Tag Archives: National General Pictures

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969, Bill Melendez)

A Boy Named Charlie Brown gets by on a lot of charm. It takes writer and creator Charles M. Schulz forever to get to the story. It takes Schulz so long to get to the story–Charlie Brown, spelling bee champ–it seems like there isn’t going to be a story.

Schulz lays the groundwork for the story, sure; Charlie Brown enters the spelling bee as an attempt to bolster his self-confidence. Nothing else has worked. He’s lost a baseball game, he’s had a lousy–not just for him–therapy session with Lucy. He even losses at tic-tac-toe.

So, right after Lucy and two other girls sing a song to Charlie Brown about him being a “failure face.” Not a great song. Rod McKuen writes the melancholy Charlie Brown songs, John Scott Trotter writes the didactic spelling song.

Even with director Melendez’s suburban Expressionist visuals and the fantastic montaging courteosy Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Steven Cuitlahuac Melendez’s expert cutting, Failure Face is a low point. It’s the meanest the girls ever get to Charlie Brown. Sure, maybe it’s the inciting incident for the spelling bee plot development, but Melendez doesn’t change tone with it. Just because Schulz is finally ready to go, Melendez isn’t speeding up Boy. It’s still going to be slow and deliberate, with visually outrageous montages, interludes, and asides.

Schulz’s spelling bee plot works out. Linus gave Charlie Brown his blanket to keep him comfort at the nationals. Linus didn’t know he’d go into fainting spellings without the blanket, he and Snoopy go to nationals.

Nationals appear to be in a beautiful and empty New York City. Why Linus gets the excursion to the New York Public Library and Rockefeller Center while Charlie Brown is literally studying in a movie called A Boy Named Charlie Brown doesn’t even matter. Snoopy goes with Linus. And has his own daydream about playing hockey.

It’s the last daydream–or aside or iunterlude–and it’s the worst. It’s cartoon Snoopy in front of silhouetted hockey footage. Boy Named Charlie Brown has this Beethoven “music video” full of Eastern Orthodox imagery (I think, I saw eggs) and all sorts of other amazing stuff. It’s wondrous. And everything else is good if not excellent. To end on a blah daydream?

Maybe if Schulz’s lesson came through, it’d work. Schulz has a lesson in A Boy Named Charlie Brown for Charlie Brown and it’s eighty-five minutes coming so maybe it should be good. It’s not a good lesson. It’s a “movie’s over in two minutes” lesson. The film’s just shown it can do New York City and scale and then it’s got a bad lesson for Charlie Brown, who spent the last third of the movie offscreen.

Even the spelling bee is from the perspective of the other kids. Charlie Brown narrates Boy for a while, yet Schulz doesn’t want to spend the time with him. Schulz is sympathetic to Charlie Brown, empathetic to him, but he never seems to like him. All of Charlie Brown’s details are jokes at his expense. Or at least Schulz goes that route in A Boy Named Charlie Brown. The eventual story arc starts with lengthy depression monologue thirteen year-old Peter Robbins gets to do as Charlie Brown. Schulz gets intense when he’s not trying to be funny.

And then sometimes he’s not funny. Like Lucy. Not funny. Pamelyn Ferdin’s never particularly likable as Lucy here because all she’s ever doing is being mean to Charlie Brown. She’s invested in it, nothing else. She and Schroeder only have the one scene–kicking off the great Beethoven music video–but Schulz gives Lucy almost nothing other than being mean.

Glenn Gilger’s the best performance. He’s Linus. Robbins’s is good as Charlie Brown. But Schulz doesn’t give him anything good. Gilger’s best because he gets the best material.

Excellent score from Vince Guarladi. Fantastic animation. A Boy Named Charlie Brown has all the parts it needs to be great–not McKuen, sorry, forgot about him; but it doesn’t work out. Schulz’s plotting is too cumbersome.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Steven Cuitlahuac Melendez; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Pamelyn Ferdin (Lucy Van Pelt), Glenn Gilger (Linus Van Pelt), Andy Pforsich (Schroeder), Sally Dryer (Patty), Ann Altieri (Violet), Erin Sullivan (Sally), Lynda Mendelson (Frieda), and Christopher DeFaria (Pig Pen).


RELATED

Advertisements

Little Big Man (1970, Arthur Penn)

Little Big Man is episodic. It has to be. Director Penn knows he can’t reveal the tragedy of the film right off because it’d be unbearable but he also can’t avoid it. The film starts in a bookend with an incredibly aged Dustin Hoffman beginning to recount the story; he do so out of anger. It prepares the viewer, but then John Paul Hammond’s music starts and the film starts defying all expectation.

Hammond’s score is more modern Country/Western than the nineteenth century setting. It’s playful, amplifying the humor in the film. Why does the film, a considerable tragedy, need humor? Because Penn’s telling the traditional American Western movie from the Native Americans. Only, it’s not supposed to be actual, it’s still supposed to be Hollywood, still supposed to be a Western. At least until Hoffman’s performance develops more as the film progresses.

Penn takes the film–which is an epic American story on an epic scale–and makes it small. He doesn’t let the viewer indulge in the production value. He hurries past the artificial, opening up in the locations. Wonderful photography from Harry Stradling Jr. but truly exceptional editing from Dede Allen. Man moves beautifully, with Penn keeping the camera tight on the personal action. The genre commentary needs the story and vice versa.

Great “guest starring” turns from Faye Dunaway, Martin Balsam, Jeff Corey. Richard Mulligan’s Custer is bewildering, amazing.

But it’s Chief Dan George and Hoffman (and Penn) who make Man sore like a hawk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Penn; screenplay by Calder Willingham, based on the novel by Thomas Berger; director of photography, Harry Stradling Jr.; edited by Dede Allen; music by John Paul Hammond; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; produced by Stuart Miller; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Jack Crabb), Martin Balsam (Mr. Merriweather), Richard Mulligan (Gen. George Armstrong Custer), Chief Dan George (Old Lodge Skins), Jeff Corey (Wild Bill Hickok), Aimée Eccles (Sunshine), Kelly Jean Peters (Olga Crabb), Carole Androsky (Caroline Crabb), Robert Little Star (Little Horse), Cal Bellini (Younger Bear), Ruben Moreno (Shadow That Comes in Sight), Steve Shemayne (Burns Red in the Sun), Thayer David (Rev. Silas Pendrake) and Faye Dunaway (Mrs. Pendrake).


RELATED

The Deadly Trap (1971, René Clément)

It would be nice to have one positive thing to say about The Deadly Trap. Clements’s direction is so odd, Paris doesn’t even look good. Clements barely shows it; he tries hard to stylize–extreme close-ups on random objects, no establishing shots.

Actually, wait, Andréas Winding’s photography isn’t bad. It’s the only competent technical effort present. Gilbert Bécaud’s music is hilariously bad, but given when Clements utilizes it, it might be intentional. Also terrible is Françoise Javet’s editing. Again, it’s probably to fit Clements’s vision.

But what’s that vision? It changes from minute to minute. The film’s supposed to be a thriller, but Clements makes everything as obvious as possible, which kills any suspense. The scary music during these painfully boring scenes doesn’t help.

Trap opens with a pretentious existential monologue from Faye Dunaway but Clements isn’t even willing to commit to that device. Then, twenty or so minutes in, the audience finds out Dunaway has psychological problems and is being treated for them. Suddenly the opening monologue no longer makes sense since Trap‘s not from her perspective.

It’s also not from Frank Langella’s perspective. He plays her overworked jerk of a husband. One has to assume the two took the roles for the Paris shooting location. There’s no other reasonable explanation.

Both are lame, though Langella’s weaker (he fails miserably at essaying a disinterested father). Dunaway’s okay opposite the kids, but awful with Langella.

The Deadly Trap is atrocious. It’s hard to imagine how it could be worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by René Clément; screenplay by Sidney Buchman and Eleanor Perry, based on an adaptation by Daniel Boulanger and Clément and a novel by Arthur Cavanaugh; director of photography, Andréas Winding; edited by Françoise Javet; music by Gilbert Bécaud; produced by Georges Casati, Robert Dorfmann and Bertrand Javal; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Faye Dunaway (Jill), Frank Langella (Philip), Barbara Parkins (Cynthia), Karen Blaugueron (Miss Hansen), Raymond Gérôme (Commissaire Chenylle), Gérard Buhr (The Psychiatrist), Michele Lourie (Cathy), Patrick Vincent (Patrick) and Maurice Ranet (Stranger).


RELATED

The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971, Dario Argento)

I had all sorts of plans on how to start off this post, but the idiotic ending has hindered them. I mean, the whole film suffers from being incredibly stupid (Argento’s characters are the most unbelievable I can remember seeing in recent memory), but the ending actually goes for a kind–not an aspiration for high kind either, or a witty kind–of pretentiousness. It’s not just the ending being terrible in the narrative construction sense, but also… It’s indescribably stupid.

My original opening had to do with me only having seen the film in an edited, pan and scan form some ten years ago. But, Argento is not a very interesting director when it comes to shot construction in this film so it doesn’t really matter if I get to see the whole frame. As for the editing out of twenty-some minutes, well… I suppose if it were scenes with Catherine Spaak and James Franciscus, I at least got to see the best film had to offer. However, if they were more scenes of Karl Malden, giving one of the ludicrous performances I can think of–I mean, how hard up was Malden to do the film?–I didn’t miss anything.

I also was going to start with mentioning Argento has no idea how to write an interesting story. The mystery in The Cat o’ Nine Tails is mysterious and, I suppose, one would want to see it solved. Argento just doesn’t know how to make that story–the solving of the mystery by Franciscus and Malden–engaging. Maybe because everyone is so stupid? I don’t know. Maybe because Argento is a terrible writer and director.

That last one seems most likely.

Franciscus is good as the lead, even if the Italian system of looping dialogue results in a bit of an unnatural performance. Besides Malden, no one else in the cast is terrible.

It’s also interesting how, half way through, the budget appears to disappear. All the scenes are indoors, all the scenes are at night….

Rome’s pretty though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dario Argento; screenplay by Argento, based on a story by Argento, Luigi Collo and Dardano Sacchetti; director of photography, Erico Menczer; edited by Franco Fraticelli; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Carlo Leva; produced by Salvatore Argento; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Karl Malden (Franco Arno), James Franciscus (Carlo Giordani), Catherine Spaak (Anna Terzi), Cinzia De Carolis (Lori), Carlo Alighiero (Dr. Calabresi), Vittorio Congia (Cameraman Righetto), Pier Paolo Capponi (Police Supt. Spimi), Rada Rassimov (Bianca Merusi), Horst Frank (Dr. Braun) and Tino Carraro (Professor Terzi).


RELATED