Category: Action Classics

Back in high school, I watched a lot of films that are considered classics and hallmarks of cinema that I distinctly remember not enjoying. Citizen Kane is the most obvious offender as it’s often considered to be the greatest film of all time while I found it quite conventional, although I blame a lot of that now on the vast majority of the films I’ve enjoyed since then copying most of its style. There were other big names to add to that list such as Raging Bull, Gone With the Wind, and The English Patient, amongst several others. I watched these films when I was younger though and my tastes in movies has noticeably matured since then. So, I was sort of excited when Lawrence of Arabia came in the mail from Netflix since it was another high-profile film that makes many “greatest of all time” lists that I simply did not enjoy. Sadly, my verdict remains practically the same, although perhaps it’s for different reasons now. As it is, Lawrence of Arabia remains a gorgeously shot film that overstays its welcome and fails to deliver on any substance to its historical adventure.

Lawrence of the Arabia is the true story of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a British military officer who is sent to observe the Arab revolt against the Turkish Empire in the early 1900’s. Lawrence is a very strange man however, and it’s the prime reason he was sent on this mission. He quotes ancient philosophers, has an unseemly tolerance for pain, and (this is strange for the time) has a genuine interest in Arab culture. Upon his arrival, he quickly impresses Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness), the leader of a nomadic tribe of Arabs who is leading the rebellion of the Turks. At a seemingly unconquerable imapsse against the Turks, Lawrence devises a scheme that allows the Arabs to gain the first of many victories to come against the Turks while attempting to unify the various Arab tribes into one unstoppable army. What you gain is a portrait of troubled genius set against the backdrop of historical epic.

First, with the positives. Peter O’Toole made his debut role in this film, and he’s simply a natural. Lawrence is an incredibly complicated character (that the script doesn’t spend enough time exploring) with countless quirks and strange mannerisms. If the script failed to make Lawrence a complete character, O’Toole succeeded admirably. His transformation from an idealistic crusader to a shell-shocked veteran is natural and believable. He injects just the right amount of gravitas to the more emotional scenes of Lawrence’s life such as when he must kill his servant lest he be taken captive by the Turks and be tortured. Also, Omar Sharif (who was coincidentally enough in the last film I watched) was also great as one of the more important Arab characters in the film. When he is first introduced, he is seen as “barbarous and cruel”, yet he quickly learn that he is one of the more morally grounded characters in the film. The same great things can be said for Anthony Quinn and Alec Guinness although not at the same level as O’Toole and Sharif.

From a technical perspective, the film is simply a marvel. The wide shots of the desert vistas never get old, and neither does the spectacular attention to period detail. If you’re a history nut, you can easily find yourself getting lost in the costumes and architecture of the film. At the same time, when the film attempts to put together an action set-piece moment, they are pulled off quite well. When the Arab troops ride on the city of Aqaba with Lawrence at their head or rob a train, you get a sense that a lot of time and effort was placed into choreographing these moments. At the same time, Lean’s camera knows just how to capture the loneliness and desolation of the desert, and while there were probably too many never-ending treks into the desert, they encapsulated the isolation to a tee.

Now for the problems. Leaving aside the fact that its four hour length led the film to be more bloated than an aging Marlon Brando with countless scenes screaming for massive editing, the film was coldly historical. Rather than attempting to gain any insight into the events occurring on screen, the film simply let them speak for themselves. T.E. Lawrence is such a fascinating person, but the film only paid pat respect to his psychology, and it wasn’t really until the very end of the film that it ever examined just why he was doing anything. Compared to the more artistic The Last Emperor, Lawrence of Arabia is very stale, but beautiful, history lesson that could have accomplished much of its goals had the film simply been a documentary with dramatic re-enactments. Throughout the entire film, I only ever found myself being emotionally attached to Omar Sharif’s Ali. When your titular character is such a marvel and you leave him so frustratingly ill-defined, that is simply a flaw in writing.

Does the film have value? Absolutely. David Lean doesn’t make bad pictures. This one is simply cripplingly flawed in a way that keeps it from achieving true greatness. David Lean is one of those directors that never truly learned the meaning of “enough”, and it shows here more than any of his other films that I’ve seen. I would have enjoyed the film much more had the length been pared down to something more manageable and had T.E. Lawrence been greater developed as a character. As it, Lawrence of Arabia stands as a film that had the potential to be a masterpiece but instead fell quite short of its lofty goals. Here’s to hoping that I’m not forced to watch any more four hour films in the near future.

Final Score: B

Before high school, for reasons that were probably no more rational than me just being difficult, I hated Westerns. There was something about watching men ride around in black and white movies on horses fighting Indians that just held no favor for me. However, during my sophomore year, my dad sat me down and forced me to watch Lonesome Dove, and I’ve been in love with Westerns ever since. Not all of them are great, and a lot of them tell practically the same black hat vs. white hat story over and over again, but if you put a half-decent Western in front of me, I can pretty much guarantee that I can sit down and enjoy it in some way. The movie I just watched, the original 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma wasn’t a great Western, but it was still entertaining enough and original in its own way for me to enjoy it.

3:10 to Yuma is the story of two entirely different men. One is Dan Evans (Van Heflin), a farmer whose family is suffering due to an extreme drought, and he doesn’t have the money to keep his cattle watered and alive. The other is Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), a notorious bandit that has terrorized the county with his gang. Dan witnesses Ben and his gang robbing a stagecoach and murdering the coachman. Dan and some of the town’s locals capture Ben, and due to the reward money, Dan volunteers to take Ben to another town to put him on a train to a prison. When Dan finally realizes how tough the odds are of finishing this assignment, he must decide whether his honor is worth as much as his life.

 The story and pacing of the film aren’t anything particularly special, although it was refreshing to watch an older Western that was as intent on exploring the character and psychology of the men on screen as it was on big shoot-outs or fight scenes. This is honestly probably the slowest moving Western I’ve watched since High Noon, but I mean that as a compliment since it wanted to be more than just an action movie. Glenn Ford did a spectacular job as the charming and fast-talking Ben Wade. I think this might be the first Western I’ve watched that had him in a leading role, but I can’t wait to see more. Despite the fact that he was a cold-blooded murderer, you couldn’t help but like him.

If you like Westerns, you should check this one out. My dad tells me that the remake from the 2000’s with Russel Crowe and Christian Bale was better, but I haven’t had a chance to see that one yet, so I can’t make that judgment call. This was no Unforgiven or The Outlaw Josey Wales, but not every movie can be an all-time classic. If you’re just wanting to see an old time good guys and bad guys action-drama, you could do a lot worse than this one.

Final Score: B

The original King Kong is one of the most beloved adventure films of all time. An obscure team of directors and producers that no one in Hollywood had ever heard of (or would really hear much from ever again) brought a fantastic tale of man vs. beast and the power of beauty to tame wild aggression, and they combined this tale with special effects (that while laughably horrible by today’s standards) were unbelievably exciting and terrifying for a 1930’s audience. Before this viewing, I had never actually seen the original King Kong and was only directly familiar with what I now know to be the far superior remake by one Peter Jackson (although I never would have guessed how faithful he was to the original source material). And while this film left me slightly disapppointed because Peter Jackson’s version really fleshed out the story and gave the characters greater depth and the film better emotional resonance, I can easily see why this is a beloved all-time classic.

The film tells the story of Carl Denham, a movie producer filming his newest flick in an uncharted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He has chosen street waif, Ann Dunham (the absolutely gorgeous and talented Fay Wray), to play the lead. He plucked her right off the streets. They set sail on a steam boat to Skull Island where they come upon a tribe of natives (who are portrayed so unbelievably, ridiculously racist) who worship a giant ape named Kong. Ann is kidnapped by the natives and given to Kong as a sacrificial bride. What follows is an adventure story set against dinosaurs and other fantastic creatures to rescue Ann from the clutches of Kong. Eventually Kong is captured and brought back to NYC where you have the infamous climbing of the Empire State Building. I don’t care that I ruined the story. This movie is like 80 years old and been remade several times.

The effects in the film are pretty damn ridiculous by today’s standards, and there were a couple of times that I literally laughed out loud because of how bad they were, but I have to remember how damn old this film is and how much it shocked and amazed audiences when it was released. Computers weren’t something film studios were using yet to make movies and this film is a pretty grand achievement in early visual effects. The acting is also ridiculously over the top, but Fay Wray was pretty damn good as Ann. There’s a reason she’s the all time reigning “Scream Queen”.

This movie was fun. Their wasn’t a lot of depth to the characters and I know I’ve been spoiled by Jackson’s remake. But I really enjoyed it. It does have one advantage over Peter Jackson’s version though. This film clocks in at about an hour and a half, not well over three hours like Peter Jackson’s film, so at no point do you think any of it has begun to drag on you. If you haven’t seen this film yet, you should watch it simply for the place it holds in the hallowed halls of film history. Just be prepared to take its age into consideration.

Final Score: B