(On Cable TV, March 2018) Frankly, I thought that I would have enjoyed The Dirty Dozen quite a bit more than I did. Part of it may have been shaped by modern expectations—in modern Hollywood, movies based on the premise of bringing together hardened criminals for a suicide mission are meticulously polished to ensure that the criminals aren’t too bad, or that they meet a morally suitable comeuppance. Our heroes have been unjustly convicted, or operate according to a sympathetic code of honour that may not meet official approval. Their adventures, first in training and then in combat, are calculated to meet focus group approval. But The Dirty Dozen, having been forged in the years following the breakdown of the chaste Hayes Code, is significantly rougher and grittier than the modern ideal. The dirty dozen members are in for reprehensible conduct, not pseudo-criminal malfeasance. The attitude of the film, as Hollywood was pushing the limits of what was acceptable in terms of violence, also permeates everything. While tame by contemporary standards of gore, The Dirty Dozen nonetheless feels … dirty. There are a lot of characters, and they’re often short-changed by the film’s juggling of roles. This being said, The Dirty Dozen is also a showcase of actors: In between Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy and an impossibly young Donald Sutherland (among many others), there are a lot of familiar faces here, and that has its own appeal. If you can go along with the film’s disreputable atmosphere, it remains a competent war film … but it may be difficult to do so.
(On Cable TV, February 2018) Considering my criticism of the Poseidon remake, I find it almost amusing that much of what I don’t like about the original The Poseidon Adventure is what didn’t work decades later. Much of the film feels like a repetitive loop as the survivors of a capsized cruise ship try to make their way out of the wreck: Encounter an obstacle, lose a member of the cast, and proceed to the next obstacle. There’s a high point during the initial disaster, and the plot does get slightly more interesting in the last half-hour, but much of The Poseidon Adventure feels too long and repetitive. The premise does have a whiff of originality to it (arguably extinguished by the remake), and it’s mildly interesting to see Leslie Nielsen pop up in what could have been a major role in any other movie. Otherwise, Gene Hackman is not bad as a priest questioning his own faith, and Ernest Borgnine makes for a capable foil throughout the ensuing adventures. The special effects are occasionally good, although the CGI achievements of the sequel clearly outshine the original in that area. There is a characteristic early-seventies feel to the entire film that some viewers will like. As for which version is better I’m curiously ambivalent—I usually prefer the originals on ideological grounds, but what I’m finding here is that the original The Poseidon Adventure doesn’t have much to recommend over its remake.
(On Cable TV, January 2018) The long list of Best Film Oscar-winning movies is definitely skewed toward big pictures: Big themes, big budgets, big actors. But there are exceptions, and Marty feels like one of the outliers. Not much more than a small-scale romantic drama in which a not-so-young man dares to come of age, this is a low-key film that works best in details. Good dialogue (by the legendary Paddy Chayefsky) brings the characters to life, blessed by good grounded performances by actors such as Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. Borgnine, in particular, is a revelation in a performance that breaks from his later tough-guy persona. Much of the film takes place in small apartments or in the streets of The Bronx, without too many dramatic flourishes. The result is striking in its own way, and having won the Oscar ensures that low-key low-budget Marty will remain seen for decades to come.