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The Dirty Dozen Review

Can The Dirty Dozen really be 40 years old? Well, almost. This watershed film paved the ways for bad-guys-as-heroes flicks ranging from The Wild Bunch to Reservoir Dogs, and its influence is still felt today. Yet how can The Dirty Dozen feel so tired when viewed in this millennium? Maybe its a cast that, though exquisite, is a bit much. The Dirty Dozen also appears to have paved the way for the Airport movies, studded with megastars and short on plot. Viewed today, too much of Dozen is schlocky and trite, reliant on stereotypes that border on Hogan's Heroes-level characterizations to tell the WWII-era story. (Writ large: 12 career criminals are given a last chance to pull off a major anti-Nazi mission.) The film is pioneering, daring, and very well made. But there's a bit much to go around, and now you can see the actors jockeying for notice among each other. Still a good film, though its impact is now starting to fade.

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The Professionals Review

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.

The Longest Day Review

D-Day wasn't just fought at Omaha Beach, though Hollywood may have thought so before The Longest Day. D-Day involved a cast of thousands, and it took producer Darryl Zanuck, five screenwriters, four directors, and three hours just to bring it to the big screen. In fact, Spielberg cribbed large chunks of this film verbatim for Saving Private Ryan. Ultimately, Ryan is the better picture, but The Longest Day shows you more of the story (and it's closer to reality), from the paratrooper force sent in as a diversion, to a half-dozen beach battles, to the French Resistance and how they helped. Aside from a great war tale, Day also marks what must be the only film where you can see John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Fabián, Sal Mineo, Eddie Albert, Red Buttons, Peter Lawford, and Sean Connery all fighting the same war. And on the same side, no less.

The Set-Up Review

Robert Wise, the director of The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, gives us the most unlikely film in his career: a 72-minute noir set at a rigged boxing match.

Based on a poem, this spare film is consumed almost completely by a boxing match, filmed in real time. Between rounds, the scheming occurs -- our hero's manager wants him to take a dive, while the boxer's wife stands by her man. Whoops, the manager thinks his fighter's going to lose, so he doesn't bother to tell him that he's taken a payoff.

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House Of Bamboo Review

The limits of the lengths to which dazzling camerawork and curled-lip noir bluster can make up for thoroughly ham-fisted dialogue are tested in Sam Fuller's 1955 gangster picture, House of Bamboo. It's the familiar tradeoff with Fuller's scripts (though here he was working off one mostly written by Harry Kleiner): They're hard-boiled as all hell, but given just the slightest mistake in mood or pacing, the whole can seem so ridiculous as to be laughable. This film never quite gets to the laughable point, but by the end it's not far off.

As the first American feature to be shot in Japan after WWII (its home-grown film industry had been trucking right along since not long after the peace treaty was signed), House of Bamboo makes the most out of its setting, and its spell-binding Cinemascope compositions make up most of the reasons to see it. The film opens on a supply train puffing across a snowy landscape that's hijacked by a gang of thieves who are more than happy to garrote the Japanese and U.S. guards on board before making off with the loot, .50-caliber machine guns. It's a sharply executed piece of work and ends with a hammer blow: achingly beautiful Mount Fuji, as shot between the boots of a dead soldier.

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Clash By Night Review

Cannery Row in Monterey. Christ, you can smell the fish through your TV.

The setting is always good for a noir, and throwing Barbara Stanwyck in as the lead doesn't hurt. Here Stanwyck plays a woman who didn't quite make it in the big city, so she's moved back home to figure out what to do next.

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Crossfire Review

Wildly overrated, Crossfire was nominated for Best Picture in its day with its presumably scandalous look at a murder carried out because its victim was Jewish and the murderer was a G.I. back from World War II, looking for kicks -- and if it rubs out a Jew, well, all the better.

Religious intolerance wasn't a new idea in the movies of the 1940s, but for some reason Crossfire has been singled out as making something unique out of this tale. I'm baffled as to why: Today the movie seems pat, with a curious setup but a drawn-out hour of investigation that looks like a schoolyard game of C.S.I. by today's standards.

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Battle Of The Bulge Review

This is the kind of a film around which rumors of a 212-minute print swirl, on the net, in chat rooms, and message boards. Only films that have garnered either cult or classic appeal can claim "hype" like that. No one talks about footage missing from the domestic release cut of Battlefield Earth, no one gripes about a supposed 245-minute version of The Cat in the Hat. But a quick Internet search will reveal endless web pages devoted to the missing scenes in Blade Runner, the 5-hour print of Apocalypse Now, and apparently the 212-minute cut of Battle of the Bulge. That tells you something. This 1965 war "classic" is a war film buff's The Third Man, Casablanca, or Some Like It Hot. It might not be the best WWII epic ever made (that honor, according to the same fans, is allotted to either The Longest Day, Patton, or Cross of Iron) but it is one of the most popular. Well, now we have a 170-minute cut of the film, and it's been heralded with a gorgeous DVD transfer. And you've got to wonder why.

Sure, there's a star-studded cast. Let's see, we've got: Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Dana Andrews, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, and Charles Bronson. And it is an epic. We're talking a cast of thousands with battle scene recreations that make modern warfare flicks pale in comparison. But when all the dust settles, Battle of the Bulge is a really long, really talky movie. And that's fine for history buffs, WWII film fans, and their ilk, but for the casual Friday night viewer it's a cure for insomnia.

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The Wild Bunch Review

I am one of the few surviving appreciators of second bests. In hindsight, my second biggest crush in high school ended up being a much better person and is in fact the only person from high school that I keep in close contact with. Your second best is always the sneakier one, the more interesting and mysterious one. You've studied your favorite, your best, with the gumption and know-how of a private detective. You know them inside out. However, the second best is just a little less known, shrouded in an enigma; it's so irresistible that you sometimes forget why the first one is your best or favorite, but then you snap back in. If you're looking to get married soon, more than likely you will cheat or at least make out with your second favorite at some point. This is the way of the world, get used to it. It's all good news for The Wild Bunch, which happens to be both Sam Peckinpah's second best film (Straw Dogs is better) and the second best revivalist western ever made (after Unforgiven).

It's even got William Holden's second best performance (he was better in Network). He plays Pike Bishop, the head of an outlaw gang of ace criminals. We are introduced to the gang when it is nearly 10 men strong, but after a gunfight with Thornton (Robert Ryan), Pike's old partner turned bounty hunter, there are only six. Relentlessly chased, they quickly take an offer to hold up a train and steal 16 crates of rifles from it. They return to the Mexico town, still being trailed by Thornton. The only Mexican in the gang, Angel (Jaime Sánchez), insists on taking one crate so that the general who hired him won't take over his village. When they return to the general, they give him the crates and he gives them the money, but not before taking Angel and torturing him for trying to arm his village. An argument between Pike and his closest comrade, Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), sparks a return to the general's compound and stand off between the five remaining outlaws and the general's army, which consists of roughly 200 men.

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