Donald Crisp

Donald Crisp

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Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Review


Good
An especially grandiose production for its era, the first production of Mutiny on the Bounty sailed into history with Charles Laughton as the evil Captain Bligh and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, the officer who joined the crew against him. While Mutiny takes an unfortunate 90 minutes to get exciting, its gripping third act makes the movie totally worthwhile. And while Gable is memorable in his role, it's Laughton that owns the show as the despicable captain you can't help but hate.

The film follows the classic book's story faithfully, as Bligh and his men sail for Tahiti (around Africa) in search of breadfruit trees. Eventually they get there, mingle with natives, go primal, and load up the old HMS Bounty. But first officer Fletcher Christian doesn't stand idly by for Bligh's abuse and improprieties. On the way home, Christian rallies the troops against the old boss, plopping him and his loyals on a dinghy and setting them adrift. Torn between the two leaders is midshipman Byam (Franchot Tone), the remainder of the film concerns Bligh's noble fight to survive without rations and with the slightest level of hope, while Christian takes the boat back to Tahiti (where the island women are to die for) and eventually faces court martial back in England. It's an epic adventure that's still imitated today.

Continue reading: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Review

The Charge of the Light Brigade Review


Weak
Dramatazation of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem about the ill-fated Light Brigade, 600 soldiers during the Crimean War (digested version: 1854-56, England and Turkey vs. Russia, best known for the Light Brigade but most significant for the actions of nurse Florence Nightengale). While the costumes and sets are perfectly historical, the facts are hardly accurate -- the infamous charge that killed all involved was actually a goof-up courtesy of an incompetent British army, not a moment of heroism due to a Ben Affleck-ish soldier.

Continue reading: The Charge of the Light Brigade Review

Jezebel Review


OK
Jezebel's southern Civil War-era setting and its brazen female lead make it seem a lot like Gone With the Wind, but this Bette Davis Best Actress-winner can't hold a candle to the successor which would arrive the following year. Davis is the draw here, playing a bachelorette who no one seems to be able to control -- and she of course is keen to keep it that way. The histrionics come across as quaint today, and even Davis's performance can't hold the film up all by its lonesome.

How Green Was My Valley Review


Weak
If you were sitting next to me during a recent screening of John Ford's How Green Was My Valley, you'd probably ask "How Black is Your Heart?" After all, the movie won five Oscars in 1941, including Best Picture, and has a permanent home in the Good Honest Folk movie hall of fame. It's hailed as Ford's non-western masterpiece and the screen debut of Roddy McDowall. You might even be tempted to trounce me about the shoulders and cry "Get with it, old man!"

I tried but I can't. Seeing Valley 60 years after its premiere only tells me that it hasn't aged well and maybe wasn't even supposed to. After all, America's paeans to ordinary people and their dreams hit their peak in 1941, hot on the heels of WPA murals and Dorothea Lange's photographs. And while we might be living in an age of renewed sincerity (the memoir, David Grey), Valley still strikes me some kind of virgin artifact, a relic cast in mythology before it was even born.

Continue reading: How Green Was My Valley Review

The Charge of the Light Brigade Review


Weak
Dramatazation of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem about the ill-fated Light Brigade, 600 soldiers during the Crimean War (digested version: 1854-56, England and Turkey vs. Russia, best known for the Light Brigade but most significant for the actions of nurse Florence Nightengale). While the costumes and sets are perfectly historical, the facts are hardly accurate -- the infamous charge that killed all involved was actually a goof-up courtesy of an incompetent British army, not a moment of heroism due to a Ben Affleck-ish soldier.

Continue reading: The Charge of the Light Brigade Review

The Life of Emile Zola Review


Excellent
Suprisingly strong period piece, this Oscar winner features Paul Muni as the celebrated French author and crusader Emile Zola, a man who, between writing government-bashing novels, found time to free a wrongfully convicted army officer from prison and exile -- even if he had to be convicted of libel in the process. Muni gets lost in his role and does some amazing work. The film is misleading -- the "life" of Zola is barely touched on; it's his final years and legal skirmishes that get all the screen time -- but that's a wise choice; this look at how screwed up the French legal system is can be harrowing.

Mutiny on the Bounty Review


Good
An especially grandiose production for its era, the first production of Mutiny on the Bounty sailed into history with Charles Laughton as the evil Captain Bligh and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, the officer who joined the crew against him. While Mutiny takes an unfortunate 90 minutes to get exciting, its gripping third act makes the movie totally worthwhile. And while Gable is memorable in his role, it's Laughton that owns the show as the despicable captain you can't help but hate.

The film follows the classic book's story faithfully, as Bligh and his men sail for Tahiti (around Africa) in search of breadfruit trees. Eventually they get there, mingle with natives, go primal, and load up the old HMS Bounty. But first officer Fletcher Christian doesn't stand idly by for Bligh's abuse and improprieties. On the way home, Christian rallies the troops against the old boss, plopping him and his loyals on a dinghy and setting them adrift. Torn between the two leaders is midshipman Byam (Franchot Tone), the remainder of the film concerns Bligh's noble fight to survive without rations and with the slightest level of hope, while Christian takes the boat back to Tahiti (where the island women are to die for) and eventually faces court martial back in England. It's an epic adventure that's still imitated today.

Continue reading: Mutiny on the Bounty Review

National Velvet Review


Good
A young Liz Taylor, standing eye to eye with an adult Mickey Rooney, stars in this classic children's fable at a girl and her horse, named The Pi. Rooney is a down-on-his-luck ex-jockey who encounters the Brown family, working as a general servant but taking to young Velvet (Taylor) when she comes into the ownership of a wild gelding. On sheer determination, she enters The Pi into the Grand National steeplechase, a grueling horse race in which she eventually rides herself (scandal!). Great fun for the youngsters among you, but I don't know how much "sheer determination" us adults can stand at once.

Jezebel Review


OK
Jezebel's southern Civil War-era setting and its brazen female lead make it seem a lot like Gone With the Wind, but this Bette Davis Best Actress-winner can't hold a candle to the successor which would arrive the following year. Davis is the draw here, playing a bachelorette who no one seems to be able to control -- and she of course is keen to keep it that way. The histrionics come across as quaint today, and even Davis's performance can't hold the film up all by its lonesome.

The Sea Hawk Review


OK
Captain Blood's Errol Flynn hits the high seas again in this overstuffed historical epic. The film careens from the water (as Flynn's Captain Thorpe plays pirate against the Spanish galleons of the Elizabethan era) to the royal drawing rooms (as Thorpe raises the ire of Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson)). Meanwhile, he's in love with a Spanish lady from one of the ships (Brenda Marshall) and he tries to woo her while avoiding capture.

The sea adventure is fantastic (two life-size ships were constructed specifically for the film) but frankly I could have used far less parlor rooming in the picture -- especially because Robson is so difficult to believe as Elizabeth, despite the severe hairdo. Flynn -- in his 10th collaboration with director Michael Curtiz -- acquits himself just fine, though perhaps he should have taken his sword to the overblown script as well as the Spaniards.

Continue reading: The Sea Hawk Review

Donald Crisp

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