Archive for the 60’s Category

Hell Is For Heroes – Don Siegel – 1962

Posted in 60's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by bookofdread

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Don Siegel’s Hell is For Heroes is a dramatic retelling of the events that transpired on the Siegfried German line in WWII. A small squad of soldiers is required to maintain a stretch of the line despite having few men and fewer resources. The film is lean, muscular little beast, with a crackerjack cast, very nice black and white photography, and a stirring plot.

The film opens with dramatic stills of soldiers in the trenches when the title, “Hell Is For Heroes” explodes onto the screen. I have to note the music here, and it’s the last time I’ll do so. It’s very dated, action-suspense music, and I feel it gives little effect to the film, and often I was distracted by it’s bombastic presence.

It’s 1944. France, somewhere near the Siegfired line, 2nd squad waits for the call to go home. We meet these characters one by one, each making a point of empathy. I particularly like James Coburn’s mechanic type. This film is more about plot than character, so each of these guys is really just a type: the funny guy, the guy who fixes things, the loner, and the existentialist. We meet the squad and their commander tells them to get ready, they’re going home. Only, they’re not going home. They’re going back to the line.

Steve McQueen is Reese, a previously court marshaled dickhead who’s a great soldier. He’s a bit cracked though. McQueen is serviceable here, giving seething looks but never coming across as inherently noble, as he should.

The film moves quickly and once at the line, most of the battalion leaves in the dead of night, leaving 2nd squad, six men, to defend a huge stretch of land and not give away their depleted forces. The second act of this film is much character building and not too much action. However after days of being pinned down and with the commanding officer killed, Reese decides that they have to take the pillbox or die. They can’t afford to wait for reinforcements.

This failed attempt ends up with a man dead. Reese retreats. When the CO of the battalion returns and asks Reese if he was right to attempt to take the pillbox, McQueen replies, conflicted, “Oh, who the hell knows?” In this one moment the film drives its point home. War can make even the most capable man rash and prone to bad even fatal decisions.

The 1st squad makes good on their promise to return. They storm the hill and attempt to take the pillbox. Reese sees men get shot and James Coburn covers Reese with a flamethrower so that Reese can run a charge pack up and throw it in the bunker. He does, but it is thrown out again. Standing Reese is shot, but he runs back at the bunker and tackles the explosive into the open portal. The bunker blows to smithereens. Roll credits.

This film is a tough mans film peppered with moments of psychosis and sentimentality. It’s a very low concept production and until the third act it appears as if it could be taking place anywhere.  There are few misplaced characters that add some un-needed comic effect. The Polish kid who wants to come fight with these GI’s is pretty annoying and though his character should serve as a vessel of perspective for a devastated nation, he comes off as goofy and bumbling. Furthermore, Bob Newhart, though funny, is a constant distraction.

Hell is for Heroes and for Heroes there can be only Hell.

The ending of the film is very abrupt. I read that this was because the film ran out of money, however, I find it to be an exciting punctuation mark on a sometimes lugubrious film. The ending effectively makes the film, and I recommend it to anyone who loves war films, Bobby Darin or Fess Parker.

 

 

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A Bullet For Sandoval – Julio Buchs – 1969

Posted in 60's with tags , , , , , , on January 5, 2013 by bookofdread

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Julio Buchs’ Los Desperados, (later re-titled A Bullet For Sandoval), is a weird fish. It starts with an incredible atmospheric scene at night of a man robbing the corpses of civil war fallen. The music and photography are tight and exciting. But as soon as the acting starts it drops into cornball mode and never lets me get into George Hilton’s character. The entire film suffers from this kind of schizophrenic duality between a gritty mood and tone versus a hokey funny one.

George Hilton plays Warner, a deserter who leaves his company to try and get to his wife before she has his child. After a daring escape Warner reaches his father-in-law’s estate only to find his wife dead. Ernest Borgnine, a pretty forgettable villain gives Warner his infant child and tells him to leave.

No one will help Warner and his child, because they have come from a village where cholera has taken hold, and everyone fears the sickness. The story is very cruel and pushes our man down a hole of devastation and loss from the very opening. It is interesting to see the villagers equate the presence of the war with the presence of the sickness, blaming the quantity of corpses for the pestilence.

As his personal tragedies mount, Warner is met by a series of misfits who team up with him and find his cause a sympathetic one. These characters are all fairly generic and half the time the scenes where these men are supposed to relate to each other it seems goofy and pulls me out of the movie a bit. Perhaps it is intentional relief due to the tragic nature of the story, or perhaps the actors doing the English dub for some of the performances simply couldn’t nail the nuance of the language and humor. Either way, it’s almost always a jarring tonal shift that keeps the film from being actually great.

The film ends in an interesting infiltration of Sandoval’s ranch home, which is somehow adjacent to a bullfighting arena! There is a pretty great knife fight between George Hilton and Ernest Borgnine, but the real cherry on top is the scene with the bull! The end of the picture is pretty hopeless but about 50% of the film is goofy anyway so it’s really hard to feel the tragedy of the situation.

The cinematography by Francisco Sempere is sometimes chilling and awesome, particularly the night scenes, but often in the daytime the film looses its magic and looks pretty plain. It’s the surreal colored lighting of the night photography that helps the picture find what is its coolest tone.

The score by Gianni Ferrio is actually quite excellent and probably saves the film from being a bit more generic. Quentin Tarantino used Ferrio’s One Silver Dollar, (UN Dolaro Bucato), in Inglorious Basterds. The music in A Bullet For Sandoval is both tragic and exciting and the themes get stuck in your head.

Overall, the film was good, not great. I would recommend this film only to lovers of the Spaghetti Western genre, lovers of cholera, and US Civil War Enthusiasts.

Massacre Time – Lucio Fulci – 1966

Posted in 60's with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2012 by bookofdread

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The first thing I want to say is Sergio Endrigo’s song, (that is used brilliantly as the theme of the score), Come Back Home Someday, is fucking awesome. I want to listen to this song all day long, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it or some variation of it from the score in the upcoming Django Unchained. Anyway, now that I have that out of the way, on with the analysis.

Fulci’s films are personal hells, endured by his characters until their eventual absolution or damnation. That he made so many films with both types of endings is a testament to his even-handedness or his own personal conflict with being an optimistic or a cynical individual. Massacre Time is a spaghetti western dark with ominous figures and scenes that ultimately ends in vindication and revenge.

The film begins on a sinister note as a man, slave or more likely a simple townsperson, is let go to run across a field before a team of blood-thirsty dogs is set loose upon him. A cruel man with a handsome face in a white suit is seen orchestrating the action and this scene is worthy introduction to the junior Scott, who is the films villain. This man is hate filled and thoughtless and the joy he takes from seeing the dogs devour the man in the midst of a river is a great characterization. Fulci stages this death with typical glee; it is, frankly, fucked up. But hey, it’s a Fulci film, and he tries to always get a dog in there somewhere!

Unlike Django, Franco Nero’s character here is not a complete badass, rather he is a man seeking just compensation for what is rightfully his families property, namely, the ranch seized by Mr. Scott. When Tom, (Nero), returns from New Mexico, he finds a hellish landscape before him where once stood his childhood home. Fires burn, livestock and pigs run about unattended and scummy goons intimidate him into leaving.

The town is now branded on all shops by a giant symbol, a cattle brand that is an S stamped over a J. Even though this is a western, this “seal” has much more of a horror film connotation. Usually we would see symbols like this in horror films as denotation of a cult or witchcraft. Fulci is having a little fun with the iconography of both genres and creating a tasty blend of Horror/Western. Much like Four Of The Apocalypse, Fulci abandons the washed-out look of popular Westerns at the time, instead going for an overcast, gloomy feel that make the desert surroundings of “Texas”, dreadful and hopeless.

There is an awful scene where some farmers try to move out of town. Mr. Scott, (the man in the white suit), shoots their oldest son dead in the street and reminds them of what can happen if they try to leave. Fulci shows here the petulance of youth born into aristocracy. This man holds no value for human life at all and instead values the fear he can breed into his subjects. Power is currency in the old west.

I love the Chinese character. He is blacksmith, undertaker, bar pianist and so much more to Laramie Town. I viewed this guy as a type of tormenting demon, pulling strings all over town, if not simply presiding over the looming hell. At each turn he appears to take pleasure in the lamentations and evils of the village.

The second act of the film is a bit slow, with a few bar fights and shoot-outs thrown in. Tom is trying to figure out the identity of the Scotts, and how to get to them. Pretty standard stuff, but Fulci’s eye is golden and the proceedings are delivered with grace and terror. The “whip-fight” scene must be seen to be believed.  Before long Tom and his drunken sharp-shooting brother Jeff are set to go lay waste to the Scotts Rolling Thunder style.

On the way to the Scott ranch, Scott Sr. appears and tells Tom that he is his father. What a twist! This is the proto- Empire Strikes Back? Junior is Tom’s half brother gone mad with wealth and power. This is why Tom’s mother never wanted him to return, he too might have ended up spoiled, or learn the truth about his beginnings, that he came from the roots of evil. She thought that by hiding that truth from him he might have grown up untarnished by the atrocities of his fathers. In hell, there is nothing but truth, and the truth will always find you, even in a place as large as the West.

Yet, as dark and brutal as this film is, righteousness wins the day. Tom and Jeff, (Who hilariously exclaims before he kills men, “Excuse me gentlemen!”), win the day and kill all the bad guys in a long and glorious gun battle. I recommend this to anyone who loves westerns, or Fulci, or whip-fights.

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