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The Great McGinty Review

Very Good
The guy is sloppily attired in the manner of the American urban bum, circa the Great Depression. A ragged coat, floppy hat, and three-day growth mark him as meant for the city's many soup kitchens, one of which he finds handing out mugs of soup and chunks of bread. It just so happens that this particular mobile kitchen is sponsored by the city's mayor, up for reelection that very night. Fortunately there's something the man can do to help the mayor who just gave him that soup: vote for him under an assumed name and he gets two bucks. Only the man is an enterprising sort of bum: by the end of the night he's voted for the mayor 37 times, and thus unwittingly started his own political career.

One of the century's smarter films about politics, Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty takes a blowsy, no-nonsense approach to the subject at its core -- corruption -- and by treading that line between sanctimonious outrage and full-blown farce achieves a welcome attitude of realistic (and fatalistic) morality. Sturges' fable starts in one of those wonderfully atmospheric, fly-buzzed and smoky bars that inhabit Third World cities in all great films, where the man, Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy), is working as a bartender, and telling the story of his fairy tale rise and fall. In its own meritocratic way, the story is actually quite inspiring: man comes out of nowhere, rockets upward through a major city's political organization, marries well, lives better, eventually becomes governor. Sure, he rose to power on a raging tide of graft, but that's the Chicago way, right?

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Mr. Arkadin Review

Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin is one of those films that is much more interesting in how it got made than in the final product. Just about every aspect of it is shrouded in mystery and confusion, starting with the original plot, which (arguably) began with a radio play called "The Lives of Harry Lime," which Welles adapted into a novel, was translated a couple of times, and eventually became a script. for a film. The film was painstakingly produced in a typical trouble-filled Welles affair, full of lawsuits and ownership issues that resulted in at least seven versions of the film being produced for various markets, in various languages, and by various producers. Even the title is changed from time to time.

Criterion has unearthed this saga for an exhaustive DVD box set, which features two versions of the film (including one called Confidential Report), plus its own cut of the movie, which combines elements of all the seven versions into a "comprehensive" version of the film. Welles' novel is included in whole, too, along with umpteen essays about the curious backstory of Arkadin and its long road to DVD.

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Touch Of Evil Review

God, I love Charlton Heston movies. He can always be relied on to give an, er, square-jawed performance. He's appropriately square-jawed here, with a pencil-thin moustache and a swaggering demeanor. Yes, sir. You want to make a compulsively watchable movie, you throw old Chuck a bone and cast him in the lead role.

On top of that, Touch of Evil makes him a Mexican! I love it! Charlton Heston plays a Mexican detective!

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Marquis De Sade: Justine Review

Of all the films I've seen based on the Marquis de Sade's literature and life, Justine comes the closest to being an Emmanuelle sequel. It's also the only one that I know of to star Jack Palance and gives us none other than the glorious freak Klaus Kinski as the Marquis himself. The story involves a young virgin's sexual awakening -- and willing subjection to humiliation and light torture -- and is in keeping with de Sade's work. Still, though it's rather awfully made, it's somewhat tame by today's standards, which also makes it more than a bit humorous.

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Alphaville Review

While private eye Lemmy Caution has ventured all the way to another planet to visit the futuristic Alphaville, it certainly looks a lot like Paris. And what are the odds that they'll speak French, huh?

Jean-Luc Godard's oddball sci-fi spends a lot of time ostensibly bemoaning the dehumanizing effects of technology but doesn't make much of a case for it here. Sure, if we were dumb enough to literally allow a computer to rule our lives, we might get what we deserved. But modern life (and even reasonably forseeable life) has no signs of Godard's "outlawing of emotion" and oppression of individuality. In fact, these ideas are more prevalent than ever, which tends to horribly date Alphaville against its more thought-out successors like A Clockwork Orange and Blade Runner.

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Ocean's Eleven (1960) Review

Implausible yet wholly unforgettable, Ocean's Eleven is as much fun as it is a misogynistic relic of a bygone era. Essentially, the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford are playing themselves as ex-military playboy buddies who decide to pull off a daring heist on New Year's Eve, robbing five Las Vegas casinos in one fell swoop. As it turns out, the heist itself is kind of a forgettable letdown, as is the aftermath involving an investigation into the matter by Lawford's character's future stepfather (Cesar Romero). Even the setup takes close to an hour, as Billy Ocean (Sinatra) woos his lady and slowly gathers his crew -- all while Martin and Davis provide musical accompaniment. The end result is more than two hours of heist work that would make David Mamet cringe.

So why watch Sinatra and his 10 (not 11) ex-military buddies romp through their kinda town? Ocean's Eleven is the kind of movie you turn on and just hang out to, just like the Rat Pack would have done, as you enjoy a scotch and soda on a Saturday afternoon while Dean Martin croons "Ain't that a kick in the head..." in the background. Then you'd go bowling in an orange sweater to talk about the job. When it's over, you won't feel like you've bettered yourself in any way, but you might feel just an inch of kinship with a bygone era when Vegas was black tie-only and when a woman's place was in a distant, supporting role. (Just kidding, dames.)

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Anastasia (1956) Review

This is the earlier, and definitely not animated, version of the story of the hunt for Anastasia Romanov, daughter of the Tsar who, according to legend, was the only member of the royal family to survive their massacre by revolutionaries in 1917. Anastasia starts off in the late 1920s among the exiled White Russian community in Paris, who rather obsessively keep their country's customs alive in a foreign place. Certain entrepreneurs in the community, including a disgraced former general, Prince Bounine (Yul Brynner), have been trying for years to discover a trainable woman with a close-enough resemblance to Anastasia that she could pass for the real thing - and collect 10 million pounds of Russian royal money sitting in a London bank. Bounine and his compatriots recruit the homeless and rather insane Ingrid Bergman for the task and start about molding her to pass muster before the exiles who knew the real Anastasia and who will, hopefully, sign testimonies to her identity. The twist is that Bergman at times actually thinks she is Anastasia.

There would have been plenty of opportunity for some My Fair Lady-type hijinks in the early part of this remarkably-controlled film, with Brynner playing the stern taskmaster and Bergman the not-so-ugly duckling about to transform into a swan. But director Anatole Litvak keeps everything measured and reasonably serious, focusing more on Bergman's dementia than the perfunctory romance that supposedly blossoms between her and Brynner. Bergman's performance (which won her an Oscar) has its hammy "look at me!" moments, but they're shrewdly undercut by the surrounding characters' suspicion that she is inventing not just her past as Anastasia but her entire dementia as well.

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For Whom The Bell Tolls Review

A stultifying bore, this imitation of Bridge on the River Kwai would have been long forgotten but for the fact it contains an Oscar-winning performance, with Katina Paxinou's gritty guide handily earning her award. The film earned a surprising nine nominations total, winning just the one. The film is an adaptation of Hemingway's book set during the Spanish Civil War, here with a wooden Gary Cooper sitting around in a cave while he waits to blow up a bridge. Meanwhile, he falls in love with Ingrid Bergman's communist refugee, before the fateful bell tolls. Alas, it takes nearly three hours for that to happen, with little to entertain us along the way.
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Akim Tamiroff Movies

Ocean's Eleven (1960) Movie Review

Ocean's Eleven (1960) Movie Review

Implausible yet wholly unforgettable, Ocean's Eleven is as much fun as it is a misogynistic...

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