Five Easy Pieces (C). I caught this 1970 release at the Magnolia this past Tuesday night, knowing really nothing about it except that it starred Jack Nicholson and featured a famous scene in which his character tries to order toast at a diner. It’s okay, but I didn’t think it was so great. Nicholson (The Shining) plays Bobby Dupea, a malcontent who works on oil rigs somewhere in California and is generally rude to his countrified waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black, Nashville). What’s eating him? Well, you find out about halfway through the movie that he has fled a more genteel life, and he decides to go back to the family home in Washington state and see his father, who has had a debilitating stroke. He doesn’t fit in there any better than he does among the commoners. Movies about misfits aren’t really my thing, so I didn’t particularly warm up to this one. Watch for small roles for Sally Struthers (TV’s All in the Family) and Toni Basil (singer of the pop gem “Mickey”). It was nominated for four Oscars®, including best picture, best actor (Nicholson), and best supporting actress (Black), and it’s only 98 minutes long, so check it out and see if you agree with me.
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.
The Movie Snob submits a new review of an old movie.
Laura (B). Who killed Laura Hunt? That’s the question that drives this classic 1944 film noir. Laura (Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven) was a beautiful and successful advertising executive (long before the Mad Men era!). She was the frequent companion of a venomous and snobbish newspaper columnist (Clifton Webb, Three Coins in the Fountain), the lover of a shiftless cad (Vincent Price, The Last Man on Earth), and the niece of a wealthy, frosty aunt (Judith Anderson, Rebecca). And now she’s dead, slain with a shotgun in her own apartment. It’s up to sharp-eyed detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews, The Best Years of Our Lives) to find the clues and solve the case. It’s a fun and twisty little movie, and only 88 minutes long, too. Check it out!
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.
The Music Man (B). Greetings, loyal readers, and my apologies for the long delay since my last post. Alas, this new review does not involve a new movie. Last week I saw the movie of The Music Man for the first time, and I thought it was very nice. Shirley Jones (Oklahoma!) is just beautiful as Marian the librarian. Robert Preston (How the West Was Won) was previously unknown to me, but I thought he turned in a fine performance. As you probably already know, the story is about a con man whose scam is to blow into a small town, puff up excitement for a new boys’ marching band, sell everyone uniforms and musical instruments, and then skip town without teaching any of the kids to play a note. The Simpsons once did an homage to The Music Man in which the great Phil Hartman voiced a con artist whose racket was to sell monorail systems to towns that didn’t need them. But I digress. I liked The Music Man a lot, but it could have been improved; 2 1/2 hours is way too long, and a few of the songs are so corny that they would not be missed. Still, I enjoyed it.
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.
Witness for the Prosecution (B+). This 1957 classic was directed by Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity) and based on a short story and play by Agatha Christie. Charles Laughton (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) stars as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a celebrated London barrister with a knack for winning impossible cases. While he is convalescing after a heart attack, just such a case shows up on his doorstep—a murder case against a charming WWII vet named Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power, Rawhide). His icy German war bride Christine (Marlene Dietrich, Morocco) is his only alibi, but she seems to have a secret agenda of her own. It felt like the murder trial itself took up about half the film’s 116-minute running time, but the trial scenes are well done, and my interest never flagged. Definitely worth seeing, Witness for the Prosecution was nominated for six Oscars, including a best supporting actress nod for Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein) as Sir Wilfrid’s overbearing nurse. The DVD’s extras include the movie’s trailer and some moderately interesting footage of interviews with Wilder about the movie.