Saturday, April 27, 2013

WICHITA (1955)

Buffalo hunter Wyatt Earp (McCrea) has a run-in with some cowboys movin' a herd not too far outside of the lawless town of Wichita.  Earp moves on into Wichita and within just a few hours he stops a bank robbery.  The mayor hits him up to be the sheriff, but he's not interested.  He just wants to open up a business and live a quite life.  Things change though when those same cowboys ride into town, get properly boozed up and start shooting at anything and everything...including a 5 year old boy standing at his window.  Earp takes the job.

Some people might complain (and rightfully so) that 50 year-old McCrea was too old to play the role of a young 27 year-old Earp, especially since his love interest is the strikingly beautiful 26 year-old Vera Miles, but when it's all said and done...I really enjoyed McCrea's performance.  He's always been one of my favorite actors and he does another excellent job here.  In fact everybody does an excellent job, the only weak link in the entire film was that goofy song sang over the opening and closing credits.  It was painful, but still really funny.  Sorry Tex Ritter fans.

Fast pace, impressive supporting cast full of familiar faces (including Lloyd Bridges, Wallace Ford, Peter Graves, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Walter Coy, Walter Sande and others including a brief on-screen appearance by a young Sam Peckinpah), nice photography, solid direction by Jacques Tourneur.  All said and done WICHITA is a nice little western.  Recommended.

One interesting thing I found out after watching the film was in 1959 there was a spin-off WICHITA TV show called "Wichita Town" that featured not only McCrea, but his real-life son Jody McCrea.  It aired on NBC and the network was so confident in it's success they didn't even have a pilot episode, they just aired it!  Unfortunately it had a bad time slot and there was already a glut of westerns on the air so it was cancelled after only 24 episodes.  I'd be interested in seeing an episode.

THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (1965)

Slow at times, but overall touching story of a simple carpenter, Anton Brtko, who, in the early days of WWII, is suddenly named the "Aryan manager" of a small sewing supply shop ran by an elderly Jewish widow, Mrs. Lautmannova.  Brtko isn't too comfortable with the situation and when he tries to explain what's happening to Mrs. Lautmannova she's so hard of hearing and just plain old that she has no idea what he's talking about.  Eventually she comes to believe that he is her nephew there to help her run the store.  As time goes by Brtko keeps up the facade and their relationship grows...then the Nazi's come to take away the Jews.

Although the story is sad, it's really not as sad as it could have been.  To begin with Brtko isn't that likeable of a guy and yeah, I really felt sorry for Mrs. Lautmannova but she was so senile that she was pretty much clueless.  Also the Nazi's were assholes, of course, but they could have easily been portrayed as much worse.  Good film, with a promising story premise, but it could have been told much more powerfully than it was.  Something in the back of my mind tells me that Mikhail Kalatozov would have made an a much more satisfying film from this story.  That's just my two cents.  It's still worth watching.

Friday, April 26, 2013

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987)

High school "loser" (Stoltz) pines away over cool girl (Thompson) while being completely oblivious to the fact that his best friend (Masterson) is totally in love with him.  If that sounds familiar it's probably because it's pretty damn close to the story for the previous year's Hughes/Deutch collaboration PRETTY IN PINK.  The main differences are the sex roles are reversed, the tone is more serious and all the quirky little things that made PIP entertaining are removed.

If this was 1987 and I was a twelve year-old girl I would have probably found Stoltz's tender heart to be endearing, but as a pissed off adult here in good old 2955 (that's right I live in the future and I timeblog back to 2013) I found the entire thing to be completely unbelievable.  Especially the ending.  Wow!  Talk about a complete 180.  Anybody who's seen this movie knows what I'm talking about.  [SPOILERS!!!] Stoltz is one-hundred percent focused on the cool girl for the entire film, even spends his life's savings to buy her a perfect date and then right when everything and I mean everything turns out right he walks triumphantly out of the big party with the cool girl all hot and bothered over him and then by chance he catches a glimpse of his best friend's eyes looking just a little moist and boom!!! I've been in love with you the entire time.  The End.  Say what?[END OF SPOILERS!!!]

Mildly entertaining 80's high school love film, but I was really distracted by how old everybody looked and just the fact that the story was so unoriginal.  Not a bad film and I don't regret watching it, but there's much better stuff out there for you to spend your time on.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

THE BIG HOUSE (1930)

THE BIG HOUSE is, to my limited knowledge, the earliest prison film of the Sound Era and it's pretty damn good.  It opens with a drunk driver getting booked into the prison on a manslaughter wrap.  Right off the bat you can see this punk has a yellow streak a mile wide.  Due to overcrowding he's thrown into a small cell with two hardened criminals.  Time goes by and the new kid never toughens up.  One of his cellmates escapes and goes to get his revenge on the kid (he hid a knife in his bunk and the screws found it) by killing(?) his sister, but instead he ends up falling in love with her and her with him.  More stuff goes on, but you'll just have to see for yourself.

Modern audiences will probably find it way too dated, but if you give it a chance I think you'll enjoy it.  Wallace Beery is tough as nails as a shit-talkin' murderer and was even nominated for an Oscar for his performance.  He didn't win, but female screenwriter Frances Marion did win and ended up being the first female to win an Academy Award for writing.

Not the greatest prison film ever, but most definitely one of the most influential on the young genre.  Check it out.