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.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

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).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

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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….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

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).


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Boys’ Night Out (1962, Michael Gordon)

Ah, the 1960s sex comedy. I guess Hollywood was ecstatic to be able to use the word sex in a film back then. Actually, watching the film, I thought it was later, maybe 1966. But it couldn’t have been, because Kim Novak wasn’t making films in ’66 (according to IMDb). Kim Novak has always gotten a bad rap (I thought Maltin said she’d never delivered a natural performance, but that’s not the case according to IMDb’s reprint of his bio of her, so it was probably Ebert). Kim Novak’s a good actor. She comes out best in this film, though Garner has a few good moments and Tony Randall does an interesting precursor–in body language–of Niles Crane.

The film is mildly amusing, not particularly good or well-made. William Bendix is in it for a bit as a bartender and he’s great (Bendix is usually great). These “sex comedies” didn’t understand how to construct a good conclusion, even though the romantic comedy conclusion had been in place since the mid-1930s. It’s like they forgot them for a bit and you got stuck with bad endings, without rising music and such. The “morals” of the film–the intent on the husband’s part can translate, after he gets caught, into a better marriage–are incredibly offensive, another aspect of the “sex comedy,” one best exemplified by A Guide for the Married Man.

The 1960s are an incredibly odd period of cinema (not just American). They didn’t quite know what to do–Lolita was the same year as Boys’ Night Out and the same studio too. You had two forward-moving film movements, both arguably aimed at the mass market, both building on what came before, but one a little bit less self-aware (the sex comedy). Odd how it all worked out. I wonder if there was ever a specific breaking point where the pendulum got stuck….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Gordon; screenplay by Ira Wallach, based on a story by Marvin Worth and Arne Sultan, adapted by Marion Hargrove; director of photography, Arthur E. Arling; edited by Tom McAdoo; music by Frank De Vol; produced by Martin Ransohoff; and presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kim Novak (Cathy), James Garner (Fred Williams), Tony Randall (George Drayton), Howard Duff (Doug Jackson), Janet Blair (Marge Drayton), Patti Page (Joanne McIllenny), Jessie Royce Landis (Ethel Williams), Oscar Homolka (Dr. Prokosch), Howard Morris (Howard McIllenny), Anne Jeffreys (Toni Jackson), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Girl with boss), Fred Clark (Mr. Bohannon), William Bendix (Slattery), Jim Backus (Peter Bowers), Larry Keating (Mr. Bingham) and Ruth McDevitt (Beaulah Patridge).


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Henry Fool (1997, Hal Hartley)

I remember seeing Henry Fool years ago, but I remembered it being laugh-out-loud funny. This era, my 1999 film-watching era, is highly suspect to me now. It’s pre-Traffic, I suppose.

I’ve tried watching Hartley since. No Such Thing was a particularly terrible experience… or however much of it I saw.

And for most of Henry Fool, I was moving between some low rating, one to one and a half, in line with movielens. What’s important–what’s funny–when you’re twenty isn’t necessarily funny when you’re not. I used to think Mallrats was good, for example.

Henry Fool, which I’m hardly writing about because it’s 2:03 in the morning and I’m tired, does something amazing. It takes one hour and forty-five minutes of one to one and a half star material and then spends twenty-five minutes turning it all into three and a half star material. I’m not aware of a film that becomes so notable so quickly. I really don’t think it’s been done since or before….

Too bad the other Hartley I tried was such a momentous failure. But see Henry Fool. If only for the Parker Posey’s great performance.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written, directed and produced by Hal Hartley; director of photography, Michael Spiller; edited by Steve Hamilton; music by Hartley; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Thomas Jay Ryan (Henry Fool), James Urbaniak (Simon Grim), Parker Posey (Fay), Maria Porter (Mary), James Saito (Mr. Deng) and Kevin Corrigan (Warren).


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