My Week in Movies: June 23-29

High Noon (1952) and Rio Bravo (1959) For whatever reason, I never bothered watching High Noon and Rio Bravo back to back until now. The effect is a little staggering: not only are the films wildly different in tone (downbeat ethical drama vs. two-fisted boozy action), but the latter’s reaction to the moral dilemmas of the former become radically amplified. Made as a counterpoint to High Noon, Rio Bravo was Howard Hawks’ and John Wayne’s chance to denounce what they viewed as an ugly display of cowardice and fear – which is totally missing the point, because of course Fred Zinnemann’s classic is an ugly display of cowardice and fear. Even when removed from its HUAC allegory, High Noon is a dark, dire exploration of the worst in humanity, a study in how courage is easier in theory than in practice. It’s a look at how far people will go to not take a stand. Hawks just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see that, so he peppered his film with so many townsfolk eager to help, the hero has to turn them away. Granted, Rio Bravo is crackerjack entertainment, but it’s also a fantasy, displayed in gaudy Technicolor and glorious widescreen, while High Noon is dirty realism, its black and white visuals cramped in a claustrophobic Academy ratio. And its harsh truth is what makes it great.

Rodan (1956/1957) Is it an insult to call Rodan one of the lesser classic kaiju movies? It’s still a big ol’ ball of fun, but it just doesn’t thrill me the way, say, Mothra does.

Walt & El Grupo (2009) A decent documentary about Walt Disney’s prewar trip to South America. It’s a good enough film, but I couldn’t quite get into it, perhaps because it feels like an extended behind-the-scenes DVD bonus feature for a movie that doesn’t really need one.

Who’s Got the Action? (1962) Wait, did I call Rio Bravo boozy? Naw. This is boozy. This drowsy, dopey farce finds Lana Turner scheming to rid hubby Dean Martin (hey, I said it was boozy) of his gambling habit. The screwball twists would be more fun if anyone involved bothered to put any effort into this thing. As it stands, only Walter Matthau, playing a greasy mobster, makes an impression, and that’s because he’s clearly having a blast turning his character into the broadest, silliest cartoon possible. Everyone else sleepwalks through the proceedings, with Martin looking particularly bored. Director Daniel Mann’s sluggish pacing fizzles whatever the drowsy cast didn’t already ruin.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) Mellow greetings, yookie dookie! I’m not sure which I enjoy more, the time capsule look at teen culture of the late 1940s or the timeless humor about teens trying to act older than they are. Either way, the real keeper here is seeing Cary Grant devolve into immaturity as schemes and counter-schemes implode upon each other, leaving the king of suave hamming it up with all manner of youth-isms. The plot barely makes a half lick of sense, but no matter. The whole thing is top drawer funny – and, in spots, quite endearing. Hoodoo?

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