By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Battle in the desert.
French Foreign Legion Major William Foster (Gene Hackman) suffers from memories of leading 8,000 of his own men into a failed battle, which has driven him to alcoholism. Now he and his regiment are assigned to protect an archaeology dig lead by Francois Marneau (Max Von Sydow) that sits in the middle of the Moroccan desert and is under constant threat by an army of Arab revolutionaries lead by El Krim (Ian Holm).
The film was a labor of love for director Dick Richards who grew up watching the French Foreign Legion films in his youth and wanted to recapture that magic, but like with his earlier and much acclaimed western flick The Culpepper Cattle Company do it with a revisionist slant. Aesthetically it looks gorgeous and all the more impressive when you factor in that the majority of it was filmed in Nevada, but because the dunes in Morocco had a different shade of color than the ones in North America the sand was flown in to camouflage this and you’d never know the difference. Watching the harsh treatment that the men had to go through as they trained to become soldiers is quite revealing as well and made the first hour of the film captivating.
Hackman though looks uncomfortable in his role and this could be attributed in large part to the fact that he fell off his horse during filming and was suffering from a great deal of back pain during the shoot. In either case he ends up getting sorely upstaged by Italian star Terence Hill, who up until this time had mainly done comedic styled westerns with his onscreen pal Bud Spencer, but here shines as a soldier who challenges authority and galvanizes the rest of the troops.
Marcel Bozzuffi is equally memorable as the cruel Lieutenant Fontaine who treats the men under him quite harshly most notably Top Hat played by Andre Penvern, but the theatrical/DVD release omits a crucial scene with him that was only shown in the TV print. In that version he and his men chase after two deserters and then get involved in an ill-advised battle with some tribesmen, which ultimately causes him to break down in fear and kill himself, which would’ve been an interesting transition to witness since for the majority of the movie he remains cold and aloof otherwise.
Despite being a great actor Von Sydow’s presence here is a detriment as it will only remind viewers especially during the archaeology dig sequence of his work in The Exorcist where in the beginning of that film where scenes of him doing essentially the same thing. Catherine Deneuve is another excellent talent who is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow her much to do and only helps to slow down the already sluggish film with each scene that she’s in.
The film’s most disappointing aspect though is with its ending, which should’ve been its strong point. The final battle is exciting and the shots of hundreds of chanting Arab soldiers coming over the dunes to attack is indeed impressive and even harrowing to see, but watching the systematic slaughter of the French soldiers and ultimately learning that they walked themselves into a trap is quite dispiriting. I know I’ve complained about the formulaic happy endings from time-to-time in some other films, but this one is too much of a downer and offers the viewer no payoff at all for having to sit through it. It’s almost like giving someone a reasonably enjoyable ride only to drive the car off the cliff at the end and expect them to thank you for it.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: August 5, 1977
Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes
Director: Dick Richards
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video
Posted in 70's Movies, Drama, Movies with a rural setting, Outdoors, War Movies
Tagged Catherine Deneuve, Dick Richards, Entertainment, Gene Hackman, Marcel Bozzuffi, Max Von Sydow, Movies, Review, Terence Hill
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: She loses her mind.
Love or loathe him one thing is for sure the controversial Roman Polanski has made some great movies and since today marks his 80th birthday I thought it would be good to review one of his films this being his first English language one. The story, which was written by Polanski and Gerard Brach centers on Carol (Catherine Deneuve) a beautiful but lonely young woman living in an apartment with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). Carol seems detached and troubled and when Helen and Michael go off for the weekend Carol begins to suffer hallucinations while inside the apartment that becomes increasingly more frightening and eventually leads to murder.
The film works at a slow and deliberate pace that some viewers may feel put-off by. Personally I felt it was effective and made it more realistic although things really don’t start to get intense until the final hour. For me it was the little things that made it intriguing for instance the way Carol becomes fascinated with the distorted reflection of herself in a teapot, or a rolling bottle of nail polish. Nothing is over-the-top, but instead subtle and restrained. This is one of the few films that seem to understand the thought process of the mentally ill and makes you feel like you are really inside their head and seeing things as they do, which is what makes it so unnerving. The low-key approach works because like with an actual person having a breakdown it starts with little things that slowly morph into bigger ones.
Polanski shows incredible control over the material. The stark black-and-white cinematography helps to heighten the ugliness of the situation. The variety of camera angles and movements creates an almost hypnotic effect. I loved the way, as Carol gets further into her demented state, that the dimensions of the apartment begins to change, or the hands coming out of the walls. My only complaint is I wished some of these effects had been played up even more. The rape sequences are quite effective and surprisingly explicit for its time period. Yet instead of hearing Carol’s screams during these moments we instead hear the ticking of a clock, which somehow makes it even more disturbing.
Deneuve gives one of her best performances and she was at the peak of youthful beauty here. The blank almost zombie-like look in her eyes is penetrating. You get the feeling that she not only truly understands the madness of her character, but actually is the character. Patrick Wymark is also memorable as the landlord who goes from being bombastic and demanding to kind and cuddling and eventually sexually deviant in a matter of only 10 minutes.
Normally I always like a background to the characters and when they are missing or vague I find it a weakness to the script while here it is strangely a strength. We can surmise that she was most likely abused sexually when she was younger, but the who, when, and why is never made clear. This though somehow makes the character and the situation more compelling and reflects back to how psychologically fragile the human condition can be and how these things can happen to anyone. The final tracking shot, which stops on a picture of Carol as a child showing an angry look on her face is great.
The imagery and psychological approach to this thing is still one-of-a-kind. The movie viewing experience on this one remains potent and aptly deserves its classic status.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: October 2, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes
Director: Roman Polanski
Studio: Compton Films
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video
Posted in 60's Movies, Black & White, British Movies, Classic, Foreign Films, Horror, Moody/Stylish, Psychological
Tagged Catherine Deneuve, Entertainment, Movies, Patrick Wymark, Review, Roman Polanski