Film Review – THE FIGHTING SEABEES (1944)

Image result for the fighting seabees 1944Fighting Seabees, The (1944; USA; B&W; 100m) ***½  d. Edward Ludwig; w. Borden Chase, Æneas MacKenzie; ph. William Bradford; m. Walter Scharf.  Cast: John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dennis O’Keefe, William Frawley, William Forrest, Leonid Kinskey, J.M. Kerrigan, Grant Withers, Paul Fix, Addison Richards, Roy Brent, Jay Norris, Duncan Renaldo, Roy Barcroft, Charles D. Brown. Construction workers in World War II in the Pacific are needed to build military sites, but the work is dangerous and they doubt the ability of the Navy to protect them. Action-packed WW2 drama tells the story of the creation of the Construction Batallion known as the “Seabees”. Wayne is hot-headed head of construction whose methods are at odds with navy commander O’Keefe whilst both fight for the attentions of journalist Hayward. Jingoistic and full of macho banter, it nevertheless is propelled via well-handled battle scenes and strong cast. Also available in a computer colourised version. [U]

Film Review – THE SPOILERS (1942)

Image result for the spoilers 1942Spoilers, The (1942; USA; B&W; 87m) ***  d. Ray Enright; w. Rex Beach, Lawrence Hazard; ph. Milton R. Krasner; m. Hans J. Salter, Frederick Hollander, Frank Loesser.  Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, George Cleveland, Samuel S. Hinds, Russell Simpson, William Farnum, Marietta Canty, Jack Norton, Ray Bennett, Forrest Taylor, Art Miles. An Alaskan miner and his partner financed by a saloon entertainer, fight to save their gold claim from a crooked commissioner. Rousing, if simplistic, entertainment benefits from star power of its three leads and strong production values. Enright directs efficiently and Wayne and Scott spar well for the attentions of Dietrich. Filmed three times previously (in 1914, 1923 and 1930) and remade again in 1955. [PG]

Film Review – DARK COMMAND (1940)

Image result for dark command 1940Dark Command (1940; USA; B&W; 94m) ***  d. Raoul Walsh; w. Grover Jones, Lionel Houser, F. Hugh Herbert, Jan Fortune; ph. Jack A. Marta; m. Victor Young.  Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George “Gabby” Hayes, Marjorie Main, Porter Hall, Raymond Walburn, Joe Sawyer, J. Farrell MacDonald, Helen MacKellar, Trevor Bardette, Richard Alexander, Roy Bucko, Mildred Gover. A cowpoke becomes a rival for a ruthless renegade.  Strong production values and well directed action sequences cover cracks in this rushed and uneven Western. Wayne is a likeable hero and Pidgeon a charismatic villain who both court rich banker’s daughter, Trevor. Hayes adds comic relief. Plot takes a dark turn as Pidgeon’s guerrilla army loots its way across Kansas and there is a rousing climax. The character of Will Cantrell is loosely based on the real-life Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill. [U]

Film Review – STAGECOACH (1939)

Image result for stagecoach 1939Stagecoach (1939; USA; B&W; 96m) ****½  d. John Ford; w. Dudley Nichols, Ernest Haycox; ph. Bert Glennon; m. Gerard Carbonara.  Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell, Donald Meek, George Bancroft, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt, Tom Tyler, Louise Platt, Yakima Canutt, Si Jenks, Chris-Pin Martin, Merrill McCormick. A group of people travelling on a stagecoach find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process. Highly influential western became the first classic of its genre by taking it from low-budget B-picture fillers to something with more substance and no little art. Whilst some of the set pieces and characterisations may now seem overly familiar, it must not be forgotten that this was the film that started it all. Wayne became a star following his imposing performance as the Ringo Kid and Trevor is his equal as a woman trying to escape her past. There is top-class support from Carradine as a dignified gambler with a violent past and Mitchell as a drunk doctor. Spectacular stunt chase sequences and a moodily shot showdown finale add to what is a winning mix. Ford handles the story and characters with his trademark confidence. Won Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mitchell) and Best Music (adapted from folk songs by Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken). Also available in a computer-colourised version. Remade in 1966 and again for TV in 1986. [U]

Film Review – SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

Image result for solo a star wars storySolo: A Star Wars Story (2018; USA; Colour; 135m) ***½  d. Ron Howard; w. Lawrence Kasdan, Jonathan Kasdan; ph. Bradford Young; m. John Powell.  Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Richard Dixon, Joonas Suotamo, Sarah-Stephanie, Deepak Anand, Slim Khezri, Ian Kenny, Douglas Robson, Omar Alboukharey, Sean Gislingham, Nathaniel Lonsdale. During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. Whilst this STAR WARS spin-off offers nothing particularly new or surprising, considering its troubled production history it remains a surprisingly consistently entertaining adventure. Ehrenreich displays the same roguish charisma as essayed by Harrison Ford and Glover also scores as Lando Calrissian. The action set pieces are effective and avoid the stilted choreography of recent efforts. Whilst the story itself may lack the gravitas and mysticism of its parent, it makes for more simple-minded fun. Although originally brought on board to complete the film after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had been dismissed due to creative differences, it was widely reported that Howard re-shot more than 80% of the movie. Also shot in 3-D. [12]

Film Review – THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)

Image result for the sugarland express posterSugarland Express, The (1974; USA; Technicolor; 110m) ****  d. Steven Spielberg; w. Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, Steven Spielberg; ph. Vilmos Zsigmond; m. John Williams.  Cast: Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, William Atherton, Gregory Walcott, Steve Kanaly, Louise Latham, Harrison Zanuck, A. L. Camp, Jessie Lee Fulton, Dean Smith, Ted Grossman. A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don’t go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road. Spielberg’s first theatrical feature is a winning combination of drama and humour. Balancing the tone is the director’s biggest challenge as he takes on this adaptation of real life events. Hawn and Atherton score strongly as the misguided couple, whilst Johnson gives a quietly effective performance as a sympathetic lawman. The tone shifts sharply in its final act, but this remains an engaging tale. [PG]

Film Review – KEY LARGO (1948)

Key Largo (1948; USA; B&W; 100m) ****  d. John Huston; w. Richard Brooks, John Huston; ph. Karl Freund; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade. A man visits his old friend’s hotel and finds a gangster running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Tense thriller extracts maximum impact from its strong cast who are well directed by Huston. Bogart and Robinson’s antagonistic interplay is electric, whilst Trevor also excels as Robinson’s alcoholic mistress. Bacall and Barrymore offer good support. Rousing Steiner score and effective photography from Freund give added atmosphere to the production, which at times betrays its static stage roots until its exciting climax on the fog bound ocean. Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. [PG]

Film Review – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

Image result for three billboardsThree Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017; UK/USA; Colour; 115m) ***** d. Martin McDonagh; w. Martin McDonagh; ph. Ben Davis; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Brendan Sexton III, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon, Nick Searcy, Lawrence Turner, Amanda Warren, Michael Aaron Milligan, William J. Harrison, Sandy Martin, Christopher Berry, Zeljko Ivanek, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Selah Atwood. A darkly comic crime drama in which a woman pressures the police into continuing the investigation into her daughter’s murder. Multi-layered tale with themes of retribution, prejudice, guilt and redemption is brilliantly scripted and superbly acted. McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson turn in top-notch performances. It is darkly comic, but the drama burns deep. At times it is a tough watch, but it remains engrossing throughout. A modern-day parable of rare complexity. Won Oscars for Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell). [15]

Film Review – DARK PASSAGE (1947)

Image result for dark passage 1947Dark Passage (1947; USA; B&W; 106m) ***½  d. Delmer Daves; w. Delmer Daves; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes from prison and works with a woman to try and prove his innocence. An overly contrived, if admittedly engrossing and entertaining, plot relying on too much coincidence is all but overcome by the strong cast and technical accomplishments. Using the camera as the protagonist’s point-of-view for over half its running time, the gimmick seems a little forced. Bogart doesn’t physically appear until over an hour into the story, but Bacall holds the screen well and their star chemistry is still apparent. Hickox’s photography using the San Francisco locations and dark streets is moodily effective. Daves directs his own screenplay adaptation with a sure hand and uses hand-held cameras to good effect. Moorehead stands out in the supporting cast as a schemer. Based on the novel by David Goodis. [PG]

Film Review – ABBA: THE MOVIE (1977)

Image result for abba the movie QUAD POSTERABBA: The Movie (1977; Australia/Sweden; Eastmancolor; 95m) ***½  d. Lasse Hallström; w. Lasse Hallström, Robert Caswell; ph. Jack Churchill, Paul Onorato; m. Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson.  Cast: Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Robert Hughes, Tom Oliver, Bruce Barry, Stig Anderson. An incompetent radio DJ tries to get an interview with the Swedish pop group ABBA during their famous week-long 1977 tour of Australia. This semi-documentary is both charming and entertaining making the most of both the impressive concert footage of a band at their peak and the side-story of hapless journalist following them. Hughes manages to keep this diversion both funny and diverting. The songs (including “Dancing Queen”, “The Name of the Game”, “Eagle”, “Fernando”, “Waterloo” and many more) are performed with the band’s distinctive polish but retain an energy that gives their adoring audience exactly what they want. Anyone looking for more depth should look elsewhere. [U]