Joel Mccrea

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Sullivan's Travels Review


Good
Would it be fair to say that, when all is said and done, Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels is just not as funny as its choir of supporters have made it out to be? It's not dour by any stretch of the imagination, but it's hardly laugh-filled enough to merit inclusion at #39 on the AFI's list of 100 Funniest American Films. Humor is of course subjective, and to say that the film is just not as funny as some would claim is not a criticism. Sturges was making a comedy, for sure, but the reason that Sullivan's Travels has endured so strongly in the minds of connoisseurs is the filmmakers' attempt to breathe a certain strange strain of realism into what audiences were assuming to be a straight laugh-fest. It isn't entirely successful in the end, but then neither was Woody Allen's attempt to deal with the weight of being considered nothing but a jokester in Stardust Memories, and that one is quite far from a failure.

Sturges loved fake beginnings, and this is one of his best. We open on a knock-down, brawling fight on (and below) a train that's roaring through the mountains at night. The two men finally knock each other off into the raging river, and the screen reads: THE END, after which we find out that it's a film being screened for a couple worried executives by a very popular comic filmmaker, John Sullivan (Joel McCrea), who's trying to break out of his niche, going on about holding a mirror up to life and painting a "true canvas" of humanity's suffering. Chagrined to discover that the suits don't think his silver-spoon upbringing entitles him to know anything about the human condition, Sullivan hits the road with ten cents in his pocket (kitted out in authentic bum-wear from the studio wardrobe) to find out something about it. He spends the rest of the film trying to get away from the suits (worried about losing their golden goose), and striving to find realism. At first he doesn't succeed, accidentally ending up back in Hollywood time and again, but eventually Sullivan gets a little more realism than he had intended.

Continue reading: Sullivan's Travels Review

The Palm Beach Story Review


Extraordinary
Is marriage really so important? One could take that as being the surprisingly modern theme of Preston Sturges' manic, brilliant 1942 farce The Palm Beach Story, or one could simply take it as screwball comedy of the highest order. Fortunately both interpretations are completely valid.

One of the few truly great writer/directors of American film, Sturges had more ideas than he knew what to do with; witness the film's credits sequence showing the main characters (Joel McCrea and a wonderful Claudette Colbert) getting married. There's a race to the altar, mistaken identity, a woman in a bridal gown locked in a closet, and general fast-paced madcappery, all done with music only -- it's an abbreviated précis of what could have made an entirely separate film. Then it's largely forgotten: The whole story is only alluded to near the end of the film, with one character referencing it only to say, "Well, that's a whole other plot."

Continue reading: The Palm Beach Story Review

Ride the High Country Review


Excellent
More westerns have been made than almost any other kind of movie (beginning with the first narrative film ever made, The Great Train Robbery in 1903) but there are not that many great westerns. (To be fair, there aren't many bad ones either -- they're all about par.) A few classics -- The Ox-Bow Incident, Shane, High Noon, Fort Apache, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance -- are almost the only standouts in a genre which, at least for most of its history, was focused on myth-making and honoring traditional entertainment values, not breaking new trails.

At least, that was true until Sam Peckinpah came along in the 1960s. Peckinpah loved and respected the western genre enough to try to reinvent it, injecting much more violence and moral ambiguity. He was criticized for going too far in his later films, but their toughness and realism now seem natural and appropriate.

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Barbary Coast Review


Good
Any self-respecting San Franciscan needs to give Barbary Coast a spin, a film of Gold Rush-era S.F., when the town was full of backstabbing gold panners, corrupt tycoons, and nary a "white woman" in the whole town. That changes when Miriam Hopkins arrives, fresh off the boat, only to discover her fiancee is no longer alive. To keep food on the table, she takes a job as a roulette wheel spinner (crooked, natch) for local boss Edward G. Robinson, who owns the movie -- at least when Walter Brennan's "Old Atrocity" (his actual character's name) isn't on screen. Lots of fun, despite a forced love story late in the picture, and full of chilly, delicious fog.

Ride the High Country Review


Excellent
More westerns have been made than almost any other kind of movie (beginning with the first narrative film ever made, The Great Train Robbery in 1903) but there are not that many great westerns. (To be fair, there aren't many bad ones either -- they're all about par.) A few classics -- The Ox-Bow Incident, Shane, High Noon, Fort Apache, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance -- are almost the only standouts in a genre which, at least for most of its history, was focused on myth-making and honoring traditional entertainment values, not breaking new trails.

At least, that was true until Sam Peckinpah came along in the 1960s. Peckinpah loved and respected the western genre enough to try to reinvent it, injecting much more violence and moral ambiguity. He was criticized for going too far in his later films, but their toughness and realism now seem natural and appropriate.

Continue reading: Ride the High Country Review

The Palm Beach Story Review


Good
Preston Sturges makes screwball extreme in this crazy comedy about an architect (Joel McCrea) and his wife (Claudette Colbert). When McCrea can't sell any designs, Colbert leaves him for a millionaire, with the idea that she'll get him to fund Joel's work. Absurd (and never mind what it says about marriage), but lots of fun, particularly on Colbert's train ride to Palm Beach.

Foreign Correspondent Review


Good
In its day, Foreign Correspondent was more than just a good movie (it earned six Oscar nominations), it was also the beginning of Hitchcock's propaganda films, as he (along with many European filmmakers) made movies to compel the U.S. to enter WWII.

Correspondent has intrigue, adventure, charisma, and romance, but it sadly never makes it to classic status. The story is globetrotting tale of an American reporter (Joel McCrea) who heads to London to expose a spy ring. En route he falls in love and is drawn into a major drama with international ramifications.

Continue reading: Foreign Correspondent Review

The Most Dangerous Game Review


Excellent
Early talkie, starring Fay Wray as a damsel in distress, trapped on that infamous mad Russian's island, where humans (including shipwrecked Joel McCrea) are hunted for sport. You read it in high school, now see the original film version of the Richard Connell story, done with impressive effects, moody cinematography, and an unbeatable adventure tale. (Plus: only 62 minutes long!)
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