My Week in Movies: March 10-16

The Bravados (1958) It’s one of the best westerns ever made and one of my favorite movies from any genre, a beautifully crafted, hauntingly photographed, and brilliantly acted film, yet I always seem to forget just how brutal The Bravados gets. Like an angry precursor to the darker cowboy fare of the decades to follow, Henry King’s masterpiece plays at times like a rebuttal to The Searchers: you want obsession and violence and moral complexity?, it asks John Ford. Try this on for size. Gregory Peck, in his finest non-Atticus performance, plays a man driven deeply into hate in his quest to avenge his wife’s murder. Dressing him in near-black dark blues hints he may be the real villain – there’s a coldness in such stinging moments as his showdown with Lee Van Cleef (who’s rarely been better) that forces us to realize the evil in his actions – but the script (by Philip Yordan, adapting the novel by Frank O’Rourke) doesn’t let us off that easily. It makes Peck’s targets quite evil in their own right; gang leader Stephen Boyd is slimy and vile in an all-too-real, all-too-disturbing manner, so we should be happy Peck wants him dead, right? The Bravados sets up a string of ethical questions, and while there’s a glimmer of hope by the final frames, it’s a hope coated with regret and sobriety.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955/1959) I’ve mentioned previously my fascination with Americanized re-edits of foreign monster flicks, and it’s more of the same with Gigantis, the Fire Monster, the sloppy retooling of Godzilla Raids Again. As with Godzilla before it, Gigantis is a dud as a standalone feature, but when viewed as the result of some very clumsy, occasionally apathetic re-editing, it’s an intriguing curiosity. Most of the seams are obvious (a narration-driven prologue works overtime to separate the film from Godzilla; a main character is rewritten and redubbed as a comic relief imbecile), but more fascinating is how they just sort of give up after a while, keeping in a lengthy flashback to the first Godzilla film, the very movie it’s trying not to sequel. Nice move, guys.

Morning Glory (2010) There’s not a plot point – or even a punchline – in this dumbed down version of Broadcast News that isn’t achingly predictable… and yet I found myself enjoying pretty much all of it. Harrison Ford is unbelievable as a hard-hitting newsman (his patter is less anchorman and more angry drunkard), but he’s so funny in his grumpiness, it doesn’t matter. And so it goes with the bulk of Morning Glory, whose charms and catchy humor allow the film to float above its clichés. It’s a pleasant diversion that kept me laughing and smiling far longer than I expected.

Guadalcanal Diary (1943) There’s a lot to like about this war picture, most of them being the always delightful William Bendix. It is, for the most part, a solidly produced and solidly entertaining genre entry. But its status as a slice of propaganda made during the thick of WWII leaves it top heavy with some dated racism and jingoistic bloodthirst, both eager to deliver a portrait of The Enemy to 1943 audiences. The rah-rah spirit often overwhelms the movie’s more effective dramatic moments.

For Your Eyes Only (1981) I’m still plowing through the Bond series, one a week, give or take, and I’ve finally made it to the fabulous 80s. For Your Eyes Only is rightly hailed as one of the best Roger Moore efforts, perhaps not coincidentally because it’s the least Roger Moore-esque. Sure, there’s silliness galore (the pre-credits bit is ridiculous, the Bibi subplot dopey, the Margaret Thatcher gag at the end worth three Moonrakers), but overall, this is a more sober affair, one that would’ve fit in nicely with the earliest Connerys or even, perhaps, the modern Craigs. It’s a crisp, engaging thriller that works beautifully as a standalone adventure and as a high note in the franchise. Oh, and Carole Bouquet? Rawr.

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (2012) Graham Chapman’s been dead for nearly two and a half decades now, which makes the arrival of a tribute film, based around recordings Chapman made from his book A Liar’s Autobiography, a bit of odd timing. Odder still is the decision to adapt Chapman’s book in the form of stream-of-conscious episodes animated in a wide range of animation styles, ranging from sketchy to fully realized, hand-drawn to computer generated, from a dozen or so animators working separately. For the most part, the disjointed nature works in the film’s favor, with the often (not always, but often enough) beautiful artwork capturing the sadness behind Chapman’s worst hours, especially his infamous alcoholism, and the joy behind his finest moments, especially his friendships and loves. The movie leans a little too heavily at times on familiar Monty Python routines; with such a rich life, the filmmakers hardly need to spend so much time appeasing fanboys who’ll thrill to “I know that bit!” references (amplified by the vocal appearances of four surviving Pythons; only Eric Idle stayed away). It’s his quieter, more personal anecdotes that work the best, heartfelt remembrances of parents, college, coming out, and drowning in fame and booze. The animation is a nice, often splendid novelty, but the real heart is Chapman’s own words.

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