"Well, we're sitting here in Chinatown, and they're closing all the… More"Well, we're sitting here in Chinatown, and they're closing all the factories down!" There are, like, a million songs about, if not named after Chinatown, and I ended up going with Billy Joel's "Allentown", because not too many people remember The Move's "Chinatown". Maybe I should have referenced that song after all, because no one at all would remember The Move if they didn't lead into Electric Light Orchestra, and this film probably wouldn't be remembered if it wasn't Roman Polanski's last film made in the United States... and if it didn't get a lot of nods as the Oscars, a lot of wins at the Globes, and recognition from numerous people as one of the greatest noir films of all time. Some people might wonder why I would figure that this film would be forgotten, but Roman Polanski has made so many films that if the pedophilia accusations didn't come in, he would have fled from the States just for a vacation. It's a good thing he did bail out, because there's no way he could have defended against accusations of his being a sexual deviant after a film this sexually creepy (A sexually-charged detective noir? That's new!), and I stress the adjective "sexually" because it's just not a Roman Polanski film if it isn't a little creepy... or a little too long. Even "Macbeth" got rather excessive and dull, and it had real warfare instead of these here California "Water Wars". Sorry if I'm offending anyone, but the name of a situation that serious always sounded kind of silly to me, as did the basic concept of a war over water, but make no mistake, this film, while plenty creepy, is not silly, although it, as good as it is, does have other things going against it.
As a neo-noir, this film broke a little ground, or at least impacted the formula for dramas of its type, but when it falls into convention, it falls hard, whether it be following Roman Polanski's usual storytelling structure and themes, or hitting noir tropes that range from a plot carrying themes of adultery, politically-charged murder, sexuality, etc., to an enigmatic lead who might be a little too enigmatic. Well-drawn and, of course, very well-portrayed by Jack Nicholson, the J.J. "Jake" Gittes character is a compelling lead, but not quite a distinguished one, for there is no immediate background on him, and only so many expository layers to a characterization that you'd think would be more fleshed out throughout the course of this lengthy, character-driven drama. As a matter of fact, while I understand that this film can't commit the noir sin of straying too far away from the point of view of its main character, this film also stands to flesh out its focal layers, as it gets to be a bit uneven in its progression, partly because it covers too much material, and takes it time to cover it. Running well over two hours and, of course, being directed by Roman Polanski, this film is way too long, with plenty of fat around the edges which, before too long, gets to be repetitious, having some limitations in storytelling dynamicity that could have been more easily overlooked if there was more dynamicity to Polanski's directorial storytelling. As it often is, Polanski's thoughtfulness is realized enough to be adequately compelling, with considerable effectiveness upon the incorporation of heights in material, but the director has always had a tendency to very often get carried away with his subdued atmospherics, and he does just that here, with a steadiness that makes a lot of the plotting material run together, stiffens pacing, and rounds it all out with a blandness that all too often slips into all-out dullness. Again, there is something inspired about Polanski's storytelling, leading to sound engagement value that, before completely wearing off, really kicks up with the thickening of plot, but when this film limps out, it crawls, down a formulaic, undercooked, uneven and altogether overdrawn path, until it finds itself running the risk of collapse into underwhelmingness. This film isn't quite what it could have been, but it is rewarding, with graceful subtlety, biting edge, and even taste.
Taste can be found within Jerry Goldsmith's score, when it is, in fact, used in this largely deeply quiet and atmospheric drama, being rather formulaic in its noirish jazzy sensibilities, but lovely and effective in its tenderness, and carrying an artistic value which is even more subtle in John A. Alonzo's often flat, but reasonably handsome, shadowy cinematography. The stylistic trappings of a film noir are certainly there, and Roman Polanski at least works with those well, but as a director, he delivers on more than just aesthetic value, for although his trademark overt thoughtfulness gets to be seriously dull, and is ultimately too recurrent, it could have resulted in a flat film, if it didn't carry a certain atmospheric realization that immerses, and is biting once dramatic material comes into play. This is a steady and lengthy film that is heavy on mystery over action, so there isn't much material for Polanski to draw upon, but there is plenty of tension to spare, partly because of Polanski's directorial highlights, and largely because the story has plenty of meat to begin with. The dramatic material is a little lacking, and the human factor is further diluted by thin characterization, but as an extensive dramatization of a case to unravel the murder of a powerful and somewhat scorned man, driven by a charismatic lead, this story has potential. A lot of that potential is obscured by the Robert Towne's draggy, uneven and somewhat thin script, which mostly does a great deal of justice to the narrative, through sharp dialogue and sophisticatedly crafted set pieces, in addition to enough rich character drawing to make up just fine for developmental shortcomings. If nothing else makes up for characterization issues, it's the performers, with the lovely and emotionally solid Faye Dunaway stealing the show from time to time as a widow who wants to know about the affairs and fate of her husband, yet is concealing her own dark secrets, while Jack Nicholson, despite playing himself, carries the film with his trademark sparkling charisma, which fits the classic noir lead role like a glove and adds the hint of entertainment value this film needs to reward. The film is so slow and so cold so often that it comes very close to losing its reward value, but its sophistication is respectable, and the inspiration behind its thoughtful storytelling and endearing performances secure the final product as plenty compelling.
When the case is closed, conventional aspects as a Roman Polanski film and noir thriller include an underdeveloped lead, while unevenness to a draggy story structure that is made all the more aimless by often dully cold direction most shake your investment, and threaten reward value that is secured by the solid score work and cinematography, generally effective direction, smart writing and charismatic acting that manage to make Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" an overly steady, but reasonably engrossing noir classic.
3/5 - Good
Well, I guess Arthur Miller did, in fact, write something as cheery as… MoreWell, I guess Arthur Miller did, in fact, write something as cheery as a love story from time to time after all. I am very, very forcibly kidding, partly because this is Arthur [u]H[/u]iller, and largely because this film by no means ends up going down an especially cheery path. This is a seriously lazy title, but it's not exactly misleading, because when I hear about a dramatic "love story", I'm usually expecting something kind of depressing, at least ever since this film. This thing was trite and a groundbreaker at the same time, which would be awesome if the usual romantic drama released afterwards were better or, well, watchable. I exaggerate, but forget Nicholas Sparks for ruining this formula, which actually might not have ever been that good, yet can at least be respected more back in 1970, because kids had much better taste in music back then. In all fairness, this film has a classical soundtrack, which makes it a cheater, because the music goes to show you that kids have ostensibly been gradually losing taste in music ever since Bach and Mozart (That's right, this film is so clichéd that it plays some Bach and Mozart), while giving the film enough of a sense of sophistication for the film awards to embrace it when it first came out. Maybe people got so sour about the film in retrospect because they couldn't help but think about Ryan O'Neil's later work (This film is some kind of a curse, I tell you), although it doesn't help that this film, as decent as it is, has plenty of flaws.
The film drags its feet from time to time, or at least feels as though it does, because among some of the bigger issues in this film is cold spells to Arthur Hiller's storytelling which range from a little bland to rather dull, with a limited flare that doesn't exactly more sparkling through the years. This film is betrayed by its own legacy, because, really, its formula has gotten to be so overexplored that it all but makes this film feel trite, and it doesn't help that there are many areas in which this film does, in fact, hit tropes, and hard, with familiar themes and conflicts, driven by characters who aren't quite familiar enough. It's not like the developmental shortcomings thin down the background of the characters, as much as they water down a sense of motivation in the characterization, for the initially obnoxious characters come to take on humanizing roles that seem to come in from out of nowhere, just as the romance itself feels rushed into, not quite fleshed out enough as convincing on paper for you to embrace the melodramatics which thrive on the romantic dynamics. Really, I don't think there's any overlooking the histrionics which define this story, for this is a conceptually compelling, but unlikely narrative is manufactured in a lot of areas in its characterization and conflicts, made all the more contrived by subtlety issues to storytelling. The directorial storytelling is usually pretty subtle, maybe too much so, while the writing proves to be intelligent in other areas, but certain themes and dialogue pieces are thrust against your head, as are what characterization there are which are comprehensively distinguished, thus making for an occasionally cheesy script whose directorial interpretation also has its moments of atmospheric bloating, which punctuates directorial dry spells a bit too intensely. When the storytelling resonates, it cuts fairly deep, and when it doesn't, ambition only stresses the other shortcomings of this slow, dated, formulaic and rather contrived melodrama, holding the final product pretty decidedly into underwhelmingness. It's remarkable that the film manages to border on rewarding, but, make no mistake, the final product comes closer to being consistently compelling than it does to falling flat, having plenty of taste, even in music.
There's not much to the film's soundtrack of limited dynamicity and even more limited prominence, but the classical pieces, both unoriginal and composed for the film by Francis Lai, are beautiful by their own right, and complimentary to the tasteful heart of a drama whose sophisticated musical sensibilities add to a sense of importance. It certainly helps that the story itself is worthy, watered down partly by its dated aspects and contemporary convention, and largely by its melodramatics, but still promising as a portrait on the young love, and how it fairs against conflicts in family, living condition and, of course, health. The subject matter followed in this melodrama is valuable stuff, and the final product could have rewarded if Erich Segal's script was more realized, without the inorganic exposition and contrivances which play a huge role in holding the film back that goes challenged by clever, memorable dialogue (Ironic how the woman said, "Love means never having to say, 'I'm sorry'"), and some profound highlights in manufactured, but distinguished characterization which embodies, at least for the time, relevant themes, and intriguing dramatic layers. I wish there was more subtlety to the storytelling, but there is a fair bit of it, and it's largely found within direction by Arthur Miller that also has its overbearing moments to punctuates often dull dry spells, but is particularly tasteful, with delicate pacing that establishes a sense of thoughtfulness, whose application over more realized touches in drama begets genuine resonance. The film comes down to some heavy twists and turns which people these days can surely predict, even if they're not familiar with this film, yet which remain pretty powerful in their saving an underwhelming melodrama as, well, slightly less underwhelming, charged by performances that are consistently endearing. The characters have their unlikable, or at least obnoxious traits, and they stand to be much more nuanced, but only in their writing, for lead performers Ryan O'Neil and Ali MacGraw, despite keeping consistent with solid charisma and an electric chemistry, are layered in their subtle, sometimes piercing emotional commitment to the portrayal of budding love's having to face many a harsh reality. I suppose O'Neil and MacGraw technically carry the film, because even though they can't quite get the final product to a rewarding point, they are what push this messy melodrama to the brink, with the help of some inspired storytelling that make things plenty engaging, for all of the ambitions and misguidance.
Bottom line, there are some draggy, or at least bland spots, as well as spots which either have become dated or were formulaic to begin with, while undercooked characterization, melodramatics and certain subtlety issues to storytelling truly limit momentum, until the final product falls as underwhelming, but not so much so that a tasteful soundtrack, worthy subject matter, often smart script, thoughtful direction, and effective performances by Ryan O'Neil and Ali MacGraw fail to secure Arthur Hiller's "Love Story" at the brink of rewarding as a flawed, but enjoyable breakthrough in tragic romantic melodrama.
2.75/5 - Decent
I kind of wish that there was actually a mention of the title in the… MoreI kind of wish that there was actually a mention of the title in the lyric to the song "Land of a Thousand Dances" so that I could replace it with this film's title, largely because the title "Land of a Thousand Dances" is pretty cool for a song whose lyric could have seriously used a cool line. I can't believe that there was a time when Cannibal & the Headhunters wasn't the name of some kind of an extreme metal band, but there was, and it was a heck of a ways back, before even this film. Yes, people, before boys were playing with Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces, they were playing to Anne of a Thousand Days. No, Geneviève Bujold was cute, so that was an offensive, if slightly confusing joke about a young man's special time, but hey, at least it wasn't as creepy as Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces. Haunting and happy boyhood memories aside, first it was "A More for All Seasons", and then this film, so for a while there, if the Golden Globes weren't giving Best Drama to a film about Henry II, then it was giving it to a film about the Henry VIII-Anne Boleyn affair. Ah, the latter '60s was quite the time for saucy, scandalous royal affairs and sophisticated writing, which is a formula that, well, wasn't going to work for too much longer. Now, this film works just fine, but it works for only so long, especially when it is very much more of the same.
One of the biggest issues with the film is its being not nearly as unique as it could have been, having a few refreshing spots, but conforming a little too much to the then-popular formula of dialogue-driven royal melodramas, while hitting trope after trope with the dialogue and characterization of most any film of this nature, until even those who are willing to forget their history will be hard-pressed to not see where exactly things are going. It doesn't help that the conflicts feel manufactured, because many of the romantic dramatic aspects of this true story which can be embraced as factual are hard to buy into, what with all of the contrived elements of storytelling which ambitiously work to flesh out the depths of a story of only so much consequence. As if the story concepts of "A Man for All Seasons", "Becket" and "The Lion in Winter" weren't minimalist enough in their overt intimacy, this film is really light in scale, and even in consequence, with plenty of sauce and potential, but only so much dynamicity to its tightly focusing on characters who aren't endearing enough on paper to completely carry this drama. Well-portrayed enough to be intriguing, the characters have a good bit of inspiration behind them to sell their questionable traits, which cannot be consistently ignored, at least within the leads, with Henry VIII being a humanized, but somewhat sleazy and proud king who would challenge his faith to get what wants, while even Anne Boleyn feels corruptible, and more stubborn than self-respecting, with bickerings that don't seem to work in enough sense of motivation to sell her changes of heart, and therefore get to be monotonous. Well, the conflicts between Henry and Boleyn are monotonous until the film jarringly shifts it focus to Henry's conflicts with the church, then to Henry's and Boleyn's conflicts as a married couple, for this is an uneven film that would be more consistent if it was tighter, and not so bloated with - nay - defined by one draggy dialogue piece after another, and filler, and inconsistencies, until it begins to wear you down. The film has a lot of respectable aspects, enough so to engross right away, but after a while of repetitious conventions, melodramatics and chatter from questionable characters, the investment is loosened. The final product ultimately falls as a generally underwhelming, but it never loses so much of your investment that it fails to adequately engage, being mighty improvable, but tasteful, even in its aesthetic value.
Well, the aesthetic value of the film is a little limited, in that it is restrained in its kick, and formulaic, but it is there, to one extent or another, whether it be found within Georges Delerue's underused, but solid score, or within Arthur Ibbetson's tightly framed and well-lit, if colorfully underwhelming cinematography. More than anything, Lionel Couch's art direction is aesthetically sound, with Maurice Carter's production designs and Margaret Furse's costume designs being lavish, as well as complimentary to the immersion value of this distinctly intimate period drama. While minimalist in its intimacy with problematic characters, and therefore as rich with natural shortcomings as it is with conventions, this film's subject matter is intriguing, with some potential established through historically and dramatically valuable themes on the political and personal conflicts surrounding Henry VIII's affairs, particularly with Anne Boleyn. There is some intrigue to salvage, and if no one else manages to draw upon it, then it is Charles Jarrott, whose steady direction worsens slow spots, though not nearly as much as it could have, as he establishes some subtle resonance through a fine orchestration of light style, sharp writing highlights, and strong performances. Perhaps the material is too limited for truly strong performances to be delivered, but plenty players carry his or her own weight, with the lovely Geneviève Bujold being convincing, if occasionally melodramatic as the simultaneously strong-willed and vulnerable Anne Boleyn, while leading man Richard Burton truly becomes Henry VIII, with a royal charisma, as well as an intensity which captures the vulnerability of a proud, but flawed man of power. The characters are too questionable to embrace by their own right, but they're portrayed so well that it's hard to not be endeared, although it helps that this talented cast is handed decent, if somewhat lacking material, for although Bridget Boland's, John Hale's and Richard Sokolove's script is conventional, contrived and uneven in pacing and focus, it has its tightly extensive elements, and when it doesn't the dialogue is sharp enough to hold your attention between the heights in tasteful dramatic storytelling. Even the script has its strong elements, thus, this film has the makings to rewarding, just as it also has the makings of a relative misfire, and although the final product left me a little cold, there is enough to hold your investment with decency, even if it could have delivered on more.
When the thousand days are done, conventions, melodramatics and problematic characters back a thin story, told unevenly and aimlessly, until enough momentum is lost for the final product to fall as underwhelming, in spite of the decent scoring and cinematography, strong art direction, thoughtful direction, memorable performances by Geneviève Bujold and Richard Burton, and highlights in clever writing which make Charles Jarrott's "Anne of the Thousand Days" a reasonably intriguing, if challenging account on the affairs of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
2.5/5 - Fair
"In the winter, the mighty winter, the lion sleeps around!" Forget… More"In the winter, the mighty winter, the lion sleeps around!" Forget adultery, because there's also sibling rivalry, political unrest, family dysfunction, and other such junk to make this just about as stereotypical as a politically-charged drama set during 12th-century England can get. Naturally, it scored the Golden Globe for Best Drama, because from the mid to late '60s, the Globes were really getting into films like these, though not quite as much as Peter O'Toole. Shoot, I don't know if O'Toole was so much into politically-charged dramas set during 12th-century England, as much as he was just interested in Henry II, because, seriously, this is his second time playing the cat, and this film isn't even an official sequel to "Becket". He should have run through all of the Henrys and worked his way to Henry VIII, so that he could get a couple wives who were better-looking than Katharine Hepburn. No, Hepburn didn't look too shabby, but she was a little more masculine than O'Toole's character in this film, although I might just be thinking of the "Becket" Henry II who kept wining about missing his boyfriend... who was not played by Katharine Hepburn. Well, there is still plenty of saucy drama going on here, and it makes for quite the good movie, whose familiarity doesn't exactly end with O'Toole's role.
By nature of being a dialogue-driven period epic, this film is unique, but even then, you got plenty of this formula in "A Man For All Seasons" and "Becket", alone, and even though this film handles the formula better than, at the very least, the former, its familiarity as a should-be refreshing political and family drama makes it really difficult to ignore the other familiar aspects of this sort of subject matter. Still, it would be nice to grow more accustomed to the characters focused on in this film, at least enough to embrace them better, because even though the rich characterization and acting are there, they back morally problematic roles which compliment somewhat weighty histrionics as they do edgy themes. Set in a romantic time and a notoriously scandalous kingdom, and first interpreted in a stage drama, this subject matter is defined by its melodrama, but it's sometimes hard to embrace it, even in the context of this film, and whether that be because the characters are so questionable, or simple because the histrionics are occasionally too extreme, the film treks an almost contrived path, and a touch too steadily. The dialogue is sharp, and I don't know how much of it I would be willing to expend, but considering that it is the driving force of this 134-minute-long pseudo-epic, the final product gets to be a bit repetitious, and is ultimately way too blasted long, occasionally to where even the inspired momentum finds difficulty in securing dramatic momentum. The film is fairly entertaining in its flair, and certainly compelling in its sophistication, but it is a slowly paced affair that is sometimes too slow, resulting in bland, if not dull spots which challenge your attention in a narrative that, even in concept, proves to be a bit of a challenge to your investment. What might threaten this film as much as anything is its natural shortcomings as a non-epic of a political and family drama which is revolved around dialogue over action, and around characters who are intentionally problematic, but problematic nonetheless, limiting bite in concept which is further softened by elements of convention, melodrama and dragging. The final product is pretty flawed, and could have succumb to underwhelmingness, but what it does right it does so well that it very decidedly rewards, as a bitingly clever and dramatically juicy affair which immerses, with the help of solid art direction.
An intimate period melodrama, this film relies about as much on its setting as it does on its dialogue, thus, Peter Murton and the uncredited Lee Poll are meticulous in their crafting a recreation of the royal environment of 12th century England which is handsome and immersive in its distinctiveness, with a convincingness that is the first step towards selling this story. The subject matter's minimalism and melodramatics go a little too intensely stressed by draggy and, in other ways, somewhat overblown storytelling, and on top of all of that, most of the roles intimately focused upon are a little too flawed to be fully embraced, but as a study on the political and personal affairs of a dysfunction royal family, this story is very intriguing in its subtle layers and sophistication. Adapting his own play, screenwriter James Goldman does a lot of justice to the layering and intelligence, keeping color going, in spite of an overt reliance on chit-chat, with outstanding dialogue whose humor biting, and whose expository depth manages to do a plenty rich and organic job of fleshing out dynamic layers and rich characters, the backs of which might serve as a vehicle for dramatic resonance, should inspired direction be on board. Anthony Harvey, as director, delivers on some subdued dry spells, but manages to utilize tight scene structuring, combined with snappy writing, to establish adequate entertainment value, while plays on anything from John Barry's powerful, but underused score work, to deafening sobriety pierce with dramatic tension. At the very least, the sophistication of Harvey's storytelling is so respectable that one has be endeared towards the director's improvable, but tasteful efforts, which compel consistently in their engrossing you into the lives of richly drawn and even more richly portrayed characters. Most everyone has his or her time to shine, but not one shines quite like the leads, with Katharine Hepburn being intriguing and sometimes moving in her proper, yet humanly vulnerable portrayal of an intellectual and disrespected queen seeking some form of liberation from oppression, while Peter O'Toole once again nails Henry II's intensity as an ambitious king of great pride and great folly, whose gradual thickening shall emphasize his mortality. These and plenty of other major characters are a little sleazy, and it's hard to get invested in roles like that, especially when only so much acting material is offered, but if nuanced characterization doesn't make the leads enthralling, then their strong portrayals do, carrying an intimate drama whose aesthetic grace and sophisticated storytelling secure the reward value of this subtle, but striking affair.
Once winter has passed, the resonance of the film is a little chilled by conventions, questionable characters, melodramatics, often bland dragging, and, of course, natural shortcomings to a minimalist, yet promising story, whose value is complimented enough by immersive art direction, sharp writing, sophisticated direction and nuanced performances - especially from Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn - for Anthony Harvey's "The Lion in Winter" to stand as a subtly, but surely rewarding and intimate study on the personal affairs and conflicts of 12th-century English royals.
3/5 - Good
"Bend it Like Becket"! I stretch, but Beckett Media is a sporty… More"Bend it Like Becket"! I stretch, but Beckett Media is a sporty publication, although this film is much older than David Beckham himself, so the pun still falls ferociously flat. On top of all that, this is a religiously-charged historical epic based on a French play, so it's anything but sporty. Well, at least it's less cheesy than "My Fair Lady", and while that isn't to say that "My Fair Lady" isn't good, it is to say that this film shows why the Golden Globes has a Best Musical category, because you'd think that the Oscars would be all over this. In 1963, the Golden Globes, not simply nominated, but awarded "The Cardinal" Best Picture-I mean, Best Drama, and in 1964, this film took home that same sort of bacon that the Catholics are actually allowed to enjoy, so for a while there, the Jews who undoubtedly make up much of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association were getting into Catholicism. One does have to give these two films credit for figuring out how to make subject matters dealing with Catholic archbishops interesting enough to be the basis for epics which, well, are still of varying intrigue. Hey, "The Cardinal" was compelling, and this film is pretty good, too, although it stands to be tighter, and more original, for that matter.
As a '60s period melodrama set in olde England, this film could have been either unique or formulaic, and it ultimately falls somewhere in between, having some refreshing elements, in addition enough derivative aspects to be rather predictable, anchored by familiar character types who actually stand to be more recognizable. Immediate background development is a little lacking, making the unlikable traits of the leads fairly glaring, and although gradual exposition is plentiful, the performances are more nuanced than the characterization whose degree of depth is inconsistent, but generally somewhat thin, as a supplement to the melodrama more than the humanity. Melodramatics are certainly unavoidable in this adaptation of a stage interpretation of 12th century English affairs of political, religious an human natures, and storytelling is generally sound enough for you to buy into the histrionics, but their familiarity makes it easier to feel their contrivances, which aren't even extreme enough to really flare up the intrigue. This olde English romanticism is no longer relevant and is plenty dry, and it would be embraced more if it wasn't overplayed in the form of minimalist dialogue, with plenty of dramatic weight, but little action behind it to reinforce a sense of consequence, and keep momentum going. As things stand, there's something kind of flat about the direction in certain places, for although there is enough inspiration to the storytelling and acting within this intimate drama to keep entertainment value adequate through sound intrigue, when kick falls, you really can't help but feel the length of this talkative and wandering affair which runs two-and-a-half hours. The film is a little too long to not have much go on, and with considerable competence, it engages through and through, though one's investment just has to be challenged by moments of familiarity, expository shortcomings, melodramatics, and pacing issues which threaten the final product's reward value. This reward value is ultimately near-firmly secured, because as much as the film tries your patience, it engrosses more often than not, at least aesthetically.
Actually, the aesthetic value of this film isn't especially outstanding, but it is solid enough to play some respectable role in reinforcing engagement value, with Laurence Rosenthal turning in a conventional, but grand score, while Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography carries enough sweep to its lensing to make up for some shortage of flare to relatively briskly defined lighting and coloration. Unsworth's grand eye at least gives you a well-rounded feel for Maurce Carter's art direction, whose orchestration of John Bryan's production designs and Margaret Furse's costume designs sells the time both lavishly and realistically, and therefore playing an instrumental part in immersing you into this melodrama which thrives on its intimacy. Sure, the intimacy of this drama minimalizes the scope of this pseudo-epic, making it hard to deny the excessiveness of the two-and-a-half-hour-long runtime, just as conventional occasions and moderate underdevelopment make the histrionics harder to deny, and yet, this study on how great men of a romantic time interpreted politics, religion, peasants, each other and, most of all, themselves is thematically rich, with high intellectual and dramatic potential to be done justice. Peter Glenville's direction has flat spots to really slow down momentum, but where it could have been drier and duller, its thoughtfulness falls over enough consistent dramatic material to carry a subtlety and grace that draw upon the intellectual value of this melodrama, broken up by resonant moments of delicate tension which secure the engagement value of the directorial storytelling. I suppose Glenville's direction doesn't hit quite as many missteps as Edward Anhalt's writing, although this script may do a greater justice to Jean Anouilh's classic story than the directorial storytelling, rich with glowing dialogue to sustain entertainment value through all of the overt chit-chat, while characterization manages to be just meaty enough for nuanced performances to compensate for expository shortcomings. Indeed, if nothing else makes this character melodrama so compelling, it is the across-the-board strong performances in a gifted cast, from which the leads stand out, with Richard Burton being unevenly used, yet consistently engrossing in his subtle, convincing portrayal of a man of sophistication and faith who respects and challenges the questionable aspects of a loving king, while Peter O'Toole steals the show in his dynamic, intense portrayal of a man of great power and corruption who is initially charismatic in his sleaze, but grows to be a wreck when his humanity is stressed to him through betrayal and a fear of his own mortality. These two leads and their electric chemistry are the heart and soul of this intimate epic of little dynamicity, but considerable intrigue, driven by inspiration on and off of the screen which make the final product a rewarding trial for one's patience.
In conclusion, there are occasions of conventions and some unevenness to the depth of characterization, while melodramatics keep too consistent to be ignored in the draggy telling of an intimate story of limited urgency, but through grand score work and cinematography, immersive art direction, sophisticated direction and writing, and effective performances, - the most powerful of which being by the solid Richard Burton and the outstanding Peter O'Toole - Peter Glenville's "Becket" rewards as an intimate portrait on the conflicts between men of religion and humanity and men of royalty and corruption.
3/5 - Good
I can't think of anyone more qualified for such a high, honorable… MoreI can't think of anyone more qualified for such a high, honorable position in Catholic priesthood than John Slaughter. I always found that name disturbing for, well, any TV program of the late '50s and early '60s, let alone one associated with "The Wonderful World of Disney", but the point is that Tom Tryson went from being a Texas ranger to Catholic cardinal. I guess Chuck Norris wasn't the first ranger to leave the force to pursue some hardcore Bible thumping. If anything makes Tryon an awkward casting choice, it's not so much his being a former honorary Texas ranger, as much as it's his being gay, something that is frowned upon by the Catholic faith which hasn't exactly stopped many other respectable priests from having his way with boys. Hey, for a while, Tryon did date some dude who was in the original production of "The Chorus Line", so he was but a few dancing marches away from a choir boy, yet that temptation never comes to him, which is shocking, because this priest has to face a whole lot of other trials. Well, someone involved in this film ended up in a whole heap of trouble, religiously speaking, and if it wasn't gay, I guess potentially pedophilic Tom Tryon, then it was Otto Preminger, who was a Jew, the Catholics "favorite" type of person, especially around WWII. He may not have had an especially thorough, or at least subjective knowledge of Catholicism, but he sure knew how to make a good film, or rather, how to find a conventional formula through which he could make a good film.
The film is refreshing in a lot of ways, but it occasionally conforms to traditional and somewhat superficial dialogue and characterization, in addition to certain melodramatics which try too hard to intensify a narrative which should have the genuine edge to compensate. This film is not as lacking in intensity as it could have been as a 1963 drama, but near-theatrical lightheartedness goes broken up by edgy, boundary-transcending topics of great weight, whose dramatic potential still feels rather underexplored, partly because the film tackles too many topics to explore. Dealing with the lead's priesthood and family life in great detail, then abandoning a lot of those elements to touch upon his love life, and confrontation with anything from racism to European political turmoil of the '30s and '40s, this film is rich with layers, all of which are thoroughly compelling, but too distinguished from each other, thus, when storytelling shifts focus, it jars, and intensely, actually beginning to lose a sense of focus along its startlingly disjointed path, if not some dramatic weight. This story is actually very meaty, so much so that natural shortcomings should not really be present, but because ambition leads to so many layers attempting to build up so much so sweep, you cannot help but feel the intensity and dynamicity limitations in contrast to the ambition of the convoluted storytelling. The inconsistencies thrive on excessive layering, as well as excess within the individual layers, which drags the film on and on, until it reaches a runtime of about three hours repetitiously, if not aimlessly, and wears you down along the way. The film's kick never drops too greatly, but neither does it truly soar, because as promising as it is, it gradually loses momentum under the overwhelming weight of its own ambition, which begets too much audacity, too many layers, and altogether too much excess for it to handle with limitations of the time, and other aspects. With that said, the final product compels throughout its rocky course, fulfilling ambition enough to reward the patient, maybe even holding them over with some handsome imagery.
The film has earned some notoriety for winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama, while not even landing a Best Picture nomination from the Oscars, although the Academy Awards did grant nods to certain technical aspects, such as cinematography by Leon Shamroy which isn't especially rich, but both grand and intimate, to where it immerses you, with the help of subtly lavish art direction which helps in selling the setting of this dramatic epic. I'll take what I can get as a supplement to the selling of this film's story, for although the layers are extremely overblown, to the point of glaring focal unevenness, the ambition of the storytelling is understandable, for this is worthy subject matter which juggles the deconstruction of Catholicism and its high principles, with grand dramatic themes dealing with family, love, politics, social prejudice and war, and how they all factor into faith. This is a promising premise that deserves better than the superficialities of the '60s, and yet, although screenwriter Robert Dozier succumbs to many of these superficialities, his script, on top of delivering on a fair bit of wit and dynamicity, transcends a lot of boundaries in impressive ways, touching on edgy themes of sin and death under natural and unnatural circumstances which challenge faith and how someone might fulfill the questionable aspects of that faith. This edge also helps in drawing rich characters of limited layers who are still well-defined in their respective roles, and through solid performances found across the board, with leading man Tom Tryon delivering on the warm charisma of a man of God, before humanizing his role through tasteful and subtle dramatic layers which sell the internal struggles of man caught between his humanity and his faith in a world which challenges him on a number of levels. Onscreen and on paper, inspiration is implemented, limited by the time, but transcendent of a lot of natural shortcomings, through an overwrought, but worthy ambition that a director like Otto Preminger might can handle. Preminger was always known for his knack at breaking down boundaries for the sake of fulfilling dramatic potential, and although the final product still leaves much to be desired, Preminger's directorial pacing is brisk enough to sustain entertainment value, while heights in a thoughtful atmosphere and edgy storytelling range from gripping to truly powerful. This power could have been more consistent if the film was tighter and more realized, and if enough consistency in power was sustained, then the final product would have been outstanding, yet as things stand, although this drama could have been so much more, - even though it is already too much - it rewards just fine.
Overall, more than there are occasions of convention and melodrama, there is an inconsistency in intensity which questionably reflects an ambition which most problematically leads to serious focal inconsistencies which, along with other excesses, leave the momentum of the final product to die down, until potential fails to go fulfilled, but just barely, because through handsome cinematography and art direction, and inspired writing, acting and direction to power the telling of a promising premise, Otto Preminger's "The Cardinal" stands as an overambitious, but ultimately rewarding portrait on a man of high religious honor's struggles with trials of humanity and faith.
3/5 - Good
"Come on, baby, shake all night long, shake until the meat come off of… More"Come on, baby, shake all night long, shake until the meat come off of the bone, 'cause I'm a defiant one!" I can't believe that I managed to find a film that's about as old as that song, that is, the original Johnny O'Keefe one (I think by mentioning his name, I automatically became older), but it's fitting that they should come out around the same time, because this film is also about some wild children. That's right, two wild children find themselves on an adventure of a lifetime when they escape from prison, chained together, to some crazy shenanigans, so you know that this is going to be one seriously wacky ride, because it's by Stanley Kramer, the guy who did "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"... but did "Judgment at Nuremberg" first. I guess not all Kramers are racist (Michael Richards isn't, but because he's white, he can't offend black people without having his career nearly destroyed. ...Meditate on that for a second), because even though this film isn't as good as "Judgment at Nuremburg", it's a real "black-and-white" drama about overcoming prejudice that you know is an allegory for civil rights, seeing as how Kramer loved making "message films" almost as much as Sidney Poitier. This film is almost ten years older than "In the Heat of the Night", but Hollywood was already using Poitier as a poster child for civil rights in film, probably because white people were thoroughly charmed even by proto-Morgan Freeman (This is the real dark knight). Undoubtedly, it helps that this film is quite good, and pretty entertaining, that is, until slow spots set in.
There's plenty of momentum to the story and its telling, so the dull spots which might derive from a shortage on score work go overcome more often than not, but not consistently, for there are moments in which Stanley Kramer's direction focuses a little too thoughtfully on nothing going on, or something taking too long to go on, resulting in bland slow spells in a film which is too short to afford dragging its feet. The film manages to save some time through expository lapses, beginning with a lack of immediate characterization, followed by a body that is pretty well-nuanced in plenty of places, but sometimes rather undercooked, at least enough to really distinguish roles which are conceptually ambiguous enough to begin with. Police antagonists do some low-down deeds, while criminal protagonists gradually showcase humanity, but take a smidge too long to do so, thus, this film is defined with a certain moral ambiguity that shakes your investment, further shaken by aspects which are anything but ambiguous. There are a few lapses in subtlety in this film, and when they do come into play, they're hardly severe in this mostly surprisingly subtle drama, but subtlety lapses do stand, and their contrast from the more genuine storytelling touches make them more glaring in their trying a little too hard to flesh out the thematic depths which this story probably wouldn't be much without. Well, this story is fairly compelling, even in concept, and its execution really brings its value to light, but with all of my mild complaints about pacing, exposition and subtlety, its natural shortcomings which most threaten this short film. If this film wasn't a little ahead of its time in its dramatic thoughtfulness and bite, then the final product might have fallen as underwhelming, for its natural shortcomings stand firm, and the slow spells and shortcomings in characterization and subtlety aren't anything to completely ignore. Still, if you manage to embrace the strengths through the shortcomings, then you will surely be rewarded, for this film is classic good storytelling, and even good-looking.
Being that this is a black-and-white film in more than just one way, Sam Leavitt's cinematography is only subtly impressive, but it is impressive, with some tasteful plays on lighting which take advantage of the technical limitations of this $778 thousand flick for some gritty visuals which help in immersing you into this adventure film, with the help of distinct locations that often run together, but always help in selling the scale of this story. There is certainly plenty of dynamicity to this adventure drama, and yet, like I said, there are natural shortcomings, because Nedrick Young's story is mostly minimalist enough to be intimate with its characters, and that is a formula that can go wrong, but is done enough justice for you to get a firm grip on themes regarding anything from the human heart of the criminal, to race relations. This subject matter owes a lot of its effectiveness to Harold Jacob Smith's intelligent script, which has its thin spots, but is mostly sharp with its dialogue and is very believable in a lot of its generally extensive characterization, whose heights in subtlety were ahead of their time, and brought to life by subtle storytelling. There are actually only a few subtlety lapses, and most all of them can be found within an otherwise clever script, because director Stanley Kramer graces this film with a grace and taste that was uncommon at the time and still resonates on today's standards, whether it be establishing tension in the hunt, or a sense of real, human emotion to the portrayals of the characters and their story. Although it is even compelling in concept, this story is so sensitive in its weight that its interpretation could have easily fallen flat, but the storytelling is so inspired, so tasteful that so much life is brought out in this drama, thus, the final product has a reward value that is fully secured by the film's cast. When used, Theodore Bikel is convincing as a sheriff passionate about finding escaped convicts, and when Cara Williams eventually enters, as an important role, she is effective as a woman seeking a new life and to do away with loneliness, but it's the leads who really carry this film, with Tony Curtis, as an angry white prisoner who wants a lavish life, and finds a more meaningful one on the path to freedom, and Sidney Poitier, as a colored prisoner wanting freedom and respect, delivering on outstanding charisma and nuance, flavored up by dynamite chemistry. It's almost a delight to watch this duo work together towards freedom and humanity, even though this film thrives so much on intensity, thus, Curtis and Poitier feed entertainment value about as much as they feed an engagement value that keeps consistent enough throughout this drama to overcome natural and consequential shortcomings, and make a pretty rewarding final product.
When the chains are broken, slow spots, underdeveloped areas, moral ambiguities and the occasional subtlety issue tumble upon the natural shortcomings of this promising, but brief story, intensifying them and threatening a compellingness that is firmly secured by the handsome cinematography, immersive locations, intelligent writing, subtly solid direction, and strong performances by and chemistry between Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier which make Stanley Kramer's "The Defiant Ones" a tense, thought-provoking and ultimately rewarding on two men of two different worlds seeking the same kind of freedom, and finding their humanity along the way.
3/5 - Good
Behold, people, a film so epic in scale that it introduced… MoreBehold, people, a film so epic in scale that it introduced CinemaScope, which would be awesome, you know, if this film actually won Best Cinematography, probably because the Academy Awards didn't think that such a process fit for a film like this. I can't believe that, because when I think of an exciting, sweeping epic, I think of it being about some kind of a robe. I joke, but this biblical epic is just about the dude who has Jesus crucified, and Mel Gibson managed to get out the full story of Jesus' torture under the two-hour mark that this film passed by a quarter of an hour. This may be much, much older than "The Passion of the Christ", but this is still that to the extreme, even when it comes to demonizing the Jews, because the Roman military tribune who had his men bump off Christ was hanging out with everyone's favorite Jewish demon. Man, I shouldn't even think about cracking that kind of cheesy, Gene or Jean Simmons joke, because this "Jean" Simmons was beautiful, kind of in an Elizabeth Taylor fashion, which I suppose means that Richard Burton had a particular, solid taste well before he score Cleopatra. Speaking of Burton, forget the Jews, because this film really looks bad for atheists, as I can see some Bible thumper saying that the most inaccurate thing in this (Snicker, snicker) Biblical drama is Burton's character feeling guilty about killing Christ. I'm not even slightly close to being a Christian in Alabama, so maybe I'm not the person you should be listening to, but I thought that this movie was good, although it stands to be tighter, or at least fresher.
One has to question just how formulaic this epic Roman drama is, because the formula was still fresh by the time this film came along, establishing certain tropes that would be shamelessly slammed into by future epics of this type time and again, and yet, outside of what would go on to become conventions, this film does most of what you'd expect, with a predictable narrative, storytelling style, dialogue, and, for that matter, portrayal of Ancient Rome. This film, like others of its nature and era, gets a little bit carried away with its contrived, simplified portrayal of Ancient Rome, with sophisticated, but near-cheesily overblown dialogue, and character types. I don't know how thin these characters are, as they are rich historical figures and are very often very well-portrayed, but there is something lacking about the expository aspects of Philip Dunne's, Gina Kaus' and Albert Maltz's script, which pays little mind to secondary characters, and isn't even all that layered with the leads, who, to a lesser extent, join most all other characters in supplementing a sense of melodrama. The film even gets manipulative with its portrayal of history and historical figures, so it should come as no surprise that nearly all dramatic elements of this epic, while generally well-portrayed through solid direction and acting, are riddled with cloying histrionics, which are at their worst during the flat romantic segments headed by Richard Burton and the lovely Jean Simmons, but found to some extreme throughout the final product, trying too hard to salvage a resonance that would be better off if the writing conformed to the subtlety of Henry Koster's direction. Well, Koster's direction is far from consistently subtle, or at least graceful in its subtlety, for there are times in which thoughtfulness leads to a blandness that is among the last things a film this problematically written needs, but cannot avoid, due to limp touches to the - you guessed it - writing, which I was expecting to be tighter in this ambitious epic of only about 135 minutes. Momentum is sound more often than not, but when it drags, it limps, and not just under the weight of questionable pacing, for one's investment faces other challenges through all of the conventions and cheesiness which threaten the final product. It does come down to the script, which is so flawed, and fitting for a lesser film, one that isn't rewarding inspired in most every other department, including the musical one.
The awards made some questionable decisions when it came to recognizing this film, and among the most questionable, in my opinion, was a lack of recognition for the score by the great Alfred Newman, who hit some conventions and contrivances, but did what he did best by breaking down a lot of barriers for epic scoring sensibilities at the time to come up with refreshing and stellar compositions whose symphonic beauty is remarkable by its own right, and important in the selling of the sweep of this film. More important in that department is the debut of a CinemaScope visual style, which cinematographer Leon Shamroy anchors through often hauntingly precise coloration and lighting, in addition to a tight scope which is intimate and grand enough to immerse you into George Davis' and Lyle R. Wheeler's Oscar-winning art direction, which is immersive enough by its own right, utilizing Paul S. Fox's and Walter M. Scott's impeccable set decoration and Charles LeMaire's and Emile Santiago's costume designs to restore the look of Ancient Rome - from its high society to simple villages - lavishly. When it comes to aesthetic and production value, this film is a triumph, almost a masterpiece, at least for its time, remaining, to this day, a marvel whose style and technical proficiency compliment entertainment value and immerse you into a distinguished world and story. It may not be especially unique, even in concept, and its scripted interpretation may be a mess of contrivances and fat around the edges, but this story is a thoroughly intriguing one, which juggles epic sweep with rich intimacy as a study on the man behind Christ's crucifixion's coming to embrace the sacred man he killed through a guilt which drives him into dangerous circumstances, thus, there is a rewarding potential that would have been lost if it wasn't for Henry Koster. Koster's efforts are themselves contrived and superficial in a lot of places, and when they're not, their subtlety is somewhat blanding, although that reflects a delicacy that isn't in the overblown script, and is focused enough to orchestrate style into frequent entertainment value, and to draw biting dramatic tension and resonance through taste and a celebration of onscreen talent. Now, a lot of the performances don't help a sense of melodrama, for a number of supporting performances fall flat, but the leads nevertheless deliver as best they can, whether it be Victor Mature as a struggling, but wise slave who holds passion and fury over the demise of a great man, or leading man Richard Burton as a militant man of admiration, love, and guilt, which Burton sells through an impassioned and layered performance. By no means can I promise that everyone will embrace this film, as its script is so problematic, and its strengths aren't particularly upstanding, but their subtle impact goes a long way in overcoming shortcomings through quality aesthetic and dramatic value which make this a worthy epic.
All in all, the film is plenty conventional, even in a portrayal of Ancient Rome that is about as thin as a lot of the characterization, and as contrived as the melodramatics which slow down the impact of momentum almost as much as dull and draggy spells, thus making for a script whose shortcomings are challenged well enough by a powerful score, immersively beautiful visual style, solid direction, and strong lead acting for Henry Koster's "The Robe" to stand as an adequately rewarding and very intriguing study on the impact Christ had even on those who brought about his demise.
3/5 - Good
You know it's coming, so, "There's a place in the sun where there's… MoreYou know it's coming, so, "There's a place in the sun where there's hope for everyone, where my poor restless heart's gotta run!" Interesting how this film is much older than that song, but hey, we are talking about the first winner of the Golden Globe for Best Drama here (Cue confetti cannon). "An American in Paris", the first winner for Best Musical/Comedy, may have been mighty entertaining, but I like me some drama, and am glad that it's at least not having to compete with the Oscar's Best Picture winner, which I guess means that the Golden Globes have always been a more satisfying film award ceremony to me... and I don't even know if I like this film better than "An American in Paris". I don't know if this film is nearly "A Streetcar Named Desire" or "Quo Vadis", so maybe the gave this film and "An American in Paris" the awards because the American film critics were really hankering for adventure back in 1951, and wanted to live vicariously in Paris and the sun. Man, I've heard of a hot bachelor pad, but I'm definitely going to be skipping out on this condominium sales pitch. Actually, I can go on and on with my lame jokes about how they should have just gone to Paris and picked up some French chicks, but if the stars of this film are Elizabeth Taylor, a skinny Shelley Winters, and, for that matter, Montgomery Clift, then one can understand why the sun is so hot. As you've probably guessed by now, this adaptation of a novel which is delightfully titled "An American Tragedy" isn't so cheesy that it is literally set on the sun, although I'm still debating whether or not it's as cheesy as "An American in Paris", which isn't to say that that's the only detriment to its dramatic effectiveness and, for that matter, momentum.
The pace of this film has been described as "sporadic", and while I don't know if this film is quite that all over the places, it is disjointed, reaching a questionable runtime of a pinch over two hours with a touch too much material, before coasting, if not making up for time lost with expository shortcomings. You get to know the characters just fine after something of an underdone immediate development segment, but the motivations of flawed and potentially layered leads feel a tad undercooked, perhaps to the point of superficializing the depths of this drama, whose characterization is not the only thin aspect. Hollywood gets to this film, which touches on some edgy themes, then tap dances about really fleshing them out, certainly not to where they're completely obscured, but nevertheless to where dramatic bite is hindered by superficialities which melodramatics cannot compensate for. Plenty of highlights in the storytelling and acting grace this fluffy drama with some genuine resonance, but they can do only so much with material that actually offers plenty of just, which simply peaks with melodramatics that get to be seriously overblown at times, and never seem to transcend familiarity. All of this uneven pacing, superficiality, and melodrama would be so much easier to get past if the film wasn't so blasted familiar, with a story concept that isn't especially fresh, and a script that is even less so, hitting as many tropes as it can, until the final product stands as borderline predictable. The film's story concept is so juicy that you can't ever truly see what's coming, but that just makes it all the more frustrating that the storytellers seem to work hard at establishing predictability, through contrivances and conventions along an either undercooked or overdrawn path. The final product is pretty underwhelming, maybe even a little forgettable as a '50s melodrama, but it does have its strengths, including aesthetic ones.
Adequately recurrent and lively, when not rather biting, Franz Waxman's score is decent as a compliment to the film's entertainment value, but looking at its conventions and contrived aspects, I can't say that it's especially impressive, at least compared to cinematography by William C. Mellor that earned its Oscar, with impeccable lighting that ranges from hauntingly crisp to almost noirishly, tensely shadow-heavy. Through a black-and-white palette that the filmmakers would have had to pay a pretty penny to do away with back in the beginning of the '50s, Mellor's cinematographic tastefulness is both held back and thrives, for its bleakness makes for some memorably handsome visuals, while doing a more consistent job than the storytellers at doing justice to weighty subject matter. The story concept itself isn't especially unique, and its interpretation is very formulaic, almost as much as it is overblown and superficial, to where the final product collapses as pretty decidedly underwhelming, but not exactly on paper, for this gripping story about a man who, on his way up the ladder, finds himself caught between two women, and eventually finds himself in the middle of a tense, emotional case that could cost him his love and his free life establishes potential. Screenwriters Harry Brown and Michael Wilson do a great injustice to such potential, and George Stevens' direction has its flaws, while never managing to do as good a job as it ought to at compensating for written shortcomings, but Stevens was always a gifted storyteller, and although he got better at showing that much later on in his career, if there is subtlety and grace to the storytelling of this film, then it derives from Stevens' palpably inspired direction. There are occasions of penetrating tension and powerful resonance throughout this film which is always tightly paced enough to entertain through and through, maybe even pick up a little momentum after a while, and even though momentum doesn't pick up enough for the final product to truly reward, it has a kick to it, anchored by a cast which Stevens works with as well as anything. It takes a moment to get into the characters and their superficial, if not melodramatic handling, but they do come to life at times, thanks to the performances, with Shelley Winters capturing the fear and anguish of a woman guilty about submitting her life to a man who may not love her, while the, as usual, incredibly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor charms and eventually moves as a loving woman who is in for some rude awakenings about her lover, and Montgomery Clift really stands out, not just from this cast, but at the time, using hauntingly subtle layers to portray an initially charming, well-intentioned young man's gradual deterioration into confusion, anxiety and fear, over being caught as a man with two lovers who may have to go to extreme lengths to secure a comfortable future. If there is a reason to see this film, then it is Clift, but he's not the only driving force of this drama, as this is a plenty entertaining and generally engaging drama with a couple highlights, but only a couple.
In conclusion, disjointed pacing alternates between draggy and too thin for the sake of expository depth, which suffers from a superficiality that is applied to a number of storytelling elements, including the melodramatics which combine with familiarity to bland the final product into decisive underwhelmingness, still challenged well enough by decent score work, haunting cinematography, effective highlights in direction, and strong performances by the sympathetic Shelley Winters, the stunning Elizabeth Taylor, and the show-stealing Montgomery Clift to secure George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" as a fair drama with powerful moments, just not enough to be particularly memorable.
2.5/5 - Fair
You best believe that this is a case of Kramer vs. Kramer, because I… MoreYou best believe that this is a case of Kramer vs. Kramer, because I kind of blame Michael Richards for that "totally racially fair" situation in which he faced the destruction of his career for being a white man who said a slur in a joke, as he had to have known that he was already on the blacks' bad side for being involved in a show whose theme riff featured slap bass produced on a keyboard. Speaking of awkward jokes, you better believe that this film isn't about that Kramer, because this film predates, not simply that incident, but "Seinfeld" itself, by almost ten years, if you can believe it. That was the long way to tell you that this film is a little old, when really, all I had to do was say that this film stars Dustin Hoffman, because if you had a drama in the '70s, then Hoffman had to be somewhere in there, especially if it was some kind of edgy drama. I can still hear the echoes of the screams of religious groups and parents from way back in 1969, because they knew that when they gave Best Picture to "Midnight Cowboy", an X-rated film about a gay male prostitute, it was the end of musicals and innocence in cinema, and sure enough, this film about divorce and the deconstruction of the family unit capped off a decade in which the Oscars decorated films about war, cops chasing junkies, bank robbers, gangsters, people in a mental institution, violent sports, and even sex and drugs in a Woody Allen film. Jeez, it sounds like the '70s was my kind of era, because I much prefer brutal realism over colorful musicals and what have you, although those three-hour-long fluff pieces were a little more lively than a three-hour-long, slow-burn drama about people playing Russian roulette and dealing with 'Nam. No, I still like "The Deer Hunter" better than something like "My Fair Lady", but, as surely as the guys in "The Deer Hunter" had war flashbacks, seeing Meryl Streep in this film had to have brought up memories of the previous year's Best Picture winner and left a couple people to dose off, although, in all fairness, when this film came out, there were plenty of people still watching "The Deer Hunter". Speaking of taking the long route to a film, with Hoffman and Streep, you know that this film was good, and sure enough, it is, although, as my tap dancing around talking about it might tell you, intrigue is a little limited, with entertainment value.
The score is often, well, oddly enough, rather perky when it is, in fact played with, and when it's not, it's tender enough to use resonance to make up for liveliness, but this is a mostly subdued and naturalist affair, with plenty of dialogue and other stuff going on to keep entertainment value adequate, but still leaving plenty of room for bland, almost dull dry spells in direction, as one can imagine, considering the fat around the edges of the storytelling. Running just a little bit over 100 minutes, this film isn't too long, in general, that is, but by its own right, it's a little too long, with pseudo-filler that drags the film along pretty repetitiously, often aimlessly, to where storytelling finds itself sticking with each individual segment for way too blasted long. Naturally, that means that when the focus of the narrative finally shifts, it sort of jars, whether it be focusing on a father and his son bonding when they find themselves stuck together, or focusing on a man and his wife fighting over that child, and as surely as this film's conflicts require two culprits, this almost episodic focal unevenness derives from a combination of all of the dragging, and, as irony would have it, underdevelopment. The expository shortcomings peak with the lacking immediate development segment, as a big issue during the body of the film, as I said, is overdevelopment, but when exposition lapses, this generally very humanized drama loses some sense of motivation, and that gives you an opportunity to see the limitations of this story's depths. Well, I don't suppose this story concept is lacking in depth, because it's a very thematically weighty drama, it's just that the story is so minimalist, and the longer it takes to unravel, and the less time it dedicates to really fleshing itself out, the natural shortcomings are brought further and further to light, challenging one's investment. Reward value is ultimately firmly secured, and it's not like the film loses momentum as it goes along, for engagement value thickens with the plot as it progresses, and yet, cold spells make more glaring the dragging, and expository shortcomings make worse the unevenness of this layered drama. The final product feels held back, but it's still very rewarding, and that's because for every natural shortcoming which is emphasized by missteps, there is a conceptual value which is emphasized by strengths.
Of course, there's no disregarding the importance of this film's subject matter as an audaciously refreshing and realistic portrait on family dysfunction so considerable that it leads to separation, which then leaves loved ones to face anything from finding a new life to facing off against each other to secure the assets of the old life, and although such a story concept isn't especially sizable in scale, its dramatic potential runs deep. Robert Benton knows this, even as screenwriter, hitting some expository shortcomings and plenty of excess, - the combination of which begets focal unevenness - but meeting it all with some solid dialogue and memorable set pieces, whose consistency helps keep momentum up, until broken by nuances and fearless dramatics which really do justice to this drama. This film doesn't exactly sugarcoat its subject matter, and it's still had to face themes like this to this day, long into the movement to portray the deconstruction of the family unit that this film helped in kicking off, but one has to respect the bravery and depth of Benton's portrayal, both as an often very well-balanced screenwriter, and as a pretty strong director. Benton's subdued directorial storytelling all but dulls things down a bit when his script loses material, but when it's effective, it's pretty intelligent, with plays on score work that, whether they be colorful to contrast the bleakness, or fittingly somber, compliment a tone that mostly thrives on quiet intensity which is rarely too cold, and often near-piercing. There isn't much dynamicity to the dramatic tone of this film, thus, the conceptual heights in the dramatics aren't too penetrating, but Benton's directorial resonance follows the thickening of the plot, augmenting momentum that could have easily fallen as things steadily progressed, and doing so with a great deal of help from the onscreen talents who are tightly focused upon in this character drama. Following two main segments, - the first focusing on a single father bonding with his child, and the second focusing on a custody battle over said child - this film alternates between two secondary leads, both of whom are worthy, with the very young Justin Henry being surprisingly effective in his layered portrayal of an innocent child struggling with the loss of one parent, the embracing of the other, and standing at the center of the two's conflicts, while Meryl Streep proves to be devastating in her portrayal of an estranged mother struggling to find herself as an individual and as a mother, although this drama largely rides on the back of Dustin Hoffman, who carries the final product as much as anyone, with a tremendous deal of nuance which sells the transformation of a man into a better father, who will do what it takes to give his child what he can, even if that means facing off against the child's mother. The performances are mostly subtle, but they are powerful, and so important in this intimate film, defining, or rather, securing the definition of this fearless, well-drawn drama whose depth transcends both natural and consequential shortcomings, and makes for a very compelling final product.
When the case is closed, cold spells in direction dulls things down, while a combination of aimless dragging and a degree of underdevelopment emphasize what natural shortcomings there are to this minimalist, but conceptually worthy story, which is carried enough by generally well-nuanced writing, resonant direction, and powerful performances by Justin Henry, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman to carry "Kramer vs. Kramer" as a rewardingly realized study on the struggles of parents who largely struggle over their child.
3/5 - Good