Monday, August 24, 2009

Desperate Journey (1942)

Well, there's not that much that's desperate about this journey. There should be, but Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan are having way too much fun single-handedly trying to win WWII. It's not all a light-hearted romp -- the long car chase at the end is quite nicely filmed and rather nail-biting -- but this film is pure "We laugh in the face of Danger! Hah-hah!" Definitely check any sense of reality at the door.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on what you're looking for. I went into this film thinking it was going to be serious and was initially disappointed... but now I know better. This is a movie to watch when you want an exciting fantasy adventure. The plot's simple enough. Errol Flynn kicks off the story when he can't abide playing it safe. No, he's got to disobey orders and take his bomber down beneath the clouds to get the German target they're after, and promptly gets them shot down waaaaaaaay behind enemy lines. Kills their captain and a couple other chaps, and Flynn and the rest of the surviving crew go on the run. They don't make it far before the Germans capture them, but they don't stay captured for long. The rest of the movie follows their journey to get back to England. Things are complicated by a German Major (Raymond Massey, who's good here, but I can never quite get past his Arsenic and Old Lace role) personally after them because they stole his plans for some new messerschmitt factories, a side-trip to blow up a chemical factory in Berlin, because, really, when you're on the run for your life in enemy territory, you must strike a blow for the Allies while you're there. As Ronald Regan's character declares with a grin: "Look at us! We're a five man invasion!" And they are. They wreak havoc as they escape Germany, and nobody even ever stops them and asks them for their papers.

The only voice of reason in the film is Arthur Kennedy, who is young and cute and oh so very serious. He was the best part of the movie, and the only character I could relate to. He's a needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few type of guy. He's Mr. Practical/Realistic. He's okay with their wounded comrade giving himself up to the Germans so the rest of them have a better chance to escape. Not Flynn, oh no, he must go rescue the poor chap, we don't leave our people behind, and all that. Arthur Kennedy likes to point out to Errol Flynn that there's more at stake, and Flynn likes to disparage him for Being Serious. They really do have some Serious discussions. Some viewers might think it bogs down the adventure, or that the dialogue's too tailored to get the home audience charging down to the recruitment office the next morning, but I liked whenever Kennedy and Flynn or Reagan butted heads over what it's all about. Brought a little balance to the film and gave me that more serious edge I was looking for.

Kennedy: "We haven't got the right to risk our getting back on side issues. Weigh the values."
Flynn: "That's what comes from having been a bookkeeper. You add everything up. Plus and minus. Then you stick in a decimal point and let it take all the fun out of life."
Kennedy: "Fun? I didn't get into this war for fun or adventure or because it was expected of me. I got in because it was a hard, dirty job that has to be done before I can go back to doing what I like. Before a hundred million other people can go back to doing what they like. It's no bright game to me."

At least Flynn has the good sense to admit a moment later he knows full well he's being reckless, and his logic makes sense to me. "I figure we have about one chance in 10,000 of ever getting out of here," he reasons. "If we are going to get knocked off, I just want to leave a couple of bouquets behind. To be remembered by, that's all."

I started liking his character more after that point. Sure, it may all be 1942 propaganda, but it works for me on a story/thematic level too.

The journey may not have been entirely desperate, but it was pretty suspenseful in places. I spent most of the film afraid Arthur Kennedy's character would get killed. The action in the last half is quite exciting. I really did dig that car chase. It was a good one. Maybe I just love watching those old cars and motorcycles tearing around on dirt roads. The Germans speak German with no subtitles, and I always love that. The actors are all good and look like they're having a grand old time. (Is Alan Hale ever NOT having a grand old time in any of his movies??) And for the fun factor, it doesn't get much better than Ronald Reagan, while being interrogated, pretending to cooperate and completely flamboozling Massey's character with some wonderful, made-up nonsense about how American planes can fly at high altitude. Priceless!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guest blogging - Alfred Hitchcock

I'm guest blogging at Millie's lovely journal, Classic Forever, today! As August 13th would have been Alfred Hitchcock's 110th birthday, she's celebrating in fine style by having a series of posts on him, both by her and guest bloggers, during the month of August. My entry is on one of my favorite episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Be sure to check out her other Hitchcock posts, particularly this one, the first in her series. Millie always finds the most interesting photos of her subjects to share!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The essence of my favorite music

This is going to be a long post, and it's going to ramble on about my favorite film scores for awhile, so if that's not your thing, feel free to click on to something else!

Ever try picking a single favorite soundtrack cue for each of your favorite film composers? Yeah. I guess I felt like a challenge today. Trying to choose only one is a form of torture, sure enough, but there's also something satisfying about it. Interestingly, my favorite individual cues are not from my favorite score by that same composer.

I've never done this on my journal before, but I've seen other blogs do this, so where available, I've included a link to the music.

  • Jerry Goldsmith - "Winter March" from Patton.
This one, amazingly enough, was relatively easy to choose. I think this has been my favorite single piece of music by him since I was in single-digits. Which, as Goldsmith is my favorite composer, also makes it my single favorite piece of music of all time. This cue, I believe, isn't even in the movie. I particularly love how it builds. I tried to find it online, but while the main theme from Patton is everywhere, I couldn't turn up this cue. Favorite score: The Wind and the Lion.

  • Elmer Bernstein - "Main Title" from The Bridge at Remagen.
Gee, you think I have a thing for military scores? Yeah, you'd be right. This theme I heard for the first time when I watched the movie, and I was in love on the spot. A day rarely goes by when I don't play it. And yeah, I do have a thing for counterpoint too. And minor keys. This one was also fairly easy to select. Favorite score is Big Jake. And the only reason my favorite cue isn't also from Big Jake is because I couldn't choose only one cue.

Jump to 5:40 on this one for the theme... there were a couple versions of just the theme but I disliked the orchestration in them. This is the version I like.

  • James Horner - "Genesis Countdown" from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Okay, Horner was damned near impossible to narrow down, but this cue features just about every element I love about Horner's music in one place, and it's been a favorite since I first saw the movie, so it's got longevity on its side! Horner's my go-to composer when I need an emotional fix. Favorite score is a toss-up between The Mask of Zorro and The Missing.

  • Basil Poledouris - "Nuclear Scam" from The Hunt for Red October.
This one was mostly easy (though the Battle Montage from Farewell to the King was a serious contender). But this cue has everything. Although this is also one that I cannot divorce from the movie, not that that's bad, it just gives me a slightly different listening experience. Favorite score is Flesh + Blood.

  • James Newton Howard - "Tarawa" from Snow Falling on Cedars.
Almost worse than Horner to narrow down to one cue. Couldn't decide between this cue or "Across the Desert" from Dinosaur or "The Hand of Fate" from Signs or several others. "Tarawa" won because I tend to beeline for it and it alone on its album, and because of the operatic quality of it. Favorite score is a toss up between King Kong and Dinosaur.

  • John Williams - "Desert Chase" from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This cue represents John Williams at his action-packed best. Also impossible to listen to without seeing (and hearing every sound effect) from the movie. But as it's my favorite scene in the film, I don't mind. Favorite score The Empire Strikes Back.

  • Bruce Broughton - "Attempted Assassination/End Title" from Shadow Conspiracy.
This is one of those movies I refuse to see because I don't want the music ruined by images other than what's in my head, particularly the final cue. The main title is awesome too, but it's the final cue I play more than any others. Favorite score: True Women.

  • Bernard Hermann - Main Title from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
There is so much fabulous Hermann music, but this theme was always so romantic and beautiful and transported me to adventurous places I wanted to go. If you mention his name, it's usually the first music I start singing in my head, even over Hitchcock scores, etc. Favorite score: Mysterious Island.

  • John Barry - The Story Ends from Mercury Rising.
That distinctive quiet, pretty Barry style, but for some reason I particularly like this piece. I actually listen to this score a lot when I write, probably more than any other non-Bond Barry score, and I often put that last cue on repeat. Favorite score: You Only Live Twice.

  • Miklos Rozsa - Main Title from Double Indemnity.
Because there is no way on living earth I could choose one favorite theme from Ben-Hur. Or any of a dozen other scores, all different flavors, that he's written, from noir to epic. I love the main title from Double Indemnity particularly grabs me, with that slow almost funereal opening that slowly speeds up. Favorite score: Ben-Hur.

  • Frank deVol - "Gabriele's Death" from The Flight of the Phoenix.
This is one of those cues that never fails to make me tear up. Yeah, what's happening in the movie is sad, but that moment in the movie always got me because of the music, more than anything else. Favorite score: The Flight of the Phoenix. Hah! Finally got a match up of individual cue to favorite score!

  • Maurice Jarre - Main Title from Island at the Top of the World.
This score isn't even available in any recording as far as I know. It's probably at the top of my want list for unreleased music. I've always loved the music from this movie, particularly the main title. Jarre is an interesting composer to me. He's got a unique sound, and I usually have to be in a slightly quirky mood to enjoy most his scores. Favorite score... don't laugh, but Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I fricking love that score. Almost wore my LP out, once upon a time. That and my LP of Shogun.

  • Chris Young - Main Title from Jennifer 8
Ooh, this one always gives me shivers. So beautiful, so haunting. Favorite score: Jennifer 8.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Weekend roundup

I finished the final draft of my Combat! fanfiction story "In Little Stars" last week. Nice to have that one out of my brain, as it was started in January 2008, and it was emotionally taxing. It went through four drafts during that time, more than my usual for fanfic, ending up at nearly 18,000 words. But then I can rarely write short fanfic stories. My brain still prefers to work in "hour-long" episode formats when it can. I'm also glad this one's done because I have just two more fanfic stories left in me, and one's already done (first draft-completed during last year's nano), and the last story is two-thirds written. And that nicely leaves most of my free time available for the new novel.

The new novel is shifting, growing, even as I still work on chapter one. Hero's voice continues to elude me, but that's okay. With the overall growth it's doing, I'd rather keep everything fluid and open right now. I'm waiting for one more piece to click in place. When it does, I'll be ready to jump into it more firmly. But I've had that lovely bouncy excitement every day as I wait for work and daily commitments to end so I can work on it. I love that feeling!

On the movie front, watched Barbary Coast with Edward G. Robinson, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea. Meh. Not bad, not good. Just... meh. Edward G. was awesomely cool as ever (dig that earring), and Joel earnest and love-lost and spouting poetry while making horribly, terribly bad decisions. Walter Brennan adds suitable color and made me grin every time he appeared. Walter Brennan is just the best, he really is. When he gives the money he stole from Joel back to him, he's priceless! Brian Donlevy's lurking about as an oddly dressed thug... it's funny, I always think of him as a rather imposing man (a lot of that is his don't-mess-with-me attitude and the tough characters he plays), but you know, he isn't. Particularly next to Joel McCrea. Okay, that's not truly fair, cuz Joel makes most other actors look small, but still. Donlevy's still young and thin here too... and that outfit. Gadzooks, he needs to lose the unflattering, high-necked outfit. Really. Badly.

And now, to Nicole at Classic Hollywood Nerd, a very very HAPPY 20th BIRTHDAY!!!! I enjoyed a slice of Stir-Crazy Cake this evening to celebrate! (A truly yummy cake, easy to make -- very highly recommended!) Hope your birthday is a fabulous one!

Joel McCrea in Barbary Coast, broad-shouldered and handsome, as always!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

I'll admit, I am a complete sap and romantic (I think you have to be when you grow up on opera). I've got an unabashed love for melodrama too, and William Holden, of course, is my favorite actor. And so, you think I'd like this movie... and you'd be dead wrong. I absolutely could not wait for this snooze fest to end. If it wasn't for William Holden, I would have turned it off partway through, walked away, and not looked back. And this movie won 3 oscars and was up for quite a few more??

What did I like? The music (I've always loved that song, and I love Alfred Newman scores), and the Hong Kong scenery.

What did I not like? Everything else. The movie's premise was good, the dilemmas and conflicts good, it just absolutely failed for me. The dialog in particular was physically painful to listen to, very unnatural sounding, very forced, a lot of it poorly couched exposition. Blech and blech. I want to like Jennifer Jones, but each time I see a new film of hers, she just bugs me more. And unfortunately, this is her movie. She and William Holden had very little chemistry for me, and that also made the love story just not work. As much as I love him, he could not even begin to save this movie experience for me. What kept me watching was anticipating the end of the film, just because, with evil glee, I couldn't wait to see everything fall apart. How very unkind of me. Unfortunately, what I was hoping would happen, didn't. So even that disappointed me.

That's two hours wasted for which I'd like a refund, please.

(Oh, on a positive note, the DVD had a hour-long biography of William Holden on it. It's one I've seen before, on A&E or something, but it's been ages. Watching that made up for the movie, even if I did cry at the end of it.)

William Holden as a youngster, what a cutie!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Cisco Kid vol. 2 (1947)

This disc contained three films: Riding the California Trail, Robin Hood of Monterey, and King of the Bandits. The first one was the best, but that's mostly because the last two changed format. Riding the California Trail technically belongs with the vol. 1 movies, where Cisco has his gang and the stunning Palomino horse, and Baby as his sidekick. In the last two films, there's no more gang, he's got a different Palomino (still beautiful, but not stunning like the other horse), and he's traded Baby in for Pancho. Granted, the latter is just about the same character with a different name, but we've changed actors yet again to do so, and this guy is written as even more of the comic relief than the last one.

The final two movies were still quite enjoyable for me, again, just to watch Gilbert Roland having so much fun. Robin Hood of Monterey had Evelyn Brent in it as a scheming money-hungry woman, which was quite cool. King of the Bandits had Gilbert Roland jumping off his cantering horse onto a moving stagecoach. I'm surprised, but glad they let him do his own stunt as it really makes it a cool scene. I kept expecting the camera to cut, but nope, it stayed with him in one nice shot all the way into the stagecoach's driver's seat. Gotta love that. Cisco was even more laid back in the latter two movies, doing even more wisecracking, some of it in Spanish, which I wish I understood. He's even got time to read poetry now. Actually, in all six films, we never actually see him commit any crimes. Makes me wonder how he actually got his name on all those wanted posters the local law enforcement keep getting a hold of.

Also watched Beneath the 12-Mile Reef this morning. Beautiful underwater cinematography, great Bernard Hermann score (and I know the main title so well, only I'm not sure from where. Maybe it was on one of the Bernard Hermann compilation records I had growing up? Must check.) Pedestrian plot (Romeo and Juliet... again? Do we hafta??) with a few nice moments, and a 2-minute change-of-heart ending that I just don't entirely buy. Gilbert Roland and Richard Boone made the movie for me... only neither were in it as much as I wanted, though both dominated the screen when they were there. And unfortunately, despite the movie description listing each as playing the head of rival sponge-diving families, they had one, one, scene together. And they were relatively nice to each other. Dude, that's just not fair. We're talking two tough screen hombres and... no head butting, no fireworks, no fist fights? Cheated!

Most of the movie revolves around Robert Wagner's character. It's funny, but I've never had much reaction to him in any of the films I've seen him in. I neither like nor dislike him. He's simply there. There's absolutely nothing wrong with him, and I thought he was perfectly fine in this movie, he's just overshadowed by the stronger, more charismatic personalities of Gilbert Roland and Richard Boone. Peter Graves is also in the film... he appears to have played quite a few unsavory characters in his youth, this one among them. I really wanted something bad to happen to him... alas, got cheated there too.

And for the moment, (pending how strong my willpower is) that ends my Gilbert Roland spree, so I can get back to more serious work on the novel.

(Cisco Kid vol.1 reviewed here.)