Warner's December '06 Releases
The Illustrated Man (January 20/07)
Based on Ray Bradbury's eponymous short story collection, The Illustrated Man casts Rod Steiger as Carl - a mysterious, tattooed figure who encounters a drifter (Robert Drivas) while searching for the woman responsible for his body art. The film consists primarily of three futuristic tales that ensue as said drifter stares into the various designs on Carl's body, all of which feature Steiger in a central role (Drivas recurs in two of them, while co-star Claire Bloom appears in all three). Director Jack Smight has infused The Illustrated Man with a ponderous, egregiously deliberate pace that's exacerbated by an overlong running time - with the end result a film that's sporadically interesting but mostly dull. Steiger's ridiculously over-the-top performance doesn't help matters, nor does Smight's relentless use of circa-1960's visual flourishes (to call the film dated is an understatement of epic proportions). While it's certainly possible that fans of Bradbury's work will find more to embrace here than neophytes, there's just no overlooking the general vibe of pointlessness that's been hard-wired into almost every aspect of the production.
Though it boasts an opening half hour that's egregiously talky and slow-paced, Operation Crossbow eventually reveals itself to be an entertaining, genuinely exciting adventure flick that benefits substantially from George Peppard's effortlessly charismatic performance. The circa-WWII story follows three Allied agents (Peppard's John Curtis, Tom Courtenay's Robert Henshaw, and Jeremy Kemp's Phil Bradley) as they're assigned the seemingly impossible task of infiltrating a top-secret Nazi research site. The film's first act is devoted almost entirely to dialogue-heavy sequences in which the Nazis test out their rockets and the Allies attempt to track them down, and it's not until the trio of central characters embark on their risky mission that things finally start to get interesting. The inclusion of several superfluous sequences - anything involving Sophia Loren's entirely needless character, for example - ultimately dulls the film's impact, though there's no denying the effectiveness of the action-packed finale.
There was a crooked man...
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, There was a crooked man... follows several crooks - including Kirk Douglas' Paris Pitman Jr, Hume Cronyn's Dudley Whinner, and Burgess Meredith's Missouri Kid - as they plot their escape from a well-fortified prison located smack-dab in the middle of the Arizona desert (Henry Fonda plays the warden of said prison). Screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton have infused the proceedings with an unexpectedly dark sensibility, something that's certainly reflected in Douglas' turn as the charismatic yet undeniably villainous Paris Pitman Jr (ie the character, an antihero if there ever was one, possesses a distinct propensity for double-crossing his supposed friends). Despite the inclusion of such elements, however, There was a crooked man... generally remains a light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining piece of work throughout its running time (the flabby midsection notwithstanding). The stellar performances undoubtedly go a long way towards keeping things interesting, with Douglas and Fonda particularly effective as figures whose relationship goes from respectful to flat-out antagonistic over the course of the film. And although the conclusion offers up a fairly baffling choice by one of the central characters, There was a crooked man... is otherwise a solid little Western that's worth a look if only for its refreshingly cynical sensibilities.
Though Up Periscope is ultimately undone by its egregiously slow pace and overly familiar storyline, the movie does feature some fairly high production values and an expectedly charismatic performance from James Garner. Garner stars as Kenneth Braden, a Navy frogman assigned the task of sneaking onto a Japanese island and taking pictures of a top-secret codebook. Much of the film follows the journey to said island, as Braden must contend with the stringent leadership of sub commander Paul Stevenson (Edmund O'Brien). Directed by Gordon Douglas and written by Richard Landau, Up Periscope possesses all of the beats and plot twists viewers have come to expect from a film of this sort - with the inclusion of sequence in which the crew has to remain quiet to avoid detection the most apt example of this. The overlong running time - coupled with Douglas' inability to move things along at a brisk clip - effectively drains the tension from some of the movie's more outwardly suspenseful moments (ie Braden's mission, which occupies much of the third act, seems to occur in real-time, which certainly dilutes its impact), ensuring that Up Periscope remains strangely uninvolving throughout its 111 minutes.