Burt Lancaster

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Separate Tables Review


Weak
Extremely overrated, Separate Tables stands as a so-called "classic" of the 1950s (look at that cast!) but its story is so dull that it's hard to get interested in all the pendantic romances of a group of people at a sleepy off-season resort hotel. Lancaster steals the show, but that's not saying much. The over-emotional score is way too much, as well.

The Professionals Review


Good
This classic but largely forgotten Western is pretty risque for its time, offering not only brief nudity but a damsel in distress who may not be as dainty and innocent as she makes herself out to be. Hired to rescue this "kidnapping victim" from the clutches of evil Mexicans (led by Jack Palance!), a gang of four war veterans (including Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin) head to their compound, encountering misadventure along the way. It's a little dated and has a few shot-on-bad-studio-set moments, but on the whole it's an impressive film, even if you don't normally care for Westerns.

Tough Guys Review


Good
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are retired train robbers -- deeply retired, as in nursing home-retired) -- and they long to rid themselves of the gruel at mealtimes and menial jobs they're suffering through. So they do what comes naturally, rob a train, even if it is 1986. At its funniest when the heroes face the horrors of modern life, Tough Guys is a wink and a nod to two great actors with a legendary body of work between them. That they can make fun of themselves makes for a rewarding, if clumsy, experience.

Local Hero Review


Extraordinary
I'd never even heard of Local Hero until I read an epitaph of Burt Lancaster, who has top billing but is hardly the star of this charming, unsung little film. Lancaster plays a wealthy oil company CEO who sends one of his crew, Mac (Peter Riegert), to a remote Scottish village where the company wants to locate an oil refinery. He's tasked with essentially buying the whole town, but -- as stories like this go -- the quaintness and unique character of the village creep on on Mac, and soon the whole plan is in a twist. Despite the feel-good, sports-movie title, this is a clever and fun flick from writer/director Bill Forsyth, who's directed only a handful of films that you have probably never even heard of (the exception being Housekeeping). And yes, God help me, it's the feel-good flick of the decade.

The Leopard Review


Extraordinary
1963's The Leopard, directed by the Italian Count Luchino Visconti and based on the best-selling novel by countryman Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, tells the story of an Old World aristocrat - the Sicilian Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina - as he faces the changes forced upon his embattled social class by the Italian Risorgimento of 1860, a revolutionary social movement (and armed conflict) that brought about the end of that country's feudal monarchies and united its states into what now is the country of Italy. The vision of both the novel and the film is epic, and the politics of the thing are intricate enough that even a native Italian likely found it a challenge in 1963, and would likely find it even more so today. The politics are also central to the film, and this undoubtedly contributed to its uneasy stateside reception in '63 and its virtual unavailability on video until now.

My hope is that Criterion's marvelous new three-DVD edition will change that. Unlike many special editions, there's no superfluous material here: The set includes the original, 187-minute Italian version of The Leopard, the U.S. theatrical release (because Burt Lancaster starred, 20th Century Fox had American rights to the film; not knowing what to do with it, they trimmed 16 minutes, dubbed it into English, and distorted - in the interests of "accessibility" - Giuseppe Rotunno's gorgeous widescreen cinematography), enlightening commentary by film historian Peter Cowie, and video essays that provide important historical context for the action alongside new interviews with surviving cast and crew members.

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Come Back, Little Sheba Review


Excellent
Come Back, Little Sheba is among the best of several booze-obsessed Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s (The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses, and The Country Girl covered the same territory). Adapted from the William Inge play, the film stars Burt Lancaster as Doc Delaney, an alcoholic trapped in an unhappy marriage. His wife Lola (Shirley Booth) was a college fling; she got pregnant, but lost the baby after they married. Predictably, he is still somewhat good-looking despite the booze, but she has let herself go, and is somewhat childish. Lola measures herself by her failure to interest him, and sublimates her disappointment with her life in annoying monologues about a lost dog (the titular Sheba). Delaney blames her for ruining his career. Added to this grim mix is an attractive young student who boards with them (Terry Moore) and becomes a surrogate child, inspiring conflicting feelings of protectiveness and jealousy in Delaney.

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Sorry, Wrong Number Review


OK
Barbara Stanwyck stars in this classic noir of a bedridden woman with a heart condition who discovers a murder plot during an errant phone call. Imagine her surprise when she turns out to be the potential victim! Rather straigtforward for a "mystery," but notable in that virtually every scene involves a phone call (Sorry, Wrong Number was originally a radio play). A precursor to the far better Rear Window, but noir has seen better days.

Run Silent, Run Deep Review


Good
Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster are on fire in this slow burner about a WWII-era U.S. submarine chasing down Gable's nemesis: a Japanese destroyer. Tame by today's standards, Run Silent, Run Deep paved the way for films like Crimson Tide.

Seven Days in May Review


Excellent
Classic political intrigue, with Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, and Burt Lancaster wrapped up in a plot to overthrow the president! Heavy stuff, courtesy of Rod Serling's master writing. Unfortunately, when the going gets good -- really hitting a fever pitch on day seven -- the story goes limp and the ending is a big letdown. Still, Lancaster is unparalleled in a rare bad guy role, helped amiably by a solid supporting staff. One of Frankenheimer's best works.

The Young Savages Review


OK
Despite its pedigreed cast list, The Young Savages, John Frankenheimer's first feature film, is a relatively tepid affair, though it hints at a grittiness and edge that films that would come 10 years later would start to exhibit. The story involves a small juvenile Italian gang that murders a blind Puerto Rican boy, but Burt Lancaster's prosecutor isn't so sure the case is cut and dried. Interesting ponderation on racial tension, but far from classic.

Judgment at Nuremberg Review


Excellent
In the grand tradition of courtroom dramas, Judgment at Nuremberg has the distinction of being probably the most "important" of them all -- even if it's not the most blatantly entertaining.

The three-hour film concerns the trial of four Nazi-era German judges accused of killing millions as part of the regime. The trial circumstances are tricky: The four accused didn't pull any triggers, nor were they in the upper echelons of power. They were middlemen, just signing off on the whims of Hitler. How guilty are they of murder? And so it is that American Judge Dan Hawood is flown in to lead a tribunal to determine their fate.

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Field Of Dreams Review


Excellent
Briefly, the plot of Field of Dreams: A thirty-something man hears voices from a Higher Power, abandons his ties to his family, wanders the earth gathering a passel of believers, suffers the mocking laughter of his townspeople but soon redeems himself, and, finally, is reconciled with his father. Say what you want about Kevin Costner, but you can't say he never played Jesus Christ.

In the '90s, Costner's messianic ambitions - his belief that his aw-shucks Everyman demanded an epic canvas to match his bank account - produced some of the worst films ever made. But his attitude works perfectly in 1989's Field of Dreams (based on the book Shoeless Joe) because the setting is appropriately modest; if we could never buy him as a post-apocalyptic savior, he's just fine as a middle-class hero. Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a rat-race refugee who's moved his wife Anni (Amy Madigan) and daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann) to a farmhouse in Iowa. One evening, alone amongst the corn, Ray hears a voice tell him, "If you build it, they will come." A vision of a baseball field is presented before him, and he immediately sets to work re-creating it, believing that it might help him better understand his late father, from whom he was long estranged.

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Sweet Smell of Success Review


Excellent
Astonishingly good look at a thinly-veiled Walter Winchell, the New York gossip columnist who reigned with terror as one of the most influential writers of his time. Lancaster burns up the screen as J.J. Hunsecker, who enlists Curtis's Sidney Falco to break up his sister's happy relationship with a musician. Cruel and unflinching, this movie is partially responsible for bringing Winchell's career down. Excellent cinematography, acting, dialogue, and scoring -- a must see.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Review


Grim
Interested in the Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday-O.K. Corral legend but don't want a lot of bloodshed? Or maybe you feel like dozing off a bit?

Have I got a movie for you! The Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas rendition of the still-going-strong story of the shootout in Tombstone is possible the tamest and least inspired on record, a workmanlike and low-budget retelling of the story. No insight, no real violence, no soul. This Gunfight doesn't actually occur until 1 hour and 45 minutes into the film -- tragic in its deception and painful in the boredom induced on the way.

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Elmer Gantry Review


Excellent
Burt Lancaster shines as the titular Elmer Gantry, a revival preacher with a questionable past and uncertain motives, in the epic film that won Oscars for Lancaster, Shirley Jones (as a hooker from Gantry's past), and the script by Richard Brooks. Written with an assured bite, Gantry skewers "that old-time religion" with a dramatic wit rarely seen in this era. Never corny (though its modern-day analogues most surely are), the film was a huge success in its day, and is all but forgotten now. Highly recommended for fans of Lancaster or Jean Simmons, who plays the earnest young preacher who gets caught up in Gantry's web.
Burt Lancaster

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