(On Blu Ray, September 2018) There is a delicate art in making a biography film of a contentious figure, and Patton’s enduring success proves that it hit the right spot. It gets going with an iconic sequence in which we get a greatest-hits version of General George Patton’s speeches set in front of a gigantic American flag, quickly running us through his philosophy before the action starts. Then the film takes only a segment of his life (his involvement in World War II), skipping over tedious “young-Patton” episodes to present him in his full-fledged form. Patton himself is shown fairly, with enough perspective to put the character in dimension. The film definitely toys with the idea that some intolerable personalities can be essential in critical situations, with Patton being the prime example of a warrior archetype only happy in combat and unsuited to the subtleties of everyday life. George C. Scott is magnificent in the title role, credibly portraying a flawed but bigger-than-life character. (Karl Malden gets a good role as Omar Bradley, which isn’t surprising considering that Bradley not only wrote one of the film’s inspirational books, but also actively served as a consultant on the film.) Long movies often feel interminable, but Patton manages to sustain interest even through a nearly three-hour running time—a good script (co-written by Francis Ford Coppola) with good dialogue and memorable scenes help a lot, as well as some impressive war-driven mayhem and explosions. The tank battles in Africa are very impressive, and still mark one of the few times where armoured warfare has been credibly portrayed on film. It amounts to a highly enjoyable film, perhaps light on the horrors of war but strong on a fair portrayal of a character than even people who disagree with the subject matter would appreciate.
(On Cable TV, March 2018) It took me a long time to warm up to On the Waterfront. At first, it felt like a chore of a self-imposed viewing. Taking place low down the social ladder in the working neighborhoods around the port, it talks about corruption, coercion and trying to do the right thing when you’re going to be punished for it. Marlon Brando became famous largely thanks to this film (“I coulda been a contender!”), and it’s easy to understand why—compared to other actors in other films of the time, he feels more real, more alive than most of them. Other standout performances include Karl Malden as a tough priest, and a first appearance by Eva Marie Saint. Still, the film is a grim slog for much of its duration—but it gets much better toward the end, as On the Waterfront finally comes into focus and achieves maximum dramatic intensity. The final ten minutes are riveting, which is a good place for a film to conclude.