Jean Harlow - Clark Gable - 1936
Wife vs. Secretary - released February 28, 1936. Directed by Clarence Brown.
[Above] from Dracula's Daughter, 1936
Born September 5, 1903 in London, England. Died March 22,1991 in Redlands, California.
[Below] Wife vs Secretary, 1936
The Agony and the Ecstasy - 1965
Released October 7, 1965 - 20th Century Fox & Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica Studios
Michelangelo has to paint the Sistine Chapel after botching a generic preliminary mural of the Apostles (which everyone was quite happy with, except Michelangelo, so he scrapes the faces off in the middle of the night and runs for his life) and in the process Michelangelo finds himself on the bad side of the lethal and tricky Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison), the man who commissioned the work, much over the protests of Michelangelo (who only wants to take sculpting jobs, he finds painting a waste of his talent.)
Director Carol Reed does well with two main aspects of the tale, which is the convoluted (to put it mildly) human relationships of Michelangelo with everyone else (particularly with his semi-girlfriend/pseudo-sister-advisor Contessina de'Medici, played by Diane Cilento), and in one of the main threads of the whole tale, how hard it is to just get a client to pay you when you're a freelance artist.
A third aspect which looms out across the screen and generally interrupts the human drama is that the film is supposed to be an epic 1960s historical costume drama, so there are hordes of soldiers and peasants alike crisscrossing the Todd-AO 70 MM screen, but this tends to drag down the film's pace and lends a slightly schizophrenic quality to the story.
Hiding from the Pope
After wrecking the Apostles mural, the Pope's officers are hot on his trail, Michelangelo hides out at a marble quarry among a gang of workmen, swinging a hammer, carving out the gigantic slabs of marble that are used to build homes, palaces, and of course, statues. Forced to flee again, Michelangelo has a Hollywood epiphany while atop a mountain, and comes up with an idea for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that is both artistically satisfying and sure to get him off the Pope's hate list. But first he has to turn himself in.
This leads to a dangerous (and slightly funny) scene in which Michelangelo is brought to the Pope in the middle of a battle, and the two start haggling over the cost of the massive substitute painting Michelangelo is proposing and has sketched out on sheets of paper which Julius becomes engrossed in. With flaming cannon-shot landing around them and soldiers hustling to and fro, the two argue over the Sistine Chapel design (and of course Michelangelo's fee).
Reed's movie, once it nails down the various biographical and historical points of the era and characters, is quite good when its about the artist actually working and dealing with the grueling task of the job. Reed doesn't really let us have a full biography of Rex Harrison's Pope Julius, though, who we can see is both calculating and (rather oddly for a 16th century Italian Pope) possesses an upper-class Englishman's sense of wit.
Like some other epic films (Cleopatra 1963 comes to mind) there is the problem of the epic scope tromping over the human tale, and perhaps the film's budget being quite large (approx. $10 million in 1964 dollars, roughly the equivalent of a $100 million dollar production in 2015) has interfered too much against the benefit of just telling the story.*
Unfortunately the ponderous and banal epic scenery of the movie is either tremendously well done and exciting, or more often simply too static, or slow moving, and seems out of place and not really a coherent part of Michelangelo's story (the political and military warfare is certainly a big part of the life of Pope Julius II, but his character doesn't justify all the epic padding).
Heston does a good job with a difficult task, which is to make Michelangelo look both powerful enough to survive in a difficult and competitive world of art while surrounded by opinionated and influential people, but also that Michelangelo is a typical sensitive artist, or even too sensitive, as this Michelangelo gets annoyed easily and seems misanthropic at times. The artist can't ever quite get things the way he wants them (which is primarily to be left alone) as he is painting, and he is regularly having to shoo away onlookers and erstwhile 16th century art critics (who helpfully let him know he's doing it all wrong).
Heston's Michelangelo often stands about defensively hugging himself tightly, trying to shrink out of the ridiculous situation he has been unwillingly pulled into by the fashions in art, court intrigues, and the desire of the powerful in Renaissance Europe to outdo each other.
The artist Raphael (actor Tomas Milian) also makes an appearance, an educated and sophisticated young man who lends the older Michelangelo a few words of advice (or is it really more in the nature of a confession? Raphael wants Michelangelo to know that the need to make art is in the nature of an addiction.) Either way it tells us that Michelangelo is not the only game in town in this Renaissance world of artistic one-upmanship.
Getting the job done
But it is Raphael that Pope Julius II uses as a weapon to get Michelangelo back on his feet when depression, bad food and illness has laid him up for a long period of time and dragged the Sistine project to a halt. This is also how Carol Reed injects much needed humor into the proceedings:
The Pope: I have treated you harshly and helped bring you to this sorry state (he looks at Michelangelo, laid up on a cot in his dirty and primitive looking studio, and he looks to not have had a bath in a long time. He is wrapped in something that's not quite a blanket).
The Pope: I admit my responsibility and regret it.
Michelangelo: Yes, Holy Father.
The Pope: Now your trials are at an end. I bring you glad news. I relieve you of your commission, you are free. You will continue to receive full payment, of course...
Michelangelo: But I haven't received any payment...
The Pope: Full payment I say! Until you've recovered your health.
Michelangelo: But, Holy Father, what about the ceiling?
The Pope: I have considered other arrangements, your health is more important.
Michelangelo: What arrangements?
The Pope: I have considered your young colleague Raphael...
Michelangelo (outraged and on his feet) : Raphael paint my ceiling?
*The Agony and the Ecstasy did a worldwide gross of $8.1 million in 1965, $2 million dollars less than the production budget.
The Freshman - 1990
Written and Directed by Andrew Bergman, released July 27, 1990
This tale steals more than just a little bit from the 1972 Godfather film, which is not unlike the actions of the character played in The Freshman by Bruno Kirby, who, in the space of just a few minutes, expertly robs the young Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick), just arrived from Vermont to attend a New York City film school (run by the wildly egomaniac professor Arthur Fleeber, played by Paul Benedict).
"I had been in New York for exactly eight minutes and I was already ruined" laments Kellogg, watching in frustration as Kirby drives away with all of his money and belongings in the trunk of his freelance-taxi.
The resulting story not only lampoons film art, film study, mobster movies and more, but sets up Marlon Brando (as mob 'father' Carmine Sabatini) to lampoon himself and his Godfather character of Don Vito Corleone.
Son of the Mob
The finest element and the principal focus is Clark Kellogg's journey of confusion and unwilling indoctrination into an Italian Mafioso family, his role in engineering a mammoth endangered-species-restaurant scam, and the scope of Kellogg's ethical, legal and emotional dilemma growing exponentially no matter how he protests or tries to find an explanation for the bizarre turn of events now dominating his life.
Kellogg insists to his new employer (Sabatini) that he won't be involved in anything illegal, and Sabatini keeps assuring him everything is perfectly legal as Kellogg finds himself getting in deeper, being chased by agents from an indeterminate federal agency, and the mob family telling him everything will be okay because they're getting him a gun permit and gun to defend himself.
Kellogg hardly has time to worry about this turn of events as he has found himself inexplicably engaged to marry the mob daughter (Penelope Ann Miller) and he doesn't know how or when it happened. Broderick's portrayal of the naive Kellogg is somewhat like Henry Fonda's portrayal of the equally naive 'Hopsy' Pike in Sturges' The Lady Eve. Both Kellogg and Pike are innocents confronted by women who know a lot more than they're willing to say.
Marlon Brando, Maximilian Schell and Bert Parks get to play their roles rather broadly (to say the least) but Matthew Broderick and Penelope Ann Miller keep a mostly straight face as they work their way through Bergman's funny script.
This film had a mixed critical response in it's original release. Seeing Brando make fun of his Corleone character wasn't exactly greeted with affection in some filmic quarters, where Godfather (and Brando) are treated as a holy objects telling deep truths about America (this is both praised and made of fun of in the course of The Freshman* where many scenes take place in Kellog's film classes. These classes let us overhear serious film critical analysis under the direction of the possibly crazy Professor Fleeber.).
I find the main flaw in the film being that Bergman's script tries to rationally make sense of the wild story by the time the credits roll, which feels like an unwelcome shortcut, akin to a character waking up at the end of a story and saying "Oh, it was all a dream!" Bergman makes his characters so passionate, strange and loveable, the viewer doesn't really want them to suddenly become 'normal actors' at the end, expressing that they 'really didn't mean it.' Farce is better when served straight.
[*The film title is a reference to Harold Lloyd's 1925 silent comedy epic The Freshman, and the strategically placed poster of Buster Keaton in Clark Kellogg's dorm room isn't an accident, as the film is nicely flavored by the silent film comedies of a totally different era.]
The Duelists - 1977
Director Ridley Scott's first pro film with Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as two Napoleonic soldiers stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of duels. This ritual (entered into unwillingly by the character played by Carradine) is connected to rules of military honor and conduct that becomes bewildering as the decades pass, French rulers come and go, and the duels fought between Keitel and Carradine's characters repeatedly fail to end in a decisive manner. Based on the story by Joseph Conrad, the movie is a beautiful visual homage to rural France (particularly Aquitaine) with some scenes filmed in England and Scotland.
Jeopardy - 1953
An escaped killer (played by Ralph Meeker) takes a desperate Barbara Stanwyck hostage in this film directed by John Sturges. She was in the middle of searching for help to assist her husband who has gotten his leg trapped in the rotted structure of a pier on the coast of Baja, and with the tide starting to come in, every minute counts. Meanwhile the killer is dragging her along (at gunpoint) as he tries to elude the Mexican police. Little does the killer realize he is completely outmatched by Stanwyck and he would have been safer to have turned himself in to the authorities.
The Mummy's Tomb - 1942
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines - 1965 - International Air Race comedy with beautiful photography and classic antique aeroplanes from the very beginning of the air age.
Sadie McKee 1934 - Joan Crawford battles the great depression, a husband's alcoholism, Franchot Tone, and her lower class start in life (she's a maid at a mansion, but ends up in a dance hall), and beats them all.
Zombies of Mora Tau 1957 - Allison Hayes, Autumn Russell and Gregg Palmer face off against a B-Movie sailor-zombie problem while trying to fetch a cache of diamonds from the ocean depths along the African coast.
Dark of the Sun 1968 - Mercenaries are hired to go into the Congo civil war to rescue civilians and to also bring back a $25 million dollar cache of diamonds. Rod Taylor leads the mercenaries (James Brown, Peter Carsten and others) on a three day mission that soon includes Yvette Mimieux before everything begins to careen out of control.
3 Days of the Condor, 1975 - Robert Redford as CIA analyst Joe Turner, trapped between warring factions within the CIA itself. Confused by why everyone is shooting at him, he goes on the run with kidnapped Faye Dunnaway in tow. Sydney Pollack's direction is tense and has clear storytelling. Max von Sydow is on hand as an amused veteran hitman who learns Joe Turner a thing or two. A great big slice of 1970s paranoia powers the film and lays down the template for many films that have followed afterward.