Sergio Leone’s follow-up to the “Man With No Name” film trilogy was probably not what anyone expected, but international audiences seemed better able to cope with the surprise than their American counterparts. Once Upon a Time in the West initially bombed in the States despite being a smash hit overseas. Only in retrospect have we conferred upon this film its proper status as a unique classic, as different from the director’s previous work as it was from the more traditional Hollywood conventions it inverted at the same time it was playing homage to them.
Back when I was in high school and college, a local TV station (KTLA channel 5, I think) would periodically run all five Planet of the Apes movies in one week. I developed a great deal of affection for this particular franchise, despite the obvious flaws in most of the sequels. In honor of the new box set available this past week, I am launching a special, semi-official theme week that I’m calling Simians in the Springtime.
Even before Star Wars, the Apes movies blazed the trail for shameless marketing and tie-ins. Every thing you could buy with a Star Wars logo on it, action figures, lunch boxes and games, you could buy a similar Apes-related item a decade earlier. I don’t believe that there ever any Planet of the Apes collectable glasses at Taco Bell, but for virtually everything else under the sun, the apes got there first.
On paper, Ice Station Zebra must have looked like a slam-dunk. The director of The Great Escape helming a film based on the work of the author of The Guns of Navarone. Unfortunately, Ice Station Zebra doesn’t possess the untethered sense of adventure found in either of its ancestors.
That doesn’t mean that this film isn’t enjoyable. When I remember seeing the film in my youth, my primary recollection is of the fairly rigorous authenticity of the submarine sequences. Sub buffs can certainly enjoy the film on that level. There is also some dazzling widescreen photography in some of the at-sea scenes as well, at least until the sub reaches the North Pole and they discover that it’s a sound stage.
2001: A Space Odyssey is probably the most review-proof film in the history of cinema. Critics who try to do an in-depth analysis always come off sounding like freshman philosophy students. In a lot of ways, 2001 is the ultimate cinematic Rorschach test. Any review winds up saying more about the reviewer than about the film itself.
Because of its legendary car chase through the streets of San Francisco, Bullitt probably has a reputation as a more action-packed movie than it really is. In reality, it’s a fairly realistic and low key cop drama about a witness protection detail that goes horribly wrong.
Bullitt is also the film that makes the best use of the onscreen image of Steve McQueen. He remains, to this day, the quintessential embodiment of “cool.” Almost without effort, he exudes a presence that most actors would kill for and he does it with a minimalist style that sometimes makes Clint Eastwood look like Al Pacino in Heat.