Return of the Seven (1966) Review

Director: Burt Kennedy

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The second film of the series, Return of the Seven (which is sometimes called “Return of the Magnificent Seven“) is largely just a rehash of The Magnificent Seven (1960), down to the Elmer Bernstein musical score, which repeats all of the same notes. Opening in the same village that the first movie is set in, a gang of bandits arrive and abduct all of the men, leaving only women and children. Apparently, this isn’t the only town that’s been raided in such a way by the bad guys. Of course, it’s up to seven heroic gunslingers to find out where the men are being held (and why) and rescue them.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? The action scenes, while not quite up to par with the ones in the original, are terrific, featuring plenty of explosions and people falling off of horses. The characters are fleshed out well enough, for the most part. Also, the premise of selfless gunmen putting their lives on the line to save the day is still badass. As I mentioned earlier, the musical score is almost identical to the one from the first flick, but it’s still riveting music.

While the characters are easy to tell apart from one another, the reduced runtime of this flick doesn’t really do them any favors. A slightly longer picture would’ve given the inhabitants of it more time to make their mark. There’s also a few instances where characters from the first movie are replaced by different actors in Return of the Seven. I’m not really going to say who, in case it spoils the ending of the 1960 feature, but they’re just not as charismatic as the originals.

For me, Return of the Seven is perhaps the weakest of the films in The Magnificent Seven series. It sticks so close to the formula of the first installment, while reducing the runtime, that it sometimes struggles to have an identity of its own. Still, I can think of worse sequels from other franchises. It’s serviceable if all you want is some rootin’, tootin’ Wild West shoot-’em-up action.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Magnificent Seven (1960) Review

Director: John Sturges

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The original The Magnificent Seven is a truly heroic film that, along with the following year’s The Guns of Navarone (1961), helped define the modern action-adventure movie. This western is about a team of seven gunslingers who travel to Mexico to protect a defenseless village there from a gang of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach). This is a motion picture in the running for the best western flick of all time.

1960’s The Magnificent Seven features what just might be the best action scenes ever committed to film at the time of its original release. They really upped the ante for the action-adventure genre. The thunderous, iconic musical score by Elmer Bernstein is pure energy, and the all-star, tough guy cast is perfect. The script is funny, without defusing any of the tension or sense of danger.

Released between the end of World War II and the height of the Vietnam War, the feature reflects a can-do spirit and a Wilsonian worldview, where the strong are obligated to help fight for the human rights, liberty, and human dignity of the oppressed, regardless of where said oppressed are located on a map. The opening sequences are marked by an odd existential feel, with aimless, bored men searching for something – anything – to bring meaning to their lives. The movie’s lived-in universe is one that the audience does not mind getting lost in.

An important stepping stone between the traditional western and the revisionist western, The Magnificent Seven holds an important place in the history of its genre. Above all else, this is an incredibly inspiring and empowering piece of cinema. Its message of selfless heroism and fighting the good fight has not dimmed with time. This film gets as high a recommendation as I can give.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

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

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG (theatrical cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

The Planet of the Apes series had been dark before, but, with the fourth entry, it became outright pissed-off. In a fascistic future where all dogs and cats have died due to a plague from outer space, apes are used as pets and slaves by humans. However, one chimpanzee, Caesar (Roddy McDowall), has violent revolt on his mind. This, right here, is the best of the original set of sequels to Planet of the Apes (1968).

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is seething with revolutionary fervor. This is an angry and incendiary film, built around a slave rebellion…and it almost plays out like a start-your-own-state-of-anarchy playbook. It is available in two versions: the standard, PG-rated theatrical cut (that’s still plenty vicious) and a bloodier unrated version with an alternate ending.

The big draw of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the final action sequence, which lasts about twenty minutes. It is certainly the most sustained scene of mayhem that the franchise has seen yet. It’s exceptional, with humans and apes duking it out at the “Ape Management” building and in the streets of the city that the picture is set in. Its budget wasn’t unlimited, but director J. Lee Thompson (who had previously helmed The Guns of Navarone [1961]) uses his resources very effectively.

Roddy McDowall gives a surprisingly good performance, considering that he’s covered in chimpanzee make-up. It’s a little odd seeing dirty apes, when they’re being used as slaves, serving humans food and touching all of their precious belongings. Get past that, and you’ll be rewarded with a fiery, dramatic, action-oriented sci-fi film with plenty of passion. Forget satire and nuance, let’s get straight to violent revolution!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) Review

Director: Don Taylor

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

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Somehow, after the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), the Planet of the Apes series was kept alive, and the third film in the franchise is one of the more unique entries into its canon. Three ape astronauts – Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter), and Milo (Sal Mineo) – arrive in the 1970s United States in the salvaged spacecraft used by the humans in the original Planet of the Apes (1968). This one is special, being the least action-oriented of the series.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes actually starts out like a fish-out-of-water comedy. How would these apes react to being slapped down in the middle of the twentieth-century United States? It’s mostly light stuff, but the film’s increasing thriller elements mean this merriment doesn’t last forever. There are no clear heroes or villains here.

As mentioned above, this picture is not very concerned with physical action. It’s more about exploring complicated moral dilemmas, something it does quite well. Despite a minimum of fighting, the film does end on a very grim note. Like the previous entries in the Planet of the Apes series, its G rating from the MPAA should be ignored.

The plot of Escape from the Planet of the Apes is mighty contrived and implausible, but it’s a successful midway point for the 1960s/1970s incarnation of the franchise. No explosions or intricately choreographed fights here, yet its solid pacing and unafraid examinations of important moral matters make it a winner. It’s sometimes regarded as the best of the sequels from the ’60s/’70s series, and, while I don’t agree with that, it’s definitely a feature worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Planet of the Apes (1968) Review

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

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

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

The 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes boasts one of the best endings in cinema history, but it’d be a mistake to overlook the rest of the picture. Four human astronauts – George Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton), and Stewart (Dianne Stanley) – land on a mysterious planet ruled by intelligent, talking apes. This compelling story spawned a multi-film franchise and remains the best of the series.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss this movie as a kitschy, cheesy science-fiction relic, with its elaborate ape costumes and wonderfully-hammy acting from Charlton Heston, yet this flick is much more than that. This is a sly, satirical piece of filmmaking, with more of a sense of humor than might be expected. It also benefits from a palpable sense of menace and danger (Planet of the Apes was rated G by the MPAA, but this was clearly before the organization had any clue as to what they were doing).

Jerry Goldsmith’s jolting, avant-garde musical score is a highlight, as are the excellent action scenes. The scenery and sets are top-notch, and the arc for Charlton Heston’s character, a cynical misanthrope, is one of the most memorable of its kind. The special effects haven’t aged as poorly as one might think, and the cinematography is grand.

It’s the movie’s somewhat talky third act that keeps Planet of the Apes from the big leagues, as far as ratings and rankings are concerned. Yes, this part of the picture is necessary for the plot and contains the stunning ending, but most of it is less thrilling than the material that came before it. Overall, this is an intelligent, if occasionally heavy-handed, sci-fi-adventure that needs to be watched before popular culture spoils the final scene for you.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933) Review

Director: Stephen Roberts

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 70 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1933 drama The Story of Temple Drake is a picture from the Pre-Code era of Hollywood (before the enforcement of the Production Code) that feels ahead-of-its-time. After a drunken car crash, town flirt Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) and Toddy Gowan (William Collier Jr.), the latest man chasing her, find themselves trapped at a remote Southern plantation mansion controlled by vile gangster Trigger (Jack La Rue). Based on the 1931 William Faulkner novel Sanctuary, this one proved to be quite controversial back in the day.

This film is really in its element when at the plantation used as a bootlegger hideout by Jack La Rue’s character (his performance is hypnotic here). These scenes have a semi-surreal and dreamlike quality to them that was largely absent from mainstream American movies at the time of its release. Some of the actors give performances that can only be described as “zombified,” only heightening the otherworldliness. The cinematography’s also pretty incredible.

On the down side, the last act of the flick is largely concerned with courtroom scenes that lack the sinister nature of previous sequences. This part of the movie is appropriately suspenseful, but it just doesn’t have the thick atmosphere of the mobster hideout stuff. The slower pace of these scenes don’t do the overall film any favors.

The role of the gangster Trigger was originally offered to George Raft, but he turned down the gig, fearing an association with this feature would ruin his career. The Story of Temple Drake has a satisfactory opening act, a really, really strong middle act, and a final act that…works well, but can’t top what came before it. It’s a moody, menacing movie…one that fans of the classics will probably want to check out.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Safe in Hell (1931) Review

Director: William A. Wellman

Genre(s): Adventure, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 73 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

William A. Wellman was one of the iconic film directors of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood in the early 1930s, prior to the enforcement of the Production Code. His movies during this period included the James Cagney gangster masterpiece The Public Enemy (1931) and Safe in Hell, released the same year. This drama (with adventure and crime elements) follows New Orleans prostitute Gilda Carlson (Dorothy Mackaill) who finds herself on the run from the law after she believes herself responsible for the killing of Piet Van Saal (Ralf Harolde), the man who forced her to take up the world’s oldest profession in the first place. On the lamb, she seeks refuge on a Caribbean island with no extradition treaty with the United States.

Safe in Hell is a picture that thrives on atmosphere. Being based on a play by Houston Branch, most of the action is set in a seedy hotel on the island the main character is hiding out on. It’s not exactly a fast-paced flick, with much of the runtime being dedicated to Gilda biding her time, waiting for her sailor fiancĂ©, Carl Bergen (Donald Cook), to help rescue her.

As bleak as this feature’s tone is, it should be noted that the two major non-white characters in it, hotel manager Leonie (Nina Mae McKinney) and hotel porter Newcastle (Clarence Muse), are treated with a surprising amount of dignity (this was a period when non-whites in cinema were typically stereotyped characters that would be considered offensive today). The runtime’s pretty short – only a little over 70 minutes – so the story is handled economically. That ending seems pretty sudden, though.

Safe in Hell is a gritty, street-tough drama that classic film fanatics will probably be entertained by. It’s not as good as some of Wellman’s other motion pictures, like the aforementioned The Public Enemy or the World War I aviation actioner Wings (1927), but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a bit of trivia: Boris Karloff was originally intended to have a small role in this movie, although he doesn’t actually appear in it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.