Monthly Archives: March 2012

Death Line (1973)

Synopsis:

Donald Pleasence is a police detective investigating a number of disappearances on London’s tube network,  linked to the cannibalistic descendants of underground-workers trapped by a horrific cave-in in the 19th century…..

Review:

Dark, dingy and visceral are 3 words that spring to mind when asked to describe Gary Sherman’s “Death Line”. The reels of this movie seem to be sodden with filth.

An opening credits sequence and a score which epitomises the seedier side of  early 70s London get’s us started but it’s the actual premise of the movie which held much of my attention. The idea of a tribe of half-humans living silently under the metropolis of London’s transport system is a fascinating one.

Pleasence puts in a cracking performance as the sarcastic and aggressive “Inspector Calhoun”. David Ladd and Sharon Gurney do well as the pretty young couple who get caught up in it all after a late night on the train. Christopher Lee appears too, as a MI5 agent in all but a camero role.

The ‘monster’ is far from the villain of the piece, despite a taste for human flesh and eye for the ladies. It’s actually those above-ground who are shown to be uncaring, callous and sordid.  Memorable scenes include the extended pan of the cannibal’s lair (set against the sound of dripping water alone) and the sequence where our monster, by now the last of his kind, roams the cavernous tunnels under London screaming the only words he knows: “Mind the dooooors!”.

There’s even a splattering of gore – a tube worker is impaled on a broom, another has a shovel put between his eyes and there’s a nasty chase and attempted-rape sequence. All these scenes were heavily cut in the UK cinematic and VHS release, and it’s only now that they can be seen in all their uncut glory.

 

This is a good horror thriller with an interesting plot and some neat performances. Atmospheric and surprisingly complex, you shouldn’t miss this one – but you’ll be surprised where your sympathy lies at the end.

hotdog rating: 7.5/10

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Red River (1948)

Synopsis:

Tom Dunson (John Wayne) leads a cattle drive 1000 miles to Missouri, accompanied by sidekick Walter Brennan and  adopted ‘son’  Montgomery Clift. As the drive goes on, Dunson’s men turn against his harsh methods and Clift realises to save the herd he must depose the increasingly tyrannical Dunson. Of course, Dunson swears vengence…..

Review:

Often regarded as one of the quintessential  movies of the era, “Red River” is actually a must-see film for even the most ardent detractor of the western genre.

To start with, this is one of Wayne’s best performances – probably in the top 5 of his career. Wayne’s character “Dunson” is a bitter man, etched with regret and terrified of what the future may hold for his ranch after he’s gone. These base motives drive him to damn nearly persecute his exhausted assortment of cowboys and ranch-hands, who thankfully, are lovingly made up with some strong staples of the studio westerns. First amongst these is Walter Brennan as the comic-relief chuck wagon driver and second is the magnificently immoral John Ireland as gunslinger “Cherry Valance”. In addition,  legends Harry Carey Jnr and Snr make important if brief contributions

Now, on to the other side of the relationship behind the entire picture:  Montgomery Clift in what was his first actual movie role. Derided by some as nothing more than a pretty-boy, Clift is quietly electric as the level-headed ‘son’ of Dunson with an ability to gauge the pulse of the men in a more measured way than the uncaring Wayne. Clift’s role is enchanting and he oozes intensity – consequently, worthy of equal billing with the Duke himself. To be sure, Clift’s apearance alone, is enough reason to watch this film.

Hawks’s fluid direction keeps the story moving along at at pace and there are some great shots of the cattle herd being driven over mountain-tops, through rivers and even across a rail-road. Quite a bit of the movie takes place at night which allows for some interesting sequences and camera shots, I am thinking particularly of the sequence filmed in the ‘fog’. I would also point out the infamous ‘revolver’ scene between Ireland and Clift, in which they compare the size of each other’s weapons; a hardly subtle if characteristic reference from Hawks.
But the director’s greatest achievement is the injection of ‘adventure’ which excites nearly every scene; I also loved the stills of the hand-written pages in a book which separate the movie into sections; because, after all,  Hawks was a storyteller first and a director second.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is achingly epic and would be used to similar effect in Hawks’s last masterpiece “Rio Bravo” (1959). A moody script with some stinging lines rounds off a picture which I find hard to critique in any meaningful way. My only gripe would be with the last couple of minutes. The final stand-off between Wayne and Clift is breath-taking but a slightly tacky ‘feel-good’ ending seems a bit ill at ease with what’s gone on before our eyes for the previous 2 hours or so. Nevertheless, there’s not much else that a film of this era could really do…..so it would be unfair to take such a negative view of the final moments.

Overall, this is certainly a film warranting inclusion in a list such as “100 films to see before you die”.  Thank you, Mr Hawks.

hotdog rating: 9/10

Return of Sabata (1971)

Synopsis:

The iconic Sabata (Lee Van Cleef) and his usual bunch of trigger-happy and talented misfits are pitted against an Irishman who is taxing the hell out of a small-town. The townspeople think he is doing so to fund large scale infrastructure projects but really he is just stealing gold…..he’s Irish, remember.

Review:

Well, I am big fan of the original Sabata movie and the semi-sequel “Adios Sabata” with Yul Brynner in the title role as Indio Black. So, I am the sort of person this film is aimed at. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even hit the spot for me.

The opening sequence is pretty cool and a bit of a play or ‘spoof’ of what you might expect in the opening of a European western. But quite rapidly the film seems to dwell on an incomprehensible plot – whilst spaghetti-westerns aren’t known for the flowing narratives, this film is a bit bizarre in that it pays a lot of attention to plot-details which just don’t really add-up – leaving the viewer a bit confused as why anybody is killing anyone else……

There are a couple of scenes which hark back to the fun and violence of the two earlier films in the series – once again we have acrobatic gunslingers more at home in the circus than in a dust-bowl and a bumbling portly Mexican with a penchant for gunsmoke – but unfortunately these moments are few and far between. In addition, unlike the original and ‘Adios Sabata’, the villain this time around is rather colourless, more like a bad leprechaun than something akin to the bond-villain type protagonists of the previous films in the series.

The score for the movie is another oddity. Music is of such importance in this genre and it just doesn’t work here at all – the soundtrack is diabolical.

Lee Van Cleef is, as always, on top-form. His tongue-in-cheek style, charismatic sneer and piercing eyes are omnipresent throughout the proceedings but if you removed Lee Van Cleef from the movie, it would be pretty bad; including him raises it a notch but this is a poor and disappointing film reserved  for italo-western completists alone.

hotdog rating: 4/10 (2 of these are solely for Mr Van Cleef)

In the Bedroom (2001)

Synopsis:

Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play the parents of a teenage boy dating an older single-mother in a sleepy Maine fishing town. Their lives are shattered when their son is killed his new girlfriend’s ex-husband…..but will grief push them to into the abyss?

Review:

An enthralling drama, performed to ‘best-picture’ standard by an electric and eclectic cast. And believe me, for me to say this is unusual, I’m not frequently a fan of these sorts of movies.

Wilkinson plays Dr Matt Fowler, who on the outside at least, is the steadier of the pair whilst Spacek is a slightly more subdued version of her usual ‘bad-shit mad’ self – she’s the neurotic, chain-smoking teacher. The pair’s descent into uncontrollable grief is harrowing and whilst the ending is a bit predictable, it’s still tense as hell.

The use of silence in this film is very effective; the scene in which Dr Fowler learns of his son’s death and then trudges through a deserted school corridor to inform his wife is marvellous. My favourite moment of the movie occurs in the final third or so. Wilkinson’s Dr Fowler is playing cards with his buddies, however, given his new-found grief, they no-longer heckle him about taking so long to play a hand as they once did. To paraphrase, he screams “for god’s sake say something” as a silence encapsulates the room; his friends remain mute until one of them, an elder gentlemen fond of quoting poetry, slowly and methodically recites an achingly touching and relevant Blake poem to a visibly emotional Wilkinson. It’s hard to watch but superbly done.

 

I really like this movie, it’s the sort of film you just can’t help being glued too, the sort of film that you actually switch off your phone to watch and the sort of film which just hangs around in your head for days. It’s entertainment too.

hotdog rating: 8/10