Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971, Mel Stuart)

Part of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s greatest successes is the plotting–how top-billed Gene Wilder doesn’t show up until almost halfway into the film–but it’s also one of the film’s problems. It needs another five or ten minutes with Wilder; probably not at the very end, but somewhere before it. There’s so much going on, director Stuart and writer Roald Dahl (adapting his novel) sort of lose track of everything.

There’s a lot creativity, both in the writing and the direction, to the narrative–Stuart juxtaposes various television reports about Wilder’s Willy Wonka offering five passes to his chocolate factory against young Peter Ostrum’s wishes to find one. It’s beautifully executed, thanks to great acting, Arthur Ibbetson’s photography, Stuart’s direction and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s music. Not all of the songs are great, but they’re all good enough and some of them are outstanding. Ostrum gives a fine, appealing performance; Stuart tends to put him opposite rather strong performers. Jack Albertson is great as his grandfather, Diana Sowle’s good as his mom. Bit players Aubrey Woods and David Battley are also quite good.

The second half of the film, in addition to bringing Wilder into the story proper, also has all the other “golden ticket” winners. Great obnoxious children–particularly Julie Dawn Cole and Denise Nickerson–and great obnoxious parents–Leonard Stone and Roy Kinnear standout. Ostrum gets somewhat lost in the shuffle. When he and Albertson do get a scene to themselves, it’s at a point where the film needs more Wilder, not less.

As for Wilder, he’s phenomenal. He overcomplicates the role to fantastic result, going light and dark, introverted, extroverted. He’s always doing something wonderful (and why the heck didn’t Wilder do more singing roles?). While Stuart, Dahl and Ibbetson create a lot of the film’s gently tragic magic in the first half–along with Ostrum and Albertson, of course–it’s Wilder who introduces that element in the second half. Everyone else is way too busy with all the special effects and just managing the eleven principal characters.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory achieves a great many successes. It doesn’t quite get where it’s trying to go, but thanks to Wilder, Stuart, Dahl and Ostrum, it does get somewhere very special.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Stuart; screenplay by Roald Dahl, based on his novel; director of photography, Arthur Ibbetson; edited by David Saxon; music by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Peter Ostrum (Charlie), Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka), Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe), Diana Sowle (Mrs. Bucket), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Roy Kinnear (Mr. Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde), Leonard Stone (Mr. Beauregarde), Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee), Nora Denney (Mrs. Teevee), Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop), Ursula Reit (Mrs. Gloop), Aubrey Woods (Bill), David Battley (Mr. Turkentine) and Günter Meisner (Mr. Slugworth).


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You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert)

My wife walked out on You Only Live Twice. She got up and left about forty minutes in. I finished it because I figured forty minutes was halfway and I could make it. It was tough.

The film’s memorable because of the beginning, where James Bond dies. It’s an interesting scene, even though it’s never explained. The ninjas are sort of memorable, but not specifically, because it’s a lame scene.

What stunned me about the film was how sexist it is. For a James Bond movie to be stunningly sexist, it has to be really sexist. The lack of distinguishable personalities for the two female leads–who, incidentally, were both in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Then there’s the scene where Bond’s Japanese counterpart makes a nasty remark about Moneypenny and Bond doesn’t defend her as a colleague. Also, there’s a lengthy sequence about Bond refusing his mission because he doesn’t think he’s going to get a pretty fake wife.

There are some cool sets at the end. It’s amazing how big Pinewood is–I can’t think of any other film, except maybe Eyes Wide Shut, making the studio seem so big.

Sean Connery’s bored.

Lewis Gilbert’s direction is lousy. I got excited when I saw Gilbert’s name too; he must have learned subtlety later in his career.

The music’s okay.

The action sequence with the helicopter is good.

The plot lacks any movement, with Bond hanging out in Japan the entire runtime.

It’s boring me even to talk about it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Gilbert; screenplay by Roald Dahl and Harold Jack Bloom, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Freddie Young; music by John Barry; production designer, Ken Adam; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; released by United Artists.

Starring Sean Connery (James Bond), Wakabayashi Akiko (Aki), Hama Mie (Kissy Suzuki), Tamba Tetsuro (Tiger Tanaka), Shimada Teru (Mr. Osato), Karin Dor (Helga Brandt), Donald Pleasence (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Charles Gray (Dikko Henderson) and Chin Tsai (Ling).


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36 Hours (1965, George Seaton)

George Seaton is a perfectly capable director and he’s got a lot of talent as a writer, but 36 Hours is fairly light. It’s set just before D-Day–and we all know D-Day happened, so the Germans aren’t going to win the big kahuna, which leaves only the little ones. Again, James Garner probably isn’t going to die, neither is Eva Marie Saint. There’s little suspense to the conclusion of 36 Hours and a thriller needs suspense….

The film is about the Germans getting ahold of a D-Day planner right before the invasion and setting him up in a fake U.S. hospital run by Rod Taylor, where everyone speaks English and they try to convince him (Garner) he’s had amnesia for six years. The first hour of the film doesn’t even rightly belong to Garner. It’s mostly Taylor and his dealings with the SS and so on. Taylor, of course, is a sympathetic Nazi, a doctor dedicated to relieving post-traumic stress. Taylor’s really good too, better than Garner, who’s on autopilot for most of the film–his character is incredibly shallow–except the few scenes between Taylor and Garner. Seaton started as a playwright (I think), but I do remember from The Big Lift, he really knows how to write male friendships. 36 Hours has one of those good friendships, or at least the foundation for one.

Unfortunately, the friendship is not the focus of the film… actually, 36 Hours doesn’t really have a focus. It takes place over a few days–much longer than 36 hours, those 36 hours are actually used up by the half-way point–and there’s uneventful chase scenes and McGuffins everywhere. There is a wonderful sequence at the beginning, set entirely to café music. I wonder if Seaton thought of it himself or if he knew what Welles wanted for the beginning of Touch of Evil, since the two are almost identical. The music in general, by Dimitri Tiomkin, is excellent. He never goes too heavy with it and the music helps bring out some of the more amusing elements to the story. It’s also got a good love theme, and since Eva Marie Saint is really bad, those scenes need all the help they can get.

To some degree, 36 Hours just came a little too late… It was released in 1965 and it just feels too much like an attempt to capitalize on The Great Escape. Seaton’s earlier World War II work had some revealing insight into Germany, but 20 years after the war ended, most of that insight is gone. Instead, he does it for light humor. A more serious tone wouldn’t have fixed 36 Hours, but it would have helped.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Seaton; screenplay by Seaton, from a story by Carl K. Hittleman and Luis H. Vance, based on a short story by Roald Dahl; director of photography, Philip H. Lathrop; edited by Adrienne Fazan; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by William Perlberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring James Garner (Maj. Jefferson F. Pike), Eva Marie Saint (Anna Hedler), Rod Taylor (Maj. Walter Gerber), Werner Peters (Otto Schack), John Banner (Sgt. Ernst), Russell Thorson (Gen. Allison), Alan Napier (Col. Peter MacLean), Oscar Beregi Jr. (Lt. Col. Karl Ostermann), Ed Gilbert (Capt. Abbott) and Sig Ruman (German Guard).