(On TV, October 2018) Considering the time it now takes to make movies and bring them to market, it’s sometimes amazing to watch WW2-era films discussing events that happened mere months prior to their release. It’s even more amazing to find out that some of them remain remarkably effective even despite their ridiculously short gestation period. So it is that Sahara is a welcome surprise: a solid war adventure set during the African campaign of WW2. It certainly helps that it features no less than Humphrey Bogart as the commanding officer of a lost tank trying to rejoin their main battalion after a fierce battle. Lost in the desert, they gradually find other survivors and spend the first half of the film searching for an oasis. Alas, their troubles only begin when they do find a source of water—before long, they find themselves guarding a dry well against a much larger force of Nazi soldiers. Action, derring-do, amazing coincidences and character drama all punctuate the second half of the film, raising the stakes and providing a capable war adventure made as it was going on. There is a really interesting moment midway through the film in which the Italian character blames the German character for his nation having duped in joining the alliance—a far more nuanced portrait of the enemy than you would have expected at the time. Bogart is quite good in the lead, with a secondary role by a young Lloyd Bridges—and this is one of those rare films with an all-male cast. Sahara firmly belongs in the “war is an adventure” school of filmmaking: the film is not trying to make a statement about the futility of it, but neither is it unbearable propaganda. A clever, tight script wraps everything together in a topical war drama that has nevertheless withstood the test of time significantly better than most of its contemporaries.
(On TV, June 2018) There is, at first, not a lot to distinguish High Noon from countless other westerns—there’s the hero (getting married), there are villains waiting for their boss. A confrontation is coming to a small Western town, and that seems to be the extent of it. But High Noon does go farther than that—first, by taking place in near-real time, it does create more tension than a less time-compressed film, especially as our retiring hero fails to find allies in confronting the coming threat. It culminates in a classic shootout in which help comes from an unlikely place, and concludes with a highly skeptical look at some of the Western’s most cherished clichés. It helps that rock-solid Gary Cooper (looking a bit older than his prime) stars as a good man forced to take one last stand. Grace Kelly is merely fine as the newlywed bride, but Katy Jurado is more eye-catching as a source of wisdom. Keep your eyes open for smaller performances from Lloyd Bridges and Lee van Cleef. Director Fred Zinnemann keeps things stirring until the climactic shootout, and High Noon has survived admirably well even today.
(Second viewing, On DVD, November 2017) I remember seeing Hot Shots! Part Deux in theatres, first week of release, with a bunch of friends and then driving back home while upholding the time-honoured tradition of quoting the best parts of the film to each other. Nearly twenty-five years later, the film holds up pretty well, although it’s somewhat funnier if you have recently viewed its primary sources of inspiration such as Rambo III and Basic Instinct. (“I loved you in Wall Street!”) Unlike latter, less successful spoof movies, however, Hot Shots 2 works on its own as a comedy even if you ignore the parody: there’s wittiness to the script, physical comedy, much absurdity and wry references. The influence of early-nineties pop culture is strong and getting more esoteric by the year (“War … it’s fan-tastic” requires explanations today), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Charlie Sheen is very good in the title role, while Lloyd Bridges’ unhinged performance as a gaffe-prone president is endearing in the ways the current gaffe-prone president isn’t. It was a great decision for the film to abandon the flying satire of the first film and take on a slightly different military parody. Unusually enough for sequels that usually move on to a new love interest, the beautiful and hilarious Valeria Golino is back and the film does deals with her return in surprising narrative ways. Even today, the film remains very funny, and the presence of a few known actors in smaller roles (Miguel Ferrer, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Crenna) is a great bonus. At a tight 86 minutes, Hot Shots! Part Deux doesn’t overstay its welcome, and is probably best watched soon after its predecessor for even more spoofy fun.