The Three Musketeers (1973)

threemusk6In the beginning, this Dumas adaptation was to be the next zany live-action vehicle for the Beatles following the success of A Hard Day’s Night and Help. In fact, they even were ready to work with the same director. Well, Richard Lester stayed and the Beatles were disbanded for several years before this film even got going. In this incarnation, it was set to be a three-hour star-studded epic. Instead, it was thought better of, and this became the first installment with a second film coming out a year later.

Thus, The Three Musketeers has impressive star power, but the direction of Lester also supplies action with a constant barrage of gags for good measure. To top it off the film actually does follow the general story arc of the novel, but invigorates it was bits and pieces of humor that lighten up the tone. So perhaps it’s a light and fluffy piece of entertainment, but it’s still easy to enjoy what Lester’s been able to do here. It’s a great deal of fun.

threemusk4Our audacious d’Artagnon is a strapping Michael York, who has picked up plenty of swashbuckling skills from his father. So he heads out on his own to seek out adventure and uphold his family honor. In a matter of minutes he already a succession of duels lined up, and of course who are they with? The Three Musketeers: Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay), and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain). He sides with his new comrades against the corrupt Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston), and attempt to help the Queen (Geraldine Chaplin) get out of a tight jam.

What follows is a rambunctious array of treachery, romance, and royalty that involves Anne’s lover the Duke of Buckingham, a sly chambermaid (Faye Dunaway), the King, and of course the Cardinal. Peace stands in the balance not to mention the Queen’s self-respect, and so d’Artagnon and the boys do the honorable thing and bail her out. I said before that this film has it’s fair share of sword fights which are fun in themselves, but the laughs really accent the story nicely.

threemusk5The plot is there and we can appreciate the work of Alexandre Dumas, but it is not necessarily the focal point. Charlton Heston gives a seemingly uncharacteristic turn as Cardinal Richelieu, the corrupted man of the cloth, who cares more about politics and social unrest than he does about his faith. He’s no Moses or Ben-Hur for that matter. Furthermore, we are treated to a little tooth and nail type action courtesy of Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. It turns out to be yet another rewarding scene because these two ladies were two of the defining icons of the 1970s, and here we get to see them face off.

I’m already revving up for part two because I wouldn’t mind returning to these characters. There’s a lot of good old-fashioned fun to be had here.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: Chinatown (1974)

chinatown1Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown

The more you watch movies like Chinatown, the more you realize how much you’re still learning. I saw it the first time and I naively thought I knew everything about it. After all, it seemed fairly cut and dry. But the beauty of this film is a labyrinth-like story that can still keep me engaged after multiple viewings. There are things that I missed, things that I have to piece together once more, and more often than not details I simply forgot. Robert Towne’s script has an intricacy to its constantly spiraling mystery plot that remains powerful and Roman Polanski — with cameo included — directs the film with a sure hand as well as a cynically bitter ending worthy of his work. At that point, he was returning to the same city where a few years prior his wife Sharon Tate had been brutally murdered and that certainly had to still be heavy on his mind.

Throughout, Chinatown has elegant visuals of a desert dry Los Angeles circa 1930s, and it is aided by a smooth Jerry Goldsmith score made for such a period crime film as this. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), is the smooth-talking, smart-aleck P.I. with a penchant for trouble, but that goes with the business. In the tradition of all his heirs like Spade and Marlowe, the whole story is told from his point of view and we get the details at the same pace as him. That means a lot of the time we are just as confused as him, trying to pick up all the pieces.

Aside from Nicholson, Faye Dunaway’s performance is an interesting reworking of the archetypal femme fatale, because she has a different side to her. Also, John Huston’s performance is wonderfully nefarious, because he plays Noah Cross with a top layer of geniality that is ultimately undermined by his base nature. It’s wonderfully wicked.

In the story’s first few moments of being in his office, we begin to learn a little about the means Gittes uses to appease his clients. Then, his newest client walks through the door, a Mrs. Mulwray, who wishes for him to tail her husband. And so he does, just like that, and he’s pretty good at it too. Hollis Mulwray (an anagram for Mullholland) happens to be an integral part of the L.A. Department of Water and Power as the chief engineer. From what Gittes sees, the bespectacled Mulwray seems to have his scruples, but he also has a secret girl, who the P.I. is able to snap some incriminating photos of.

chinatown2Back at the office, another woman shows up, a Mrs. Mulwray, but this time the real one. She wants to slam J.J. with a lawsuit, but he realizes he got framed, and in the end, she quickly drops her case. Pretty soon Gittes former colleague Lt. Escobar digs up Mulwray’s body and the cause of death is the height of irony. He drowned during a drought, a cruel demise, and his body is joined by that of a drunk, who also was wandering around the local reservoir. It’s time for our nosy P.I. to do a little more snooping, but he is scared off by two security guards from Water and Power who give him a deadly nose job.

None worse for wear aside from a small cast, J.J. knows the department is diverting water. It’s more than a little runoff like they contend. He gets lunch with Noah Cross (The great John Huston), who is the father of Mrs. Mulwray and the former business partner of the deceased. Like J.J., he’s curious about finding the mysterious girl, and he sweetens the pot for the P.I.

A bit of detective work takes Gittes to the hall of records and then a vast acreage of orange groves where he is mistaken for a member of the Department of Water and Power. They aren’t too happy to see him, but Mrs. Mulwray is able to bail him out. They check up on an assisted living home and tie it into the whole conspiracy. Someone is buying up land under the names of the unknowing residents.

chinatown3But as it turns out, Mrs. Mulwray is hiding a major secret of her own that she’s been keeping. Another girl is murdered and since he’s found at the crime scene, Gittes is in a tight spot with a police and so he wants to get thing straightened out. But he doesn’t quite understand what he’s gotten himself caught up in. At the last minute, he decides to take the heroes path, but it’s to no avail. The good is snuffed out, the bad walk away free, and corruption still runs the streets of L.A. There’s not much the cops can do about it either.

chinatown4So many people remember the films final words which epitomize this place of confusion, corruption, and helplessness. The final words of Jake are just as illuminating, however, because he repeats the words he spoke to Mrs. Mulwray earlier when she asked what he did when he worked a beat in Chinatown, “As little as possible.” It’s so pessimistic and yet it’s the truth that everybody knows. He must resign himself to doing nothing because there is no way he can win, no way to overcome the forces that be. It’s a haunting conclusion, but ultimately the most powerful one we could hope for.

Earlier I alluded to the fact that every time I watch this film I pick on things that I missed before. For instance, within Robert Towne’s script are some interesting instances of foreshadowing. The first comes in the form of a pun uttered by the Chinese gardener who is constantly muttering, “It’s bad for the glass/grass.” Then, while they are in the car Mrs. Mulwray dejectedly drops her head on the steering wheel and it lets out a short honk. This acts as an important portent to the end of the film along with the blemish in her left eye. If you have not seen the film yet, this might sound very cryptic, but if you keep your eyes open these little details are rewarding. Chinatown is a fascinating place to return to again and again after all.

5/5 Stars

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Three_Days_of_the_Condor_posterIn the wake of Watergate, the 1970s saw the advent of many political thrillers with arguably the granddaddy of them all being All The President’s Men. Three Days of the Condor is another film that finds Robert Redford trying to get to the bottom of a web involving politics and intrigue. However, this film reminds me a great deal of The Parallax View which came out a couple years earlier. Similarly, this film has probably its most startling moments during its opening sequence and slowly unwinds after that into a thriller full of paranoia and uncertainty.

Sidney Pollack’s film kicks into high gear abruptly as all “Condor’s” colleagues at a CIA-backed literature research post are gunned down by unknown professional hit men. Joe Turner (Robert Redford) was literally out to lunch picking up sandwich orders, and he returns to find his colleagues dead. From that point on begins his life of constant fear, because he cannot know who is with him and who is against him. He can trust no one.

While taking a moments respite, Turner notices a patron named Kathy Hale who is about to meet her boyfriend on the slopes, and he follows her and holds her hostage so he can have a place to stay. It’s supposed to be a matter of chance, but I mean, it is Faye Dunaway so it cannot be that random right? No matter, she’s initially deathly afraid of him, and he does not give her any relief holding her at gunpoint and tying her up. They’re both afraid.

But whether it’s some form of Stockholm syndrome or the fact that she actually believes his predicament, Kathy agrees to help him, and they have the obligatory lovemaking session inter-cut with the stark pictures on her wall.

What happens after this is sometimes difficult to track with as Redford’s character begins his search for a government agent named Higgins, avoiding hit men, while trying to understand who is even after him. Why do they want him? He’s just a lowly bookworm with one cockamamie theory about the odd languages a certain thriller has been translated in.

This one idea has got him caught up in something much bigger than he can ever know involving a hired mercenary named Joubert, CIA Deputy of Operations Leonard Atwood, and oil! That’s what it was all about. That’s why 7 people died and Turner can do barely anything about it. After all, who will print his story? Who will believe him? That’s is the country and the era he lives in after all.

Redford gives an admirable performance, and I personally prefer him to Warren Beatty any day. Dunaway walked a weird line between being demure and submissive, while also dishing out some sass every once and a while. It made her character feel uneven in a sense and she came to like Turner rather abruptly. Then again it was Robert Redford.

All in all, this film’s plotting seems utterly ludicrous to me now, and it becomes more and more ambiguous by the end. It feels hardly like a conclusion at all, much like the Parallax View. And much like the other film I can understand how this story could really strike a cord, especially after Watergate, when so much governmental corruption seemed possible. The sky was the limit and so Three Days of the Condor was perhaps not as far-fetched as it initially appeared. That’s a scary thought indeed.

3.5/5 Stars

Little Big Man (1970)

9a376-little_big_manAlthough the film certainly had so good parts for some reason it did not quite jell with me. Focusing on the positive first, this was a revisionist western that tried to depict an alternative picture of the American west from the eyes of Native Americans. Although not perfect it was trying. Dustin Hoffman also gave an impressive performance that found him drifting between the worlds of “the White man” and “the Indians.”

Here is where I get into the main problem that I had with the film. Most of it had to do with age and casting. It was brave and somewhat strange that Dustin Hoffman portrayed his character from his teen years up until he was over a century old. For the most part Hoffman pulled it off. I also was kind of uncomfortable with his sister Caroline who looked like she was 30 even though she was only supposed to be a child. Then, you have Faye Dunaway. That had to be the strangest thing in the film. Although younger in real life, she was Dustin Hoffman’s adopted mother for a time and she played it up.

In some ways this film reminded me a bit of The Butler because we have a main character who grows old in front of us and he ultimately has a role in many diverse bits of history. Like that film, Little Big Man is quite interesting and at times entertaining, but the implausibility of the plot can get to you.

In defense of this film, I really did not know what I was getting myself into and so it surprised me with its mix of violent drama and a sprinkling of comedy. I would have liked to have seen more of Faye Dunaway and Martin Balsam, but it is what it is. Chief Dan George was the breakout character for sure. He was very enjoyable to listen to as he mentored Little Big Man.

3.5/5 Stars

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

b1a0c-bonnie_and_clydeStarring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, with director Arthur Penn, the film chronicles the crime life of a group of notorious gangsters during the 1930s. Clyde Barrow (Beatty), a small time thief meets the beautiful young girl Bonnie Parker (Dunaway) and together they begin robbing banks. Soon they enlist the help of a dim-witted mechanic C.W., and then Clyde’s brother joins the fray bringing along his wife. They have a string of successes and they become infamous nationwide. Soon they begin to bicker among themselves and the police start to buckle down. In a shootout Buck is shot dead and Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. just barely escape. However, their actions eventually do catch up with them and thus ends the story of these two figures depicted as anti-heroes. This film is significant because it was influenced by the French New Wave but it in turn ushered in a new era of American film . It has a unique combination of comedy, romance, violence, and of course banjo music.

5/5 Stars

Chinatown (1974)

89858-chinatownposter1Starring Jack Nicholson with Faye Dunaway and John Huston, this skillfully written neo-noir is a nod to the work of Chandler and Hammet. J.J. “Jake” Gittes is a P.I. in the L.A. area during the 30s who specializes in marital cases. When a woman calling herself Mrs. Mulwray asks Gittes to watch her supposedly cheating husband, he enters something he does not understand. Soon he meets the real Mrs. Mulwray (Dunaway), learns Mr. Mulwray is dead, and discovers Mrs. Mulwray’s father is the powerful water tycoon Noah Cross (Huston). As he tries to uncover the truth behind some odd events, Gittes meets with opposition, more confusion, and eventually some answers. The mystery is twofold and he begins to understand the plot over the L.A. water, however he does not figure out the secret kept by Mrs. Mulwray right away. When he finally does find out he is too late and tragedy ultimately comes in Chinatown. This film was enjoyable in the buildup and the ending was okay if not tragic. However, it did seem that the mystery surrounding the water was predictable.

4.5/5 Stars

Network (1976)

fb40a-networkmovieStarring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall, this film satirizes the television industry. Howard Beale (Finch) is being fired as a news anchor for the struggling UBS network. On one of his final days on air he begins to rave madly and his industry friend Max (Holden) does not cut him short. At first there is uproar but then a shrewd business man (Duvall) decides to use Beal to boost ratings with the backing of one of the network staff (Dunaway). With her great ambition she moves up and takes Max’s place while becoming romantically involved with him. For a time the network thrives off the rants of Beale. However, he begins to change his tune and ratings begin to plummet. With everything in a shambles, they can him literally. This is a biting satire of television with intense performances and some moments that leave you pondering who the real nutcases are.

4/5 Stars