Seven Classic Films from Sony Pictures
Behold a Pale Horse (February 19/05)
Behold a Pale Horse is an overlong but surprisingly engaging little movie involving a revolutionary from the Spanish Civil War and the officer who's made it his life's mission to catch him. Gregory Peck stars as the revolutionary, while Anthony Quinn plays the officer (Omar Sharif rounds out the cast as a Priest facing a moral dilemma). Behold a Pale Horse doesn't dwell on the politics of the era, choosing instead to zero in on these three characters (a smart choice, given how effective the actors are). While it's initially a little difficult to swallow the casting of Peck as a character named Manuel Artiguez (!), Peck is such an effective and charismatic performer that it's not long before we utterly and completely buy him as this guy. And though the film runs out of steam towards the end, taking far too long to reach its inevitable conclusion, it's hard not to get wrapped up in this relatively simple tale - which is, admittedly, elevated by some expectedly great acting.
Bitter Victory (February 20/05)
Bitter Victory is an overly melodramatic World War II film revolving around two soldiers: the cocky, self-assured Captain Leith (Richard Burton) and his superior, the cowardly Major Brand (Curd Jürgens). Exacerbating things is the fact that Leith had an affair with Brand's wife some years earlier, a relationship that Brand is fully aware of. Bitter Victory initially plays out like a soap opera, with this thoroughly underdeveloped love triangle the focus. The film improves slightly once Leith and Brand are sent out on the same mission, but the dialogue's emphasis on ponderous speeches (ie what is the purpose of war?) ensures that these characters remain woefully underdeveloped. Though it's technically well made, director Nicholas Ray imbues the movie with all the style of an episode of Leave it to Beaver (the flat, washed-out cinematography by Michel Kelber certainly doesn't help matters).
It Happened to Jane (February 21/05)
A likeable cast just can't salvage this utterly inconsequential romantic comedy, despite the presence of the charismatic and engaging Jack Lemmon. The story revolves around a businesswoman (Doris Day) and her lawyer (Lemmon) as they battle a ruthless tycoon nicknamed "the meanest man in the world," while also coming to terms with their own relationship. It Happened to Jane is bogged down by a storyline that simply isn't interesting, while the only intriguing aspect of the film (the romance between Day and Lemmon's characters) is often kept on the backburner. The script, by Norman Katkov, places the emphasis on needless diversions and pointless subplots - resulting in a film that's generally far busier than it needs to be. It's a shame, too, given how effective both Lemmon and Day are in their respective roles (not to mention the genuine sense of chemistry that exists between the two).
My Sister Eileen (February 21/05)
My Sister Eileen is a breezy, lightweight musical featuring some fancy footwork (courtesy of choreographer Bob Fosse) and a funnier-than-expected screenplay (Blake Edwards co-wrote with director Richard Quine). The story revolves around a pair of sisters (played by Betty Garrett and Janet Leigh) who head to the big city with dreams of success, only to find out it's not quite as easy as they might've hoped. Like the majority of movie musicals, some singing-and-dancing sequences in My Sister Eileen are more effective than others - though there's no denying that Bob Fosse's choreography is often very impressive. Jack Lemmon, as a potential suitor for one of the sisters, is just as charming and engaging as ever (and even gets to belt out a show tune of his own). Though the film does eventually wear out its welcome, the actors often elevate the material with their infectiously high-spirited performances.
Strangers When We Meet (February 24/05)
Long before Michael Douglas cornered the market on cinematic infidelity in films like Disclosure and Fatal Attraction, his father Kirk starred in an entirely unmemorable little melodrama called Strangers When We Meet. Douglas plays Larry Coe, a successful architect trapped in a loveless marriage who embarks on an elicit affair with lonely housewife Maggie Gault (Kim Novak). Strangers When We Meet feels like a lost Douglas Sirk flick, lacking only the expected sense of lushness that seemed to accompany all of his movies. The bloated running time is exacerbated by a focus on pointless subplots, including Larry's relationship with a finicky client (played by Ernie Kovacs), and the complete lack of subtlety certainly doesn't help either (both Maggie and Larry are married to awful people). The film finally becomes interesting towards the end as Walter Matthau's Felix reveals himself to be a far more lecherous figure than we might have imagined, but it's impossible to care by that point.
Twentieth Century (February 24/05)
Though Twentieth Century is often cited as one of the best screwball comedies ever made, the movie hasn't aged all that well - primarily because the majority of the film's jokes just aren't all that funny. John Barrymore and Carole Lombard star as Oscar Jaffe and Lily Garland, a theatrical couple whose relationship is on the outs - a situation that Oscar will stop at nothing to rectify. While there are a few chuckle-worthy moments spread throughout the film - particularly Oscar's recurring "I close the iron door on you" speech - Twentieth Century never quite achieves liftoff, despite an impressive effort by everyone involved. The movie, like the majority of its screwball cousins, features a frenetic pace and witty dialogue, but comes up snake eyes in terms of likeable or even interesting characters. Barrymore and Lombard give expectedly broad performances that veer wildly between entertaining and obnoxious, something that's especially true in terms of the latter. And while the movie is never boring exactly, it's far from the classic it's often made out to be.
We Were Strangers (February 26/05)
We Were Strangers is a slow-paced yet engaging story involving a group of Cuban revolutionaries and their efforts to overthrow the government. The film stars John Garfield and Jennifer Jones as two such revolutionaries that wind up falling in love, while Pedro Armendáriz plays the evil Chief of Police that killed her sister. It's clear right from the get-go that director John Huston (who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Viertel) isn't interested in presenting both sides of this story - said Chief of Police is almost ridiculously evil, completely devoid of any redeeming qualities - but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the filmmaker does an effective job of establishing each of these rebels (to the point where we're genuinely rooting for them to accomplish their complicated mission). Both Garfield and Jones are effective in their roles, and the action-packed finale is riveting and surprisingly violent.