The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, October 6, 2014


The amount of information, facts and tidbits I don't know about Russian history could full volumes. I love history -- ALL of it -- but something about the immensity of Russia and its history has proved rather intimidating to me. Where to even start? Well, movies seem to agree with me. I liked but didn't love 1965's Doctor Zhivago, but there's another Russian epic that's long been recommend to me. Let's get going with 1981's Reds.

Living in Portland, Oregon in 1915, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) has a relatively safe if dull life. She's married, does art and is a hopeful writer. Then, she meets John Reed (Warren Beatty), a highly respected if somewhat controversial writer with an impressive following. She is immediately drawn to him and ends up following him to New York City to be with him while also hopefully pursuing a career as a writer and a journalist. There's a relative catch though. John is a staunch supporter of the socialist movement, a movement that threatens to tear World War I apart as workers around the world, especially in Russia, begin to push for more rights, more privileges. In the midst of World War I (and with the Russian Revolution looming), Louise has entered into one of history's most tumultuous times. She loves John and he loves her, but the world seems on the brink of blowing itself up. What will happen next?

For years, my Mom has recommended this movie to me. It's one of her all-time favorites, and she knows far more about the time and backstory than I do. For some background reading, read about the Russian Revolution HERE at Wikipedia. It's not even fair to say this is a Russian Revolution movie. This is a story about two people's lives amidst that turbulent time in world history with a heavy socialist focus. For more reading, read about John Reed and Louise Bryant, two incredibly interesting individuals. It is a big, epic movie, clocking in at equally intimidating 194 minutes, and took Beatty (who starred, directed, produced and wrote) and his cast and crew a full year to film. That's before you consider a lengthy editing process. Beatty is no dummy, taking on films that mean something to him, and this is the definition of that. This is a message movie, an intellectual, thought-out, impressive film. Is it good though?

I will say it is more interesting than it is good, if that makes sense. 'Reds' picked up 12 Oscar nominations, ultimately winning three, including Beatty as Best Director. For a movie that clocks in at almost three and a half hours, it did well at the box office and resonated with critics and has developed quite a following among fans. It was filmed in New York City, Finland, England, Sweden and Spain. So....yeah, what else? 'Reds' is an epic. The scale and immensity is impressive. This is an epic about an idea though, the idea of socialism. This is 194 minutes of almost entirely talking. This is talking about a principle, about government, about corruption, about history, about the system. 'Reds' isn't Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather or Gone With the Wind. It is its own epic, and with Beatty backing it all the way, it is quite okay with being its own film. I struggled at times because it is such a smart, well-written movie. Is that enough to hamstring a film? I don't know, but definitely know what you're getting into here.

Picking up two of the film's four Oscar acting nominations, Beatty and Keaton carry the film. Either one or the other is in almost every scene, and apparently the filming was so strenuous on their off-screen relationship they ultimately broke up. I didn't necessarily buy their doomed love, their unexplained chemistry. What did I buy? Their performances themselves are excellent. These are two extremely intelligent individuals, drawn to each other but who's personalities butt heads because they're both so strong-willed. Based on historical figures, both characters are 3-D, blood and guts people, not cardboard cutouts. Kudos to both actors who again make their characters interesting/fascinating if not necessarily likable.

Up until 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, 'Reds' was the last film to receive Oscar nominations for all four acting categories. The culprits? Jack Nicholson as playwright/writer Eugene O'Neill and Maureen Stapleton as famed anarchist Emma Goldman. These aren't huge supporting parts, but what's there is choice, two actors making the most of their relatively small screentime. Also look for Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski, M. Emmet Walsh, Paul Sorvino, William Daniels, Gene Hackman, and R.G. Armstrong in supporting parts. Some of them are pretty quick, none of them truly developed, and a couple are nothing more than a single scene. Of the smaller parts, Kosinski is memorable as a socialist leader working with Reed and Hackman as a booze-loving, honest newspaper editor.

One of the best choices Beatty makes as a director was a wise style choice. Along with the actual story, interviews with those who knew Reed and Bryant during the 1910s and 1920s are interspersed throughout the movie. These people -- now in their 70s and 80s -- reminiscing about John and Louise, about the times, about how things have changed, these are the moments that proved most memorable for me. Check out the list of witnesses HERE. So as I mentioned before, this is an excellent movie. One you appreciate and admire and respect. I felt like I learned some things as the story develops, but did I love the movie like I hoped I would? Nope. Still very much worth checking out, but not quite the movie I was expecting.

Reds (1981): ** 1/2 /****


  1. glad you felt bleh about this movie. to me, it's like basing a film on the creation of a defunct machine.

  2. Heavy, heavy communism. More about an idea unfortunately to the point I never truly connected with the characters.