Deeper Into Movies

Watched Destry Rides Again a few days ago. Stars Jimmy Stewart, in one of his first starring roles and Marlene Dietrich. Advertised as a comedy, it isn’t really, though it does have funny moments. It’s a lot like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a film Stewart made 20 years later, in that it makes explicit the underlying theme of every Western: the transition from anarchy to civilization. Like Shenandoah, the movie is remarkable mostly for Stewart’s performance. He’s terrific as a zen genius of a deputy sherriff who doesn’t believe in guns, essentially the same character he played in Harvey, only without the delusions.

Disappointing, though, was Marlene Dietrich. Her acting’s fine, and her scenes with Stewart are terrific, but her songs are awful and she looks as bad as I’ve ever seen her. Which is weird, considering she was electric in Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil Is A Woman just four years earlier, and she looked great in films through the 40s and into the 50s. Must be the excessive make-up and ridiculous Western costumes.

Watched Kill Bill Vol. 2 last night. While I liked it better than the first time I saw it, I still prefer the first part. Volume 1 is overflowing with manic energy and joy of making movies fun. The second is much more controlled, more static. The first is inspired by Kung-Fu and exploitation movies but it transcends its genre models, takes them to new artistic heights. Vol. 2, however, simply does not match up to the Films Noir and Spaghetti Westerns it is modeled after.

It might be the soundtrack. The reason those Sergio Leone movies never seem slow, despite the long takes where not much happens, is Ennio Morricone’s scores. While the soundtrack to Kill Bill Vol. 1 is perfect, there’s hardly anything memorable about the sound in Vol. 2.

There are great parts of the film though: the whole Pai Mei chapter, a great performance by Michael Madsen, the fight with Darryl Hannah. It’s just never as exciting or innovative as Volume 1. It is Jackie Brown to Volume 1’s Pulp Fiction.

Just finished, literally, watching Captain Blood. Released in 1935, it’s Errol Flynn’s first starring role. Basically the same team got together a few years later and made the Adventures of Robin Hood, a much superior film. Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and Olivia de Havilland star in and Michael Curtiz directs both films. The whole first hour of the movie as devoid of action, as Flynn is arrested and sold into slavery and slowly, very slowly, works his way into becoming a pirate. Once that happens, the film picks up pace and becomes interesting. Rathbone is criminally underused as an evil pirate, he really only gets two scenes, one of which is a good fight scene with Flynn, but not as good as the ones in Robin Hood. The ship to ship battles are also very good, but it just isn’t enough to save the film. Doomed by a boring first half and a second half dotted with sanctimonious speech-making.

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