Category Archives: War Movies

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plotting to kidnap Churchill.

During World War II Nazi Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall) is hired to study the feasibility of kidnapping British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bringing him back to Germany. At first he considers it an impossible task, but then learns that Churchill is set to visit an airfield in an English village where one of their German sleeper agents resides. He then hires paratrooper Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) to lead the mission inside the village, but the plan quickly unravels forcing the soldiers to make a daring escape before the allied troops arrive.

This marks the final film directed by John Sturges who was noted for helming his share of action flicks and westerns. The film’s handsome production offers plush scenery, on-location shooting and some wonderful bird’s-eye-views. One could enjoy the movie on this level alone as well as its ability to focus more the actual planning of the mission than the fighting. It has a sort of behind-the-scenes approach to all of the thought and effort that goes into the strategy of war as opposed to the physical on the ground aspect. The film also takes a surprisingly humanistic approach to the Nazis portraying them more as regular human beings who just so happen to be fighting on the wrong side as opposed to the robotic, demonic persona that they’re given in most other war films.

The film’s faults lies in that it’s too leisurely paced. The planning stage allows for some interesting insight, but could’ve been trimmed while the action is sudden and jarring and only popping up near the end when it should’ve been introduced earlier. There is never any real danger to Churhill as the plan goes awry long before he arrives. Since the whole thing was fictional anyways then why not have the soldiers surround whatever building Churchill was in and thus making it seem at least that he might really get captured before having their plan unravel. The way it gets done here the viewer’s energy is strangely geared at seeing the bad guys escape capture, which is off-putting as is the gimmicky ending that makes everything that is shown previously seem insignificant.

The cast is impressive, but mostly underused. Duvall, who speaks with a dubious German accent, takes up most of the screen-time during the first half and then pretty much disappears altogether during the second part. Caine, who doesn’t speak with a German accent, or at least any that is detectable, seems stiff and uncomfortable in an uninteresting role that does not take advantage of his talents. Apparently he was originally offered the role of Liam Devlin who was a member of the IRA, but Caine refused it due to his personal political beliefs and was thus given the Steiner role on the rebound.

Larry Hagman, mostly known for his TV work, gets an amusingly showy bit as the inept Colonel Potts who tries to lead the US Army Rangers on a mission to rescue the village’s town folk who are held hostage by the soldiers. While the part takes full advantage of Hagman’s comic ability to play a hyper, emotionally frazzled character it seems out of place in this type of movie and almost turns the film dangerously close to becoming an ill-advised comedy.

Donald Sutherland ends up becoming the scene stealer as Liam Devlin who with his hair dyed red really looks Irish and speaks with an authentic sounding Irish accent. The character also has an unusual ability to whistle and then move his finger in a way that subdues an aggressive dog by seemingly putting it under a sort-of hypnotic spell. Whether anyone could really do this, or is there is some truth in what the character does here I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: December 25, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Casualties of War (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He witnesses a rape.

Based on an actual incident that occurred on November 19, 1966 the story centers around five members of an American squadron during the Vietnam War where the pressures and ugliness of battle send their leader, Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) over-the-edge. When his squad gets denied leave he decides to have his men kidnap a Vietnamese girl named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) who is then raped by the four of them while one, Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses.  The young woman is eventually killed and her lifeless body left in a field. When the men return to their base Eriksson tries to report the crime, but finds stiff resistance.

This same incident was used as the basis for another film called The Visitors, which came out 17 years earlier. That movie took a different approach as it hypothesized what would’ve happened once the men returned from doing prison time and came for a ‘visit’ to the man’s home who had turned them in. That film suffered from a lack of a budget, but still managed to have a little more tension and impact than this one. This version takes way too long to play itself out. The audience knows where it’s headed right from the start and thus makes it almost excruciating to have to sit through.

The film would’ve worked better had the story been told in a fragmented style. The horror of the situation gets lost by the plodding narrative that overplays the story’s shock element and seems to take an almost sick delight in dragging out the whole kidnap/rape sequence until it gets agonizing and even tedious.

The idea that Eriksson would mentally be going back through this whole situation while he dreams it during a nap on a bus isn’t believable. The story is supposedly told as a flashback, but people dream in a more surreal, nonlinear way that wouldn’t painstakingly go back through every detail that had occurred to them in real-life. Also, people tend to repress unpleasant experiences that they’ve had. At times certain bits and pieces of it may come to the surface, but most of it would be locked away in the person’s subconscious, which is why the fragmented approach would’ve made more sense because we would’ve seen things in the exact same way that they were being played out in Eriksson’s head.

Fox is miscast and looks more like Marty McFly stuck in a time warp and involved in a situation he has no business being in. His character’s upbeat disposition makes him seem like he’s in some sort of invisible bubble that allows him not to be affected by the horrors of war even though it has clearly taken its toll on everyone else around him.  The character is also a bit too passive and does little to prevent the rape from occurring, which will make some viewers feel that he is cowardly.

Although his character is a bit over-the-top Penn gives a strong and effective performance and the main reason if any to watch the film. John Leguizamo is also good as a shy, quiet type that initially refrains from wanting to take part in the crime only to ultimately cave to peer pressure.

The on-location shooting done in Thailand is good and I liked the way director Brian De Palma uses the point-of-view effect particularly when the men go around the sleeping village looking for a victim to choose, but ultimately the film fails to elicit much of an emotional effect. The quasi, tacked-on ‘uplifting’ ending in which a stranger tells Eriksson to simply ‘let go’ of his horrible memories and in essence ‘move on’ from it is terribly contrived as there are certain experiences one can’t simply leave behind, which only helps to solidify how shallow this potentially penetrating drama really is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Catch-22 (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The insanities of war.

Having to fly numerous combat air missions has sent Word War II fighter pilot John Yossarian (Alan Arkin) to the brink of insanity. He goes to his unit’s psychiatrist Dr. Daneeka (Jack Gilford) asking him if he can be sent home. The doctor admits that anyone who feels that they are going crazy shouldn’t be flying, but there’s a problem known as ‘Catch-22’, which states that anyone who no longer wants to fly combat missions isn’t crazy but normal and therefore John’s request is denied and he is forced to remain while observing how utterly ridiculous everyone else is, particularly his military superiors, even though they’re considered to be the ‘normal’ ones.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Joseph Heller, who started writing his novel in 1953 and would only spend 1-hour each day working on it until finally completing it 8 years later. The story is very loosely based on some of his experiences and emotions that he had as a fighter pilot during the war and it’s always nice watching something that was done, no matter how satirical, from an insider’s perspective and his numerous potshots at the nonsense that makes up the military hierarchy could easily be parlayed to anyone who has had to deal with bureaucracy at any level.

Certain changes were made in the novel’s transition to the big-screen, but overall screenwriter Buck Henry does well in bringing the fragmented narrative vibe of the book to the film. I was really impressed with the aerial sequences, which used the B-25 Mitchell and took 6 months to film. The cinematic style was years-ahead-of-its-time as well including having things occur in the background of a scene that has no connection to what the characters in front of the camera are discussing and at times even oblivious to.

The film features many laugh-out-loud segments with my favorite being the part where Yossarian attends a military award ceremony and accepts his medal while being, to the shock of the military brass that is handed out the medal, stark naked. Anthony Perkins, who plays the hopeless chaplain, is also quite funny in a rare, but interesting turn in a comedic role.

One of the things that I didn’t like about the film, although it didn’t bother me quite as much as it did when I first saw the movie many years ago, is the way the tone shifts from being quirky and hilarious at the beginning to somber and serious towards the end. I realize that the novel works in the same way, but the first half of the film successfully balanced the line of exposing the absurdities of war in a comedic vein while still showing the serious consequences without ever getting overwrought, so it’s a shame that the second half couldn’t have worked the same way instead of leaving the viewer with a gloomy, depressed feeling when it’s over and almost forgetting completely about the comedy that came before it. I also believe this is why this film failed at the box office while the similar M*A*S*H succeeded simply because that movie remained funny all the way through.

Arkin, in the lead, is miscast and seems too old for the part. His nervous, hyper persona doesn’t work and would’ve been more effective had it been toned down by being played by a younger actor who was more emotionally detached. The rest of the supporting cast though is great including Martin Balsam who makes cinematic history by being the first actor to ever appear sitting on a toilet in a movie.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 24, 1970

Runtime: 2Hour 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: The last Russian Tsar.

This film chronicles the life of Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston) of Russia and his marriage to Alexandria (Janet Suzman). Based on the novel by Robert K. Massie it examines the height of his power and his apathy to the poverty of his people and his reluctance to listen to their needs, or consider a more democratic form of government. It also looks at his personal life including the birth of his son Alexei (Roderic Noble) who is diagnosed with hemophilia and his wife’s over-reliance on Grigori Rasputin (Tom Baker) a man pretending to have divine connections who ultimately uses his influence on Alexandra to take control over her political affairs when her husband is away. The film also portrays Russia’s involvement during WWI as well as the Tsar’s downfall and eventual exile in Siberia with his family.

The film is basically split up into three parts with the first hour looking at Nicholas’ family life while intercutting with scenes showing the discontent of the Russia people and the efforts of Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant) to create a revolutionary form of government. The second hour examines Russia’s war involvement and the many warnings that Nicholas is given not to get involved in it, but foolishly decides to anyways, which ultimately creates massive upheaval. The third hour looks at his abdication of power and the family’s exile and virtual imprisonment at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg where they nervously await their fate.

Initially I thought the third hour would be the weakest as we all know they get shot and killed execution style, but to my surprise it is actually the strongest part of the film. To an extent tearing the characters away from their plush surroundings and forcing them to exist in bleak, squalor-like conditions actually humanizes them and allows the viewer to empathize with them particularly the four daughters who had nothing to do with their father’s harsh policies and just wanted a chance to grow up and live a normal life. The scene where the family is herded into the basement of the home in the early morning hours and forced to sit silently while awaiting their executioners is quite possibly one of the most intense moments ever captured on film.

The performances are uniformly strong particularly Suzman’s as well as Baker as the evil Rasputin who’s drawn out death scene may be one of the longest in movie history. Laurence Olivier in a small, but pivotal bit as the Prime Minister gets two commanding moments including his speech after the Bloody Sunday massacre and later his strong misgivings about the country’s war involvement.

The film is full of brilliant cinematography, direction, costumes and set pieces and is certainly something that must be watched on the big screen to be fully appreciated. I enjoyed the lavish interiors of the Winter Palace especially their walks down the elegant hallways that are lined with Royal guards, but found it equally interesting when Nicholas returns there after the war and forced to walk down these same hallways, which are now darkened and rundown. The many long distance shots of the flat and majestic landscape is also impressive particularly a view of a rolling sunflower field.

Although this film has never attained the well-known classic status of Doctor Zhivago, and in fact this was producer Sam Spiegal’s answer to that film when he was blocked from working on it, I still found it to be every bit as compelling and well directed.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1971

Runtime: 3Hours 8Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

 

King Rat (1965)

king rat 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: An island prison camp.

British and American POWs are held on an Island prison camp run by the Japanese during WW II. This camp is unlike the others as it does not have any walls, barbed wire fences, or prison guards. The men are allowed to roam freely while trapped on a tiny island with nowhere to go. Corporal King (George Segal) manages to wheel-and-deal his way to the top of the food chain by getting involved with the underground black market, which allows him to live the relative good-life while the other prisoners remain near starvation. He befriends Marlowe (James Fox) who can speak the Malaysian language, which he feels can come in handy as he gets involved with a diamond smuggling operation as well as selling deer meat, which unbeknownst to his customers is actually meat from rats who’ve feed off of the bodies of the other dead prisoners.

To some extent one can find some similarities to this and The Great Escape or Stalag 17 in that the prisoners have managed to create their own underground network without their captors being aware, but that is pretty much where the comparisons end. This film is darker and examines more the psychological deterioration that the men go through while realizing its themselves and each other that is more the enemy than the actual Japanese guards who are shown very little and have no presence at the camp or in the movie.

Segal gives a star making performance as a anti-hero who could easily be quite unlikable, but Segal’s engaging on-screen persona gives the character an added spark making him and his constant conniving more amusing than anything particularly with the way he barters with the Malaysian guards during their discussions on the price of the transfer of diamonds.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well especially Fox as the only sympathetic character and Tom Courtenay as the overzealous Grey and his never-ending crusade to take King and his cronies down. James Donald is also good as the no-nonsense Dr. with a very matter-of-fact bedside manner and a young Richard Dawson who gets the shock of his life when he comes in after the Japanese surrender to free the men of their enslavement only to find that they’re strangely reluctant to leave.

The film works in episodic fashion and while it maintains a gritty level it also has some lulls and few too many shifts in tone. There are though many unique and memorable moments including the ending where the men find themselves free to return home, but respond much differently than you’d expect. There is also a scene where the men kill a dog after it attacks some chickens and then later eat it as if it were a delicacy.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Heroes (1977)

heroes

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to civilian life.

Jack (Henry Winkler) is a Vietnam Vet. still suffering from nightmares from his war time experiences. He has been in and out of the psyche ward at the veteran’s hospital, but has come up with an idea that he feels will makes both him and his buddies a lot of money. He wants to start a worm farm to be used as fisherman’s bait, but must board a bus to California to do. There he meets Carol (Sally Field) a woman who is engaged to be married and was a war protester during the 60’s. The two don’t get along at first, but eventually a relationship is made as she and his cousin Ken (Harrison Ford) help Jack fulfill his dream.

The movie is well filmed for the most part and even has a nicely shot and exciting foot chase down the busy streets of Manhattan, but the script by James Carabatsos, who was a Vietnam Vet. himself is too loosely structured and only glosses over the many issues that veterans face, which gives the whole thing a very shallow feeling. The only time we ever see any type of flashback’s to the experiences that Jack had while fighting in the war is at the end even though I felt the film would’ve been much stronger had this been shown throughout. The comical segments are misplaced and the story would’ve worked better had it just stuck to the drama.

The film also spends too much time with Jack and Carol’s budding romance, which for the most part comes off as forced. The cutesy ways that the two are shown constantly bumping into each other as their relationship ‘blossoms’ is contrived and having the two already as a boyfriend/girlfriend from the very start would’ve helped focus things more solely on Jack, which it doesn’t do enough of. I also felt that the segment where Carol pays for damages that Jack does at a café and then goes with him and his buddy Ken to an isolated location where she is promised to get paid back for it didn’t seem realistic. I realize this was the ‘70s where people were more relaxed about meeting strangers, but it still seemed dangerous and impractical for a lonely woman to be driving off with two men she had only met and were already acting peculiar to begin with.  A normal person would’ve simply sued him in small claims court to get back the money that they felt was owed.

Winkler does a terrific job in the lead and I felt it was a shame he hadn’t pursued his film career further instead of languishing away in television. Field is good as well as is Ford playing against type as a country hick. Character actor Stuart Margolin has a fun bit as a driver who picks the two up as they are hitchhiking and Val Avery is amusing as the bus driver who becomes increasingly annoyed at Jack’s antics.

The film has its share of pleasing moments, but on the whole it’s shallow and forgettable. There have been so many other better films on the subject that this one seems barley worth even mentioning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeremy Kagan

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Night of the Generals (1967)

night of the generals

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A general kills prostitutes.

In 1942 during the height of the war a Polish prostitute is found murdered and sexually mutilated. A witness spotted a man leaving her room who was wearing a uniform that had a red stripe running down the side of his pants, which signified that he was a general. Major Grau (Omar Sharif) who is in charge of the investigation decides to interview three generals (Donald Pleasance, Peter O’Toole, Charles Gray) who were in the vicinity and have no alibi, but finds a lot of pressure not to pursue the case and it takes several decades before it finally unravels.

The storyline is compelling enough to keep you intrigued, but the script is talky with not enough action. Certain story threads seemed unnecessary and the film could have been more compact. The actors are mostly all British, but make no effort to speak in German accents despite playing Nazi roles. The music cues that are used whenever an important plot point is revealed or to transition to another scene are too loud and have a generic quality to them that does not appropriately reflect the time period.

O’Toole gives an interesting performance as psychotic ready to fall completely apart. His extreme emphasis on cleanliness especially to those that serve under him and his nervous twitches steal the film as well as a bit where he commands his men to destroy an entire block of a town simply to get at a couple of snipers. His bizarre reaction to a painting of Vincent Van Gogh that he spots in a gallery is intriguing especially when it occurs twice and his blank blue-eyed stare becomes almost piercing.

Sharif does quite well in support and despite being born and raised in Egypt does a convincing job as a Nazi and I think make-up was used to lighten his skin. Tom Courtenay is good as O’Toole’s assistant and the relationship that they form has some interesting subtexts to it.

Joanna Pettet’s appearance however seemed pointless and although the constant sparring she has with her mother (Joan Plowright) was fun it really didn’t add much to an already cluttered narrative. Christopher Plummer also gets stuck in a thankless part where he is seen for less than five minutes before promptly being killed off.

The identity of the killer gets revealed 45 minutes before the end, which hurts the suspense. I also didn’t like that the Sharif character gets killed off and the rest of the investigation is taken over by a Frenchman (Philippe Noiret) which seemed defeating since we had spent so much time siding with the character’s plight to seek justice despite all the obstacles. The film’s very final moment is supposed to be dramatic and poignant, but instead goes over-the-top and becomes weak and strained.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 29, 1967

Runtime: 2Hours 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Anatole Litvak

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawrence unites the Arabs.

Due to the death of actor Peter O’Toole on December 14 we will be reviewing each Sunday of this month 4 films that he did during the 60’s with this one be his most famous role and one that jettisoned his career into stardom.

The film chronicles the life of T.E. Lawrence who helped unite the Arab tribes during World War I and allowed them to fight back and eventually overpower the Turks. The film starts out with his motorcycle death in 1935 at the young age of 46 and then flashes back to his days in the army as a young intelligence officer. It examines his unique personality, determined headstrong ways as well as his ability to unite varying warring Arab tribes and get them to work together to defeat a common enemy.

Director David Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young are the real stars here. Filmed mostly in the countries of Morocco and Jordan Lean manages to capture the barren, hot landscape of the desert better than anyone else as he gives it an almost surreal and exotic quality that takes over the rest of the story and leaves the strongest impression. I loved the sun slowly coming up over the horizon and onto the flat terrain. I also liked the longshots showing characters enveloped by the majestic landscape and looking almost nonexistent when seen against some of the towering rocky formations. Omar Sharif’s characters entrance while on horseback and seen from a distance as he rides up through layers of heat that rises from the ground is also excellent.

The action is well captured although there isn’t as much of it as you might think. Their raid on Aquba is for my money the best. I loved the bird’s-eye shot of seeing all these soldiers looking almost like ants scurrying from the desert and into the fortress through the buildings and property and then eventually into the sea that sits on the other side. The bloody battle that they rage against an already weakened Turk army near the end is also a strong visual as is the Lawrence’s visit to an unsanitary hospital housing the wounded Turks.

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O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence was controversial at the time and to some still is. His bright, clear blue eyes makes him look like he is in a trance and the way he says his lines sounds like he was under some sort of spell and gives the character a certain mystique that isn’t quite human. Still I thought the part fit O’Toole’s personality well. My favorite moment of his is when he first tries on the Arab robes that he is given and he goes running around in them in an almost child-like manner. It is also nice seeing a story about a true-life character that isn’t preachy and more open about their flaws particularly his propensity for violence which becomes increasingly more evident as it goes along.

Sharif is excellent is support and in some ways gives the film’s all around strongest performance. I liked the adversarial relationship that his character has with Lawrence. They start out at odds with each other, but slowly become friends and yet continue to have their differences. Arthur Kennedy is good as a glib and detached photojournalist and Alec Guinness was to me initially unrecognizable as Prince Feisal.

The movie does not stay completely accurate to the real life events. Some of these are minor and while others are more major, but are too many to elaborate here. The truth is there is probably no movie pertaining to a true life event that is completely accurate to what really happened and no one should be naïve enough to expect it to be either. On an entertainment and cinematic level this one scores high. My only real complaint is the scene where a character gets swallowed up in quicksand, which in reality is very unlikely to happen, but a prevalent feature in a lot of 60’s movies and the one point where it got a bit too ‘Hollywood’.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1962

Runtime: 3Hours 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Lean

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Hair (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hippies versus the establishment.

A young draftee (Savage) goes to New York to join the army. Along the way he inadvertently walks into a ‘happening’ of hippies in Central Park who begin to socialize with him and the rest of the film looks at their efforts at trying to get him not to go.

It is easy to see how during its era this stage play would have been an exciting even vibrant experience. It perfectly captures the moods, thoughts and uniqueness of the period. However this film version doesn’t. It’s made ten years too late and the spirit just isn’t there. Even the protest rallies seem mechanical and manufactured. The period was known for its bright psychedelic colors and yet here everything is gray and bland. The camera angles should have been more unconventional and Twyla Tharp’s much ballyhooed choreography looks like nothing more than jumping around with song renditions that are horrible.

The hippies themselves are also a problem. For one thing Treat Williams looks too old as their leader. They also appear too clean-cut as these guys are literally sleeping on the streets and yet none of them have a beard.

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A few good moments do abound. Williams’ constant confrontations with the establishment are fun. Having them crash a society party and then having Williams dance on a table with Charlotte “Facts of Life” Rae is great. The dramatic twist at the end is powerful and really hits home at how impersonal and sad that war really was.

Savage looks and talks like the country boy he is playing, which is good, but his brief attempt at singing is downright awful. Brad Dourif was the original choice for the part and I think he would have done better.  Beverly D’Angelo is enticing as a snooty girl who transforms into a hippie one and Miles Chapin is amazing simply because he was a 28-year-old man that managed to convincingly look and act like a 17-year-old.

One quibble involves the wearing of the same army outfit by several different people. The uniform is originally worn by a general who is on the short side. They steal it and put it on Williams who is much taller and yet it still fits perfectly. They then put it on Savage who is much thinner and yet strangely it fits perfectly on him as well.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 14, 1979

Runtime:  2Hours 1Minute

Rated PG

Director: Milos Foreman

Studio: United Artists

Available:  DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Maria gets her way.

Maria’s (Hanna Schygulla) husband a soldier in World War II is presumed dead. She decides to make her mark by getting a job and a new lover in the form of a black man named Bill (George Eagles), but complications ensue when her husband Hermann (Klaus Lowitsch) shows up very much alive. Maria enjoys her new found independence and isn’t interested in falling back into her old role, which causes friction with her husband as well as her interactions with others.

Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder creates a unique vision and manages to walk the balance between the gritty and surreal. The lighting is evocative and shadowy and nicely reflects his stage background. The sets are colorful and varied and one becomes almost hypnotically entranced with the visuals. The abandoned buildings and rundown locales especially at the beginning make a strong impression and become like a third character. Fassbinder echoes the desperation of the characters through visual means only without ever having to resort to melodramatics, which alone makes this a classic and far better than some other similar films about the period.

Equally great use is made of sound with two to three layers of it within each scene. Whether it is the noise of a radio, traffic, or someone whistling there is always some noise coming from the background much like in reality, which helps in a subtle way to make the scenes more vivid. I loved the dolly shots constantly moving the camera around in every scene throughout the rooms that the characters are in giving the viewer a full sense of their dimensions and helping breakdown the fourth wall.

Some memorable scenes include the moment when Maria’s husband comes back from the war and catches Maria in a compromising position with her new found lover. There are at least four minutes here where there is no talking from any of the characters and one becomes riveted with the silent reactions of the three, which proves powerful. Even the erotic overtones work. Normally I find that area to be rather clichéd and mechanical, but here the sweat glistening off the naked bodies seems genuinely evocative and enticing.

Many people feel this is a movie about budding feminism and applaud the strong female character. I really wouldn’t argue with that and in many ways it is fun seeing this woman forge her way ahead while remaining poised and stalwart throughout. Her relationship with rich businessman Karl (Ivan Desny) and the way she turns him into a subservient to her every whim while also explaining to him that ‘he isn’t having an affair with her, but instead SHE is having one with him’ is classic, but I also felt it seemed a bit artificial. Having a strong central character is one thing, but this woman seems inhuman. She never shows any vulnerability at any time and appears almost completely removed from the environment around her. Never once does she flinch, compromise, or back down from anything or anyone, which just isn’t possible and makes Maria one-dimensional in the process. A character is more interesting when their flaws are exposed and then they must work hard to overcome them, but this one doesn’t have any, which is my biggest issue with this otherwise excellent production.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 20, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection)