Joe Sixpack's Film Blog: September, 2003
September, 2003


"A Guy Named Joe" (Warner, 1942)

One of Spencer Tracy's finest performances, playing Pete Sandidge, a foolhearty, hot-dog fighter pilot whose heroic suicide run against a German aircraft ends his WWII action days... Or does it? Well, as it turns out, Heaven has a word or two to say about that, and Pete's spirit is enlisted to help watch over and influence the training of another young American pilot. (God, apparently, was on the Allied side, and wanted all his angels to spend their postgame time helping kill Japs and Krauts, before furloughing them to the Elysian Fields...) The twist comes when Pete's protege meets and falls for his old fiance (Irene Dunne) and Pete finds his ghostly jealousy interfering with the war effort. The romantic melodrama slows things down, but this is still a fine film, and a spendid propaganda piece to boot. The social mores of the times are shown in great detail, including the can-do attitude of the American military, the flirting patterns of the servicemen abroad, and the grim realism that took the place of and sped up the normal grieving process of folks at war. Dunne's character is particularly interesting, showing a proto-feminism that may surprise modern viewers -- at the film's start she faces her sweetie Pete down over his reckless heroism, confronting him as an equal and objecting to his patronizing attitude. Finally, Tracy's brusque-but-sensitive everyman routine has never been better... Several great character actors pack the cast, including James Gleason as the crusty commanding officer, and the ever-affable Dan DeFore, as one of the new recruits. This flick may be a little maudlin, but it's deservedly a 1940s classic.


"Animal House" (Universal, 1978)


"The Guardsman" (MGM, 1932)

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine run rings around each other in this delectable, fluffy farce about a married pair of famous stage actors whose marriage is tested when he decides she is being unfaithful to him... and sets out to prove it's so. The cariacature of the vain, melodramatic, tempremental actor is played up to the hilt, wonderfully, by each of the stars. They bounce off of each other perfectly, and the film zips along at a fine clip. Apparently this was the only film in which the two real-life stage stars played opposite each other -- a shame, since they are such a gas to watch together. Highly recommended!


"The War Wagon" (1967)

A fun, brisk, relatively rough Western, featuring Kirk Douglas and John Wayne as two hardened gunslingers who don't trust each other much, but make a pact to help knock over a big gold shipment being run by the local robber baron. For the most part, Douglas upstages Wayne, but they each get some choice zingers off, and the film is fairly action packed. Not a stellar Western, but still pretty entertaining.

"There Was A Crooked Man" (1970)

A purposefully crass, low-brow, yet engaging Western comedy-drama featuring Kirk Douglas as a ne'er-do-well, debonnaire robber whose half-million dollar heist lands him in a miserable desert prison, which, of course, he is determined to break out of. Henry Fonda shows up as the newly-appointed, socially progressive warden who spars with this untameable scoundrel, and the two western movie icons have a good time matching wits in this antiheroic romp. It's not a great flick; the transgressive humor is very much of its time, but it is notable for the surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of two gay convicts who are part of Douglas's escape team... they in fact turn out to be the unlikely heroes of the film, which is as unexpected as it is refreshing.


"Identity" (2003)
A spook-'em-up, high-concept slasher film starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet and Clea Duvall, among a group of travellers stranded at a rundown desert motel who, naturally enough, get picked off one by one. The directors give you more than enough clues to let you jump ahead and figure things out, still, even with the predictability of the gee-whiz twist endings, this is a pretty enjoyable film. Of course, Cusack pretty much carries the whole film -- he's just that darn good.


"The Animal Kingdom" (RKO, 1932)
The dying embers of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Jazz Age" revelries stoked to a cold fire, as Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy star in an adaptation of Phillip Barry's play in which the unconventionally-minded society playboy Howard settles down with a pragmatic, materialistic woman (Loy), who seeks to steer him towards the straight and narrow. Loy actually gets second billing to Ann Billings, who plays Howard's bohemian old flame, a strong-willed woman who breaks off their "just friends" relationship when she finds out he's getting married, but grieves when she sees him losing his ideals and his soul. The brash, idealistic hedonism of the 1930s clashes with its capitalistic twin, and it takes a while before we figure out which side we're supposed to root for... There are several great character performances, particularly Billings as the liberated, bisexual Daisy sage, and William Gargan as Howard's old drinking buddy, Red. A suprisingly "modern," honest portrayal of the changing mores of the times. Recommended!


"The Naked Spur" (MGM, 1953)

"Beloved Enemy" (Samuel Goldwyn, 1936)


"Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941)


"The Rage Of Paris" (1938)
This cynical, antiromantic comedy pairs poor Danielle Darrieux up with a rather snide and abusive Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as a haughty playboy who seeks to expose her as a gold digger -- he starts out trying to protect his best buddy from her feminine wiles, but naturally winds up falling in love with her himself, and determines to steal the girl for himself. His performance is a bit too manic and smug, but she was a real cutie; the plot devices are forced and far-fetched, and on the whole, the plot seems fairly deficient. The film looks great, but the script doesn't hold up.


"Random Harvest" (1942)
A touching, classic melodrama featuring Ronald Colman as a shell-shocked WWI veteran who returns to England without any memory of his former life and Greer Garson (va-va-voom!) as the gal who brings him back into the world, all through the power of love. Great acting, with a script that moves along at a nice clip, even if the plot gets a little bizarre towards the end. Highly recommended.


"The Core" (Paramount, 2002)
"Hang on -- this isn't going to be subtle!" says the hotshot NASA pilot as he prepares to crash-land the space shuttle in the dry concrete basin of the L.A. River... As good an introduction to this film as you're likely to get. This science fiction/natural disaster movie was a very pleasant surprise! It's about an intrepid group of super-scientists who take a fantastic voyage to the Earth's molten core, in order to prevent global catastrophe. Y'see, it seems the lava inside the planet has stopped spinning for some reason, causing all of nature to go haywire, and threatens our very existence. Which is very bad. So, the US government assembles a scrappy little Scooby team, and off they go, to die one-by-one and make heroic sacrifices as they meet their dates with Destiny. This flick was pretty fun & funny in a complete-suspension-of-disbelief kinda way... It doesn't take itself too seriously, and thus never flounders by trying to make everything seem "real." In fact, the humor (which draws on some great, casual one-liners and fine performances all around, particularly the laconic, good-natured college professor, played by Aaron Eckhart) skillfully disarms us to the special effects sequences are all the more enjoyable. The "science" is ridiculous, but who cares? The film is a gas!


"Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind" (Miramax, 2002)
A weird fantasy-comedy exploring 1970s game show host Chuck Woolery's seemingly-bizarre claim to have been a part-time assassin for the American CIA. Taken as a meditation of the odd nature of fame (a viewpoint reinforced by director George Clooney's references to his own aunt's career as one of America's top performers of the 1940s and '50s, a height which she swiftly fell from as the Eisenhower era closed...) But as a dramatic work, or as an exploration of Woolery's own life, this is a little more troublesome... In the first instance, Clooney's uber-cool ironic direction is a distraction; the movie is a little too stylish for its own good. It also takes our familiarity with Woolery's on-air persona as host of the lowbrow Gong Show for granted -- we hear about his on-camera antics, but we see very little of it, and the film is given an unfortunate, self-referential hue, as if everyone shared the same pop-culture experiences as Clooney and his generation, who remember Woolery with great clarity, whereas viewers any older or any younger are probably left wondering what the fuss was about. It's an interesting film, but not a great one by any measure.


"Letter From An Unknown Woman" (Republic, 1948)
Joan Fontaine stars as Lisa, an odd, possibly mentally disturbed young woman who adopts a stalkerlike, lifelong fixation on a rakish concert pianist, played by Louis Jordan, who beds her then forgets her, leaving her with child yet still obsessed with her one true love. Fontaine's cockeyed performance may project more creepiness into the role than was originally intended -- her Lisa is a genuinely disturbing character, and her clumsy attempt at an Austrian accent (the story is set in late-19th Century Vienna) gives her lines that much more of a twisted feel. It's an odd film: Jordan's character is a complete cipher, she's a total freak, and nothing in the script redeems either one of them, really. It's hard to tell what the moral of this melodrama may be, but it will definitely elicit a visceral reaction, either of repulsion or boredom.


"The Crimson Pirate" (Warner, 1952)
Yeesh! Burt Lancaster hams it up mightily in this slapstick-heavy pirate movie, which features a ton of acrobatic schtick with him and his real-life childhood pal, Nick Cravat. The athletic stunts are impressive, but the script is not. It's intentionally silly and absurd -- this is a film that was made to amuse six-year-olds during the early Eisenhower era, and would probably still work its charms on the kiddie set today. But it has a campy, Mel Brooks-ish air to it: don't pick this up if you're hoping for a straight-up swashbuckler action flick, ala "The Black Swan" etc. It'll just get on your nerves. The belabored comedy routines with Cravat, where he plays a Harpo Marx-ish mute pirate, are excruciating.

"Rhythm On The River" (Universal, 1940)
This film is a real gas, a brisk, amiable comedy with a sharp script and snappy dialogue. Bing Crosby stars as an unambitous pop music composer who ghostwrites smash hits for a society bandleader who's lost his Muse. When the unscrupulous bandleader (deliciously played by Basil Rathbone) has to hire a new lyricist, and she just happens to be the gal Bing was checking out in the elevator on the way up to Basil's office, well... romance is in the air. Trad jazz trumpeter Wingy Manone adds some sock to the music, while Bing's real-life bandleader, John Scott Thomas has a nice cameo as a show-biz rival. Mary Martin isn't my favorite actress of the era, but she's fine in this role, and the film whizzes along at a pleasant pace. An entirely enjoyable comedy that features Crosby in one of his most cool, cute and urbane phases. Recommended!


"The Law And Jake Wade" (MGM, 1958)
A taut, no-nonsense tough-guy Western, with Robert Taylor as an ex-badman who's not only reformed, but has also become the local sheriff and is a pillar of his community. His life is turned upside down when his old riding buddy, played deliciously by Richard Widmark, comes back looking for the missing loot from their last big job. Widmark projects sheer venomous danger and untrustworthiness, one of the most magnetic and believable badmen ever seen onscreen. In contrast, Taylor does a cool slow-burn -- he's an equally capable, powerful opponent, just waiting for his chance to strike back. Director John Sturges is an old hand at this kinda thing, but he really outdid himself on this one, providing a film replete with gorgeous scenery, strong characters, an economical, engaging script and some choice dialogue. Deforest Kelly (Dr.


"The Rare Breed" (Universal, 1966)
A discombobulated cowboy comedy in which an aging (over-the-hillish) Jimmy Stewart locks horns and then falls in love with an eccentric, headstrong English woman, who is determined to introduce Hereford cattle into Texas. The livestock angle dominates the plot (yawn -- who cares?) and the most likeable character turns out to be her prize bull, Vindicator. I thought this was kind of a snoozer, with a somewhat brittle feel overall. (Don't tell my wife, though -- she rented it when I had the flu!) This one's a real dud.


"Broken Arrow" (20th Century Fox, 1950)
An engrossing, enjoyable Western dramatizing the Native American leader Cochise, who led the Apache nation in a struggle against white settlers in the Southwest border region. Jimmy Stewart, still young and electrifying, plays the sympathetic "Indian lover" who makes peace with the Apaches possible. The plot is very socially conscious and civil rights oriented (the director was actually on the McCarthy blacklist, working under a fake name...) and while it's a little stilted, it's also quite fun. Recommended!


"A Song For Martin" (First Look, 2001)
A super-depressing, but well acted and very engrossing Swedish drama about an late-middleaged couple struggling with the husband's sudden onset of Alzheimer's-based dementia. They are both high-level musicians, and the love of art intertwines their love for life, and each other. This film is very good and certainly worth watching (it's more of a European art film than an American-style disease-of-the-month flick), but it is definitely a big old downer, so be prepared.


"Rhythm Of The Range" (20th Century Fox, 1936)
Kind of a snoozy, disjointed comedy in which Bing Crosby plays a 1930s rodeo rider who ropes a society gal, and settles down in the wild West. Crosby's young and cute, but the film's plot is entirely deficient, and almost seems to have been made up on the fly. Look quick for a young Roy Rogers playing in the background during the big hoedown at the end; Martha Raye also debuts here as her typical man-hungry old maid. (Animal acting notes: check out the expression of the white horse Bing rides during a music number at the start -- hilarious! The bull he buys, named Cuddles, is kinda cute too.)

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