Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972, J. Lee Thompson)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is about a bunch of ape slaves overpowering their human masters. Any film with a thirty second recap of the previous sequel by Ricardo Montalban has to be at least amusing, but Conquest is actually better than amusing (until the actual revolt begins). Since the film didn’t have any real budget, it shot entirely (I think entirely) at Fox’s then-new Century City complex–because it looked future-like. The film opens with a great fifteen or twenty minute, almost real-time sequence of Ricardo Montalban walking around with Roddy McDowell’s talking ape. Bruce Surtees shot Conquest and it’s a beautiful looking film. Director J. Lee Thompson does well in the confines too, making Century City’s stark impersonality look interesting. Montalban owns those first twenty minutes and sets the film up better than it turns out.

The problem is the eventual slave revolt. The acting is excellent across the board–Hari Rhodes as the sympathetic black guy (since Conquest is from 1972, there’s a lot more racial honesty than I’ve seen in a film in years), Severn Darden as the bad guy, and Don Murray as the sort-of bad guy. Murray’s got a few mouthfuls of exposition to get out and, while he doesn’t get them out as well as Montalban, he still does an admirable job. Paul Dehn wrote Conquest (he also wrote the unspeakably awful Beneath and the superior Escape) and he does layer some complexities into the characters, Murray’s especially. Unfortunately, Dehn doesn’t give McDowell as the ape leader any complexity. Once the revolt starts, the film becomes visually dynamic–to a point–the scenes of the revolt are good, but the dramatic thrust of the film is gone. Since the ending is predetermined for a large part, there’s not much interesting going on.

McDowell’s the film’s second biggest problem. His character makes a huge transition in addition to going from being the protagonist to being the subject of Conquest and he doesn’t pull it off. That failing isn’t really McDowell’s, but the script’s. There’s only so much one could do with a film like Conquest–first, that predetermined outcome, second, the single talking ape (as opposed to… I don’t know, two. Two would have done it), and then the cast of human characters. Conquest doesn’t pull many punches about whose side it’s own either. There are a bunch of white guys in jack-boots and SS outfits giving black people shit and beating defenseless animals. There’s a visual metaphor, but it doesn’t go much further, which is kind of nice. Conquest needed to embrace what it had more, instead of working blindly toward its ending. Still, it’s a great looking film. Thompson’s use of the limited set, along with Surtees’s lighting, is beautiful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by Paul Dehn; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Marjorie Fowler and Alan Jaggs; music by Tom Scott; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century-Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Caesar), Don Murray (Breck), Natalie Trundy (Lisa), Hari Rhodes (MacDonald) and Ricardo Montalban (Armando).


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Three Secrets (1950, Robert Wise)

Three Secrets plays like a knock-off of A Letter to Three Wives, only without the writing. Secrets‘s problem is mostly with the writing. There are the three women–all of whom have secrets, except actually only two of them–played by Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal, and Ruth Roman. The secret is each put a child up for adoption (on the same day) and now the child might be alone on top of a mountain, following a plane crash killing his adoptive parents. The kid’s turning six on the day of the present action, so there are three flashbacks to the women’s past–except only two of them tie together, which leaves the third–Ruth Roman’s–sticking out, just like her character sticks out. She’s particularly mistreated by the film, sort of disregarded, and if director Robert Wise had properly configured the film, she’d be even smaller (and maybe not played by Ruth Roman, who’s good, but deserves a better role). Properly, Three Secrets would juxtapose Eleanor Parker and Patricia Neal. Parker’s got a husband (not the baby’s father), a loving but overbearing mother, and she can’t have kids anymore (which the husband doesn’t know, so maybe that secret’s the third one, since Roman doesn’t have a secret). Neal’s a successful journalist whose career got in the way of her marriage. Had the film been about Neal becoming her own story and Parker’s conflicts with her mother and so on, Three Secrets might have been something better.

It wouldn’t have been great, however, since Wise doesn’t know what to do without a big budget. Three Secrets is visibly cheaper–lots of backdrops standing in for nature, lots of indoor shooting–and Wise doesn’t do anything interesting to make the film visually dynamic. He shoots it straight and unimaginatively. For film buffs, there is a sequence in Three Secrets Wise later did again in The Andromeda Strain. The film does show a pulse–when Parker’s family conflicts are off-screen–once some reporters show up. It’s a great newspaper or radio movie, but it’s not supposed to be about the journalists, it’s supposed to be about the three women. When they get together at the end, for maybe fifteen minutes, the scenes are good. Neal’s the central character and she’s good with both Parker and Roman, but she’s so level-headed throughout, the other two women have a couple nice moments the film should have expanded on. The most interesting part of the present action would have been the three women sitting around worried, but we only get a few minutes of it.

The acting from the three women is all good. Depending on the scene, Parker or Neal is better. The supporting cast is mostly in the flashbacks and of that cast, Ted de Corsia is good. In the present action, Edmon Ryan as a rival reporter and Katherine Warren as Parker’s mother are both excellent.

Three Secrets takes place over a nerve-racking thirty-two hours and it never gives the audience a single moment of dread. Everything is positively resolved for everyone, which is fine enough, but it happens immediately. There isn’t even the pretense of anyone thinking or considering their life-changing decisions. The film needed to be written as a play, just to get the pacing right, then filmed. As it stands, it has some good acting and some strange directorial choices.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; written by Martin Rackin and Gina Kaus; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by Thomas Reilly; music by David Buttolph; produced by Milton Sperling; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Susan Adele Connors Chase), Patricia Neal (Phyllis Horn), Ruth Roman (Ann Lawrence), Frank Lovejoy (Bob Duffy), Leif Erickson (Bill Chase), Ted de Corsia (Del Prince), Edmon Ryan (Hardin), Larry Keating (Mark Harrison), Katherine Warren (Mrs. Connors) and Arthur Franz (Paul Radin).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.

Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005, Park Kwang-hyun)

Welcome to Dongmakgol is about an idyllic village in the midst of the Korean War. Two soldiers from the South, three from the North, and an American flyer end up there. Obviously, they learn people are just people and wars are a bad idea, but Dongmakgol revels in itself so much, it’s impossible to dismiss the film as commonplace. It starts strange, with the American crashing. Good CG has obviously made it to Korea and director Park Kwang-Hyun uses a lot of it in Dongmakgol, trying new things with it, fully utilizing it as a storytelling device. Even though the crash looks good, I was unsure of Dongmakgol, since I really didn’t know what it was about. Sometimes not knowing is good, sometimes it’s bad. Immediately following the crash, there’s a standard stand-off when the Communist officer proves himself a decent guy. Again, something else I was worried about. Then, horribly, a battle scene straight from Saving Private Ryan. It’s apparently become the standard for battle scenes.

But once they get the village–which isn’t a Shangri-La aware of its blissful isolation, just ignorant of world events–the film starts to get better and doesn’t stop improving. The Northern and Southern soldiers take time working out their differences, starting with their personal problems first. The pacing is methodical, which hurts the film scene-to-scene, but nurtures a more rewarding experience overall. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Park goes for broke with a three or four minute action sequence done in the studio. It’s a surrealistic CG scene and he pushes it too hard, making the proposition of the scene work better than the scene itself, but it’s done with so much enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to enjoy. Once the film gets back on a more predictable path–it veers again, of course–Park treats the audience to some more exuberance. The end sequence features some great CG and gives the film a great, unexpected, wrap-up.

However… the music, by Joe Hiaishi, almost does the film in. Park’s creating an audio and visual experience with Dongmakgol and Hiaishi recycles one theme over and over again (it sounds like a song from The Muppet Christmas Carol). Stylistically, the music’s out of an episode of “Magnum, p.i.” or “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s far from good enough and doesn’t even achieve a solid mediocrity.

The acting in the film is all high quality. Best is the Communist officer, played by Jeong Jae-yeong, as he’s got the most to do for most of the film. His Southern equivalent, played by Shin Ha-kyun, is good too, but his character’s internally conflicted so he mopes for a lot of it. Ryu Deok-Hwan’s character learns the most about himself in the film, so he’s probably the most interesting. The American, played by some guy named Steve Taschler, is okay. Taschler looks like a cross between Hugh Laurie and Michael O’Keefe, only young, and he’s fine in most of his scenes, especially when there are other people around. I’ve never seen an American actor incorporated so well into an Asian film before (the Godzilla films usually do it to great comedic success, but nothing else).

Dongmakgol is Park’s first film–something almost unbelievable given how well he uses that CG–and it sets him up for one heck of a sophomore slump. It’s an impressive film and Park’s a visual filmmaker, something rare (in quality anyway) these days. I’d probably be calling it one of the best films of last year if it wasn’t for that music.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Park Kwang-hyun; screenplay by Park and Kim Joong, from a play by Jang Jin; director of photography, Choi Sang-ho; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Joe Hiaishi; produced by Choi, Jang, Ji Sang-yong and Lee Eun-ha; released by Showbox.

Starring Jeong Jae-yeong (Chief Comrade Lee Su-Hwa), Shin Ha-kyun (2nd Lt. Pyo Hyun-Chul), Kang Hye-jeong (Yeo-il), Lim Ha-ryong (Jang Young-hee), Seo Jae-kyeong (Army Medic Mun Sang-sang), Ryu Deok-Hwan (Seo Taek-ki) and Steve Taschler (Smith).


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The Very Thought of You (1944, Delmer Daves)

Delmer Daves–for someone whose directing occasionally makes me cover my eyes in fright–does an all right job with The Very Thought of You. He has these tight close-ups and, while there are only a few of them, they work out quick well. Otherwise, technically speaking, he doesn’t have many tricks. He’s on the low end of proficient and I kept thinking, as I watched the film, what a better director could have done with the material, since the film’s so strong.

There isn’t much internal conflict in The Very Thought of You. World War II applies pressure on the characters, pushing them into conflicted situations, which gives the film a nice lightness. It gets slow occasionally, since the only foreseeable suspense throughout is Dennis Morgan’s character getting killed in battle–except he and Eleanor Parker have multiple goodbyes, only to get to see each other again before he goes off. The first act is loaded with good scenes and great conversations and, while the second doesn’t have as many, it has enough the pacing doesn’t get too bothersome.

I suppose the film is propaganda, but it’s incredibly light propaganda if it is–a shot here or there, an extra line of dialogue. Morgan looks like a leading man, but he’s probably the weakest actor in the film. I’ve seen it before but didn’t remember much and I was worried he’d be expected to carry it. Instead, Parker’s got an awful family–Beulah Bondi and Andrea King remind of wicked characters from a fairy tale and both are excellent. Obviously, Parker needs some support in the family scenes, so Henry Travers is her understanding father and does some nice work. Georgia Lee Settle is her precocious little sister and she’s good too. The 4F brother, played by John Alvin, also does some good work. The family scenes are most of the best written ones, since they have visible conflict. The other good scenes are the ones with Parker and Faye Emerson and the ones with Dane Clark as the comic relief (with a heart of gold). The romance between Morgan and Parker–the majority of the film takes place over two days–has all off-screen conflict and, though it’s the subject of the film, one just takes it for granted and engages with the rest.

The film is well-made (though there’s mediocre direction–with a few exceptions) and it’s nice and a pleasant viewing experience. Still, without any conflict and any real suspense, it’s a chore to maintain interest. It’s rewarding, but still a chore.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Delmer Daves; screenplay by Alvah Bessie and Daves, from a story by Lionel Wiggam; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dennis Morgan (Sgt. David Stewart), Eleanor Parker (Janet Wheeler), Dane Clark (Sgt. ‘Fixit’ Gilman), Faye Emerson (Cora ‘Cuddles’ Colton), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Harriet Wheeler), Henry Travers (Pop Wheeler), William Prince (Fred), Andrea King (Molly Wheeler), John Alvin (Cal Wheeler), Marianne O’Brien (Bernice), Georgia Lee Settle (Ellie Wheeler), Richard Erdman (Soda Jerk) and Francis Pierlot (Minister Raymond Houck).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.

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