Pale Rider (1985, Clint Eastwood)

Pale Rider is an interesting Eastwood–while it is a milestone in Eastwood coming together as a filmmaker–it’s also one of the few films where he really offered up so much for another actor to do. The film’s some kind of homage to Shane–as well as a colder, more mountainous version of High Plains Drifter–but Michael Moriarty has a lot more to do in Pale Rider than Van Heflin had to do in Shane even. With a handful of mediocre ones, Pale Rider has some of the best performances in any Eastwood film to this point. Besides Moriarty, who really has to carry the film, since Eastwood’s absent as a character, there’s Chris Penn, who’s fantastic as the bad guy. Doug McGrath is good, so is Richard Kiel (though he doesn’t have much to do). Richard Dysart shows up as the big bad and he’s hamming it up but it’s in a funny way. The script’s absolute shit (more on it in a second), but Dysart has a great time with it. Carrie Snodgress doesn’t do well with the script, which saddles her with an unsympathetic and petty character. Worst (though still passable) is Sydney Penny, who plays the teenage girl in love with Eastwood. She can’t deliver the bad lines properly and there’s no way she’s Snodgress’s daughter, so she sticks out.

The script–from the half-wits who wrote The Car of all things–probably doesn’t have a single good moment. Watching the film, appreciating the stuff between Eastwood and Moriarty, I figured Eastwood came up with that relationship on set. While Pale Rider is a definite influence on Unforgiven–much of it makes Unforgiven, Eastwood’s next Western, seem like a response to Pale Rider. Rider is the same old formula Western (full of references to earlier Eastwood Westerns), only with it, Eastwood really gets the filmmaking end of it together. He’s got Lennie Niehaus on music and there’s some good stuff, but it’s mostly not. Joel Cox edits the film and does a wonderful job. Bruce Surtees shot it in his standard flat palate, but the technical end really comes through. Some of the work in Pale Rider is from a different Clint Eastwood. Not better, not worse, but different. He was going to either go, stylistically, one way or the other and in Pale Rider, you can see both of them side-by-side.

Unfortunately, the script’s so bad, it’s impossible to recommend as anything but an example of a competent, interesting production. By the time the end shoot-out comes around, it’s all so telegraphed (and short) and entirely familiar, there’s really nothing to it. There’s no excitement and it becomes obvious what a chore Pale Rider was for Eastwood to make–and how lazy he was in regards to many, many aspects of it, particularly the undeveloped town. Eastwood was making a ton of movies during this period and Pale Rider suffers from a stretched attention-span.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Edward C. Carfagno; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Preacher), Michael Moriarty (Hull Barret), Carrie Snodgress (Sarah Wheeler), Christopher Penn (Josh LaHood), Richard Dysart (Coy LaHood), Sydney Penny (Megan Wheeler), Richard Kiel (Club), Doug McGrath (Spider Conway), John Russell (Stockburn), Charles Hallahan (McGill), Marvin J. McIntyre (Jagou), Fran Ryan (Ma Blankenship), Richard Hamilton (Jed Blankenship), Graham Paul (Ev Gossage), Chuck LaFont (Eddie Conway) and Jeffrey Weissman (Teddy Conway).


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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

I’ve only seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir once before, but I remembered the resolution, so I’m thinking it probably made the entire experience unenjoyable this time through. There are only a handful of similar films and usually it’s a gimmick ending, but with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the storytelling falls apart. The film forcibly rips Gene Tierney’s character from the audience’s regard and then only band-aids that wound for the rest of the picture–it’s only twenty minutes or so, but that band-aid covers forty years of story time.

This band-aid doesn’t involve Rex Harrison’s grizzled ghost of a sea captain, which is probably its greatest fault. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is about just that relationship and–first with the introduction of George Sanders as a living suitor for Tierney, then Harrison’s absence from both the screen and the story itself–the film fails without it. The fault is all the script’s, though Joseph L. Mankiewicz–as director and an excellent writer–should have done something to fix this film. The scenes between Harrison and Tierney are uniformly wonderful, but watching it with the conclusion in mind, I couldn’t even enjoy them to the fullest. Harrison has so much fun with the role, at many times he appears to be struggling to keep a straight face. George Sanders plays a standard George Sanders cad and he’s hardly in the film, showing up when it accelerates, no longer happy with a reasonable situation. It’s a lame way out of the exceptional situation (the ghost and the widow), which the film sells immediately, making a “way out” unnecessary. Many of this period’s “fantasy romance” films are similarly flawed. Actually, I can’t think of any member providing a reasonable conclusion. I just didn’t remember The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’s ending to be so bad. I knew it was bad, I just didn’t know it was so bad. The film’s already intentionally negated its emotional effect for the characters (and the audience), so I guess it’s actually a real trick to go ahead and make it more trifling and useless, which is a singular compliment and probably the only one I have in regards to the film’s production.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; written by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Fred Kohlmar; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Lucy Muir), Rex Harrison (Ghost of Capt. Daniel Gregg), George Sanders (Miles Fairley), Edna Best (Martha Huggins), Isobel Elsom (Angelica), Helen Freeman (Author), Natalie Wood (Anna, as a child), Vanessa Brown (Anna, as an adult) and Robert Coote (Coombe).


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Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989, Omori Kazuki)

Godzilla vs. Biollante is an odd Godzilla movie. It’s got some cool devices–there’re these Godzilla alarm system, which do a great deal to establish the film’s believability–even if the computer readouts are impossibly old. Stylistically, both in its approach to visually explaining settings and in its music, Biollante really reminds me of Star Trek II. The comparison starts at the beginning of the film and I was still thinking about it at the end. However, though there are a lot of good things about Biollante, it’s excruciatingly boring.

The good stuff is actually a lot of the characters and their actors. There’s the gung ho army commando who’s been out to pasture, played by Minegishi Tôru. Minegishi is a joy to watch. He approaches it with a sense of measured comedy. He never quite looks at the camera and winks, but you’re never sure he’s not going to do it. On the flip–in one of the film’s greatest successes–is the young colonel who’s got the huge responsibility of dealing with Godzilla, played by Takashima Masanobu. While the film’s not interested in being believable beyond it’s own setting, Masanobu makes the character real, which is quite a feat, given how few lines of dialogue the character actually speaks. There’s a similar juxtaposition with the scientists, though only the younger one, played by Kitamura Kunihiko, the ostensible lead, is actually good. The older one is a mad scientist, which is a reasonable segue into the next paragraph.

The bad stuff is mostly–besides how boring it all is to watch–how goofy Godzilla vs. Biollante gets in order to fill a hundred minutes. There’s the ominous Middle Eastern state–which is actually really funny at times, unintentionally I’m sure–the ominous, but better than the Arabs, American corporation, and then there’s the mad scientist. The mad scientist scenes are actually out of a 1950s sci-fi, with thunder and lighting and everything. The film’s effective moments are, not surprisingly, when it deals with either characters or people’s reaction to Godzilla. The special effects are a little slight in parts and the miniature city just doesn’t work, but there are a few great shots in that city scene.

Coming after the 1984 Godzilla, Biollante is a disappointment to be sure, but it does have some “real” scenes in it. Not goofy giant rubber monsters fighting each other, but real scenes of human struggle. It also has the scene where all the people run through the city. I wonder if it’s a status thing for the extras, who must just be regular people there are so many… “Did you see me evacuating the city? Did you see me? I was carrying the giant cactus.”

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Omori Kazuki; screenplay by Omori, based on a story by Kobayashi Shinichirô; director of photography, Kato Katsuhiro; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Sugiyama Kôichi; production designer, Ikuno Juichi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Mitamura Kunihiko (Kirishima Kazuhito), Tanaka Yoshiko (Okouchi Asuka), Takashima Masanobu (Major Kuroki Sho), Takahashi Koji (Dr. Shiragami), Minegishi Tôru (Lieutenant Gondo Goro), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Nagashima Toshiyuki (Director Yamamoto Seiichi), Kaneda Ryunosuke (Azuka’s Father), Yuge Yasunori (Prime Minister), Kuga Yoshiko (Prime Minister’s Wife) and Sawaguchi Yasuko (Shiragami Erika).


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The Black Windmill (1974, Don Siegel)

The Black Windmill features Michael Caine and John Vernon shooting it out with Uzis. I’m sorry, I’m wrong. They’re shooting it out with MAC-10s. It’s an absurdity worthy of Siegel’s directorial protege Clint Eastwood–actually, Eastwood might have been paying homage to Siegel’s choice of lunacy here in Blood Work (when the serial killer happened to have an M-16 handy). Without Eastwood the star, however, Siegel is lost. The Black Windmill is excruciatingly boring. Something about the way it’s shot makes it unpleasant to watch. It’s too muddy and Siegel’s out of place shooting in London. He feels like he’s shooting a tourist film, not something natural.

Shockingly, the film does offer one of Michael Caine’s finest performances. Really. The script occasionally fails him, especially when it comes to the story between him and his wife (played by Janet Suzman, who fluctuates). It’s too short on the character relationship and too heavy on the bad intrigue. There are some nice performances in the film–Donald Pleasence is great as Caine’s suspicious, clumsy, neat-nick boss. Joss Ackland shows up for a few minutes and is real good. John Vernon is terrible. I once tried watching this film… ten years ago, probably, and Vernon’s scenes probably made me turn it off. He does accents (poorly) and then he’s just in the film far too long. John Vernon is fine, so long as he’s not around too long. He’s around way too long in The Black Windmill.

Some of Siegel’s work–just the shot construction–is really nice. The action scenes are mostly crap, just because he’s so out of his element, but he takes a sensitivity to the actual relationship between Caine and Suzman–Caine’s a spy whose son is kidnapped (it makes no sense, which is why I didn’t bother bringing it up earlier)–and it’s a sensitively I’m not used to seeing from Siegel. It’s a sparse sensitivity, but I would have loved to have seen more. Instead, there’s three or four chase scenes and a shootout. With John Vernon and Michael Caine and machine pistols….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; screenplay by Leigh Vance, based on a novel by Clive Egleton; director of photography, Outsama Rawl; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by Roy Budd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Maj. John Tarrant), Joseph O’Conor (Sir Edward Julyan), Donald Pleasence (Cedric Harper), John Vernon (McKee), Janet Suzman (Alex Tarrant), Delphine Seyrig (Ceil Burrows) and Joss Ackland (Chief Superintendent Wray).


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