Movies watched: Odd Man Out (home – 116 minutes), ’71 (home – 99 minutes), Ghostbusters (AMC Southcenter 16 – 105 minutes).
Total elapsed time: 2 days, 17 hours, 28 minutes.
Director Carol Reed is far from a household name. The only films of his that are really well known today are The Third Man and Oliver! But his body of work contains quite a few gems, including Odd Man Out. This film stars James Mason as Johnny McQueen, a leader in a Northern Irish “organization” that is never named, but is clearly meant to be the IRA. One of the great things about this movie is that Carol Reed has removed politics from the plot. Ultimately, this movie is about people dealing with the consequences of their choices It delves into some rather deep subject matter, with ruminations on life, death and personal responsibility.
McQueen and his friends pull off a robbery, and he scuffles with and shoots a guard. He is left behind, hiding alone in Belfast. The rest of the movie deals with everyone’s attempt to find McQueen, and his attempt to get to sanctuary. This movie was released in 1947, so we know there can be know escape for Johnny McQueen. He must be brought to justice. So the movie has a sense of fatalism as it moves along. And yet, for all that, the conclusion is incredibly moving. Performances are strong throughout, but the real strengths of this movie lie in Carol Reed’s direction, Robert Krasker’s cinematography, and the musical score of William Alwyn.
Krasker, who would later win an Oscar for The Third Man, does a magnificent job lighting this film, with many elements of German expressionism; long shadows abound. As Johnny begins to hallucinate, there are images like the one above, involving special effects photography, quite clever for the mid ’40’s. The musical score is outstanding as well, particularly in the final moments of the film. One small image in particular will stay with me forever. James Mason’s character is lying in the snow, and he sees a curtain part, and two small boys looking with joy and wonder at the falling snow. Then, the curtain closes. The lighting, staging and music all combine to make this unforgettable, and a great metaphor for the fleeting nature of life, and the joys it brings. This film is highly recommended.
I guess I had Northern Ireland on the brain, or in the heart, because I next watched the 2014 movie ’71. The movie is set in the titular year, when the conflict was at its most atrocious and bloody. A young British soldier named Gary (played by Jack O’Connell) is patrolling in Belfast when he becomes separated from his fellow soldiers. He must then try to survive a night in Belfast. So the movie shares that plot point at least with Odd Man Out, a man trying to get through a night in Belfast. Otherwise, the movies are very different.
This excellent movie marks the directorial debut of Yann Demange. The movie is a burst of frenetic energy unbelievable tension. It is entertaining, moving, and at times difficult to watch.. Two times during the movie I felt tightness in my chest, from the tension. Once, I stood up off the couch, unable to contain my emotion.
’71 also feature Sean Harris, who played the villain in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. He is playing a different version of that character here, and manages to seem more menacing in this movie, despite the much smaller stakes. His acting is like a kettle of water that is about to boil; everything is bubbling just under the surface.
And finally, last weekend I saw Ghostbusters on the big screen, for the first time since its original theatrical release. It holds up very well. Reflections:
–Remember the scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack’s character is going to rearrange his albums autobiographically? I am that way about movies. I can remember the circumstances of every movie I’ve seen (who with, when, where). So I’m sitting there in the theater with my adult son and his girlfriend, thinking that the first time I saw Ghostbusters I was 12 years old, and with my mom. She enjoyed it more than I thought she would.
–Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis: good God, they all look so young. And they were all so good. This movie falls into that brief window when Aykroyd was genuinely funny.
–I had forgotten how late into the movie Ernie Hudson comes along, but I am glad he is there. He has some of the best moments.
–There is sure is a lot of cigarette smoking in this movie. I know, different time, but it seems gratuitous in a couple of scenes. I was looking for a pack of cigs with a logo; product placement perhaps?
–Finally, there is a Reginald VelJohnson sighting in this movie! He is the cop that lets the Ghostbusters out of jail after they have been arrested. Just 4 years later VelJo (as I affectionately call him) would play another policeman, the unforgettable Sgt. Al Powell, in Die Hard.
–Finally, did you know there was a TV show called “The Ghostbusters” that aired in 1975? It reteamed Larry Storch and the massively-schlonged Forrest Tucker from “F Troop”, as ghost-busting detectives, who have a gorilla as a sidekick! It lasted one full season and is just about as bad as it sounds. I almost made it through one episode on youtube, but the laugh track was just too much to take. I do love Storch and Tucker though. (And of course, I wish I was packing like FT. Then again, what man doesn’t?)