Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past
We've got quite a few classics this week (camp or otherwise). As we get within a few days of the big holiday, surprisingly there is only one Christmas selection - and it's the oldest of the bunch. Again, as with last week, I'm unable to offer a capsule review but I do have some recollections surrounding the 10- and 20-year-old films, both of which I saw in theaters.
10 years ago (December 19, 2000)
"The scenes between the old man and the teenager are at the heart of the movie, and it's a pleasure to watch the rapport between Connery, in his 50th year of acting, and Brown, in his first role. Forrester gives the kid all kinds of useful advice about being a writer, including the insight, 'Women will sleep with you if you write a book.' That's something Jamal might have figured out for himself, but Forrester is even more encouraging: 'Women will sleep with you if you write a bad book.' Jamal gets a scholarship to a private academy (his SAT is high enough that it's not an athletic scholarship, although the board certainly hopes he'll play)." - Roger Ebert
"Even more of a fixed fight, Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester redoes Scent of a Woman by way of the Iowa Writers' Workshop—Good Will -ish 16-year-old savant Jamal (Rob Brown), who reads Kierkegaard and Joyce, meets up with hermitted, Pynchon/Salinger-like novelist legend William Forrester (Sean Connery, looking more like bearded Bea Arthur than ever) in his Bronxneighborhood. Jamal gets writing lessons, the old coot slowly learns to embrace life again, the old coot musters crusty bon mots, Jamal snaps 'em back—Mike Rich's script can't be eaten with a fork, you need a spoon. "You write your first draft with your heart!" the old Scots giant roars in pajama bottoms. 'Punch the keys, for God's sake!'— as if Jamal were David Helfgott hammering out that Rachmaninoff concerto on his Royal standard. Read what you will into the fact that Mishima is on both characters' bookshelves, but the literary life is used as a built-in narcotic: Readers are made to feel dopily good about themselves, and meanwhile barely a word of Jamal's or Forrester's fulsomely praised prose is read or heard. The entire project, including an obligatory climactic writing competition where Forrester strides in and sets right the obligatory wrong perpetrated by an overweening hump of an English prof (F. Murray Abraham), hinges on Jamal's writing being "pungent!" but it could be brain-dead prattle for all we know. At times you can feel Van Sant trying to loosen the movie's windpipe-folding collar, but he doesn't get far, except with Busta Rhymes, as Jamal's gone-nowhere big brother, whose moments are so full of bounce and warmth they feel like invasions from the screen next door." - Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice
I saw this in cinemas, and didn't find it to be particularly noteworthy - except for the opening credits, which pulsated with a rhythm and liveliness not to be found in the rest of the picture (which was competent enough, if underwhelming). All I can recall now is the main character's speech about BMW being created by the Nazis, and the small role played by Busta Rhymes. And that great opening, with a young kid freestyling over images from the street. After this film, Gus Van Sant struck out for left field and never looked back (well, not until the enjoyable if Oscar-baity Milk).
Finding Forrester (2000)
20 years ago (December 21, 1990)
Roger: "This film was directed by Ivan Reitman, who likes to combine action and comedy in his films. This time the formula works. But I think one word of warning is necessary. Despite the upbeat advertising for this film, and the title 'Kindergarten Cop' and its PG-13 rating, and all of that kind of image-building jolly kind of stuff, a lot of scary and bad things happen to little kids in this movie, and it is not appropriate for small children." Gene: "Yes, I underline that, in fact if I had to draw a line, arbitrarily, and knowing it would upset a lot of kids, I'd say about 10. I think it's pretty high...I know it says PG-13, take it pretty seriously! ... The rest of the picture, it doesn't work for me." - "Siskel & Ebert"
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
30 years ago (December 19, 1980)
"Most of Raging Bull appears to have been shot (beautifully, by Michael Chapman) in black-and-white, with the exception of a splash of crimson in the title credits and several sequences of eight millimeter color home-movies that provide bridges within the narrative. The fight sequences are sometimes shown in gritty, realistic detail and sometimes in a series of stills. The world, when it is seen by Jake, is observed in slow motion - ghostly sequences that are in poignant contrast to the noisy chaos in which most of his life is lived. With an effortlessness that is as rewarding as it is rare in films, Raging Bull moves back and forth between the objective point of view and the subjective. Too much will be made, probably, of Mr. De Niro's remarkable physical transformations for the role, by means of makeup as well as by putting on 50 pounds of weight for the latter part of the film. I've always been skeptical of this sort of thing - Shelley Winters has done it too often for too little effect. It's an integral part of this performance, however. In his decline, Jake La Motta seems to disappear into his flesh, as if seeking to scratch an interior itch that will be forever out of reach. Giving him superb support are two new performers, Joe Pesci, who plays Jake's younger brother Joey, and Cathy Moriarty, a beautiful young blond woman who has never acted before. Miss Moriarty comes across with the assurance of an Actors Studio veteran as Jake's second wife, Vickie. Either she is one of the film finds of the decade or Mr. Scorsese is Svengali. Perhaps both." - Vincent Canby, The New York Times
"Scorsese is saying that he accepts totally, that he makes no moral judgment. I think that by the last fight we're not supposed to care whether Jake wins or loses - we're supposed to want to be in there, slugging. Even the black-and-white is macho: it has something of the flashy, tabloid look of the original Naked City movie. But it's so hyper that you're aware of the art, which kills the tabloid effect. We don't get to see the different styles of La Motta's opponents: Scorsese doesn't care about the rhythm and balance of fighters' bodies. There's no dancing for these fighters, and very little boxing. What Scorsese concentrates on is punishment given and received. He turns the lowdown effects he likes into highbrow flash reeking of religious symbolism. You're aware of the camera positions and of the images held for admiration; you're conscious of the pop and hiss of the newsman's cameras and the amplified sound of the blows - the sound of pain. Scorsese wants his B-movie seaminess and spiritual meaning, too. He wants a disreputable, lowlife protagonist; then he suggests that this man is close to God, because he is God's animal. By removing the specifics or blurring them, Scorsese doesn't produce universals - he produces banality. What we get is full of capitals: A Man Fights, A Man Loses Everything, A Man Bangs HI sHead Against the Wall. Scorsese is putting his unmediated obsessions on the screen, trying to turn raw, pulp power into art by removing it from he particulars of observation and narrative. He loses the lowlife entertainment values of prizefight films; he aestheticizes pulp and kills it." - Pauline Kael
Raging Bull (1980)
40 years ago (December 23, 1970, wide release)
"Little Big Man concludes [Arthur Penn's] greatest work; it goes past destruction, to resignation, and can hardly be advanced upon. Its perfection is that of an important theme thoroughly rendered." - David Thomson
"Director Arthur Penn has been alternately shrewd and loco with Little Big Man, but mainly he has been plumb lucky. In the book, Crabb complains about western movies that show Indians played by Caucasians "with 5 o'clock shadows and lumpy arms." Perversely, Penn sought Sir Laurence Olivier and Paul Scofield for the chieftain's role. When they refused, he awarded the part to Richard Boone, who resigned shortly before filming. It was only then that Penn chose a hereditary leader of Canada's Salish tribe, Chief George, to play the old man. It was a momentous decision. Dan George's stoicism and grace give him an almost biblical presence. Sometimes, standing to one side, the chief seems to be the essence of the Cheyenne, waiting for some unnamed event−perhaps the time when the white man uses up all the firewood and moves on forever. He is no less memorable uttering an occasional phrase. When Little Big Man announces that he has a wife, Old Lodge Skins inquires: 'Does she show a pleasant enthusiasm when you mount her?' The question seems not lascivious, but full of paternal concern. When he prepares to die, the ancient Human Being chants a prayer and stretches supine before his Maker. Result: nothing. His answer: 'Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't,' gives new credence to the speculation that the Indians are one of the lost tribes of Israel." - Time Magazine
Little Big Man (1970)
Two Women (1960)
60 years ago (December 18, 1950)
"In My Blue Heaven the television's theatre stage and the face of the video tube provide the locale for some highly entertaining goings-on by Betty Grable and Dan Dailey. They're unfortunately involved with an overly-sticky plot.
Yarn has the two stars just moving over from their niche on radio to TV. They are anxious for a baby. Moved by the happy Pringle family (David Wayne/Jane Wyatt), they try to adopt a baby. This gives the scripters an opportunity to get into considerable detail on both the legal and illegal sides of the adoption business.
While Grable and Dailey offer their capable standard brands of song-and-dance, the real eye-catcher of the pic is a lush brunet youngster making her initial screen appearance. She's Mitzi Gaynor. She's long on terping and vocalizing."
My Blue Heaven (1950)
70 years ago (December 23, 1940)"I have no pedestal for Miss Hepburn. She can be wrong. She can be difficult. We have had our arguments. But Miss Hepburn can most sincerely be judged by the almost tearful affection with which the crew regarded her at the completion of The Philadelphia Story." - George Cukor (h/t The Hollywood Reporter Book of Box Office Hits)
"The screwball comedy grew up in this mature, beautifully well-made comedy. But why did Oscar single out Stewart from a cast that is all at a remarkably high level - but from which, if you had to pick an actor, the actor would be Cary Grant? The reason was to make up for '39 - when Stewart lost to Robert Donat, making up for him not winning for The Citadel in '38. What tangled webs Oscar weaves." - Michael Gebert, The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
80 years ago (December 19, 1930)
"This early 'talkie' of Tom Sawyer does suffer, however, from the stodginess and "creakiness" that many of the early sound films exhibit, due to the (at that time) primitive sound recording techniques (the "marriage" of sound and picture still wasn't totally perfected in 1930, and a number of films that year were still being produced in both sound and silent versions). This "creakiness" does indeed have a charm of its own (at least to die-hard fans, such as myself, of classic films), but modern audiences will probably find this 1930 version too slow and stagey. (A 1938 technicolour remake by producer David O. Selznick, entitled The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is really the definitive film version of this story).
(Side note: Did anyone else have no idea that Jackie Coogan was Uncle Fester?)
Tom Sawyer (1930)
90 years ago (December 19, 1920)
100 years ago (December 19, 1910)"The movie sports some impressive special effects for the time. I particularly liked the appearance of Marley's ghost through Scrooge's door. All of the ghost effects were simple but very effective. All in all, this is not as good as The Unchanging Sea, but still a fun film to view. As a special treat, here's a second review from my 8 year-old son: He really liked 'the ghost parts.' He like the 'haunting.' He did not like 'pretty much none of it.' Sounds like a solid recommendation! The movie is just under 11 minutes and is available at YouTube." - 100 Years of Movies
A Christmas Carol (1910)