The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Names like Yakima Canutt, Bud Ekins, Dar Robinson, Chuck Roberson, and Chuck Hayward may not ring a bell as an instantly recognizable Hollywood icons. They should though. These are just some of the thankless stars of the stunt business, doing the crazy stunts the actors/actresses just couldn't. Right up there with that crew (and countless others we could mention) was stuntman-actor-director Hal Needham. Who better to direct the story of an aging stuntman trying to hold on for a little more glory? N-O ONE. Here's 1978's Hooper.

For years now, Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds) has been the BEST stuntman working in Hollywood. Versatile in all his stunts, from car chases to aerial acrobatics, chases on horseback to a brutal fistfight, there's nothing Sonny can't do and there is no stunt he'll turn down. He'll try anything. That reckless attitude toward his work is catching up with him. He's now in his 40's and has a laundry list of broken bones and horrifically painful injuries to show for his well-earned reputation. Well, now that reputation is on the line a little bit. Though everyone still respects Sonny and looks to him to pull off the craziest of the crazy, there's a new kid on the lots, Ski (Jan-Michael Vincent), who's showing a similar knack for pulling off the impossible. How far will Sonny go to keep his unofficial title as 'Best Stuntman Around'? Maybe the most dangerous stunt of his career will do it...

Movies and stories about the making of said movies can be funny, dramatic, condescending, pretentious, revealing, and sometimes all of the above. A movie about stunt men being crazy and goofy and generally acting like idiots? Say what you want about Needham's 'Hooper,' but it is fun. It is dumb, slightly disjointed and drifts too much, but from beginning to end, it is F-un. At 100 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome and in the second half does feature some darker (potentially at least) moments. That said, it's a Burt Reynolds movie. Things aren't going to get too dark here. Sit back with a beer and enjoy this one.

Through the general goofiness, the most pleasant part of the story is seeing that behind-the-scenes world of the stunt men. They walk onto the set, do their stunt and...yeah, they're done for the day. Now yeah, those stunts are horrifically dangerous but you get the idea. They're celebrities among the cast and crew, albeit anonymously to the viewing public. Coming from Needham and Reynolds (who got his start as a stuntman), you know the respect will be there with the profession, along with the helter-skelter mindset of these nutcases who willingly put themselves in peril day-in and day-out. The conversation doesn't seem scripted, just guys being guys busting each other left and right. So as mentioned, the story isn't necessarily the most pointed thing around, just a series of connecting scenes linking it all together. Fun though. Definitely fun.

Who better to help us jump into the world of the stuntman headfirst than Burt Reynolds? Nobody! One of the biggest stars of the 1970's, this isn't a heavy acting part -- most of his best parts seem to be variations on his own personality -- but it is nonetheless a strong performance. You get a feel for Reynolds' Sonny, past his prime but still kicking strong. He's seen and done it all in a career that's not young anymore. Now, he has to decide how far he wants to push it. At the height of his star power, Reynolds is excellent. Playing off that familiar new fast gun in the area, Vincent is a good match for Reynolds. It's a rivalry between the dueling stuntmen, but there seems to be a genuine friendship and respect between the two men. Like I said, it never gets too dramatic along the way. The tone and spirit is generally pretty lighthearted.

The cast overall here is pretty impressive, especially if you're a fan of countless guy's guys movies from the 1960's and 1970's. Also keep an eye out for Sally Field (the girlfriend), Brian Keith (the former best stuntman around/potential father-in-law), James Best (Sonny's friend/manager), John Marley (the film's producer), Robert Klein (the ego-maniacal director), Adam West (the star), and even NFL QB Terry Bradshaw has a fun appearance. Also look for Jim Burk as a stuntman and friend of Sonny's. Burk was a frequent performer in John Wayne's later movies and finally gets a part that lets him say a few words.

The best thing going here is the actual stunts. Stands to reasons we're here for a stuntman movie so might as well see some ridiculously cool stunts, right? Reynolds does a lot of his own work, but 'Hooper' runs the gamut in terms of the variety of what we get to see. A whole bunch of craziness -- the movie they're working on seems like a James Bond knock-off -- and all of it leading to a ridiculously choreographed sequence that Klein's director wants shot in one take. ONE TAKE! It's lunacy but just go along with it. The capper? The longest car jump ever as Sonny and Ski are supposed to drive a rocket car over a river where a bridge has recently been demolished. Yeah, crazy, kooky stuff. Make sure to stick around for the end though with Reynolds pulling his usual shtick and breaking the fourth wall.

A fun movie. A dumb movie but fun!

Hooper (1978): ** 1/2 /****

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Paths of Glory

What is the sign of an effective anti-war film? What's the mark of a successful entry? ANGER. Frustration. A struggle to believe what you're watching could have actually happened. One of the first American anti-war films is also one of the best, and in general, one of the best movies ever made. If you haven't seen it already, shame on you. Go watch it. Here's 1957's Paths of Glory.

It's 1916 and World War I has been waging for two-plus years. The fighting has bogged down to a standstill, the two sides blasting away from their trenches at each other across no man's land. A French offensive is in the works with one battalion, commanded by Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), assigned a key point in the German line. Under extreme machine gun fire, the attack is a failure, Dax's men returning to their own trenches. Someone must answer for the failure though, especially when the division commander (George Macready) demands retribution for the colossal failure. He wants men shot and court-martialed with the high command settling on three men. Three of Dax's men will be charged with cowardice in battle and sit before a court martial tribunal. A well-known criminal lawyer, Dax will defend them...but even the experienced lawyer can't know what awaits.

What a freaking movie. From director Stanley Kubrick (maybe you've heard of him), 'Glory' deserves its place as one of the great war films of all-time but also as one of the best films of all-time in general. Just in terms of story, it is ahead of its time. The cynical, disbelieving tone of its story seems far more in-tune with the late 1960's or the entire decade of the 70's, not the late 1950's. Technically speaking, it is damn perfect from beginning to end. If there's an obvious, glaring weakness, I'm missing it! A phenomenal movie.

The anti-war message is uncomfortable to the point the film is difficult to watch at times. While 'Glory' isn't based on any single incident, stories like this no doubt happened in World War I and countless other wars. Douglas' Dax finds himself defending three innocent soldiers -- Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel -- who will be tried (and potentially worse) for cowardice in battle. He is met at every turn with resistance, countered by men uninterested in a real defense, battling selfish, egotistical maniacs who think solely of themselves, of glory and honor, of promotions and personal gain. If those gains are built on battlefields of men who didn't have to die...well, so be it. Kubrick's film does not pull a single punch. This is war. This is death. This is so much worse than you could have imagined it.

A star before and a star after, Douglas is at his all-time best here with a performance that definitely belongs at the top of his career. His Colonel Dax is a capable officer, a more than capable lawyer, but most of all, he's simply a good man. He's honest, an idealist and genuinely looks out for the well-being of his men. Dax is sick of war but knows the quicker it's over, the quicker he and his men can go him. Douglas does a lot with an understated part -- calm, cool and collected -- as he bides his time. It is in the final act that Douglas gets to stretch his legs with a fiery, pissed-off, beyond frustrated, beyond anger performance that resonates long after the movie's over. Dax's fire and passion shows through best in an outburst as he condemns the actions of one of the selfish, clueless commanding officer who remains oblivious to anything and everything around him. But kudos to Douglas though with a performance that allows him the chance to show off the full scope of his ability.

This is Douglas' film, no doubt, but there's strong performances all over. Adolphe Menjou and Macready are terrifying as the upper-crust commanding officers who look at war with a sort of fog covering their eyes. No one could be this selfishly inept, could they? Their scenes show the depths of their ignorance, of an old-fashioned way of looking at war. Equally despicable are Richard Anderson and Wayne Morris as two officers, both ignorant in their own ways; Anderson with his haughty arrogance, Morris his drunken cowardice. In Meeker, Turkel and Carey, we get the gamut of reactions, seeing how different individuals respond to a situation so hopeless and stupid that it baffles the mind. When nothing at all makes sense, how do you rationalize such a profoundly stupid decision made by countless people seemingly smart enough and powerful enough to know that decision simply shouldn't be made?

Released 11 years later, 2001: A Space Odyssey is usually remembered as Kubrick's best, usually followed by A Clockwork Orange. I think 'Paths' belongs with 1960's Spartacus as the director's best. Just 29 years old at the time, Kubrick already shows what an immense talent he is behind the camera. Clearly influenced by the French New Wave movement, Kubrick's camera becomes an additional character, especially in beautiful unedited, long takes navigating the claustrophobic frontline trenches. We're there with the troops in the bloody, muddy, rat-infested trenches. Going over the top into the death zone known as 'no man's land' is far worse though where men are chewed up and spit out by the hundreds and thousands. Then, we're off to gargantuan French mansions, the picture of decadence and elegance, where the high command makes all their brilliant decisions. The musical score is minimalist to say the least, all the focus on the performances.

Just too many memorable moments to mention. Basically any scene in the trench is memorable, a perfect example of how to film an uninterrupted tracking shot. The attack scenes are harrowing, and the courtroom scenes -- in those French mansions -- make you feel physically ill as you watch the court martial develop. Emile Meyer is memorable as a priest desperately trying to click with the potentially-condemned men, and Turkel is a scene-stealer in a dialogue-heavy scene talking about how soldiers want to die. Through it all, Meeker is at his career-best as the soldier who finds himself on trial for all the wrong reasons. It all leads to one of the more memorable moments I can think of in a war film, anti-war or not. Filmed at an expansive German villa, an extended military procession is an incredible sequence to watch, both aesthetically and emotionally.

An all-timer. One of the greats and a film every movie fan should see at least once.

Paths of Glory (1957): ****/****

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Gift

Just a few weeks ago with Jane Got a Gun, I mentioned what a big fan I was of actor Joel Edgerton. He's shown a chameleon-like ability as an actor who's taken all sorts of different roles as a star who is definitely on the rise. Well, he can add another category to his resume. He's now a director too, making his feature directorial debut with 2015's The Gift.

Having moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), is excited about their new start in a new city. Simon has a new job with a ton of potential for advancement and Robyn gets to start her own business as well. All is peachy or so it seems. Out shopping one day, they run into Gordon 'Gordo' Moseley (Edgerton), a former high school classmate of Simon's. The encounter is awkward after so many years, but that's only the start. Gordo starts by dropping off some presents unannounced at their new house. He starts dropping in without warning, often when Simon is at work and Robyn is home alone. Robyn isn't sure what to make of Gordo but tries to think the best of the situation. Simon, his work friends and their new neighbors, they're not so convinced. What is Gordo up to? Is he up to anything? There's more to every story. It's just a matter of finding out...

I must have seen this trailer about 384 times last spring and summer in advance of its August 2015 release. I felt like I'd seen it already so didn't try too hard to catch it in theaters. Well, enough time has passed. The verdict? Highly-recommended adult thriller. Go watch it. Apologies if the rest of the review is a tad vague, but this is a story that you should definitely go into without too much information. It's going to be far-more effective if you have no idea what's coming next.

First-time director Edgerton clearly has some talented both behind the camera but with the script as he penned the screenplay too. 'Gift' jumped out and grabbed me and never really let go. The biggest thing going for this thriller is its subtlety from beginning to end. There are no car chases or explosions or random bits of nudity. It is all tension and scene-setting, a cloud of anxious doom hanging in the air as to exactly what's gonna happen next. Edgerton hits the ground running. It's not just a tolerable first-time effort. It is a genuinely skilled, crafted thriller that keeps you guessing throughout. 'Gift' is the definition of a slow burn. When the technique flops, it drags the whole movie down in a boring haze. When it works, you get that queasy feeling in your stomach as the story unravels and we see what's really going on.

You can't say that with so many in-your-face thrillers that are all about shock value. There's a sense of mystery from the word 'go' here with the big reveal coming about halfway through, but that's far from the end. Edgerton's screenplay has its fair share of secrets to reveal in the second half, including a very well-handled "Oh, NO!" finale. A smart, underplayed thriller.

Basically a three-person cast on display here with some other smaller parts fleshing things out. You could see this developed in a way as a stage play. Bateman and Hall are excellent together as Simon and Robyn, a married couple looking for a fresh start. Why is that? Like everything else, the reveals come with time. It is definitely safe to say though that not everything is as simple and straightforward as it seems. We learn why the couple ended up in Los Angeles, and that both husband and wife are dealing with some inner demons that pop up at the worst time. It is in these tension-building moments where we learn these things that the story excels. We're never quite sure if we're hearing the full story, if we're hearing everything we need to hear. Both are incredibly talented actors, both of them getting to show off their range with each new frightening development.

Edgerton smartly uses the less-is-more mindset in playing Gordo, and more imporantly, in revealing the truth of the character. When he's on-screen,  we see a socially awkward individual who seems to be trying really hard to fit in. When we don't see him, it feels like his presence is still there looming over our story and characters. If you need more of a compliment for an actor's performance, I can't think of it. Though we learn much about him, Gordo remains a mystery. We don't see his home or much about his background. We don't see him interact with basically anyone other than Simon and Robyn. There's some good questions brought up as to what the character's intentions were from the beginning. Did he always have this plan? Did he adjust on the fly as certain revelations are revealed, as certain people show their true colors? Another mark of a subtle, unsettling thriller. Let the audience decide.

I can't recommend this one enough. It is original, unique and interesting from beginning to end. Where so often a thriller based on a twist falls flat when the twist doesn't deliver, 'Gift' takes that moment and uses it to surge forward to the end, saving some unpleasant surprises for the second half. Definitely worth a watch. Whether it be on-screen or from the director's chair, Edgerton clearly has a future in whichever role he chooses. I look forward to seeing what he has up his sleeve next!

The Gift (2015): ***/****

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

Sports and underdog movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, like salt and pepper. As a sports fan and a moviegoer, there's something warm and inspiring about those stories of people who just shouldn't be able to do what they do. Are they box office gold? Not usually, but they often enough find their niche with audiences sooner rather than later. The latest entry into the underdog genre is a good one, 2016's Eddie the Eagle.

Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) is a 22-year Brit who's always had one dream; he's long wanted to be an Olympic athlete. He's overcome some physical ailments growing up and has bounced from hoping for the Summer Olympics and then doing an about-face for the Winter Olympics. After narrowly missing out on making the British team as a skier, Eddie decides to go for it as a ski jumper...except he's never worked as a ski all. Eddie moves to a training site in Germany and starts from the ground-up. After some painful but affirming jumps, Eddie seeks out the help of Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former US champion who's fallen on some hard times. Bronson thinks Eddie is nuts to continue with the training but when he sees his stubborn new student just isn't going to quit, he gets on-board, hoping to help Eddie from not dying on the slopes. Their biggest goal? Getting Eddie to qualify for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

One piece of advice if you're going to see this sports-themed story. Don't read too much about Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards and his story/background. If you feel like ignoring my advice, check it out HERE. I wanted to go in fresh, go in clean, and I enjoyed it that much more because of it. Even if it is a familiar story of an underdog, not knowing exactly where it's going pays off some big dividends.

Have you seen Rudy? Rocky? Cool Runnings? Hoosiers? Countless other flicks I'm missing? If you answered 'Yes,' then you know exactly what you're getting into with 'Eagle.' That's not a bad thing. If you liked those movies, you'll like/love this story from actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher. There is simply something charming and reaffirming about underdog sports stories. You can call it cliched, stereotyped or cheesy, but as a sports and/or movie fan, it will always be fun to see those stories, especially when they're based on true stories, like here. The story sticks to the truth -- mostly -- and does condense some parts of Eddie's life and training for the sake of a streamlined movie. The gist of it is there though, a strong-willed athlete who doesn't grasp the concept of 'You can't' or 'You shouldn't' because he wants nothing more than to obtain his goal of being an Olympic athlete. Can't we all get on-board with that?

Last seen saving the world from a diabolical mastermind -- in Kingsman: The Secret Service -- Taron Egerton jumps head-first into the titular role of Eddie the Eagle. In a meatier role than Kingsman, he gets to show off his range a bit and doesn't disappoint. For one, he did some work to get Eddie's look down. Egerton is a good-looking kid but with some poofy hair, a goofy mustache, his glasses, you buy him as a pretty close dead-ringer for the real-life Eddie. Go ahead. Google it. The physical mannerisms, the face scrunch, the physical ticks, the squint, Egerton does a heck of a job. Just as a performance, it's excellent. It's likable. It's sympathetic. 'Eagle' hits a home run in the most necessary part of the sports underdog story. You need to like him as a viewer. You need to root for him to achieve his goals. Double-check in that department! Looking forward to what's next for Egerton, a very talented young actor.

What does a good underdog need the most? A tough-talking coach who won't take no crap! In steps Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman. His Bronson Pearcy is a combination of Eddie's real-life coaches so don't check the history books (or Wikipedia) for his name. Jackman does what he does best, throwing his crazy amounts of energy into the role, providing a great counter to Egerton's Eddie. His falling out in the ski jumping community left a nasty taste in his mouth but now he has his surprising chance to return. Egerton and Jackman have a pretty perfect chemistry, easy-going, believable and always entertaining together. They play well off each other in a relationship that has its fair share of ups and downs through their training. Pointless but cool tidbit? Egerton and Jackman filmed a greeting that aired before the movie which I thought was a nice touch. Didn't look scripted or overdone, just two friends talking about a movie they're proud of being a part of. Pretty cool.

Not a huge cast overall, but a good one just the same. Jo Hartley and Keith Allen are excellent as Eddie's parents, equal parts supportive and frustration as Eddie continues to chase his dream. Christopher Walken has a small part -- but a welcome one -- as a former coach of Bronson's who's a figurehead of sorts in the skiing community. Also look for Tim McInnerny, Edvin Endre, Iris Berben and the then the always welcome as always Jim Broadbent as a BBC TV commentator.

'Eagle' follows the familiar formula of the underdog rising to the occasion. We get some fun training montages set to a fun 1980's themed soundtrack -- the score itself sounds like a cheesy 80's electronic score -- and all those nice little touches. My suggestion is simple. Go along for the ride. The ski jump footage is obviously CGI at points, but it is fun. Fun. There's some great moments, especially in the final act as Eddie runs through roadblock after roadblock, one person after another trying to stop him. No spoilers here, but it's pretty unnecessary. The movie wouldn't be here if there wasn't a happy ending. But just because you know where it's going doesn't mean you can't enjoy that ride. That's what works so well, what works so well in all sports underdog stories. You know what the end game will be and you still enjoy it.

An easy movie to recommend. Give it a shot!

Eddie the Eagle (2016): ***/****

Monday, March 7, 2016

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier

The name David Crockett is pretty instantly recognizable. One of the biggest heroes in American history, he accomplished a ton in his 50 years on Earth, a hunter, politician and through his actions at the Alamo, a tragic, mysterious icon. But the thing that people most often associate with Crockett is actually the Disney treatment, 1955's Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.

It's the mid 1810's and Tennessee hunter and farmer Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) has joined the local militia to help General Andrew Jackson (Basil Ruysdael) combat the revolting Creek Indian tribe. Joining him is his friend, George Russel (Buddy Ebsen), as they join the army. Crockett's exploits of scouting, hunting and fighting begin to pile up and his name (and legend grow). It all starts the backwoods frontiersman down a road that will take him to the state legislature for Tennessee and ultimately to Washington City as a US Congressman. Always on the move though, always looking for new fresh and unexplored land though, Crockett and Russel end up in San Antonio, Texas at a beat-up old mission, the Alamo, joining the fight for Texas independence against Mexican general Santa Anna and his army of thousands.

Aired as part of Walt Disney's Disneyland TV program in 1955, the Davy Crockett craze began with three hour-long episodes, with two more episodes filmed and shown on TV later that year. I was lucky enough to buy the DVD collection of all five original episodes years ago, and man, was it cool to watch it. It's rather pricey here at Amazon if you were looking to purchase it. 'Frontier' is actually about 90 minutes long while the three episodes in their entirety ran about 150 minutes or so. In the infancy of TV, this was a craze that swept across the country. Kids everywhere needed a coonskin cap and desperately waited for each new episode. Before the Internet, Twitter and all our other modern idiocies, this was a CRAZE. It's easy to see why.

It all starts with the casting of Fess Parker as the famous Tennessee frontiersman, David 'Davy' Crockett. As presented, this is more of a portrayal of the legend of the man, not who he actually was, and that's okay. Quick with a joke, a smile, a welcoming line, Parker becomes Crockett in a career-defining performance. It becomes difficult not to picture Parker as Crockett. He's an explorer, a frontiersman, one who lives by a code, who wants to know he's doing right and then go ahead. He's not content to sit still and is always working toward something. His homespun jokes, his easygoing manner (until he's pushed/cornered), the Crockett we see is maybe not the most accurate portrayal of the actual historical man. Instead, maybe it's what we'd like to think of the man. Again, this is more the myth, the legend of Davy -- not David -- Crockett but it works on so many levels from beginning to end. Parker at his absolute best.

What does a hero need? A sidekick. A friend. A road trip buddy. In steps Buddy Ebsen -- also in a career-best part -- as George E. Russel, a friend and confidant, a fellow deadshot with a rifle, and Davy's conscience at times as they navigate Indian wars, politics and ultimately, a life and death situation at the Alamo.  Most importantly, it's easy to believe in this friendship. Parker and Ebsen have the best kind of chemistry, natural and easy-going. These are our two heroes with Ruysdael's Jackson, William Bakewell, Pat Hogan, Helene Stanley, Mike Mazurki rounding out the cast.

The part of Crockett's life that always fascinated me was him ending up in the Alamo. The Disney version is a streamlined version of the battle but that doesn't take away from its effectiveness. Crockett, Russel and their two new companions, Thimblerig (Hans Conried), a down on his luck gambler, and Busted Luck (Nick Cravat), a down on his luck Comanche warrior, actually ride into the mission during the battle, not before it. Where there was a light-headed air at times with some comedic relief through the first two episodes, it's hard to pull that off with a story that ends with a massacre. Surprisingly dark, unsettling at times, it's nonetheless a perfect example of why people have been drawn to Crockett for going on 200-plus years. He fights for the underdog. He fights for what he believes and he's willing to sacrifice a ton for it, maybe even his life. As for the final assault on the Alamo, it's quite the iconic ending. We see Davy swinging his empty rifle at charging soldiers. We never see him die. It's a more effective, moving ending that way.

In our Alamo portion, also look for Kenneth Tobey as Jim Bowie and Don Megowan as William Travis, the other two heroes of our Alamo Holy Trinity. Some cool moments, including the infamous drawing of the line -- those willing to die cross over -- and Ebsen's Russel stepping in as the Alamo messenger who rides out looking for help...only to find none and still come back. The highlight remains for me the night before the attack, Davy quietly singing a song he's written about Tennessee. The men in the Alamo know what's coming, a somber, thoughtful cloud hanging in the air. A very effective ending for an excellent movie/show overall.

It was a lot of fun catching up with this Disney classic from Parker and Ebsen's scene-stealing roles to the instantly recognizable theme (Listen HERE), this was a gem then and it is now. Highly recommended in whatever format you can find it. I'm hoping to review the final two episodes soon as well, work/schedule permitting! In the meantime, DAVY...DAVY CROCKETT, KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER......That's me singing if you couldn't figure it out.

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier (1955): ****/****

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Quiet American

For the United States, the Vietnam War officially began in 1965 as American forces officially became involved in the fighting in Vietnam. Of course, American advisors had been on the ground in Vietnam for a decade-plus trying to help swing things toward the American way and away from the Communist way. A particularly nasty period leading to a far nastier period, it's shady and dark and very hush-hush, very Cold War. Not too many films address the pre-Vietnam War time. An exception? From 1958, The Quiet American.

It's 1952 in Saigon and the political situation in Vietnam is on the verge of exploding as Vietnamese insurgents have begun to fight back against their French colonist rulers. Everything is seemingly in the balance just waiting for someone to strike the match that sets it all off. Living in the city is Thomas Fowler (Michael Redgrave), a middle-aged British journalist working as a war correspondent on the almost-daily updates of the fighting. He lives with a young Vietnamese woman, Phuong (Giorgia Moll), and is quite comfortable in his living situation in spite of the fighting and death around him. His peaceful arrangement changes though when a young American (Audie Murphy) shows up in Saigon. Working with a friends of Asia organization, the American takes an immediate liking to Phuong, putting the young woman in quite a spot. Now, Fowler -- with a wife back home -- must decide what is most important to him.

This 1958 historical drama from director Joseph Mankiewicz is based on a novel by author Graham Greene. As for the finished product, Greene was less than pleased with some rather major changes made from his source novel. Mankiewicz too was displeased with what the studio had done to the version he had written and then directed. I haven't read the novel, but I have seen the 2002 version of the film (starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser) that's supposedly a lot more in line with Greene's original. Moral of the story? Issues those involved may have had, 'Quiet' is worth a watch for any number of reasons, flaws considered and flaws aside.

My feeble mind can only grasp so much Politic. That's right...the upper-cased Politic. That was my worry about this 1958 drama. Though it is a personal story among three people in Saigon, the political situation in the city (and the world on a bigger level) is the basis. I wasn't always sure what they're talking about, but it's fascinating to watch it develop. Basically, everyone has their motives, the French, Communists, Americans and those that would benefit from a third force taking an active role in Vietnam, in this case those dastardly Americans. Mankiewicz filmed in Vietnam in 1958 -- so not the most peaceful filming location -- which gives 'Quiet' an authentic air of actually being a part of what we're seeing on-screen. Filming was less than smooth sounds like as demonstrations and violence rocked the city. How about that for adding that layer of reality?

The basis of the story is one of my least favorite storytelling devices....well, ever. It's the love triangle among Redgrave's middle-aged journalist, Murphy's noble, naive, idealistic American, and Moll's innocent Phuong who simply wants to be happy. The historical backdrop certainly helps alleviate the pain, but mostly, it's the acting talent involved. Mankiewicz's script lets these potential cardboard cutouts be red-blooded individuals (mostly). Redgrave is excellent as Fowler, the journalist going through a mid-life crisis of sorts at the worst possible moment. It's a challenging character because he isn't sympathetic, is a bit too whiny but all under the umbrella of being a stodgy British gentleman. He's passive aggressive and with a touch of condescending for good measure. By far, that's the best performance.

Murphy wasn't the first choice to play the titular, unnamed character, just part of a checkered production that saw some huge names drop in and out of filming. Murphy takes a rap sometimes for his wooden acting, but I thought he was excellent here. The biggest change made from Greene's novel is in the character, Murphy's American presented as a heroic, naive, honest, genuinely good individual while his backstory and motive for being in Vietnam are never truly explained. The 2002 version did not have that problem. Redgrave and Murphy play well off each other, Moll keeping up throughout with a thankless part. Also look for Claude Dauphin as a scene-stealing police investigator, Bruce Cabot, Fred Sadoff, Kerima and Richard Loo in key supporting parts.

There are issues with the story's pacing and as I mentioned, I get lost at times in the politically-heavy scenes. But as a movie? It's very good. I liked the movie-watching experience a lot. Filmed in black and white, 'Quiet' looks great, humid and sweaty and sun-drenched, a perfect backdrop for that politically and love-charged Saigon. The storytelling techniques work well -- giving away the ending in the opening scene, the rest told in flashback -- and the acting is solid all-around. A lot to recommend for an oft-forgotten drama.

The Quiet American (1958): ***/****