William Friedkin’s The French Connection is a lean, uncompromising example of filmmaking without a single gram of fat on its bones. Nothing unnecessary to telling the story is on screen, allowing Friedkin to tell a fairly complex story within a surprisingly compact running time of 104 minutes. Gene Hackman’s balls-out performance as unconventional and obsessive narcotics cop Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle elevates what was already a superior film to the level of a classic.
If the rest of American history would have had such great musical numbers, I might have gotten better grades. Okay, this adaptation of the hit Broadway play wasn’t exactly letter-perfect history but it is remarkably faithful to the facts for, you know, a musical. It’s also extremely entertaining if you allow for its stage bound origins.
A contemporary of both M*A*S*H and Patton, this gleefully anti-establishment World War II comedy manages to bridge both films, turning a lot of the clichés of earlier war movies on their heads while not totally disrespecting the genre. The American GIs in this film are still square-jawed and tough-as-nails, but they are also tired of war and bored out of their minds.
Patton is a bigger-than-life film about a bigger-than-life figure and it will be remembered for a bigger than life gesture by its star when George C. Scott refused to accept a Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Scott didn’t believe he deserved this award. The rest of the civilized world, with good reason, begged to differ.
I suppose it’s just coincidence that this film wrapped 27 years to the day before 9/11, but in the wake of those terrorist attacks, and the ultimate sacrifice of hundreds of rescue personnel, this film carries a level of grim irony. Beyond that, however, Irwin Allen’s clichéd, overblown disaster spectacle offers little in the way of significance.
Francis Ford Coppola’s feverish anti-war epic Apocalypse Now actually began its journey to screen in the late sixties when Über-macho filmmaker John Milius attempted to meet the challenge presented to him when he was informed that no one had successfully adapted Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, although several had tried, including luminaries such as Orson Welles. His original screenplay was true to Milius’s conservative, pro-military outlook, containing a great deal of praise for the warrior lifestyle and nothing but contempt for the hippies he saw protesting against the Vietnam War.
The films of Alfred Hitchcock were such a genre unto themselves that it was probably inevitable that Mel Brooks would have a swing at them and, while Brooks does connect with the ball, this film is anything but a home run. More like a dribbler back to the pitcher.
As the least well-known of Mel Brooks’s early films, The Twelve Chairs stands well apart from the others. It’s not a spoof of other films nor is it a balls-to-the-wall farce like The Producers. While it has its slapstick elements, it also has a kind of sweetness and elements of character drama not normally found in Brooks’s filmography.
The scale and depth of savagery that typified the Eastern Front of World War II made the Anglo-American experience on the Western Front seem like a summer tea-party. I don’t know if any film could capture the entirety of the experience and do it justice.
Sam Peckinpah’s only war movie instead attempts to portray the hardened fatalism of the veteran German soldiers after the tide of war had irrevocably turned against them.
The Apes saga staggers to a limp and unsatisfying conclusion that asks us to believe that, in less than one generation, the largely inarticulate apes of the last film have not only acquired the power of speech, but also a level of philosophy. There I go, applying logic to fantasy again, but there’s only so much absurdity a man can take.