[1950] All About Eve

I mean, but really All About Marilyn.

In her on-screen debut, Marilyn Monroe stole one scene for about fifteen seconds in a minor speaking role, surrounded by the film’s starring cast, and then commanded Hollywood’s attention for the next dozen years. Her medium, All About Eve, 1950’s Best Picture winner, commands a certain respect amongst film élite as a tour de force (nominated for 14 awards – including an as-of-yet unmatched 4 female acting awards). Bette Davis is superb here; George Sanders is sublime; Anne Baxter is adequate – but that may be part of her charm; Marilyn Monroe is radiant. Film and politics have enshrined Ms. Monroe as legendary: no other actor has since graced the screen with such a furious radiance. Marilyn’s legacy simply multiplies with each passing year.

All About Eve, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is not all about Eve Harrington, but rather about her meteoric rise to fame and her inevitable downfall. It’s about the prescience of the next big thing and about the lives and histories and themes of the people an ambitious actor must crush to achieve. It’s about the different paths different actors (people, really) can take to accomplish a goal. It’s about not really understanding the method, but the ready-fire-aim approach. And it’s about coming to grips with one’s individual place within a group. Really, though Monroe’s Miss Casswell is immune to these issues. No amount of ambition will hold someone like her back. Continue reading

[1982] Gandhi

I’m fairly certain people born after 1982 won’t know that Ben Kingsley is, in fact, not the actor’s given name. He is, in fact, the son of a British actress and an Indian medical doctor. Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji and at 39 set out to play an iconic role, probably the most iconic of his career thus far: Mohandas K. Gandhi, or as he was known, too, later in life: Mahatma Gandhi.

The film itself is a transformative experience. It’s long: touching just over three hours, the film paints the mercurial Gandhi in an honorific light very fitting to his Sanskrit title given to him and distinguishing him from perhaps thousands of other Gandhis living in India and abroad during the first half of the twentieth century. It’s slow: but not boring. The film details several events that helped to guide young Mohandas K. Gandhi, attorney at law, from path of honor, to a path befitting of the savior of a nation. Because that’s who Gandhi was. He helped to broker Britain’s release of India from a three-centuries-long hold economically, religiously and territorially. Through personal experience, Gandhi did something very few humans have ever been able to: expand his reach across a population to make a difference in the outcome of global events. Kingsley, in his Oscar-winning performance, mastered transforming this emotion to the screen.

It’s hard to place Gandhi into context because there’s never another film like it. Some films, like 1970’s Patton helped to paint the picture of General George Patton within the frame of his notable achievements. Other films, like 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia come close, but the film’s subject, T.E. Lawrence, doesn’t hold the nation’s back on his shoulders. Nineteen eighty four’s Amadeus is amusing, poignant and provocative, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, didn’t hold the weight of hundreds of millions of people on his shoulders to achieve his accomplishments. Billions of present-day Indians owe their freedom (some might argue their own self-opression) to Mohandas K. Gandhi, attorney at law. It was a perfect collusion of efforts: Richard Attenborough and Ben Kingsley necessarily left a tribute to the singular man.  Continue reading

[1961] The Guns of Navarone

Ok – so it’s been months since I’ve posted. Here we go.

Nineteen sixty-one saw the release and nomination of two post-World War II epic dramas. One, Judgement at Nuremberg, focused on a singular moral dilemma during the Nazi trials held at Nuremberg after the Paris Peace Conferences. This film capitalized on a particular formula – the courtroom drama – to display deep character analysis while holding other aspects like plot, setting and time static. It’s a clever and logical ordeal: Judgement at Nuremberg did not invent this process, nor did it define it. Movies like All The President’s Men and My Cousin Vinny have taken a modern approach to the concept – with wildly different motives and results, but the premise remains the same. The other, The Guns of Navarone, instead morphs the epic war film into a rag-tag collective film. Think Ocean’s ElevenZero Dark Thirty….on quaaludes.

It’s an interesting mash-up of two storytelling modes and this merger is necessarily clunky: the backdrop is World War II, but the Nazi officers’ attitudes seem relatively nonchalant and the conflict seems rather subdued. Set in the Aegean Sea, this conflict has seemingly nothing to do with the Nazi agenda insofar as the plot needed a malleable enemy. This movie is really about the connections between the cast – an emblazoned Gregory Peck as Captain Keith Mallory, an expert mountaineer, a moody and gloomy Anthony Quinn as Andrea Stavarou and smart-mouthed David Niven as Corporal Miller. Among this cast is a further rag-tag group of “doomed” men (and later…women!), sent to the island of Keros to disable radar-enabled anti-ship guns so that the Allied forces can sneak in and rescue a few thousand stranded men. That’s the plot for two-and-a-half hours.

Now, think about the simplicity of this concept: Nazis with no agenda, a black-and-white conflict with minor and almost inconsequential consequences, a cast of characters whose skills are almost irrelevant and a hackneyed moral climate….so the character palate better match that of Judgement at Nuremberg. I won’t ruin a major – the only – real conflict in this film, but I will say that since the audience knows in advance that the overall conflict will be successful, shouldn’t it have hurt to include actual, subtle drama amongst the cast besides some hurt feelings. On a scale of zero to GladiatorThe Guns of Navarone is a Sesame Street. Continue reading