Tag Archives: John Wayne

The Art of EL DORADO

29 Jun

50 years ago today, EL DORADO opened in New York City. It was the next-to-last film directed by Howard Hawks and it starred John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. I didn’t see it in 1967; I had to wait till it came back as part of a double feature with William Wyler’s last movie, THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES, in 1970, shown at the Earl Theater on 161st Street in the Bronx, just a block away from Yankee Stadium. It’s something of a follow-up to Hawks’ earlier western, RIO BRAVO (1959), which had a similar situation of a small band of lawmen holding a powerful prisoner and fending off attempts by the prisoner’s army of gunslingers to free him. In both films, one of the lawmen is a drunk and has to sober up fast when all hell breaks loose. I wrote about RIO BRAVO in my Dean Martin Centennial piece and I’ll write more about EL DORADO in my upcoming Robert Mitchum Centennial piece, slated for August 6, and in an upcoming piece on the best films of 1967. RIO BRAVO is arguably the better film, offering more layered characters and focusing less on plot mechanics than on character relationships and interactions. It’s a more complex, serious film while EL DORADO is more light-hearted and entertaining. RIO BRAVO is more demanding and, ultimately, more satisfying, but I’ve seen EL DORADO much more often (about ten times to RIO BRAVO’s four or five). It has more clever scenes and imaginative bits of action and great chemistry among its group of lead actors (Wayne, Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Charlene Holt). It also introduces the drunk character (Mitchum) when he’s sober and in full command of his faculties, so we know what he’s like before he sinks into an alcoholic daze. In RIO BRAVO, we just have to accept Wayne’s word that the drunk (Dean Martin) was once his best man with a gun, since we only see him in his drunk phase for roughly the first half of the movie.

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Japan Journal, Part 3: Townsend Harris and Okichi

18 Apr

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At the end of my previous entry, I was checking out of the Shimoda Tokyu Hotel  on the morning of Wednesday, March 23, when I found a brochure describing other sites in Shimoda that I was now determined to visit. So, after checking out, I headed back into town to seek out Gokusenji Temple, where Townsend Harris had set up the first American consulate in Japan in 1856, from which he labored to effect a treaty with the Shogun, and Hofukuji Temple, which housed the Okichi Memorial Museum and gravesite, devoted to Okichi, the Shimoda woman who had lived with and worked with Harris during his stay. The closest site was Hofukuji Temple, which wasn’t easy to reach, given the vagueness of the map I’d gotten from the tourist center, but I did find the Shimoda History Museum and went in to ask directions. I had hoped to see this museum also, but was eager to get to the other sites and I was somewhat put off by the 1200 yen admission fee, almost three times as much as the norm for the other places. I probably missed some interesting things, judging from their awkwardly-worded brochure.

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Hollywood Looks at China: Two Films from 1955

26 Sep

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE and BLOOD ALLEY are two Hollywood films made in 1955 with contemporary Chinese settings. SOLDIER OF FORTUNE starts out in Hong Kong and moves to Mainland China late in its narrative before coming back to Hong Kong. BLOOD ALLEY takes place almost entirely in Mainland China before ending up in Hong Kong. Both are in color and Cinemascope. Both are based on best-selling novels and both were adapted for the screen by their authors, Ernest K. Gann and A.S. Fleischman, respectively, a practice that was not very common in Hollywood. Both had top movie star pairs at the head of their casts, Clark Gable and Susan Hayward in SOLDIER and John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in BLOOD, all American and all playing Americans. Both films had large supporting casts of Asian-American performers. The lead male characters in both films speak Chinese, Cantonese in SOLDIER and, I’m assuming, Mandarin in BLOOD, although I’m not sure, given how awkward the actors are with their phonetically spoken lines. The lead female character in BLOOD speaks it also. Chinese-American actors Victor Sen Yung and James Hong are in both films. Hong plays a Communist soldier in both. (SOLDIER was Hong’s film debut.) Both were produced by major studios: SOLDIER by 20th Century Fox and BLOOD by Warner Bros. and both are out on DVD from their respective studios, which is how I watched both films. I’d seen parts of each film before, on television, but these DVD viewings marked the first time I’ve seen each of them in its entirety.

 

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IN HARM’S WAY (1965): Underrated Pearl Harbor Film

9 Dec

Last year on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, TCM ran AIR FORCE (1943) and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), neither of which I’d seen in a long time, so I watched them both and found them just as compelling, as both history and drama, as ever. Two days ago, on December 7th, the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I wanted to take a break from my normal fare of Japanese films and anime to watch something Pearl Harbor-related. TCM ran both AIR FORCE and ETERNITY again and I had a DVD of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) beckoning. But then I remembered that I had a DVD of Otto Preminger’s IN HARM’S WAY (1965) on the shelf, a film I’d never seen in its entirety in one sitting. So that’s what I chose. (Interestingly, earlier this week I watched the last hour of BATTLESHIP, the notorious 2012 flop about an alien invasion, and the resolution requires a trip by its Navy heroes to Pearl Harbor where they take over the U.S.S. Missouri and its crew of aged war vets for use in battling the aliens.)

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THE SEA CHASE (1955): Change of pace for John Wayne

28 May

I happened to watch THE SEA CHASE (1955) when it was cablecast on TCM on Sunday, May 26 (John Wayne’s 106th birthday) as part of the station’s Memorial Day weekend war film marathon. This was a John Wayne film I’d never seen before and one that was a little off of his usual routine, which is probably why I’d never given it high priority before. But it turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise.

In the film, Wayne plays a German ship captain, Karl Ehrlich, at the helm of a freighter that’s docked in Sydney, Australia when war is declared between Germany and Great Britain in 1939. He manages to get his ship out on the open sea and endeavors to sail it halfway across the world back to Germany, after a stop in Chile, despite pursuit by a British ship piloted by an officer who’s a friend of his. It’s a seagoing adventure shot largely on location in color and widescreen and offers a full measure of the hardships a ship would experience on such a journey. Furthermore, it focuses on the conflict between duty and justice and raises questions about loyalty to one’s command versus loyalty to one’s principles.

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Kurosawa’s War Propaganda: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944)

17 Sep

Akira Kurosawa’s wartime film, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944) is a propaganda drama that was designed to glorify the efforts of teenage girls recruited to work on the production of implements for Japan’s combat with Allied forces. Here they work in a factory making lenses for bomb sights and all live together in a dormitory. They are shown embracing their work and plunging into it with wholehearted patriotic fervor. The film plays like Soviet propaganda of an earlier era or Chinese Communist propaganda of a later era, but with characteristic Kurosawa touches, including a succession of great closeups and a focus on the human element even in the midst of celebrating the collective spirit.

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