Classic Nostalgia for Men
By Kristin Battestella
The teakettle is whistling, meatloaf is in the oven, a fresh apple pie is on the windowsill, and the records are playing! What’s a working man to do but light his cigar, pour his scotch on the rocks, and sit down in front of the boob tube to enjoy these masculine classics?
Mister Roberts – This totally classy World War II naval comedy-drama boasts the eponymous always trying for a transfer Henry Fonda, a wonderfully cranky captain James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy) and his palm tree, and the Oscar winning ne’er do well Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot) as morale officer Ensign Pulver. But let’s not stop there, director John Ford (How Green Was My Valley) -with much needed help from Mervyn LeRoy (Gypsy) and writer Joshua Logan (Bus Stop) - also enlists William Powell (The Thin Man) in his final movie, Ward Bond (It’s A Wonderful Life), Phil Carey (One Life to Live), Ken Curtis (Gunsmoke), Harry Carey, Jr. (Red River), and Patrick Wayne (The Searchers). Whew! The endearing wartime highs and lows, witty characters, shore leave humor, and perfect irony excel beautifully. Though largely stage-like in its ship bound locale, the interiors are bright and colorful, and the oceanic exterior photography and Polynesian flavors top it all off. This is my favorite Fonda film, and for my money, his best work- and I know that is saying something of the Best Actor winner for On Golden Pond who lost for the likes of The Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men. A must see, indeed.
Prince of Foxes - I confess, I think I was expecting Bette Davis and Little Foxes instead of this 1949 black and white swashbuckler from director Henry King (The Song of Bernadette) - though my husband recognized the renaissance players in the description thanks to Assassin’s Creed. Except for The Mark of Zorro and The Long Gray Line, I’ve never been a fan Tyrone Power. He always comes across as too flaky or droopy eyed for me, trying for pretty rather than actually acting. His romancey scenes slow down the entire picture, and the lacking leading lady Wanda Hendrix (ex of Audie Murphy) just isn’t as magical as other ladies of the day or onscreen pairings like Flynn and de Havilland. Fortunately, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) - though an un-ethnic cast choice- has the Borgia weight needed to keep the espionage entertaining. The real Italian locations are also so, so sweet; the great rousing score, fun DVD features, and awesome costuming are a delight as well. Of course, Technicolor would have been divine, but this is worth the look for fans of the cast and classic or historical Italian film buffs.
Sergeant Rutledge – John Ford (Every classic film male really must know who he is.) directs the simply excellent actor and athlete Woody Strode (Spartacus) in this unique 1960 courtroom drama/western. Despite being the second male lead and true star here, Strode received fourth billing as the titular Buffalo Soldier on trial for the rape and murder of a white girl. His defending lieutenant Jeffrey Hunter (The Searchers) is a little too good guy to be ruthless, but his defense presentation and cavalry action are solid nonetheless. The case wonderfully unfolds in flashbacks, adding layers of building evidence and western action alternating with suspenseful crime and mystery. Some of the nighttime Arizona wilds and isolations scenes are even a little scary. Unfortunately, the racial drama is both groundbreaking and yet of its time and the period portrayed. Prosecutor Carleton Young (From Here to Eternity) makes numerous backhanded color comments, and nearly everyone mentions the ‘novelty’ of colored regiments. The court spectators are supposed to be so proper, highbred, and perfectly mannered; yet they must warn the eventual victim to stay away from shirtless, scandalous Rutledge and mock the Buffalo Soldiers’ lack of knowledge and presumed incompetence. The shocking court charges can’t be read aloud in front of decent folk, and the symbolically white gloved fingers are always pointing at Rutledge. Some of the dialogue for the Buffalo Soldiers is also too stereotypical, but thankfully, the John Ford Stock Company casting is delightful. Sure, those stuffy women are a bit hysterical, but such brevity is needed amid the hefty subjects. Though the sets themselves are a little bare, the Spartan style adds to the dark transitions and stage like telling of the testimonies, and the Monument Valley locations are lovely, too. This is a beautiful and powerful film for western fans, law studies, and racial historians.
The Three Musketeers – Gene Kelly (Singing in the Rain), Lana Turner (Imitation of Life), Vincent Price (House of Usher), June Allyson (The Glenn Miller Story), Van Helfin (Shane), and Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote) bring this 1948 Dumas adaptation to life with style, lively action, fun sets, and solid battles. Yes, the costumes and décor are uniquely mid century- not exactly period but strangely fitting and good looking despite some garish color. The obviously timed music is also of its day- both annoying and endearing just like Gene Kelly’s goofy humor. The attempts at accents and true French panache are off, too. However, this D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Armis were the spectacle of their day, with no insane or ridiculously unrealistic stunts or CGI needed. Younger spoiled audiences may very well prefer the new 3D (ugh) adaptation or the fun 1993 Disney version, and adults who didn’t grow up watching this witty Kelly or juicy Price may have grown out of the joy here indeed. For those who fondly remember this swashbuckler of their youth, however, the nostalgia and family faire is still delightful.