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Movie Review Journal: G
GARDEN OF EVIL (1954)
Director: Henry Hathaway. Cast: Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark.
Haunting, if slightly lethargic, western, a kind of film noir of the west, although it was shot in color and cinemascope. Cooper and Widmark are two wanderers in Mexico who get hooked up with Hayward, who offers them $2,000 apiece to rescue her partner from a gold mine. The catch: the mine is in Apache country, in an area that was dubbed "The Garden of Evil" by a priest who saw his flock butchered by the Indians. The movie is an attempt to draw a portrait of what men will do for greed and/or lust, and Hayward is meant to be a standard fim noir female: attractive, mysterious, a siren luring men on to their doom. The problem is she lacks the charisma to make it work, leaving a big hole in the center of the plot. You keep wondering why three of the four Americans on the trip – there's a greedy Mexican along as well – are so torn up by her. Nonetheless, the movie holds your interest, partly because of the beautiful cinematography and the vivid Bernard Herrmann score, but mostly because of Gary Cooper's stolid presence. He is a laconic loner, the quintessential hero, a man of courage and mystery who acts when others talk. Cooper has the charisma Hayward lacks, and although his actions are never as clear as they should be, his presence makes the movie watachable. TV; 5/29/95.
GARDEN STATE (2004)
Director: Zach Braff. Cast: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm.
Disposable comedy that tries hard for meaning, but comes up short. Twenty-somethings may find the kooky adventures of catatonic hero (Braff) as he comes home for funeral of estranged mom enlightening, but The Graduate and Dustin Hoffman it's not. Has some moments, but tries too hard to be quirky. Best sequence: S&G song. 8/28/04
Director: Thorold Dickenson. Cast: Anton Walbrook, Diana Wunyard, Frank Pettingell.
Original, British version of more famous Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer-Joseph Cotten 1944 remake. The plot is the same, as is much of the dialogue: a Victorian bride begins to fear that she is going mad; it's all a plot by her husband, who accuses her of losing his mother's brooch. The chief differences are in the atmosphere – this one is darker – and in the casting of the detective. Here it is an overweight, former police officer (Pettingell), old enough to be the heroine's father. In the remake, it was dashing leading man Cotten in the part, with hints of a romantic interest. 6/20/02
GATE OF HELL (1953)
Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa. Cast: Machiko Kyo, Kazuo Hasegawa, Isao Yamagata.
Striking colors and dopey story are the main features of this Japanese film, which depicts the tragic, obsessive love of a 12th Century Japanese war hero for a married woman. Histrionic acting. Some great battle scenes. Winner of first Oscar in Best Foreign Film category. 4/22/06
A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS, AND A DUPE (1975)
Directed by Damiano Damian.. Cast: Terence Hill, Patrick McGoohan, Klaus Kinski.
Dopey, tongue-in-cheek Spaghetti Western, with Terence Hill as Joe Chance,, a charming gunslinger with a winning smile and a plan to steal $300,000 in cash from a cooked army officer (Patrick McGoohan, with a terribly dubbed voice). The tongue is so firmly in cheek that you could choke to death on this farce. Beautifully photographed, however, with a whimsical Ennio Morricone score. 4/23, 4/24, 4/25/06.
GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT (1947)
Director: Elia Kazan. Cast: Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm.
Effective message picture about the prevalence of anti-semitism in society, not just among conservatives but among liberals and even Jews themselves. Peck plays a crusading reporter who passes for Jewish and faces prejudice from everyone you'd expect – and even some you wouldn't. His liberal, uppercrust fiance (McGuire) is shown to be a closet "fellow traveler," not because she promotes anti-semitism but because she doesn't stand up to it. The acting, writing, and message are laudable, and though message-wise it makes sense, dramatically and romantically it would have been more satisfying for Peck to end up with his witty colleague (Holm) than with the priggish fiance. 7/13, 7/15/98.
GET CARTER (1971)
Director: Mike Hodges. Cast: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland.
Atmospheric gangster picture in which the well-dressed mobster Jack Carter (Caine) returns from London to his home of Newcastle to find out why his brother was murdered. There's not much to the movie except for the melancholy atmosphere, the edgy camerawork, and the sporadic explosions of violence lying under the surface of the well-dressed characters. Caine is terrific as a more-or-less amoral gangster who has one principle: family ties are important. 1/18/01
GET CARTER (2000)
Director: Stephen Kay. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Mickey Rourke, Rachel Leigh Cook, Michael Caine.
Pointless remake of the 1971 gangster drama in which the ruthless enforcer, Carter (Stallone) comes home to Seattle to investigate his estranged brother's death. Where the original was a Graham Greene-like hymn to sinners, unredeemed and unredeemable, the remake plays like a Hollywood song of redemption through violence, tempered by mercy. The original Carter (played by Caine, who has a central role in this version, and who still turns in the best, most understated work in either version) was a ruthless, amoral killer who murdered suddenly, violently, without compunction. He had slept with his brother's wife, cared little for his family, and sought out the killers of his brother more for his own pride than out of any need to make amends. The new Carter is a soulful man, who befriends his niece, and punches people out like Rocky Balboa (often tossing off a comic quip at the time). He spares the lives of a central figure involved in his brother's death, and is not shown killing people as mercilessly as his predecessor. The edge has been taken off of Carter; he is now a conventional thug-turned-good-guy. Caine's Carter was unredeemable to the end, and even then, he was destroyed by the mob system. In this one, Carter beats the system, gives up his gangland ways, talks back to his boss, kills people (in dull car chases) and gets away with it. No mob hit, no police hit, nothing. Director Kay also tries jazzing things up with fancy film tricks (slo- and fast-motion, quick-cutting) but it's all flash that calls attention to the hollowness of the movie. The original was no great shakes, but it had a brutality and honesty that this movie ignores. The great Roy Budd theme is still here, though he gets a tiny credit for it in the end. Caine gets killed in both movies. 3/4/01
GET SHORTY (1995)
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito.
Amusing, offbeat crime comedy with Travolta as a hood who goes Hollywood. Chili Palmer (Travolta) is a loan shark who gets hooked up with cheapo filmmaker Harry Zimm (Hackman) and his sometime girlfriend/star Karen (Russo) and her ex-husband actor (DeVito). The pace is terrific, the acting fine, and the script hip without winking. It's a sweetly entertaining and very clever take on the absurdities of Hollywood today and movies of yesterday. Holds up well. 12/3/98
THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1948)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney, George Sanders.
Touching, at times amusing, story of a real May–December romance, between a widow and a ghost. First class Bernard Herrmann score underlines the mood – not spooky, but strangely sentimental, about the impermanenance of life and relationships, and the difficulty in finding true love. Tierney is fine as the strong-willed widow, Mrs. Muir, who liked but did not love her late husband, and almost makes a bad mistake with a cad (George Sanders). The crusty seaman, Captain Gregg, seems blustery and off-putting at first, but beneath it all he has a loyal and true heart and a keen perception of others. Harrison is excellent as the captain, and Mankiewicz uses just the right touch to make this gossamer bird fly. The last sequence – the death of Mrs. Muir and her rejoining with the Captain – brought tears to my eyes. Is it because it holds out hope for a life to come, where forgotten true loves wait for you? Saturday, December 4, 1993.
Director: George Stevens. Cast: Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean.
Sprawling epic soap opera about three generations of a Texas rancher's family. The early portion, in which Taylor stirs things up among the two men in her life husband Hudson and rebel Dean is by far the more interesting and character-driven. Once Dean's character strikes oil and the characters start getting older, the movie becomes ludicrous, like a big-screen version of Dallas. The movie wants to say something about families and individuality, but it all gets pretty muddled. The actors are fine, the script, fairly pokey. 9/23/00
A GIRL IN BLACK (1956)
Director: Michael Cacoyannis. Cast: Ellie Lambetti, Dimitri Horn, George Foundas.
Simple story about prejudice and ignorance on the Greek island of Hydra. The story involves a young writer (Horn) who comes to the isle for vacation and finds a modern Greek tragedy in the making: he falls for his widowed housekeeper's daughter Marina (Lambetti) which leads to death and rebirth of his character and her's. She is timid and afraid of what people say; he is timid and afraid of his mother; both are drifting. Each gives the other strength. The story is less interesting than the location and the beautifully shot (with one camera) camerawork. 8/26/00
Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi.
A 21st century return to the sword-and-sandal epics of the 1950s, with a particular nod to Ben-Hur, the "intelligent" epic about a good man who is betrayed and lives only for revenge, first as a slave and then as a warrior (charioteer in Ben-Hur's case, gladiator here). Crowe gives the part intelligence, and the rest of the cast makes the most of an over-long script: Reed is particularly good in his last role as the owner of the gladiators, a former gladiator himself, a Jacobi, formerly the Emperor Claudius, is back in the toga again. The action sequences are staged in a stylistically interesting way, but the movie itself is old hat: about a good man who is reunited with his family in death. 5/12/00
THE GLASS KEY (1942)
Director: Stuart Heisler. Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, William Bendix.
Faithful rendition of the Dashiell Hammett novel, with Donlevy as a political boss facing murder rap unless pal Alan Ladd can get him off. Veronica Lake is the love interest and William Bendix the muscle that beats up Ladd (pretty brutally, too). Overall, the movie is a passable B–flick, with Ladd OK as the pal, though I kept wondering how Bogart might have handled it and given the story a harder edge. The tale seems less confusing than the original novel, but it's still lame. It lacks the power of the best noir flicks. Monday, December 27, 1993.
THE GLEN MILLER STORY (1984)
Director: Anthony Mann. Cast: James Stewart, June Allyson, Harry Morgan.
Charming, atypical Mann entry about the innovate big band leader Glen Miller. Stewart and Allyson have great chemistry together, overcoming th standard biopic (rags to riches because a man follows his dream) format of the film. Great music. 10/13/06
THE GOAT (1921)
Director: Cast: Buster Keaton.
Keaton mistaken for a wanted criminal "Sure Shot Dan." Again, some great comic chases, with almost balletic dance steps. Wonderfully fast-paced, with some great absurdist touches (Keaton controlling an elevator by stopping the floor indicator). Keaton is once again a put-upon figure, battling authority figures who don't understand or appreciate him. Seen: March 4, 1995.
GOD SAID, “HA!” (1998)
Director/cast: Julia Sweeney.
Saturday Night Live veteran Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show God Said, “Ha!” doesn’t seem like the best candidate for popular success. As filmed monologues go, it’s pretty unusual stuff for a commercial venture: there is neither the foul-mouthed humor of an Eddie Murphy nor the dry wit of a Jerry Seinfeld. There is just Sweeney, a slight woman with a Midwestern twang, talking about nine months in her life when her brother and ultimately Sweeney herself were diagnosed with cancer. The “Big C” is not a surefire comedy topic, but the comedienne makes the most of it. The story starts with happier times: Sweeney had just ended a successful four-year run on Saturday Night Live, she had been amicably divorced from her husband; and she had purchased a tiny dream house where she looked forward to living alone. “And then,” she notes wryly, “God said, ‘Ha!’” Her brother Michael was diagnosed with cancer. He moved in so that she could take care of him. Worried, her parents also moved in. And then, for nine months, Sweeney had to once again cope with people she had spent years trying to escape. The actress, best known for her androgynous character Pat, began her career with The Groundlings, an improv troupe in California, where she showed great facility at creating comic characters. That skill hasn’t deserted her. Her observations and portrayals of parents, siblings, lovers, and other oddballs rival the best stand-up work of Bill Cosby in his prime. And Sweeney, who wrote and directed this well-photographed version of her successful 1996 stage show, goes beyond the comic to make poignant observations about how tragedy can bring out the best in everyone. God Said, “Ha!” may not be the most riveting of films as a film, but it is still a touching, amusing, and heartfelt experience. 9/10/98
GODS AND MONSTERS (1998)
Director: Bill Condon. Cast: Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave.
A marvelous fiction about the last days of eccentric Hollywood director James Whale. Long a pariah in Hollywood for his open homosexuality in a time when it was repressed, Whale became a financial pariah when his post-Frankenstein films failed at the box office. Gods and Monsters (the phrase is taken from The Bride of Frankenstein) examines the wistful longings of a fiercely proud and independent man, who, while enjoying his "freedom" from convention longs for love – both emotional and the kind he gets from making a movie, where he is in control and among friends. For Whale, as deliciously played by Ian McKellan, feels very much alone and lost, as he realizes after he has had a stroke, that his control and dignity are going from him. The movie depicts his last, brief friendship with the handsome, naive hetereosexual Clayton Boone, played in a lovely, innocent style by Brendan Fraser. Gods and Monsters is a terrific character piece, that depicts a man reaching out for his past – only to find that it cannot be recovered. It is a touching, well-crafted drama, a marvelous curio about a quirky talent. 11/13/98.
GOD'S LITTLE ACRE (1957)
Director: Anthony Mann. Cast: Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Tina Louise, Jack Lord, Vic Morrow, Buddy Hackett.
A comic piece, with dark undertones, from Erskine Caldwell's novel. Ryan is the folksy father of four – three sons and a daughter – who is obsessed with his 15-year search for gold on his property (prompted by dying words from his grandfather). The movie is about obsessions and family – the father's obsession with gold, his son's obsession with his wife's fidelity, his son-in-law's obsession with re-openinng the cotton mill. Some overcome their manias,, others are overcome by themm. Okay, but a little too much like Tennesee Williams lite. 9/24/06.
Director: Ishiro Honda. Cast: Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi.
Kurosawawa collaborators Honda (writer) and Shimura (actor) appear in this monster flick, first and best of the long series of Godzilla pictures. The original version, sans Raymond Burr (who was added to the 1956 American re-edit), is much more somber and its anti-nuke message much more pointed. Not a great film, though it can be surprisingly moving at times. With an affecting score by Ikfube. 5/19/04
THE GOLF SPECIALIST (1930)
Director: Monte Brice. Cast: W.C. Fields.
First talkie from Fields has his character in place: nasty to kids, avaricious, and bumbling. Amusing, if slight; best moments: Fields and the shrilled-voiced little girl. 7/24/02
GOOD DAY FOR A HANGING (1958)
Director: Natan Juran. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Maggie Hayes, Robert Vaughn, Joan Blackman.
Offbeat, psychological western about a man (MacMurray) who witnesses a killing but is not believed because he has a beef against the killer (Vaughn): his daughter is in love with the young man.. MacMurray is fine, and although it comes to a predictable conclusion, there are enough twists and turns i its brief running time to keep it interesting. Fast-paced, well done, and MacMurray and Vaughn are quite good. 5/26/07
Director: Martin Scorcese. Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta.
The movie left me cold. I sat there, watching the story, appreciating the characters, but never once feeling emotionally involved with them. They were believable, but I didn't care about them. What I ended up caring about was the technique – the fabulous tracking shot that introduces all the characters – andthe cinematagrophy, and the period rock music on the soundtrack. But no one changed: the protagonist never learned anything. He went from being a cheap punk, seduced by money and power, to a cheap rat, selling out his killer–friends –– nailing them before they "whacked" him.
The performances are uniformly good, and there are many funny moments. There are also some scary scenes –– especially the "What's so funny?" scene and another in which the hero's wife is subtly menaced by Robert De Niro, who may or may not be sending her into a trap. Also, the shooting in the foot scene.
Goodfellas is an intellectual exercise: a look at the seduction of power, the corruption of youth, but there is no emotional center to the movie. I agree with Pauline Kael on this: the movie has breadth –– the story covers 25 years –– but no depth. You never really get inside the characters or learn what makes them tick. They never have doubts, or concerns other than superficial ones. They're shallow characters alright, but not even interesting shallow characters. Seen on September 21, 1990.
THE GOOD GIRL (2002)
Director: Miguel Arteta. Cast: Jennifer Aniston, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal.
A quirky drama about a Texas housewife (Aniston) who finds escape from her homedrum existence though an affair with co-worker, Holden (Gyllenhaal) at the local convenience story where she works. (Significantly, he is a would-be-writer who has named himself after the rebellious character in Catcher in the Rye.) The movie is painted in short scenes, some poignant, some ironic, some narrative, all pointed. The movie shows a culture dead to true feelings, mesmerized by television programs that help them escape their drab existence. Aniston's Justine recognizes the emptiness of her life and the powerlessness of her ability to do anything about it. Significantly, when she is given a choice between spontaneously escaping and the predictable humdrum of existence, she chooses the latter. Funny, touching, absorbing, and very perceptive. 9/21/02
A GOOD MARRIAGE (1981)
Director: Eric Rohmer. Cast: Beatrice Romand, Andre Dussollier.
Entertaining French romantic comedy, the second in Rohmer's "Comedies & Proverbs" series. It tells the story of a 25-year-old (Romand) who is tired of affairs with married men and decides to get married herself – she just hasn't picked out the man yet. When she does, he seems interested, but then the course of love does not run smoothly, and our heroine becomes a bit obsessive. Charming, with a dark edge. 10/8/01
GOSFORD PARK (2001)
Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Bob Balaban.
A confusing, episodic Upstairs Downstairs-style drama about the bitchiness of the upper classes and the abuse of the servant lower classes in a 1932 English country estate. As he did in Nashville, Altman runs a huge collection of characters through their paces. Unlike Upstairs Downstairs, however, the characters are not as finely etched or as interesting so, with the exception of Smith's crusty dowager, most of the characters blend together. There is a murder mystery which is ultimately solved by servant and has to do with the lechery of the upper classes. Maybe this is more true to the servant experience than Updown, but it's a lot less fun. July 7, 8, 2002.
GO WEST (1925)
Director: Buster Keaton (assisted by Lex Neal). Cast: Buster Keaton.
Keaton, as a cowboy named Friendless, suffers countless misfortunes to save his true love from destruction: a Jersey cow named Brown Eyes. The sentimental comedy of Chaplin is turned inside out in this fast-moving farce, full of the usual Keaton stunts. In-joke moment: cowboy aiming gun at Keaton says, "Smile when you say that!" The old stone face, of course, can't, and gets out of the predicament in classic style. 8/14/99
THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)
Director: John Ford. Cast: Henry Fonda, John Caradine.
Dark, grim adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel about migrant workers in the Depression. Authority is seen as the enemy to the family unit, which is falling apart as a result of the faltering economy. Fonda is Tom Joad, who rejoins his family after four years in prison, spent there for killing a man. Unlike his later upright characters, Fonda's Joad is a mixture of humility and hot-headed anger, angry at what the topsy-turvy world has come to. It is a place where cops are worse than criminals, where strike-breakers are applauded, and no one looks out for his fellow man. The grim tale is darkly photographed by Greg Toland (later to lense Citizen Kane), and ends on a falsely optimistic note (presumably not in the novel, an indictment of capitalism, like most of the movie. 1/24/04
THE GREAT DICATOR (1940)
Director: Charles Chaplin. Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner.
Well-done satire of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Nazi movement, with Chaplin terrific as the Hitler-like Adenoid Hynkel and a shy Jewish barber who could be the dicator's twin. There is slapstick, social commentary, and drama as Chaplin takes a stand against the Nazis in particular and war in general. Funny bit: the meeting in the office with Mussolini stand-in Oakie. Most famous moment: Hynkel dancing around the office with a globe balloon. Funny, but not as great as it's cracked up to be. 3/13/04
THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956)
Director: Francis D. Lyon. Cast: Fess Parker, Jeffrey Hunter.
Well-made Disney movie, a Yankee version of the same Civil War incident that inspired Keaton's The General, about Yankee spies who capture a Confederate train and wreak havoc on the south. Parker is fine as the Yankee leader, but lacks the folksiness of Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone; Hunter is passionate as his rebel nemesis. 5/7/06
THE GREAT McGINTY (1940)
Director: Preston Sturges. Cast: Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus, Akim Tamiroff, William Demarest.
Sturges' first writer–director effort lacks the pace and invention of his later masterpieces, but has a lot of zing nonetheless. The flashback structure is clever, making you think it's going to be about a would–be–suicide but instead focusing on the bartender instead. The story itself has the hard-boiled – yet slightly sentimental – cynism that Sturges would later make his trademark and although the Sturges stock company is still in a nascent stage, there are some great performances: Demarest is terrific, Tamiroff superb, and Donlevy fine (if a little flat at times). One commentator pointed out that it is unclear whether the story is true or if McGinty is just a spinner of tall tales; it doesn't matter and in fact is a comment on movies in general and Sturges in particular. He's certainly a master of tall tales, none taller than those drawn from his imagination and his life. Reseen in 9/90, 9/28/00.
THE GREAT MOMENT (1944)
Director: Preston Sturges. Cast: Joel McCrea, Betty Field, William Demarest.
Sturges' first great misfire, in which the master of cynicism and slapstick goes sentimental. A longtime pet project, The Great Moment (original title: Triumph Over Pain) is the director's account of 19th Century dentist J.W.T. Morton's discovery of anestia. Intented as a serious story with comic moments, the film was re–edited by the studio to emphasize the comedy. There's not much of it: only William Demarest's patented pratfalls and even they fail to raise the humor or interest level. Much of the film is given over to pedantic speeches about serving humanity ("It won't hurt anymore, now or ever again!") as the virtuous Morton (Joel McCrea) faces greedy colleagues who want part of the action but won't take any risks, and conservative establishment figures (the Massachusetts MedicalSociety) who'd rather see people suffer than try out something new and effective that they didn't discover. You'd think the man who so savagely skewered politics in The Great McGinty and hero worship in Hail the Conquering Hero would have a field day with pompous doctors, but Sturges, a would-be-inventor himself, seems to taken by his hero to see clearly. What others might call complexity or faults – that Morton didn't want to share credit for his discovery or his patent on it out of greed – are explained away facilely; others are at fault, not the shining hero. As Morton, McCrea fits Sturges' interpretation to a tee: he is priggish, self-righteous, and humorless – which is probably a good way to describe to movie, as well. It was a box office flop, and one wonders how Sturges might have skewered it if he were not the director (he reportedly hated the new title and the re-editing, but it's hard to see how anything could have saved this misconceived Moment). Seen on tape, September 28, 1990.
THE GYPSY AND THE GENTLEMAN (1958)
Director: Joseph Losey. Cast: Melina Mercouri, Keith Michell, Patrick McGoohan, Flora Robson.
Early McGoohan flicks finds the future spy as the gypsy lover of fellow gypsy Mercouri as the two plot to bilk smitten nobleman Michell. A big melodrama, enlivened by Mercouri's zest for life. A curiosity because the normal platonic McGoohan engages in some heavy kissing action. A potboiler. 12/4/02
HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944)
Director: Preston Sturges. Cast: Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, Al Bridge, Jimmy Conlin, Franklin Pangborn, Harry Hayden.
There is no director like Sturges alive or dead in his unusual combination of the comic and the dramatic, the verbal and the physical, the sentimental and the cynical, the naive and the knowing. He is a one-of--a-kind, a writer who directed when such a move was unheard of in an industry of writers or directors (but never both). He was a man who flopped more than he succeeded, but whose successes and failures are unique because they are so grand. Sturges never did anything halfway – from marriages (he had several) to mistresses, stage shows to restaurants, writing to directing – Sturges did everything on a grand, lunatic scale, probably because his life started and ended that way.
He was the son of a romantic Irishwoman, who believed she was a Princess and actually was a close traveling companion of Isadora Duncan. Mom married many times, and Sturges crazy adventures began as a child dressed in a toga (mother was into Bohemian living), and ended with him broke and alone, scribbling away at his memoirs (tentatively, typically titled The Events Leading Up to My Death). In between came more successess and failures than anyone could expect in one lifetime.
Hail the Conquering Hero is, like many of Sturges' best films, about an innocent victim, a man who tries to do the right thing, and gets caught up in fast–paced events that he can't control. In this ccase, it's the story of nebbish Woodrow Truesmith (Eddie Bracken), a well–meaning sort with a hero father killed in WWI. Woodrow tells one white lie and finds it snowballing into a series of grander lies with even grander repercussions. It's a funny thing about Sturges: he has an unerring eye for the cant and dishonesty of politicians –– and although he understands it enough to poke fun at it, and accept it as the normal course of events, he also seems to believe in the basic goodness of people. In this case, the lie comes out of people trying to do good for others: Woodrow for his mom, the marines for Woodrow. And the underlying message is uplifting:have the courage to be honest with others and yourself and you will be rewarded. Message aside, the movie works as a wonderful farce, with many pointed (and prescient, considering our current jaded times) jabs at the gullibility and maleability of voters and candidates. "Politics is a very peculiar thing," says one character. "If they want you, they want you. They don't need reasons anymore. They find their own. Just like when a girl finds a man..." It's like Sturges to go from the political to the personal, because people is what Sturges' farces are about –– their is an undercurrent of tragedy (the marine saying "at least you don't have [nightmares] all the time") to the comedy; of the bittersweet to the comic.
And all of it is wonderfully played by Sturges' stock company, the collection of familiar faces led by Demarest that the writer-director constantly employed because he felt loyal to them since they had been in his first pictures. He also probably realized how much they added: the blustery Demarest, saavy and straightforward with his own tortured, independent logic for things; the windbag Walburn, whose long-winded, mangled speeches had begun in Christmas in July; the ever-flustered Franklin Pangborn; the slightly addled Jimmy Conlin; and the cynical stand–in for Sturges Al Bridge, who here plays the political boss with all the saavy of his shifty lawyers (Miracle) and no–nonsense conductors (Palm Beach). Character is what a Sturges comedy is about; character and witty dialogue and pratfalls, cynicism, and heart. It's a strange mixture, quite unlike comedies anywhere, and quite wonderful. You get swept away. And watch it – over and over again, to appreciate some of the subtle throwaway lines and great visual, verbal gags (in the latter category, the terrific writing of a speech by the windbag politician). And watch it with a crowd of people – that's the best way to enjoy Sturges. He's a party director. Reseen on tape, the week of September 24, 1990. Reseen on DVD: 11/30/06