(In French, On Cable TV, November 2018) The original Airport may have been meant as a workplace drama made even more thrilling by the possibility of airplane crashes, but it launched the 1970s disaster movie craze and by the time its own Airport 1975 follow-up came around, the series refocused on a profitable niche: airborne disasters, in this case what would happen if a small plane crashed in a jumbo airliner? The premise doesn’t make a lot of sense the closer you look at it (or rather: it doesn’t make sense that there would be something to do after such a collision), but no matter: it’s up to George Kennedy and Charlton Heston to play the heroes, be lowered in the gaping open cockpit, and bring everyone back down to safety. That should be enough in itself, but contemporary viewers will get quite a kick out of this Airport 1975 because it’s one of the main sources of inspiration for the classic spoof Airplane! That’s right: the nun, the sick kid and other gags all find their origin here, lending an unintentional hilarity to something meant to be deadly serious. Otherwise, well, some of the airborne footage is impressive, while some of the special effects have not survived well at all. Karen Black is not bad as the heroine, despite her character bearing the brunt of the film’s unconscious sexism. Still, for all its faults, there’s a bit of a magnificence to the results—this is not meant to be a good movie, but it seems to know what it’s made for. As a result, Airport 1975 withstands an admittedly ironic contemporary look better than many of its contemporaries.
(On Cable TV, March 2018) It does take a while before Charade comes into focus. It begins strangely, with a contrived meet-cute at a ski resort in the Alps that turns into an even stranger succession of events once the heroine comes back to Paris to find out that her husband has died, a large amount of money is missing, and three strangers really hated her ex-husband. The artificiality of the setup is almost overpowering, and even the comforting presences of Audrey Hepburn as the widow and Cary Grant as a mysterious free agent aren’t quite enough to unpack the heavy-handed setup. But as the deaths and double-crosses being to pile up, Charade does acquire a nice velocity, and even answers the questions raised in the first act. Hepburn is adorable as the endangered heroine, despite being too young for the role. Meanwhile, Grant is terrific as someone who may or may not be friendly—he’s occasionally very funny (ha, that shower scene!), and his last grimace of self-revelation at the very end is like seeing a split-second callback to the classic comedies early in his career. Also noteworthy as supporting roles for Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and James Coburn. Great scores and visual design by Henry Mancini and Saul Bass round up an impressive crew. Surprisingly not directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Charade is increasingly endearing the longer it goes on, and satisfyingly blends romance, comedy and suspense. It’s well worth watching. Just make sure to give it more than thirty minutes to make sense.
(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, November 2017) A cliché isn’t necessarily a cliché if it’s in the film that came up with it in the first place. So it is that pointing at Cool Hand Luke as a big bunch of familiar prison-movie moments is useless, given that it made up half of them and competently executed the others. It’s not subtle, though: first-time director Stuart Rosenberg doesn’t miss an opportunity to go for Christ symbolism whenever possible, and the mirror-glasses thing also gets a lot of play. Otherwise a paean to resisting authority, Cool Hand Luke is notable mostly for Paul Newman’s performance (echoed at the end of the film) as a rebellious inmate unable to quietly do his time. It evolves in a fairly standard prison picture, although the chain-gang aspect gives it a slightly different flavour. It’s not a cheery film, although individual moments may appear more encouraging. George Kennedy appears in a dramatic performance that got him an Oscar but may surprise viewers familiar with his more light-hearted roles. One of the film’s standout sequence has to do with a woman lasciviously washing her car in full view of a convict gang—it’s so over-the-top that it gets a laugh or two. Otherwise, Cool Hand Luke is memorable for the bluntness of its execution, and for depending on Newman as its narrative anchor. It doesn’t quite feel as fresh as it must have been at the time, but keep in mind that 1967 was at the cusp of two very different eras…