The Red Beret (1953) Review

Director: Terence Young

Genre(s): Action, War

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Red Beret, retitled “Paratrooper” when released in the United States, is a now-obscure World War II movie that actually holds up quite well. Its director, Terence Young (a former paratrooper himself), would go on to helm three of the James Bond movies (Dr. No [1962], From Russia with Love [1963], and Thunderball [1965]). The film itself is about Allied paratroopers undergoing training during the Second World War so they can perform missions behind Nazi lines.

The clear star of the show is Alan Ladd, playing Steve “Canada” McKendrick. He plays his usual tough guy here, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. He gets a romantic subplot with Susan Stephen (playing Penny Gardner), but it’s not consequential to the main plot or memorable. Stanley Baker shows up in an early role as Breton, who’s helping train the potential paratroopers. According to the IMDb Trivia page for this feature, Baker’s voice was dubbed.

The best parts of The Red Beret are definitely the moments of action. The scenes back in Great Britain, like the training sequences and the barroom brawl, are exciting enough, but when the paratroop characters are in the heat of combat, the picture is clearly in its element. The two missions depicted are one to sabotage a Nazi radar station in northern France and one to secure a Nazi-held airfield in North Africa.

Alan Ladd was in three movies released in 1953 – Desert Legion (1953), Shane (1953), and this one. It would be the gunslinger-oriented western Shane that would become his iconic role, but The Red Beret is still worth watching. It’s directed by someone who actually served with the paras in World War II and stars Ladd, one of the great action stars of the time period. It’s not as big and brutal as, say, Saving Private Ryan (1998), but you’ll probably enjoy it if you set your expectations properly.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Gunsight Ridge (1957) Review

Director: Francis D. Lyon

Genre(s): Action, Western

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

If you like your western movies short, simple, and action-oriented, Gunsight Ridge might be worth looking into. During the Wild West period, lawman Mike Ryan (Joel McCrea) investigates a series of stagecoach robberies orchestrated by bandit Velvet Clark (Mark Stevens). This film is best thought of as a piece of cinematic comfort food…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Gunsight Ridge benefits from a notable amount of action. It’s not the most hectic western ever made, but it has enough shots fired and fists thrown to keep viewers from nodding off. The highlights are a horse stable punch-up and the final, mano-a-mano shootout at the geographical formation in the flick’s title. The body count’s small and the carnage is all bloodless, making it relatively family friendly by the standards of the genre.

This feature definitely fits the “traditional western” mold. There’s no moral ambiguity here, with the white-hat-black-hat tropes largely being in place (well, except for the fact that Joel McCrea’s good guy wears a black hat and the villain wears a white one). Gunsight Ridge is undemanding entertainment, and that’s okay.

All aspects of this picture are adequate. It doesn’t really go above and beyond the call of duty, but it does give off those cozy, lazy-Saturday-afternoon vibes that some audiences are looking for. Joel McCrea’s a solid action hero and the moments of physicality prevent the pace from lagging. Gunsight Ridge is no Earth-shaker, but I don’t regret viewing it.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Tell It to the Marines (1926) Review

Director: George W. Hill

Genre(s): Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

While he’s probably more well-known these days for his more grotesque roles, Lon Chaney actually had his biggest box office hit with 1926’s Tell It to the Marines. In this military service comedy, a tougher-than-nails American Marine sergeant, O’Hara (Lon Chaney), promises to whip undisciplined recruit “Skeet” Burns (William Haines) into shape, as both pursue Navy nurse Norma Dale (Eleanor Boardman). This still-entertaining silent film has a little something for most cinemagoers.

As mentioned earlier, a significant portion of the picture revolves around a romantic triangle, as was common in Lon Chaney movies. Both Chaney and William Haines’ characters are yearning for Eleanor Boardman, but things get complicated when Haines gets in a brawl on a Pacific island over native girl Zaya (Carmel Myers). The whole flick’s a bit of a rom-com, and the humorous elements work effectively enough.

Tell It to the Marines really kicks it into gear during the last act, though, when the Marines are dispatched to China to rescue some nurses from marauding bandits. Big-budget spectacle takes over, and we get a nice action scene involving Chaney and Haines holding a bridge over a cliff against the Chinese warlord’s (Warner Oland) forces. The third act is easily the most memorable part of the film, with its derring-do and fireworks.

Tell It to the Marines was, according to the IMDb Trivia page for the feature, Lon Chaney’s favorite role. It’s not hard to see why. Acting without his usual make-up, Chaney really shines as a tough guy with a heart of gold. His performance led to him becoming the first movie star to become an honorary U.S. Marine. That’s high praise indeed! So, if you’re a Chaney fan, this one is required viewing.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Review

Director: Carl Reiner

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The film noir spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid feels like an extended sketch from a late night talk show program…and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Here, private eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) “interacts” with various actors and actresses from the golden age of noir while trying to solve the mystery of the death of scientist and cheese-maker John Hay Forrest. Director Carl Reiner apparently considered this his favorite movie that he directed (at least according to the IMDb Trivia page for it).

The primary gag of this flick is that Steve Martin spends a great deal of time talking to actors and actresses of the 1940s and 1950s by having footage from their pictures ingeniously spliced into this 1980s production. We meet familiar faces, ranging from James Cagney to Kirk Douglas, from Alan Ladd to Burt Lancaster, from Humphrey Bogart to Barbara Stanwyck, from Cary Grant to Bette Davis. The joke doesn’t really get old after a while (the whole thing’s only eighty-eight minutes long), and there’s plenty of other antics to provoke laughter.

Unfortunately, the back-and-forth story of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid can feel like a mess at times. I suppose that this is true to the nature of film noir, a style of filmmaking that sometimes features convoluted plotting, but most of the feature is Martin’s character going from location to location to meet with different people. Despite this, I’d say that the movie builds up to a satisfying climax that makes the aimless-feeling nature of the plot feel worthwhile.

Quibbles about the story aside, this is one funny film. Steve Martin is both hard-boiled and hilarious at the same time and the pacing is fast. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of noir, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid tickled my funny bone fairly thoroughly. The spot-the-movie-star aspect of the movie only adds to its appeal. Do I recommend this one? Yes…yes, I do.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Raging Bull (1980) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, Sport

Runtime: 129 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Raging Bull may be a boxing movie, but it sure isn’t Rocky (1976). Directed by Martin Scorsese, this film is about the rise of violently psychopathic boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro). Is this critically acclaimed movie a masterpiece or just a bunch of raging bullshit? I think that the truth lies somewhere in between those two extremes.

This sports biopic is occasionally criticized for revolving around a person with no redeeming value outside of the boxing ring. Robert De Niro’s dedication to the role is admirable (he gained around sixty pounds for parts of filming), but the character he plays is simply a low-life, abusive brute with no control. He can’t really be considered a tough guy, due to his out-of-control paranoia and thin skin. A good motion picture doesn’t need to be centered around a good guy, but Raging Bull‘s characters are so despicable that it really hurts the feature.

The saving grace of this flick are its more sports-oriented scenes. It really comes alive in the boxing ring. These sequences are filmed amazingly well, being simultaneously ugly and beautiful. It seems like Scorsese is trying almost every trick in the book to make the audience feel immersed in the brutal sport. It’s a shame the rest of the film has to deal with Jake LaMotta viciously lashing out against everybody in his life.

In addition, Raging Bull feels a little episodic, never building up to a proper climax. Just about the only emotion inspired by the work is revulsion. As part of the American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (1oth Anniversary Edition) retrospective in 2007 it was named the fourth-best American movie of all time. Really? It’s not a bad movie, but the fourth-greatest American film of all time? This is higher than the likes of Schindler’s List (1993), The Wizard of Oz (1939), the original Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), etc.? I don’t think so.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Soldier in the Rain (1963) Review

Director: Ralph Nelson

Genre(s): Comedy, Romance

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Great Escape (1963) is, by far, the most famous Steve McQueen movie of 1963, but he released two other flicks – Soldier in the Rain and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) – that same year. The former of those two is a military service comedy about two American soldiers – Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason) and Eustis Clay (Steve McQueen) – wheeling and dealing, falling in love, and having each other’s backs in fights. This is a light comedy “from a simpler time,” I suppose.

The humor in Soldier in the Rain is generally gentle and fairly old-fashioned. Steve McQueen, generally known for his tough guy roles, is much lighter than usual here. The scenes on the military base successfully evoke a certain atmosphere of rigid army life meeting Jackie Gleason and McQueen’s characters’ loose, opportunity-hunting style. This feature barely has any plot at all, mostly just moving from one scenario to the next.

However, it’s not all just fun and games in Soldier in the Rain. The picture does introduce some more serious drama elements towards the end, and there is a prominent romantic subplot. This is certainly not an action movie, but it does contain an exceptional barroom brawl. This fist fight contains some striking choreography, and gives McQueen a chance to show off his inner action hero.

The friendship between the characters played by Gleason and McQueen is the centerpiece of this film. Other notable features of this comedy include its jazzy musical score from Henry Mancini, an early appearance from (pre-Batman) Adam West as “Inspecting Captain,” and an agreeable eighty-eight-minute runtime. Overall, this is a serviceable movie that provides a few laughs and some excitement from a bare-knuckle fight sequence.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Nobody (2021) Review

Director: Ilya Naishuller

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The explosive action-thriller Nobody offers exactly what action movie fans want to see. The efficient plot is concerned with boring family man and former U.S. government auditor Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk), who fails to foil a home invasion and looks like a major loser to the rest of the community. Things escalate from there. Action junkies miss this one at their own risk.

Bob Odenkirk previously made a name for himself as a comedy writer and actor. Hell, the guy was a writer for Saturday Night Live between 1987 and 1991 and also for Late Night with Conan O’Brien from 1993 to 1994. However, his transition to action star could not be more flawless or convincing. He makes it look effortless. Christopher Lloyd (who plays David Mansell, the elderly father of Odenkirk’s character) also demands a special mention for his crowd-pleasing performance.

Nobody is darkly comedic without being intrudingly cheeky. As funny as it gets, the humor never detracts from the danger or excitement. The whole thing sort of feels like a John Wick sequel where you actually care about what’s taking place onscreen. Like the John Wick series, this feature boasts astonishingly good action set-pieces and plenty of bloody carnage. The body count is high…very high.

Nobody has just the right runtime (a little over ninety minutes) and it wastes no time getting started. It serves as a fascinating commentary on mankind’s addiction to violence. Well, even if you don’t give a damn about exploring the human condition, you’ll want to see this flick. Its star my come from a comedy background, but this actioner is just about as badass as they come.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Crowd Roars (1932) Review

Director: Howard Hawks

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance, Sport

Runtime: 85 minutes (original version), 70 minutes (TCM version)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1932 auto racing drama The Crowd Roars was one of the few films James Cagney did that could be considered an action picture. As motor racer Joe Greer (James Cagney) returns to his hometown, he devotes his time to keeping his brother Eddie (Eric Linden) out of the dangerous sport, while mostly ignoring his girl, Lee Merrick (Ann Dvorak). The surviving prints of this movie are only seventy minutes long, so it makes for reasonably taut entertainment.

Of course, the primary draws for this flick are the racing sequences. Not only are they perilous in the context of the story, they look pretty hazardous for those filming them. The automobiles during the races have open-air cockpits, so dirt flying all over the place easily hinders vision. There are some dated special effects during the action, but it doesn’t really detract from the experience.

However, this feature isn’t only about the need for speed. It has a sizeable romantic subplot that takes up just as much time as the auto racing. It’s rather important to the overall story, so excising it from the picture would be near-impossible. Toss in some Great Depression-era desperation, and you’ve got a winning sports drama with a well-rounded plot.

The Crowd Roars was made during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, prior to the enforcement of the Production Code. It’s directed by the legendary Howard Hawks (whose far-better Scarface [1932] hit theaters the same year), but I’m not sure if I’d describe it as an all-time American classic. Still, it’s very watchable and greatly benefits from the Cagney Factor. A remake, Indianapolis Speedway (1939), was later released, with Frank McHugh playing the same role as he did in the original.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Reivers (1969) Review

Director: Mark Rydell

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1969 dramedy The Reivers is one of Steve McQueen’s more notable non-action-adventure roles. Based on a William Faulkner novel, this movie’s about three friends in early-1900s Mississippi – Boon (Steve McQueen), Ned (Rupert Crosse), and Lucius (Mitch Vogel) – who set out on a road trip to Memphis, Tennessee, in a 1905 Winton Flyer car. In case you were wondering, the word “reiver” means “thief.”

This is a film with a nostalgic tone that almost feels somewhat similar to To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), since they’re both coming-of-age stories set in the American South in the first half of the twentieth century that touch on the issue of racism. It needs to be mentioned that a young John Williams provided the musical score, and it’s pretty good. A couple of horse races towards the end manage to elicit some suspense.

I felt that there were a few problems with The Reivers, though. There were times when I wondered just who the target audience for the picture was, being a flick largely being told through the eyes of a child, yet dealing with some racy subject matter. A note or two (or three) in the feature are on the misogynistic side, and it goes on for a little too long.

In all honesty, I’d rather watch one of McQueen’s more action-oriented movies, but this one isn’t bad. It has its moments. I guess that that’s how I remember it at least, as a series of moments, rather than a coherent whole. A fun fact about the production of this work is that McQueen sometimes brought Bruce Lee to the set (according to the IMDb Trivia page for this movie).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

An Enemy of the People (1978) Review

Director: George Schaefer

Genre(s): Drama

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

An Enemy of the People has Steve McQueen playing one of his most unexpected roles: a nineteenth-century Norwegian doctor. The “King of Cool” doesn’t even whup anybody’s ass in this film! Anyway, this flick is about small-town doctor Thomas Stockmann (Steve McQueen) discovering that the waters for the community’s new medicinal spas are actually infected with dangerous bacteria, and his fight against the power to ensure the safety of tourists and others.

This drama, being based on an 1882 play from Henrik Ibsen, is certainly a talky one. Being inspired by a work of theater, use of locations is fairly limited, and, needless to say, there are no big action set-pieces. Still, Steve McQueen largely disappears into the role, partially thanks to a bushy beard. Hell, it seems like every adult male in Norway at the time was required by law to have facial hair, based on this movie.

Okay, so we have beards and talkiness, so what’s to like about An Enemy of the People? Well, the picture probes interesting philosophical conundrums that are still relevant, especially after the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and the outbreak of COVID-19. This feature is all about the clash between public health and political expediency. The film illustrates how easily democracy can be subverted, reinforcing that the majority is not always right.

Steve McQueen executive produced this feature, feeling it might give him a good chance to show off his acting talent, giving him a break from action-oriented roles. Unfortunately, it was not a financial success, and McQueen would only star in two more films before his passing. An Enemy of the People isn’t a top-tier McQueen flick, but it is food for thought.

My rating is 7 outta 10.