Charley Grapewin

Charley Grapewin

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The Good Earth Review


Very Good
Imagine the uproar if The Good Earth had been made recently. Hell, people cried foul of Memoirs of a Geisha because it used Chinese actors to play Japanese roles. The Good Earth's stars were born in California and Germany.

Shockingly, surprisingly, stars Paul Muni and Luise Rainer pull it off. He's Wang Lung, a simple Chinese farmer. She's O-Lan, his even more simple wife. This adaptation of the Pearl Buck novel has the pair surviving through an epic struggle against poverty and nature, building their farm up from nothing (with O-Lan helping to bring in the harvest the night before she gives birth), then losing everything, slumming on the streets of the city, finding a cache of jewels during a riot, building it all up again, and facing a family crisis when Wang Lung decides to buy a second, younger wife. Hey, it's old world China. In the end, our heroes have to do battle against a plague of locusts. Locusts!

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They Died With Their Boots On Review


Good
In case the title is ambiguous, they died because George Custer was their general, and we all know about his Last Stand, etc. etc.

Errol Flynn takes one of his most curious roles ever in this big-budget western, playing the ill-fated general from West Point through the Civil War through his inglorious career killing off Indians before they got their payback at Little Big Horn. Custer is here portrayed as a hero but also an extremely impetuous one: Ranking at the bottom of his class in academics and willfully violating orders whenever they're given to him.

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The Grapes Of Wrath Review


Excellent
John Ford's adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel is moving and heartfelt, despite its random structure and rambling, overwrought (and overly political) narrative. Henry Fonda owns the show as Tom Joad, a prison parolee in the 1930s who returns to his Oklahoma home to discover his family has been ousted from their farm by a greedy corporation when the infamous "dust bowl" hits. The family packs it up for California to try to make a go of it as migrant farm workers, which doesn't necessarily pan out for the best, thanks to Tom's penchant for getting into fights with "Okies go home" types. The Grapes of Wrath pours on the populist and neo-Communist schmaltz, but Fonda's portrayal of the permanently-down-on-his-luck Tom really makes you feel sorry for him. Which, I suppose, is the point.

The Wizard Of Oz Review


Essential
The Wizard of Oz is a classic film from an era when American studios were confident and breaking ground (within the discipline imposed by the Hays Office). Stuffed with now-amiliar tropes -- the yellow brick road, the wicked witch, the emerald city -- and a supply of often-quoted lines, famous songs, and gags, the film is probably as entertaining now as it was in 1939.

Oz was groundbreaking in a number of ways, most obviously in its visual impact. Movies in color had been made for a while, but most films in 1939 were still in black and white, so the gimmick of beginning in B&W and shifting to Technicolor was very effective. Some of the special effects were advanced at the time (and are still one of the movie's strengths). One of the most famous sequences, the tornado which sweeps across the farm fields, was created by filming a windsock being blown around by electric fans. It's more realistic and believable than the computer-generated tornadoes in the movie Twister, made 57 years later. That's progress.

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Charley Grapewin

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