Film

D W Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Film pioneer DW Griffith is chiefly remembered today for the 1915 film Birth of a Nation which was the film version  of the 1905 novel The Clansman, a paean by Thomas F. Dixon to the Ku Klux Klan which, in his view, freed the South from carpetbagger and negro rule.  As history the film is rubbish, but from its technical aspects it is an important development in the art of filmmaking.  In response to his critics DW Griffith made the film Intolerance  in 1916 which condemned religious, if not racial, bigotry.

In 1930 he made the first sound film biography of Lincoln.  Several silent film bios of Lincoln had been made, but having Lincoln speak was going to be an added challenge. Walter Huston, the father of actor-director John Huston, portrayed Lincoln.  Tall and lanky, Huston looked a bit like Lincoln, but his deep resonant tones helped establish in the public mind that Lincoln had that type of voice, rather than the high pitched voice that the historical Lincoln possessed.

The film script was co-written by Stephen Vincent Benet, a poet who in 1928 wrote the epic Civil War poem John Brown’s Body.   The film takes considerable liberties with the life of Lincoln, but, like Benet’s historical poetry, it has a good feel for the period and gives overall a powerful impression of Lincoln.  It is well worth the viewing even today, after so many Lincoln films.  It is interesting that this son of a Confederate colonel opens the film with a scene aboard a slave ship and that the film is a celebration of the man who defeated the cause his father fought for. Continue reading

The Caine Mutiny: A Review

(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller.  I posted this again in 2013, but the scene after the court-martial was not online.  That pivotal scene is now available, so I am reposting this with the scene include in the review.  The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films in that it examines two themes, the law and military service, that have ever fascinated me.)

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 33 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny.  Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk,  who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.

 

The cast is top notch.  Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine.  In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman.  Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions.  Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine  from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer.  Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg.  Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.

In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald,  portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them. Continue reading

American Sniper: A Review

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle
My wife and I, the kids are back in college and law school, saw American Sniper at a movie theater in Morris, Illinois on Saturday January 24.  It was the second performance of the day, beginning at 1:00 PM, and the theater still was almost full.  After seeing the movie, the one term that seems to me to apply is stunning, in every sense of the word.  Clint Eastwood has made a masterpiece, the finest of his movies as a director, a film biopic that perfectly captures the man Chris Kyle and his times.  It is not a film for kids due to intense combat scenes and frequent use of the f-bomb by troops.  My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in force.

Continue reading

Seven Cities of Gold

Something for the Weekend.  After hearing this week that Pope Francis plans to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California, while he is in this country later this year, the musical score to the heavily fictionalized account of the first missionary journey of Serra, Seven Cities of Gold (1955) seems appropriate.

In 1955 Hollywood told the story of the 1769 expedition to Alta California in the film Seven Cities of Gold.  Michael Rennie gave a very good performance as Father Serra and Anthony Quinn gave an equally fine performance as Governor Portolla.  Of course Hollywood could not remain completely faithful to history, and a fictional hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola was given as the reason for the expedition.  A love story between an Indian girl and one of the Spanish officers was also grafted on to the story.  In spite of the usually Hollywood twisting of history, the film is accurate in its depiction of the goodness and charity of Father Serra and his zeal to spread the Gospel.  One scene from the movie has him denouncing the greed of the Spanish soldiers and their desire to exploit the Indians: Continue reading

New Orleans Is Ready For Its Close Up Mr. DeMille

 

 

American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans, the two hundredth anniversary of which is coming up this week on January 8, 2015. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory.

 

The 1958 remake was also to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but he was seriously ill at that time, and relegated himself to the role of executive producer, turning the director’s chair over to Anthony Quinn, his then son-in-law, the one and only film that Quinn ever directed. DeMille was unhappy with the film and it received fairly negative reviews, although I think the battle sequences are superior to the first film. Yul Brynner plays Jean Lafitte and Charlton Heston is a commanding Andrew Jackson. Like Hugh Sothern, Heston would portray Jackson twice, the first time being in The President’s Lady (1953), the tale of the great love story of Rachel Jackson (Susan Hayward) and Andrew Jackson. Future stars in this version include Inger Stevens, Claire Bloom and Lorne Green. Adequate coverage of the battle is given in each film, although not much detail. The battle of course is merely an adjunct to the romantic tale of Jean Lafitte. Without the pirate turned patriot, I am certain the battle of New Orleans would have likely received the same indifference that Hollywood has shown for most of American history.

Unbroken: A Review

 “If I can take it, I can make it.”

Louis Zamperini

 

Unbroken is the best picture that I have seen in many a year.  Its themes are faith, patriotism and endurance in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity.  Everything about the film is superb.  My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue reading

Keep Up the Bad Work Seth Rogen

Seth RogenSo comedic actor Seth Rogen doesn’t hesitate to call Christians the A-word for supporting Hobby Lobby. Knowing that Christians don’t retaliate, maybe at worst start a picket line.

But when Seth Rogen makes a film, “The Interview”, satirizing the “Great Successor”, Kim Jong-un, he turned and ran, hired body guards, and is too scared to even offer a quote.

Seth Rogen is so fortunate to live in a country built upon Christian values. If he were in an Islamic or Communist nation, he wouldn’t be alive today.

Keep up the bad work Seth Rogen.

Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

 

 

I went into this film assuming it was going to be bad based on what I had heard about it.  In that assumption I was mistaken.  Although not a film I would recommend, I can’t call it a bad film.  My review is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. Continue reading

Fury: A Review

And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.  

Isaiah 6: 8   

If a man loves the world, the love of the
Father ain’t in him. For all in the
world, lust of the flesh, lust of the
eyes, the pride of life, is not of the
Father. But of the world.

Don “Wardaddy” Collier quoting John 2:15

 

 

I saw the movie Fury with my family on Saturday.  It is a superb, albeit grueling, look at an American tank crew in Germany in April 1945.  Go below for my review.  The usual caveat as to spoilers applies. Continue reading

Noah: A Review

 

 

Well, I finally got around to seeing Noah.  We picked up a $9.00 Blu-ray copy at a Black Friday special, and I think I was overcharged at least $8.99.  Follow me below the fold for why I think this is one grand buzzard of a flick.  The usual caveats regarding spoilers apply: Continue reading

And All His Empty Promises

 

Back when I was a boy, I watched entirely too much television.  Of course, who could blame me?  Tempted by a luxuriant three, count them, three channels, albeit one of them fuzzy in bad weather, to choose from!  However, I do not regret watching the Early Show on Channel 3.  Back in those bygone days, many stations would run old movies from the thirties, forties and fifties, between 3:00 PM-5:00 PM.  Thus I first experienced some of the classics of cinema, and one of my favorites was Double Indemnity, 1944, the first of the film noire genre. Adultery and murder were perhaps too mature topics for me in my initial pre-teen viewings, but I was fascinated by it because it seemed to be a playing out on screen of what I was learning at the time from The Baltimore Catechism:  that sin will lead inevitably to destruction unless contrition and amendment are made.   The film was fortunate to have at its center three masters of the craft of acting.

 

Fred MacMurray, born in Kankakee, Illinois, 37 miles from my abode, in 1907, was a good guy in real life and usually in reel life.  A firm Catholic and staunch Republican, he tried to join the military after Pearl Harbor but a punctured ear drum kept him out of service.  He adopted a total of four kids with his two wives:  his first wife dying from cancer in 1953, and his second wife remaining his wife until his death.  (Such fidelity was as rare in Hollywood then as it is now.)  On screen MacMurray played to type and was almost always a good guy, but not always, and it is ironic  that the two best performances of his career came when he played bad guys:  weak, lustful and doomed Walter Neff in Double Indemnity and the scheming, cowardly Lieutenant  Thomas Keefer in The Caine Mutiny.

 

Barbara Stanwyck had a Dickensian childhood from which she was lucky to emerge alive, her mother dying of a miscarriage and her father going off to work on the Panama Canal and never being heard from again.  A series of foster homes followed, which Ruby Catherine Stevens, as Stanwyck was then named, constantly ran away from.  Dropping out of school at 14 to begin working, she never looked back.  Breaking into show business by becoming a dancer in the Ziegfield Follies at age 16, she was a star on broadway in the play Burlesque before she turned 20.  Changing her name to Barbara Stanwyck, she broke into films immediately thereafter, displaying a flair for both drama and comedy, specializing in strong independent women.  Her personal, as opposed to her professional, life was a mess.  Married in 1928 to her Burlesque co-star Frank Fay, they adopted a son, Stanwyck having been rendered sterile by an abortion at 15.  The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, Fay during the marriage often slapping Stanwyck around when he was drunk. Stanwyck got custody of their son.  Stanwyck was a hovering and authoritarian mother, leading to a life long alienation from her son after he became an adult.  Stanwyck married actor Robert Taylor in 1939, and, after numerous acts of infidelity on both sides, divorced in 1950.  Ironically Stanwyck and Taylor did stay friends after their divorce, Stanwyck, who never remarried, referring to him as the true love of her life.  In her politics Stanwyck was a staunch conservative Republican who supported the investigations of Congress into Communist infiltration into Hollywood.  Remaining in demand as an actress almost until her death in 1990, she filled her last years with charitable work.  Stanwyck was well equipped by her own tumultuous life to give depth to her portrayal of the murderous, scheming Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.

 

Although remembered today chiefly for his gangster roles and his portrayal of the rat-like Dathan in The Ten Commandments, Edward G. Robinson was actually an actor with a very broad range of work:  comedies, dramas, historical epics, you name it.  By 1944 he was age 51 and realized that his days as a leading man were coming to a close.  His half comedic role as the insurance claims adjuster Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity he viewed as a step in his transition to being a character actor.  Always a liberal, Robinson was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his affiliation with Communist front groups.  Robinson admitted as much by an article he wrote for the American Legion Magazine entitled “How the Reds Made a Sucker Out of Me”.  His comeback came when anti-Communist director Cecil B. DeMille, who thought that Robinson had been treated unfairly, cast him in the scene-stealing role of Dathan in The Ten Commandments.

 

Spoiler alerts in regard to the following: Continue reading

America: A Review

The family and I went out and saw America, the latest film of Dinesh D’Souza.  I enjoyed the film and found it an intriguing step in the development of a new form of conveying conservative messages.  My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue reading

Seven Days in May

Hard to believe that it is half a century since the film Seven Days in May (1964) was released.  Directed by John Frankenheimer with a screenplay by Rod Serling based on a novel published in 1962, the movie posits a failed coup attempt in the United States, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, played by Burt Lancaster, being the would be coup leader.  Kirk Douglas plays Scott’s aide Marine Corps Colonel Martin Casey who, while agreeing with Scott that President Jordan Lyman’s nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets is a disaster, is appalled when he learns of the proposed coup, and discloses it to the President, portrayed by Frederic March.

The film is an example of liberal paranoia in the early sixties and fears on the port side of our politics of a coup by some “right wing” general.  The film is unintentionally hilarious if one has served in our military, since the idea of numerous generals agreeing on a coup and keeping it secret, even from their own aides, is simply ludicrous.  Our military leaks like a sieve, and general officers almost always view each other as competitors for political favor, rather than as co-conspirators.

Ironies abound when the film is compared to reality: Continue reading

Jesus The Water of Life

Something for the weekend.  One of the most powerful depictions of Christ on film from the movie Ben Hur (1959).  A wonderful melding of music and dialogue as Christ goes silently to the aid of Ben Hur and gives him water.  The wordless encounter between Christ and the Centurion was amazing, as the Centurion’s face registers bewilderment, shame and curiosity as he has a totally unexpected encounter with the Divine.  Whatever the actor who played the Centurion was earning that day, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Gravity and God

 I mean I’d pray for myself, but I’ve never prayed—nobody ever taught me how.

Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

Sir Isaac Newton

 

Something for the weekend.  The Hank Williams, Jr. tune Angels Are Hide to Find from the movie Gravity (2013).  I picked up a copy of the movie Gravity, not expecting much, and assuming that I would probably quickly resell it on e-bay.  Somehow I had managed to read nothing about the film.  I was astonished at how much I enjoyed the film and how much it had to say about the human condition.  My review is below and the usual caveat about spoilers apply. Continue reading

Major Dundee

 

 

Something for the weekend.  A musical medley from the movie Major Dundee (1965).  Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

Here is a fan made trailer for the restored edition that was released in 2005 that included much of the footage that was cut over Pekinpah’s protests:

Continue reading

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