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Archive for the ‘Charlton Heston’ Category

The Greatest Story Ever Told

13 Feb

The Greatest Story Ever Told — directed by George Stevens. A prophet appears in the ancient Middle East and is believed and followed and then beset by political superstition.

3 hours and 19 minutes, Color, 1965.

★★★

It is not fair of me to review this film, for I have not seen it in a movie theatre, but only on my TV, which, while it is fairly large, cannot do justice to the size of the screen for which it was made. When Stevens was asked to choose between Panasonic and super-Panasonic, he chose the latter, although only two such cameras were available. Others were soon found. And the film was made as a story dependent upon its narration for a huge broad screen. Stevens had been a cameraman for years before he became a director, and he could combine the integrity of his material with the size of the canvas upon which he painted. The sort of the story and its telling were intrinsic to the size of the screen. The one had to do with the other, and to see this film on a TV screen is simply for most of it to fail to register as story. Or so I imagine. It may not be the Greatest Film ever made but it must be the most gorgeous. After research in the Holy Land, Stevens made it in remote Arizona settings which resembled that land of long ago. The flooding of Lake Powell was halted so it could be filmed as the Sea of Galilee. The settings are vast and panoramic and are meant, I believe to buoy up the power of the actions on the screen into a spiritual or at least other world dimension, and this I think they may succeed in doing. The individual scenes are made with Stevens’ unerring sense of beauty; he was inspired by famous paintings and their lighting; many interiors are dark and mysterious, lit for chiaroscuro and for effects which his simple camera setups were primed. Max Von Sydow is fine as Jesus as an actor, but no one else comes up to be as good as to be even bad. Great actors like Van Heflin look as uncomfortable in their sandals as everyone else; God, their feet must have hurt. The crowd scenes are just like all Hollywood crowd scenes, a lot of people shaking their fists in the air at the same time unconvincingly. No one is at home their costumes. The actors pause portentous eons between syllables, except for Jose Ferrer who mercifully picks up all his cues and for Claude Rains who gets on with it also. Charlton Heston is well cast as the humorless John The Baptist and delvers his lines through his stentorian teeth like a baleen whale in a vomitorium. Sal Mineo is marvelous as a cripple who is able to walk; his is the best performance in the film and probably of his career. Sometimes the old sermons are moving, but the picture does not seem to be, except once, when Sydney Poitier picks up the cross from Jesus’ stumbled back and helps him along with it. Much of the heart of the film seems to be kept at a distance, a beautiful distance, true. The miracles are all off to one side, never shown; only their effect is shown. The effect of Jesus on his apostles is never shown, always granted. Eventually, the film got out of control, and Jean Negulesco shot the Jerusalem street scenes and David Lean cast and shot the Claude Rains sequence. Alfred Newman scored it with ancient instruments, his own score, and Handel’s Messiah which is quite grating. Some day if I have the chance I will see this film in a movie house. William Mellor, Stevens’ favorite photographer shot it, and there isn’t a scene in it that isn’t rapturously beautiful. From a camera point of view. Whether from a human point of view and a narrative point of view, I wonder.

 

Midway

02 Jun

Midway – Directed by Jack Smight – WW II War Action. Vast armadas clash at sea in a turning point battle in 1942. 132 minutes Color 1976.

* * * *

All the male stars, and there are many, make grim faces, and so they all look alike. The only one to whom a grim face comes naturally is the great Toshiro Mifune, but when he opens that face to speak, what few lines he has are dubbed. Anxious, fearful, watchful – the others are all the same: Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber, Edward Albert, and, of course, the star, Mister Grim Mouth himself, Charlton Heston. This tends to level the playing field, or rather it makes it possible for certain actors to rise above the monotony of the waters and shine: James Shigeta, for instance, in radiator paint grey hair, who makes a telling character of the wise Admiral who sank the US fleet at Pearl Harbor now attempting to seize Midway Island which has become a US airbase for the bombing of Tokyo. It is a beautiful performance, perfectly calibrated to suit the ravages of fate, as the huge Japanese Navy, spearheaded by four carriers, sets out for the invasion. And Hal Holbrook, who makes a merry wag of the decoder who tracked down the target of the Japanese mission, which no one knew until the day before. Chance, dumb luck, craft, skill, experience, ineptitude, and ruthlessness on all sides come into play in this story which is a pretty good civics lesson overview of the personalities, strategies, and odds at play. The Japanese had a huge advantage, for the US Pacific Fleet had been generously destroyed by them at Pearl Harbor. The director and writer have endeavored to show these forces honestly and fairly, and we are never in doubt as to the names of the specific pilots on the specific missions which failed or succeeded. Oddly this keeps things impersonal, since we never get to know any of these characters well. But it does keep us informed as to the doings of the battle, and the chances of choice or of weather, for instance, which played such a notable part in the outcome. For huge vessels in fleets wallow around upon the fabric of a vast sluggish ocean trying to destroy one another, and doing so. All this manipulated by Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii. And Admiral Yamamoto on his battleship 300 miles away. Lots of color footage of the battle lend their flare to the story, and while the human relations are clunky, the relation to the personalities at play on the circumstances and events is influential beyond measure. It’s a worthwhile movie, highly dramatic, and clear, and necessary to know.[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

Dame Edna’s Christmas

21 Feb

Dame Edna’s Christmas – Filmed Stage/TV comedy. The Great Lady Of Australia levels her variety show at the holidays. 110 minutes color 1987

* * * * *

Our always gracious Dowager of Devastation cascades her condescension from Australian Heights (which are perhaps not very high) onto the masochistic pates of us lesser beings, and we, her subjects laugh in the aisles with gratitude. Fast on the draw, she makes mincemeat of one and all for Christmas, in a combination of egregious sentimentality (Possums, gladioli!) and facial expressions that would make the Boulder Dam giggle. She ranks with Milton Berle as one of the greatest cross-dressers in show business history. The writhings of her upper lip alone will reduce one to the carpet. If you think this is supposed to have anything to do with Christmas, spare yourselves the delusion. On the one hand she spurns bathroom humor with prissy disgust and on the other commits every double-entendre she can locate. Her essential send-up is Celebrity. What we offer to it, what it is reduced to, the lies that lie behind it, and the tripe it really is. God bless Dame Edna on this and all subsequent Christmases from today until the end of Auntie Domine!  To all, a good night.

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Town And Country

02 Dec

Town And Country — directed by Peter Chelsom — upper class comedy in which two couples couple with others and with one another — 104 minutes color 2001.

* * * *

Warren Beatty is superb at playing men who are so dumb they can’t help but get seduced. From McCabe And Mrs Miller and the desert-duo-with-Dustin he has created this marvelous dolt — feckless, almost virginal, and rather endearing. Here he has hardly anywhere to go with it, except back into the sack with any lady bold enough to jump his bones. Andie MacDowell plays a mad girl, no matter, suddenly he is in bed playing dolls with her; the local hardware store clerk immediately rolls in the snow with him; his best friend’s wife rolls on the couch with him; Nastassja Kinsky replaces her cello with him — and all as though he had no say in the matter whatsoever. The movie is supplemented with two genius comediennes, Goldie Hawn of National Treasure Status, and Diane Keaton, perfectly cast here as Warren Beatty’s ritzy wife. Both she and Hawn are wonderful in scenes telling off their husbands. Hawn’s is played by the dubious Gary Shandling, who discovers he is gay. Well, well, but the film loses its comic force when the director thinks that embarrassing a banquet with a brannagan is in any way in and of itself funny. The running joke of dusty furniture in a high-end antique store is not funny either, and for the same reason, that it beggars credulity. People aren’t like that. High-end antique stores are not like that. However, the suavity of the film lies, of course, not in its comedy, but in its humor, and when this is achieved, we are amused — which is all we ever asked to be.

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