George Bancroft

George Bancroft

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Underworld (1927) Review


OK
Josef von Sternberg's 1927 Underworld was given a rare airing at the New York Film Festival, introduced by festival director Richard Pena as the "ur-gangster film." Whether it is ur remains to be seen, since gangster films have been floating around the edges of American movies since the early silent period in D. W. Griffith's Musketeers of Pig Alley and Raoul Walsh's 1915 feature Regeneration. In fact, with von Sternberg as director, it is hardly a gangster film at all. It more of a reverie on what a gangster film could have become if the Depression hadn't got in the way.

The only way Underworld whispers "gangster film" under its baited breath is from the input of screenwriter Ben Hecht, who wanted to make a film based on his experiences as a Chicago crime beat reporter. And to be sure, there are instances in Underworld that directly link it to 1930s gangster movies, specifically Scarface, also written by Hecht, particularly the neon sign spelling out "The City Is Yours" to a mob chief and the brutal, shooting gallery gun battle at the film's climax. Also in evidence are Hecht's sarcastic Front Page style one-liners -- for example, one gangster tells another to attend a gangster get-together by saying, "You've got to show. Everybody with a police record will be there." This was von Sternberg's second feature and at the outset, Hecht had the most clout, but as the film progressed, von Sternberg emerged victorious.

Continue reading: Underworld (1927) Review

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Review


Weak
Frank Capra's story of a simple man who inherits vast wealth has become a commonly-copied tale, but the tedium of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town outweighs its message of freedom and charity. Gary Cooper is dry as dust (despite being "eccentric" -- he plays the tuba!), and Jean Arthur makes no impression as the reporter who hustles him to get the inside scoop. I realize it's heresy, but the story just needs some life. Frankly, I can't imagine the upcoming Adam Sandler version could do any worse.

Stagecoach Review


Good
Stagecoach is the archetypical Western -- a stagecoach full of crazies has to make it through Indian country in one piece. Though it was his 80th film (of nearly 200), Stagecoach made John Wayne into the superstar he eventually became. Mitchell won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drunken Doc Boone, and the rest of the cast, notably Trevor as a hooker being run out of town, are memorable. The film has some amazing gaffes, including guns that kick but don't actually go "bang" and, again most notably, one rear-projected shot from the stagecoach where the Indian outside is riding the wrong way. Classic, yet hopelessly dated.

Continue reading: Stagecoach Review

Texas Review


Excellent
With a name like Texas, one expects a grand, sweeping film about the old west, one of those epics about settlers and claim stakers and, ah, you get the drift. Texas is really none of that. At its core it's a relatively straightforward genre movie, and a small one: Two ex-Confederate soldiers (Glenn Ford and William Holden) head to Texas to make their fortune, and soon they're on opposite sides of the law. (The plot eventually revolves around a cattle drive, a corrupt beef baron, and a plot to derail the whole thing.) Throw in Edgar Buchanan as the town dentist -- also of questionable morals -- and you've got a tiny hit that's surprisingly very, very funny. On purpose.

Angels With Dirty Faces Review


Good
Casablanca director Michael Curtiz turned in this pioneering entry in 1938 -- part of the budding street urchin genre that posed the question of what society would do with its troubled kids. Starring the Dead End Kids (a group of hooligans akin to the Litle Rascals, only meaner), their story is filtered through the eyes of two men. Rocky (James Cagney in another career-defining gangster performance) is fresh out of jail and back on the streets where he hopes to make some cash. Father Jerry (Pat O'Brien) is a priest and boyhood friend of Rocky's, who's managed to turn toward the path of good. Oh, and Humphrey Bogart makes an appearance as a scheming attorney through into the mix.

How these three men interrelate is the main story line, while the hijinks of the kids stands as a continuous backdrop to the action. Sometimes it's fierce, but just as often it's plodding and uninspiring. The underlying social commentary -- how children can turn good or bad depending on how they are raised, a controversial idea in the 1930s -- doesn't get much of a chance to shine, which may be a problem of too many stars, too many precocious child actors, and not enough legroom for all of them to stretch.

Continue reading: Angels With Dirty Faces Review

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Review


Weak
Frank Capra's story of a simple man who inherits vast wealth has become a commonly-copied tale, but the tedium of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town outweighs its message of freedom and charity. Gary Cooper is dry as dust (despite being "eccentric" -- he plays the tuba!), and Jean Arthur makes no impression as the reporter who hustles him to get the inside scoop. I realize it's heresy, but the story just needs some life. Frankly, I can't imagine the upcoming Adam Sandler version could do any worse.

Stagecoach Review


Good
Stagecoach is the archetypical Western -- a stagecoach full of crazies has to make it through Indian country in one piece. Though it was his 80th film (of nearly 200), Stagecoach made John Wayne into the superstar he eventually became. Mitchell won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drunken Doc Boone, and the rest of the cast, notably Trevor as a hooker being run out of town, are memorable. The film has some amazing gaffes, including guns that kick but don't actually go "bang" and, again most notably, one rear-projected shot from the stagecoach where the Indian outside is riding the wrong way. Classic, yet hopelessly dated.
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