Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

I love how the end of Superman, with the spinning back of the earth, causes so much trouble for people. My fiancée–before Marlon Brando had even gotten the kid into the spaceship–made me stop the movie twice (I had to tell her to stop, though I love her line about Superman having just as many plot holes as the Bible) to make observations about its inconsistency. So, two major inconsistencies in the first ten minutes. I was more concentrated on Krypton’s apparent lack of atmosphere and the effect it’d have on the three criminals (wouldn’t they suffocate before the Phantom Zone got them?). My point being, Superman is rife with dramatic inconsistencies and silliness, the world-turning being one of the lesser ones.

I’ve probably seen Superman six times as an adult, maybe seven (this viewing is the fourth time since 2001), so it’s kind of hard to write about it like it’s tomorrow’s bread. I notice things, every time I watch, and sometimes I’ve noticed them before and sometimes I think I have or haven’t. Superman‘s an incredibly watchable film, because it works so damn well–I can’t think of a film where the music was more important than this one. John Williams’s score literally makes the film. Something about the epical storytelling and Donner’s use of cranes and his short on dialogue, but not short in running time scenes, makes Williams’s music essential. Without it, Superman wouldn’t just not work, it’d be funny looking. There’s music for most of the movie, with the exception of the Daily Planet scenes. The other superior technical aspect of the film is the editing. Donner shot some great coverage for the film and editor Stuart Baird puts it all together beautifully–that scene in the cornfield and the Superman finding Lois in the car scene are both editorially magnificent. I never thought about it before, but in a certain way (not narratively) Superman‘s got a lot in common with 2001.

Other things I noticed this time was Donner’s great close-ups of Terence Stamp at the beginning, which I’m sure I’d noticed before, but never really appreciated, especially since it’s a movie called Superman‘s first real scene. Glenn Ford gets better with each viewing… The infamous “Can You Read My Mind?” flying dance number, which has become, in the last couple viewings, my favorite scene in the film. Also a big fan of the interview scene and the helicopter scene from the cinematography angle. I think the last time I watched it, I appreciated Superman ignoring Marlon Brando for Glenn Ford (something Bryan Singer ditched in the latest “sequel”), and I appreciated it again this time.

It’s amazing to me, the film I’ve seen, man and boy, fifteen or twenty times, about a flying guy in blue tights, still has so much to offer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | SUPERMAN.

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The Seven-Ups (1973, Philip D’Antoni)

The Seven-Ups is a fascist daydream beyond almost any cinematic compare, certainly American cinema (except maybe a Charles Bronson movie from the 1980s or something). And it’s not a cheap, 1970s exploitation picture either. Yes, to some degree it’s cheap (Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco are the only two recognizable principals), but producer and director Philip D’Antoni also produced Bullitt and The French Connection, and The Seven-Ups is something like a cheap version of French Connection. Scheider’s okay, but he doesn’t real create a character in Seven-Ups because there’s nothing in the script. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but the film’s absent of any subtext.

Oh, before I forget–this film is so fascist, when I was looking up director D’Antoni, I really expected his biography to mention he went into exile after Mussolini went out of power. The film’s incredible–I imagine it’s a neo-con’s wet dream.

Actually, D’Antoni’s a really good director, so good it’s unfortunate Seven-Ups is his only directorial effort. He’s not particularly good with actors, but his composition and his sense of timing are fantastic. Seven-Ups has a great ten minute car chase in it, notable mostly because it gives a lovely tour of early 1970s New York, but it’s still good stuff. I kept finding really good shots throughout the film, which made its failures more and more glaring.

The Seven-Ups is a good looking film, but it’s incredibly dumb. Watching it, I kept having remind myself films can be dumb no matter when they’re from–you don’t need CG to be dumb, all it takes is bad writing, which has been around since people started doing it. In many ways, it’s like a TV show–a really well produced one–but the set pieces in the film really reminded me of things I’ve seen on TV. Not the car chase, fine, but there are these sequences (with scary music) of being in a car wash… and scary car washes really scream TV show for some reason.

As an easily accessible filmic travelogue of 1970s New York, if one cares about that sort of thing, it’s essential. As a film… eh. There are these great villains and the film doesn’t even get the pay-off right, which makes the whole thing sort of… eh.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Philip D’Antoni; screenplay by Albert Ruben and Alexander Jacobs, based on a story by Sonny Grosso; director of photography, Urs Furrer; edited by John C. Horger and Stephen A. Rotter; music by Don Ellis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roy Scheider (Buddy Manucci), Tony Lo Blanco (Vito), Larry Haines (Max Kalish), Victor Arnold (Barilli), Jerry Leon (Mingo), Ken Kercheval (Ansel), Richard Lynch (Moon) and Bill Hickman (Bo).


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Spoilers of the North (1947, Richard Sale)

Spoilers of the North takes a hard look at the seedy underbelly of salmon poaching in Alaska. I just had to write that sentence. Spoilers is a non-studio B-picture from the mid-1940s and, though I may never have seen anything equitable, it’s probably as good as it can be for what it’s got. The direction is technically mediocre, but it’d be hard for it to offend. There’s lots of found footage used in Spoilers, from boat shots, to salmon cannery shots, to American Indian dancing–when there appeared to be a real boat chase, I was shocked it hadn’t been cobbled from newsreels–then realized the editing is so poor, they’d never be able to do it. The editing at the beginning almost makes Spoilers unwatchable. It’s full of wipes and fades, one every six seconds, moving the lame story along. However, once you discover it actually is about a bad guy trying to defraud people over salmon, well, Spoilers gets a lot more amusing.

The film’s public domain now, but the cast is actually somewhat recognizable. Bad guy Paul Kelly is not familiar–he’s an amazingly bad actor. The dialogue in Spoilers is pretty bad, but Kelly gives an exceptionally bad performance. He’s also playing a philanderer. His successful approach to women is to mimic George Raft. James Millican plays his good guy brother. Millican’s been in a bunch of bit roles, so he’s familiar. He’s also almost all right. He’s really busy during the film, always moving his hands and fiddling with things. It gets distracting. But he does have good chemistry with the girl, played by Evelyn Ankers. Ankers is probably the biggest star of the film, at least in retrospect (she was the girl in The Wolf Man). She’s okay, surprisingly good for a few moments, but blah for some others. The best performance is from Adrian Booth, as the “half-breed” who Kelly romances but won’t marry (she’s a “half-breed”).

Spoilers is astoundingly racist–there’s a great scene when Ankers is showing the audience she’s empathetic (not just a twit fooled by Kelly) and she buys a little Native kid a birthday cake. Then the family proceeds to get excited eating the candles. There’s plenty more along those lines, but there’s also a bunch of great sexism in the film too. In rugged (California set-based) Alaska, a successful businesswoman like Ankers can’t possibly understand what’s going on. Spoilers is somehow amusing, offensive, and actually not terrible in places. I just wish I could see a trailer for it, because I spent the whole movie imagining it–”Two brothers battle for fish and women in rugged Alaska,” “See the forbidden love between man and half-breed,” “Prepare for pulse-pounding fishing scenes!” Maybe I just ought to make one myself. I was expecting Spoilers to be low budget of that variety, but it’s not. So, if the filmmakers had actually been impassioned about Alaskan salmon poaching, Spoilers might be a “better” movie, but since they weren’t, Spoilers is certainly a watchable one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Sale; written by Milton Raison; director of photography, Alfred S. Keller; edited by William P. Thompson; music by Mort Glickman; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Paul Kelly (Matt), Evelyn Ankers (Laura), Adrian Booth (Jane Koster), James Millican (Bill), Roy Barcroft (Moose McGovern), Louis Jean Heydt (Inspector Winters) and Ted Hecht (Joe Taku).


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The Lady Vanishes (1938, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Lady Vanishes might be the most fun Hitchcock ever lets an audience have with one of his films. Vanishes maintains a comedic sensibility throughout and for the most part, that sensibility overtakes the mystery element. Even the mystery element gives way to an action element–besides North by Northwest (which only barely qualifies) and Foreign Correspondent, The Lady Vanishes has the most action of any Hitchcock film. It’s also jingoistic in a good way, something Hitchcock couldn’t pull off when he was doing 1940s American propaganda. The British really look good at the end of The Lady Vanishes and he pulls it off beautifully.

The film opens with a miniature of a Central European mountain village. The camera moves slowly in on the village, across the train platform, behind some buildings, to the inn where the film begins. It’s a fantastical shot, impossible to duplicate with a location (the logistics of a helicopter), though CG might “work.” It also establishes Hitchcock’s approach to the filmmaking in Vanishes. Whatever he can use to facilitate storytelling, he uses. It’s a different approach to filmic storytelling and it would be gone from Hitchcock by 1941 and popular film in the late 1940s. Once “realism” became so important–the film being “real” (absurd) as compared to reality, instead of being authentic to itself–films stopped being technically invigorating on the content-level. Skillful camera work is one thing, but getting excited about seeing it is another. While it does happen, it happened a lot in the 1920s and 1930s.

The film also has one of Hitchcock’s best cast ensembles. Besides Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as the cricket-obsessed comedy relief, there’s also the adulterous couple (Cecil Parker and Linden Travers) who some comedy, but more drama, for the viewer to engage with. The early scenes at the inn are played entirely for laughs, so when the mysterious elements of The Lady Vanishes start, Hitchcock has to change tone quickly. To do so, he switches (just for a moment) perspective–instead of the English commanding the room of Europeans, it’s the British subject at the mercy of the strange, quiet Europeans on the train. Margaret Lockwood’s character starts out in Lady Vanishes as an entitled jerk, but her concerned for the titular disappeared lady, along with her great chemistry with Michael Redgrave, really warm her character. She doesn’t actually have a character arc–nothing changes except the need for her to be different–but she and Redgrave are so good together, suspension of disbelief holds he can be doing it (really, really quickly). Redgrave is a good leading man, funnier than most, but just as stoic when he needs to be. Their relationship is so good, I know I’m slighting it, but I have to get on to Paul Lukas, who plays the best villain in any Hitchcock film. Lukas is particularly fantastic in the film.

I remember the first time I watched The Lady Vanishes, on the Criterion DVD, I had seen some British Hitchcock already and knew it would be technically different. But from the opening shot, to the comedy in the inn, it was clear from the start Vanishes was going to be excellent, an exciting film to experience.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White; director of photography, Jack E. Cox; edited by R.E. Dearing; music by Louis Levy and Charles Williams; produced by Edward Black; released by Gainsborough Pictures.

Starring Margaret Lockwood (Iris Henderson), Michael Redgrave (Gilbert), Paul Lukas (Dr. Hartz), Dame May Whitty (Miss Froy), Cecil Parker (Mr. Todhunter), Linden Travers (‘Mrs.’ Todhunter), Naunton Wayne (Caldicott), Basil Radford (Charters), Mary Clare (Baroness Nisatona) and Emile Boreo (Boris the Hotel Manager).


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