The Roaring Twenties (1939) Review

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the last, if not the last, of the major gangster pictures of the 1930s, The Roaring Twenties ends a chapter in mob movie history on a decent note. The story here is about World War I veteran Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), who gets mixed up with bootleggers during Prohibition and rises up among their ranks. It feels more epic-scale than many other films in this subgenre, but some intimacy is lost in translation.

The Roaring Twenties tries to juggle many elements: action, romance, music, historical background, etc., trying to please every type of moviegoer. The main plot of the flick is often overcome by a love triangle, and there’s just as much singing as there is shoot-’em-up, bang-bang stuff. The truth is, it feels more nostalgic than hard-boiled, lacking a certain meanness necessary for this sort of crime feature to work properly.

That being said, the action sequences are pretty good when they arrive (the movie definitely ends on a high note). There are some engaging montages to express the passage of time, although the narration for these sequences (done by John Deering) feels a bit dated nowadays. Raoul Walsh’s direction is solid, but the clean-feeling script doesn’t always help him.

The Roaring Twenties is just too romantic for its own good, both in the sense of the lovey-dovey stuff and in terms of rose-tinted nostalgia. It feels like one of James Cagney’s “bigger” films, but it’s certainly not among his best, in my book. It just doesn’t have the ultra-gritty intimacy of The Public Enemy (1931), the heroic badassery of ‘G’ Men (1935), or the lurid sadism of White Heat (1949). I’m not saying “don’t watch it,” just keep your expectations in check.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) Review

Director: John Sturges

Genre(s): Biography, Western

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a bit on the disappointing side, considering it was directed by John Sturges, one of the better (possibly the best) action-adventure directors out there at the time of its release. Still, it has a few redeeming values that may make it worth a watch for the curious. During the Wild West period, lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) befriends dentist-turned-gunslinging-gambler Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas), with their camaraderie coming in handy when the former needs to face down the villainous Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral.

This movie is, well, pretty talky. Sure, sometimes guns or knives do the talking, but most of the film is jibber-jabber. Add to this a loose plot that doesn’t get focused until about halfway through and there is trouble. The feud between the Earp family and the Clantons feels a little undercooked, with that conflict not really getting explained until relatively late in the flick’s runtime (okay, it’s not that late, but it should’ve been introduced sooner). Both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have separate romantic subplots (well, if you could call Holliday’s “romantic”) that further bring the feature down.

Despite these flaws, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral benefits from a sensational final shootout that just might be the best firefight in western movie history up to the point of this picture’s release. Dimitri Tiomkin’s musical score is appropriately epic, complete with a catchy theme song sung by Frankie Laine. The macho bonding between Burt Lancaster’s Earp and Kirk Douglas’ Holliday is also cool to watch.

I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the Sturges’ best movies, thanks to a story that sometimes meanders. It would’ve benefited from a tighter script. However, the titular action sequence, the music, and chemistry between the two leads may draw in some viewers. Also, don’t come here looking for historical accuracy. At the end of the day, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is just okay.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Ten Tall Men (1951) Review

Director: Willis Goldbeck

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

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Burt-Lancaster-joins-the-French-Foreign-Legion is the “hook” of this 1951 war/action-adventure film. During the Rif War in Morocco, a trouble-making sergeant in the French Foreign Legion, Mike Kincaid (Burt Lancaster), assembles a group of fellow Legionnaires (all of whom are rotting in prison) to launch a preemptive raid on desert rebels before the aforementioned insurgents can launch an assault on an undermanned French-occupied town. This flick has an interesting proto-The Dirty Dozen (1967) story, but it’s much more light-hearted than that hard-boiled World War II film.

Ten Tall Men starts off awfully comedic and retains a jokey tone for much of its runtime. The humor here doesn’t really land most of the time. The romance isn’t really effective, either, and many of the supporting characters aren’t as well-defined as they should’ve been for a men-on-a-mission film. The action-adventure elements are what saves this movie from the trash bin. Sure, it’s apparent that they didn’t have a large budget to work with, but the combat scenes are fair.

The story that eventually became Ten Tall Men was actually originally a western. However, the sort of western/war film that the filmmakers were aiming for was considered old hat by the time of this picture’s production, so the action shifted across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s easy to see how the U.S. cavalry were substituted by the French Foreign Legion and the Native Americans by the Moroccan guerrillas.

When it’s all said and done, Ten Tall Men is an adequate war movie that goes somewhat heavy on the comic relief. You should also be warned that a romantic subplot breaks out. The final action scene is hardly the strongest one in the feature, but this film clips along at a decent pace, so it doesn’t dwell on any of its faults for too long. It’s okay, but there are better French Foreign Legion flicks out there, like Legionnaire (1998), Beau Geste (1939), and March or Die (1977).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Untamed Africa (1932) Review

Director: Unknown

Genre(s): Adventure, Documentary

Runtime: 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

This nature documentary comes as a bonus feature on the DVD for Kongo (1932). It follows the Hubbard family on a safari deep into Africa where they will befriend a few animals…and kill or capture the rest. Yeah, this one feels like it should’ve been titled “Let’s Hurt Animals: The Motion Picture” at times. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and some of the hunting seems justified (like when a crocodile is shot for getting too close to the boats).

Untamed Africa benefits from humorous narration and some incredible animal footage. Some of the creatures encountered are pretty cute and some are apparently pretty vicious. The journey documented seems perilous, with the aforementioned crocodiles lying in waiting, lions on the loose, and a highly destructive grass fire.

The movie’s attitude towards the native peoples of Africa could probably be described as, uh, backwards. It does, however, take an interesting peek into the lives of these folks. It can sometimes be difficult to tell what’s genuinely real and what, if anything, has been staged for the camera in this documentary. It’s quite well-edited in that regard.

Untamed Africa is agreeably short (only 56 minutes long), and, if you can get past the animal violence (which includes a lion-on-hyena fight over some food), it’s makes for decent entertainment. I can see audiences in the Great Depression-era United States eating this stuff up at the time of its release (this Pre-Code documentary was released in 1933 in the States, but, apparently, Denmark beat the U.S. to the punch, sending it to theaters in late 1932…hence the release date used for this review). If you have a DVD copy of Kongo, you might as well watch this one, too.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Raid 2 (2014) Review

Director: Gareth Evans

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 150 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Raid: Redemption (2011) was a lean, mean action machine. So, how does its sequel stack up? This ambitious, Indonesian-language picture (originally titled “Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal“) follows Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero of the first one, as he goes undercover in the mob to expose crooked cops and gangsters. It can’t top the original, but The Raid 2 certainly gives it its all trying to do so.

While the first movie was a simple story of a S.W.A.T. team trapped in an apartment building of criminals, the second film tries to be an epic-scale crime saga…with lots of martial arts thrown into the mix. I don’t really think The Raid 2 pulls it off. It lacks the effective “hook” of the The Raid: Redemption and goes on for way too long (it’s two-and-a-half-hours long, for Heaven’s sake!). It also wallows in ineffective melodrama on an occasion or two.

Of course, the action scenes are the real reason to watch, and they are just as impeccably choreographed as you’ve hoped. Unfortunately, some of them just made me wonder “why should I even care about what’s going on?” Also, for a mob movie set in modern times, there seems to be a noticeable lack of guns. I guess these guys (and gal) just prefer to beat the shit out of each other with fists, feet, and melee weapons. Who am I to judge?

This violent-to-the-point-of-self-parody action film is a disappointment after the magnificent first flick in the series. When people aren’t getting pummeled, it can be a bit of a clock-watcher. The drama just doesn’t quite work and the runtime is a monster for a martial arts movie. I suppose it might be worth a watch for hard-core action fanatics, but I wouldn’t expect much outside of the insane fights.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Doorway to Hell (1930) Review

Director: Archie Mayo

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 78 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

With a title like this, you’d probably think that you’re in for a badass horror film. Nah, this is actually a serviceable gangster movie from the Pre-Code era of the early 1930s (before the Production Code was enforced). Crime lord Louie Ricarno (Lew Ayres) is responsible for uniting all the gangs in the city under his protection, but now he wants out of the game. Will he be able to escape from the outlaw life? It’s not one of the top mobster flicks of the era, but this is a watchable picture.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with The Doorway to Hell is that its lead actor, Lew Ayres, isn’t the most convincing gangland tough guy. It’s not a bad performance, but the film needed something more. That “something more” may have been Ayres’ co-star James Cagney, who plays Steve Mileaway, his right-hand man. This was only Cagney’s second motion picture, but he handles himself like a pro, effortlessly stealing the show.

This is a gangster feature of the submachine-gun-in-the-violin-case variety, but there isn’t a whole lot of action. However, The Doorway to Hell does contain what has to be one of the largest (in terms of the number of men involved) gang battles in the history of mob movies set during the Prohibition era. It’s a brief sequence, but it has plenty of men shooting it out and brawling in the streets outside a brewery.

The last couple of scenes in the film are fairly slow, but, overall, this is a decent crime melodrama. It talks tough and is pretty short (running only 78 minutes). Cagney fanatics who want to see what he was up to prior to his breakout role in The Public Enemy (1931) probably won’t regret hunting a copy down, but, if you’re looking for a bang-bang shoot-’em-up actioner, there are better options out there.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) Review

Director: Richard Donner

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 118 minutes (theatrical version), 121 minutes (director’s cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Police detective duo Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) return once again in what is the weakest entry into the film series. The plot is less focused here, having something to do with an ex-cop, Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), who’s obsessed with putting confiscated firearms back on the streets. Most of the picture feels a bit on the tired side, but it has enough redeeming value to make it an okay time-waster.

The pacing of Lethal Weapon 3 is noticeably less propulsive than that of the first two movies. This is partially because it takes a while for the plot to fully materialize. There’s also a fairly extensive romantic subplot for Riggs, which fits in well with his character, but also slows down the action at times. Like Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), this one ups the humor level at the expense of the more hard-boiled content (the violence is the tamest of the four pictures, for example), but the banter between Riggs and Murtaugh isn’t always as sharp as it used to be. Fortunately, Joe Pesci’s character Leo Getz is back and still has it.

The third Lethal Weapon flick does improve significantly on repeated viewings, however. The action sequences are still solid, with the best one being the fiery finale, appropriately enough. Gibson and Glover unsurprisingly still work well together, and the film, as a whole, isn’t boring…which counts for a lot.

This is probably what the Lethal Weapon series feels like on autopilot. Most of the elements that made the franchise famous are here, but it mostly feels like just another day at the office with Riggs and Murtaugh. It begins and ends strong, but the middle probably could’ve been constructed better. So, would I recommend Lethal Weapon 3? Well, if you enjoyed the other members of the series, then sure, give the director’s cut a watch (it’s pretty lucky to be tied to such a good quadrilogy). Don’t expect greatness, just a decent way to spent two hours.

My rating is 6 outta 10.