WolfmanOz at the Movies #56

The Man in Lincoln’s Nose

Was the original title that Alfred Hitchcock initially thought of for his spy thriller North By Northwest where he envisaged the leading man hiding from the villains in Lincoln’s nose at Mount Rushmore and being given away when he sneezes.

Although I have already written about Hitch very early in my posts, after re-watching this film just recently it deserves it’s own post as I rate North By Northwest as one the most purely entertaining films ever made. It almost acts as an anthology of all the typical Hitchcockian situations; but made here with a polish and excellence where everyone involved were at the peak of their talents.

The film’s plot sees Cary Grant playing Roger O. Thornhill (the O stands for nothing !) a New York advertising executive who gets mistaken for another man (actually a decoy fake agent) and is then pursued across America by agents of a mysterious organisation led by Phillip Vandamm, played with silky menace by James Mason, as they try to prevent Thornhill from blocking their plans to smuggle microfilm, which contains government secrets, out of the country.

On the run he boards the 20th Century Limited train to Chicago where he meets Eve Kendall who hides him from the police. She is seductively played by the beautiful Eva Marie Saint who plays the Hitchcock cool blonde seductress better than anyone else ever did in a Hitchcock film (including Hitch’s favourite in Grace Kelly). The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint just ooze sexiness and innuendo.

It turns out Eve is working undercover for the government and is actually Vandamm’s mistress and she tells him to be at a meeting at an isolated rural bus stop.

What follows is an absolute doozy of a scene as a crop duster tries to kill Thornhill. Of course, logically, it doesn’t make sense, but Hitch always prided himself in his ability to make the audience park their brain under their seat whilst watching his films.

Thornhill catches up with Vandamm and Eve at an art auction but in order for him to escape, Thornhill disrupts the auction until police are called to remove him. His last line in this clip to his would-be killer is simply priceless.

Ultimately, travelling in a vague north by northwest direction, Thornhill makes it to Mount Rushmore for the film’s memorable climax.

Even this final scene has a very strong sexual suggestion as Eve is hanging on to the mountain by her fingertips, Thornhill reaches down to pull her up, at which point the scene cuts to him pulling her, now the new Mrs. Thornhill, into an upper berth on a train, which then enters a tunnel as the final credits roll on. Hitchcock called it a “phallic symbol . . . probably one of the most impudent shots I ever made”.

I’d also say that Cary Grant probably gives his most definitive film performance in this movie showcasing his debonair demeanor, his light-hearted approach to acting, and his perfect sense of comic timing.

As an aside, Cary Grant’s grey suit worn throughout the film, was deemed to be the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men’s style according to a panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006.

This is one of several Hitchcock films that featured a terrific music score by Bernard Herrmann plus an opening title sequence by graphic designer Saul Bass. This also featured Hitch’s trademark cameo as he is seen getting a bus door slammed into his face, just as after his director credit is seen leaving the screen.

The screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman who wanted to write “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures” which I reckon he achieved in cramming in nearly all of Hitch’s favourite themes and motifs into this movie.

There was of course the MacGuffin which was Hitch’s term in describing a physical object that everyone in the film is chasing, but which has no deep relationship to the plot which is explained in the film as two characters converse at an airport where there is a loud noise of an aircraft which pretty much drowns out what they are talking about.

I could go on but I would just recommend you go and watch this masterpiece of suspense, ideally in a cinema, but if not then in the comfort of your own home – it is simply magnificent as one of the purest pieces of entertainment ever committed to celluloid.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . A love caught in the fire of revolution.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #55

Golden Boy

Born William Franklin Beedle Jr. on April 17th, 1918, William Holden became one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s and is probably my favourite actor from that era.

After graduating from high school he became involved in local radio plays and by the late 30s was appearing in a number of uncredited roles in films at Paramount.

He got his big break in 1939 when he changed his surname to Holden after the assistant director on the big film he was going to work on was divorcing actress Gloria Holden.

The film was Golden Boy which also starred Barbara Stanwyck in which he played a violinist turned boxer. The film has dated now but it propelled him into leading roles in the early 1940s which was cut short when he was called up into the US Air Force where he acted in training films – somewhat quite different to Lee Marvin’s WWII experiences from last weeks post.

After the war he resumed his film career which was proving rather unremarkable until he landed the part of the down-at-heel screenwriter taken in by a faded silent film actress in Billy Wilder’s magnificently scathing drama of Hollywood in Sunset Blvd. (1950). It’s in my top 20 favourite films of all-time.

Holden was exceptional in a role he would make his own in the coming years playing a self-loathing cynical lead. He also helped set up in having Gloria Swanson delivering one of THE all-time great lines in movie history.

In the same year he also played opposite the superb Judy Holliday in the wonderful comedy Born Yesterday, and for the next few years he was on a golden run with hit after hit.

In 1953 he won the Best Actor Oscar in Stalag 17, again directed by Billy Wilder, for his outstanding portrayal as the enterprising and unsympathetic cynic who barters openly with the German guards for various luxuries. This mixture of drama and comedy was quite unusual for the time and still stands as one of the best POW films ever made.

Other films he starred in during this period included Sabrina, The Country Girl, The Bridges At Toko-Ri and Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.

Although a little old for the main role in 1955s Picnic he bought a sensual air to his role as the wandering vagrant, never better exemplified in this lovely scene where he dances with Kim Novak’s character.

Holden then starred in David Lean’s The Bridge On The Rover Kwai which was a huge financial and critical success.

By the 1960s Holden was becoming less interested in his films and became more involved as a managing partner in an animal preserve in Africa where he fell in love with the wildlife and created the Mount Kenya Game Ranch.

In 1969 he has a great role as the outlaw leader Pike in Sam Peckinpah’s blood-soaked superb western The Wild Bunch, and was one of many stars featured in 1974’s The Towering Inferno.

Two years later he gave his last great leading performance in Network as the world-weary TV news division president; and two years after that he had another good role in the Billy Wilder film Fedora.

An alcoholic for most of his life, Holden died on November 12th, 1981, aged only 63, when he bled to death in his apartment after cutting his forehead from slipping on a rug while drunk and hitting a bedside table.

Enjoy

and the tease for next weeks post . . . The Man in Lincoln’s Nose.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #54

A real tough guy

Born Lamont Waltman Marvin Jr. on February 19th, 1924, Lee Marvin, known for his premature white hair and bass voice, grew from playing hard-boiled vicious tough guy characters into one of the leading movie stars of the 1960s, and one of my favourites from this era.

His childhood was tough. His father was abusive and he suffered from dyslexia and ADHD but in 1942 in enlisted in the US marine Corps where he served as a scout sniper in the Pacific Theatre during WWII and participated in 21 Japanese islands landings.

He was badly wounded at the Battle of Saipan in 1944 and after over a year of medical treatment in navy hospitals he was given a medical discharge with decorations including the Purple Heart, the Presidential Unit Citation, the American Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon. This was one serious guy who served with outstanding distinction in some of the most brutal battles of WWII.

After the war he sort of accidentally fell into acting in upstate New York and by the early 1950s he was starting to appear in films, invariably as a supporting villain.

He became noticed with 2 roles in 1953: as the vicious hoodlum in The Big Heat who threw boiling coffee into the face of his girlfriend and opposite Marlon Brando in the motorcycle gang film The Wild One.

Throughout the 50s he would alternate between films and TV, often playing the heavy, and by 1957 he debuted as the leading man in the TV series M Squad as a Chicago cop.

For me, his breakout film role was as the title character in 1962s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Here he was cast opposite two of Hollywoods greatest superstars in John Wayne and James Stewart and he more than held his own as the terrifyingly vicious outlaw. It’s my favourite John Ford western.

Another top villainous role was as the efficient professional assassin in 1964s The Killers, but in 1965 he finally became a top star for his totally offbeat and marvellous comic dual role in the spoof western Cat Ballou.

I have always found Cat Ballou rather uneven but whenever Marvin is on screen the film lights up. He cleaned up nearly all the major best actor awards in 1965 including winning the Academy Award.

Now Marvin was in the major league and followed up with Ship Of Fools and another favourite of mine in Richard Brooks western The Professionals with Burt Lancaster.

He had the biggest hit of his career in 1967 with the extremely popular and entertaining The Dirty Dozen where he plays a major assigned to lead a group of army misfits to perform an almost impossible and suicidal mission just before D-Day.

At the end of decade he even appeared in a western musical, Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood. Although overlong and tedious in stretches; and, despite his extremely limited singing ability, he had a number one hit with his rendition of the song Wand’rin’ Star.

In the 1970s Marvin had a more variety of roles but the quality of the films he was appearing were not of the standard of his films of the 1960s.

He did have one last top leading role as the sergeant in Samual Fuller’s excellent 1980 war drama The Big Red One about the experiences of a US infantry unit in North Africa and Europe.

A heavy drinker and smoker throughout his life, Marvin died of a heart attack on August 29th, 1987, aged only 63.

He was buried with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #53

Man is the warmest place to hide

1982 was a seminal year for science fiction movies, of which there were three outstanding films of the genre released, all of which were quite different in style and audience engagement.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all-time; Blade Runner was perplexing audiences with its unique future vision of androids in Los Angeles, but my personal favourite was the third great science fiction film released that year.

I am referring to John Carpenter’s superb version of The Thing, which failed to find a popular audience on release but subsequently found it when released on home video and has now been reappraised as one of the best science fiction and horror films ever made.

The Thing was based on the novella Who Goes There ? by John W. Campbell and had been filmed before as The Thing From Another World in 1951 (which has not aged well IMO). Its story follows a group of people trapped in a scientific research outpost in Antarctica with a shapeshifting alien monster who can absorb and imitate any living being.

The film ominously starts where we see a Norwegian helicopter pursuing a sled dog to an American research station.

This scene is brilliantly shot and has maestro Ennio Morricone’s haunting and foreboding score in the background. The film was principally filmed in Juneau, Alaska, and back in 2019, during a family holiday to Canada and Alaska, we actually visited the same glacier via helicopter. It was simply an awe-inspiring and breath-taking experience.

Three of the Americans decide to investigate the Norwegian base where they find charred ruins and frozen corpses including a malformed humanoid which they transfer to their station.

The sled dog is kennelled with the other dogs and it soon metamorphoses and absorbs several of the station dogs. This disturbance alerts the team and a flamethrower is used to incinerate the creature.

An autopsy is performed on the Dog-Thing and it is surmised that it can perfectly imitate other organisms. Data recovered from the Norwegian base leads the Americans to a large excavation site containing a partially buried alien spacecraft, which is estimated to have been buried for over a hundred thousand years, and a smaller, human-sized dig site.

Paranoia now becomes rampart amongst the group, not knowing if anyone else has been assimilated by the alien.

MacReady, the helicopter pilot (played by Kurt Russell) hypothesises that every part of the Thing is an individual life form with its own survival instinct. He has everyone tied up and sequentially tests blood samples with a heated piece of wire. The result is more than what he bargained for.

The ending is deliberately ambiguous as the two survivors, MacReady and Childs, exhausted and slowly freezing to death, acknowledge the futility of their distrust and share a bottle of whisky, but are they both still human ?

It’s one of cinema’s great understated endings, especially given the mayhem that preceded it.

The film’s special effects are still lauded today for being technically brilliant and serve as a stark contrast to the CGI effects that were used in the much inferior 2011 prequel The Thing which proves modern CGI is no match for old-school practical effects.

Unlike E.T., which offered an optimistic take on alien visitation; The Thing presented a nihilistic view with a dark atmosphere of dread and was the total opposite in tone to Spielberg’s film. Director John Carpenter has always asserted that audiences rejected The Thing for its bleak and depressing viewpoint compared to E.T., and, in addition, when it opened, it was competing against the critically and commercially successful E.T..

The central theme of The Thing then concerned paranoia and mistrust. Fundamentally, the film is about the erosion of trust in a small community, instigated by different forms of paranoia caused by the possibility of someone not being who they say they are.

In the years following its release, critics and fans have reevaluated The Thing as a milestone of the horror genre. I have the film placed alongside Alien and Aliens in the unholy trinity of the three great science fiction horror movies.

The film is screened annually in February to mark the beginning of winter at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station . . . anyone fancy going there to watch it ?

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . A real tough guy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #52

Ealing comedies

As promised last week, this weeks post will be taking a look at the comedies from Ealing Studios – thanks to Pogria for the suggestion.

Ealing Studios is a London based film and television production company and is actually the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world of which its’ output numbers in the many hundreds.

But it is the small block of comedies released in the late 40s to the late 50s that the reputation of Ealing became so well known. Their success was not just restricted to the UK but also in the USA where a number of their films won or were nominated for a number of Academy Awards.

Hue And Cry (1947) is generally regarded as the first of the classic Ealing comedies as it tells the story of a group of schoolboys who confront a criminal gang. Directed by Charles Crichton from a script by T.E.B. Clarke, both of whom would become stalwarts of Ealing along with directors Alexander Mackendrick, Robert Hamer and Henry Cornelius; and actors the magnificent Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway and Raymond Huntley etc.

Then came Passport To Pimlico (1949) a delightfully quirky film where a suburb of London is declared a legal part of the House of Burgundy and therefore exempt from post-war rationing and other petty bureaucratic restrictions active at the time in Britain.

Next there was Whisky Galore ! (1949) which concerned a shipwreck off a Scottish island where the inhabitants have run out of whisky due to wartime rationing but they find out the ship is carrying 50,000 cases of whisky. This film became the first to achieve box office success in America.

1949 was rounded up with the release of my favourite Ealing film – Kind Hearts And Coronets (it’s in my top 100 films of all-time). This gloriously witty black comedy concerns Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, the son of a woman disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying out of her social class. After her death, Louis decides to take revenge on the family and take the dukedom by murdering the eight people (all played by the incomparable Alec Guinness) ahead of him in the line of succession to the title.

The film is told in flashback as Louis is awaiting execution as he writes his memoirs, where the irony is, he is to be executed for a murder he didn’t commit.

1951 saw the release of 2 more great but quite different comedies in The Man In The White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob both starring Alec Guinness.

The Man In The White Suit is a superb satire on business and trade unions as a scientist invents an incredibly strong fibre which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made, which is a brilliant white. The ramifications of which causes great consternation amongst both labour and the capitalists.

Whereas The Lavender Hill Mob is a highly inventive comedy caper as Guinness superbly plays a mild-mannered London clerk who devises a plan to steal a consignment of gold bullion from his bank.

Later notable comedies included The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953), Touch And Go (1955), The Ladykillers (1955) and lastly Barnacle Bill (1957). I have to admit, despite its high reputation, I have never overly cared for The Ladykillers but I will say it is a masterpiece compared to the awful 2004 Coen Brothers remake.

So what made the Ealing comedies so special and enduring, 70 years after they were first released ?

Well they tended to reflect Britain’s post-war spirit after WWII but they also depicted the peculiar, and varied, nature of the English sense of humour which has proved to be so popular over time.

They were also blessed to have some of the finest talents in British cinema at the time, of which Alec Guinness, one of the greatest actors of the 2oth century, featured prominently. Guinness was hugely popular with the British public and he had a chameleon ability to absorb himself into his roles, whether it be comedy or drama, which made him a truly great film actor.

The Ealing comedies were also made economically i.e. the films generally ran for only 80-90 minutes so they never wore out their welcome but at their heart was a warmth and affection for their characters written with humour and a mischievous wit such we don’t see much anymore.

Enjoy.

and as a tease for next weeks post . . . Man is the warmest place to hide.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #51

Is cinema dying ?

As I write this last post for the year, a feeling of melancholy and sadness is with me as I write about what I believe is that movies and the thrill of going to the cinema and luxuriating in the magic of the big screen appears to be dying.

There was always something special in going to the cinema in having that shared experience in enjoying a film, whether it be a comedy, a musical, a drama, a western, an action flick etc etc.

As I look back on 2022, I only saw 2 films at the cinema – No Time To Die, Daniel Craig’s last foray as Bond (thank God, as this film was awful) and Top Gun: Maverick where Tom Cruise shows he’s still got the magic to provide a thoroughly entertaining non-woke film for the audience. But after that zilch nada nothing.

Hollywood, in particular, keeps rehashing old material and making the same movies and TV shows over and over again. The key differences between the old and new versions is that the newer offerings are often dumbed down, coarser, infused with contemporary woke themes, and are obliged to have a far more racially diverse cast, and all the while delivering an inferior product that isn’t worth the time of day.

Of today’s crop of films I have soon had my fill. Most of them are obscurely told, they tell me things I don’t care about, in language I find offensive; and they concern characters whom I would willingly cross the road to avoid. Dark and shaky cinematography makes them unattractive to look at, and all the old studio crafts, so laboriously learned during the Golden Age, appear have been jettisoned in favour of obscenely large budgets which allow the film-maker to wander restlessly around the globe giving distorted views of real locations or the film is laced with incessant CGI instead of setting their own and the audience’s imaginations to work.

Nowadays one has to fight one’s way through the thick showy surface in order to get to a story which all too often is not worth following.

One problem is that modern films are largely made by people with no sense of humour, people who do not realise that they must please the mass audience if the industry in which they work is to survive. Old-time screenwriters would no doubt be viewed by these people as cynical hacks, but at least they took pains to please their audience with all the expertise at their command, and they still expressed their own view in a vein of sardonic humour which ran through most of their scripts.

The absurd pretensions of some modern film-makers certainly causes amusement wherever sensible people congregate, but the advocates of sanity are in no position to have the last word.

Movies are thus produced for a small group of jet-setters and wokesters; meanwhile that patient paying audience discovers that not only the films but the cost of going to the cinema is infinitely more expensive, as the cost of admission has risen at a phenomenal rate.  What other commodity has risen in price to this extent?  Television is infinitely cheaper and can be viewed in the comfort of one’s home: no wonder so many people prefer it.

So the movie industry hastens on its way to perdition and catastrophe, a fate which surely cannot be delayed more than another few years, and for which simple-minded greed, lack of foresight and a large measure of incompetence are chiefly responsible.

Some of the elements missing from modern cinema are to be found in television, with the plethora of choice for viewers from endless streaming services there is so much to chose from. But television is a private enjoyment, and one inevitably misses the sense of comradeship, of sharing a pleasure, that the cinema used to fulfil.

So, I usually include some clips scattered in my weekly post, but all I can think of now is just to present some of my favourite moments in cinema which I can still enjoy but I know I won’t see any more of in the coming years.

Enjoy . . . and a Happy New Year to you all.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #50

Laurel & Hardy

Well for my last post before Xmas, and to bring a smile to Cats faces, I can think of no better topic than to discuss the most beloved comedy duo in cinema history in Laurel & Hardy.

Stan Laurel (1890-1965) and Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) started their career as a duo in the silent movie period, they later successfully transitioned to talkies. From the late 1920s to the mid-1950s they appeared as a team in over 100 films, starring in 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length feature films.  

They became internationally famous for their slapstick comedy, with Laurel playing the clumsy, childlike friend to Hardy’s pompous bully.

To describe their magic would be like trying to explain the genius of Mozart or Shakespeare – somethings are just beyond words; so I offer the following bits and pieces about them.

They often had physical arguements which were quite complex and involved a style of violence that was almost cartoonish. A brilliant example of this would be their silent short masterpiece Big Business (1929) in which they play two Christmas tree salesman trying to sell Xmas trees in July. The film then resolves itself into a tit-for-tat vandalism between them and James Finlayson who doesn’t want to buy a Xmas tree.

Their ineptitude and misfortune precluded them from making any real progress, even in the simplest endeavors. Much of their comedy involves “milking” a joke, where a simple idea provides a basis for multiple, ongoing gags without following a defined narrative. An example of this would be Perfect Day (1929) where two families embark on a pleasant Sunday picnic in their Ford Model T, but manage to run into a variety of issues with the temperamental automobile. Each incident requires repeated exits and reboardings by everyone.

Other favourite shorts of mine include Laughing Gravy (1931) where they try to keep their pet dog hidden from their landlord; The Music Box (1932) where they attempt to move a piano up a long flight of steps; Towed In A Hole(1932) where they renovate a boat in order to catch their own fish; and, Tit For Tat (1935) where they establish an electrical goods store.

By the mid-1930s they had moved away from shorts and concentrated on features (which were more profitable). They had a big hit in 1933 with Sons Of The Desert, but they hit the jackpot in 1937 with the timeless comedy masterpiece Way Out West.

Here they are entrusted to deliver the deed of a old mine to a deceased prospector’s daughter. The film features one of the most beloved songs/routines ever performed in Trail Of The Lonesome Pine.

Trail Of The Lonesome Pine

Incredibly in 1975, Trail Of The Lonesome Pine was released as a single in the UK and reached No.2 in the charts !

But by the end of the decade their best films were behind them, and they left Hal Roach Studios for 20th Century Fox but their films now were but a shadow of their former glories.

In the 1950s they then embarked on a number of tours re-enacting their routines which proved tremendously successful with the public who still adored them. This period was affectionately depicted in the excellent 2018 film Stan & Ollie with Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy. 

The film also re-created another favourite routine from Way Out West, in At The Ball, That’s All, although, as always, the original is still priceless.

At The Ball, That’s All

Laurel & Hardy are timeless and will be beloved forever for those who value their comedy and artistry.

Enjoy . . . and a Merry Xmas to you all !

WolfmanOz at the Movies #49

B movies

In old Hollywood, B grade movies identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicised bottom half of a double feature. However, this practice largely ceased by the end of the 1950s with the studios changing their departments into TV production divisions.

B movies often represented a particular genre e.g. westerns while low-budget science-fiction and horror films became more popular in the 1950s. Almost always shorter than the top-billed feature films, many had running times of 80 minutes or less. The term gave a general perception that B movies were inferior to the more lavishly budgeted A grade films; however they often provided a fertile start for many talented directors, writers, actors/actresses, cinematographers, editors etc for them to make their mark in movies.

One such example, and a particular favourite of mine, is the science-fiction classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers directed by Don Siegel and released in 1956.

This low-budget feature which ran for only 80 minutes, was released by Allied Artists, a very minor studio in Hollywood. It proved to be quite a hit, and despite its lurid title, displayed subtle nuances quite unlike what would be expected of a science-fiction film of the 1950s.

The film’s storyline concerns an extra-terrestrial invasion that begins in California. Alien plant spores have fallen from space and have grown into large seed pods, each one capable of producing a visually identical copy of a human. As each pod reaches full development, it assimilates the physical traits, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it until only the replacement is left; these duplicates, however, are devoid of all human emotion. Little by little, a local doctor uncovers this invasion and attempts to stop it.

The film was been remade a number of times – there’s a pretty good 1978 version with Donald Sutherland, but none have quite matched the original.

The original ending did not include the flashback framing, in fact when I first saw it in the mid 1970s, the prologue and epilogue had been cut out (which was as the film-makers originally intended) but they have been restored, which is a pity, as the intent was to present a rather pessimistic ending.

The film has often been analysed as a commentary of the dangers facing the United States, whether it be McCarthyism or Communism. However, Siegel denied any such intent – he just wanted to make a damn good movie that was entertaining and exciting.

Don Siegel would go on to have a notable directorial career, with films like The Killers (1964), The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Escape From Alcatraz. He formed a memorable partnership with Clint Eastwood in which they made 5 films together.

So what other B movies do Cats fondly remember ?

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #48

Yipee-ki-yay, motherfucker

Was the catchphrase used by New York police detective John McClane in the action thriller Die Hard. Since it’s release back in 1988, Die Hard has stood the test of time to be considered one of the best action thrillers ever made. And because of its’ Christmas setting it has become a favourite Xmas movie; and as Xmas is only a few weeks away . . .

The film follows McClane who is caught up in a terrorist takeover of a Los Angeles skyscraper whilst visiting his estranged wife. McClane is of course played by Bruce Willis in the role that made him into a major film-star and over the years Willis would become a caricature but in all fairness he absolutely nailed this role.

It is sad to read now that Willis has been forced into retirement after being diagnosed with aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension.

So what makes Die Hard stand out as arguably the best action thriller of the last 40 years ?

Well, at the time, expectations were quite low, Willis was not a major film star and had made his name as a comedic actor in the TV series Moonlighting.

Before Die Hard most action films of the time often featured an invincible hero (eg. Schwarzenegger and Stallone) whereas Willis’ McClane presents as a fairly normal person with failings and vulnerabilities i.e. he was believably human. Of course the irony is that Willis then made a career playing invincible heroes.

The film also starred an unknown Alan Rickman as the charismatic villain Hans Gruber in what was his film debut . . . but what a debut ! Rickman’s silky voice combined with the totally ruthless nature of his character elevated the role to be one of the great screen villains in cinema history.

Rickman would then form a habit of stealing every movie he appeared in and his death from pancreatic cancer in 2016 robbed the world of one of the finest actors of his generation.

The film also boasts a number of terrific action set-pieces that utilised old-fashioned techniques including practical effects and outstanding stunt work i.e. no CGI.

For me, cinema has not produced a better testosterone inducing adrenaline rollercoaster experience that is still as entertaining today as it was when it was first released.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #47

Men of Harlech

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift between a small British army contingent and a huge army of Zulus in January 1879 was memorably presented in the splendid 1964 film Zulu which depicts how 150 British soldiers successfully held off an army of 4,000 Zulu warriors.

The battle followed on after the Battle of Isandlwana fought a few days earlier where a British army of 1,800 men was utterly defeated and routed by the Zulus.

Rorke’s Drift also saw the awarding of 11 Victorian Crosses the greatest number ever awarded for one single engagement. Also the basic premises of the film is largely true and accurate, but it is not a historical re-enactment of the actual events.

The heavily outnumbered British successfully defended Rorke’s Drift more or less as portrayed in the film. Director and co-writer, Cy Endfield, even consulted a Zulu tribal historian for information from Zulu oral tradition about the attack. There are, however, a number of historical inaccuracies in the film but in the overall scheme of things are relatively minor.

The film was largely instigated by actor/producer Stanley Baker and is also the film that first introduced Michael Caine in a major role, ironically playing a foppish British officer rather than the cockney role for which he would become world famous for.

Despite the overwhelming odds, the discipline and training of the British army enabled them to repel the first Zulu attack.

Where at the film’s climax the two armies compete against each other with their chants and songs. History tells us there was no stirring rendition of Men of Harlech but who cares, in this film it is magnificently staged as a prelude to the final slaughter.

Zulu also boasts a terrific supporting performance by the criminally under-rated Nigel Green as Colour Sergeant Bourne, a seasoned officer who plays a key role in organising and leading the British defence

Nearly 60 years after it first released, Zulu has remained a constant favourite of many a film goer in its numerous re-releases and then as a perennial television fixture. It’s been a favourite of mine ever since I saw it on one of it’s many re-releases.

In 2018 Chief Mangosuthy Buthelezi defended the film’s cultural and historical merits, stating that there’s “a deep respect that develops between the warring armies, and the nobility of King Cetshwayo’s warriors as they salute the enemy, demanded a different way of thinking from the average viewer at the time of the film’s release. Indeed, it remains a film that demands a thoughtful response.”

And as a final note, the film boasts an outstanding score by one of my favourite film composers in John Barry.

Enjoy.