Rating: The Good – 67 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 97 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Stars: Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young
If you’re in the mood for one of those old style sci-fi’s where Charlton Heston runs around some dystopian future knocking eight bells out of nefarious bad guys then Soylent Green will fit the bill nicely. It has dated considerably and the thrills are a little underwhelming but it does have an interesting premise about a future where food shortages have led the authorities to seek new and not quite transparent means of feeding the public. The premise is further embellished with themes of class inequality and nostalgia for a world where plentiful resources ensured freedoms we take for granted. The latter is realised poignantly through Edward G. Robinson’s wily old scholar and companion to Heston’s cop. Robinson brings an irresistible warmth to the movie and signs off in one of the more memorable movie denouements. Heston, for his part, is his usual charismatic self but with a darker streak than we usually see, no doubt a stain left from the years of scrounging to survive. There are some decent set-pieces littered here and there some of which centre on the rioting starving class but it’s all very modest by today’s standards. However, what makes Soylent Green such a cult favourite is the finale which itself culminates with one of the great sci-fi twists (that is, if you’ve managed to avoid hearing about it).
Rating: The Ugly – 63.8 Genre: Crime Duration: 103 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Screenplay: Elmore Leonard Stars: Charles Bronson, Linda Cristal, Al Lettieri
Richard Fleischer behind the camera, Charles Bronson in front of it, and Elmore Leonard penning the script. What could go wrong? Well it’s hard to say but what is for sure is Mr Majestyk really should’ve been a lot better. The acting is completely out of sync with the momentum of the movie and the dialogue often comes across as clunky because of it. That said, it’s a cracking little story of a gritty melon farmer, some local racketeers, and a dangerous hit-man out for revenge. Bronson plays the titular melon farmer and is responsible for most of the wooden acting but his presence just about makes up for it. Al Lettieri (Sollozzo from The Godfather) is suitably nasty as the hit-man and there are a host of vaguely familiar faces giving sub-par to average performances. The action and progression of the story are somewhat idiosyncratic but that only adds to this peculiar little film’s charm and the finale packs a tremendous punch.
Rating: The Good – 78.7 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 71 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Stars: Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White
The original of the species is a taut film-noir of high and often thrilling standards. Gravel voiced Charles McGraw takes the lead as a straight shooting detective charged with shepherding a mob-wife witness from Chicago to LA by train. However, her husband’s former colleagues are on their trail and are attempting to use the detective to identify her. Peter Hyams’ entertaining remake may have had all the good intentions that modern remakes are brazenly bereft of but Richard Fleischer’s original is the leaner and more focused film. McGraw was typically better as a support man but he shows enough personality and just enough delicacy to carry the film as his character moves up and down the train using all manner of tricks and strategies to keep the hit men from finding his witness. Playing that witness, Marie Windsor is a variation of her venomous self-server from The Killing with a nice twist while Jacqueline White is breath of fresh air as the passenger who gets caught in the middle.
The Narrow Margin hits the ground running almost at the beginning of what traditionally would be the second act. That atypical beginning, the terse structuring which follows, and it’s 72 minute run gives the film a very streamlined feel which complements the interleaving shots of the train as it spears its way to LA. Director Richard Fleischer, who went on to make films as varied as Soylent Green and Tora! Tora! Tora!, decided to break from the tradition at the time and leave the walls of his sets intact and shoot much of the film with a handheld camera. It was the right decision too because the confines of the cramped living compartments on board the train are accentuated all the more and add substantially to the tension. As with the best noirs, there are a host of colourful bad guys each with their own signifiers which Fleischer sews into the film’s visual fabric at just the right points to ratchet up the suspense even further. When the steamy tension is released like a blast of hot vapour, it takes the form of one of the great fist fights as McGraw and one of his pursuers go ten rounds in the claustrophobic confines of a train cabin. It’s a terrific little sequence which stands out with the best of them (Out of the Past, I’m talking to you). The Narrow Margin is everything you want from a thriller. Twists and turns, character and dialogue, and the attitude of one of cinema’s grittiest genres polished to a fine sheen.
Rating: The Good – 75.3 Genre: Crime, Satire Duration: 103 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Stars: Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles
Richard Fleischer serves up a worthy take on the Leopold and Loeb case starring Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as two blue blood overachievers who decide their superior intellects entitle them to the privileged experience of murder. However, it’s not long before the clues they inadvertently leave behind and their low emotional intelligence betray their perfect plan. With the arrival of Orson Welles as their defence attorney, the film then takes an unusual turn and attempts to parallel their premeditated killing with the prosecution’s case for the death penalty as Welles’ character attempts to help them avoid just that.
Compulsion is really two films in one, maybe even three. Like Hitchcock’s Rope (which was based on the same case), it picks up directly after the murder and as the two men gloat their way home, the dynamics of their relationship are revealed. Dillman is the leader while Stockwell follows. However, unlike Farley Granger’s character in Rope, Stockwell’s sinister streak is more exposed and he has some claws too. This opening act progresses at a leisurely pace as killers’ personalities are further revealed during their interactions with their wider circle of college friends. It delves deep into the killers’ psyches and pulls no punches in its conclusions. The homosexuality is only really skirted around and, thankfully, their personalities and intellectual failings are implicated as more likely causes. This gives Compulsion a rather perceptive quality and ranks it above most serial killer films. The two leads give their characters’ skewed view on reality a chilling credibility even if Stockwell’s contribution is sometimes dialled a tad high.
The court case is a dramatic change of pace culminating in a protracted monologue elegantly delivered by Welles and with Fleischer using a well constructed extended cut to pay homage to Hitchcock’s earlier Rope. Welles makes a massive contribution to this film and from the moment he makes his trademark boisterous entrance, he almost single handedly slows the pace of the film down to match the more weighty and considered final act which is about to begin. To turn an intriguing and clinical examination of two killers on its head and partially humanise them was a very brave decision and it can catch one off guard. Of course, there’s no better time to make a controversial argument and it’s fair to say that Richard Murphy’s intelligent and eloquent monologue drives the nail home in damning fashion. It’s to everyone’s credit that the killers aren’t let off the hook while this is going on and that integrity is maintained and indeed championed right through to the end.
Compulsion isn’t perfect. It can feel slightly trite at times and there’s an even slighter underlying confusion as to what type of film it wants to be. It opens with a strikingly comical vignette wherein, the filmmakers seem to be laughing at the two young men. It then shoots straight as a typical detective story would and then, after a more earnest final act, it closes with that same sarcasm it demonstrated in the opening scene. It’s not that these different approaches can’t be mixed, it’s just that Fleischer didn’t really massage them together cogently enough. That said, even if it is somewhat confused, the film has personality and it tells one hell of a compelling story while giving the audience much to consider.
Rating: The Good – 81.4 Genre: War Duration: 144 mins Director: Kanji Fukasaku & Richard Fleischer Stars: Martin Balsam, Sô Yamamura, Jason Robards
Bay and Bruckheimer should’ve taken a longer look at this before embarking on their pitiful “Pearl Harbour” project or maybe they simply should’ve realised the story didn’t need retelling at all, given how good it had been told here. Tora! Tora! Tora! recounts the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour from both the American and Japanese perspectives with the American side directed by box-office heavy-weight Richard Fleischer and the Japanese side by master auteur Kinji Fukasaku. The result is a unique and flawless blending of two cinematic styles which itself plays on any number of metaphorical levels. The film depicts the lead up to the attack meticulously, culminating in an epic reconstruction of the air raid. The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood and Japanese film with Martin Balsam and Jason Robards leading the former and So Yamamura and Tatsuya Mihahsi leading the latter. What separates this film from the rest of the war films from its era is the way in which it examines the diplomatic, political, and logistical factors which affected the build up to and outcome of the attack. It’s a meticulous deconstruction of the pretext to and motivations behind one of the most momentous incidents in recent world history not to mention a riveting cinematic platform for the action that was to follow.