Funny Girl (B). I was back at the Magnolia Theater this past Tuesday night for The Big Movie — the 1968 musical that was Barbra Streisand’s first movie role. In fact, I think this is only the second Streisand movie I have ever seen, the first being What’s Up, Doc?, which I saw on network TV a couple of times when I was a kid. Anyhoo, Funny Girl is a biopic about real life entertainer Fanny Brice, who performed in Ziegfeld’s Follies in the early 20th century. Streisand turns in a rip-roaring performance as Brice and tied with Katharine Hepburn for the best-actress Oscar™. Omar Sharif (Dr. Zhivago) co-stars as the suave gambler who sweeps her off her feet. It was an entertaining movie, but not quite top tier in my book. It’s two and a half hours long, which is kind of long but not long enough to justify the 15-minute intermission we were forced to sit through! Anyway, I say it’s worth seeing if you like musicals.
The Best Years of Our Lives (B+). This movie won the Best Picture Oscar (and several others) in 1946, and was probably seen as an unflinching portrayal of the problems of G.I.’s returning to their civilians lives after WWII. It is mild and overly sentimental by today’s standards, but very good nonetheless. It’s also very long, almost 3 hours, so I watched it in two sittings. In the first hour we meet our three protagonists, ex-servicemen who happen to meet on their way to their mutual home town of Boone City. There’s middle-aged Sergeant Al Stevenson (Fredric March, I Married a Witch), who’s returning to a comfortable job in banking and an established family. There’s youngish Air Force Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, Laura), who’s returning to a wife he barely knows, having married impulsively just before shipping out. And there’s the youngest of the trio, Sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), who’s returning to a loving family and childhood sweetheart but is tormented by the fact that he lost his hands in the war. (Russell was a non-actor veteran who had lost his hands in a military training accident.) In the next two hours, we see how these three men adjust to their new situation. Old-fashioned in some respects but surprisingly up-to-date in others, this movie is worth seeing.
Ben-Hur (1959) (B). I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, other than a heck of a chariot race. My first clue was the subtitle that I never knew the movie had but that was right there in the opening credits: “A Story of the Christ.” Charlton Heston (Antony and Cleopatra) plays Judah Ben Hur, a wealthy young Jew living in Roman-occupied Palestine in the time of Christ. As the movie opens, Judah’s childhood friend Massala (Stephen Boyd, The Fall of the Roman Empire), a Roman, returns to Palestine as an ambitious military commander. The country is ripe for revolution, and Massala expects Judah to turn informant. When he refuses, an accident gives the Massala the opportunity to teach the restive Jews a lesson by sentencing Judah to be a galley slave and throwing his mother and sister into prison. From then on, Judah lives for revenge. Matters come to a head between Judah and Massala right around the end of Jesus’s earthly life, and the Passion of The Christ turns out to have a special significance for Judah. This 1959 movie gives Christ and Christianity a sweet and sentimental glow they sure don’t get any more. Not a bad movie, with great sets and, yes, an amazing chariot race. Now I know where George Lucas got the inspiration for the pod race in Episode I.