A Pair of Popcorn Pix for Pandemic Pleasures
By David L. Meister. . .
I enjoy Popcorn movies. The ones that allow you to relax throughout, munch away on your favorite snack, and watch a film whose sole purpose is to entertain you. No pretenses of social relevance or cinema magic; these are not likely to be studied by academicians, which is not their point. They satisfy an audience preferring not to be challenged for a couple of hours.
During the Pandemic, more and more, I hear “something light’, in response to questions of options. Quarantined for a year—so far—and dealing with the other “heavy” realities of life, friends and family are seeking light distraction. So, here are a couple of prime examples (pun intended; they are both available via Prime Video).
Released in 1966, this Western stars Lee Marvin at the peak of his career, and Burt Lancaster, in a role that showcases his impish personality. Add to that, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Ralph Bellamy and Woody Strode, and this becomes a deep cast of professionals.
The story is set in post-World War I Mexico, as Bellamy recruits a team to rescue his kidnapped bride. It’s well paced, and features the fun action sequences typical of the era. In other words, there’s shooting, but no “blood”, per se (Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH came three years later). And, Richard Brooks’ script has plenty of humor and twists. To me, however, the film belongs to Lancaster. A superb actor, able to play such despicable characters as the ex-Nazi in JUDGEMENT OF NUREMBERG and the cynical columnist in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, he is at his winsome best here, with a twinkling smile, and continually dominates his scenes.
Lee Marvin is top billed, following his OSCAR-winning role in 1965’s CAT BALLOU, and starring roles in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, and if you don’t blink, you can spot him in THE CAINE MUTINY and THE WILD ONE. His casting is expected. On the other hand, having Claudia Cardinale play the female lead reflects her international fame (also helping “foreign” sales), and the fact that her dark beauty allowed her to portray a Mexican, in those days. The commercial success of this film, and the audience acceptance of her “out west” surely led to her role in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, two years later.
The creative force comes from Richard Brooks, one of the great Writer/Directors of his generation. He received OSCAR nominations in both categories for this movie, but is better known for winning the Best Screenplay OSCAR for ELMER GANTRY, and being nominated for his scripts of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, IN COLD BLOOD, and LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, plus writing a diverse range of movies from KEY LARGO to THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.
Brooks never won an OSCAR for his directing, but did earn additional nominations for his work on CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and IN COLD BLOOD. His other directorial efforts included ELMER GANTRY, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH and $,
Besides Brooks’ nominations, THE PROFESSIONALS earned an OSCAR nomination for Conrad Hall’s Cinematography. Hall was the three-time OSCAR winner for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and ROAD TO PERDITION. The Music was by Maurice Jarre, who also earned three OSCARs, for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DR. ZHIVAGO, and A PASSAGE TO INDIA.
Put all together, and this is a group of top, top professionals, teaming together to entertain.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
This is the 1938 version of the legendary tale of swashbuckling, and helping the less fortunate, and by far the best. It stars Erroll Flynn, heading a deep cast, including Olivia de Havilland (in the best of their eight collaborations over a six-year span), Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone and Alan Hale. A Warner Bros. studio picture, it featured their roster of stars (initially James Cagney was cast as Robin!?), produced by Hal Wallis and directed by Michael Curtiz. Wallis is credited with 380 productions, reflecting the role of senior producer at the studio, in the era of 50+ films per year being released. His other films include CASABLANCA, THE MALTESE FALCON, SERGEANT YORK, NOW VOYAGER and BECKETT.
Curtiz took over from William Keighley early on, as the studio replaced Cagney with the lesser-known Flynn. Probably the greatest of Warner Bros.’ directors, he earned the Best Director OSCAR for CASABLANCA. Curtiz also garnered nominations for YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, FOUR DAUGHTERS and CAPTAIN BLOOD.
The movie is considered one of the most beautiful of Hollywood’s classics. It was filmed in a three-strip Technicolor process, which required more equipment, and lost favor because of the expense that required. While the film’s palette surely doesn’t reflect the reality of the historic era depicted, it’s colorful throughout, and adds to the upbeat nature, and relaxation, one experiences when watching the movie. It’s not going to get you leaning forward, on the edge of your seat. Technically, it’s excellent, as Carl Weyl won an OSCAR for Art Direction, Ralph Dawson won for Editing, and Erich Korngold won for Music. And, the film was nominated for Best Picture.
Besides the look of the film, a key reason to watch is the series of set action pieces. The climatic swordplay looks authentic, and its long takes demonstrate the care taken in choreography and execution. To my mind, this is the best “swashbuckling” movie, with a great pace of action scenes. There is palpable chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland, who later admitted being in love with the notorious lothario, but she insisted they never consummated the relationship. Of course, the expression “in like Flynn” reflects his scandalous reputation.
It’s interesting that so many others have played Robin Hood, including Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Sean Connery, yet none of that casting yielded as strong a character as Flynn’s, nor as good a movie as this.
So, pop the corn, and enjoy!
David Meister has been a passionate movie buff all his life with a fondness for ‘the classics’. At HBO he ran Cinemax and was President of Time-Life Films. Later, he created the Sundance Channel for Robert Redford. Welcome David to TheaterPizzazz!