Friday, June 23, 2023

Movie Music: Marvin Hamlisch's "The Sting" (1973)

The Sting
(1973) follows two con artists (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) as they run a long con to ruin the man who had their friend murdered. It's set in the 1930s and filled with amazing period costumes, sets, and music. Marvin Hamlisch blends Scott Joplin's classic rags with original bluesy variations of other period songs to create a soundtrack that is a pure delight. Here are my three favorite tracks from a soundtrack I listen to whenever I need a quick pick-me-up.

My favorite song of all on this album is Joplin's "Easy Winners." I love how jaunty it is. I can't help smiling when I hear it.

"Luther" is more melancholy, a solemn contemplation of loss and mortality. It takes bits of "Solace," another of my favorite Joplin pieces, turns them minor, and melds them into a dirge.

"The Entertainer" is probably the most famous rag, whether by Scott Joplin or anyone else. The Sting uses it to great effect, as it's a great blend of spry playfulness and an undercurrent of more dramatic seriousness, which pretty perfectly describes the movie as well.

That's all for today, friends. If you liked these selections, you can hear the full soundtrack on YouTube here!

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on January 29, 2016.)

Friday, June 16, 2023

"The Loner" (1965-66)

The classic western TV show The Loner only ran for one season, which is a bit disappointing.  And yet, that one season is packed with as many gems as some series that ran for three or four times as long, so I can't complain too much.

William Colton (Lloyd Bridges) survived the American Civil War, but it left him restless and unable to settle in one place, like many real-life veterans of that war.  He headed west on his cavalry horse Joshua, who had been with him through the war.  Searching for a place where he could belong, Colton encounters a wide variety of different people and situations.

The Loner was the first show Rod Serling created after The Twilight Zone ended.  Serling was dissatisfied with the TV westerns of the mid-sixties, which he felt were becoming increasingly unrealistic.  He aimed to present a serious western that would appeal to adults rather than schoolkids.  Unfortunately, audiences didn't respond the way he'd hoped, and the show only lasted a single season.

Rod Serling wrote 15 of the 26 episodes himself, which is a big part of what makes this such a strong, rewatchable show.  His episodes are particularly meaty, always featuring characters wrestling with serious problems and never presenting implausibly easy solutions.  Each episode is under 30 minutes long and crammed with excellent storytelling -- yet, they never feel rushed!  You can learn a lot about how to get the most story from the least space by watching this show.

Colton's strong sense of justice and honor gets him involved in other people's problems without him ever seeming nosy or presumptuous.  He just naturally ends up helping or leading when needed, even though he generally would rather keep to himself.  Whenever he rides into a new location at the beginning of the episode, the audience knows that he will leave it a better place when he rides away... but not by spouting platitudes, solving everyone's problems for them, or forcing people to do the right thing.  Rather, Colton has a way of encouraging people to confront their troubles themselves.

My favorite episode is probably the only two-part story, "The Mourners for Johnny Sharp."  Colton finds a young gunfighter called Johnny Sharp (Beau Bridges) dying alone.  Many people had reason for wanting Sharp dead, and Colton vows to the boy he will see justice done.  I love getting to see Lloyd Bridges act opposite his son Beau, and the whole second episode is some of the best character-focused storytelling I have ever seen.

Bridges's son Jeff also appeared in the episode "The Ordeal of Bud Windom," which is not quite as good an episode, but has some really good acting from Jeff Bridges, who was only 15 at the time.

I also really love "The Sheriff of Fetterman's Crossing" because I kept expecting the bungling sheriff (Allan Sherman) to mess everything up beyond belief, but everything turns out really well.  It is probably the lightest and sweetest episode in the series.

One of my favorite smaller aspects of this show is that, although Bridges was in his early 50s, the show runners have no issue with portraying him as an attractive, sexy man.  Colton generally has his shirt collar unbuttoned, and there are various episodes where he appears shirtless.  At the same time, they don't try pairing him romantically with young women, but show mature, middle-aged women being attracted to him instead.  Hollywood tends to think that romance is reserved for the young, and anyone over 35 can't possibly be attractive, but this show adroitly ignores such nonsense.

You can pick up this complete series on DVD for under $20.  I highly recommend it!

This has been my contribution to the Intruder Blogathon hosted by the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes this weekend :-)

Saturday, June 10, 2023

"Where Eagles Dare" (1968)

World War Two rages. The Nazis and their pals have conquered Europe and have made inroads into Russia. The Allies are finalizing their plans to invade France and begin pushing the bullies back where they belong… and then the unthinkable happens. 

General Carnaby’s plane crashes in enemy territory, and he’s captured by the Nazis. They don’t know it yet, but Carnaby knows all the plans for where and when the invasion will happen. It’s only a matter of time before they realize just how valuable this American general is. And everyone knows the Nazis will submit him to inhuman cruelties just to get his information. 

There’s only one thing to do: rescue him. 

The British military puts together a crack team of spies led by their best man, Major Smith (Richard Burton). Smith is terse, efficient, secretive, suspicious, and deadly. The rest of the team are British agents too, except one man: an American OSS agent named Schaffer (Clint Eastwood). He doesn’t know why they want him along, and the rest of the team don’t know why he’s there, but the word is Go, so they go. 

I’m a huge fan of both Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Eastwood doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie except walk around looking confused and shooting people, but he’s nice scenery to have around, so I don’t mind. Burton gets the best role, convincing the audience he’s anything and anyone he says he is at the moment. Such is the power of his acting that a sneer or a monosyllable from him does more to develop his character than whole pages of dialog for others. 

The Nazis are holding Carnaby in an Alpine fortress you can only reach by cable car from the village below. It’s a massive, impregnable old castle filled with both regular Army and Gestapo troops. No way can anyone break in there. But they must. Can’t let the Nazis find out what Carnaby knows. 

From here on out, I will SPOIL a few things. This is a twisty spy thriller, and I need to tell you some twists. Can’t say I didn’t warn you. But I promise not to reveal the big suprises at the end. 

The team, and the audience, soon learn the truth: Carnaby is a fake. The British dressed up an actor who looks just like the real General Carnaby and are using him as a diversion. His mission is to feed the Nazis misinformation, but now the Allies fear the Nazis will figure out he’s a fake, so Smith and his cohorts need to rescue him before they visit unspeakable atrocities upon poor not-Carnaby. 

Smith, Schaffer, and the rest of the team parachute into the snowy Alps just outside the fortress. One of them dies, supposedly killed upon landing, but Smith doesn’t think so. Smith secretly meets up with a female agent sent to help him without the rest of the team knowing it. In fact, Smith does a lot of things in secret. Why? What game is he playing that he hasn’t invited the other men to join? 

The surviving members of the team disguise themselves as Nazis and prepare to infiltrate the castle. More of them die mysteriously, until the team is just Smith, Schaffer, and three other guys. The three other guys get themselves captured, but Smith insists he and Schaffer must try to finish the job. Schaffer’s a game fellow, and it’s not like he has anything else to do while stuck in the Alps in the middle of winter, so the two of them sneak into the castle. 

Remember those cable cars? Many feats of derring-do occur thanks to them, with people riding on top of them, jumping between one car and the next, and so on. The studio made Where Eagles Dare in 1968, right in the thick of Sean Connery’s reign as James Bond, and the action in this film is comparable to many of those classic 007 films. Lots of explosions, stunts, sneering bad guys, and the occasional kissing scene just because, gosh, if you’ve got male and female spies working together, why not have them kiss now and then? 

Smith and Schaffer infiltrate the castle. They find not-Carnaby and free him. And then the plot twists come thick and fast. Because it turns out that rescuing not-Carnaby was another ruse. The real reason they’re here is to find out some very important information of a different nature. I won‘t tell you what that is because that would spoil the fun. Go read the fantastic book by Alistair MacLean (who also wrote the screenplay) or watch the film for yourself! If you like spy stories, you’ll love this.

(This post originally appeared in Femnista magazine on April 13, 2019.)

Monday, June 05, 2023

Announcing 2023's Legends of Western Cinema Week

Yessirree!  It's true :-) Olivia (of Meanwhile, in Rivendell...), Heidi (of Along the Brandywine), and I are co-hosting Legends of Western Cinema Week once again!

We'd love to have you join us the last week of July as we celebrate onscreen westerns of every sort.  As always, we will provide a tag you can fill out, along with various games and giveaways.  And then YOU contribute the rest of the party fun!

What you want to contribute is totally up to you!  Past LOWCW parties have involved movie and TV show reviews, top ten lists, tribute posts to actors or characters, soundtrack appreciation posts, character sketches, and anything else partygoers have dreamed up.

We never set a limit for how many posts you can contribute, or how many people can share posts about a particular subject.  The only rules are that posts: 
  • must be appreciative and not derogatory, 
  • must be about westerns, and 
  • must to be new posts (not just linking to old ones).  

If you need help deciding on a contribution topic, you are welcome to toss around ideas with us in the comments.  There is no official sign-up list.  However, we would love it if you shared one of Olivia's lovely buttons on your own blog or social media account, with a link back to one of our announcement posts so other people can join the fun.

If you've never attended a LOWCW hootenanny before and you can't quite wrap your head around how it works, here's a link to my wrap-up for 2022's party so you can see how they play out.

Put on your ten-gallon thinking hat and start figuring out how you want to celebrate this year!