Friday, December 29, 2023

"The Boys in the Boat" (2023)

Y'all know I am not sporty.  I've never been on a sports team, I've never followed a sports team, and I probably never will.  I enjoy watching live sporting events, and I've enjoyed watching various Olympic events over the years.  But I don't really love sports.  You know what I do love, though?

Movies about sports featuring underdogs.

Man, I am all over those!  The Natural (1984).  Rocky (1976).  Chariots of Fire (1981).  Rocky II (1979). 42 (2013).  Rocky III (1982). Remember the Titans (2000). Rocky IV (1985). A League of Their Own (1992). Rocky Balboa (2006).  So many amazing underdog sports movies.  So many great feel-good finales.  I love them.

So, it's not at all unpredictable that I would have thoroughly enjoyed The Boys in the Boat (2023).  Not only is it an underdog sports story, it's got a feel-good ending AND it's based on a true story.  Nom nom nom.

Unfortunately, absolutely spoiled the ending for me (I knew this was a true story, so I specifically did NOT look up whether or not the US crew team won at the 1936 Olympics, and then when I looked up the running time for the movie so I could figure out what showing would work for me, boom!  IMDB had the ending right there in its description.  Boo), but this was still a stirring ride.  I still was rooting for the eight hopeful dudes in that boat all the way.

Could I have done with a little more character development for some of the secondary characters?  Yes.  But did they have space for more character development?  Very little, without padding out the run time.  It's got a good, steady pace, building to the finale, and I appreciated that.  Straight-forward storytelling is generally my favorite.  And I did feel like you got to know the main characters, Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) and Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton), pretty well.  This wasn't ever going to be a character study, or a deeply layered movie, and that's fine.  It doesn't need to be.

The costumes, props, music, and dialog all felt very authentically 1930s.  The score by Alexandre Desplat was a lot of fun, one I could see myself ending up buying.

Is this movie family friendly?  Pretty much.  There's a smattering of bad language, some kissing, and a little innuendo about a wife inviting her husband to bed (no nudity, no bed shown, it's very cute and sweet).  Some drinking.  I would take my kids to it, and my youngest is 12.  I'll most likely buy this on DVD and show it to them that way.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas to You!

I hope you have been enjoying a joyful Christmas.  It's been so quiet and lovely here -- went to church in the morning, baked a pie after lunch, read a book and built Legos with my kids and took a nap, then had a lovely feast.  Just now, we took a "Christmas lights walk," a yearly tradition where we walk around our neighborhood enjoying everyone's outdoor decorations.

If you're looking for some nice background music or something more low-key to watch during your celebrations, my college has posted a great video of their annual Christmas at Bethany concert on YouTube.  We watched it yesterday afternoon, and I was so impressed by this year's musical selections.  Every year's concert is lovely, but I think this is the best one I have ever experienced (including the ones I performed in many years ago)!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Sunday, December 17, 2023

"Fort Dobbs" (1958)

This is far and away my favorite new-to-me movie of 2023.  I've watched it five times since discovering it early in the summer.  I would have watched it more than that if my movie time wasn't so limited these days.  It absolutely delights me!  

By the way, I am not going to mark spoilers here.  I tried, but it just got silly.  You've been warned.  I really love the writing and acting in this film, and it has lots of lovely surprises that I can't help but gush about.  It was co-written by Burt Kennedy and George W. George, both of whom went on to write for my favorite TV show, Combat! (1962-67) (and Kennedy directed some eps, too).  George's episode is kind of a stinker, but two of Kennedy's episodes are among my top favorites.  So I love that connection to this movie.

Anyway, the story line for Fort Dobbs (1958) is pretty simple: A man, a woman, and a child try to reach the safety of a cavalry fort during an uprising of hostile American Indians.  But each character is so complex, and the story is unfolded so expertly, that the movie is completely engrossing.

Gar Davis (Clint Walker) opens the film, riding into town looking grim and unhappy.  When the local sheriff (Russ Conway) asks why he's there, Gar says he's looking for a man so he can kill him.  He then stalks up to a run-down shack and goes inside.  Someone inside shoots out through the front window, and we hear two more shots, but we never see any of that shooting, either who is doing it or what its results are.  What happened in that shack is open to interpretation, and all of that is such an interesting way to introduce the hero of the picture!  Is he a good guy?  Is he a bad guy?  Why did he want to find and kill another man?  And what exactly happened inside that shack?  Man, that is such great storytelling, making the audience wonder all of that with just a few short minutes of screen time and minimal dialog.

Another thing I love about Fort Dobbs is how much storytelling happens visually, with no dialog needed at all.  The next bit of the story is just Gar Davis lighting a shuck outta that town and riding hard across some barren and forbidding sections of Utah.  He happens on a dead body, a man shot through the back with an arrow.  We learn right there what a quick-thinker Gar is -- he trades coats with the dead man and then pushes his body off a cliff to where it will be visible to the posse on his tail, but not easy to identify.  His distinctive coat, and the presence of his horse standing around waiting beside the cliff's edge, should trick the posse into thinking that dead body is him.  Oh, and all of that is conveyed absolutely silently, no dialog needed.  Masterful stuff.

His ruse works, and the posse turns back.  Gar walks his way through some rough country until he happens on a small, isolated homestead after nightfall.  He starts to take one of their horses, but a shot rings out, and he falls to the dirt, senseless.  Again, no dialog, no explanation. 

So far, everything we know about Gar Davis should make viewers distrust him.  He sets out to kill a man, he's involved in a shooting, a posse chases him, he uses trickery to escape them, and he tries to steal a horse.  It's a testament to Clint Walker's innate likability that we can't help but root for him through all that, but I think there's another reason viewers (or, at least this viewer) are willing to hope things go well for him:  he outright told that sheriff who he was looking for and that he meant to kill the man, and the sheriff did not try to stop him.  He warned him not to do it, but he didn't try to stop him.  We don't know why yet, but that certainly puts Gar's actions in a less-than-dreadful light.

Anyway, when Gar wakens in the morning, he's still lying in the dirt, but his head wound has been cleaned and bandaged.  He's surrounded by chickens pecking at the ground for food, a scene that would be laughably domestic if it wasn't for the little boy named Chad Gray (Richard Eyer) perched on a fence, brandishing a rifle.  Chad announces, with great pride, that he shot Gar because Gar was trying to steal a horse.  This kid is a straight-shooter both literally and figuratively.  He's still at an age where the world is black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, with no gray allowed... and into his life has ridden this morally dubious anti-hero on a self-destructive path of retribution and aggression.  If you ever want to write something really dramatic, just pair up those two kinds of characters and watch the sparks fly, y'all.  

Chad's mother, Mrs. Gray (Virginia Mayo), is a stubborn but sensible woman.  She says her husband should be back from town any time, and she turns down Gar's offer to escort her and Chad to Fort Dobbs since there have been rumors of a Comanche uprising.  For a few minutes, it feels like we stepped into the beginning of Hondo (1953), but the film merely nods to that earlier western and then continues going its own intense way.

After a brief, fierce battle with some marauding Comanche warriors, Gar sets about packing up the supplies they'll need if they're going to make it to Fort Dobbs.  Mrs. Gray wants to go to town instead, to find her husband, but Gar insists on heading for Dobbs.  Still arguing, the three of them ride off into the night while the Comanches burn the Gray homestead to the ground behind them.

Out on the trail, Gar Davis takes charge, not claiming the right to do that because he is a man, but because he has experience dealing with the Comanche and with crossing that particular patch of country.  Mrs. Gray foolishly tries to do things her own way instead of listening to his experienced advice and ends up endangering her own life as well as his when she loses control of her horse while crossing a river alone.  

Of course, this is a great excuse to get the well-built Clint Walker out of his shirt, but it's also an important bit of character development for both Mrs. Gray and Gar Davis.  Mrs. Gray learns that doing things her own way just to prove that she doesn't like being bossed around is dangerously stupid.  And Gar Davis begins to realize the very real and serious responsibility he has taken on by leading this woman and her child off into the wilderness.  He risks his life to save hers, and seems almost surprised to find himself doing so.  We start to see that here is a man who has put himself first for a lot of years, but who is discovering that he can't in good conscience do that anymore.

Mrs. Gray wakes up wrapped in a blanket, with a shirtless Gar Davis nearby, and has a very worried moment of wondering just exactly what happened while she was unconscious that resulted in her clothes all hanging from a line strung between two trees.  Then she sees her son Chad sleeping peacefully nearby, snuggled up in a blanket himself, and she relaxes.  Again, another powerful bit of storytelling that needs zero dialog to communicate just what is going through this woman's mind.

Back when he was evading that posse, Gar couldn't figure out a way to hide the jacket he took off the dead man when he switched coats with him, so he rolled it up and stuffed it in his saddlebag.  Now, with everyone wet and cold, and most of their clothes wet too, he's used that jacket to help keep Mrs. Gray warm.  And it's probably not a huge shock to the audience when Mrs. Gray suddenly recognizes that coat as her husband's.  It's got a blood-stained hole in the back, and she instantly jumps to the conclusion that Gar shot her husband in the back, and that's why he's taking them to Fort Dobbs instead of back to town.  She confronts Gar about it, and Gar truthfully tells her all about how he found the dead man wearing that coat and switched coats, but that he's running from town over an entirely different matter. 

There is absolute horror in Mrs. Gray's eyes as she stares at this man she's started to trust, but now believes murdered her husband.  And there is a terrible agony in Gar's eyes when he tells her the truth and she refuses to accept it.  It's bad enough to have a posse pursue you because you set out to kill a man and got involved in a shoot out.  He earned that posse.  But to have this woman and her son believe he could be capable of such a thing just rips him up inside.  Which, once again, gets conveyed wordlessly.  Ahhhhhhhhhhh, this movie is so ridiculously good!

Chad overhears this accusation.  He'd begun to idolize Gar Davis, this strong and capable and reluctantly kind man, and the film mirrors Shane (1953) in that way for a little while.  But, once again, it goes its own way instead, and Gar discovers how much he had come to value little Chad's good opinion and the way he looked up to Gar just when Chad learns his mother believes Gar killed his father.  Chad runs off, and Gar has to go find him.  As he sets off to search for Chad, Mrs. Gray says, "How do you tell a boy you killed his father?"  Gar snaps back, "How do you tell a woman you didn't?"  It's one of my absolute favorite moments AND lines.  The anguish mixed with frustration and anger in Clint Walker's face and voice just hits me so hard.

Mrs. Gray and Chad have little choice but to continue traveling with Gar Davis even though they both are convinced he killed their husband and father.  The Comanches are everywhere, and it's going to take a lot of courage and luck and skill for them to reach Ford Dobbs alive.  On the way, they encounter a scummy gun-runner named Clett (Brian Keith) who creepily leers at Mrs. Gray and makes insinuating remarks about her to Gar.  Brian Keith's performance here reminds me so very much of many of the villains Vic Morrow played -- almost eerily so.  I am reasonably fond of Brian Keith and kind of hate how disturbing and icky he is as Clett, which tells the kind of powerful acting Keith is doing, as I am used to him playing kindly and fairly lovable characters.

Gar sends him packing after Clett molests Mrs. Gray, and Clett slinks away burning with hatred and spouting threats.  Gar gets Mrs. Gray and Chad to Fort Dobbs and leaves them just outside it.  He's a man on the run, after all, and needs to get as far away from the area as he can now that Mrs. Gray and Chad are determined to contact that sheriff and let him know it's Mr. Gray who's lying dead at the base of that cliff, not Gar.

And here we have one of my favorite twists in this movie:  Fort Dobbs is not a safe haven after all.  It's full of dead soldiers, everyone there massacred by the Comanche war parties already.  And, just as Mrs. Gray and Chad make this horrifying discovery, a whole lot of folks in wagons come racing into sight, pursued by Comanche warriors.  The gunfire they're exchanging catches Gar's attention as he rides away, and he does not even hesitate a smidgen, but turns right around and rides back to help.

The wagons make it to the fort just in time, and so does Gar.  They shut the doors against the warriors following them and prepare for a siege.  And that's when Gar gets an unpleasant surprise:  those wagons are filled with everyone that's left from the town he's running away from, and they're led by the sheriff who thought Gar was dead.

The sheriff doesn't take Gar into custody, seeing as how Gar's stuck there in the stockade with them.  Instead, he tells Gar he trusts him to return with the sheriff to face justice if and when they both make it out of this situation alive.  And then, while Gar is up manning the battlements with lots of men from town, the sheriff tells Mrs. Gray and Chad the truth about Gar, and about Mr. Gray.  Gar did not kill Mr. Gray, the Comanches did.  Gar instead killed a man who had beaten the woman Gar loved.  That woman was two-timing Gar with this particular man, and everyone in town except Gar knew it, and he didn't find out until the day he shot her abuser.

A lot of writers would give the audience that information about Gar's sad situation right at the beginning of the story, or pretty close to it.  But George W. George and Burt Kennedy held it until close to the end of the movie, after we already have gotten to know and like Gar Davis, and that makes this information so much more powerful.  Now we can understand that haunted look in his eyes, the way he puts off sharing anything about his past, and the reasons why he looked both grim and sad at the beginning of the movie.  Our confidence in him has been justified, and Mrs. Gray's assumptions are shown to be completely false.

I love watching the way Virginia Mayo shows Mrs. Gray reevaluating everything Gar said to her in light of this new information.  Once again, no words are needed to show her processing this, thinking back over what he has told here, and realizing he was being truthful.  And also realizing how much pain and sorrow he has been hiding this whole time.

There's a big Comanche attack, Gar rides off to get help, he and Clett have a showdown, and the settlers are saved.  And then comes the completely wonderful ending.  When everything has calmed down again, Mrs. Gray and Chad are getting ready to leave.  They're going to sell their horses and buy tickets to go back East, where she has family.  

Now, here is another of my favorite things about this movie:  the lack of romance.  You have a beautiful actress and a handsome actor, and not once do they kiss.  There's one tiny moment where you feel they're very powerfully attracted to each other, but it's a passing thing.  For most of the movie, Mrs. Gray doesn't know her husband is dead.  Once she finds out that he is, she thinks Gar killed him.  And, even when she learns that he didn't, she's still a grieving widow.  Gar is also grieving right now, disillusioned about the woman he loved who turned out to be rotten and duplicitous.  It would be absolutely inappropriate for them to fall in love -- and so, they don't.

However!  They still form a sort of family unit dedicated to protecting Chad.  And there is that one moment of attraction to show that, at some point in the future when they have worked through their respective griefs, they could find new happiness with each other.  Which is what makes the ending so perfect.

As Gar prepares to bid Mrs. Gray and Chad goodbye, the sheriff suddenly speaks up and says he figures nobody would mind if Gar saw to it that the Grays made it to their destination safely.  Gar looks confused.  After all, he gave his word that he was going to go back with the sheriff and face justice, even though he's already testified that the man he killed fired first, and the evidence at the crime scene backs that up.  

Slowly, he asks, "You're forgetting something, aren't you, Sheriff?"

"Yeah," says the sheriff with a smile.  And he sets Gar Davis free.  Gar, Mrs. Gray, and Chad ride off together, gladly accepting this new chance at life, at joy, and freedom.  And I've got goosebumps just thinking about that ending!

Is this movie family friendly?  Basically, yup.  Clett does grab Mrs. Gray and force kisses on her while she struggles against him, and they roll over on the ground a couple of times, but that is as far as that goes -- Gar's right there in time to stop anything else from happening and punch Clett in the face for it, for good measure.  There's some tense moments involving Comanche attacks, lots of non-bloody deaths, and a shoot-out between Gar and Clett.  But there's no cussing or nudity or gore, nor any innuendo that Gar might have taken advantage of Mrs. Gray while she was unconscious.  He does mention a couple times that he has to get her and Chad to safety because he knows what the Comanches would do to her if they captured her, though.  But, overall, I'd call this kid-friendly.

I'm not exactly sure how a copy of this film ended up on my to-be-watched shelves, aside from the fact that it stars Clint Walker and I've been a fan of his for decades.  I think I read a review of it on Laura's Miscellaneous Musings that prompted me to pick up a copy, but wasn't a strong enough inducement to get me to actually watch it as soon as it arrived.  Or, I simply didn't have time right then, which is more probable.  Either way, I'm pretty sure I owe having seen this wonderful movie to her.  Thank you, Laura!

This review has been my contribution to the 100 Years of Warner blogathon hosted this weekend by Silver Scenes.

Speaking of blogathons, don't forget to sign up for the On the Job blogathon that I'm co-hosting in January!  I'll be reviewing another Burt Kennedy western for that, but one he directed instead.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Announcing the On the Job Blogathon

My friend Jim (aka Quiggy) of The Midnite Drive-In and I (aka Hamlette) are getting down to business again.  We've planned a new blogathon for you to enjoy in the new year, one that centers on work!  Jobs, work, business, vocations, callings, and all that sort of thing.

Join us January 27 and 28 as we celebrate movies that involve what people do for a living.  Office workers, teachers, reporters, factory workers, farmers, ranchers, peace officers, military -- and every other job you can think of -- are all fair game here!

For the purposes of this blogathon, we are accepting any movies that have a primary focus on doing some kind of work. (Obviously, most characters in most movies have some sort of job, but we want the focus to be on ones where the primary story line is focused on one or more characters in the daily grind of performing their job.)

As usual, our rules are very simple:
  1. Only one person per movie. There are plenty of movies to choose from, so there is no need to have multiple entries of the same movie. 

  2. No old posts. Please write a new post for your entry. 

  3. Post your entry on (or around) the dates of the blogathon and leave a link to it for me or Quiggy when it is posted.

Leave a comment below or on Quiggy's post to tell us what you want to write about!  I'll update the roster frequently.  And don't forget to share one of these buttons on your blog with a link back to either this post or Quiggy's so other people can join the fun!

The Roster

+ Gung Ho (1986) -- The Midnite Drive-In
+ Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) -- Hamlette's Soliloquy
+ Top Ten Movies About Writers -- Hamlette's Soliloquy
+ Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1983) -- Realweegiemidget Reviews
+ The Founder (2016) -- Taking Up Room
+ The Name of the Rose (1986) -- Critica Retro
+ Jungle Cruise (2021) -- Meanwhile, in Rivendell...
+ The Dentist (1932) -- Silver Screenings
+ You!

Sunday, December 03, 2023

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959)

This will never be my favorite adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle (so, fear not, Jeremy Brett!), but it also will never be my least-favorite (sorry, Basil Rathbone).  I enjoy this one pretty well, enough to own a copy of it and have watched it more than once.  

The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of my top five favorite books of all time.  I reread it this October for the umpteenth time, and it was an absolute delight, as usual.  So, I will freely admit that rewatching this 1959 version so soon after having read the book may have made me a little less enthusiastic about this version than I was in the past.  But it also made me really appreciate some aspects of this version, particularly the casting for Sir Henry Baskerville.

The story in a nutshell is this: Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) is consulted about whether or not Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) should move to Baskerville Hall, which he just inherited when a relative died under mysterious circumstances.  Holmes delegates the job to Dr. Watson (Andre Morell), who heads out to Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry, determined to figure out if the last Baskerville's death was as mysterious as it seems.

I don't particularly like Peter Cushing's portrayal of Holmes, as he spends an awful lot of time berating Watson and making shrill proclamations.  And Andre Morell's portrayal of Watson is adequate, but kind of bores me.  The real highlight of this movie, for me is Sir Christopher Lee.  He plays Sir Henry as intelligent, shrewd, curious, and secretly passionate.  Sir Henry in the book is fairly brash and bold, which is A. Conan Doyle's assumption about anyone who has lived in North America, but Lee doesn't take the "make lots of loud announcements about your own courage" route that could feel like the obvious choice.  Instead, he gives us a Sir Henry who has a lot of strong feelings and opinions, but is self-controlled and keeps a firm hold on himself... most of the time.

The first time we really see this come to the fore is when a deadly tarantula crawls all over Sir Henry and he must keep absolutely still to keep from startling it and making it bite him.  Now, if you have ever read the book this is based on, you will know that there are ZERO tarantulas in the book.  This movie is a Hammer Films production, and that means it needs to be scary and creepy and thrilling and weird, and the filmmakers seem to have decided that a giant, glowing, spectral hound was not scary, creepy, thrilling, or weird enough, so they tossed in all this nonsense with deadly tarantulas.  I happen to loathe spiders and be a total arachnophobe, so I have to close my eyes for most of this scene, but I have watched enough of it between my fingers to know that Christopher Lee plays Sir Henry as being terrified, but also having the supreme self-control needed to not scream like a two-year-old girl and flail madly about, which is certainly what I would have done in his position.  That's really great character development, because we are eventually going to see Sir Henry confronted by events that he can't quite control himself so well about, and that will make us see how deeply he's moved by them.

By the way, that will not be his encounter with the spectral hound that haunts his family and scares them into dying, or rips out their throats, etc.  No, no, what causes Sir Henry to lose his composure is an alluring girl (Marla Landi).  She is a real piece of work, half the time coming on to Sir Henry in the most obvious ways possible, and half the time behaving like the sight of him makes her want to puke.  No wonder he eventually is so frustrated by her hot-and-cold nonsense that he can barely restrain himself from just grabbing her and holding her still so he can kiss her back after she unexpectedly kisses him and then switches moods and slinks away from him.  The look on his face that says "I am sick and tired of constantly having to lock away what I think and feel" hits me hard.  

If you like somewhat lurid horror movies from the 1950s, with lots of "oh no!" vibes and jump scares, and you aren't too picky about your adaptations of classic books (for instance, this one wanders off in the last act and has this huge section that takes place in an abandoned mine and involves a cave-in, and then totally changes up who the villain actually is), this version of this classic story is pretty fun.

This has been my contribution to the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews.

If you like blogathons, check back tomorrow for an announcement about one I'll be co-hosting soon!