Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Release Date: December 26th, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier
Based on: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Music by: Allan Gray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” – Captain of Louisa

Seeing two absolute legends like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn come together in a motion picture is a pretty special occasion, if handled and managed correctly. Being that this was directed by another legend, John Huston, the task was achieved and what we got was one hell of a film.

This is a mix of really emotional drama, romance, war and adventure.

It’s a great mix and it’s executed exceptionally well with the bulk of the film relying on the performances of just two characters, stuck together, traveling down a perilous river, against impossible odds and two personalities that clash quite often.

However, with both characters being strong people and having to rely on each other, they bond. In fact, they fall in love. And while this is a story that’s probably been done to death by now, Bogart and Hepburn did it better than any other onscreen duo that I have ever seen. It’s this bond, above all the other great things, that makes this picture so damn good.

But speaking of the other great things, I thought that all the other actors were good as well. I especially liked Robert Morley in this. He was mostly a portly, often times comedic, British character actor. However, he brought some real gravitas to his role, here. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a half dozen times, I’m still saddened by his death early on in the picture. Although, without it, the real story doesn’t start.

Additionally, Huston’s direction is perfection. He took the great script and really massaged it into something greater than a less capable director would’ve been able to do. He also pulled out great performances from everyone. Granted, when you have Bogart and Hepburn at your disposal, that might not be too hard.

I love that this was actually filmed in Africa. It gave the movie a real authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if it was primarily shot in a studio or somewhere like central Florida, which was used as a stand-in for lots of jungle/swamp pictures.

Allan Gray’s score is pretty iconic but it stands strong on its own despite being forever linked with this classic picture.

I only have one real gripe about the movie and that’s the ending. To be clear, I definitely wanted the two main characters to survive and live a happy life together. However, I thought that the way they were saved from their execution was way too convenient, even for 1950s Hollywood. Still, I’m pretty okay with it because these characters should definitely not have had a tragic ending.

For this type of movie, there really aren’t any greater than The African Queen. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of romantic adventure movies. Unfortunately, for those others, this one takes the cake and probably always will considering how shit the film industry has become.

Rating: 9.75/10

Film Review: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Release Date: January 14th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston
Based on: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Robert Blake (uncredited), John Huston (uncredited)

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts.” – Howard

As big of a fan of Humphrey Bogart as I am, I hadn’t seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in probably two decades. A friend I suggested it to was talking to me about it after he had watched it and I realized that some of the details were gone from my brain. So, I had to revisit it immediately, as it’s a picture I loved growing up.

Seeing it now, I have an even deeper appreciation for it. While I’m not the best pre-spaghetti era western aficionado, I now realize the impact this must have had, as it’s so realistic and gritty that it has a much harder edge than the typical westerns that predate it. Sure, John Wayne movies had grit and balls but the earliest ones were still kind of clean, crisp and for lack of a better word: staged.

Part of me thinks that if I were a kid in the late ’40s, this would’ve been my favorite movie, as it had legit chutzpah.

Being that Bogart is in this, great acting should be expected. However, it goes beyond Bogart and this gave me a real appreciation for Tim Holt and Walter Huston, who is actually the father of this film’s director, the legendary John Huston.

I also love that Bogart plays a really complex character, especially for this time in cinema’s history. He’s not some overly heroic archetype. Instead, he’s a severely flawed character, as are the other core players. In fact, this movie shows how these guys are sort of at odds throughout the film, as mistrust develops on top of individual greed.

Ultimately, they get in over their head and have bigger problems than each other. I don’t want to ruin the end but each of the three primary characters have wonderful character arcs from start-to-finish.

Additionally, this is a beautiful looking picture that has incredible scope. The wilderness is vast and this movie capitalizes off of that by giving us great shots and sequences that showcase how big the wide open west was.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an all-time classic in the long history of motion pictures. It’s one of the best films of its decade, one of Bogart’s best and it further cemented John Huston as one of the greatest American directors that ever lived.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart movies of the ’40s and ’50s but also adventure films and westerns of the era.

Film Review: The Visitor (1979)

Also known as: Stridulum (original Italian title) 
Release Date: March 22nd, 1979 (Italy)
Directed by: Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
Written by: Giulio Paradisi, Ovidio G. Assonitis, Luciano Comici, Robert Mundi
Music by: Franco Micalizzi
Cast: Joanne Nail, Paige Conner, John Huston, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah, Neal Boortz, Steve Somers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (cameo, uncredited), Franco Nero (uncredited)

Brouwersgracht Investments, Film Ventures International, Swan American Film, 108 Minutes, 90 Minutes (edited version)

Review:

“Now listen to me Katy isn’t there something you want to tell me?” – Det. Jake Durham, “Yeah. Go fuck yourself!” – Katy Collins

I came across the trailer for this movie randomly on YouTube while looking for another film. The trailer grabbed me, however, and I was intrigued by it, even if the concept felt derivative. It was just so strange looking with insane visuals and it was an Italian horror picture that was shot and takes place in Atlanta, which is somewhat bizarre.

Also, this has one hell of a cast!

While some reviews I read said that this great cast was wasted in a shit picture, I couldn’t disagree with that more. But I guess, Italian horror movies only work for a special breed of American film aficionados, myself being one of them.

This doesn’t really have that ’70s giallo-styled color palate but it is still a vivid and vibrant looking picture in its own way. It looks and feels more American than a typical Italian horror production but that genuine Italian touch still exists in nearly every frame. It’s kind of hard to explain but giallo fans will know what I mean if they watch this.

For an Italian picture, the production is also really impressive, as this has a higher quality standard than what’s typical of similar films. The special effects are sometimes a bit hokey but it all works remarkably well and the film also doesn’t try to overdo it and keeps things fairly grounded, which doesn’t expose the production’s limitations.

Sure, some of the rooftop alien scenes are weird and total ’70s Euro horror cheese but then nearly everything else comes off looking like a low budget but well-produced American horror flick.

I thought that every actor in this brought their A-game and took this movie seriously enough to give it some actual gravitas and authenticity. Even the little girl, who had a lot on her shoulders in this film, did a fantastic job at being a sadistic, evil superchild.

This is just a damn cool movie that should definitely be on more people’s radar. Those who already love Italian horror of this era, should most likely love the hell out of this.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s horror movies about creepy kids with crazy powers.

Documentary Review: They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018)

Release Date: August 30th, 2018 (Venice premiere)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Music by: Daniel Wohl
Cast: Orson Welles (archive footage), Alan Cumming (host, narrator), Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Peter Jason, Cybill Shepherd, Frank Marshall, Beatrice Welles, John Huston (archive footage), Dennis Hopper (archive footage) 

Tremolo Productions, Royal Road Entertainment, Netflix, 98 Minutes

Review:

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a pretty fascinating documentary but then Orson Welles, the film’s subject, is an immensely fascinating guy.

This tells the story of Welles’ attempt at trying to complete what would have been his final film: The Other Side of the Wind. However, the picture, despite Welles’ best efforts and years spent filming footage, would not see the light of day.

Beyond that, this explores why it never materialized into a final, complete form. It looks at Welles’ rocky relationship with the Hollywood elite but also shows how passionate he was about the project, which seemed to be ever evolving and not something that had any sort of definitive framework.

More than anything, this was a great documentary simply because it showed us an intimate look into Welles’ life and career at its final stages. He was a lovable, charismatic guy that remained somewhat enigmatic till the end.

It’s also worth seeing for any Welles’ fan, as it does show a lot of the footage that was filmed for The Other Side of the Wind. And even if you don’t get a clear understanding of what the film was to be, you do at least come to understand, as much as a mortal can, Welles’ creative process and motivation in making it.

This is a stupendous documentary film on the man and his brand of filmmaking. And since it is on Netflix, those with the streaming service should probably check it out.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Orson Welles and filmmaking from his era.

Film Review: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Also known as: Colonization of the Planet of the Apes (Germany)
Release Date: June 15th, 1973
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn, John William Corrington, Joyce Hooper Corrington
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, John Huston, Austin Stoker, Paul Stevens, John Landis

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 93 Minutes, 96 Minutes (extended)

Review:

“Ah, if only my mother and father, whom I was too young to remember… If only they’d lived, perhaps they would have taught me if it was right to kill evil so that good shall prevail.” – Caesar

Maybe it’s weird that I prefer the last three Planet of the Apes movies to the earlier ones, even if I can admit that the first is the most superior of them all, as far as artistic merit. There’s just something about the story of Caesar and his parents that resonates with me but I also think that has a lot to do with the great performances Roddy McDowall gave us over these three pictures.

This one takes place several years after the uprising of the apes in the previous movie. In fact, this takes place after mankind has essentially destroyed themselves with nuclear bombs.

Now there are two types of humans in this story. There are the normal humans who live with the apes but are dealing with prejudice and treated like servants. The other group of humans are survivors from the nearby metropolis that was ravaged by war. These humans are disfigured from radiation and are hellbent on destroying the ape civilization because humans gonna human.

This film, due to its post-apocalyptic vibe, almost feels like the first Apes film mashed up with a Mad Max movie, as the bad humans use decrepit vehicles when they bring war to the apes settlement.

I like the story, though, and really, this film is mostly about Caesar trying to figure out what it means to be a leader. A lot of trouble emerges and Caesar is challenged from different sides. He has to learn from his parents’ words and the wisdom he gains through his experiences in this story, as well as his interactions with his trusted allies and advisors.

While this recycles the ape versus human story, it’s more about the making of a great, noble king.

The story is multi-layered but it’s also very straightforward and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. It moves at a swift pace, features good action, great tension and solid twists, even if they are fairly predictable.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Beat the Devil (1953)

Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, Truman Capote
Based on: Beat the Devil by James Helvick
Music by: Franco Mannino
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Bernard Lee, Peter Sellers (voice, uncredited)

Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” – O’Hara

I decided to check out Beat the Devil because a description I read for it referred to it as John Huston’s parody of his own movie The Maltese Falcon. Since this also starred Humphrey Bogart, I was intrigued to see what exactly that description meant.

Well, that description was terrible, as this isn’t a parody of one specific film, it is actually a crime comedy with adventure and romance thrown in. And while that description was bullshit, the movie is not. It was mostly amusing and fun.

Overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me but it wasn’t dull and it was cool seeing Bogart ham it up a bit with Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, along with Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida.

The story is actually about an ensemble of people stranded in Italy while trying to get to Africa. All of them are shifty types that are trying to lay claim to a property that is believed to be rich in uranium. So it’s definitely not a straight parody of The Maltese Falcon, other than it has the same director, two of the same stars and has some criminal scheming and twists.

In the end, I was disappointed by this being very different than how it was sold to me. It was still refreshing and kind of unique. I liked the camerawork, the on location shooting and how this felt like you were in a genuine space with these actors, whom are usually surrounded by lavish, indoor sets on big budget sound stages.

Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of time and it’s kind of charming.

Side note: Bogart got into a car accident during production and lost some teeth; so he had a hard time speaking. Therefore, up and coming actor, Peter Sellers, was brought in to record dubbed dialogue for Bogart while he was having trouble adjusting to his lack of canines.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart films of the time, most notably his film-noir work.

Film Review: High Sierra (1941)

Release Date: January 23rd, 1941 (Los Angeles, Louisville and Providence)
Directed by: Raoul Walsh
Written by: John Huston, W.R. Burnett
Based on: High Sierra by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie, Willie Best

Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“Of all the 14 karat saps… starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.” – Roy Earle

High Sierra came out just before The Maltese Falcon, which is one of the films from 1941 credited with the birth of the film-noir style. However, like a few other Humphrey Bogart crime pictures before it, High Sierra is very much film-noir.

The story sees an aged criminal named Roy Earle get out of prison, only to plan one big retirement job so that he can give himself a big nest egg before he hangs up his criminal ways for good. Along the way, he meets the young Velma and her family. Velma needs a surgery to give her back her mobility. Earle, falling for the young girl, has plans to do the job, pay for the girl’s surgery and then ride off together in the sunset. But a lot of curveballs are thrown and Ida Lupino’s Marie has her eye on Earle.

Even though Bogart plays a criminal, planning a big heist, he is a likable and charismatic character, often times acting with his hearty instead of his head. Watching the film, there is a part of me that felt that he was a character that could redeem himself by film’s end. But being that this is noir, bad things happen to people that don’t walk the straight and narrow.

The performances from all the main players were really good in this movie. Bogart and Lupino had fantastic chemistry and I feel as if the world should have seen them play off of each other more than what we got. I loved Lupino in this and Bogart was typical badass Bogart.

I also liked the dog that always tried to save the day and Willie Best’s character Algernon was a delight.

The movie has a sadness to it because you are pulling for Earle to make it out of this thing unscathed but you also know that it’s not possible.

The big standoff in the Sierras was really well shot and executed. Raoul Walsh was a fine director and his work here was no different. Also, he was working off of a script form John Huston, who would become a great filmmaker in his own right.

High Sierra is a very layered film with a lot of emotional depth from it’s two top players.

All in all, a great early film-noir with powerful leads and a good amount of energy and emotion in the big finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart noir and crime pictures: The Maltese FalconKey Largo, Dark Passage, etc.

Film Review: Key Largo (1948)

Also known as: Gangster In Key Largo (Austria, Germany), Huracán de pasiones (Spanish title)
Release Date: July 15th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Richard Brooks, John Huston
Based on: Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor

Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hey Curly, what all happens in a hurricane?” – Ralphie, “The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.” – Curly

Contrary to popular belief, not all men are created equal. Reason being, there was once a man named Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart had a rare talent and that talent saw him transcend the screen. He was a superstar before anyone was even called that. He had charisma, a rugged charm and was a man’s man that many men tried to emulate and most women wanted to be with. And the best way to enjoy “Bogie” was in roles like this one.

The fact that Bogart is even in a movie, pretty much makes it a classic. Now add in his favorite leading lady, Lauren Bacall, one of the greatest on screen gangsters of all-time, Edward G. Robinson, and throw in veterans Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor (who won an Academy Award for this film) and you’ve got the star power of a supernova.

Did I mention that this was directed by John Huston, a true master behind the camera?

The plot is simple but it is an effective setup to one of the most tense Bogart movies of all-time.

Bogart plays Frank McCloud. He travels to a hotel in Key Largo to pay his respects to the family (Bacall and Barrymore) of a soldier that died while serving under him. Once there, he and the widow get a bit smitten with each other but at the same time, it is revealed that the other guests are gangsters. The head gangster is played by Edward G. Robinson. On top of that, a hurricane strikes Key Largo, trapping Bogart, Bacall, Barrymore and the gangsters in the hotel. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco was exiled to Cuba years earlier and is still very dangerous.

There are a lot of intense moments in the film and every time that Bogart and Robinson are opposite each other in a scene, it is bone chilling. There is one really tense moment where Robinson goes off for a few minutes while getting a shave at the same time. The added element of the shave just added more tension to the moment and this was one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen from the great Robinson.

A lot of this was shot on location in the Florida Keys and those scenes came off remarkably well, adding to the exotic allure of the picture. Add in the great cinematography by Karl Freund and you’ve got an otherworldly, majestic looking film.

John Huston shot this film meticulously and it shows. At the same time, he had the benefit of having one of the greatest casts ever assembled.

And despite the greatness of Bogart, Robinson, Bacall and Barrymore in this picture, Claire Trevor stole every scene that she was in. She was certainly worthy of her Academy Award for this picture.

Key Largo is a damn fine motion picture. It is one of the best film-noirs of all-time and one of the best films of its era. All the big stars here had long, storied careers but this is a highlight for all of them and director John Huston.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Dark Passage. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: The Killers (1946)

Also known as: Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, A Man Alone
Release Date: August 28th, 1946
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, John Huston (uncredited)
Based on: Scribners Magazine short story The Killers by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Garner, Edmond O’Brien, Sam Levene

Mark Hellinger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s a double-crossing dame.” – Big Jim Colfax

In the 1940s, Robert Siodmak made some of the most memorable film-noir motion pictures. The Killers is considered to not just be one of Siodmak’s best but one of the best films of the noir style and of the decade.

The Killers is really high up on a lot of the noir lists I have looked at from top critics, blogs, books and magazines. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I wouldn’t say that it was my favorite Siodmak noir, as of now, that honor goes to Criss Cross. However, I still haven’t seen Phantom Lady or The Dark Mirror yet.

I have enjoyed Siodmak’s work for a long time but as a kid it was primarily in the form of Son of Dracula and The Crimson Pirate. I was much more into horror and swashbuckling back then but my experience with those films had me enthused when I realized that the guy who directed both of those films, had a handful of noir movies wedged between them.

This film stars Burt Lancaster, a regular of Siodmak. This was also his debut on the big screen and for a first time performance, Lancaster knocks it out of the park. He was teamed with film-noir regulars Edmond O’Brien and Sam Levene. However, it was his scenes with the elegant and fascinating Ava Gardner that helped to set this guy’s career on a long and fruitful career that saw four Academy Award nominations and a win for his part in Elmer Gantry.

The Killers is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. However, the Hemingway story only really comprises the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, which shows the contract killers arrive and murder Burt Lancaster’s “Swede” Anderson. Where the film begins to follow Edmond O’Brien’s Jim Reardon, as he investigates the murder, the plot is wholly original and works as an expansion on Hemingway’s story. It was said, by Hemingway’s biographer, that The Killers “was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire.” John Huston, also an accomplished film-noir director, contributed to the script. He wasn’t originally credited for his contribution due to his contract with rival studio, Warner Bros.

With crime dramas running rampant in the 1940s, this is one that wasn’t a cliché on celluloid. While I love film-noir and I honestly have a hard time trying to find truly bad ones, sometimes the rehash of tropes, over and over and over again, can get mundane. The Killers, like Siodmak’s Criss Cross, is one of the films that lifts the cinematic style to a higher level. Plus, with a score composed by Miklós Rózsa, you can expect a lot of energy, excitement and a real soul within the film.

I love The Killers, it is hard to deny its greatness between the solid direction, iconic performances and its pristine look.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Release Date: June 1st, 1950
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Ben Maddow, John Huston
Based on: The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Caruso, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 112 Minutes

Review:

“One way or another, we all work for our vice.” – Doc Riedenschneider

John Huston was a true maestro of film-noir. Sure, he made some other great films but there was just something special about his work on The Maltese FalconKey Largo and this, the grittiest and ballsiest of his noir pictures.

The Asphalt Jungle is a heist movie but it is so much more than that. However, the heist itself is a stellar sequence that probably went on to inspire just about every good cinematic heist after it. It takes its time, builds suspense and created a lot of the tropes associated with the heist genre.

The film also makes an immediate impact, thanks to the powerful opening theme by Miklós Rózsa, who really knew how to set the tone with all the film-noir movies he scored. The music is great throughout the entire picture and creates the type of mood needed to audibly enhance this gritty and tense film.

The cinematography was handled by Harold Rosson and was done in great contrast to his opulent and colorful fantasy world seen in The Wizard of Oz. And like Oz, this film got Rosson an Academy Award nomination. However, he was no stranger to nominations, as he also received the same honors for Boom TownThirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Bad Seed. Before all those nominations, however, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his color cinematography in 1936’s The Garden of Allah, which was only the fifth film in history to be photographed in Three-strip Technicolor.

Needless to say, Rosson was an accomplished cinematographer, ahead of his time, and he captured things on this film, along with Huston’s direction, that showcased a real technical prowess and an ability to create more dynamic scenes with less shots and more natural and fluid motion between characters and their environments.

Sterling Hayden has a strong presence and we get to spend some time with Jean Hagen and a young Marilyn Monroe, who was on the verge of superstardom. Character actor Strother Martin even pops up in this.

This is an incredible film-noir to look at. It takes risks but it really is art in the highest sense in how it all comes together: a perfect storm and an amazingly woven tapestry. There are a lot of interesting characters, twist and turns and there aren’t any real faults to pick apart.

Rating: 9/10