Category Archives: ★★★★

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944, Preston Sturges)

Well.

I’m trying to think about how to talk about Hail the Conquering Hero. It shouldn’t so difficult. The film is great, better than I remembered it, but it’s never easy to talk about great films. I mean, how many words can you pull out of your ass for something you love? You want to share things you love and defecate on the things that deserve it. Hail the Conquering Hero deserves reverence.

Still, there are a few specifics I can comment on. And not Sturges so much. Yes, he constructed an almost perfect film in 96 or so minutes. The structure of a film’s interesting and helps you talk about it if you have to think about how the film succeeds or fails. I’m not doing that here. Yes, there are the great moments of comedy, the wonderful small character relationships between supporting characters that’s seemingly a lost art, there’s lots of stuff….

But, I noticed two things in particular, watching Hail the Conquering Hero today. First, William Demarest is amazing in this film. I know the name and the face, but he’s never stuck out before. For the first hour or so of the film, you can just watch Demarest. Sturges also does a great job directing group scenes. Anyway, the other big particular is Ella Raines. She’s great in this film. I’m a fan of hers anyway, but I don’t remember any of her other performances being quite this good. Maybe they are, maybe I’m just forgetting… Eddie Bracken, as the lead, is good too, but he’s ideal for the role. He doesn’t do any work. There are some good supporting performances that I’m not going to look up on IMDb too. Raines just has a few really good scenes in this one and it pissed me off that I was so surprised.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Preston Sturges; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Werner R. Heymann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eddie Bracken (Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith), Ella Raines (Libby), Raymond Walburn (Mayor Everett D. Noble), William Demarest (Sgt. Heppelfinger), Franklin Pangborn (Committee Chairman), Elizabeth Patterson (Libby’s Aunt), Georgia Caine (Mrs. Truesmith), Al Bridge (Political Boss), Freddie Steele (Bugsy), Bill Edwards (Forrest Noble), Harry Hayden (Doc Bissell), Jimmy Conlin (Judge Dennis) and Jimmie Dundee (Cpl. Candida).


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Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Rudolph Mate; edited by Dorothy Spencer; released by United Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Eduardo Ciannelli (Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Eddie Conrad (Latvian Diplomat), Crauford Kent (Toastmaster), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Benson), Jane Novak (Miss Benson), Louis Borrell (Captain Lanson), Eily Malyon (English Cashier) and E.E. Clive (Mr. Naismith).


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Gattaca (1997, Andrew Niccol)

I guess I forgot about Gattaca, because I was worried about it….

Which was stupid.

Gattaca is, in my non-brother-having opinion, the best film about brothers ever made. East of Eden was about fathers and sons and I can’t think of any other good examples right now. I’m transferring over a bunch of old Stop Button reviews right now for the planned site upgrade (which is probably pointless, since none of the site counters report any readers) and I came across a review for THX 1138. It said something along the lines that I couldn’t talk about THX 1138 properly, so I wouldn’t even try. I also came across my Superman review, which was brilliant, so maybe I’ll say some more about Gattaca….

Rarely can you point at a film and say, “Look, that’s his brother then and that’s who’s become his brother now but there’s his real brother and it’s all about these relationships between men and the beauty of them.” I got teary at Gattaca and I can’t think of another film about men I’ve gotten teary about. Heat, maybe? I can’t remember.

I’m not going to waste energy talking about Niccol’s directing or the film’s style–it’s perfect, but lots of films have perfect direction and style and fail (and lots have neither and succeed… to some degree, anyway). Niccol’s created a situation where one can appreciate the truly beautiful things people can do for each other. And, hey, if you have to set it in the future in a genetic engineering thingy, I’m with it. I haven’t seen a human being do a beautiful thing for another human being in my entire life (that’s why there are movies and books). The real world just doesn’t have the Michael Nyman score going for it.

This is the point when all those blogs I think I’m superior to but actually have readers say things like: discuss. Well, for now (don’t know about the upgrade), don’t waste your time discussing, just go see this film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Slawomir Idziak; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin; music by Michael Nyman; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ethan Hawke (Vincent), Uma Thurman (Irene), Gore Vidal (Director Josef), Xander Berkeley (Lamar), Jayne Brook (Marie), Ernest Borgnine (Caesar), Alan Arkin (Detective Hugo), Blair Underwood (Geneticist), Loren Dean (Anton), Jude Law (Jerome), Tony Shalhoub (German) and Elias Koteas (Antonio).


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The Missouri Breaks (1976, Arthur Penn)

Okay, so I’m a little confused.

How the hell is this film unknown? It’s just now coming out on DVD, but I’d never heard of it until I read something for a film class (six years ago) about Arthur Penn. Penn didn’t survive the 1970s (and it’s not all Target‘s fault). Somehow, his films remained known to people of that era and to decent film watchers, but not to film snobs. (I’m defining these particular film snobs as the folks who don’t know they made movies before Mean Streets, you know, the Tarantino school). What the hell?

The Missouri Breaks features one of Jack Nicholson’s best performances. It’s a ‘holy shit’ good performance. Brando’s good too, though in a playful way. He never lets us in to the character, but there’s the moment, watching both of them in this film, where you stop and say, “That’s acting right there.”

As for Penn’s direction… It’s amazing, I mean, come on. The guy’s a superstar. Also of particular note is the John Williams score, which is from when John Williams was still something special.

The Missouri Breaks is so good, I could go on and on. Instead, see it and find out for yourself.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Penn; written by Thomas McGuane; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Dede Allen, Gerald B. Greenberg and Stephen A. Rotter; music by John Williams; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Elliot Kastner and Robert M. Sherman; released by United Artists.

Starring Marlon Brando (Robert E. Lee Clayton), Jack Nicholson (Tom Logan), Randy Quaid (Little Tod), Kathleen Lloyd (Jane Braxton), Frederic Forrest (Cary), Harry Dean Stanton (Calvin), John McLiam (David Braxton), John P. Ryan (Si), Sam Gilman (Hank Rate), Steve Franken (Lonesome Kid) and Richard Bradford (Pete Marker).


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