Category Archives: ★★★★

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.



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).



Escape from Fort Bravo (1953, John Sturges)

The Western is probably the greatest American contribution to cinema (don’t mention Leone, because Fort Bravo and the like have heart, something Leone was never interested in). Escape from Fort Bravo is an excellent example of the American Western. It’s not just conflict with the untamed West, but also the internal struggle of the Civil War. What matters about the Western, of course, is not these conflicts (if they did matter, there’d be a significant quality change once Westerns started treating the American Indians with respect and there isn’t–of course, did Westerns ever treat them with respect? Kevin Costner doesn’t count for that example either. I’m thinking American Outlaws and Young Guns). Anyway, Fort Bravo.

I first saw Fort Bravo because of Eleanor Parker. This first viewing must have been back in the late 1990s, before I knew who William Holden was, probably, and was only familiar with Sturges for The Great Escape. As a story about people, Fort Bravo is probably Sturges’ peak. Holden runs this film–though John Forsythe is a good alter ego for him–and both sort of fight over Parker. Mostly, Holden fights with himself over Parker (Forsythe, in a nice scene, obviously can’t beat Holden).

There’s no propaganda to Fort Bravo, the Northerners and Southerners are portrayed as soldiers in a war who speak the same language. This lack of propaganda is a significant aspect of the American Western. Even in the Civil War, it’s not about the ideas, it’s about the lives lost. Fort Bravo can get away with it mostly because it never shows what dicks the Rebs were, quite wisely. I can just excuse away the line about the South being right, because the truth is, they were allowed to cede. But it’s not an issue in Fort Bravo, because these interesting folks in a life-threatening situation is more interesting.

A lot of films owe the American Western. Any mainstream action film from Die Hard on is really a Western (allowing for Carpenter action films, which were earlier, but aren’t mainstream enough)–the whole Faulkner concept of man struggling to be better than himself plays out in the American Western. Fort Bravo is filled with gun battles and all sorts of action, but the real conflict is human. I was a little worried–I haven’t seen the film since 2000 at the outside–but I wasn’t wrong about it. It’s great.



Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Frank Fenton, from a story by Phillip Rock and Michael Pate; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by George Boemler; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Nicholas Nayfack; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Holden (Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lt. Beecher), Carl Benton Raid (Col. Owens) and John Lupton (Bailey).


The African Queen (1951, John Huston)

As I started The African Queen, I wondered what the hell John Huston ever did to earn him such a good rep. Maybe it was The African Queen.

Besides the amazing cinematography, the film’s laid out beautifully. Get Bogart and Hepburn in a boat together, in WWI Africa, and see what happens. The film starts looking like a documentary. I can’t think of any other Hollywood production that treated native Africa with any regard and I think it threw me off a little. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography and the British accents–Bogart seems kind of like guest-star in the first bit, doesn’t he?–also threw me. Then, about thirty-six minutes in, I started to get it.

The ending, of course, makes the film. Most films are made by the ending, no matter when they were made. Kind of like how a novel sort of needs a kick-ass close too. Well, not sort of at all. The most interesting aspect of The African Queen is the romance. Besides that Bogart was probably closer in age to Hepburn then he was to any previous love interests (except maybe Mary Astor) sets Queen apart. While, yes, younger female actors could hold their own against older men, somewhere after Faye Dunaway (and Michelle Pfeiffer?) they’ve lost that ability. A point that has nothing to do with The African Queen.

It’s a great film. I can’t believe Vivien Leigh (for Streetcar) beat Hepburn for this one. Wow. Vivien Leigh beat Eleanor Parker for Detective Story that year too. You know, I remember when I used to (this is the early-to-mid 1990s) get pissed when someone good lost the Oscar to someone bad. How bad must it have been when four good people lost to one ham? I suppose people didn’t care that much back in 1952, but still….



Directed by John Huston; screenplay by James Agee and Huston, based on the novel by C.S. Forester; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Allan Gray; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by United Artists.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of the Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer of the Louisa) and Peter Swanick (German Army Officer).


Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)

I have a confession to make with Night Moves. I first started watching it when I was fifteen and home sick from school. I wanted to see Knight Moves with Christopher Lambert and I got this one instead. I liked Gene Hackman (or said I did) so I started watching it and I turned it off. Why?

Because fifteen-year olds are stupid.

I don’t know how I rediscovered it. I had the old Warner Home Video laserdisc, pan and scan from the early 1980s with the bubbles around the picture on the cover (f you know, you know). That must have been before film classes at college, so the only thing I can think of is Arthur Penn. I saw an Arthur Penn film on AMC (back when it was good) and went after his other stuff. At this period, I was buying laserdiscs film unseen. Blind buying. People do that with DVDs and DVDs cost $10. LaserDiscs cost a lot more. It’s possible I got the Night Moves laser on sale somewhere….

Night Moves is probably Arthur Penn’s best film, unless The Missouri Breaks is better than it looked from the moments I saw (I have it coming, right now, from Nicheflix, actually). That’s a big deal when you directed Little Big Man. I just realized I have watched Night Moves lately (2001). But this time is the first widescreen. Oh, so beautiful.

In the old days (2001), I’d have to tell you to find a good video store and still hope they stock Night Moves. With DVD, I don’t have to. You can just see it.

I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Jennifer Warren. She was in Night Moves and Slapshot and then did TV movies. She’s not particularly good looking, but she’s a great actress. Odd to appear in two of the more important films of a decade and then nothing. Susan Clark’s in Night Moves too. Susan Clark is really good (no, I never watched “Webster.”) And as for Eugene Hackman. He’s become–edging out Dustin Hoffman–my choice for the finest actor the 1970s ever birthed. I know it’s cheating, I know Hackman and Hoffman started in the 1960s, but still….

He’s simply astounding. See Night Moves.



Directed by Arthur Penn; written by Alan Sharp; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Dede Allen and Stephen A. Rotter; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Robert M. Sherman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby), Ed Binns (Joey Ziegler), Harris Yulin (Marty Heller), Kenneth Mars (Nick), Janet Ward (Arlene Iverson), James Woods (Quentin), Melanie Griffith (Delly Grastner), Anthony Costello (Marv Ellman), John Crawford (Tom Iverson) and Ben Archibek (Charles).