Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hail the Conquering Movie(s): Three-plus in April

Although this is lovely actress Ella Raines in a publicity still from some forgotten bit of 1940s Hollywood patriotism, I swear to all that I hold unholy that I cannot help but think of it as some sort of outtake from Paul Verhoeven’s much-loved-around-here Starship Troopers!

Ms. Raines was/is the female lead of Preston Sturges’ fantastic Hail the Conquering Hero, and unlike the usually spot-on Tom Stempel of Understanding Screenwriting, I think Ella is cast perfectly—
I will confess that she certainly is my “type,” but I also think she fits perfectly in the manic whirligig of HtCH’s cast, with a sweet and calming performance.
Her cool, almost stoic emotionalism is comedic gold as far as I’m concerned—she’s the hysterical screwball comedy dame, but as very fetching ice queen: she’s the stoner in a house full of speedfreaks, and a nice contrast to the manic goings-on.

If you haven’t guessed by now, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia has decreed that 1944’s Hail the Conquering Hero is one of the greatest movies ever made—and if you disagree, I will fight you—with garrison belts! (Watch the movie, and you’ll get what I’m saying)

Can a movie be perfect? This one is. Preston Sturges rules!

One thing I noticed on my latest viewing of Hail the Conquering Hero, however, is that
the shrine Woodrow’s mother has to his late father is spookily similar to the shrine that Edward G. Robinson’s wife has to her “late” husband in Fritz Lang’s Scarlett Street, but is almost more creepy.
What a trip to lay on a kid!

Other Films Watched In These First Few Days Of April…

The Life & Death of Peter Sellers (2005; Stephen Hopkins) I got this from the library for the sole purpose of catching Stanley Tucci’s performance as Stanley Kubrick. Tucci’s good, but the role is little more than a cameo.
As Britt Ekland, Charlize Theron is energetic and vivacious (and stone foxilicious), but is given little to do other than look sexy, and then be abused.

Geoffrey Rush does his usual top-notch thesping in the lead role of the mercurial comedian, but is hampered by the script’s flaws.

That said, this movie is probably incomprehensible, confusing and dull to anyone not already familiar with Peter Sellers’ turbulent life.
The flick has interesting tension as it ping-pongs between arty experimentationalism and standard biopic snoozefest, but on the whole, it’s a lot of things happening with zero depth.

The best biopics, like Patton or Ed Wood, concentrate on the most relevant part of the subject’s life, those five to 10 years which truly define that person (and/or their life’s work).
Bad ones, like The Life & Death of Peter Sellers, try to cram in too much of the person’s life—and then pay short shrift by hardly concentrating on anything at all.

Le Corbeau (1942; Henri-Georges Clouzot) A classic watched again—because it’s so damn good!

Here’s what I wrote back in August 2008, when I first viewed Le Corbeau (French for “The Raven”):
A new favorite of mine, Le Corbeau is a mystery/noir that feels like a Jim Thompson novel in tone and plotting: The inhabitants of possibly the meanest and most petty town in the world are driven into a frenzy as all their secrets are revealed by an unknown letter-writer.
Meanwhile, the “hero” is a cynical abortionist!

Smooth and crisp camerawork effectively increases the mood of paranoia and suspicion, and the exquisitely crafted script keeps the twists (and red herrings) coming.

But make no mistake; Le Corbeau is an angry, acidic film – not surprising considering the circumstances of its production in German-occupied France. Because of that dark worldview, the film still holds up today.

World of Shortz—
I also screened the short Dick McBeef
Inspired by a “play” written by the Virginia Tech shooter, this short film/video is more of a sociology experiment with John Waters-esque over-the-top profanity-laced dialog, and is disturbing on multiple levels that have nothing to do with the film’s intrinsic value.

I should probably start keeping track of the flicks I don’t bother to finish watching, right?
Nah, fuck it.


  1. I have seen many films where folks, usually teen-agers, discover a threat but cannot convince the authorities of the danger and take matters into their own hands. By the film's end they have saved their entire town.

    Are there any movies where that goes horribly wrong? I can't think of one movie where misinformed protagonists get in over their head and maim and kill innocent people because of a misunderstanding.

    -Ed S

  2. Ed,
    The movie you're looking for is Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
    (reviewed here: You might also like The Cabin in the Woods--but we'll talk about it over dinner!