Film Review – BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

Views From Da Crow's Nest: Rise of the CGI ApesBENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (USA, 1970) ***
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / APJAC Productions; Release Date: 23 April 1970 (Italy), 26 May 1970 (USA), 11 June 1970 (UK); Filming Dates: began 14 April 1969; Running Time: 95m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: G/15.
      Director: Ted Post; Writer: Paul Dehn (based on a story by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams and characters created by Pierre Boule); Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs; Associate Producer: Mort Abrahams; Director of Photography: Milton R. Krasner; Music Composer: Leonard Rosenman; Film Editor: Marion Rothman; Art Director: William J. Creber, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Walter M. Scott, Sven Wickman; Costumes: Morton Haack; Make-up: John Chambers, Edith Lindon, Daniel C. Striepeke; Sound: Stephen Bass, David Dockendorf; Special Effects: Johnny Borgese (uncredited); Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank.
      Cast: James Franciscus (Brent), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), Linda Harrison (Nova), Charlton Heston (Taylor), Paul Richards (Mendez), Victor Buono (Fat Man), James Gregory (Ursus), Jeff Corey (Caspay), Natalie Trundy (Albina), Thomas Gomez (Minister), Don Pedro Colley (Negro), David Watson (Cornelius), Tod Andrews (Skipper), Eldon Burke (Gorilla Sgt.), Gregory Sierra (Verger).
      Synopsis: The sole survivor of an interplanetary rescue mission searches for the only survivor of the previous expedition. He discovers a planet ruled by apes and an underground city run by telekinetic humans.
      Comment: This sequel to the phenomenally successful PLANET OF THE APES (1968) was designed as a cash cow for the ailing Fox studio. The rushed nature of its production is often apparent in a film which had its budget halved with ape masks  compromised for the extras. The story sees Franciscus arrive in similar fashion to Heston in the previous film to find Heston is still alive but has vanished. Harrison, as Heston’s companion from the first film, takes Franciscus to the ape city where he discovers the apes are planning a war with human mutants who live underground in the Forbidden Zone. Sets re-used and re-dressed from previous Fox productions such as HELLO DOLLY (1969) are effective in portraying a decayed New York City which has become the mutants’ home. The final act sees doomsday played out in apocalyptic fashion as the apes invade the mutants’ base. Dehn’s script has lots of anti-war messaging but lacks the nuances and polish that made the original so good. The film moves from set-piece to set-piece with little room for character development or conflict. Once the action moves underground in the final act the pace and often violent action picks up through to the gloomy conclusion. However, the film feels a little lacklustre and whilst Hunter and Evans reprise their roles they have much less impact here. Gregory is the standout as the gorilla general who leads his army to their ultimate fate. Followed by ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971).

Film Review – THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

THE INVISIBLE MAN (USA, 1933) ****
      Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 3 November 1933 (USA), 30 November 1933 (UK); Filming Dates: August 1933; Running Time: 71m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: James Whale; Writer: R.C. Sherriff (based on the novel by H.G. Wells); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld (uncredited); Music Supervisor: Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); Film Editor: Ted J. Kent;  Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); Visual Effects: John P. Fulton.
      Cast: Claude Rains (Dr. Jack Griffin aka The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Arthur Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O’Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Herbert Hall), Holmes Herbert (Chief of Police), E.E. Clive (Constable Jaffers), Dudley Digges (Chief Detective), Harry Stubbs (Inspector Bird), Donald Stuart (Inspector Lane), Merle Tottenham (Millie), Walter Brennan (Bicycle Owner (uncredited)), Robert Brower (Farmer (uncredited)), John Carradine (Informer Suggesting Ink (uncredited)), Dwight Frye (Reporter (uncredited)), Bob Reeves (Detective Hogan (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.
      Comment: H.G. Wells’ novel is brought to the screen in the stylish hands of director Whale and nuanced voice performance by Rains, who is only visible in the final shot. Rains has experimented with a serum that has made him invisible. Madness and megalomania increasingly take him over in his fruitless search for a cure. Rains’ vocal inflexions are both haunting and comedic and the material is often played for straight comedy. The character’s psychotic undercurrent becomes apparent as he commits a series of murders – firstly to protect his experiment and increasingly as spite, notably a scene where he derails a passenger train. The shifting tone is skilfully handled by Whale whose visual creativity along with the wonderful invisible effects by Fulton ensure the film remains absorbing throughout. The supporting performances are variable from O’Connor’s screeching innkeeper’s wife to a remarkably mannered Harrigan as Rains’ former assistant who Rains seeks revenge on for his betrayal. The movie was highly influential on the horror and fantasy genres and made a star out of Rains. Followed by THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944).

Film Review – APPALOOSA (2008)

Appaloosa - Great Western MoviesAPPALOOSA (USA, 2008) ***
      Distributor: New Line Cinema; Production Company: Axon Films / Groundswell Productions; Release Date: 12 September 2008; Filming Dates: 1 October 2007 – 24 November 2007; Running Time: 116m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS; Film Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Ed Harris; Writer: Robert Knott, Ed Harris (based on the novel by Robert B. Parker); Executive Producer: Sam Brown, Caldecot Chubb, Toby Emmerich, Michael London; Producer: Robert Knott, Ed Harris; Associate Producer: Kathryn Himoff, Candy Trabuco, Janice Williams; Director of Photography: Dean Semler; Music Composer: Jeff Beal; Film Editor: Kathryn Himoff; Casting Director: Nicole Abellera, Jeanne McCarthy; Production Designer: Waldemar Kalinowski; Art Director: Steve Arnold; Set Decorator: Linda Lee Sutton; Costumes: David C. Robinson; Make-up: Julie Callihan, Geordie Sheffer; Sound: Curt Schulkey; Special Effects: Geoffrey C. Martin; Visual Effects: Ladd Lanford, Mark Freund.
      Cast: Viggo Mortensen (Everett Hitch), Ed Harris (Virgil Cole), Renée Zellweger (Allison French), Jeremy Irons (Randall Bragg), Timothy Spall (Phil Olson), Lance Henriksen (Ring Shelton), Adam Nelson (Mackie Shelton), Ariadna Gil (Katie), James Gammon (Earl May), Tom Bower (Abner Raines), Rex Linn (Clyde Stringer), Corby Griesenbeck (Charlie Tewksbury), Timothy V. Murphy (Vince), Bob L. Harris (Judge Callison (as Bob Harris)), Daniel Parker (Mueller (as Daniel T. Parker)), Gabriel Marantz (Joe Whittfield), Cerris Morgan-Moyer (Tilda), Robert Jauregui (Marshall Jack Bell (as Bobby Jauregui)), Luce Rains (Dean), James Tarwater (Chalk (as Jim Tarwater)).
      Synopsis: Two friends hired to police a small town that is suffering under the rule of a rancher find their job complicated by the arrival of a young widow.
      Comment: Harris stars in and directs this slow-burning Western. He and Mortensen are peace-keepers for hire and when the residents of Appaloosa appoint Harris as marshal they hope he can loosen the grip that educated rancher Irons has on their town. Irons has murdered the previous town marshal and Harris and Mortensen go about their business of seeing justice done. Zellweger enters the story as the gold-digging new girl in town who seeks the companionship of the top dog, flitting between Harris, Mortensen and Irons. When Irons is arrested and put on trial, but subsequently escapes captivity the hunt is on. The character-driven script is injected with personality through its strong lead cast. The action is sporadic, but violent and deadly once it takes place. Whilst the plot is resolved, the main character stories are left in the air leading to a sense of unfinished business and a film that whilst engaging and well-mounted feels to be hesitant in coming to a conclusion. Tighter editing may also have helped to create a greater sense of urgency to the drama.

Film Review – OPEN RANGE (2003)

Flicks On 'Flix – Open Range – I'm Talkin' HereOPEN RANGE (USA, 2003) ****
      Distributor: Winchester Film Distribution; Production Company: Touchstone Pictures / Cobalt Media Group / Beacon Pictures / Tig Productions; Release Date: 11 August 2003 (USA), 19 March 2004 (UK); Filming Dates: 17 June 2002 – 8 September 2002; Running Time: 139m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS; Film Format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Kevin Costner; Writer: Craig Storper (based on the novel “The Open Range Men” by Lauran Paine); Executive Producer: Armyan Bernstein, Craig Storper; Producer: Kevin Costner, Jake Eberts, David Valdes; Director of Photography: J. Michael Muro; Music Composer: Michael Kamen; Film Editor: Michael J. Duthie, Miklos Wright; Casting Director: Mindy Marin; Production Designer: Gae S. Buckley; Art Director: Gary Myers; Set Decorator: Mary-Lou Storey; Costumes: John Bloomfield; Make-up: Pearl Louie, Jon C. White; Sound: Barney Cabral.
      Cast: Robert Duvall (Boss Spearman), Kevin Costner (Charley Waite), Annette Bening (Sue Barlow), Michael Gambon (Denton Baxter), Michael Jeter (Percy), Diego Luna (Button), James Russo (Sheriff Poole), Abraham Benrubi (Mose), Dean McDermott (Doc Barlow), Kim Coates (Butler), Herb Kohler (Cafe Man), Peter MacNeill (Mack), Cliff Saunders (Ralph), Patricia Stutz (Ralph’s Wife (as Pat Stutz)), Julian Richings (Wylie), Ian Tracey (Tom), Rod Wilson (Gus), Diego Diablo Del Mar (Ballester (as Diego Del Mar)), Patricia Benedict (Cafe Woman), Tim Koetting (Bartender Bill).
      Synopsis: A former gunslinger is forced to take up arms again when he and his cattle crew are threatened by a corrupt lawman.
      Comment: Excellent Western in the traditional format directed by Costner at a leisurely pace until the gunfight finale, one of the best-ever seen in the genre. Duvall and Costner are outstanding as free-grazers helped by young Luna and Benrubi. When they stray onto rancher Gambon’s land the battle lines are drawn. Bening plays the town doctor’s sister who falls for the awkward Costner in a romantic sub-plot. Whilst taking its time to come to the boil, the film explores the complex character motivations of Costner’s gunslinger history and Duvall’s aspirations to put down roots years after the death of his wife and daughter. Gambon is served less well by the script and his Irish rancher is a little two-dimensional. However, the film reaches an explosive finale as the two factions shoot it out on the town streets. The segment is superbly shot and is a satisfying conclusion to one of the best Westerns since the genre’s heyday.

Book Review – THE SMILING MAN (2018) by Joseph Knox

THE SMILING MAN (2018) ****
by Joseph Knox
This paperback edition published by Black Swan, 2019, 454pp
First published in hardcover by Doubleday, 2018
© Joesph Knox, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-7841-6219-1
      Blurb: A body has been found on the fourth floor of Manchester’s vast and empty Palace Hotel. The man is dead. And he is smiling. The tags have been removed from his clothes. His teeth have been replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into his trousers offers any information about him. Detective Aidan Waits and his unwilling partner, DI Sutcliffe, must piece together the scant clues to identify the stranger. But as they do, Aidan realises that a ghost from his past haunts the investigation. He soon recognises that to discover who the smiling man really is, he must first confront the scattered debris of his own life . . .
      Comment: Joesph Knox’s first book, Sirens, introduced us to Detective Aidan Waits. It was a dark, grim and macabre tale that proved to be one of the best debut novels in recent years. His follow-up, The Smiling Man, continues in the same vein. Waits is paired on the night shift with DI Peter Sutcliffe (Knox’s penchant for referencing serial killers both real and fictional is one of his traits). On attending the crime scene at a disused hotel they find a man’s body in one of the rooms. It cannot be identified and is distinguished only by the disturbing smile on his face. The investigation runs concurrently with events from Waits’ past, which re-surface on the release from prison of the psychotic Bateman. The plots are not directly linked but weave between each other throughout the novel, with Waits trying to rid himself of the events that led to his dark personality. It’s a psychological rollercoaster and Knox handles the elements well through his first-person narrative. The creepy elements in the Smiling Man mystery are reminiscent of cases such as The Black Dahlia. Knox admirably captures the darkness of the locale, despite being set during a rare Manchester heatwave, and showcases a cast of violent, eccentric and flawed characters. As such this book is not for those who don’t like their mysteries to veer too much toward the disturbingly dark side, but fans of Knox’s first novel will not be disappointed with this stylish follow-up.

Film Review – CROSSFIRE TRAIL (2001)

CROSSFIRE TRAIL (TV) (USA, 2001) ***
      Distributor: Turner Network Television (TNT); Production Company: Turner Network Television / Brandman Productions / TWS Productions; Release Date: 21 January 2001; Running Time: 92m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Simon Wincer; Writer: Charles Robert Carner (based on the novel by Louis L’Amour); Executive Producer: Michael Brandman, Tom Selleck; Producer: Steven J. Brandman, Thomas John Kane; Director of Photography: David Eggby; Music Composer: Eric Colvin; Film Editor: Terry Blythe; Casting Director: Sean Cossey, Lisa Freiberger, Iris Grossman; Production Designer: Roy Forge Smith; Art Director: Tracey Baryski; Set Decorator: Janice Blackie-Goodine; Costumes: Elsa Zamparelli; Make-up: Gail Kennedy; Sound: Garrell Clark.
      Cast: Tom Selleck (Rafe Covington), Virginia Madsen (Ann Rodney), Wilford Brimley (Joe Gill), David O’Hara (Rock Mullaney), Christian Kane (J.T. Langston), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Walter Moncrief), Joanna Miles (Melissa Thompson), Ken Pogue (Gene Thompson), Patrick Kilpatrick (Mike Taggart), Rex Linn (Luke Taggart), William Sanderson (Dewey (the bartender)), Daniel Parker (Taggart Gang (as Daniel T. Parker)), Marshall R. Teague (Snake Corville (as Marshall Teague)), Brad Johnson (Beau Dorn), Mark Harmon (Bruce Barkow), Kyla Wise (Millie (the barmaid) (as Kyla Anderson)).
      Synopsis: Rafe Covington promises a dying friend that he’ll watch over the man’s wife and ranch after he’s gone.
      Comment: A handsomely-mounted Western with a strong central performance from Selleck, but an overly melodramatic villain in Harmon. Selleck honours a promise he makes to a dying man to look after his ranch and wife (Madsen). On arriving in town Selleck sees that Madsen has come under the influence of land-grabber Harmon. The result is a battle of wills that leads to the inevitable shootout finale. Whilst there is much here that is predictable, this is still an entertaining and old-fashioned tale that coasts on Selleck’s charm. There is a good support cast headed by Brimley as a wizened cowhand who helps Selleck get the ranch up and running. Director Wincer is best known for his work on the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove. Shot in Alberta, Canada.

Film Review – THE NAKED SPUR (1953)

The Naked Spur (1953)THE NAKED SPUR (USA, 1953) ****
      Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Release Date: 30 January 1953 (USA), 16 April 1953 (UK); Filming Dates: May 1952 – 30 June 1952; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Sam Rolfe, Harold Jack Bloom; Producer: William H. Wright; Director of Photography: William C. Mellor; Music Composer: Bronislau Kaper; Film Editor: George White; Art Director: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; Set Decorator: Edwin B. Willis; Make-up: William Tuttle.
      Cast: James Stewart (Howard Kemp), Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate).
      Synopsis: A bounty hunter trying to bring a murderer to justice is forced to accept the help of two less-than-trustworthy strangers.
      Comment: This excellent and tense Western is more a psychological drama. Stewart is a haunted bounty hunter who looks to bring in outlaw Ryan with the unwanted help of prospector Mitchell and dishonourably discharged cavalryman Meeker. Leigh is Ryan’s companion – the misfit daughter of a dead outlaw. Along the long journey through beautiful Colorado locations, Ryan begins to play his captors off against each other, whilst Stewart slowly falls for Leigh. Mann handles the material expertly and the performances are excellent – notably Stewart as the self-tortured hero and Ryan as the manipulative villain. Great score by Kaper heightens the tension and sumptuous photography from Mellor.

Film Review – TRAIL STREET (1947)

Trail Street - 1947 - Ray Enright with Randolph Scott | John wayne ...TRAIL STREET (USA, 1947) **½
      Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures; Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures; Release Date: 19 February 1947; Filming Dates: 26 July–mid-September 1946; Running Time: 84m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Ray Enright; Writer: Norman Houston, Gene Lewis (based on the novel by William Corcoran); Executive Producer: Jack J. Gross; Producer: Nat Holt; Director of Photography: J. Roy Hunt; Music Composer: Paul Sawtell; Film Editor: Lyle Boyer; Art Director: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D’Agostino; Set Decorator: Darrell Silvera, John Sturtevant; Costumes: Adele Balkan; Make-up: Mel Berns (uncredited); Sound: Terry Kellum, Jean L. Speak.
      Cast: Randolph Scott (Bat Masterson), Robert Ryan (Allen Harper), Anne Jeffreys (Ruby Stone), George ‘Gabby’ Hayes (Billy Jones), Madge Meredith (Susan Pritchett), Steve Brodie (Logan Maury), Billy House (Carmody), Virginia Sale (Hannah), Harry Woods (Larkin Larkin), Phil Warren (Slim), Harry Harvey (Mayor), Jason Robards Sr. (Jason (as Jason Robards)).
      Synopsis: Bat Masterson’s old friend Billy Burns convinces him to become marshal of Liberal, Kansas and help the residents fight drought and a destructive range war.
      Comment: Tale of rich rancher Brodie battling land agent Ryan who supports the farmers looking to grow their crops under the hot Kansas sun is an overly familiar trek through Western tropes. Scott enters the fray as lawman Bat Masterson determined to see that the law is upheld. Meredith is Ryan’s love interest also pursued by Brodie, whilst Jeffreys is the saloon girl spurned by Brodie. Hayes lives up to his nickname as Scott’s sidekick and deputy who can’t stop running his mouth. Enright directs the action scenes well, but the hokey dialogue is delivered in often flat fashion by most of the cast – only Scott and Jeffrey manage to inject personality into their characters and rise above the routine material. The result is an entertaining enough, if dated, Western.