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Mexicans, Nazis, and Bank Robbers
TORTILLA FLAT (1942) is racist claptrap from a John Steinbeck novel. The book is almost as offensive as the film, offering the same insulting stereotypes of shiftless Mexicans who try to avoid work. They live by their (half) wits, cheating each other out of money that they use to buy wine, which in turn gets them drunk. The movie has an added layer of insult (although this was typical of the time), with white actors playing the Mexicans. The cast includes Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield, Frank Morgan, Akim Tamiroff, and Sheldon Leonard. Directed by Victor Fleming.
A precursor (in a minor way) to the disaster films of the 1970s, SAN FRANCISCO (1936) features Clark Gable as "Blackie" Norton, a saloonkeeper and gambler in the notorious Barbary Coast, who owns the Paradise Club on Pacific Street. He hires and falls in love with soprano Jeanette MacDonald, an elegant lady from the east. There are all sorts of soap opera machinations, which all seem quite petty after the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Internet Movie Database reports that famous silent film directors D. W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim contributed to the screenplay without screen credit. Griffith also helped direct the famous earthquake sequence. Spencer Tracy once again plays Gable’s longtime buddy, this time a priest of all things.
FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (1943) is a moody, suspenseful spy film from the great Billy Wilder. It features Franchot Tone as a British soldier (sans British accent) who gets stuck behind enemy lines in a hotel that is being used as field headquarters for Field Marshal Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) and his staff. Will Tone be discovered in his disguise as a waiter? The dialogue is sharp and the pace is crisp. With Anne Baxter as the love interest.
WESTBOUND (1959) Directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, Virginia Mayo, and Karen Steele, this is the sixth of seven films directed by Boetticher and starring Scott, and it is by far the weakest, lacking the film noirish qualities that make the other six movies compelling. In previous Boetticher-Scott westerns, the story generally focused on an obsessive loner, who operates outside of society, with a touch of sadism in his character. In this one, he’s a more conventional hero, and he does seem to charm the ladies.
THE ST. LOUIS BANK ROBBERY (1959) is an early, low-budget crime caper, with a surprisingly large role for Steve McQueen, as a confused young man who agrees to act as a getaway driver for three obvious losers. The ending is a foregone conclusion, especially when they give the driver’s seat to someone else. McQueen is the only reason anyone would want to watch this claptrap, which is no Riffifi or even The Thomas Crown Affair.
ARGO (2012) is a Hollywood version of historical rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Directed by Ben Affleck and based loosely on Tony Mendez's account, the film stars Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman. It is well-done and exciting, but has obviously been jazzed up for the movies, including the addition of Arkin as a cranky film director and a hair's breath escape that comes right out of a Bond movie.
October 24, 2012