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The Towering Inferno Review


Good
There is so much to love about The Towering Inferno it's hard to know where to begin. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are together at last! Fred Astaire gets drenched! O.J. Simpson saves a cat! Faye Dunaway wears Dacron! As one of the first mid-'70s disaster epics (produced by the King of Disaster, Irwin Allen), this supersized burnfest inspired countless star-studded copycats and lives on today as a sort of camp classic of its kind. It doesn't have Red Buttons like The Poseidon Adventure does, and it doesn't have Victoria Principal's cleavage jiggling in the tremors of Earthquake, but it does have pretty much everything else.

On the occasion of the dedication of the world's tallest skyscraper (which I for one would never consider building in earthquake-prone San Francisco, by the way), an A-list party is planned for the top floor. This way to the glass-enclosed elevator, please. Architect Doug Roberts (Newman) and builder Jim Duncan (William Holden) are proud, but they don't know that Duncan's cost-cutting son-in-law (Richard Chamberlain) has compromised safety for profit. Sure enough, when a small fire breaks out, things go really bad really fast, and firemen Michael O'Halloran (McQueen) and Harry Jernigan (Simpson) arrive on the scene holding their hoses.

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Sabrina Review


Weak
I'm afraid your opinion of Billy Wilder's 1954 romantic comedy classic Sabrina depends on your opinion of Audrey Hepburn. And even if you find her enchanting, a delicate flower, you may have a tough road to hoe.

Hepburn plays the title character, a shy girl who's desperately in love with David Larrabee (William Holden), a rakish Long Island playboy whose too busy chasing skirts and getting married to notice the wispy chauffeur's daughter. Nearly suicidal over David's lack of attention, she reluctantly goes to cooking school in Paris for a couple of years. It's time well spent. She meets a wealthy baron, gets a great new wardrobe, and secures some self-confidence. "I've learned how to live of the world and in the world," she writes her father before leaving Paris.

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Damien: Omen II Review


Good
Somewhat unfairly maligned as a hokey, schlocky series, The Omen has always been far more sinister series than its sequel-happy reputation would indicate. The movies are about the devil's son wreaking havoc on earth, for God's sake -- and not only is that about the most classically "evil" character you can get, he also tend to be unstoppable. Good never triumphs in these movies. But really, it can't... how would they keep making sequels?

No longer a toddler, Damien: Omen II finds our young antichrist shipped to Chicago to live with his aunt (Lee Grant) and uncle (William Holden -- yeah, that William Holden). He's a hugely successful titan of industry, which is perfect for Damien: Eventually he'll become the boss of Thorn Industries, a great vantage point for ruling the world as the dark lord.

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Casino Royale (1967) Review


Weak
Though great he may be, there is a limit to the amount of uninterrupted Burt Bacharach music one can endure. And sadly, that limit -- of music punctuated by kazoos, harpischords, and accordions -- is far less than 137 minutes.

There's also a limit on the length of a spy spoof one can sit through (the second Austin Powers and Richard Grieco's If Looks Could Kill being the few notable, yet guilty, exceptions). That limit tends to run about 58 minutes.

Continue reading: Casino Royale (1967) Review

The Country Girl Review


Good
Musical dramas are rarities, but this theatrical melodrama succeeds better than perhaps it ought to, thanks to its three stellar stars.

Bing Crosby plays Frank Elgin, a washed-up actor who's since bottomed out as a severe alcoholic. His wife (Grace Kelly) spends day and night caring for him, and she's gone to seed because of it. Along comes Bernie Dodd (William Holden), a director who's willing to give Frank a shot at a comeback if he sobers up for the big show... but there are obstacles in the way and skeletons galore in the closets.

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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.

The Bridge on the River Kwai Review


Extraordinary
Oddly enough, it's hardly about a bridge at all. And though the building of a magnificent wooden bridge -- by British and other Allied soldiers being held by the Japanese as prisoners of war -- has a supporting role, Alec Guinness won his only non-honorary Oscar for this film (did you know he'd be nominated for writing the following year?), and boy is it deserved. As the British colonel who protects his troops against overwhelming oppression by the Japanese -- then happily agrees to build them a monumental bridge, oblivious to the fact that it will greatly aid the Japanese war machine. His look of horror and sudden understanding, when the bridge comes crashing down, courtesy of Allied commandos, is worth the little statuette alone.

Picnic Review


Grim
I'd never seen or read Picnic before -- and judging from the happy title I assumed it would be a lighthearted comedy -- probably full of music and dancing. Man, I was wrong. This is a big and sappy melodrama, with William Holden a train-riding hobo who descends upon a small town on Labor Day (in time for the big picnic), and wreaks all manner of havoc on the local romance pecking order. Ultimately the film finally focuses on his relationship with the lovely Kim Novak -- a one-day affair that ends with a vague, interpretable conclusion. Whoop de do. All that, and there's no hot dogs.

Sunset Boulevard Review


Essential
It's the Psycho of film noir.

Sunset Boulevard starts out telling one story -- about a down-on-his-luck writer and serious financial trouble -- and ends up telling another -- about an insane and faded silent-film star who lives in a decrepit old mansion on the titular boulevard. (Sunset Blvd. just doesn't look the same these days, does it.)

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The Wild Bunch Review


Extraordinary
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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Stalag 17 Review


OK
Highly acclaimed, this precursor of everything from The Great Escapeto Hogan's Heroesto M*A*S*H to Life is Beautiful is hardly a masterpiece, but it does get credit for being one of the first films made to laugh about war. While the film has a few moments of seriousness, by and large it's a comedy -- mocking Hitler and POW life as we follow the daily rituals of Americans held prisoner by the Germans during WWII. Too bad the gags are so over-the-top they deserve a laugh track (hence Hogan and co. -- though Hogan's Heroes was sued for infringement, the TV series won the case). And speaking of which... a 2 1/4-hour comedy???

The Country Girl Review


Good
Musical dramas are rarities, but this theatrical melodrama succeeds better than perhaps it ought to, thanks to its three stellar stars.

Bing Crosby plays Frank Elgin, a washed-up actor who's since bottomed out as a severe alcoholic. His wife (Grace Kelly) spends day and night caring for him, and she's gone to seed because of it. Along comes Bernie Dodd (William Holden), a director who's willing to give Frank a shot at a comeback if he sobers up for the big show... but there are obstacles in the way and skeletons galore in the closets.

Continue reading: The Country Girl Review

Born Yesterday Review


Excellent
Judy Holliday is known almost exclusively for her Best Actress-winning performance in Born Yesterday, where her mega-ditz Billie Dawn wisens up with the help of a reporter (William Holden) hired by her boor of a fiancee (Broderick Crawford). All are exceptionally well-suited to their parts. The film is slow to start but it quickly and quietly picks up steam, as Billie starts to move the chess pieces her tycoon boyfriend used to. Fun and funny, with some fabulous verbal sparring.

Casino Royale Review


Weak
Though great he may be, there is a limit to the amount of uninterrupted Burt Bacharach music one can endure. And sadly, that limit -- of music punctuated by kazoos, harpischords, and accordions -- is far less than 137 minutes.

There's also a limit on the length of a spy spoof one can sit through (the second Austin Powers and Richard Grieco's If Looks Could Kill being the few notable, yet guilty, exceptions). That limit tends to run about 58 minutes.

Continue reading: Casino Royale Review

Network Review


Essential
This groundbreaking film is a rare example of a really god satire that was popular with film critics and the public -- and even with entertainment industry insiders, who might not be expected to get the joke or appreciate the abuse. (I guess Hollywood has always had a condescending attitude toward TV, which explains the Oscars that Network received.)

One evening, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a network news anchor, becomes fed up with the pablum of network news, decides he's mad as hell, he can't take it any more, and he's going to start telling the truth (or kill himself). Panicked producers fire him, but not before his ratings soar; so he's brought back as a commentator. Over the next few weeks, Beale becomes increasingly unstable and even delusional, but continues to tell the truth. The network's ratings soar, driving events forward to a tragic conclusion.

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