Film Review: The Exorcist (1973)

Release Date: December 26th, 1973
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: William Peter Blatty
Based on: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Music by: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, Linda Blair

Hoya Productions, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes, 132 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.” – Demon

Few motion pictures have a profound effect on American culture en masse. The Exorcist is one of those pictures and even though I was born five years after it was released, it was the one film that I heard people describe with actual terror in their voice. I was warned about it at an early age, most of the people in my family couldn’t even talk about, it was like the Voldemort of motion pictures in my heavily Christian household.

However, once I did see it, and at a very young age, it went the route most things do for me that people warn me away from or over hype, it didn’t overwhelm me with its terror or greatness.

Still, it is a damn fine motion picture in many ways. But as far as its effect on me, it wasn’t as bad as what I had built up in my mind. But it is bone chilling and terrifying, especially looking at it within the context of the era it came out in.

When I was talking to my mum recently, I pointed out that horror films, in less than ten years, went from Vincent Price movies, which are family friendly at this point, to movies like The ExorcistTexas Chain Saw Massacre and Last House on the Left. To me, it seemed like an extreme jump. Sure, there were gory exploitation films popping up in the ’60s but most people were unaware of those unless they lived near a grindhouse theater in a large city. It just feels that the harder, darker tonal shift in the ’70s, which this film was a part of, had a lot to do with the state of American culture at the time between the Vietnam War, the Nixon crap, the tensions over civil rights, multiple assassinations of prominent figures and so much more.

This is one of those films that I assume everyone over 18 has seen but it is also 45 years old now and these young kids today don’t give a shit about the classics or have the attention span for them. I don’t think that this is a film that will work for younger people because they’ve seen more fucked up movies than this and this story is a slow build towards an insane climax where film’s today have to deliver some sort of scare or special effects extravaganza every five minutes.

The Exorcist is perfectly paced, however. Some may feel it is too slow or that it could have been cut down but the emotional and terror build is so well executed that altering it would probably dilute the effect of the last thirty minutes.

One of my favorite scenes, which is still chilling and effective, is when the priest has the demon (in Regan’s body) tied to the bed and they have a conversation. This exchange is more terrifying than any of the demon’s physical antics.

This picture has impeccable cinematography, lighting and music. Everything used to shape the tone and atmosphere was perfect. The direction was good, the acting was solid and everything just came together really well.

The only thing that would have made this better for me was more backstory on the demon and more clarity as to why it chose Regan. I understand that it was some sort of revenge plot to mess with the priest but the motivations could have been clearer and the backstory could have been fleshed out more. Also, I wanted to know more about the demon. But then again, all of this also could have added too much to the simple story the film tried to tell and it could have easily gotten too convoluted.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Exorcist sequels and prequels, The Ninth ConfigurationRosemary’s BabyThe Omen film series.

Film Review: Party Girl (1958)

Release Date: October 28th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: George Wells, Leo Katcher
Music by: Jeff Alexander
Cast: Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb

Euterpe, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve been out with the mobs before. Most of the time all they want to do is wear their cash around. By the end of the evening they’re usually too drunk to for anything else.” – Vicki Gaye

A classic film-noir in color?! That’s crazy talk! But that’s what this film is. But it is also more than just standard noir and it came out at the very end of the style’s classic run throughout the ’40s and ’50s.

Party Girl is directed by Nicholas Ray, who also did the film-noir classics They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe Racket and On Dangerous Ground. He also directed Rebel Without a Cause.

We also get to see Robert Taylor and Lee J. Cobb come together in this picture, bringing it a supreme level of gravitas. Cobb plays a sadstic Chicago mobster during the height of the city’s organized crime. Taylor plays the nice guy lawyer that is the confidant to Cobb’s Rico Angelo thus making him the one man that knows all the man’s dark secrets.

Taylor gets in a little too deep, Cobb gets a little too paranoid and well, we get a classic noir tale of deception, betrayal, twist and turns. Plus there is a beauty thrown in and also a sneaky ex-wife that has some devious plans of her own.

I liked Party Girl but I wouldn’t call it a noir classic even though it came out in the classic era, has a good cast and is directed by a noir maestro. But it is certainly worth your time, considering that you are into these sort of films.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Nicholas Ray films I already mentioned: They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe RacketOn Dangerous Ground and Rebel Without a Cause.

Film Review: The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

Also known as: The Gun (working title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1950
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Seton I. Miller, Philip MacDonald
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall

Jack M. Warner Productions, 20th Century Fox, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This is my first time out. How am I doin’?” – Andy Cullen, “All right, kid. Do any better, and I’ll be out of a job.” – Police Lt. Ed Cullen

The Man Who Cheated Himself is a neat little film-noir that stars the always domineering Lee J. Cobb in a rare role where he isn’t shouting a lot.

It also stars Jane Wyatt, who just feels completely out of place as the femme fatale type, as she is most synonymous for playing the mother in Father Knows Best. It also stars John Dall, who I loved in Gun Crazy and Rope, as well as a very young Lisa Howard before she went on to be a controversial news figure that committed suicide at 35 years-old.

Unfortunately, this is a film suffering from multiple personality disorder.

It is pretty dull and comes off as uneventful, even though there are things happening. This film just lacks excitement and energy. I’m not sure if that’s because Lee J. Cobb was told to play this role a bit more chill than he normally does or if he was bored doing it and didn’t give us a boisterous performance. When I watch a film with Cobb, I expect a certain panache and he just didn’t have it here.

Additionally, everything is just sort of dry. This isn’t a new story and really, just borrows heavily from several films within the classic film-noir style. There isn’t much to set this apart and to make it stand out among its peers.

However, the final scene at Fort Point (under the Golden Gate Bridge) was an incredibly well shot sequence that built immense suspense and had me at the edge of my seat. But it builds such great tension and then falls flat, as the bad guys get caught in the most anticlimactic way possible. This sequence must have made a fan out of Alfred Hitchock though, as he used the same location in his classic picture Vertigo.

I probably expected more out of this film than it had to give. I like Cobb, I thought his performance in 12 Angry Men was incredible but even great actors have duds from time to time.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other old school film-noirs: RoadblockQuicksand!Pitfall, Please Murder Me!Too Late For TearsShock, etc.

Film Review: Thieves’ Highway (1949)

Release Date: October 10th, 1949
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: A. I. Bezzerides
Based on: Thieves’ Market by A. I. Bezzerides
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Lawrence

20th Century Fox, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Do you know what it takes to get an apple so you can sink your beautiful teeth in it? You gotta stuff rags up tailpipes, farmers gotta get gypped, you jack up trucks with the back of your neck, universals conk out…” – Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos

Who knew that a film-noir about apples could be so entertaining?

Okay, the film has more going on than just apples but they play a big part, as an angry war veteran wants revenge for what a gangster-like produce tyrant did to his father: robbing him and crippling him.

Jules Dassin is becoming a director whose work I really appreciate after seeing this, as well as Brute ForceNaked City and Night and the City, all film-noir pictures that could be considered classics. I still haven’t seen Rififi but it’s high on my list.

The film stars Richard Conte, an actor I have enjoyed in several films. You also get a solid performance by Lee J. Cobb, who plays the evil and amoral produce king.

All in all, this is a pretty good picture and it had me engaged from start to finish. I didn’t know what to expect but it was a film that was high up on a lot of people’s top film-noir lists. Would it crack my top twenty? Probably not and I’d say that it’s my least favorite of the Dassin noirs I’ve seen but Dassin is still quite accomplished behind the camera and delivered a one-of-a-kind noir tale.

Apparently, Dana Andrews and Victor Mature were both announced as the film’s lead during different points of pre-production. Ultimately, Conte got the role, which I feel was the best choice, even though I like those other guys. Conte made this his role and it’s hard to see the character of Garcos performed differently. The character was very much Conte and while the man has a charismatic coolness and toughness like those other guys, his is a unique kind of cool.

Thieves’ Highway is solid, through and through. There’s nothing here to really disappoint a film-noir aficionado.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: 12 Angry Men (1957)

Release Date: April 13th, 1957
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Reginald Rose
Music by: Kenyon Hopkins
Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman, Joseph Sweeney, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Edward Binns, George Voskovec, Robert Webber

Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes 

12_angry_menReview:

Being an avid film buff my entire life almost feels like complete bullshit when I haven’t seen 12 Angry Men until now.

In my defense (pun intended), I’m just not a big fan of courtroom dramas. I usually find them tedious and rambling and a complete bore to watch. Although, for some strange reason, I loved watching Perry Mason reruns with my granmum in the 80s. That was probably just more about bonding time and I was waiting for the Cubs game to start in the afternoon.

Regardless, I have always heard that 12 Angry Men was one of the absolute best movies ever made. I have also heard about how great of a director Sidney Lumet is but I haven’t seen enough of his pictures, outside of my film studies classes in high school. I am trying to rectify that injustice.

12 Angry Men is fantastic. Considering that IMDb’s Top 250 has it ranked as the fifth best film ever made, says a lot. It has an 8.9 rating on IMDb, as well as 5/5 on Amazon, 4/4 by Roger Ebert, a 94 percent by Google users and a 100 percent by critics with 97 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. How many films can claim accolades like that?

The film follows twelve jurors who sit in one room, for the entire film, as they discuss a murder case. At first, everyone except one man (Henry Fonda) thinks that the verdict of guilty is an obvious one. As the movie rolls on, Fonda’s Juror No. 8 defends his stance and challenges all the other men. This leads to ninety minutes of fantastic debate about the case and the facts and what it actually means to serve on a jury. It exposes the men and their true feelings and examines their biases, their character and their morals. It is probably the most important film on the subject and I honestly feel, should be required viewing in every high school civics class.

Sidney Lumet shot this film very straightforward without any bells, whistles or special flourishes. It almost plays out like a documentary, at times.

The acting is magnificent and everything about the film feels truly organic. Henry Fonda, who I have always loved, is at his absolute best. Jack Klugman, who would later go on to star in The Odd Couple and Quincy, M.E., has never shined brighter. Ed Begley, Lee J. Cobb and Jack Warden were damn near perfection as the very vocal opposition to Fonda and those he rallied to his side.

12 Angry Men is truly a film devoid of flaws. I’m not really sure why the hell it was remade in the 90s for television. Although that version has some high critical praise, as well. Maybe I’ll watch it someday.

With as many motion pictures as I have seen in my life, it is extremely rare to find something so immaculate. 12 Angry Men is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest films I have ever experienced.

It is also just as important today, as it was in 1957.