape and are taken in by Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), a woman who takes in orphans and has a genuine fear of God and strength of spirit.  Powell catches up with the kids, and is eventually brought to justice

This movie was based on a real-life incident in the 1930s where a man was hanged for the murders of two widows and three children.

The Night of the Hunter was a box-office and critical bomb in its time.  The significance of this film, though, lies in its use of things that are much more commonplace in horror films since its release.  Powell calls down to the children while they are hiding in the basement.  Who hasn’t seen that elsewhere?  Powell also has the words Love and Hate tattooed across his knuckles.

One scene that was handled well was when Rachel was keeping watch, exchanging hymns with Powell as he waited outside, ready to take his money and kill anyone in his way.  One of the other kids she takes care of turns on a light that lights Powell’s shadow through the curtains only for a couple of seconds, and then he’s gone when the light goes out.  I found myself waiting for the obligatory frightening jump into the screen taking everyone by surprise.  This was before that kind of thing was more commonplace, and I found the suspense of that scene to be engaging.

Robert Mitchum plays his part very well.  He’s the guy who you know is a phony, but at the same time can understand how the people can take him at his word and fall for his tricks.  He’s incredibly creepy, especially in how he handles his stepchildren.

This movie had its merits, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t all that engaged by the film.  While the plot and characters seemed pretty straightforward, the simplicity in The Night of the Hunter doesn’t work by comparison to say Rain Man (I only draw this comparison because I just watched Rain Man).  The Night of the Hunter has its place in cinematic history and laid many foundations for future horror and suspense films, but for me it just wasn’t something I’d watch again.

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Paths of Glory (1957)

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I hope you all have had a blessed holiday season, and with another month coming to a close, now comes the inevitable last-ditch effort to watch and review movies about to leave my Netflix.  This is the first of seven that will go away.  We shall see how many I get through.

Paths of Glory was the first collaboration between Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick.  It is based on an incident that took place during World War I and was covered up by the French government for a long time.  A company of soldiers is ordered to take what a couple of generals believes is a key spot in WWI.  It is very clear from the onset that this is essentially a suicide mission, and after the first wave of attackers is unsuccessful, at the cost of many lives, the others do not move forward and the battle is lost almost before it began.

One of the generals, General Mireau (George Macready), orders the artillery to fire on the soldiers who won’t leave the trenches.  Colonel Dax (Douglas) defies the order and has his men retreat.  Hoping to make an example of the perceived cowardliness, Mireau orders 3 men be put on trial and eventually executed.

Something that bothered me was the way in which the army treats those seen as cowardly.  In the end three random soldiers are executed because of the failure of the attack.  These men are more pawns in the higher-ups grand scheme to inspire or instill fear in the rest of the men.  It sickens me to think that someone an put their life on the line in battle and be thrown under the bus so easily.  One of the executed was one of the few living soldiers from his group after the battle.  Another, who is selected by lot, had 2 commendations for bravery, but as one of the judges said, they didn’t matter because the soldier was being tried for his performance in that one battle.

This is a movie that was the first of many that Stanley Kubrick is known for, the next of course being Spartacus. “The bitterly ironic and moving film established Stanley Kubrick as an important figure in American cinema.”  The film, though, was met with controversy, first because of the cover-up from the French, but was also helped because it was released after the Korean War and Joseph McCarthy’s fall from grace.

This is shot entirely in black-and-white.  I find that a fitting format for war films.  It almost gives a raw, unfiltered serious tone to the film. The content cannot be taken lightly.

“A particularly poignant scene is towards the end when a young German woman (played by Kubrick’s wife Susanne Christian) stills a crowd of rowdy French veterans with a song in a cafe.  It is perhaps significant that this outspoken movie never won a major award.”

I always love and appreciate when a director can convey the great emotion and ethical dilemma in a way that tells the story while communicating the weight these issues have on characters.  Another thing that I found interesting was the fact that Colonel Dax leads his troops in the battle.  A high-ranking officer in the clear line of danger, especially in the trench warfare, was something that impressed me.

I probably won’t watch this film again, but as with so many others I am glad I’ve seen it once.  It’s also interesting to watch this as a predecessor, at least withing Kubrick’s career, to later war films like Full Metal Jacket.  I look forward to seeing how the years of experience will show through in his later works.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

High Noon (1952)

High Noon.

Gary Cooper’s character Marshal Will Kane gets married Grace Kelly’s character, Amy.  Before they leave town, Kane learns a man he’d arrested and who was up for execution has been pardoned and is now out to take his vengeance on Will.  As Kane tries to recruit deputies to fight Frank Miller and his gang once they reach town, he is rejected by everyone and ends up having to face the gang alone.

Gary Cooper was 51 when this movie was filmed, and he commands every scene he’s in.  It’s fitting that he won the Oscar for Best Actor for this film. His other Oscar came from Sergeant York, another film I’ll watch at some point for this project.

It’s interesting watching Lloyd Bridges as the Deputy Marshal.  This is a sharp contrast from what I know Lloyd Bridges for (Hot Shots!, Airplane, etc.)  The others were from much later in his career, this was probably a job to continue to establish himself.

The dynamic between Kane and Ramirez, his ex-flame, brings more realism than idealism that you get with Grace Kelly’s character, Amy.

I did a quick IMDB check on Grace Kelly, and this role seems to be one of her first of major merit, and still early on in her career, just two years after her first credits appear.  She has a youth and innocence that comes with, well, her youth.  The tender and at times naive character she plays gives balance and humanity, something for Kane to fight for and a future outside of law enforcement.  Her background also gives good context as to why she is a Quaker, opposes fighting, and wants Kane to start a new life.

One of the sobering conversations had in this film takes place between Kane and Judge Percy Mettrick.  In it Mettrick describes how an honest man who works as a marshal or sheriff and end up dieing alone or too early because of what they do for a living.  This conversation encompassed a good deal of what the film deals with as Kane cannot find a single person to stand with him, even though he’s been the sheriff for many many years.

The realism of this film is probably what stands out most.  An hour and a half long, this movie covers about an hour and a half’s time as Kane tries to recruit deputies and the gunfight at the end.  This sets the movie apart because they don’t have a lot of the traditional elements of westerns: horse chases, multiple gunfights, etc.  It deals much more with the emotional side.

John Wayne criticized this film because he thought it was an allegory for McCarthyism.  It was rumored that Rio Bravo was made as a counter to this film.  I think approaching the movie from the emotional side of things brings a different dynamic that sets the movie apart from others.  The American Film Institute ranked this movie #27 on their 10th Anniversary Top 100 films of All-Time list.  The distinction from traditional westerns probably contributes to this ranking.

My overall opinion is that this movie is a nice alternative to the traditional western, with above average acting and a convincing lead in Gary Cooper.  I probably won’t watch it again, but I’m glad I’ve watched it once.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars