Film Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Also known as: Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (complete title), Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (poster title)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton
Based on: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Music by: Paul Smith, Joseph S. Dubin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I am done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.” – Captain Nemo

Even though I own most of the stuff I want to see on Disney+, I love the streaming service because I’m exceptionally lazy and it allows me to stay sitting on my ass because I don’t have to walk across the room and get the physical disc.

I’ve wanted to revisit and review this for awhile but it’s one of the films I was waiting to re-watch once Disney+ debuted. Plus, the HD quality of the streaming version is better than my two decades old DVD.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite adventure movies as a kid and still, to this day, this is my favorite Jules Verne film adaptation.

This motion picture is close to perfection from top to bottom. It is the best big budget live action film of its decade and it captures the spirit of the book, the magic of Disney and the incredible fun of high adventure done right!

Richard Fleischer has done several films that I’m a fan of but I have to say that this is truly his best work. Although, I’m not sure how much control he had over the production and how much Walt Disney himself was involved. Whatever the case may be, this was a perfect storm behind the scenes that gave the world one of the greatest adventure movies ever put to celluloid.

As old as this movie is now, it doesn’t feel dated other than how it looks. It still flows nicely, has a great pace and there isn’t a dull moment in its 127 minutes. Everything that happens on the screen is necessary and enriches the story. It’s not bogged down by filler, unnecessary side plots or characters and it doesn’t dilly dally.

The film is also greatly accented by its four leads: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas. Each man played their part to perfection, each had unique voices and points of view and it was their chemistry and camaraderie that was the glue of the picture.

The special effects were also the best of the era. I’ve really tried to think of anything that can compare to it and there really isn’t anything, at least not in the decade that this came out in. It was ahead of its time and the effects were done so superbly that even now, 65 years later, it’s hard to tell what shots are actual effects. Everything looks good and seamless. Even the big rubber tentacles of the giant squid hold up. Plus, that sequence is still captivating and hasn’t become cheesy in the way that giant rubber monsters of yesteryear have become.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an incredible picture and it also launched its own genre for awhile, as a slew of Jules Verne adaptations and ripoffs started to flood theaters for twenty years following this. Frankly, I think they only died off due to the disaster movie trend that really took off in the ’70s.

It’s probably hard to quantify just how much of an impact this movie had on the film industry and American culture but I don’t think that the modern blockbuster would exist in the same way without this film’s existence.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the era.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Also known as: The Man In Lincoln’s Nose, The CIA Story (working titles)
Release Date: July 1st, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 136 Minutes

Review:

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – Roger Thornhill

I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of perfect films, lately. But it’s not because I magically stumbled upon a treasure trove of perfection. The reality is, most of these films I had planned to revisit and review anyway but since the FilmStruck streaming service is closing down Nov. 29th (this may be posted after that) I wanted to squeeze in as many movies from that service as possible. But this isn’t about FilmStruck and I’m working on an article about that anyway.

I saw North by Northwest when I was really young. And then, a few years ago, I got the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, which is how everyone should watch this the first time, if they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

I love this movie and in some ways, it almost feels like what could have happened had Alfred Hitchcock ever directed a James Bond film in the classic era. However, this predates the James Bond movie franchise by a few years, so Hitchcock was ahead of the curve. Plus, the main character isn’t a spy but is a man that has become the victim of a mistaken identity. So it has a solid Hitchcock trope already in place and while this doesn’t globe-trot, it sees our protagonist travel to different parts of America.

The film is perfectly shot, superbly acted and everyone that comes on screen has amazing charisma and personality that is fine tuned to work within the picture but not to overpower or dilute the scenes for the sake of performance. Also, the one on one chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is magical.

North by Northwest boasts some top notch, high octane action sequences that were far better than anything you’d see in 1959. Between the crop duster scene and the big finale on Mt. Rushmore, this was a film ahead of its time but very grounded in the concerns and real world worries of the late 1950s.

This feels like Hitchcock’s biggest movie and in retrospect, I can’t think of one that comes off as grander in scale. Also, as great as his movies are, it’s hard to think of one that is more fun and entertaining. This really isn’t just a perfect film, it is the perfect Hitchcock film and really encompasses his best tropes, his style and everything that made his work at his peak, some of the best motion picture releases of all-time.

Movies this good are few and far between. While I love just about everything that Hitchcock has ever done, this may be the tip of his grand and near perfect iceberg.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hitchcock films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Lolita (1962)

Release Date: June 13th, 1962
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Vladimir Nabokov, Stanley Kubrick, James Harris
Based on: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Music by: Nelson Riddle, Bob Harris
Cast: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers

Seven Arts, AA Productions, Anya Pictures, Transworld Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 152 Minutes

Review:

The poster for this film asks, “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” The answer: with lots of meddling by overreaching censors with nothing better to do than to dictate what should and should not been shown in the art form that is film. This was also before the modern film ratings system came into play.

Because of the do-gooders stranglehold over such things, Stanley Kubrick said that he probably wouldn’t have made the film had he known how difficult and severe the censorship limitations were going to be. He also later commented that, “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn’t sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did.”

As far as the movie goes, it is hampered by the issues above. It is still a better than decent motion picture, though. While it isn’t close to Kubrick’s best, it is a great lead-in to what was to come from the director, as almost all of his films after this are either masterpieces or pretty damn close. Had the censors backed off, Lolita may also have been able to be considered in that regard.

From a stylistic standpoint, this is less artsy than the later Kubrick pictures but it is still immaculately shot with pristine camera work, editing and beautiful cinematography. The attention to detail and the depth and character of the sets and the world around the actors felt lived in and authentic. The black and white presentation worked quite poetically as a contrast to the colorful story and very layered and subtle undertones that added a great depth to the characters and the situations they found themselves in.

The highlight of the film for me was seeing Peter Sellers play a myriad of characters. Granted, he was the same guy but he played roles within the film. This was sort of a precursor to what he would do in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, where he played three separate characters. That film is one of Kubrick’s best and it is the pinnacle of Sellers’ acting career, in my opinion.

Sue Lyon was also quite impressive, especially for her age at the time of filming. She had real acting chops and held her own alongside the talented cast around her.

While this film explores some uncomfortable territory, in that it follows an older professor who is infatuated with a teen girl, it doesn’t get as dark as I feel it maybe should have. I’ve never read the book but from what I’ve read about the book, it goes places that the film wasn’t able to due to the censors. I really would have loved to see what Stanley Kubrick could have done with the film had he been left alone.

Lolita still turned out to be a good film in spite of its production issues and the fact that the director’s vision was compromised by Hollywood politics. Unfortunately, the bulk of the story is presented in ways that may be too vague for audiences to fully grasp. It isn’t hard to figure out what’s going on but the motivations of the characters, while known, are still kind of mysterious and not fully explored.

Rating: 8/10