Wednesday, September 18, 2019

CONSENSUS #59 The African Queen

SYNOPSIS: During WWI in Africa, a feisty missionary (Katharine Hepburn)  and a crusty riverboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) team up to try to sink a German warship.  Romance and adventures ensue as they encounter rapids and an uncooperative Mother Nature on their trek down the river.

BACK-STORY: The African Queen had one of the most famous productions in cinema history. Director John Huston insisted on filming half the movie on location in Uganda and the Congo.  The Katharine Hepburn later wrote of enjoying the experience, but had to overcome dysentery, drunken pranks from Bogart and Huston, and Hustons unique directing style. (Clint Eastwood later made a film about the production entitled White Hunter Black Heart.) The movie was a big hit with audiences and critics. It turned out the suits that thought an action / romance about an older couple would be icky were wrong. Bogart won the Best Actor Oscar and the film was nominated for Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actress. In the most recent AFI ranking of the best movies it placed #65.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, making of documentary
 1.  It is based on a novel by C.S. Forester. 
2.  It has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
3.  Allnut was supposed to have a cockney accent, but Bogart could not pull it off so the character wasmade a Canadian. 
4.  The boat is now a tourist attraction in Key Largo, Florida.
5.  Bogart won his only Best Actor Oscar.  (Bogart was so sure he would not win he did not prepare remarks.) 
6.  The cast and crew were often sick in Africa (usually from dysentery from the water), but not Bogart and Huston because the only water they drank was with their copious amounts of scotch.  Teetotaler Hepburn had to make runs to puke in a waiting bucket during the church scene.
7.  Lauren Bacall accompanied her husband Bogart of Africa and served as movie mom for the cast and crew.  She nursed and cooked. 
8.  For the rapids scene, an eight foot model was used. 
9.  Huston was concerned about the overly serious tone of Hepburn’s performance so he counseled her to channel Eleanor Roosevelt, specifically her “society smile”.  Hepburn later said it was the best advice she ever got from a director.
10.  Bogart hated Africa, Hepburn loved it.
11.  Originally when the book was mentioned as a potential movie, Bette Davis and David Niven were considered for the leads.  Later, it was going to be Davis and James Mason.
12.  Huston was going to go on location in Kenya until he learned that big game hunting was illegal there.  He switched to the Congo.  Huston spent a lot of time hunting during the shoot. 
13.  Bogart and Huston played numerous pranks on the prim Hepburn.  They would write dirty words on her mirror with soap.
14.  All of the scenes with the actors in the water were shot in Great Britain because the water in Africa was dangerous.
15.  Distributors hated their first look.  They complained about Bogart’s unshaven look and thought Hepburn looked old.
16.  The novel White Hunter, Black Heart by Peter Viertel was a thinly veiled story about the making of “The African Queen”.  Viertel was one of the screenwriters on the film.  Later, Clint Eastwood directed the movie version and played the Huston character.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  5.0
Military History  =  #32
Channel 4             =  no
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:   “The African Queen” is one of the classic movies of any genre.  While not 
definitively a war movie (as you can see above), it seems well-placed at #59.  I personallywould not have it in my top 100.  It is old fashioned entertainment. It’s an almost perfectblend of adventure and romance. There is suspense in each of travails they go throughand it builds to a surprising and satisfying ending (which is much better than in the novel).Although a little stodgy, the plot holds up better than some other supposed classics.The acting by the two leads could not be better. This is probably Bogart’s best performanceand Hepburn matches him.

Monday, September 16, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife - proceed with the execution. 

3.  What movie is this?

It was released in 1993 and immediately took a position among the great movies of any genre.   Modestly, the director tried to convince Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, and Billy Wilder to direct the pic, but for various reasons they turned him down.  He refused to make any “blood money” for the film.  The movie is based on the novel by Thomas Keneally.  The movie was shot on location in Krakow, Poland.  The film won numerous awards.  It was awarded Oscars for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing, and Original Score.  It was the most expensive black and white film made up to then (topping “The Longest Day”).  It had been 33 years since a black and white movie had won Best Picture (“The Apartment”).  It is #8 on AFIs latest list of greatest American motion pictures.  (That was up from #9 from the original list.)  It was #3 on its Epic Films list.  Goth was #13 on its Villains list.  The movie cost $22 million and made $96 million at home and $225 million abroad.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

SHOULD I READ IT? Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972)

                        “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” is a Japanese WWII film by Kinji Fukasaku.  It was Japan’s nominee for Best Foreign Film for the 45th Academy Awards, but it did not make the cut.  It should have.  It came out in the 1970s when it was possible to criticize the war and the emperor.  It opens with “Our military has always served at the discretion of the Emperor”.  By the end of the movie, you’ll be wondering why.  This is followed by footage of the Emperor giving a speech and laying a wreath to honor the dead.  But there is no honor for Sgt. Katsuo Togashi (Tetsuro Tamba) because he deserted on New Guinea and was executed for it in August, 1945.  Because of his dishonor, his widow Sakie (Sachko Hidari) cannot get survivor’s benefits.  She believes he was innocent and to prove it she determines to seek out four of his comrades.  The movie follows her odyssey to find the truth.  As she interviews each veteran, flashbacks support their stories.  Those stories are sometimes contradictory, however.  The mystery deepens.  Was Togashi a hero or a traitor?

                        The film bears the stamp of Fukasaku.  He was an early practitioner of the shaky camera style.  The cinematography is intriguing.  There are some hand-held camera-work and quick cut editing.  Most interestingly, Fukasaku uses freeze-frames.  He inserts photos instead of footage.  Some of the pictures are gruesome.  They reflect the experiences of the Japanese soldiers.  The horrific vibe is not limited to the photos as there are scenes of extreme violence.  Since the flashbacks are set in the last months of the war, the hardships the Japanese soldiers encounter are realistically appalling.  You will definitely come out of this movie with more empathy for the common Japanese soldier.  And Japanese viewers in 1972 learned that not all of their warriors were fanatics.    What Togashi and his mates go through is reminiscent of “Fires on the Plains” and the movie makes a good companion to that movie.  For instance, there is a reference to cannibalism in this movie.  Just don’t watch them back-to-back.  That would be too depressing. 

                        “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” is the rare war mystery.  It has a touch of “Rashomon” in it.  The men Sakie tracks down offer contradictory and self-serving versions of what happened to her husband.  One of her interviewees thinks her husband was executed for stealing potatoes.  This makes the final result unpredictable.  And that makes the movie very entertaining.  The acting is stellar and the characters are indelible.    I hesitate to deem it great, but it is certainly a must-see for serious war movie fans.

GRADE  =  B+

Thursday, September 12, 2019

CONSENSUS #60. Kagemusha (1980)

SYNOPSIS: Kagemusha means shadow warrior and refers to the practice of some Japanese daimyo of having doubles for security. The movie is set in the same Sengoku (Warring States) period that The Seven Samurai was set in. A shogun wannabe has a double who is a petty thief. When the daimyo (Tatsuya Nakadai, who also plays the thief) is assassinated, the kagemusha takes his place and has to deal with two lords who are at war with him.  The movie climaxes in an epic battle.

BACK-STORY: Many feel that Kagemusha is Akira Kurosawas greatest masterpiece. He certainly meant for it to be. He got the idea for a samurai epic years before but career setbacks (like being fired from Tora! Tora! Tora!) and funding issues set things back and the film almost did not get made.  It ended up being the biggest budget Japanese movie up until then.  It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (losing to “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears”). Kurosawa won the BAFTA for Direction.  It won the Palme D’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb

1.  It is an example of a genre called “jidaigeki”.  These are period films set in the Edo Period (1603-1868).  These types of movies usually concentrated on the lives of samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants.  A subgenre is called “chambara” which means “sword fight”.  Movies like “Kagemusha” have similar make-up, language, catch phrases (e.g., “Fires and brawls are the flower of Edo”) and plotlines.
2.  Technically, “Kagemusha” is pre-Edo, but it certainly fits the genre.

3.  George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola were credited as executive producers because when Toho Studios could not finish the funding for the film, they convinced 20th Century Fox to put up the rest of the money.  Lucas and Coppola were big Kurosawa fans and were blown away by his personally painted story-boards for the film.  20th Century Fox got the international distribution rights, which was the first time an American studio distributed a Japanese film.

4.  Part of the expense for the movie was Kurosawa bringing in two hundred specially trained horses from America.  Many of the horses were ridden by expert female riders.

5.  Originally Shintaro Katsu was to play the main role, but he was fired when he showed up on set with a camera crew to film Kurosawa’s methods for a film class he taught.  Kurosawa brought in Nakadai because he had worked with him many times.  Nakadai took the role without even reading the script.

6.  Kurosawa used 5,000 extras in the final battle.

7.  Much of the costumes and armor were borrowed from museums.

8.  The final battle is the Battle of Nagashino (1575).

9.  No female appears in the movie until the 73rd minute.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #34
Channel 4             =  no
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =   no

CONCLUSION: Not being an American director or professional movie critic, I feel I can impartially rule that Kagemusha is overrated. I can see why they fawn over it, but as an average viewer it is too long and boring. There is way too much talking (and yelling) and not enough action. There are big buildups to the battles and then little pay-off. Even the final battle is brief. It does not belong on this list and is inferior to Seven Samurai (which did not make the list).