Film Review: The Wild One (1953)

Also known as: Hot Blood, The Cyclists’ Raid (both working titles)
Release Date: December 25th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: László Benedek
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Maddow
Based on: The Cyclists’ Raid by Frank Rooney
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin

Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“I love you, Johnny. I’ve been looking in every ditch from Fresno to here hoping you was dead.” – Chino

I have never seen The Wild One, which is probably a crime, but I am a fan of biker movies, especially those of the ’60s and ’70s and this was sort of a template that many of them built off of. Granted, this isn’t as hard or edgy as the pictures that would try to emulate it but it also didn’t need to be. This was sort of a sweet story, if you look beyond the rough exterior and get right down to the human emotion.

Marlon Brando was exceptional in this, even if he wasn’t quite up to the levels of talent he would reach. His scenes with Mary Murphy were what carried the picture. However, I also enjoyed him playing off of Lee Marvin, who made a good villain, even if Brando was very far from being any sort of hero in this.

There is nothing exceptional about this motion picture, though. It is certainly heralded for all the right reasons and deserves to be held in high regard for being a trendsetter in its genre but biker movies after this would definitely find ways to push the envelope more. And this is damn good but it doesn’t present you with stellar acting or cinematography and the direction is pretty standard. It’s just really a cool movie with a cool leading man and examines a part of society that Hollywood shied away from until this made bikers a bit more mainstream. But the Hollywood of this era still had to be wholesome due to the morality code imposed on its filmmakers.

This is really just a drama film that happens to have a mean biker as its main character. In a lot of ways, this is a real character study, as it examines Brando’s Johnny much deeper than what is on his surface. The film humanizes him but it also doesn’t try to turn him into an easily reformed goody two-shoes. The hard nosed cop cuts him a break and is a bit taken back by Johnny’s apparent lack of gratitude but at his core, Johnny doesn’t know how to express his thanks. It really isn’t something he’s ever really experienced before this moment, as he is a guy that has been beaten down by life and has adopted a tough persona to shield him from real world emotions and genuine human connection.

This film wasn’t really what I expected it to be. I thought it would be an examination of counterculture but in that light ’50s Hollywood way before artists behind the camera could actually let loose and challenge their audience. Instead, this is a film that has biker culture in it but it moves most of its focus towards Johnny and the apple of his eye, the lovely Kathie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The LovelessRebel Without A CauseEasy Rider and The Wild Angels.

Film Review: Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Release Date: June 12th, 1963 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Edward Grant, Frank S. Nugent
Music by: Cyril Mockridge
Cast: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Elizabeth Allen, Jacqueline Malouf, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne, Dick Foran

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there is our Mike Donovan. Three children and not one marriage. Oh, I do not say that he’s the first man to put the cart before the horse, but three carts and no horse? Huh?” – Marquis Andre de Lage

John Ford and John Wayne made a lot of really good movies together. Some of them had Lee Marvin in them too. Well, this is one of them but sadly, it is the last of them.

This also has Jack Warden and Cesar Romero in it too though, as well as Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne and Dick Foran. Plus, it is shot in beautiful and luscious Hawaii at the height of the Tiki subculture’s popularity in America.

Donovan’s Reef is a really good and lighthearted movie. It’s a lot more playful than what Ford and Wayne collaborations typically were. Sure, they’d have some tiny comedic moments but this is really a straight up romantic comedy that just so happens to have a male lead with real gravitas.

The thing is, I love seeing Wayne be funny and playful and kind of hamming it up. He doesn’t lose his machismo and if anything, it’s that machismo that makes his lighter roles work so well. For instance, Rooster Cogburn isn’t remotely close to the quality of its predecessor True Grit but Wayne is so damn good in it, playing opposite of Katharine Hepburn in an “odd couple” sort of situation. This is like that in the way that Wayne isn’t afraid to step outside of being the quintessential badass of his era.

I also love Lee Marvin’s character in this and the rest of the cast is damn good too. Cesar Romero was friggin’ delightful. And the young Jacqueline Malouf was perfect and sweet in her role. I truly enjoyed Elizabeth Allen’s role in this though, as she was the perfect pairing for Wayne’s wit and for the romantic stuff. She was the typical “rich white lady thrown into an exotic culture” archetype but she evolved beyond that and gave the role a lot of personality.

This is a beautiful film to look at. Hawaii is majestic and it is on full display in this movie.

Donovan’s Reef was actually much better than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out. It’s definitely something I’ll probably revisit many times in the future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ford and Wayne collaborations. For the Tiki aesthetic, The Road to Bali which also features Dorothy Lamour. Also, Diamond Head, which was also filmed in Hawaii and features Elizabeth Allen.

Film Review: The Big Heat (1953)

Release Date: October 14th, 1953
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Sydney Boehm
Based on: Saturday Evening Post serial and novel by William P. McGivern
Music by: Henry Vars
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin

Columbia Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Prisons are bulging with dummies who wonder how they got there.” – Mike Lagana

Fritz Lang has made several great movies that can be considered masterpieces or pretty close. The Big Heat is not his best but it is definitely one of his best. It also helped solidify Lang, in my mind, as one of the greatest directors that ever lived. Between this film, MMetropolisThe Woman In the WindowScarlet Street and those Dr. Mabuse movies, Fritz Lang has one of the greatest oeuvres of any director that ever lived. Plus there are roughly two dozen other pictures I didn’t mention.

The Big Heat has some pretty brutal moments, even for film-noir. For instance, at one point, Lee Marvin’s Vince Stone throws a pot of boiling coffee in the face of Gloria Grahame’s Debby Marsh, which scars her horribly. Grahame plays her last few scenes with half her face disfigured like a hot blonde female version of the Batman villain Two-Face. It’s a frightening sight, especially for a woman that exudes beauty in a time when movies were all pretty much PG.

The film’s plot is almost like a proto-Punisher story. The main character, Glenn Ford’s Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion, is trying to stop the mob stronghold on his city and its infiltration into his police force but his wife is murdered with a car bomb meant for him. Bannion sends his daughter off to the in-laws house, throws his badge away and becomes a one man revenge spree against the mob that stole his life from him. Needless to say, this movie is intense and man, is it damn good.

Lee Marvin is incredible as Vince Stone, a mob boss that is truly evil to his core. I’ve loved Marvin forever, but this has to be my favorite role of his now. The man is sadistic and Marvin plays the part to perfection with an air of darkness and a confidence that makes you wonder what dark places the actor has been to. Villains and heavies didn’t usually win acting awards back in the old days but Marvin put in a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Jocelyn Brando played Bannion’s wife and her scenes with Ford were really good. You felt a sense of chemistry that only magnified the impact of her horrible death. I think she was a more capable actress than the small and scant roles she usually got, mostly on television.

The Big Heat wasn’t high up on my radar when I started delving deep into noir to celebrate Noirvember. When I saw that it was directed by Lang, had an 8.0 on IMDb and was well regarded by critics, I had to squeeze it in before the month ran out. I’m glad I did, as this is one of the most memorable film-noirs that I have watched out of the hundred or so I’ve seen over the past month.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Delta Force (1986)

Release Date: February 14th, 1986
Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: James Bruner, Menahem Golan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Kim Delaney, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Hanna Schygulla, Susan Strasberg, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, Steve James

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 129 Minutes

Review:

This may be my favorite Chuck Norris film of all-time but I need to watch Missing In Action again, because it’s been awhile.

This film is like two films in one. There is the first part which has to do with Lebanese terrorists hijacking a plane. I’m not really sure why because I don’t know if it was even explained but they spend the first half of the movie flying, landing, flying, taking Jewish hostages, flying some more.

The second half of the film deals with Chuck Norris’ team of bad ass Delta Force MFers trying to rescue some hostages from the terrorist compound. Chuck is joined by veteran Lee Marvin and American Ninja sidekick Steve James.

Asses get kicked, stuff gets exploded, everything gets shot and Norris rides a bad ass motorcycle that shoots missiles! What’s not to love?

The cinematography was average, the acting was below average, the plot wasn’t important but did you read the previous paragraph?

The Delta Force is a fun movie. Especially for those of us with nuts full of testosterone.

Film Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1962
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Based on: a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Music by: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Ken Murrary, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef

Paramount Pictures, 123 Minutes

the_man_who_shot_liberty_valanceReview:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is regarded as one of John Wayne’s best westerns. It is hard to argue against that point because truthfully, I think just about every John Wayne western is one of his best, as making bad films was something he never seemed to do. Okay, maybe there are a few.

In this movie, he’s teamed up with legends James Stewart and Lee Marvin, as well as Lee Van Cleef and John Carradine in minor roles. That’s a lot of bad asses to share one screen and it is almost like an Expendables film for its era, except for the fact that it’s actually a good movie.

This is one of my favorites when it comes to the role John Wayne plays. As usual, he is the suave manly man but this time he plays somewhat of a protector to James Stewart’s pacifist lawyer character. This is one of my favorite James Stewart performances, outside of his work with Hitchcock, and he almost steals this picture away from John Wayne. Lee Marvin is also at the top of his game here, as he plays a classic black-wearing western villain that you can’t not love to hate.

This film has a lot of layers to it and it isn’t just a straightforward cookie cutter western film. That is why it stands above most of the westerns of that time. There are a handful of John Wayne films I like better but not by much. This is a stupendous movie and it shows off the acting mastery of three greats.

There is a bigger message with this movie than just being a shoot ’em up affair or a typical western revenge flick. There are multiple social commentary threads running through this film and they are all well executed and presented. While light-hearted at times, this film also comes with a very dark vibe, as the evil and corruption that must be overcome feel very real and very threatening.