Janet Leigh

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Year: 1962
Directed By: John Frankenheimer
Written By: Richard Condon (novel) George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer (screenplay)

RYAN’S REVIEW

It can be easy for us to forget sometimes that great things were done in the generations that preceded us.  Especially when it comes to an always evolving business like the movie industry.  I have grown up in the age of special effects and during an ongoing aggressive attempt to continue being creative and outdoing what was done before.  Yet, to the latter of those two, some things simply can’t be done.  This is a movie that seemed primed for a remake given the technology available today but when you go back and look at the original you see that nothing we could ever do today could even touch what was done before.  This is a political thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat up until the end and then blow you away.  It has been a long time since I saw the remake and I remember liking it quite a bit but when we viewed this one again I can’t imagine it even comes close.

I love a movie that captures the paranoia that went on in the country during The Cold War.  It’s something we can hear about all day in a history class but I don’t think the message is ever really driven home.  When you learn about The Cold War the focus is always on the big events such as The Cuban Missile Crisis or the wall that divided Germany.  What I think gets overlooked is how crazy the situation got at home, the paranoia driven into Americans for political purposes.  The character of Senator John Iselin is an obvious reference to Joe McCarthy.  He has a list of names of people working within the government who are actually communist and although he can’t figure out how many names are on that list it hardly matters when he is putting on his show for the media.  The messages to the public is very clear, to the point that people don’t ask “are there actually Communist working in the US government,” but “how many Communist are working in the US government.” I discussed the Red Scare during our recent review of The Majestic; it’s a very interesting and troubling chapter in our nation’s history.  This movie is a perfect example of how some political figures could use that fear tactic to their advantage and it’s true that some did exactly what John Iselin did, to a lesser extent.

I think the biggest flaw in this movie comes from the acting because there is a lot of bad acting to go around.  I thought Frank Sinatra was really hot and cold throughout the film.  Sinatra may have been one of the coolest guys to ever live but this film does not do much to showcase his acting talents.  In truth I haven’t seen enough of his films to make an honest opinion of his acting ability.  The thing that annoyed me most about him in this movie had to be lip sweat.  In the movie he plays a character that is a bit overwhelmed with stress and I think he often looks sweaty to convey that stress but I found myself wishing the guy would just wipe off his upper lip most of the time. I also found it really annoying how he kept going back to the dream when he was trying to tell everyone his suspicions about Raymond Shaw.  He is clearly frustrated that nobody will listen to him but who the hell takes a dream seriously? Maybe they held greater importance in the sixties and I’m simply unaware.  Nevertheless, while I didn’t think Sinatra was great in this film I did like his part and I do think Sinatra was great.  They have been talking about making a bio pic about him for years and I’m always waiting on it. The man led a storied life that eventually needs to be brought to the big screen.

I have never seen Laurence Harvey in another movie but based solely on his performance in this film I think he was really bad at his trade.  He plays an “unlovable” character in this film but I found him to be “unlovable” as an actor.  Nothing about his performance in this movie was believable and if the movie wasn’t so good all around I think it would have brought the film down.  My favorite part of his character was when he told the story about meeting the love of his life, because I found it so hilarious.  This “unlovable” guy, probably a virgin, is snake bit and alone on the shore of a lake.  This beautiful girl, played by Leslie Parrish, rolls up on a bike and just happens to have snake bite remedies on her.  She slices his leg, puts medicine in it, but doesn’t have a bandage to wrap the wound.  She takes off her shirt and wraps his leg before riding away in her bra to get him help. I find this funny because how could this guy not fall head over heels for this girl? There is already the “Florence Nightingale Effect” to think of but when a hot woman takes off her shirt and wraps your virgin leg with it you love that woman forever.

The saving grace for acting in this movie came from Angela Lansbury.  Though she played a wicked part she was absolutely amazing in the role and actually received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the part.  She didn’t win and that’s a shame because she was far and away better at acting than any of the stars who got top billing.  It’s been quite a while since I saw the show but I grew up with my mom regularly watching Murder, She Wrote and remember Lansbury mainly from her part on it.  That made her drastically different role in this movie seem even more compelling to me.  Janet Leigh actually got top billing for actress and I don’t think she played a bad part, just an unnecessary part.  Why was she in this movie at all? She has absolutely no significance to the film and I think she is only here because Sinatra needed a love interest.  She was a beautiful woman and although there is no reason for her in the film she is still nice to look at.

I am not overly familiar with John Frankenheimer who directed the film but I have seen one of his more recent films, RoninI thought that was an incredible movie and I liked what he did with this film although he may have been able to get more out of a few of his actors.  I specifically liked how in the film when we see the dream sequence from Major Marko it looks altogether different from the sequence we see when Corporal Melvin had the dream.  When Marko dreams it all the women are white and when Melvin dreams it they are all black. I think James Edwards was horrible in the scene when he wakes up but I liked that they two different characters dream things different through their own perceptions.  One thing that really did annoy me while watching the film was when Raymond accidentally hears his trigger in a bar and mistaken takes instructions to jump into the Potomac River.  When Marko is chasing him down it is obviously very cold outside because we can see the breath of the actors and the river does appear to be somewhat icy.  Yet, throughout the film we see all the characters sweating and at one point Raymond’s mother criticizes him for not having an air conditioning unit, implying that it is hot. This matters little but something about how it upsets the continuity seemed vaguely frustrating to me. Yet this movie leaves you with a bang.  Frankenheimer did an outstanding job putting together the film’s climax and delivering the big blow at the end.

With a current day remake around to grab today’s viewer’s attention I fear the original film might be forgotten behind it.  This is a mistake and I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen.  The remake, despite the efforts of those involved, does not even remotely match what this film was able to accomplish. It’s not even in the same league with this film and I now wish a remake had never been made at all.  It was watching the remake that eventually lead me to actually see the original but I have little faith there were others who went back to see what it was intended to be.  I you saw the remake and enjoyed it at all then this is a must see for you because it is better.  If you haven’t seen this movie or the remake then it’s still a must see because the movie is that damn good.  This movie is worth your time and if you are reading this I hope you seek it out and see it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I had a hard time staying into this film. I guess it was because it was in black and white and for me just hard to follow. I felt like I kept getting lost. Overall I think I know what happened and I truly like the story. It’s always interesting to watch films about politics running amuck.

poster1This is a really cool poster. It is simple, direct, simplistic and quite pretty. Today the typography would look a lot different in the black and blue parts, but I really don’t mind the typography of the title and the cast names. I can’t think of any modern-day posters that use this much white space and I just feel that’s a shame. Today we have to fit in so much nonsense into these posters to try and get points across, when personally I feel like simplicity is the way to go. DaVinci once said that “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” I agree.

 

NEXT MOVIE: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

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Halloween

Year: 1978
Directed By: John Carpenter
Written By: John Carpenter and Debra Hill

RYAN’S REVIEW

I didn’t intend to review this film when we started this horror themed month for October but I got caught up in the spirit.  We have watched and reviewed several horror films this month but none quite as iconic as this one. Barring The Exorcist (which I refuse to see again) this is the big enchilada when it comes to the genre.  An iconic film that set the tone for the decades that would follow.  It was not the first slasher film but far and away this is the one that all the others would take the lead from.  Everything from who the victims were and what they were doing to setting the tone with music to who would win in the end was all in the blueprint for this film.  Seeing everything that comes after almost makes it redundant.

I was born in 1984, and by that time this franchise had already risen to the top and fallen from grace due to a horrible third film. The franchise would come roaring back with it’s fourth film in 1988 but it wasn’t so much a roar as it was a weep that kept it going for another 15 years.  When I was growing up it was Friday the 13th that was all the rage.  As a kid I specifically remember the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees being the thing to wear and while I didn’t know what it was I thought it was really cool.  My mom would never let me go as the bloody machete wielding villain though opting for more traditional and cute costumes that never impressed my friends. Nevertheless I was introduced to Jason long before I even knew anything about Michael Myers.  One of the first horror movies I ever saw was one of the Jason movies, no clue which one, and it scared the hell out of me. I remember going into dark rooms as a child and fearing Jason would be standing over me when I turned the light on.  Darkness is always scarier when the idea of a slasher who is there to kill you for no reason is introduced.  To a preteen child such irrational things seem possible when you are all alone.

By the time I actually saw this film I was in my later teens.  I watched it because I knew it was a legendary film, but having already seen so many movies just like it the film had little effect on me. I had seen it all before and in much more violent and bloody fashion.  Not only that, but Michael Myers’ white mask (a William Shatner mask turned inside out) had nothing on the hockey mask worn by Jason Voorhees.  Even Jason’s weapon was scarier than Michael’s because Jason used a machete while Michael simply used a kitchen butcher’s knife. When I finished this movie for the first time I found it not scary at all and anticlimactic as well.  I know now how wrong my initial perceptions were.

I may not have been impressed as a teenager but I was too young to really appreciate classic stories then.  At that age I was always looking for more blood, more explosions, and more boobs.  Some movies had been built up too much in my mind based on what I had already seen and I couldn’t look past something less to appreciate the fact that it was what started it all.  The Jason movies only seemed more frightening to me because with each new film it was both trying to one-up this movie as well as all the other slasher films that preceded it.  Jason would have never existed without this film and its success.  This movie was made on a really low budget and raked in tons of profit.  It became the blueprint for what many franchises would build their foundation on.  A killer who kills kids for no real reason, victims that are engaging in promiscuous behavior, and a musical score that would set the tone for the film.

It’s not until the sequel to this movie that you get any motive as to why Michael Myers has targeted these teens for killing.  I suppose the pointless killing adds an extra level of fear to the whole thing but this always bothered me, and I’ll admit it bothered me while I was watching it last night.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an awesome movie, but there is little point to it other than the guilty pleasure of watching violence.  The popular slasher film that came out when I was in high school was Scream which made a lot of the “slasher victim formula.” The formula being that the kids engaging in drinking, drugs, and sex were the ones to fall prey to the stalking killer.  This is the lead that the others followed because it’s the way it appears in this movie but I don’t see it this way.  John Carpenter has dismissed the notion before and I think it’s simply because he wrote the teenagers to act like teenagers.  What generation of teenagers don’t engage in drinking, drugs, and sex when the parents aren’t around? I think the fact that the victims in this movie were doing such is merely happenstance. Laurie Strode appears to be the angel of the group because she is the more innocent of the three girls terrorized by Michael Myers but she was getting high at one point in the movie.  According to the formula proposed by Scream this would have put her on Michael’s chopping block but it didn’t happen because that formula never really existed in this film. They were just kids being kids, coincidentally doing what kids do when the slasher came to kill them.

I think the greatest thing about this movie is the musical score.  That tune on the piano which has become legendary now is such an eerie and dramatic sound.  It sets the tone for the movie and moves it along at the right pace.  John Carpenter also did a lot of interesting things behind camera that added to the effect the movie had when it came out and was imitated by the filmmakers that would follow.  Shooting from the point of view of the killer was a new idea at the time and it allowed the viewer to fear for the unsuspecting victim as their death crept up on them. Both of the qualities, the musical score and the view from the killer were things specifically copied for the Friday the 13th franchise.

This was the first film Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in and was the beginning of what would eventually give her the title of “scream queen.” Curtis came by it naturally because her mother probably would have had that title had it been around twenty years earlier.  Her mother, Janet Leigh, was made famous for screaming in the shower scene in the original Psycho film.  I have always been a big fan of Curtis because of her role in True/Lies in 1994, and because I saw her boobs in Trading Places as a kid.  I was young when I saw that movie and instantly fell in love with her, her role in True/Lies only served to re-enforce that infatuation.  This infatuation has proven to be very troubling as I have heard many times over the last ten years that she was born as a hermaphrodite, meaning that she was born with both male and female reproductive organs.  I do not know if this is true or simply a popular myth but I don’t like it and find it really hard to believe. Curtis has fallen out of the limelight as far as films go these days but remains active in many notable causes.  I think she had many terrific roles throughout her career and it all started with this movie.

Aside from Curtis the most notable actor to be involved in this franchise on a regular basis was Donald Pleasence playing the part of Michael Myers’ doctor Dr. Loomis.  I have never really cared for the character because he always comes off as so annoying.  In every one of the Halloween movies he appears in he is always the guy running around trying to warn everybody but nobody will listen.  If he wasn’t such a whiney know-it-all maybe people would have listened to him.  He is specifically preachy in this movie and honestly, most of what he says doesn’t make any sense.  He says that he knows Michael Myers better than anyone but what can you really know about a person that hasn’t communicated in any capacity in fifteen years? His analogy that behind Myers’ black eyes is nothing but pure evil serves as nothing more than making the villain more ghoulish and threatening.  That is the point I suppose but this guy couldn’t have died soon enough in my opinion.  I haven’t seen the sequels in quite a while but if I remember right Loomis blows himself up at the end of the second film in order to kill Myers.  If anybody knows how he managed to come back to the franchise let me know because I have always wondered.

This movie may come across as boring to younger generations that have seen it all before, just as it did to me when I was younger, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.  There is a lot to be said about a film that sets the bar and leads the way for so many that will follow.  It doesn’t matter what film may have out done it later because it was merely trying to copy what was already achieved by this one.  I didn’t love this movie when I saw it the first time but I have grown to appreciate it for what it is worth and what it has done for the genre and industry.  This movie is one of the greatest horror films of all time and was a great way to spend Halloween night after the kids were done trick or treating and safely tucked into bed.  It goes without saying that this movie is worth your time to see.

 AMBER’S REVIEW

Classic. That’s really all that can be said about this movie. So classic in fact they made many, many, too many more. It’s a really cool horror movie that isn’t as scary as it probably was back in its prime, but I think it still holds it own. And nothing is more Halloween iconic than the theme song. I made it my ringtone this year.

Halloween PosterI am going to say here that I feel kind of bad for the designer. They didn’t know what an iconic movie this would become. I am not a fan of this at all. I don’t like the illustration, the typography is just plain bad, and the copy-writing is worse. “The Night HE came back.” Who, Jesus? I actually want to recreate this one. I think it could be a lot of fun.