Film Review: Coming to America (1988)

Also known as: The Quest (working title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1988 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Eddie Murphy
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell, Louie Anderson, Allison Dean, Sheila Jackson, Jake Steinfeld, Calvin Lockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Cuba Gooding Jr., Don Ameche (cameo), Ralph Bellamy (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Do not alert him to my presence. I shall deal with him myself.” – King Jaffe Joffer

I’ve reviewed a lot of films lately that I know inside and out but hadn’t seen in their entirety in well over a decade. This is one of those films and after rewatching it, I realized how much I missed the good feelings that this generates, as well as how infectious Prince Akeem’s optimism is. This is really something that I hope is not lost in the sequel, which comes out in a few months.

At it’s core, this is a modern fairytale romance. While it doesn’t feature magic and mythic creatures, it does feature a great quest that sees its protagonist travel to a strange, foreign land in an effort to find treasure.

This treasure is his true love and in seeking her out, he defies his father, the King of Zamunda, as well as centuries of tradition. But in the end, love conquers all and this film conveys that message so splendidly that I feel like it’s impossible not to adore this motion picture.

Eddie Murphy is at his absolute best in this classic but his performance is maximized by Arsenio Hall, his real life best friend and a guy that plays off of him so perfectly well that it feels like they’ve been a comedy team for years when this is actually, their first movie together.

Beyond the two leads, this film is perfectly cast from top-to-bottom. It’s frankly an all-star cast that features a lot of the top black talent of the time, as well as Louie Anderson in what’s still his most memorable role.

I love the scenes with Murphy and John Amos, as well as the ones with his storyline father, James Earl Jones. Murphy holds his own alongside these legends and this is the one film where he really proves that he is the prime time talent that most assumed he was.

Also, this is the first picture where Murphy, as well as Hall, play multiple characters. This worked so well that it would go on to be a trope in several Eddie Murphy movies in the ’90s and beyond. I can only assume that many of these extra characters will also make their returns in the upcoming sequel. I hope we see the old guys from the barber shop again, even though it’d be shocking if they were still alive 33 years later.

The most important thing that needed to work in this film was the relationship that develops between Akeem and Lisa. It’s a great, simple love story and the two had dynamite chemistry and the emotion of their best scenes shined through, making this a much better picture than it really needed to be.

One thing that really jumps out, that I didn’t notice or appreciate until now, is the music. Nile Rodgers orchestrated an incredible score full of memorable pieces that make certain scenes and sequences, magical. In fact, his King Jaffe Joffer theme is so damn good it’s iconic in my book.

All in all, this is a film where everything went right and I feel as if it exceeded the expectations that even its producers had. John Landis was truly a master of ’80s comedy and this is one great example of how good of a comedic director he was.

As much as I have always loved this movie, I don’t think that I ever had the appreciation that I have for it now. It’s a pretty close to perfect romantic comedy, which is a genre I’m not a massive fan of. But when you make one so great, the genre doesn’t matter and the end result is something that far exceeds the label of “chick flick”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as Eddie Murphy’s ’80s and early ’90s films.

Film Review: Into the Night (1985)

Release Date: February 22nd, 1985
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Ron Koslow
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas, Kathryn Harrold, Dan Aykroyd, Bruce McGill, David Bowie, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Art Evans, John Hostetter, Jack Arnold, Rick Baker, Paul Bartel, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Amy Heckerling, Jim Henson, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Carl Perkins, Dedee Pfeiffer, Don Siegel, Jake Steinfeld, Roger Vadim

Universal Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“[to Diana] I need you to appease Shaheen. She will demand blood; yours will do.” – Monsieur Melville

After recently watching Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, I couldn’t help but want to revisit a similar film from the same year by John Landis.

However, after revisiting this, it’s not all that similar other than it’s a “yuppie in peril” story. Also, the girl makes it to the end of this film and it’s more of an actual love story while also being more lighthearted and action heavy. The two films certainly have some parallels but this one is more accessible and probably more fun for most filmgoers.

Personally, I don’t like this as much as After Hours but it’s still a movie that I enjoy quite a bit.

It’s hard not to enjoy a film with Jeff Goldblum and Michele Pfeiffer as its stars, though. Both of them are great in this and I liked their chemistry and kind of wished they were paired up in more movies.

Beyond the two leads, we have a film full of lots of great talent, as well as more than a dozen cameos with other filmmakers and behind the camera legends in small, bit parts. Hell, even this film’s director, John Landis, plays a roll throughout the film as one of the four thugs in pursuit of the main characters.

I really liked David Bowie in this, though. He steals the scenes he’s in and it made me wish that his role was bigger.

The story sees a man, after catching his wife cheating, stumble upon a woman running away from some dudes with guns in an airport parking garage. They speed off together and we’re sent on an action adventure romp through Los Angeles, as they try to figure out how to get her out of trouble and survive all the trouble that’s coming for them.

There are so many great characters in this and every sequence in the film is pretty damn memorable because of that.

It’s strange to me that this isn’t considered one of Landis’ top films but it was also the first film of his to come out after the tragedy that happened on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. I think that because of that, this wasn’t promoted as well as it should have been and the public already had a bad taste in their mouths and probably, rightfully so.

However, looking at this as its own thing, separate from the grim reality of an unrelated picture, this is a solid comedy that did just about everything right.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: After Hours and other “yuppie in peril” movies.

Film Review: Election (1999)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1999 (limited)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Based on: Election by Tom Perrotta
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Colleen Camp, Nicholas D’Agosto, Holmes Osborne, Matt Malloy, Frankie Ingrassia

Bona Fide Productions, MTV Films, Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Larry, we’re not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.” – Jim McAllister

I didn’t know much about this movie the first time I saw it but I liked it quite a bit.

Back in 1999, it didn’t come out with a lot of fanfare or really much promotion and sort of just came and went in the theaters quickly. I saw it once it came out on VHS and thought it deserved more recognition than it initially got. Luckily, it did become a bit of a cult classic fairly quickly.

When I see this now, my brain can’t help but to think of this as the origin story of Hillary Clinton. I don’t mean that to be an asshole but there are a lot of similarities between what we know about her now and how the character of Tracy Flick was played in the film by Reese Witherspoon in one of her best early performances.

The film also stars Matthew Broderick and at the time, this was the first time I saw him and thought of him as old. He really wasn’t but he had matured quite a bit since his most iconic roles in Ferris Bueller and WarGames. Regardless of that, this is my favorite performance of his career, as he plays a good guy that becomes corrupted by the power he wields and his burning desire to stop a future political monster before she really has the chance to effect the real world. He’s also approaching his midlife crisis point and makes some poor life decisions because of that.

You also have Chris Klein in this as the third main character. While I’m not a big fan of Klein’s, he’s really good in this and it’s almost like the role was tailor made for him. He’s good as a popular but nice, optimistic jock that genuinely cares about all the people around him. This is my favorite thing that he’s done, as well.

The film’s plot is really good and well constructed. There are a lot of layers and several characters to balance but the movie does that rather well while also making you care about the lives of the core people involved.

This isn’t a predictable film and it takes some interesting turns with some of the smaller subplots. The main story is pretty straightforward and while you can guess where it’s going, it’s still got a few surprises.

The film’s director, Alexander Payne, would go on to have a pretty impressive career. He followed this film up with the Jack Nicholson starring About Schmidt and then one of the Academy Awards’ darlings of 2004, Sideways.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other quirky ’90s comedies, as well as other films by Alexander Payne.

Film Review: Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Release Date: December 2nd, 1988
Directed by: Robert Towne
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Dave Grusin
Cast: Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, Raul Julia, J. T. Walsh, Gabriel Damon, Ely Pouget, Arliss Howard, 

Cinema City Films, The Mount Company, Warner Bros., 115 Minutes

Review:

“You son of a bitch! How could you do this? Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that’s yours! You can’t choose your family, God damn it – I’ve had to face that! And no man should be judged for whatever direction his dick goes – that’s like blaming a compass for pointing north, for Christ’s sake! Friendship is all we have! We chose each other. How could you fuck it up? How could you make us look so bad?” – Carlos

I remember this movie being a big deal when I was a kid. Not because it was considered to be great but because it was considered to be one of the biggest box office disappointments of the decade. I’m not sure how bad it performed, at least back then, but Tequila Sunrise sort of became a joke due to how bad it apparently floundered and underwhelmed.

I’ve never seen it until now but I had no reservations about checking it out. It features three of my favorite leads, especially from the ’80s, and I like neo-noir-esque crime pictures. This is just one of those movies that slipped way down the memory hole and every few years it’d pop back up somewhere and I’d think, “Man, I really need to watch that.”

Well, it’s far from great but I am glad that I finally saw it. I mostly liked it even though it was riddled with some narrative and pacing issues.

To start, it is a beautiful looking picture with stellar cinematography and even though it’s a modernized noir-styled picture, it still feels majestic and comes across as pristine cinematic art.

A movie needs more than great visuals, though, and this one is hindered by its script or the actual execution of it. Being that the director is the writer, the blame falls squarely on his shoulders.

I just found the simple plot a bit harder to follow than it needed to be. This isn’t a complicated movie but some of it was just off. Plus, there are moments where characters seem to be aware of things they shouldn’t be. Maybe some key scenes were deleted, I don’t know.

The pacing was inconsistent and choppy and this could have also been an issue with the editing.

Still, I really liked Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell and Michelle Pfeiffer in this. The movie also had Raul Julia in it, which I didn’t know until seeing it. All of his scenes were really enjoyable and I wish that the guy didn’t die prematurely and could’ve entertained us for more years than he did.

Overall, this was still a cool movie to check out for the first time. I don’t think that it is something I’d revisit on any sort of regular basis but the acting talent gave it their all and I appreciate their efforts not to mention their solid chemistry.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other modernized neo-noir films of the late ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Release Date: December 19th, 1986
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Howard Ashman
Based on: Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman, The Little Shop of Horrors by Roger Corman, Charles B. Griffith 
Music by: Miles Goodman (score), Alan Menken (songs)
Cast: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, Levi Stubbs (voice), Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Michelle Weeks, Vincent Wong

The Geffen Company, 94 Minutes, 102 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Does this look “inanimate” to you, punk? If I can move and I can talk, who’s to say I can’t do anything I want?” – Audrey II

I used to watch this quite a lot when I was a kid. It was always on cable and I liked everyone in it, so when channel surfing in the late ’80s, I often times stopped when this was on.

Oddly enough, I haven’t seen it since the ’80s but I’ve always meant to go back and revisit it, especially since I love the original Roger Corman film and revisit that one every five years or so.

This version of the story was actually an adaptation of the off-Broadway musical, which was inspired by the Corman film from 1960. I’ve never seen the musical on-stage and there are some story differences but it’s something I’d like to see, even if it’s just on television, assuming there’s a version I can watch.

Anyway, back to this film.

This will always hold a nice spot in my heart because it features two I guys I really enjoy, especially when together, Rick Moranis and Steve Martin. This also sprinkles in Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, John Candy and Christopher Guest. Needless to say, it’s chock full of great ’80s comedic talent.

I also dig the hell out of Ellen Greene and Vincent Gardenia, who rounded out the cast nicely and played their parts perfectly.

The real gem of this picture, though, is the monster, Audrey II. The monster evolves into a massive, talking, man-eating venus flytrap. Audrey II is actually an alien trying to kickoff a full alien invasion but to do so, he needs to grow and to do that, he needs human blood.

What makes the monster so cool is two things, the first of which is the voice acting of Levi Stubbs, the lead vocalist of the Four Tops. Stubbs was stupendous and he made Audrey II one of the coolest villains in ’80s cinema.

The second thing is the practical effects, animatronics and puppeteering that brought the giant plant to life. This isn’t some CGI bullshit that takes you out of the movie, this is a real, physical beast that was live and on the set, interacting with the actors on film. The character just looks great, moves great and it’s incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and get caught up in this bonkers movie.

The real cherry on top of it all is the music. It’s great and I say that as someone that usually turns away from musicals because it’s the one genre that doesn’t really resonate with me. For me to care about a musical, it’s got to work on a level beyond that and attract me to it with some sort of cool twist. This picture does that well and I honestly don’t simply see it as a musical.

In the end, I’m glad that I finally revisited Little Shop of Horrors and it somewhat exceeded the expectations my memory had for it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the original film, as well as other comedies featuring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and John Candy.

Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Release Date: January 29th, 1959 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi (supervising director), Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark
Written by: Erdman Penner, Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright
Based on: Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
Music by: George Burns (adapted from Tchaikovsky)
Cast: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Marvin Miller (narrator)

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

“A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s castle, cast my spell!” – Maleficent

This is my favorite classic animated Disney film of all-time. While I also love Alice In Wonderland immensely and have (in my own mind) debated which one takes the cake for me, it’s always Sleeping Beauty that wins out, especially when I see them both pretty close together.

As far as the classic Disney style and patented tropes go, this is a perfect motion picture but then it’s also more than that.

This, at face value, looks like a standard Disney princess story but it also features the greatest villain that Disney has ever had in Maleficent. A villain so badass and cool that she’s been featured in the great Kingdom Hearts video games and gone on to have her own series of live-action films featuring her as the main character over Aurora a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty.

On top of that, this is a visual triumph for the Disney company, as it has a very unique animation style with incredible character design, a delectable, vivid color palate and a sort of looming darkness that their other films don’t have. There’s a real beauty with this picture that holds it above Disney’s other masterfully crafted and visually impressive films.

The animation is also so smooth, especially in regards to the great action sequences. The big action-packed climax that sees Prince Philip take on Maleficent in her massive dragon form is stunning to behold. Sixty-plus years later, it has held up incredibly well and is, hands down, one of the absolute best and most memorable animated action sequences in film history.

For me and what I like in Disney films, as well as fairytale stories, this is just a perfect storm, which is greatly enhanced by the unique and alluring visuals and one of the greatest silver screen villains ever created.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic animated Disney films of the classic era.

Film Review: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Release Date: June 16th, 1955 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi
Based on: Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog by Ward Greene
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Dallas McKennon, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Peggy Lee

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 76 Minutes

Review:

“(repeated line) As my grandpappy, Ol’ Reliable, used to say… I don’t recollect if I ever mentioned Ol’ Reliable before?” – Trusty

As I started reviewing Disney’s classic animated features from the beginning, I wondered where their distribution partnership with RKO Radio Pictures would end. I guess it’s here, as this is the first film distributed by Buena Vista, which was created to be the distribution arm of the Disney company.

While that might not seem as if it is important to the final film, it could possibly be a reason as to why this one feels like a slight step down in quality for what Disney had been putting out, at the time. However, following up Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan couldn’t have been easy.

Also, that’s not to say that this is bad or unworthy of the Disney brand. Lady and the Tramp is still one of the best animated films of its time and deservedly considered a classic.

In fact, this is one of the classic Disney films that I watched the most, as a kid. I always liked the characters, the story and yes, even the romance. Honestly, this may have been my first experience seeing romance play out in a film. Well, it was at least the first romantic movie I probably paid attention to.

The animation is great and I also like the few songs in the film. However, the movie plays more like a sequence of events without much tying them together. At least, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the larger arc of the story and it almost feels like there isn’t one. Things happen, dogs fall in love and eventually, they live together and have babies. All of this, however, just felt like things that happened around random scenes.

I guess it didn’t need to have a clear objective and can be brushed off as just peaking into these two dogs’ lives for a bit but its lack of real structure and narrative progression does effect the quality.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: All-American Murder (1991)

Release Date: December 1st, 1991
Directed by: Anson Williams
Written by: Barry Sandler
Music by: Rod Slane
Cast: Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Walken, Josie Bissett, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Kind

Greenwich Films, Enchantment Pictures, Trimark Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“She’s some bunny isn’t she? Great to see her again, it’s been years. But I never forget a face… especially, if I’ve sat on it.” – Decker

I actually didn’t even know about this movie until the scene I’ve linked below came across my YouTube suggestions while I was looking for some other Christopher Walken clips for something else completely unrelated.

That scene is pretty incredible and maybe the most Walken thing that Walken has ever done. Once I saw that this long lost flick also featured Charlie Schlatter and Josie Bissett with small roles for Joanna Cassidy and Richard Kind, I knew that I had to check it out.

This was a straight-to-VHS release and while it’s not a very good movie, it’s pretty entertaining for those who love Walken and late ’80s/early ’90s crime thriller schlock.

All-American Murder also dabbles into horror due to the dark nature of its plot, the crimes committed and a few sequences that almost play more like a slasher flick than a hard-nosed, gritty crime picture.

The plot is damn clunky and it became predictable pretty early on but it’s still fun to watch the absurdity of the story unfold.

Ultimately, I loved Walken in this and being that he’s one of my all-time favorite actors of his generation, I could see this bad movie becoming one of those guilty pleasure flicks that I feel compelled to revisit every few years or to show others that come over for a movie night that want some solid cheese and over-the-top Walkenisms.

Most people may be bored shitless with this movie. But those are the type of people I don’t talk to about film.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime thrillers from the era.

*instead of the trailer, I’ll just share this scene, one of the best in Christopher Walken’s decades-long career.

Film Review: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Release Date: July 9th, 1942 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett, Don Dillaway, Orson Welles (narrator)

Mercury Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 88 Minutes, 148 Minutes (original cut), 131 Minutes (preview version)

Review:

“Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.” – Narrator

While this is considered to be one of Orson Welles’ all-time classic motion picture masterpieces, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it.

The main reason is because it felt like it needed more meat and potatoes. The story was a bit skeletal and I felt like I needed to know the characters on a deeper level to be more invested into the story and their lives.

However, this problem with the film isn’t really the fault of Welles, as his original cut was 148 minutes, not the 88 minutes that this ended up being. Had this film had that extra hour, I think it would’ve been a much richer, more intimate and more complete body of work that could’ve possibly lived up to the iconic status of Welles’ previous film, Citizen Kane.

Still, most professional film critics today seem to have a very positive view on this film and apart from the issue I already mentioned, it’s easy to see why.

The film is absolutely stunning and beautiful. This “magnificent” world looks authentic and lived in. The sets are perfect but even more than that, the lighting, cinematography, shot framing and general mise-en-scène are stupendous. But coming off of Citizen Kane, Welles’ had already proven himself as an absolute maestro of cinematic craftsmanship and artistry. This honestly just adds even more credibility to the man’s legendary, iconic status as a filmmaker and visionary.

Additionally, the picture is superbly acted with Welles’ regular star, Joseph Cotton, taking the lead but also having solid assists from Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins and others. Also, Welles’ narration adds an extra level of magic to the film.

All those solid positives aside, though, it still suffers from a lack of depth and context. The film is full of many characters, all of whom are interesting, but only a few really get explored at length. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Welles’ intent but the finished film is somewhat diminished but this.

Ultimately, this is still a very good, almost great, motion picture. But it also makes me yearn for what could have been had Welles’ intended vision actually made it to the silver screen.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Orson Welles pictures.