Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Do you like olde-tymey movies? So do I, so here are some I watched recently!

I watched a bunch of movies recently (the wife was out of town, so we weren’t watching shows together, so I watched movies!), hence this post so soon after the other one about more modern movies. That’s the way it goes!

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940). A lot of people will say that Bogart’s Maltese Falcon is the first noir movie, but they haven’t seen this movie, which came out the year before, because this is so noir it will turn your entire living room black and white and you’ll find yourself smoking and wearing a fedora without even knowing why. That doesn’t make it a good movie, mind you, because it’s not, but visually, it’s pretty dazzling – lots of shadows, Dutch angles, some deep focus shots, and a German Expressionist fever dream in the middle of the movie that is something to behold. It’s 64 (!!!) minutes long, and while I’d like to say it should be longer, the story is so paper-thin it would need to be severely re-written to wring more out of it. John McGuire plays a reporter who’s the star witness in a murder case against Elisha Cook Jr., who was already 37 years old but still looked 20 (Cook looked 20 until he looked 60, and nothing in between!), but the evidence is circumstantial – even McGuire’s testimony isn’t definitive – and Cook gets railroaded, which bothers McGuire but bothers his fiancée, Margaret Tallichet, even more. It turns out that McGuire has some serious anger issues, as his next-door neighbor is an obnoxious, fairly prissy older man who gets McGuire’s goat, and one night soon after the verdict, he sees Peter Lorre skulking around his boarding house and then he thinks his neighbor is dead, which leads to his dream in which he also gets railroaded by the justice system. It turns out the neighbor is dead, but McGuire is being interviewed/investigated by the cops, so Tallichet tries to find Lorre, whom no one seems to know. She does, and the climax of the movie is wildly dull (although, again, shot beautifully). McGuire is dumb as a post throughout – he flies off the handle at the neighbor at the smallest provocation (the guy is a dick, sure, but man, McGuire wildly overreacts) and he thinks he needs to leave town when he finds the body, even though, as Tallichet points out, that will make him look even guiltier and it wouldn’t work anyway. Lorre is Lorre – he owed RKO two days’ work, so he shows up, does his Peter Lorre thing, and cashes his paycheck – and Tallichet isn’t bad, but she’s not in the movie enough. The casual sexism is a bit hilarious, actually – I know it’s the time period, but a lot of movies at least tried to hide it a bit, but not this one! It’s not a bad way to spend an hour simply because it is such a cool-looking movie – if you’re looking for quality entertainment, you probably won’t find it here, but if you’re looking for a movie that just looks cool, this isn’t a bad one to take in.

Oh, the shadows!!!!!

The Black Swan (1942). TCM had a double feature of Tyrone Power movies one night, so I watched both of them (the other is down the list a bit), and they’re both fun but, perhaps not surprisingly for the time period, a bit problematic. In this movie, Power plays a pirate in the Caribbean who’s devoted to Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar), the famous privateer who is, at the beginning of the movie, in London about to be hanged. Power and his cronies do some piratical things, but then they’re surprised by the news that King Charles II has pardoned and knighted Morgan and named him governor of Jamaica, where he promises to clean up the pirates. Power gladly joins the side of law and order, but another pirate, Leech (not too on the nose there), takes his ship (the Black Swan) and returns to pirating, and Power has to hunt him down. Pirate movies were the shit back in the day, and this is a good one, with lots of good adventure, sword fights, and gun battles. The nobles in Jamaica, led by the ex-governor (why is he still around?), keep claiming that Morgan hasn’t really stopped pirating and is just putting on a show so he can enrich himself, and Power has to prove them wrong by finding Leech. Leech is played, somewhat hilariously, by George Sanders, who’s completely unrecognizable with orange hair and beard, but when he talks, you can hear the Sanders-ness of his voice, and he’s assisted by a very young Anthony Quinn, joyfully sporting an eyepatch and having a grand time. If the movie were just an adventure, it would be fine, but, of course, they have to throw a romantic subplot into it, and while it’s not terribly surprising, the treatment of women in this movie is roughly regressive. Maureen O’Hara plays the daughter of the replaced governor, and Power, naturally, digs her (I mean, O’Hara is very easy on the eyes, so why not?). When she first appears, Power tries to abduct her, and when she resists, he punches her, knocking her unconscious. As he’s carrying her away, Cregar shows up, and Power is so surprised he drops her like a sack of potatoes. Then, when he’s “respectable,” he makes another play for her, and she resists him. She’s engaged to Ingram, a fop who’s her father’s lackey, and Power punches him, because of course Power is a real man and Ingram (played by Edward Ashley) is effeminate. Later, Power accosts O’Hara while she’s out riding, and she falls off her horse trying to get away from him. He picks her up and takes her to a nice spot to help her with her sprained ankle, which is awfully nice of him, except he immediately tries to rape her (I mean, of course it’s played playfully, but still). She rightfully bashes him on the head with a rock and escapes, but Power still doesn’t take the hint. When Morgan is impeached by the nobles, Power has to get out of Dodge quickly to get Leech and prove that Morgan isn’t a bad dude, but he stops by O’Hara’s house, kidnaps her, and takes her with him. Of course, they figure out that Ingram is telling Leech about English targets in exchange for a share of the profits so that he can discredit Morgan, but nothing much ever comes of that except it proves to O’Hara that she should be with a “real” man, and in the end, she decides that she loves Power. To review: Power knocks her unconscious, drops her on the ground, chases her so that she falls off her horse (which could have been fatal, of course), tries to rape her, kidnaps her, takes her with him on his dangerous mission, asks her to lie for him (they’re trying to convince Leech that they’re married), never apologizes for any of that behavior, and … she falls in love with him. Women, amirite? If you ignore the Maureen O’Hara part of the movie (hard to do, I know), this is a fun pirate adventure. But … there she is, not doing what she should and falling head over heels for Power immediately. I mean, she obviously deserved to get knocked around!!!!

Kiss of Death (1947). I saw the remake of this – the one that David Caruso decided to leave NYPD Blue over because he thought it would make him a star, which it, um, didn’t – and it was fine, I guess. Nothing special. The original, I heard, was much better, so now I’ve finally seen that, and it is better, certainly. Is it a great movie? Not really, but it’s entertaining, and Richard Widmark as the psycho gangster is much scarier than Nicolas Cage in the 1995 version, so there’s that (Widmark was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in his film debut, but he lost to Edmund Gwenn as frickin’ Santa Claus). Victor Mature is pretty good, Coleen Gray (in her credited film debut) doesn’t have much to do but she does it gamely, with even a bit of sexiness that is usually reserved in those days for femme fatales (Gray was only 9 years younger than Mature, but it seems like she’s playing someone younger, and the only time it gets a bit skeevy is when she tells him she’s wanted him since she was a little girl), and Brian Donlevy is a boring straight arrow trying to get Mature to rat on his fellow criminals. Unlike the 1995 version, we don’t get to see Mature’s wife die, but he does a nice job with his kids, so we understand why he’s flipping for Donlevy. The passage of time is not handled particularly well, nor is Mature’s relationship with Widmark, which doesn’t seem to be so deep that Widmark would tell Mature so much about his business. It’s very noir, with beautiful use of shadows and interesting angles, and it was shot entirely on location in New York, which lends some nice verisimilitude to places like Mature’s house and the restaurant where he has his confrontation with Widmark. It’s a decent noir movie, not quite a classic like The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, but still pretty keen (although the nature of endings at this time – as in, they’re abrupt – means that we don’t quite get the resolution the filmmakers presumably wanted to give us). And it doesn’t have David Caruso, which is points in its favor!

The Black Rose (1950). This is the second Tyrone Power movie TCM ran back-to-back (as I noted above), and I watched both of them! I’ve read the novel on which this is based, and it’s a pretty good book, and the movie is also pretty good. Power hilariously plays Walter, a 13th-century Saxon still grumpy about the Norman invasion of 1066 (I mean, we’re coming up on 200 years since the Civil War and people are still grumpy about that, so this feels more realistic than it probably did in 1950) – he’s hilarious because Power is not a terribly good actor and he doesn’t even try an English accent in this movie, so he sounds like a tough American gangster who found a time machine and journeyed back to the 1270s. He and Jack Hawkins leave England to make their fortune after they get involved in some extralegal shenanigans, and they head to China because Roger Bacon, Walter’s teacher at Oxford, told them there were treasures there. They get into the army of Bayan of the Hundred Eyes, also hilariously played by Orson Welles – he doesn’t attempt any kind of accent, which is probably for the best as he’s playing a Mongol, and despite Ben Mankiewicz’s warning before the movie, his “yellowface” is really not awful, just mildly offensive. During the course of the movie, they get a servant “boy” who’s really Cécile Aubrey, the “Black Rose” of the title (don’t worry about why she’s called that, as it’s unimportant and rarely mentioned), who’s trying to get to England because she says her dad was an English crusader. Hawkins is disgusted by the “barbarity” of the Mongols, and he wants to go home to wonderful England, but Power wants to make his fortune and he still hates the Normans, so Hawkins stays for a while. Aubrey falls in love with Power, who wants nothing to do with her at this time, and eventually, she and Hawkins leave the army to head to England, which displeases Welles. They’re all reunited in a Chinese city, where Welles sends Power to persuade the empress to surrender, but they’re kept prisoner by the Chinese who believe they’re good luck charms. Eventually, Power and Aubrey escape, Hawkins dies (of course!), and they return to England, where Power learns that Normans ain’t so bad. It’s a good, rousing adventure, obviously a bit racist (Welles, of course, but Herbert Lom is in “dark” face playing a Greek merchant; Aubrey is disguised as a native boy, which she hates because her skin is stained and she can’t wait to get it off so she can be beautiful and, of course, white (see below); Alfonso Bedoya – who delivered the famous “badges” speech in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and is, needless to say, not Chinese – plays a Chinese merchant and whose voice is dubbed in a ridiculous stereotypical accent by Peter Sellers, of all people), but not as awful as you might expect – Bayan is a very smart general, and the Chinese, obviously, are more advanced in the sciences than the English, although, of course, the English aren’t as “barbaric” as the Mongols (Hawkins’s disgust is hilarious because the Mongols don’t do anything particularly nasty, and it’s nothing the English hadn’t done during warfare). It seems that Henry Hathaway, who directed the movie, was a miserable bastard and hated everyone in the cast, but it’s still fun. You don’t watch it for the acting – Power, as I noted, isn’t very good, Welles is fine, but he’s Orson Welles, Hawkins is whiny, and Aubrey is too goofy – but it’s fine. It’s shot in Morocco (well, the parts that aren’t in England), so the cinematography is wonderful – it’s a really nice-looking film. It’s a perfectly enjoyable adventure. (Aubrey had an interesting life. She was only 21/22 during filming, and she met and secertly married the son of the pasha of Marrakesh while she was there, having a son with him before divorcing him. She retired from acting in 1959 and wrote children’s books and television shows, including one that starred her son called Belle et Sébastien … which is where the band got its name.)

The Caine Mutiny (1954). This is a terrific movie – it was nominated for 7 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor – Bogart, Best Supporting Actor – Tom Tully, somewhat inexplicably, Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Music, also inexplicably, as the music is often far too light-hearted) and it deserved at least some of those nominations, but it does suffer a bit from the rah-rah patriotism of the time (these days, propaganda films seem to be a bit more muted, although they’re still very prevalent). The Navy didn’t want Stanley Kramer to portray Navy men in too harsh a light, so he had to soften Captain Queeg from the novel – where he’s actually insane, I guess – to the movie, where he suffers more from PTSD. It’s not a bad change, but it does allow the Navy – in the form of José Ferrer as Van Johnson’s lawyer – deliver an angry speech at the end about how it was all their fault that Bogart had become inept as a captain. You tell ’em, José Ferrer! Still, it’s a good, tense film, as Robert Francis (in his film debut in a career that lasted for all of four films before he was killed in an airplane crash) is the POV character, an ensign newly assigned to the Caine, which is captained by a very lackadaisical Tom Tully (he’s not in the movie all that much and doesn’t do a particularly excellent job, which is why it’s strange that he got nominated and not Johnson or Fred MacMurray, who are a lot better in the film and neither was ever nominated for an Oscar, so it’s not like voters were tired of them), an attitude that is embodied in Lee Marvin and Claude Akins as two slacker seamen who provide some of the comic relief in the movie. Francis is glad when Bogart takes Tully’s place, because he’s a stickler for the rules and he thinks Bogart will whip the crew into shape. The movie does a good job showing Bogart as someone whose actions are easily defended even if they’re a little weird, so anyone objecting to them could be seen as unnecessarily butthurt by his edicts, but when he panics during an invasion and bugs out before he’s supposed to, the crew members – especially MacMurray – become a bit more concerned. When Bogart panics again during a typhoon, Johnson feels like he has no choice but to take command. In the courtroom drama that comes after, I laughed thinking about how much Aaron Sorkin ripped it off for A Few Good Men, but that’s neither here nor there. Bogart is phenomenal as a dude who seems to be rational most of the time, which makes it difficult to sympathize with the mutineers unless, as some of them point out, you were right there on the bridge with him in the typhoon. It’s also interesting to see that even in 1954, anti-intellectualism was a thing, as MacMurray is a writer who begins to notice that Bogart is paranoid and puts the idea in Johnson’s head … an idea, it’s implied, that a simple yet noble Navy man like Johnson would never have considered and which, it’s also implied, is fancy mumbo-jumbo that a snobby writer like MacMurray came up with because he didn’t like the captain. It’s a fascinating notion, and it’s kind of odd that it would be so prevalent during a time when it seemed like smart people were more valued (I wasn’t alive in 1954, so I can’t say for sure, but I guess it’s worth noting that this was when Senator McCarthy was around, and he was as dumb as a bag of hammers, so …). Anyway, Bogart, Johnson, and MacMurray are terrific, Francis is pretty good as the youngster who has to become a man (there’s a dull subplot in which he wants to marry a chanteuse but his mother would not approve, and he eventually does so in defiance of Dear Old Mom … said chanteuse is played by Donna Lee Hickey, who literally changed her name to May Wynn, the name of the character she played, because she liked it so much), and the action is very realistic because the Navy allowed Kramer to use their ships, which was nice of them. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a very good movie! (Also, for your next trivia night: Michael Caine took his last name from the movie, as his birth name, Maurica Micklewhite, wasn’t cutting it, and his stage name, Michael White, was already being used. He saw a marquee advertising this movie, and the rest his history!)

The Journey (1959). Deborah Kerr never won as Oscar, which isn’t too surprising (it’s hard to win!), but she was nominated six times, all for Best Actress (though not for this movie), and you can see why: As with most women in movies of the time, she’s a bit hysterical at times (I imagine they were told to be that way, because wimmin be cryin’, amirite?), but she has a wonderful steely resolve in this movie as she tries to get her lover, played by Jason Robards (still with the “junior” attached, as his dad was still alive and acting, and this was Robards’s first feature film after some years doing television work) out of Hungary during the 1956 uprising and away from the intense gaze (and handsomely arched eyebrow) of Yul Brynner, playing the Soviet major who detains the travelers on the bus she’s taking from Budapest to Vienna. She does an excellent job matching wits with Brynner, who digs her, of course, and she does very well showing us a woman torn between her love for Robards and her attraction to the dashing, haunted soldier whose job it is to stop Robards from leaving. Brynner is the most philosophical soldier in movie history, perhaps, as he has long soliloquys about the nature of war, his disappointment that the Hungarians don’t know that the Russians are just trying to help them, dang it, and how foxy Kerr is. As with all the movies made before about 1970, the “bad guy” can’t win, so a Soviet officer, even one as ambivalent about killing people as Brynner, even one as easy on the eyes as Brynner, does not come to a good end, but he still does an excellent job making Major Surov very sympathetic. The cast is good, too – Robert Morley is always fun to see, and he’s not playing comic relief in this movie (as he is in another movie farther down in this post), E.G Marshall is solid, Kurt Kasznar as the sympathetic hotel owner does a nice job, Anouk Aimeé has very few lines but is a haunting presence throughout the film, and some weird kid named Ronny Howard plays one of E.G. Marshall’s kids. It’s an intense movie because of what isn’t said – hey, filmmakers who understand subtext! – as the travelers are detained, seemingly at random (it’s unclear if they know a political prisoner – which is what Robards is, as according to Kerr he didn’t take part in the uprising, he was in prison for just not being Communist enough, I guess) at a Hungarian border town, and they quickly figure out that Robards isn’t English, as Kerr says, but Hungarian. The travelers are an eclectic but carefully selected bunch – there’s the ex-Luftwaffe pilot and his daughter, there’s the Israeli, there’s a Syrian man with a French wife, there’s the American (Marshall) who’s been working for an oil company in the Persian Gulf, with his pregnant wife and two young sons. When they figure out who Robards is, they have to decide what to do about it, and it’s an interesting mix of people for that kind of decision, which the filmmakers don’t push too hard, but it’s still there. Overall, this is a good, tense movie with some nice subplots and some good actors doing their thing, shot on location in Austria to give it a nice, authentic look. That’s not a bad combination!

The League of Gentlemen (1960). This is so close to being a great movie, but it just can’t escape the times in which it was made – even though, being a British movie, it wasn’t covered by the Hays Code (although the Brits enjoyed censoring movies, too!). The premise is excellent: Jack Hawkins plays a colonel who became redundant and was retired, so he collects a bunch of soldiers who left the service under less than glorious terms and plans a bank robbery, promising each of them at least 100,000 pounds. The robbery takes up very little of the movie, as we see all of the recruits in varying stages of financial distress, and then Hawkins turns them into a slick unit through the planning of the heist. Everything seemingly goes off well, but, as it’s the 1950s/1960s, criminals must be punished, and so they are. The way the cops get them is stupid, too – on their part, that is. Hawkins does a few dumb things that come back and bite him, but mostly it’s because they thought they could celebrate their fortune rather than bugging out of town. Sigh. I get that the morays of the time meant they had to be punished, but that’s why it’s not a great movie, because it’s actually not a bad commentary on how a country uses up and spits out old soldiers and how these men aren’t really trained to do anything except be soldiers, and they very clearly leave behind all – almost all – of their vices once Hawkins takes them in and gives them a purpose. The actors are solid – Nigel Bruce is Hawkins’s second-in-command, and Richard Attenborough, Roger Livesey, Bryan Forbes, Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander, and Norman Bird round out the group. The movie was filmed in and around London, and it works quite well, and while there are some plot holes, the heist is cleverly done. It’s just frustrating that crooks couldn’t get away with it, because very often in these olde-tymey heist movies, the criminals had to do something incredibly stupid to get caught, and it messes with the tone of the movie. Otherwise, this is a pretty cool flick, so if you happen to stumble across it, give it a look! (The trailer, below, does give a good amount of it away, so beware!)

Charade (1963). It had been a while since I’d watched Charade, so I thought I’d watch it again when TCM had it on as part of a theme night: The Best Hitchcock Movies That Hitchcock Didn’t Direct. This might be the best “Hitchcockian” movie not by Hitch (although Witness for the Prosecution is in the running, I suppose), as Stanley Donen, known for musicals and light comedy/romance, does a really nice job with this thriller. Of course, it lives and dies with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, whose chemistry is excellent and who have a grand time bickering and running from the bad guys and each other and trying to figure out what happened to the gold Hepburn’s dead husband stole in World War II. YOU KNOW THE STORY! The acting is terrific, the story is twisty without being too opaque, the scenery is great, and Walter Matthau, James Coburn, Ned Glass, and George Kennedy do good work in their roles, as well. Grant made sure that Hepburn pursued him because he thought it would be icky for him to pursue her, given that he was 25 years older than she was, but it’s still a bit icky, although it does allow Hepburn to be friskier than we usually saw women during this time period, which is nice. I don’t love that filmmakers always made Hepburn shriek when she was threatened, because she was the kind of woman whom you could believe would be more composed, but the times dictated that she shriek, and it always feels off with her specifically (she’s a fine shrieker, but unlike someone like Tippi Hedren, it just doesn’t seem like Hepburn would shriek all that much). It’s just a fun thriller with two actors who knew how to be movie stars. Watch it again and enjoy it!

The Alphabet Murders (1965). I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie – Tony Randall playing Hercule Poirot is just … weird – but it doesn’t even rise to that level of expectations, as it’s not very funny and the plot is convoluted to the point of ridiculousness. Randall is horribly miscast, but more than that, he doesn’t really do much detecting, as he spends the movie trying to get away from Robert Morley (who works for the government and is trying to keep him safe to avoid an international incident) and Maurice Denham, playing Inspector Japp (who just wants him to go back to Belgium and get out of his hair). Randall solves the murder, but he doesn’t do a lot of investigating, and it’s annoying. Anita Ekberg is wasted in her role, but apparently it was because she couldn’t speak English very well and her lines – which are few – had to be redubbed (why cast her, then, filmmakers – there weren’t any hot blondes in the movies in the mid-1960s who could speak English?). I remember reading this book – I’ve read a lot of Poirot mysteries – and the plot is vaguely the same, but it lacks the cleverness of the book, because everyone – Poirot included, at times – is so incompetent. It’s very frustrating. Randall is lousy, but Morley isn’t bad for what he’s asked to do, and a young Julian Glover makes an appearance, and you can believe he’ll try to claim the Holy Grail in another 25 years, because he just has that douchebag look about him. I like Poirot mysteries, so even though I knew this was a comedy, I had hoped it would work. No such luck, I’m afraid.

I mean, I would have been ok with two hours of just following Ekberg around!

The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967). This was originally called Dance of the Vampires, a much more apt title, and it was changed for American audiences over Roman Polanski’s objections, and it’s kind of weird, because if the objection was to the word “vampires,” I mean … it’s in both titles! It doesn’t really matter what it’s called, because it’s not a very good movie either way. Polanski had made a bunch of shorts in the late 1950s, but this was only his fourth feature, and it came after Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac, two better regarded movies (neither of which I’ve seen, because I’m a bad movie fan, I guess). While Cul-de-Sac, I guess, is a black comedy, this is much broader, and maybe Polanski was trying to prove he could do comedy before he did Rosemary’s Baby, which followed this? I don’t know, but this movie isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, it’s not scary or gory enough to be horror, it’s not clever enough to be satire, it’s not even goofy enough to be farce – it’s just kind of thrown together, with a mish-mash of elements that might be fine but just don’t work here. Jack MacGowran plays a loopy old professor who thinks there are vampires in the Transylvanian mountains, so he heads there in the dead of winter with his idiotic assistant, Polanski. They meet wretched villagers who know something is going on but won’t talk about it, and Polanski falls in lust with the innkeeper’s daughter, played fetchingly by Sharon Tate. She is taken away to the castle of the local count, played by Ferdy Mayne, who is, of course, a vampire. Polanski is dumb throughout, MacGowran is a bit better but leans far too much into the doddering old man stereotype, and they wander around the castle doing dumb things until the ending, which we can see coming several miles away. Polanski has never been the best actor, but he’s hopeless here, and the others don’t really have much to work with, so they’re not great, either. Mayne has fun, as does his son, played by Iain Quarrier, who has a big-time crush of Polanski and isn’t shy about it (for a movie that came out in 1967 and is allegedly a spoof, Quarrier’s interest in Polanski is not really played homophobically – Polanski rejects him because he’s, you know, a vampire, not necessarily because he’s gay), but overall, it’s just a fairly dull movie. Although it did change the course of Polanski’s career – Jill St. John was supposed to play the innkeeper’s daughter, but the producer insisted on Tate, whom Polanski apparently had not met. Would Chinatown be as bleak as it was if St. John had done this crappy horror spoof? The mind reels!!!!

A mixed bag this time around, but that’s what happens when you watch movies – you never know what you’re going to get! I know everyone reading this is very youthful and hasn’t seen these old movies because they’re not squares, but if you have, tell me about it in the comments!


  1. conrad1970

    This is more up my street as I’ve seen most of the movies on the list.
    Unfortunately for me the TCM channel just closed down last month here in the UK, not sure if it’s still around in the US but it’s going to be a lot harder to find older movies in general now.
    The channel was my go to place for old westerns.

  2. Alaric

    Hmmm. I’ve only seen “Charade” and “Fearless Vampire Killers”. I love “Charade” (and have seen it many times). The best part (by far) of “Fearless Vampire Killers” was the animated bit during the title sequence. The rest of the movie was pretty awful. The one thing a 1960s vampire comedy absolutely shouldn’t be is boring, and yet, here we are.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    My percentage is much higher with this one. I love The Black Swan, for all the swashbuckling fun and the cast. The film is adapted from a novel,by Rafael Sabatini, the master of the literary swashbuckler, whose Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, were done with Errol Flynn (and Scaramouche with Steart Granger, after an earlier silent version, with Ramon Novarro. Sanders is a hoot. I like Power’s acting, myself, though he is better in The Mark of Zorro. The courtship is pretty much of the literature and film of its time and is too silly to really be offensive; but, these days, it doesn’t take much.

    I Have not seen the Black Rose. I read Ron & Clint Howard’s memoir, a few months ago and he spoke about making The Journey, which was a lot of fun for him and he spoke highly of Brynner, reassuring him, at one point, that some glass was actually sugar glass.

    I just recently downloaded The Fearless Vampire Killers; but, haven’t had a chance to watch it, yet.

    The League of Gentlemen is a terrific caper film and I love the scenes on the Army base, where the former vicar masquerades as an inspecting general. That is some pretty accurate military life on display. The film really gets into how veterans are often cast aside and ignored, reduced to minor jobs or situations, once they have served their country. The men were all someone important, in a great crusade against evil, but they have been dumped into a mediocre world that doesn’t appreciate their talents and they have lost the excitement and comradery of the military and the war. I think it better captures the post-War life of many veterans, than most Hollywood films did.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I get that Power’s treatment of O’Hara in The Black Swan is kind of “the way things were done,” it’s just depressing. I mean, as poorly as some woman were treated in, say, noir films, they were usually depicted as possessing a lot of interesting talents. O’Hara doesn’t even get that – she can swing a mean rock, I guess, but she’s just there to look pretty and get ill-handled by Power.

      I do wish The League of Gentlemen had allowed them to get away with it, because I agree with you about the theme, and in the end, the film is seemingly saying, “These guys didn’t have a legitimate gripe,” when, obviously, they did.

      1. Jeff Nettleton

        O’Hara got to do more in Against All Flags, with Errol Flynn, where she is a pirate captain and the film At Swords Point, as Claire, the daughter of the Musketeer Athos, in a sort of non-Dumas sequel to The Three Musketeers. She disguises herself
        9rather badly) as a young man, to join the other sons of the Musketeers, to aid the Queen. In both films she gets to do some fencing and fighting, with some romance thrown in. Both are lesser swashbucklers; but, they are pretty entertaining.

        1. O’Hara also appears in The Spanish Main though she doesn’t swash her buckler; Binnie Barnes as Anne Bonney and Walter Slezak as the villain steal the show. Paul Henreid is easy to steal from in the lead role — he’s a good actor but not swashbuckler material.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    The Caine Mutiny is where I am going to pick an argument, which I also had with a history professor in college. I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t speak to the Queeg, there; but, as depicted in the film, he is tough and by the book, but the ship was rather poorly run under the previous captain and it is hard to bring a ship up to standards, when they have been so slack. Van Johnson is playing the XO and the XO’s job is to support the captain and be a sounding board for him, as well as his conscience. His character, Lt Maryk, does try to support him at first, but is never shown to really address his concerns to the captain, and later send Macmurray and Robert Francis to go see Admiral Halsey about their concerns, rather than go himself, as XO. If he had concerns about his captain, then it was his duty to bring it to the ship’s organizational superior, such as the task force or fleet commander (Halsey, in this instance). That is not something that can be delegated, except perhaps the medical officer, if there is one.

    It is clear that the stress of the job and combat have taken their toll on Queeg, leading to things like obsessing about the appearance of a sailor, while conducting target towing exercises, causing them to cross over the tow line and sever it. The strawberries takes it further. However, Queeg does make an appeal to the wardroom for their help in trying to share his burden and they rebuff him

    Jose Ferrer is excellent as the JAG officer who defends them and his rant at them, at the post-trial celebration is earned, in my opinion, as a former naval officer. Their duty was to lead and support their captain in carrying out their mission. By failing to communicate and work with the captain, they added to the problems affecting his mental state. By not bringing their concerns up the chain of command, they created the situation that leads to relieving him, during the typhoon. He gets to the heart of what a coward Macmurray is, manipulating Johnson into doing his dirty work, while avoiding his own responsibilities. He also hits the nail on the head in talking about men like Queeg, who were career Navy and had been sacrificing their lives in service to the country, for little recognition and certainly little financial reward. The wardroom were largely duration officers only, off back to their cushy civilian lives, after the war. They didn’t help lift the burden of command because they had contempt for Queeg’s spit and polish ways, before his real instability took hold.

    Queeg was unstable and should have been relieved, when he was; but, proper action by the officers of the wardroom could have headed the whole situation off, but they were derelict in their duty. You can dismiss it as propaganda, but those are real criticisms of their actions, as naval officers. That was part of the Navy’s official concerns. The Navy actually worked pretty well with the production. In more recent times, they would have made far more changes. One of the most accurate film depictions of the modern Navy, at the time, was An Officer and a Gentleman. The screenwriter had been through the program. It was authentic. However, the navy objected to things that were both realistic and were key to Mayo’s growth into a leader, and not just a scam artist. Taylor Hackford refused their demands and received no cooperation. That’s fine; but, then, The DOD tried to sabotage the film, by pressuring the Canadian Gpvernment, via the State department, to withdraw participation of a Candadian Aerial Demonstration team, to replace the Blue Angels, for the graduation scene. To me, the modern DOD plays more hardball with Hollywood than the Caine era.

    1. The showrunners of the short-lived ‘Emerald Point NAS” discussed, after cancellation, some of the complaints they got from the Navy. Some were sensible (“We do not let women wear big floppy hats near the intake of jet engines.”) and others were “You show a married officer having an affair while stationed away from his wife; Navy officers never commit adultery.” “You show a Navy wife developing a drinking problem due to her husband’s absences; Navy wives support the mission 100 percent and never crack under the strain.”

      1. Jeff Nettleton

        In the film commentary of Officer, Hackford related a meeting with the Public Affairs Office, at NAS Pensacola, where the real AOCS program was located. He and the screenwriter met with Navy reps, who demanded script changes, because of several things. They were uncomfortable with the sex and the Debs, but moreso with Sid’s suicide. the Debs were a real thing and the screenwriter had witnessed it. Suicide was based on fact, too. They also objected to profanity in it and Hackford remarked that they had repeatedly heard worse, on the base, as the walked to the PAO office, for the meeting. They refused to make changes. The Navy refused to cooperate. They secured cooperation from the state of Washington, which gave them access to a National Guard facility, which became the school. That is why they went from Pensacola to Puget Sound.

        Heartbreak Ridge was based on Army Airborn, in Grenada; but, the Army objected to the script, especially the undisciplined nature of the platoon. They took it to the Marines, after tweaking things (like having Gunny Highway transfer from the Army to the Marines, after Korea). However, the Marine Corps still made public statements about the profanity in it. I laughed, because it was tame, in comparison. Also, the Marines have too high an esprit de corps for the platoon to be that big of a mess and, there is no way that Major Powers was going to be a company commander of an infantry company. As it was, Marine Supply is different than the Navy, where you have dedicated supply officers, from the Supply Corps. That was my job, in the Navy. For the Marines, it is not a warfare specialty, but a tour of duty. All Marine officers are trained as infantry officers, first, at The Basic School, in Quantico. Then, they go on to be pilots, tankers, artillery and so on. Supply is a tour of duty, not a career, and the Marine supply officers are sent to the Navy Supply Corps School for training. Their NCOs do the heavy lifting (and in the Navy and Army). Powers would have held infantry billets, before supply & logistics. If he was that incompetent, he would have been weeded out earlier. Plus, anyone gung ho enough to be a Marine option at Annapolis is going to have the drive to succeed. They might be a complete prick; but, they are not going to be a “walking Cluster@#$%” as an infantry officer. Same with the lieutenant. He might lack in experience and confidence; but, he would have had quite a lot of training, before becoming a platoon commander. They take a dig at him, as commanding his ROTC unit, like that is the Chess Club. Most marine officers come from the NROTC program and I would put the Marine options in my battalion, in college, against the best of the Marine Corps. They were all highly motivated and some of the better leaders of the battalion.

        Filming with DOD cooperatiion is a deal with the Devil, as it requires ceding a lot of control over the script and characters. The DOD wants recruiting commercials (like Top Gun), rather than accurate depictions, like Officer. heck, the film the Bedford Incident didn’t meet with Navy approval and they filmed aboard a British warship, as you can tell, in one scene, where you see a small arms rack with Enfield rifles. Same with Navy SEALs, where there were objections about Charlie Sheen’s character. They used a Spanish carrier to film scenes at sea.

    2. Greg Burgas

      If the film had allowed the crew to try to help the captain, it might have been better, because it was clear that Queeg really wasn’t *that* interested in getting help, so whether he would have accepted their advice would have been interesting to see … but then it would have undercut Ferrer’s rah-rah speech at the end. That’s why I think it’s more propaganda than you do, because while it’s clear Queeg needed to be relieved during the typhoon, it’s also clear that the filmmakers (and the Navy) wanted to make clear that the crew did the wrong thing. It’s threading the needle that I don’t think quite works, although it certainly doesn’t ruin the movie, and Ferrer does tear into that speech nicely.

    3. Commander Benson

      I know I’m coming to the party late, but I had to interject that I am solidly in line with your commentary here, Mr. Nettleton. That comes from my experience as a retired Naval officer of the line. You pretty much nailed the subtext of the film.

      You did make one error of fact—when you stated:

      “[Lieutenant Maryk] send(s) Macmurray and Robert Francis to go see Admiral Halsey about their concerns, rather than go himself, as XO.”

      Actually, in the film, LT Maryk does accompany LT Keefer and ENS Keith to the carrier flagship to present their concerns to ADM Halsey. The three of them are waiting on the wing outside the flag bridge to see the admiral, when Keefer chickens out and talks Maryk out of presenting their case.

      I’ve always believed that, if Maryk had given Captain Queeg the close personal support that he was supposed to do as executive officer, Queeg probably would’ve steadied enough to command at least adequately.

      It was Maryk’s responsibility to assure Queeg that he was on his captain’s side, to build Queeg’s trust and confidence in him. Had Maryk done so, then the incident on the bridge probably wouldn’t have happened—as LT Greenwald pointed out.

      Good analysis of the movie and command structure, sir.

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    ps I also called out that professor in some criticisms he made of Kennedy, as a PT boat skipper, in the war and in conjunction to his presidency. He had no idea about PT boats (which were plywood, not steel) and their tactics, and the fact that their engines were never as good as advertised. He then went on to claim Kenned had a great love of covert operations, based solely on his listing From Russia With Love as one of his favorite novels, in a magazine article. he then proceeded to make the statement that Kennedy created the Green Berets. First, Kennedy didn’t trust the CIA, especially after they dropped him in it, with the Bay of Pigs. Second, US Army Special Forces were activated in 1955, under the Eisenhower Administration. Kennedy, during his term, signed an executive order, authorizing the wearing of the distinctive beret, after the Army had outlawed it. Kennedy was impressed by their capabilities and supported their missions, especially in Vietnam, where they were quite effective. He didn’t create them though. I pointed the professor to a book, by Col Aaron Bank, the founder of US Army Special Forces, where he details the history of their beginnings, the origin of the beret (the NATO Reconnaissance School) and the organization of the Special Forces Groups.

    I was a bit of a smartass, but, I had the weight of facts on my side.

  6. I like Stranger on the Third Floor way better than you do.
    The best part of Alphabet Murders was seeing Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple wander in.
    Charade is amazing. Fearless Vampire Killers, not so much.
    Black Swan is mostly a fun movie and Creegar’s Morgan is terrific. I didn’t care for Powers and his aggressive pursuit of O’Hara really turned me off to the film.

  7. I’ve only seen one of these–Charade. Fun fact: they messed up the copyright notice, so Charade is in the public domain. Which is why characters in other movies are always watching either Charade or Night of the Living Dead on the TV.

    William Friedkin (RIP) has one last film coming out this year, a new version of the Caine Mutiny. Looking forward to it.

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