Tag Archives: Marlon Brando

A Dry White Season (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights social injustice.

The story centers on South African schoolteacher Ben (Donald Sutherland) who has led a peaceful law abiding suburban existence and has no idea about the social injustices around him. One day his black gardener (Winston Ntshona) comes to him complaining about how his son was beaten by police simply for attending a peaceful rally. Ben initially dismisses the claims and insists the son must’ve done something wrong, but when he investigates the issue further he finds some startling revelations about how far the authorities are willing to go to stop dissent and when Ben decides to challenge the police on this his life and security get put on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Brink and directed by Euzhan Palcy who became the first Black woman to direct a film that was produced by a major Hollywood studio. For the most part the film is polished and well made and at the beginning emotionally effective as we see first hand the brutal treatment of the protesters by the police. I also liked how it shows both sides of the issue by having Ben’s wife Susan (Janet Suzman) admit that apartheid is wrong, but too afraid for its abolishment as she fears it might put the whites at too much of a disadvantage.

Unfortunately somewhere along the way it starts to lose steam and ends on a whimper that is nowhere near the emotional level that it began with. Part of the problem is that it suffers from a weak main character. Sutherland plays the part well, but it’s hard to understand how someone could live well into his middle age years and still have such extreme naivety to what was going on in the country that he resided in. He’s also dependent on those around him to do most of the legwork and you have to question what difference does our hero’s actions ultimately make anyways since apartheid continued on for many years after this film’s setting, which is 1976.

All of this could’ve been resolved had Marlon Brando’s character been made the protagonist. Brando came out of retirement to take on the supporting role and agreed to do it at union scale, which was far below his usual salary demands. His presence adds zest to the proceedings as a lawyer who is quite attuned to the corrupt system, but decides to give it a fiery court battle anyways and it’s a shame that he’s only in it for a brief period and then just completely disappears during the second half.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending differs a bit from the book and was added in by director Palcy, which has a black cab driver Zakes Mokae taking the law into his own hands and shooting the Jurgen Prochnow character, who plays a policemen, after he intentionally ran Sutherland over with his car. Palcy did this to show how even decent people can be pushed to violence, which I agree with, but she seems to feel the need to justify this by having a flashback ‘replay’ of all the previous events that drove Mokae to pull the trigger, which comes off as heavy-handed. If we’ve watched the movie then we already know what happened and don’t suddenly need a ‘refresher course’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

As a drama it’s an adequately compelling, but there’s other movies on the same subject and I can’t say this one stands out from those. I was also disappointed to find that the book from which this is based was fictional as I initially thought it was a true story since it takes place in a very specific year. I’m not saying some of what goes on here didn’t happen in a broad sense, but having it centered on verifiable events gives it more relevance and makes it seem more like telling a story as opposed to just making a political statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Euzhan Palcy

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Formula (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nazis create synthetic fuel.

While investigating the murder of his former police mentor, Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott) stumbles upon a an underworld of drug money and illicit funds that connect back to a petroleum company run by Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando). He later learns that it has to do with a synthetic fuel invented by the Nazis during World War II that could be created from coal instead of oil, which if unleashed would unbalance the world markets and those that know about it are now being silenced permanently.

MGM offered to make the movie before Steve Shagan had even completed the novel of which is is based figuring that the topic of synthetic fuel would grab audiences since it conformed to the issue of the energy crisis that was making headlines during that era. Unfortunately the story works better in novel form because as a movie it amounts to nothing more than scene after scene of talking heads with no visual style or cinematic quality to it and the only interesting images, which include watching a frog swim across a chlorine filled pool and alligators munching on their lunch, has nothing to do with the actual plot at all.

Scott’s character is equally dull. He’s seen at the start leaving a movie theater with his son (Ike Eisenmann), which I guess is a cheap attempt to ‘humanize’ the character, but then he’s never seen with him again. He’s also initially straddled with a police partner (Calvin Jung) and their relationship gets off to a rocky start, which I thought would offer some secondary drama, but then he disappears too leaving him only with Marthe Keller, who replaced Dominique Sanda who Scott disliked because of her French accent, who acts as a potential love interest that is both stale and unneeded.

The film’s only entertaining aspect is Brando who manages to steal every scene he’s in by playing up the comic angle. He demanded complete control over how his character dressed and in the process sported a goofy comb-over and a hearing aid, which gives the guy a quirky charm. He also mostly ad-libbed his lines and refused to learn the ones in the script, which helps enliven the otherwise staid drama with some nice offbeat touches that I wished had been played-up more and it’s a shame that he wasn’t made the star as he’s the only thing that saves it.

The plot does have some intriguing qualities to it, but Shagan who also acted as the film’s producer, gives away all the secrets too early. Instead of waiting until the very end to find out what the code name Genesis stands for we’re told the answer at the halfway mark making the second half seem pointless and petering itself out with one of the dullest, most anti-climactic finales ever filmed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

The Chase (1966)

chase 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town on edge.

Bubber Reaves (Robert Redford) has escaped from prison and looks to return to the small Texas town where he grew up in. It is there that his wife Anna (Jane Fonda) resides, but she is now having an affair with Jason (James Fox) who is the son of the town’s influential millionaire Val (E.G. Marshall). Deep-seated tensions that had long remained dormant eventually rise and boil over. The sheriff (Marlon Brando), who is not particularly popular with the locals, wants to bring Bubber back alive, but a certain group of men have other ideas and are willing to physically and violently stop the sheriff if they have to in order to get their way.

The film was notorious in its day for its behind-the-scenes discord that was almost as entertaining as the conflicts onscreen. Producer Sam Spiegal gave director Arthur Penn no authority over the final cut and screenwriters Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman who along with Penn where in constant disagreements over the story angles and character focus. Yet with all that going on the final product is still slick enough to remain entertaining and compelling.

Much of this can be attributed to the talented supporting cast. Janice Rule is spicy as the haughty husband stealer and Robert Duvall is memorable in an atypical role as a timid man who avoids all confrontation even when his wife (Martha Hyer) openly makes out with another man while right in front of him. Miriam Hopkins, in her second-to-last film appearance, leaves a strong impression as well playing Bubber’s elderly, but still feisty mother.

On the other end there is Fonda who is wasted in a small role that gives her little to do. Redford, with his All-American good looks is miscast and fails to reflect the grittiness of the rest of the characters. Brando’s presence is also a detriment as his patented moodiness becomes off-putting instead being the portal to the character’s ‘inner angst’ as it’s intended although the scene where he gets beaten to a pulp and then walks all bloodied out in front of the other townspeople who stare at him with indifference is an impactful moment.

The ending culminates with an explosive finale inside a junkyard, but the majority of the film lacks any action. It’s more of a soap opera than a chase, which makes the title misleading and even disappointing to those that may come into it expecting an action flick, which it isn’t. The setting is also supposed to take place in Texas and even though certain shots do resemble the Lone Star landscape it was actually all filmed inside the borders of California.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1966

Runtime: 2Hours 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Night of the Following Day (1969)

night of the following day 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnappers can’t get along.

A teenage girl (Pamela Franklin) is kidnapped by a group of professional killers who then demand a large ransom from her rich father (Hugues Wanner). Things deteriorate as the criminals begin fighting amongst themselves and eventually it all goes awry, which leads to ironic results.

Writer/director Hubert Cornfield creates a picturesque setting and a certain new wave look that subtly runs through it. The music has a new age sound, which helps to create a kind of metaphysical mindset. There are also some good camera angles and interesting edits, so it takes you awhile before you realize that this is just a lot to do about nothing.

The caper itself is too general and formulaic and in the end makes it a lame excuse for a movie. The infighting by the criminals is not that interesting. The characters are so one-dimensional that you really don’t care what happens to them. The twist ending is not that clever and in many ways simply signifies what a waste of time this really is.

Marlon Brando overacts with a part that doesn’t require it. He uses the hip lingo of the day like ‘freaky’ and ‘man’, which doesn’t really mesh with the middle-aged man that he was. His blonde wig looks awful and his trendy clothes including his big belt buckle gives him too much of a kitschy appearance. The attempts at making him a sort of anti-hero that is brave, sensitive, and concerned for his victim’s welfare despite being one of the perpetrators doesn’t work and makes the character a cliché like everything else in the movie.

Franklin is wasted. She goes through all the expected emotions of a kidnap victim, but barely utters a word in the process.

The neighboring policeman is put in to help create some tension, but ends up being annoying instead. However, Jess Hahn as Wally is quite good playing the film’s only believable character. He has very much of an average Joe type of looks and seems at the start to have an insignificant role, but ends up being the only one that holds it up together while the rest become whacked out.

Despite an interesting cast that also includes Rita Moreno and Richard Boone I found this to be a very cardboard thriller that runs out of gas after an okay beginning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hubert Cornfield

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

Child’s Play (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Private school is murder.

If you are looking for a review about the Chucky doll then you will have to wait as that will come at a later time. This is the first film to use that title and it is based on the Broadway play by Robert Marasco who in turn based it loosely on an early Ingmar Bergman movie called Torment. The story deals with an exclusive all-boys school where bizarre unexplained random acts of violence begin to occur between groups of students. New teacher Paul Reis (Beau Bridges) becomes determined to unravel the mystery and begins to suspect that it may have something to do with a long running feud between two of the school’s older instructors Joseph Dobbs (Robert Preston) and Jerome Malley (James Mason)

The film opens right away with a nice creepy tone and a foreboding score that immediately got me wrapped up into it. The dark, shadowy lighting of the interiors helped accentuate the sinister feel. It is also great to have the film shot in an actual boy’s school instead of building sets to recreate the look. Just hearing the floorboards creak underneath the feet of the actors as they walk around helps to create an already strong atmosphere.

Mason is terrific. I think it is impossible for the man to ever give a weak performance even if the script itself is poor. He is captivating every time he is on the screen and his ability to display wide ranging emotions without flaw never ceases to amaze me. Everything always seems to come so naturally with this man in all of his performances that you never see the acting, or technique behind it. It is a shame this movie is so obscure because watching his performance alone makes the film worth seeing and the desperate, lonely character that he plays is interesting in its own right.

Preston doesn’t seem as strong. He is a good actor at times, but not for this type of part and having him wearing a moustache doesn’t help. Supposedly the part was originally intended for Marlon Brando, who would have been more interesting, but he ended up backing out.

Bridges is okay as the protagonist, but he has played the role of a wide-eyed idealist coming into an ugly situation while oblivious to all of the dark aspects a little too often making it an annoying caricature.

The movie fails in the fact that it cannot hold the tension and there are too many talky scenes with little action in-between. The students come off as robotic like and the scenes involving them attacking another student inside a gymnasium looks staged and rehearsed. Director Sidney Lumet would have done better had he used a hand-held camera and gotten right in the middle of the fray making it seem more spontaneous and vivid.

I also had a hard time believing that so many students could get effectively brain washed and sworn to secrecy. I could buy maybe a few, but having so many seemed implausible and ruined the film for me. However, the explanation for the cause to the violence is an original one that I wouldn’t have thought up myself. Also, the surprise twist at the very end is kind of cool.

A similar film to this one entitled Unman, Wittering, and Zigo that also came out in the 70’s and dealt with murder at an all-boys private school will be reviewed next Friday and fares a bit better.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Bedtime Story (1964)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con men fleece ladies.

Freddy Benson (Marlon Brando) enjoys conning his way into women’s beds. He uses all sorts of different ruses and has become so good at it he’s made it into a full-time profession. Then he meets Lawrence Jameson (David Niven) and is impressed because not only is Lawrence able to woo them for sex, but he is also able to get into their finances as well. The two work together for a while, but then there is a falling out and they become rivals instead. Along comes Janet Walker (Shirley Jones) a single woman with a supposedly rich father. The two then compete to see which one can con her best.

The movie itself is so-so, but Brando’s performance is excellent. He is far better known for his brooding dramatic performances, but the guy is amazingly engaging here. I loved every scene that he was in and found him to be consistently amusing. I was impressed with how at ease he was in doing comedy and this is a must for all Brando fans as you will see him doing something completely different from anything else he has done. I came away feeling he was perfect for comedy and wishing he had done more of it in his career.

The story though is contrived and formulaic in the worst way. The first hour is particularly tough going as the schemes the two men play are rather lame and something a fifth grader could see through. The women are portrayed as being utter morons and apparently so good-hearted that they will fall for any trick in the book. It would have given it a better balance had a few of them become wise to the men’s antics, but the fact that none of them do makes the whole thing seem horribly stereotyped and insulting to females everywhere. The humor is trite and unsophisticated and it should come as no surprise that the script was written by Paul Henning known for such ‘classics’ as ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’.

If you survive the boring and silly first hour things improve slightly during the second. The antics that Lawrence and Freddy pull on Janet are a little more clever and it is fun to see how each tries to one-up the other. Freddy pretends to be a man stricken to a wheel chair after he becomes traumatized from the rejection of a woman he loved. The only person who can cure him is a famous, but expensive psychiatrist that gets played by Lawrence. Larwrence’s initial examination of Freddy is funny as is the part where Freddy and his wheelchair go wildly out-of-control and crash into a countryside barn.

I was disappointed that there was no twist ending here as I was starting to think there would be and defiantly should have been. Instead it is just another ‘happy’ hollow Hollywood ending that was typical for that era and solidifying this as an empty lightweight exercise that barely deserves any attention at all if not for Brando’s performance.

In 1988 this film was remade as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine. That film will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Ralph Levy

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS