Tag Archives: classic movie

The Great Escape – Review

18 Sep

At this point in time, I can honestly say that most people have heard of or can identify The Great Escape in some way. This 1963 World War II epic adventure film wasn’t received by critics well at all. They all said that the film lacked any kinds of artistic credit or skill, but what they failed to realize is that The Great Escape is just pure entertainment. In the 52 years since its release, the film has garnered classic status, and rightfully so. This film is an American achievement of pure fun and entertainment, while also offering plenty of suspense, character, and story telling.

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In 1943, after repeated escape attempts from British and American POWs, Nazi Germany decides to build a new camp, Stalag Luft III, which is designed to keep the most disruptive and tricky prisoners in one spot. This might’ve seemed like a good idea on paper, but it also brings all of the brilliant minds together. Some of these minds include Americans Robert Hendley (James Garner) and Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen). When British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is admitted into the camp, a brilliant and complicated plan to escape involving multiple systems of tunnels is devised. It’s all a difficult procedure, especially keeping it hidden from the guards, but the plan soon becomes deadly when the escapees have to travel through Germany and Paris to get home.

The first time I saw this movie I was probably 11 or 12, so the grandiosity of the whole production wasn’t fully appreciated. I enjoyed the movie, but now I can truly understand it as something special. What happens when a real life story as incredible as this is turned into a movie with one of the greatest casts ever assembled to act in a story that is impeccably written? Well, you get a movie that has earned its firm and well respected spot in film history. There’s a lot of movies that kind of baffle me why they are loved so much by so many, but The Great Escape is not one of those movies. Throughout the entirety of its nearly 3 hour run time, I was completely involved and entertained.

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As I said earlier, the cast of The Great Escape is one of the best casts you or me or anyone is ever going to see. Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough are always the first mentioned, but the list doesn’t stop there. There’s also James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson in one of his more under appreciated roles. My personal favorite performances are McQueen’s (because of his boyish excitement towards everything happening), Donald Pleasence’s quiet and ultimately tragic role, and Charles Bronson for showing some weakness even though he’s best known for playing tough guys. While the cast is fantastic, none of this would matter if it didn’t have a screenplay to back it up.

James Clavell and W.R. Burnett took Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name and did something truly remarkable with it. This is a story of American and British POWs breaking out of a Nazi prison camp where the outcome is grim for a lot of them. Even with this heavy subject matter, this is a very light hearted adventure. There’s plenty of moments of humor and a lot of the banter between characters is very funny. Even Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the film isn’t all that intense. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any scenes that really hits where it hurts. In fact, much of the second half of the movie loses the sense of humor for a more suspenseful and intense tone. This might have made the movie feel uneven in any other circumstances, but it works just fine here.

Simply put, The Great Escape is an achievement of American film making, and proof that an epic war film can still be a lot of fun. Even though the film boasts a three hour run time, I dare anyone to get bored watching this movie. There’s a lot of action, adventure, suspense, and humor mixed in a screenplay filled with memorable scenes played by great actors. I don’t have much more to say about this movie other than this is one of the most fun and well constructed movie you may ever see, and it would be a crime to miss out.

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12 Angry Men – Review

2 Feb

When you’re watching a movie, it’s pretty fair to expect a lot of different things to happen in the course of the running time, and for the events to play out in a number of different places. Well what if I were to tell you that one of the most widely praised films ever made, 12 Angry Men, takes place in one room and you never even know the names of the characters. Sounds like it would be hard to really get sucked into a movie like that, but if it weren’t possible, would this be said to be one of the objectively greatest films ever to be made?

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On the hottest day of the year, 12 New York City jurors are left with the task of deciding the fate of an 18 year old boy who allegedly stabbed his father to death. At first, the case seems pretty open and close and most of the jury, who want to get out of there as soon as possible, seem convinced that he is guilty. All but Juror #8 (Henry Fonda). While he doesn’t know for sure if the boy is guilty or innocent, he doesn’t believe that there shouldn’t be a discussion and that some of the evidence isn’t as concrete as everyone believes. As the afternoon progresses, and the discussions get more personal and heated, it becomes clear that this boy’s life is in the hands of flawed human beings who may let their prejudices take precedence over their judgement.

The relationship between the actor and the screenplay are very tight and important to strengthen. The actors really depend on the screenplay to be well made and structured in order to give a believable performance, and vice versa for the screenplay. In my opinion, never has this relationship been more important to a movie’s success. Like I said before, save for a few brief scenes, this movie takes place all in one room with the main driving force of the story being the dialogue. There is no flashback to the murder or any other action to speak of. What really makes this work is the writing by Reginald Rose and the acting. Henry Fonda, Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb give especially good performances in roles that may seem a bit ahead of their time.

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Seeing that there are 12 men in the room, and since they are the only important characters in the film, it is important that nothing is shirked when it comes to sculpting their characters. Luckily, each and every one is molded perfectly and uniquely. Even though we just meet these people in the beginning of the movie where they’ve already lived their lives up until this point, I got the sense that I knew exactly who each man was. Again, there’s no flashbacks or elaborate stories explaining who they are. We learn about them gradually as the film goes on through small side conversations and their opinions on the case, especially concerning the boy’s innocence.

12 Angry Men is a thematic powerhouse, and is one that I could really discuss for hours on end. Everything from the flaws in the judicial system, social class, and prejudice are explored over the course of the movie. What’s also smart is that there isn’t a definite answer the questions and themes that this movie is bringing up. It wants the viewer to watch and analyze it for themselves, and then their opinions can be made. It doesn’t waste time spoon feeding you.

12 Angry Men truly is a remarkable movie. One thing I didn’t mention before is how the movie starts out in wide angle shots with plenty of room, and as it goes on, the shots get closer and more claustrophobic. Even the little details like that are important to the movie. The characters, acting, and writing are the true successes to this film and it has some pretty heavy questions that will make you think about yourself and your own beliefs. This film is a classic, and even if old movies aren’t your style, you should watch and be thrilled by 12 Angry Men.