Posts tagged “Charles Laughton

Cape Fear/e (1962/91/93) Revisited

I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.

The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.

Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.

The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.

Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.

Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).

Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.

Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.

A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.

The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.

Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.

Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.

I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.

Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.

The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.

So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.



¡Three Amigo’s! (1986)

Three Amigos (1986)For some reason I don’t really like watching or seeking out comedy westerns, the blend of two completely different genres, one action-packed full of grand characters who throw their weight about the other based on the build-up to line that encourages laughter. Or maybe there is so much difference, the both rely on the audience to trust them on taking them on a journey to enquire and explore a subject to discover more. When you bring the two together I feel its poking fun at a genre I love. I’m only starting to accept that the fact comedy is celebrating the genre. Especially in a time when Three Amigo’s (1986) was released there weren’t many westerns in production, the output in that decade was not between 10-15 a year, compared to the hey-day of the 1950-60s. With less than 10 from the U.S that year, not even a Clint Eastwood who was still directing classics in the guise of the man with no name. The Three Amigo’s goes back to just after the birth of cinema, when westerns and other films were being produced and released on almost weekly basis. A prolific time in film when the medium was still being refined, genres such as the western were still in their infancy, no time to really develop characters, there was still time to create the image of the West that had just been tamed. Just south of the border a revolution was underway in Mexico which didn’t stop them discovering the heroes of the silent screen.

In the case of Carmen (Patrice Martinez) comes across a Three Amigo’s film, mistaking it for a real-life document of life, a trio of gunmen who fight the bad guys where they stand. The appearance of bravery, good over evil occurs before her eyes. Something we have all fallen for, taking the constructed as reality at one time or another. For me I remember vaguely seeing Charles Laughton as Henry VIII as a child, believing him to be the real monarch. It’s not until that facade, the construction is broken do we understand what is going on, before we eventually fall under its spell, even with the prior knowledge that allows us to determine what is reality. The desperate Carmen telegraphs the three actors fresh on the streets after demanding more money for their next film. Could this be their next big thing, take their on-screen persona on the road, perform life before an audience?

That’s not what she has in mind for Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) who now homeless, jobless and penniless, the first of many whose careers are made or broken by movie moguls of the era. After breaking into the studio they make off with their costumes to South of the Border where their future lies. It all sounds quite promising for both sides, as the parody of The Magnificent Seven (1960) begins to play out. Unwittingly hiring actors as gun-men not performers to defend a town against bandits lead by El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) who is the archetype baddie. So far it’s a pretty standard western stuff coming our way. Spending most our time at the local saloon where we meet a few German’s who at this time are the enemy over in Europe. Here in South America its quite the opposite, seen more as villainous friend and little else, adding more dimension, its not your standard western anymore.          

All this is setting up the scene for the trio to arrive they are still very much in the dark, acting very much the consummate performer, unaware of the danger that awaits them out in Carmen’s village. It’s all about cliches of the actors, being confident in the role they have been playing for so long. They have had great success so are blind to real danger until it bites them…like a bullet to the arm. Even when the first time they meet El Guapo’s gang they are unaware of the danger, playing the part, as if they are among other performers, why would they think otherwise, the telegram was abridged before they even received it. Its great fun to watch, having the prior information is a great build-up to the danger and the reveal, that is reality. 

When reality does bite as much as they now have to make the leap from performer to gunfighter, from mouse to man in the space of this short film. Its all done with real fun, as the cowboy has to pick up his gun and shoot for real. A point that is never really raised, After shooting all those blanks to real rounds there is no understanding that they are now killing other men, instead if relying on trick photography to make it a reality. That would probably be the only major flaw of the film. So caught up in the gags which all work for me, It’s not all laugh out loud but theres enough to keep me going. Probably because I only know of Martin, I’ve heard of Chevy Chase, maybe my lack of familiarity with the other comedians distanced me from the comedy.

The musical number summed up for me the love for the genre, a heavy on the landscape, the sunset and cacti which surrounded the campfire scene, the night before the set-off for the hideout. Its incredibly fake but I don’t care one bit, I’m too caught up in the moment that is so rich with love and warmth, not just the fire but the musical number itself.

Summing up this fun western spoof that sees actors assume their roles in reality is something you rarely see. Western actors cannot seem to shake loose the characters they portray, assuming that persona outside of the film set. Here it takes on another dimension, imagine The Duke firing away against bandits, it would be an awesome sight to see. Also the usually two-dimensional Mexicans are played with more intelligence, they aren’t just firing guns in the air and saying “gringo” etc, they are treated with more respect in a comedic setting. The film is however let down the period in time, the silent era, only die-hard fans of film would know of any trio being spoofed. I can only think of Harry Carey from that period, no trios. The audience can’t relate as easily to this era which does let it down. The routines they perform do produce some good moment which go someway to the audience engaging more.

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One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)I watched this based on recommendation from a number of sources, One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is another of those misunderstood films on the time on release by a one-time actor/director, such as Charles Laughton who directed The Night of the Hunter (1955) which also fell foul to similar results. Both now highly regarded classics of both the Western and film noir respectively. One-Eyed Jacks  could have been more successful if it was made and released during the dark psychological 50’s. Even with the working combination of Marlon Brando and Karl Malden  in On The Waterfront (1954) and A Streetcar Names Desire (1951). Maybe it’s because the film so intensely charged that it was too much to see two men once bank robbers who rode together turn so viciously away from each other.

 With a dream western cast, calling in a huge number of supporting actors who are synonymous with the genre, from Hank Worden through to Katy Jurado and Slim Pickens I can only presume the rest were busy working with John Wayne or John Ford at the time of filming. It’s rich is passion and a dark heart that travels from Mexico to the coat of California as two men must find justice. With Brando in front and behind the camera we’ve a different kind of western, one that is brooding and dark, full of psychology, whilst the actor who had already done a  handful of westerns fits easily into the world he is bringing together. With heavy touches of visual theatrics, such as hiding the Mexicans in pursuit behind sandstorm, not properly insight to both Rio (Brando) or the audience who try to make out what they are seeing. This too is where a father/son like relationship that was once strong, built on a shared need for women and greed is broken when Dad Longworth leaves to buy new horses, taking the opportunity to start over again. Leaving Rio with little choice but to give himself up to the authorities that surround him. A price he will not forget to be repaid.

Jumping forward 5 years we see two men making a break from prison, nothing will stop these two men, Rio and Chico Modesto (Larry Duran) from freedom. With one goal, to find Dad Longworth ad kill him. It’s not the bandit after the sherif who put him behind bars, it’s the betrayed friend righting a wrong that he can’t forget. Meeting along the way, Bob Armory, one of Ben Johnson‘s finest performance outside of the Ford Stock Company and The Wild Bunch (1969) as another bandit who won’t be messed around when he joins up with Rio who has a bigger reputation with a gun. Who watching the changes in his new temperamental partner.

On arriving in California we find a now respectable Longworth, a reformed gun-man now as town sherif, with a Mexican family in his life. The life of freedom and abiding the law has paid off for him, everyone knows his past, a past he has chosen to rewrite for himself, which will soon be re-evaluated when Rio arrives to find him. Living the life he could have had, fuelling his anger, the need to kill him grows stronger still. Adding to that he meets Longworth’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer) who becomes his love interest, yet bordering on incest, if only related by marriage.

Both men are very much the same, shaped by how events five years previously panned out, sending them both in different directions. Both a liars hiding their past from the women in their lives. It’s only a matter of time until they both can’t take anymore, who will shoot first? There are many opportunities to silence one another, the audience is left frustrated by the will they won’t they, not of love but kill, something not often replicated in the western. Surrounded by characters who are all playing against the type we usually see on-screen and so effectively too.

I’m pleased I’ve finally watched this sometimes forgotten classic, I wonder what else Brando may have directed if he wasn’t put off by the public response, with such adult themes. A film that was originally 5 hours long was recut into this still impressive form. Will we ever see that version, much like Cimino‘s Heaven’s Gate (1980) whose directors cut is 4 hours long. Brando’s reported in-experience behind the camera was sadly not seen for the genius he was today. Like so many actor/directors of his time that weren’t given the chance to make more, with visions so ahead of their time, it’s a case of if only.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter (1955)Towards the end if the Film noir cycle, it was still producing some classic piece of cinema. The war was over but there was still a need to see the darker side of life on the big screen in the heavily religious overtones in The Night of the Hunter (1955) which gave Robert Mitchum one of his most memorable roles as the crooked preacher man Harry Powell who would stop at nothing throughout. Set during the depression era when a father Ben Harper (Peter Graves) robs a bank to give to the poor, on the run from the law, he hides the money, swearing his children John and Pearl Harper (Billy Chapin & Sally Jane Bruce) to absolute secrecy. Even the audience for a time has no knowledge of the money. Knowing more than his soon to be widowed wife Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) who believes the moneys list. In a god-fearing and tightly woven community, lead buy the likes of Icey Spoon (Evelyn Varden) who believes in traditional values and those set down by the bible.

When recently released ex-preacher Harry Powell arrives in their sleepy town, his poetic use of the scriptures has everyone under his spell. A man driven by evil, under the guise of the God, who he believes tells him to commit the awful crimes he has already committed. Having a flawed morality that allows him to go on, in the word of god-mighty. Mitchum injects him with a deadly presence that spell-bound’s everyone to see only a preacher whose interpretation of the bible that the Southern community understands, which has been lost in recent times. A dangerous predatory throw-back allowed to flourish.

Only the children, mainly young John Harper who sees right through his new father who has no intention of sticking around, driven by his negative interpretations of the bible. Wanting more than anything to break a secret that two children made with their father. A powerful bond that cannot easily be broken, John is far stronger than his younger sister Pearl who is more easily lead, thankfully remaining faithful to her older brother.

The films made up of three strong parts, all theatrical and deeply stylized by the lighting to produce a dark film where traditional American values are tested, the basic religious foundations of a country opposite the right to protect the family home. Strong performance throughout. Lillian Gish shows in the role of Rachel Cooper a spinster who takes in stray children that she still can hold her ground against the formidable Mitchum who owns the film without a doubt. It’s faultless in the making of a classic thriller in the hands of Charles Laughton who gives it his all.

It’s hard to ignore the symbolism, namely found within the book of Revelations that talks of the horsemen of the apocalypse. focusing on the white horse which can be pure, and still carry death on it’s back. Powell would’ve had interpreted this book of the bible in a way that allows the righteous to carry out evil acts.

“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come and see!” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

Revelation 6:7-8˄ NIV

Unlike the pale horse which is death, ridden in film by the likes of Clint Eastwood‘s preacher in Pale Rider (1985) who kills only those who have deserve to be killed in the eyes of god. The abuse of power in the later film is more justified, to kill those who trespass on those who are good.

“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

Revelation 6:1-2˄ NIV

The white horse in film is seen usually as a symbol of purity or an unachievable object that cannot be tamed easily. Owned mainly by the enemy. Far rarer than other horses. Used in Night of the Hunter beautifully to illustrated the flawed righteousness of the Powell using the word of God as a reason for committing his terrible crimes, He knows he has left a trail of death in his wake. Blind to modern ethics. Whilst Winters Willa Harper wants to do right by her community and family before doing right by her new husband who puts God in the bedroom before his wife.

Gish’s spinster is the opposite of Powell, whose interpretation of the bible is all about love, taking in lost children. Even with her weary outlook on life, she doesn’t project this on those views onto the children, especially Ruby (Gloria Castillo) on the verge of adulthood, more understanding of her age and life. Life changes people, and love and understanding’s needed to do that, which the bible teaches.

A fascinating film that is rooted in religion, its power on society, and how we must use our own judgement, with an open mind to its teachings. Not being blinded by it, using it as a guide to living by the letter. An entertaining thriller that is the right length for its content, rooted in Americas fabric, yet so very of its time.