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.

West of Zanzibar (1928) Review

Director: Tod Browning

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama

Runtime: 65 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

This seedy adventure-melodrama predominately set in Africa is one of the more entertaining movies of the silent era. A magician named Phroso (Lon Chaney) seeks revenge on Crane (Lionel Barrymore), the man who paralyzed him from the waist down in a fight and stole his wife, Anna (Jacqueline Gadsdon). Even if you don’t think that you’d like a silent movie, this engaging picture runs only 65 minutes long, so, if you ever come across it, I’d recommend watching it.

West of Zanzibar thrives on its sweaty, grimy atmosphere. It’s an old Hollywood movie, but it’s certainly not nice and clean. Lon Chaney is in firm control of the film, expertly playing a vengeance-driven man who has no command of his legs. He’s both pathetic and evil. The competent musical score from an uncredited William Axt keeps things moving along smoothly and may make you forget that what you’re watching is silent.

This drama is based on the 1926 play Kongo, so it occasionally has a stagey nature to it, but it’s forgivable considering how dynamic and fast-paced the storytelling is. The story itself is superb, both capturing the imagination and repelling the audience with its drunkenness, ritualistic sacrifice, implied prostitution, murder, paralyzed villain, etc. If you think silent films were all about silly, Charlie Chaplin-esque antics, you need to watch West of Zanzibar.

This one comes highly recommended, being an excellent example of sharp, economical storytelling. Would I recommend it to everyone? Not quite. The picture’s depiction of native Africans is bound to offend many viewers, so consider yourself warned. If you can excuse that, I’d say “check it out,” along with its sound-era remake, Kongo (1932), where Walter Huston plays the Chaney role.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Apocalypse Now (1979) Review

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, War

Runtime: 147 minutes (theatrical cut), 183 minutes (Final Cut), 196 minutes (Redux)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

This is a review of the 147-minute theatrical cut of Apocalypse Now, the famous, dark, and psychedelic war film that is sometimes regarded as the best of its genre. In the midst of the Vietnam War, an American serviceman, Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), is assigned to travel by patrol boat to Cambodia to assassinate U.S. officer Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who’s reportedly gone rogue…and insane. This is a spectacularly well-made movie, but I can’t help but feel that the third act is the weakest component of the feature. To me, it doesn’t quite stick the landing.

More abstract than, say, Platoon (1986), Apocalypse Now is about descent into madness, as just about any film critic will tell you. It’s a slightly surreal journey, accompanied by dark comedy (especially in the first half) and impressive, large-scale visuals. The choices for music are dynamite. It’s not an action flick, but the helicopter attack sequence has become one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. It lives up to the hype, being one of the best battle scenes to grace movie theater screens.

Apocalypse Now borders on the episodic, but, for the most part, it manages to keep things together. Unfortunately, the film comes close to hitting a brick wall when it arrives as Marlon Brando’s character’s compound. These scenes look amazing, but what seems like almost endless monologues from Brando hurt the picture’s momentum. The somewhat meandering third act is a problem. Also, this one probably won’t be played on television for Veterans Day any time soon, as most Americans in it, including both members of the military and civilians, are characterized as spaced-out, excessively rowdy, nutty about surfing, or psychotically violent. There’s also a scene of violence against a water buffalo, so animal lovers may want to sit this one out.

Crazy, eccentric, and colorful, this psychological war epic is too “artsy-fartsy” for many viewers, but, with its atmosphere of insanity, it’s still worth watching. Be warned that the final moments are slower than the scenes that preceded them. Still, it’s ambitious as Hell and is often a feast for the senses. All of this being said, when it comes to surreal, dream-like war movies, I actually prefer Castle Keep (1969) and Walker (1987).

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Review

Director: John Huston

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 126 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

This dirty, sweaty western picture is notable not only for starring Humphrey Bogart, but also for featuring Walter Huston, director John Huston’s father. This makes The Treasure of the Sierra Madre perhaps the most famous film to have a father/son tag-team in movie history. In 1925 Mexico, two down-on-their-luck American drifters, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), recruit an old, experienced prospector, Howard (Walter Huston), to aid them on a gold-digging expedition deep in the wilderness. This film starts strong, but suffers from a less energetic third act.

One of the first things the audience notices about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is its thick atmosphere of desperation. The main characters start out as little more than beggars, constantly on the prowl for money for their next meal. The movie maintains this sense of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure as the trio move into the hills of Mexico to search for gold. Max Steiner provides a good musical score and the whole thing is mercifully devoid of romantic subplots. Humphrey Bogart’s paranoid performance could’ve easily veered off into hamminess, but this is largely avoided.

Unfortunately, the third act is noticeably weaker and slower than the first two. Bogart’s character spends too much time worriedly talking to himself and the subject matter isn’t as exciting as the content seen in the first two-thirds. The final act isn’t a total flop, but I missed the urban drifting, dive bars, shootouts with bandits, gold-mining, etc. from earlier on in the motion picture. Also, Walter Huston’s character’s prospector dance about midway through hasn’t aged well.

I can’t say that I enjoyed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as much as the critics did (it currently holds an 100% approval rate among professional reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes). Sure, it’s still a highly watchable flick, but the third act just isn’t as entertaining as what came before. The film’s message that greed is bad is, of course, true, but it strikes me as an obvious statement to make. I’ll recommend it, even though I don’t find it close to perfect.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) Review

Director: J.A. Bayona

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Jurassic World (2015) brought new life to the series, but, by 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it feels like the franchise is, once again, treading water. Fallen Kingdom is fine as cinematic junk food, but, if you’ve been expecting more than that, you might be disappointed. The plot is about a rescue effort to save cloned dinosaurs from the remains of the Jurassic World amusement park before a volcano on the island can go off. This is a flick that has me saying “It’s good, but…”

Okay, this is a pretty ridiculous movie, but, hey, it’s a summer blockbuster. What do you expect? The high-stakes action scenes are flashy, as we’ve come to expect, and there seems to be a bit more human-versus-human combat than in previous installments. Physical mayhem and special effects are the film’s specialties, and the attempts at infusing emotion into the story are generally effective.

This is not a simple retread of the events shown in Jurassic Park (1993) and Jurassic World. The plot has some similarities with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but I’d say that this one has its own identity (although there’s still a moment of déjà vu or two). Returning from previous pictures in the series are Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, but his appearance is little more than a cameo, and the musical theme from John Williams (although the score is done by Michael Giacchino), which is used quite sparingly here.

Fallen Kingdom has a couple of thought-provoking scenes, but it feels like the Jurassic Park franchise is out of gas, at least for the moment. This film is entertaining to watch, with its likeable characters and bad-guy-chomping dinosaurs, yet it doesn’t offer a whole lot more than that. I suppose that that’s okay (it’s just a movie, after all), so I’ll give it a passing score. Don’t expect greatness and you just might like it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.