Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (B). Well, I’m trying to get back into the swing of regular moviegoing, so I decided to see if the Magnolia Theater is still running its classic-movie series on Tuesday nights. Lo, it is, and I caught this 1969 Western this past Tuesday. I had never seen it before and still don’t quite know what to make of it. It stars Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the outlaws of the film’s title, and as best I can tell from extensive Wikipedia research the movie is actually fairly true to history. It’s the late 1890s, and Butch, the Kid, and their Hole in the Wall gang are making a living robbing banks and trains—until they irritate some big plutocrat and he hires a very dangerous posse to bring them to justice. So, in the interest of self-preservation, they make some unusual career choices after that. Although IMDB.com categorizes the film as “Biography, Crime, Drama,” it has a strong comedic element, with Newman providing lots of amusing dialogue, Redford being amusingly laconic, and an oddly jaunty soundtrack playing in the background. (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won an Oscar.) And yet, there is quite a bit of shooting and killing, albeit with very little blood visible. Katharine Ross of The Graduate fame drops in for a while as the Kid’s love interest, but Butch shows more interest in her than the Kid ever does, and really this movie is a bromance between Butch and the Kid from start to finish.
Anyway, the film held my interest, but I still think it’s kind of an odd bird. It’s #73 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies, so I guess it’s a classic.
Bonnie and Clyde (B+). I recently got to see a special screening of this 1967 release, directed by Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker) and starring Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown). It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still very interesting and entertaining. Beatty and Dunaway play Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The fellow who hosted the screening said the movie should be considered “historical fiction,” but, if wikipedia is any guide, one thing this film gets right is that the Barrow Gang didn’t hesitate to shoot people, even (or especially) police officers, who got in their way. It was considered an unusually violent and graphic movie back in the day, and I thought it was still a little shocking at times. I was also shocked to see Denver Pyle in a small supporting role. I knew him only from TV’s Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and especially The Dukes of Hazzard; I didn’t know that he had ever been an actor. It also co-stars Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers), Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) in his film debut, and a kid named Michael J. Pollard who had recently appeared in the original Star Trek episode “Miri.” It’s one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” Definitely worth seeing, unless you really don’t like shoot-em-ups.
Shane (C). I guess this is considered a classic Western—and it got six Academy Award nominations—but I didn’t think it was anything special. Shane (Alan Ladd, The Great Gatsby (1949)) is a wandering gunfighter who accidentally wanders into a Wyoming range war between a big rancher named Ryker and a bunch of homesteaders who want to fence and farm the valley. Shane throws his lot in with the sodbusters, led by stalwart Joe Starrett (Van Heflin, 3:10 to Yuma (1957)), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur, You Can’t Take It With You), and his annoying son Joey (Brandon De Wilde, Hud). A very young Jack Palance (City Slickers) got a supporting-actor nomination for his performance as an evil gunslinger the rancher brings to town to deal with the farmers. Roger Ebert calls it a great movie, but I thought it was only passable.
2001: A Space Odyssey (A). I had seen this 1968 Kubrick masterpiece only once, many years ago, so I jumped at the chance to see it again at the Magnolia this past Tuesday night. It was just as long and as trippy as I remembered it. Basically, it’s about man’s first contact(s) with extraterrestrials. There’s a prologue in which a black monolith of alien origin appears to our ape-like ancestors and (apparently) gives them the idea to start using tools. Then we jump to the near future of 2001, when an identical monolith is discovered on the moon. Finally, the bulk of the film is devoted to an ambitious space mission to Jupiter, led by astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea, The Thin Red Line) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood, Kitten with a Whip) and aided by the superintelligent computer HAL9000. The special effects stand up amazingly well for their age. See it on the big screen if you ever get the chance.
Double Indemnity (B). Yes, it was classic movie night at The Magnolia again last Tuesday night, and I just had to take a gander at this classic film noir I’ve heard so much about. Fred MacMurray (TV’s My Three Sons) plays Walter Neff, a talented but amoral insurance salesman. He calls on a wealthy client and finds that the client isn’t home but his sultry wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve) is. Sparks fly, and before long Walter is hatching a scheme with Phyllis to insure her husband’s life and then off him. It’s a pretty good movie, but the effect was slightly spoiled in the early going by the audience’s frequent outbursts of laughter during some of the excessively hard-boiled dialogue. And I didn’t quite buy the ending. But still and all, I enjoyed the movie. Edward G. Robinson (Soylent Green) co-stars as the insurance claims investigator who can smell insurance fraud a mile away.
Schindler’s List (A-). I did not get around to seeing the winner of the 1994 Oscar for Best Picture until last night — I had bought the DVD years ago, but could never bring myself to watch it. It is, of course, as good and as powerful as I had expected it to be. A young Liam Neeson (Clash of the Titans) plays Oskar Schindler, an amoral, womanizing entrepreneur who moves to Krakow, Poland, and hatches a very successful plan to profit from WWII by using cheap Jewish laborers to manufacture things for the German army. Gradually, his eyes are opened to the Nazi horror, and by the end of the movie he has spent his entire fortune on the bribes necessary to save the lives of some 1,100 Jews. Neeson turns in a fine performance (Tom Hanks beat him out for the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia), as does a young Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) as Amon Goeth, the psychotic Nazi commandant of the labor camp outside Krakow. (Tommy Lee Jones beat Fiennes for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fugitive.) Ebert included Schindler’s List in his first book The Great Movies, and with good reason.