July 27, 2013

Movie Review: The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

Where do we get such men? - Rear Adm. George Tarrant (Fredric March)

Director: Mark Robson

Writers: Valentine Davies, James Michener (novel)

Producer: William Perlberg, George Seaton

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Major Stars: William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, Mickey Rooney

Note: There are SPOILERS in this review. 53 years is long enough to have seen it already. But in case you haven’t, you may want to skip this until you do.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri is often held up as an example of either a pro-military movie or an anti-war movie. I’ve seen more than one argument about this. What these people don’t understand is that Toko-Ri is both. The skill and emotion with which it advances both these viewpoints is why Toko-Ri is on this list.

William Holden plays Lt. Harry Brubaker. A lawyer from Denver with a wife and kids, he’s a WW2 vet dragged back into service flying Navy fighters during the Korean War. After he crashes in the ocean and nearly dies, he’s questions the fairness of being pulled away from all he holds dear to fight in this war. But in the end he does his duty, flying a near-suicidal mission to take out the bridges at Toko-Ri. And it ends up being his final mission.

Fredric March plays Rear Admiral George Tarrant, Brubaker’s commanding officer. Grace Kelly plays Brubaker’s wife, Nancy. And Mickey Rooney plays Mike Forney, Brubaker’s friend who has the unenviable job of flying the rescue helicopter. All these roles were played beautifully. March conveys the steel a commanding officer must have when ordering men to their likely deaths, and the pain they feel in doing it. Kelly is heartbreaking, wanting to hold Harry back from the dangers of war. And Rooney is equal parts grave and comical, which must be the mindset a rescue pilot carries to stay sane when every rescue attempt could be your last.

But the film is about Brubaker, and Holden knocks it out of the park. After his first crash into the ocean, he is so livid that he has to go through this again. He did his part in World War 2. He has a wife and kids. Why does he have to risk his life again instead of some other guy? Hasn’t he done enough?

But in the end, he shoulders the responsibility. Because not everyone can or will do what Brubaker does; put their life in jeopardy for their country. That warrior ethos was one of the reasons the US Navy contributed so heavily to the making of this film. The scenes on the aircraft carriers were shot on real aircraft carries. Those are real, active-duty F9F-2 Panthers that you see in the film. No other film has had this level of cooperation, which is why Toko-Ri won the Best Special Effects Oscar in 1956.

Realistic Demand:
William Holden agreed to play the role of Lt. Brubaker on the condition they kept the ending of the book, where Brubaker died, instead of a “happy” ending.

So in that aspect, this is a very “pro-military” movie. But the film ends with our hero alone and dead in a muddy North Korean ditch. And you cannot help but take away an anti-war message from that.

Brubaker is asked to fly a mission of questionable value because it might turn the tide of the war. When he is shot down, he tries to hold on for a rescue. As the North Koreans swarm in, Marine Skyraiders pound them from the sky while Forney flies in the rescue chopper. But then its shot full of holes, so Forney and his assistant are stuck with Brubaker. The Skyraiders have to return to base. And the three men are left to die.

“Where do we get such men?” the admiral asks. Where do we get such men who are willing to sacrifice all they have in service to their country? And how much more tragic is it when they are lost to us in war, never to come home again?

There is a scene before Brubaker goes back to war where he gets some R&R with his family in Tokyo. The love they all have for each other is so obvious that you can’t help to flash to that at the end of the film and mourn that loss. It makes an already painful death even more so. Because we are reminded that there are casualties of war back home that we don’t see.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri balances respect for the soldiers and scorn for the wastefulness of war in a way few films do. It shows that one can recognize war for the awful waste of life that it is and still honor the men (and women) who sacrifice everything they have to fight in it. It’s a remarkable film, and I urge you to see it.

July 26, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1975

Honorable Mention – Death Race 2000: Look, I'm not going to pretend that this is a good film. It's solid B-movie fare. But it's fun B-movie fare. Death Race 2000 is just a gas to watch, whether it's because of Sly Stallone's overacting as "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo or the classic scene where Frankenstein runs over the medical staff instead of the elderly patients they put out for him to run over. And it is leaps and bounds better than the remake.

5. The Eiger Sanction: A good, not great, film from Clint Eastwood. But what makes it one of my favorites from this year are the incredible rock-climbing scenes at the end. Eastwood did his own stunts, something you would never see nowadays.

4. Jaws: The film that created the concept of the "blockbuster" film. Scared the hell out of me when I first saw it. I still have issues swimming in the ocean today. Great acting all-around, but Robert Shaw as Quint just steals the movie.

3. The Return of the Pink Panther: This film always kills me. The part where Cato comes flying out of the refrigerator to attack Clouseau is just priceless.

2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail: If you're any kind of geek, as I am, then you know this film forwards and backwards. You know all the lines and all the gags. And it's still freaking hilarious even though I've seen it too many times to count.

1. Rollerball: I love this movie. I love the idea of one man standing up to the Corporation and not only surviving, but winning. And it's a damn fine look at how little corporations care about the common man, and how bloodthirsty we're becoming as a society. The action scenes are fantastic and James Caan is the perfect actor for the role of Jonathan E. For God's sake, don't taint your enjoyment of this film by watching that disastrous remake from 2002.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: The Yakuza, French Connection II, The Man Who Would Be King, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Deep Red, Farewell, My Lovely, The Passenger, The Man in the Glass Booth, Rooster Cogburn, The Wind and the Lion, Three Days of the Condor

Insane, Depraved Film I Have To Mention – Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom: Where to begin. This film is chock full of sex and nudity, but if you even get slightly aroused you should have yourself committed. Pier Paolo Pasolini's adaptation of de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom is so completely abhorrent and insane that I can't even begin to describe it. The only goal Pasolini could've had with this movie was to completely de-eroticize the act of sex. Well, mission accomplished, sir. If you want to put kids off of sex, forget abstinence classes. Just have them watch this movie. It's exploitation masquerading as art, repeated to the point where it becomes mind-numbingly dull.

Note: I feel like I have to mention again that my list is not what I consider "the best" films of a particular year. If that was the case, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest would be at the top of the list. But while I like it, I simply didn't enjoy it as much as the ones on the list. That's the standard here.

Movie Review: Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Ahh...Hobo with a Shotgun. The film born from a trailer competition at SWSX. If you are not a fan of gruesome killings, buckets of blood, kids being torched on a bus and Rutger Hauer, then this is definitely not a film for you. I suggest watching The Notebook.

If, however, you do like all that stuff wrapped up in an homage to 80s splatter films, then you have found a film you will like.

Hauer is the Hobo mentioned in the title. Much like in the competition trailer, he comes to a city to try a buy a lawnmower because...well, that isn't really important. The city, once called Hope Town, is a pit of death and despair run by a psychopath called The Drake and his two sons.

And I do mean psychopath. With the police under his thumb, the Drake and his boys take people off the street and beat them to death. They tear people's heads off as warnings to the populace. They allow drug dealers and pimps to work freely. As a dystopian backdrop, director Jason Eisener has created probably the worst one (which is good) in recent memory. It makes Jasper, Missouri look like a beacon of law and order*.

So, the hobo sees all this decay and crime. He stops a prostitute from being killed by one of the Drake's boys and pays a heavy price. He finally raises the money for the lawnmower he sees in a pawn shop and just as he is about to buy it, thugs come in and try to rob the place. By threatening to kill a baby. Instead of the lawnmower, the Hobo takes down a shotgun. Mayhem, of course, ensues. Bloody, vicious mayhem.

I won't go into what happens further on. It's all pretty boilerplate as far as these films go. But there is one creative twist, and that is The Plague.

The Plague are an other-worldly duo - demonic bounty-hunters - who will capture anyone for the right price. They are pretty great as an idea and are executed well on the screen. It adds a little something to the film that separates it from others of its kind.

What I also like about the film is how very...80s the film is. From it's general look to the character types to the clothes and even the film quality, it screams mid-80s.

And it goes without saying that Hauer is awesome. He really does look like a hobo. To think he has a career that has spanned over 40 years, from films like Soldier of Orange and Blade Runner to Blind Fury and Hobo...talk about range.

Hobo with a Shotgun isn't "good" in the sense that it is a film you'll revisit over and over again. But as a homage to the "blood and guts" films of the 80s, it's right on target. Had it been released in 1983, it would have made the "video nasty" list in the UK without any problems. And I mean that as praise.


*Roadhouse! You all knew that, right?**

** Something that has always bothered me about these cities, be it Hope Town or Jasper...where are the state authorities? Or the feds? If one town or city was having a guy splattering bums' heads with a bumper car or running over cars with a monster truck, don't you think the state police or someone else would eventually notice? I'm pretty sure burning a bus full of kids to death breaks at least one federal law.

The History of the RPG: Telengard (1982)

Last Installment: Ultima

If Wizardry and Ultima were the two progenitors of the computer RPG, it was Telengard that solidified it as an enduring genre on the PC. For even though it didn't have first-person views, or a world map, or even an end, it was so much fun that you'd play it for hours.

Telengard was simplicity itself. A D&D style game, you randomly generate stats for your character, but that's it. No race, no class*. There are inns where you can store your booty, rest and game save, but are accessible only on level one. Each piece of gold you find and store translates into experience points when you rest. You venture in to the dungeon to slay monsters and collect rewards using your sword and your spells. Sounds simple, right?

Not so fast. First, there is the size of Telengard The dungeon is 2,000,000 rooms in size and fifty levels deep, a number that would be impressive even today. Daniel Lawrence (the creator) achieved this by having Telengard generate the rooms through an algorithm that maximized the 8KB of memory he had available. So the dungeon was, for all intent and purposes, endless. Second, the game was real-time. There was no pause feature**. The only way you could stop it was to reach an inn and save your game. Third, the randomness of Telengard was legendary. You could enter into lower levels before your character was ready by falling in a pit. You could drink from a fountain and lose a level of experience. You never knew what was coming around the corner.

And then there was the big one: there was no "winning" the game. At all. And that was done on purpose. Telengard wasn't about the end but the means. It was a pure gaming platform. It was about gaining experience and killing monsters. The only "winning" to be done was through goals you and your friends set for yourselves. Who could live the longest or go the deepest. Who could gain the most experience or have the highest "+" magic item. Telengard was addictive in a way that Wizardry and Ultima were not. Because in Telengard, there was no limit and no end.

House of Munch Bonus Fact

I have a version of Telengard on my computer today. Plays just like the original. It's still addictive fun at its finest.


Refined the "dungeon crawl" of Wizardry into it's purest form. Massive dungeons. The unfortunate concept of "real-time" gaming combined with no pausing.

Descendants: Diablo, obviously. It's a straight line. All the way to using teleport spells to return to the top.***

Next on the list: The Bard's Tale


* Well, you were a combo of wizard and warrior. But you didn't get to choose it. That is simply how it was.

** This is something that Diablo III ran with because of an internet connection being required for even a single-player game. Oh, you can hit "escape" in a single-player game and it "pauses"...until it boots you for being away too long.****

*** They may claim it was Moria that influenced them. But you can't look at that and not see Telengard in its genetics.

**** Which is fucking stupid. I mean, c'mon. What idiot at Blizzard thought that was a good idea? Yeah yeah yeah...they don't want people gaming and cheating PvP. I get that. So allow people to create single-player only characters. Problem solved.

July 25, 2013

Most Disappointing Game of 2012: Diablo III

I remember when the first Diablo came out. I played that game into the ground. I had it installed on my work laptop against company regulations because I didn't want to stop playing just because I had to go to work or lay in my bed. The only thing that could get me to stop playing was the one thing you don't talk about in polite company. I may have been crazy for Diablo, but I wasn't that crazy. Point is, I loved that game.

I really dug Diablo II as well. More levels, more monsters, same great gameplay. So it is understandable why there was such a frenzy for Diablo III.

But when D III came out I was strangely...apathetic after playing it. I played through the game once and I haven't gone back to it since. I haven't touched it in over six months.

I have pondered this from time to time. There are other games I have that were less hyped (X-Com, Crusader Kings II) that I have played regularly since I bought them. I see the shortcut for Diablo III on there and yet I never seem to click it.

The game wasn't buggy - I don't remember it ever crashing or giving me problems. Diablo III was certainly gorgeous visually. It had all the same wonderful loot grabbing that the first two games had. And the auction house, despite a lot of problems initially, is a really good idea.

So here is this game, like two other games I adored, on my computer, and I never go back to revisit it.

Maybe it is because the game seems somewhat...sterile. Or empty. It's like dating a beautiful woman/handsome man who is good at everything he/she does and does everything you like, but you can't connect with on any level. You can appreciate them and what they do, but you can easily leave them where they are and continue on.

Any great game draws you in again and again. It has a soul and heart. All the pretty graphics and gameplay in the world cannot cover up a lack of heart. And that is what Diablo III is missing.

Diablo III is an exercise in designing something technically sound and visually gorgeous. But it is not a product (in my opinion) born of love. It's a revenue generator for Blizzard and I personally feel that is reflected in the end product.

I like the auction house idea, but that is a clear cash-grab for Blizzard and the fee structure reflects that. The DRM-issue ties into that, forcing a player to be online to play and therefore to have access to the Auction House.

And there are issues with how the "end-game" is designed. To the point that some people are having to spend money in the AH to fix equipment that breaks on Inferno while being unable to obtain the legendary weapons they need.

Movie Review: Battle of the Bulge (1965)

Our column has made the farthest advance! We have outrun the other Panzers! The eyes of Germany are on us! The Fuhrer himself will decorate me. We have done it Conrad! We have done it! - Colonel Martin Hessler (Robert Shaw)

Director: Ken Annakin

Writers: Bernard Gordon, John Melson, Milton Sperling, Philip Yordan (front for Bernard Gordon)

Producer: Sidney Harmon, Milton Sperling, Philip Yordan, Dino De Laurentiis (uncredited

Studio: Warner Bros.

Major Stars: Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas

Note: I have a policy about movies 25 years old or more ... I feel no compunctions about revealing the ending of the film. With that in mind, there are SPOILERS below. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to avoid this review.

Battle of the Bulge is an attempt to tell the story of the last wide-scale battle in Western Europe during World War Two; the German assault on Allied lines in the winter of 1944. What it ends up being is an average war flick that is riddled with historical inaccuracies. I can tell you now that this won’t stay on the ‘Top 100’ list. It’s here right now for two reasons; I own it so I can review it right away and frankly, I need some filler as I try to find the rarer films (if anyone knows where I can get a region 1 DVD of Talvisota, I’m in your debt).

With that in mind, in this film we mainly follow two colonels; Colonel Martin Hessler (Robert Shaw) of the German Wehrmacht and Lt. Colonel Daniel Kiley (Henry Fonda) of the US Army. Hessler is a Panzer commander, leading the armored thrust of the German attack aiming for Antwerp in an attempt to cut the supply line for the Allied forces. Kiley is an intelligence officer who tries to convince his superiors the Germans are about to attack. When that fails, he attempts to stop the Germans before they reach vital gas depots they need to continue their attack.

That’s the basic thrust of the film. There is a smaller third plot involving Operation Grief, the insertion of English-speaking German soldiers behind Allied lines in US uniforms to wreak havoc and commit sabotage. But it is secondary to the stories of Heller and Kiley. Robert Shaw does a nice job as Heller, a dedicated Nazi warrior who lives to fight and whose wish is to have perpetual war. He really plays the part and you almost forget this guy would go on to get eaten by a shark in Jaws. Fonda comfortably slots into the role of American hero, not only spotting the Nazi armored column from the air on a foggy morning but also stopping Heller at the gates of the fuel depot. If you are looking for a simple war film that has some good visuals, then you’ll like Battle of the Bulge.

But if you like historical accuracy in films that purport to be about historical events…maybe not so much. The tanks used are flat wrong; the German King Tigers are American M47 Patton tanks. The American M4 Shermans are actually M24 Chaffees. Now, you can excuse the producers for not being able to get King Tigers. But you can’t tell me they couldn’t find some old Shermans to use for the film. The best part is that they lied about it, telling interviewers they were in fact the actual tanks.

Then there was the location of the filming. The Ardennes is a thickly forested area. But there are scenes in the film that take place on open, arid plains. That is because they shot the whole film near Madrid, Spain. Which really kind of kills the whole realism vibe.

In general the entire battle was greatly simplified for the film, neglecting the historical record so much that Eisenhower issued a statement complaining about the fact.

More interesting are the stories behind the film. The character of Martin Hessler was supposed to be Joachim Piper, the real-life SS colonel who led one of the armored assaults of the Germans. But the producers were worried about a possible libel suit and so they changed the name. Considering that Piper had served 11 years in prison and was still an unrepentant Nazi at the time, I can’t imagine what libel suit he could’ve possibly come up with. On the upside, he was assassinated in France in 1976. Yes, I am cheering the assassination of a Nazi. I’m edgy like that.

Then there was the whole story behind the writing of the film. You’ll notice that Philip Yordan is listed as a front for Bernard Gordon. Gordon was blacklisted during the HUAC hearings in the 50s and the ensuing Communist witch hunt. He and other writers worked in Yordan’s basement writing scripts. Yordan would then present the scripts in Hollywood as his own, helping to keep his friends in work. Does anyone else see the irony of a war film showing a fight for freedom being written by a writer who was blacklisted because he wouldn’t legitimize a witch-hunt by Congress?

Battle of the Bulge is the kind of film you watch to kill a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. But it doesn’t hold any deeper meaning or leave a lasting impression. And while that doesn’t make it a bad film, it’s not a great one either. I’d have to put this below The Devil’s Brigade because it is even less historically accurate.

July 24, 2013

Movie Review: The Devil’s Brigade (1968)

Corporal Peacock, your stripes are not a license to behave like an ass. - Major Alan Crown (Cliff Robertson)

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Writer: Robert H. Adelman (book), William Roberts (screenplay), George Walton (book)

Producer: David L. Wolper

Studio: MGM

Major Stars: William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards, Claude Akins

In the World War Two genre of films, one of the most popular sub-genres is “misfits on a mission” The Dirty Dozen is the most well-known of these films. Others include The Misfit Brigade (about Nazi misfits sent to the Eastern Front) and Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet.

One of the better known examples is The Devil’s Brigade. It tells the quasi-historical story of the 1st Special Service Force, an 1,800 man commando force formed in 1942 from American and Canadian servicemen. They were trained in a variety of skills, including mountain climbing and skiing. They fought primarily in Italy, with their last action taking place on the Franco-Italian border in 1944, after which they were disbanded.

The unit’s leader, Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick, is played by William Holden. Holden exudes the toughness and non-nonsense attitude that Frederick possessed, even if his role is under-stated. His two subordinates are U.S. Army Major Cliff Bricker (Vince Edwards) and Canadian Army Major Alan Crown (Cliff Robertson). Edwards and Robertson have meatier roles than Holden. Bricker is a con-artist and hustler who can get anything the unit needs, and has no respect for the dregs the Americans send to the unit. Crown is an Irishman haunted by the failure of the British Army at Dunkirk. He wants the men to learn because he knows who they’ll be going up against. The two majors play off of each other nicely.

The film also has the requisite “tough guys.” Claude Akins plays Private Rockwell “Rocky” Rockman. The name is ridiculous, but Akins plays the role quite well. Rough and physical, he makes the transformation from lout to good soldier look believable. His Canadian counterpart is Corporal Wilfrid Peacock. Played by Jack Watson (better known for his role as Sandy Young in The Wild Geese), Peacock is Rockman’s foil at first, before they inevitably become fast friends.

Utah Hospitality: The Utah National Guard contributed 300 men to the battle scenes, and the final battle at Monte la Difensa was filmed in the Wasatch Mountains

As for the film itself, I’m kind of indifferent to The Devil’s Brigade. It surprises me to say that, because parts of it are wonderful. Director Andrew McLaglen did a great job with the final battle scenes. The highlight battle at Monte la Difensa is fantastic. Well shot and brutal, you feel like you are right in the middle of the fight. And the requisite “brawl that unites everyone into a cohesive unit” is fun to watch.

Movie Review: A Bridge Too Far (1977)

"When one man says to another, "I know what to do today, let's play the war game."... everybody dies." – General Stanislaw Sosabowski (Gene Hackman)

Director: Sir Richard Attenborough

Writers: Cornelius Ryan (Book) and William Goldman (Screenplay)

Producer: Joseph E. Levine

Studio: MGM

Major Stars: Dirk Bogarde, James Cann, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Ryan O'Neil, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell

By the fall of 1944, the Allies stood on the doorstep of Germany. Having broken out of the Normandy pocket in July, the Allies swept across France before supply problems brought them to a halt. Fuel and munitions were still being brought through the French port of Cherbourg, over 400 miles away.

British general Bernard Montgomery proposed a solution: a daring airborne attack into Holland. A series of bridges would be seized by paratroopers, ending at the city of Arnhem. As this occurred, a simultaneous advance by armored columns would sweep up the road, securing the bridges and allowing the Allies to use the recently-captured (and much closer) port of Antwerp. Poised to strike directly at the heart of Germany, the war would be over by Christmas.

It was a daring plan. It was a bold plan. It failed.

This plan, Operation Market-Garden, is the background for the classic film A Bridge Too Far. It is, without question, one of the finest war films ever produced. Incredibly accurate in detail and history, A Bridge Too Far takes a unflinching look at not only the cost soldiers pay for a general’s hubris, but the cost civilians pay as well. It also took the unusual (for the time) position of portraying Germans as more than just stereotypical "black-hat" villains.

It's one of the last epic war films, with a immense cast of top-flight stars for the time. It has expansive battle scenes and inspiring moments of heroism. It also has its fair share of sobering moments, least of which is the sullen retreat at film's end.

First-hand knowledge: Actor Dirk Bogarde, who plays Lt. General Browning, actually fought in Operation Market-Garden.

We know early on that things are going to go wrong; aerial photos show German tanks in areas lightly-armed paratroopers are expecting to be unprotected. Rather than change plans, the commanding general discards them and sends the officer who brought him the photos off on medical leave.

It doesn’t get any better once the operation begins; radios don’t work and supplies aren’t dropped. Paratroopers who expected to hold a bridge for two days are forced to hold it for five. Traffic holds up reinforcements. The sheer volume of bad luck is almost unbelievable.

Yet the attack advances. Towns are taken, bridges seized. The Dutch people come out to cheer their liberators. But the attack bogs down and those tanks…those tanks that no one was told about turn the tide against the Allies.

The men portrayed on screen served as advisers on the film, giving it a realism that’s all too rare. Lt. Colonel John Frost (played by Anthony Hopkins), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery) and Brig. Gen. James Gavin (Ryan O’Neil) were just some of the officers who helped to give A Bridge Too Far almost a documentary feel.

That’s why we find ourselves swept up in it, believing until the end, even though we already know better, that these brave men can pull it out. When General Gavin’s men take the critical bridge at Nimejgen, the final bridge before Arnhem, the music swells to a triumphant roar. Over and over we see Frost’s paratroopers, cut off in Arnhem, repel numerous German assaults and we believe he can keep doing it.

July 22, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1974

Honorable Mention – McQ: This is one of my dad's favorite films, so of course I saw it when I was young. Watch John Wayne play the tough cop and you can understand why he was originally considered for the role of Dirty Harry. The most memorable part of the film, of course, is the MAC-10 McQ uses at the end of the film. That was the first time it appeared in a movie. If you like McQ, make sure to check out Brannigan as well.

5. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: You're going to see Sam Peckinpah's name a lot in these early lists. This may be his most under-appreciated film. It's a black comedy/noir/road film that turns a lot of cliches on their head. Plus, there's a boatload of violence (big surprise there). Not a "feel-good" film in any way, shape or form.

4. Lacombe Lucien: A fascinating story from Louis Malle about a young French boy during World War Two who falls in with French collaborators after the Resistance rejects him. He becomes the embodiment of what Hannah Arendt called the "banality of evil."

3. Young Frankenstein: The defining moment of this film, to me, isn't Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle performing "Putting on the Ritz," but the off-screen howl of that cat hit by the dart. But those are just two laughs amongst hundreds. In any other year, this would have been the funniest film of the year, hands down.

2. Blazing Saddles: So it's only fair the funniest film of the year, and definitely a Top 10 All-time comedy, was also made by Mel Brooks. I've seen this film countless times and I still hurt myself from laughing. Thank God Brooks maintained final cut over the movie or we could've lost a lot of classic moments, including Mongo punching the horse.

1. The Godfather, Part II: Not only an amazing film in its own right, but it's widely considered to be superior to the original. And that vaults it into the stratosphere of great films. I have nothing bad to say about it. It's truly a work of art. And the final scene, a flashback to when Michael enlisted in the Marines in World War Two, is heartbreaking.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: The Conversation, Death Wish, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, The Longest Yard, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Insane Film That Warrants Mentioning – Zardoz: John Boorman had just done Deliverance, which allowed him to basically make whatever movie he wanted. And Zardoz was that movie. Sean Connery dressed in next to nothing, flying stone heads, Eternals and Brutals, and some of the most whacked-out scenery ever. I don't even know how to describe it. But it's not a bad movie. Just very, very different.

My Five Favorite Films From...1973

Honorable Mention – Bang The Drum Slowly: Wonderful baseball movie. Didn't get me as teary as Brian's Song and nothing gets me quite like the end of Field of Dreams. But DeNiro and Michael Moriarty are great.

5. Magnum Force: The second Dirty Harry film. Not as great as the original (a problem that each film in the series suffered when compared to its predecessor). But it was a solid flick, still a lot of fun to watch. Plus, you get a topless Suzanne Sommers. I first saw this movie when I was 12. It was the highlight of the movie for me.

4. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: But you have to watch Sam Peckinpah's cut that was released in 1988. If you watch the 1973 release that was butchered by the studio, you are doing yourself a dis-service. One of the great Westerns.

3. High Plains Drifter: This was a pretty good year for Westerns. Eastwood as The Stranger and the vengeance he wreaks on Lago while "saving" them from returning outlaws makes for a hell of a film. It began Eastwood's de-construction of the Western that culminated in Unforgiven.

2. The Sting: Newman and Redford together almost guarantees an excellent film. This caper/comedy is so much fun to watch, and the final con is a thing of beauty. Robert Shaw takes the film over the top, though, as Doyle Lonnegan. Without him I don't think The Sting would work as well as it does.

1. Enter The Dragon: Bruce Lee's last film, he died less than a week before it came out. It's an epic martial arts film, with a last battle for the ages. Throw in Bolo and Han's switchable hand...awesome.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: American Graffiti, The Exorcist, The Day of the Jackal, Mean Streets, The Wicker Man, Sleeper.

And no jokers asking where The Devil in Miss Jones is.

Movie Review: Bob le Flambeur (1956)

Bob is a gambler, and not a particularly good one. He usually loses and even when he wins, he loses his winnings at once. Bob also used to be a gangster in the days before they carried guns. He did time for a botched robbery. For the past 20 years, Bob has walked as straight a line as he can. He's well-known in the Montmartre district of Paris where he lives. His protegee is Paolo, the young son of a former associate who died in the botched robbery.

If that seems a sparse way to describe the beginning of a film, it is because that is almost the only way you can describe Bob le Flambeur, Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece that presaged the New Wave movement in French cinema and was one of the first "heist" films.

Bob is portrayed with an effortless "cool" (to use Roget Ebert's phrasing) by Roger Duchesne. He's friends with the police because he saved Inspector Ledru's (Guy Decomble) life in that botched robbery. He eschews carrying a gun. He takes in a young streetwalker named Anne (Isabelle Corey) and gets her a job at a bar he funded. She stays at his place at first, but in the loft. Bob sleeps downstairs because, well, that's what a guy like Bob does.

Of course, things cannot continue like this. Bob makes one bet too many and goes broke. He finds out about the safe at the Deauville Casino, which holds over 800M francs on the weekend of the Grand Prix. Paolo tells Anne about it after they sleep together one night. Anne, in turn, tells Marc, a pimp who needs to tell Inspector Ledru a good tip to keep from going to jail. You can see where this is going...

Bob le Flambeur is so unique. It is film noir, with the femme fatale and the flawed anti-hero as the protagonist. It is the beginning of French New Wave, with the handheld camera and jump cuts. And it is an early "heist" film, whose influence can be seen even today: Bob le Flambeur has the assembling of the gang and the walkthrough of the heist (done here on a chalk-drawn floorplan in a field*). These scenes are echoed even today in films like The Italian Job and Ocean's 11.

The lean-ness of Melville's film, combined with the dialogue, helps to elevate Bob le Flambeur to the level of a great film. Arguably, it is Anne who has the best lines. Take this short exchange with Paolo just after they meet:

Paolo: Do you always sleep alone at night?

Anne: Almost.

Just great stuff. It is a confident writer who gives a lesser role some of the choicest lines. Auguste Le Breton and Melville did just that and the results speak for themselves.

There is also a great twist at the end that is hilarious and fitting at the same time. And even then, at the end, Bob is his same cool and collected self.

Bob le Flambeur is a great movie, a "cool" movie, and yet another example that great movies do not need great budgets or great stars. They just need a great script and a talented director.


* Melville literally made this film on the cheap. He found Corey walking around in Montmartre and gave her the role of Anne. He didn't know from day-to-day how much money he had to pay his cast and crew. Duchesne was affordable in part because he had a major drinking problem. The chalk-line walkthrough was a product of keeping costs down. Would Bob le Flambeur have been as good if Melville had a real budget? Doubtful.


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