Springfield Rifle (1952) Review

Director: André De Toth

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller, War, Western

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Two years after the popular Winchester ’73 (1950) was released, another rifle-themed western was put in theaters, this one starring Gary Cooper and titled Springfield Rifle. The plot follows Alex “Lex” Kearney (Gary Cooper), an officer in the Union military during the American Civil War who is branded a coward after surrendering a herd of horses to Confederate raiders out West without a fight. The story can be somewhat complicated at times, but I’ll just leave it at that to avoid spoilers (it should be mentioned that the plot description on its IMDb page gives quite a bit away).

Springfield Rifle isn’t the most straightforward film of all time, featuring enough twists and turns to justify its existence. Gary Cooper is at the center of all of this, and the guy’s a real badass. This is perhaps one of his most memorable action and/or adventure movies. The picture contains some material related to Cooper’s character’s relationship with his wife, Erin Kearney (Phyllis Thaxter), but it’s well-integrated into the rest of the flick, not feeling like it was shoehorned in by studio executives. Max Steiner’s musical score is fine.

Fortunately for the film, it’s blessed with some above-average action scenes, whether they be oriented around people punching each other or riding around, shooting at moving targets. There’s a couple of instances of “yowza” stuntwork and an early use of the “Wilhelm scream.” The “smoke-’em-out” action finale would not be approved of by Smokey Bear.

Even if its name is “Springfield Rifle,” Cooper never lets the titular firearm outshine him (although the gun is still pretty cool). Thanks to things like the leading actor’s presence, the beautiful scenery, the thumbs-up-worthy action sequences, and an interesting plot, this war/western/action-adventure movie deserves to be watched. It’s sort of a shame that this feature is largely forgotten about today (maybe because it was sent to theaters the same year as High Noon [1952], another Cooper western that’s even better), because it still satisfies.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jaws (1975) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 124 minutes (standard version), 130 minutes (extended edition)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is one of those films that reminds you of why you fell in loves with movies in the first place. A trio of men – police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), seasoned shark-hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) – set out to hunt down a large shark that’s been terrorizing a coastal town. This summer blockbuster has held up beautifully over the years, still pleasing its audience.

This horror-thriller’s most iconic aspect is, of course, its vigorous musical score, which put its composer, John Williams, on the map. It should be mentioned that Jaws actually has a strong dramatic core to it, thanks to vividly-drawn characters that the viewer becomes attached to. Of course, the stuff with the shark is still cool, but this picture provides a reason to care about the man-versus-beast confrontation.

Jaws sometimes resembles a seaside slasher flick with a literal animal instead of a figurative one. While the special effects for the central fish are often derided as fake-looking, I think that they’re sublime. The filmmakers wisely kept the shark offscreen for as much of the runtime as possible, only really showing off the monster extensively during the grand finale. The feature also does an impressive job of capturing the atmosphere of a small town effectively under siege by a fiendish foe.

Likely to make anybody too frightened to go into the ocean, Jaws is superb entertainment. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it became the highest grossing movie of all time upon its release (although it was soon outdone by Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope [1977]). Amazingly, Spielberg has managed to top the film several times so far during his career as a director.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Dark of the Sun (1968) Review

Director: Jack Cardiff

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Congolese Civil War of the 1960s (referred to as the “Congo Crisis” on Wikipedia) had just ended when this mercenary action-adventure picture was released. During that war, a team of soldiers-of-fortune led by Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) and Ruffo (Jim Brown) are sent on a deadly mission to rescue a trapped town of civilians (and their diamonds) before Simba rebels can close in. It’s a fictional story, but this film has all the intensity of a chainsaw on full-blast.

Dark of the Sun showcases several very good action scenes, as the characters battle their way in and out of the heart of the Congo. Supposedly, a great deal of content was deleted from the movie before and after being sent to censors, but the sequences where stuff may have been removed don’t feel particularly choppy. Quentin Tarantino was apparently so pleased with this movie’s musical score, done by Jacques Loussier, that he included several snippets of it in his flick Inglourious Basterds (2009).

The characters here are occasionally colorful, with those played Rod Taylor and Jim Brown being appropriately badass, but different enough to be distinguishable from each other. To complicate the expedition that our heroes (or anti-heroes) are on, the doctor, Wreid (Kenneth More), is an alcoholic and the man providing the local Congolese troops, Henlein (Peter Carsten), is a former member of the Nazi war machine. There is a fairly prominent female character, Claire (Yvette Mimieux), but there isn’t a substantial romantic subplot. This is a guy movie, through and through.

Dark of the Sun is up there with Walker (1987) and The Wild Geese (1978) as one of the best mercenary-oriented war flicks of all time. It’s not quite as bloody as those movies, possibly thanks to some cut footage (which I hope isn’t lost forever). It’s probably not the easiest action-adventure feature to hunt down, but it’s more-than-worth a watch if you can find it. It’s tough as nails.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) Review

Directors: Lotte Reiniger and Carl Koch

Genre(s): Adventure, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 66 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

What’s the world’s oldest surviving feature-length animated movie? Something by Disney? Nope, that honor goes to a silent German film by the name of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (originally titled “Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed“) from 1926. The story is about young, fearless Prince Achmed setting out to restore order to the land after a devious magician crashes his father’s birthday bash. This picture uses silhouette animation (think stop-motion shadow puppets) to transport viewers to far away worlds. Home video releases are color-tinted.

This fairly short (only 66 minutes long) classic has visuals that are nothing short of entrancing. It’s certainly nothing like any other movie from…well, any time period. The silhouettes are surprisingly detailed, and almost every character, despite being little more than a shadow puppet, has a distinctive look. In addition to its astounding appearance, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is greatly aided by an energetic musical score by Wolfgang Zeller.

Based on old Arabian fairy tales, this feature has a timeless quality to it that keeps it fresh after all these decades. There is some swashbuckling action and some special effects that made me wonder “how did they do that?” The only time the pacing threatens to lag is when Aladdin shows up (yes, Aladdin and his magic lamp are here) and explains his backstory. It certainly doesn’t kill the film, but these flashbacks slow things down just a tad. Just a tad.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is definitely no musty museum piece. It’s amazing from its character introductions at the beginning to its hair-raising finale. I’m not sure how much kids will enjoy it, considering it’s silent and all (despite bombastic music), but people who’re accustomed to pictures with no spoken dialogue will be floored. This one comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 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.

Kongo (1932) Review

Director: William J. Cowen

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Four years after the silent West of Zanzibar (1928) was released, a sound remake, titled Kongo, was sent to theaters. This forgotten gem ups the macabre and salacious content of the original, making it one of the more boundary-pushing films of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood (the time period in the early 1930s before the Production Code started being enforced). This twisted tale is about a magician living in Africa named “Deadlegs” Flint Rutledge (Walter Huston) plotting his vengeance on Gregg Whitehall (C. Henry Gordon), the man who paralyzed him from the waist down in a brawl and ran away with his wife. This one’s so nasty (for its time) it sometimes gets classified (incorrectly, in my opinion) as a member of the horror genre.

Like the original movie, West of Zanzibar, Kongo is all about its depraved, slimy atmosphere. Like fellow Pre-Code adventure film Island of Lost Souls (1932), it has the stench of sweat and cruelty all over it. One notable aspect of this one is Walter Huston’s sleazy performance. Check out that scar on his cheek that resembles one of the facial markings that the Joker from The Dark Knight (2008) would have.

Kongo is based on a 1926 play of the same name, and, yeah, it sometimes shows. The action rarely leaves Huston’s character’s African compound or its immediate surroundings. When it does leave this setting, it’s sometimes footage reused from West of Zanzibar. Still, it’s a pulpy movie that doesn’t really feel as claustrophobic as this might lead you to believe.

As with the silent original, I can’t exactly recommend this one to everyone, as the depiction of native Africans is problematic and bound to offend many. However, those who can overlook that aspect will be rewarded with one of the best motion pictures of the Pre-Code period. It’s not quite as taut as the shorter West of Zanzibar, but it is more lurid, so I guess I prefer this version by a hair.

My rating is 8 outta 10.