Passage to Marseille (1944) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, War

Runtime: 109 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The plot of Passage to Marseille is about a Free French liaison officer named Freycinet (Claude Reins) recalling the story of how a group of French airmen fighting against the Nazis in World War II came into existence. This motion picture reunites many of the cast and crew of the iconic masterpiece Casablanca (1942), including actors Humphrey Bogart (as Jean Matrac), the aforementioned Claude Reins, Sydney Greenstreet (playing Duval), and Peter Lorre (as Marius), director Michael Curtiz, and musical composer Max Steiner. Can it recapture the magic of that movie?

Well, to be frank, it doesn’t. Perhaps the biggest problem with Passage to Marseille is its structure. This film has a flashback inside of a flashback inside of a flashback. No, I’m not kidding. Okay, the non-linear storytelling isn’t nearly as hard to follow as it sounds, but it still feels like a detriment to the finished product. Overall, the flick feels a bit on the aimless side and a lot on the formless side thanks to this.

The picture in question is blessed with some magnificent cinematography, as well as some exciting action, as one should probably expect from an adventure film directed by Michael Curtiz. The mayhem mainly kicks in in the third act, and it’s worth the wait to see Humphrey Bogart wield a Lewis machine gun. He actually gets to be pretty ruthless with it.

If you want to go into this one as spoiler-free as possible, I’d avoid reading the plot synopsis on IMDb. It sort of gives one of the movie’s more predictable twists away. With a similar cast and crew and comparable World War II-era francophilia, Passage to Marseille is sometimes called a spiritual sequel to Casablanca on the Internet. It’s certainly not the all-time classic that that feature is, but the 1944 work we’re talking about right now still might be worth watching for fans of Bogie.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Across the Pacific (1942) Review

Directors: John Huston and Vincent Sherman

Genre(s): Adventure, Romance, Thriller, War

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Despite a somewhat deceptive title, Across the Pacific from 1942 is a satisfactory war-time thriller. Set just before the United States’ entry into World War II, disgraced American serviceman Rick Leland (Humphrey Bogart) is forced out of the military for a scandal and decides to take a cruise on a Japanese ship through the Panama Canal to Asia. The boat he’s on is full of shadowy figures (himself included) and blood is bound to be spilled by the time his adventure is finished.

Across the Pacific has a fascinating plot, but it is a slow-moving picture. It’s pulpy and noirish, sure, but it feels a tad longer than its 97-minute runtime. Some modern viewers may also be turned off by the feature’s war-time depiction of Japanese people. Fortunately, the film is blessed with one huge asset: Humphrey Bogart. That guy makes everything look effortlessly cool, and his performance in this movie is no exception.

Speaking of Bogie, it’s fun to see him in full-on action hero mode here. The action doesn’t really kick in until the third act, but, when it does, it redeems the flick. The actual scenes of physical mayhem are adequately staged, but they’re extra-amusing considering that they are found in a movie released in 1942. Bogart very briefly unleashing his inner John Rambo is hard to pass up on.

Most of Across the Pacific is a romance-heavy thriller, but the last third makes a natural-feeling transition to more adventure-oriented fare. It’s far from being a great movie, but Bogart fans won’t want to miss it. It’s interesting to note that his character in this picture is called “Rick,” the same name as his role in Casablanca (1942), which was released the same year.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Action in the North Atlantic (1943) Review

Directors: Lloyd Bacon and Byron Haskin

Genre(s): Drama, War

Runtime: 126 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

During World War II, Hollywood cranked out various films (that could easily be described as propaganda, though not of a malicious sort) that promoted the different services and branches of the armed forces. The U.S. Merchant Machine got Action in the North Atlantic as their recruitment ad. Who wouldn’t want to join the organization that Humphrey Bogart was apparently in? The story of the movie is about a crew of mariners, including Joe Rossi (Humphrey Bogart), who are on a dangerous journey to deliver supplies to the European theater of the Second World War.

Action in the North Atlantic may be a propaganda piece, but it’s for just about as good a cause as one could ask for. It emphasizes the international cooperation needed to overcome the vile Axis Powers, even if the totalitarian Soviet Union gets a fairly rosy portrait of itself drawn.The picture was so effective as a recruiting device that future-actor Carroll O’Connor joined the Merchant Marine after viewing it (according to the feature’s IMDb trivia page). It’s a war-time morale-booster that audiences probably needed.

This flick contains some of the best naval combat I’ve ever seen. The feature’s first action scene might actually be too good, since its fiery ferocity isn’t quite topped in the remainder of the runtime. The battles contain lots of camera-shaking explosions, impressive destruction, and special effects that still hold up. It can be difficult to tell what’s stock footage, what’s miniatures, and what (if anything) is full-scale.

In the end, Action in the North Atlantic might be a bit too long, and it might show off its best set-piece too early. The scenes on land generally aren’t anything worth writing home about (although the scene with Bogart and the loose-lipped bar patron is fun), and it’s a bit too kind to the Soviets. Despite these flaws, it’s still a watchable war film. I’m generally not a fan of war flicks set at sea (for whatever reason), but this one has more positives than negatives.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Extraction (2020) Review

Director: Sam Hargrave

Genre(s): Action, Thriller

Runtime: 116 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Extraction is a film that’s about one thing and one thing only: action. Okay, okay, it’s also about violence, but that’s close enough to action to count as one thing. I’m not sure if telling you the plot is worth doing, but here goes nothing: mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) must rescue an Indian crime lord’s son, Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), from his kidnappers in Bangladesh. That’s everything about the story you need to know.

Let’s start with what goes right, shall we? The action scenes, the movie’s raison d’ĂȘtre, are strong and pull little punches in the graphic violence department, even if there is that choreographed-for-the-camera feel to them (yes, I know all film action sequences are planned and choreographed, but it feels a bit more obvious than usual here). There’s a period of action in this feature that was made to look like one continuous shot and the results are pretty stupefying. The plot of the flick eventually develops into one of those follow-your-conscience stories, so that’s a plus.

Outside of the carnage, there isn’t a whole lot to praise. Chris Hemsworth doesn’t make much of an impression as the lead actor (except when it comes to the physical stuff), and the storytelling lacks that extra “oomph” needed to keep things propulsive. Some have criticized the picture for having a White-savior-style narrative, and seeing the main character savagely mow down a bunch of Bangladeshi cops and soldiers (even if they’re supposed to be “crooked” or “dirty”) just isn’t as fun as witnessing him giving gangsters the smackdown. People not interested in bloody slaughter will find nothing worth watching here.

Extraction is a serious, humorless action-thriller movie (with emphasis on the “action” part) that still has its fans. The fights are incredible from a technical point-of-view and the plot has a nice do-the-right-thing element, yet little else goes right. Films that are almost pure action can be done properly – just look at The Raid: Redemption (2011) – but this one stumbles a bit. When it comes to this sort of action picture, I think I’ll stick with Commando (1985) for now.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

They Drive by Night (1940) Review

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

They Drive by Night may not be an action, adventure, gangster, war, or western movie, but it often has the macho swagger of one. It doesn’t always live up to its promises, but this working-class drama features a cast at the top of their game. The story concerns a couple of two-fisted, tough-guy truckers, Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart), who’re brothers, and must survive their perilous occupation during the Great Depression.

This film works best when it’s showing slices-of-life from the blue-collar badasses that inhabit its world. Seeing Humphrey Bogart and George Raft play siblings alone will make it worth the price for some classic cinema buffs. They’re joined by an impressive cast, consisting of Ann Sheridan (as Cassie Hartley, a waitress at a roadside diner), Alan Hale (as Ed Carlsen, a former trucker who’s now the owner of a business in that line of work), Ida Lupino (as Lana Carlsen, Ed’s scheming wife), and George Tobias (playing George Rondolos, one of the vendors buying the brothers’ goods).

Unfortunately, They Drive by Night feels like it has two separate plots joined at the hip. Most of the first half is about the gritty trucking adventures of Bogart, Raft, and their kind, while the second half transforms the motion picture into a crime-melodrama. There’s even a courtroom climax that seems like a far cry from the open road antics from earlier in the runtime. I wouldn’t read the plot synopsis on IMDb unless you want some of the details of the latter half revealed to you.

Even if it feels vaguely plotless, the first half of this feature is the stronger part. The second half (oriented around a certain crime) has a few cheesy moments and is less street-tough. So, do I recommend They Drive by Night? That’s a tough question to answer, although I’m sure classic movie fans will get a kick out of the cast. If you’re looking for a consistent, well-articulated story, then there’s probably better choices out there.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Cloak and Dagger (1946) Review

Director: Fritz Lang

Genre(s): Adventure, Romance, Thriller, War

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

During World War II, American scientist Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper) is recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head to Europe to spy on Nazi Germany’s nuclear weapons program. Cloak and Dagger was directed by Fritz Lang, who had previously helmed the science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis (1927) and the serial killer thriller M (1931) and would later direct the excellent film noir The Big Heat (1953), and starred cinema icon Gary Cooper. Sounds like a dream team collaboration. How does it stack up?

This film is at its best in moments of action and suspense. The surprisingly hard-hitting hand-to-hand combat scenes are the highlight, featuring a Liam Neeson-esque throat punch or two. The final shootout doesn’t fare quite as well. In comparison, it feels lazily shot at times and lacks a distinct culmination. There are also some impressive espionage-related sequences that don’t deal with violence directly.

What keeps Cloak and Dagger back from greatness is its romantic subplot. The movie really hits a brick wall here. The scenes between Gary Cooper’s character and Italian resistance fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer) don’t add much to the final product, although some have commented that they put a human face on the toll of partisan warfare and fascist occupation. The pace would be much tighter if these scenes were written out of the screenplay.

At the end of the day, Cloak and Dagger is something less than the sum of its parts. When focused on the details of Gary Cooper’s mission, this war-time adventure-thriller is pretty memorable. It’s the romance that threatens to sabotage the end result. Still, it’s a watchable enough war picture for fans of Cooper or Fritz Lang.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Mummy Returns (2001) Review

Director: Stephen Sommers

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The Mummy Returns is a sequel to The Mummy (1999) that continues on in the pulpy, over-the-top, Indiana Jones-ish style. To be frank, it’s really just a whole lot more of the same. Set mostly in the 1930s, a mummy brought to London comes to life and threatens to bring on an apocalypse with its curses and all that spooky stuff.

“Overkill” is the word of the day here. This film takes what made the first one good and amplifies it. More action, more curses, more special effects, more artifacts, more villains, more locations and lost cities, more humor, more combatants in the battle scenes, and more mummies are the name of the game. More! More! More! Sometimes this approach works for sequels, but I felt that it came close to being tiring in the case of The Mummy Returns.

The movie in question feels like a product of its time. It’s a good-natured action-adventure blockbuster with some special effects that have aged poorly (if they ever looked good at all). The action scenes are of a reasonably high quality, but there is the CGI (computer-generated imagery) overkill factor. Personally, there was also a bit too much fantasy mumbo-jumbo for my tastes. It gets a bit on the complicated side.

I’m usually a big fan of this sort of motion picture. You know, unpretentious, pulpy, action-packed, and fun. However, despite its likeable heroes, a cool musical score from Alan Silvestri, and entertaining action sequences, The Mummy Returns may throw a bit too much at the audience. This feature certainly has its fans, and that’s okay, but I think that I’ll largely stick with the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises for my action-adventure thrills.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

To Have and Have Not (1944) Review

Director: Howard Hawks

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The World War II drama To Have and Have Not is perhaps best remembered for being the first movie that future-couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall would do together. Set on the Vichy French-occupied Caribbean island of Martinique during the Second World War, American boatman-for-hire Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) finds himself increasingly drawn into the conflict, while falling in love with Marie “Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall). This was the first of four flicks that the two would make.

To put it bluntly, To Have and Have Not is a Casablanca (1942)-wannabe. Both are romantic dramas set in Vichy French colonies during World War II starring Bogart as an isolationist character who tries to stay out of the fray, while falling in and out of love and being coaxed into the fighting by a non-American freedom fighter and his wife, while being menaced by Axis authority figures. The similarities are striking and consume one’s thought process while watching the 1944 film.

To Have and Have Not is certainly not as tight a movie as Casablanca, and its plot is not as propulsive. The tropical Caribbean setting doesn’t seem to be fully exploited, and the ending felt abrupt and unsatisfying to me (contrast it with the iconic finale of the 1942 picture that it bears a heavy overall resemblance to). The dialogue between Bogie and Bacall is celebrated, but can a film survive on witty banter alone?

In my opinion, To Have and Have Not is just okay. It’s not boring, but it’s no thrill ride either. It lacks the fiery, inspiring spirit of Casablanca and rips off of it too much. I suppose that it’s a perfectly acceptable war-time drama, but why settle for “perfectly acceptable” when you can settle for Casablanca? Maybe you should just play that one again.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Dark Passage (1947) Review

Director: Delmer Daves

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The third (of four) movies that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together was a film-noir with some interesting ideas called Dark Passage. After escaping from prison (where he was locked up for allegedly murdering his wife), Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) is taken in by artist Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) to help him clear his name. The finished product really isn’t as good as it should be, but it’s still watchable.

One of the most notable aspects of Dark Passage is the heavy use of first-person point-of-view cinematography in the first half. It’s not always seamless, but it adds a cool, almost ahead-of-its-time flavor to this crime-thriller. This, and the intriguing plot built up around a man on the run with no one he can trust (well, with the possible exception of Lauren Bacall’s character), ropes in the viewer. Not every character is going to survive to the end.

Unfortunately, the first act is the best part of the movie. Not everything after that is bad by any means, but, as the picture shifts away from the first-person gimmick, it loses something. It gets significantly talkier in several sequences and the ending is quite anti-climatic. It almost feels like the filmmakers were running out of time or didn’t exactly know how to end the picture on a pleasing note and rushed the conclusion.

In retrospective, professional critics have been rather kind to this one, partially thanks to the fact that it’s just Bogie and Bacall doing what they do best (although the supporting cast also gets singled out for praise). I am less enthusiastic about it, due to its not-entirely-satisfying ending and some of its dialogue-heavy tendencies. There are certainly many films I’d recommend this over, but can I really give a thumbs-up to a flick that peaks in its first third?

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Spookley the Square Pumpkin (2004) Review

Director: Bernie Denk

Genre(s): Kids & Family, Musical

Runtime: 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

This children’s computer-animated film plays out like a Halloween version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Based on the book The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano, this movie follows a cube-shaped pumpkin (voiced by Sonja Ball) who is made fun of by the rest of the normal-shaped inhabitants of the pumpkin patch. Okay, this one might be easy to dog-pile on, but I’ll be merciful.

The first thing one notices about this picture is the dated animation quality. It’s not horrible, but time hasn’t been kind to this particular aspect. With all of the talking vegetables and moralizing, it feels like an early episode of VeggieTales (except with more bullying). The message of the movie is, of course, to not judge someone by their appearance.

To an adult, Spookley the Square Pumpkin could seem a bit slow and padded (even at forty-seven minutes), with some less-than-stellar jokes. The musical numbers are fine and the characters are easy to keep track of. The target audience (kids, obviously) will be far more forgiving and will hopefully take away the film’s message of tolerance with them. It’s rightfully rated G by the MPAA, featuring no swearing or real violence (although there is some peril).

This isn’t the most famous feature of all time, with, at the time of this review, IMDb listing its release date as 2005. However, this is apparently only for its Dutch-language release in Belgium. Wikipedia (never wrong, never wrong) says it came out in 2004. In case you were wondering, yes, there is a sequel, called Spookley and the Christmas Kittens (2019), but it’s so obscure that it doesn’t even have an IMDb page at the time of this review.

My rating is 6 outta 10.