Lost Horizon (1937)

LostHorizonPosterCertainly this is not the most well known or the best film of Capra. It is, in fact, quite different from a lot of his filmography. That is not to say that it is not an enjoyable film about a man who finds a little piece of Utopia called Shangri-La. Ronald Colman was certainly a likable fellow in the lead role and Jane Wyatt was pleasant during the time she was on screen.

What I really enjoyed in this film was the quibbling and bickering of Thomas Mitchell and Edward Everett Horton’s characters. These are two tremendous character actors who represent all that was great about the stock characters of Hollywood’s Golden Age. They are so recognizable and though not the stars they seemingly steal their scenes.

Because some of this film was lost, parts were understandably choppy since there was no visual aside from photos to go with the dialogue during certain moments. Despite this, the film is an enjoyable, albeit dated, 1930s fantasy.

4/5 Stars

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

911a0-day_the_earth_stood_still_1951Starring Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie with direction by Robert Wise, this sci-fi film begins with the landing of a mysterious alien space craft in Washington D. C. At first nothing seems to happen and the whole country is tense. Then an extra-terrestrial named Klaatu gets off followed by his giant cohort Gort. He comes in peace but he is wounded by a frightened gun. From that point he is taken to a hospital but his only mission is to warn the world that they must change their ways. 

Klaatu gets away from the hospital and he takes up the identity of one Carpenter in order to integrate himself so he can give the people his message. He ends up befriending a widowed lady and her small boy with his quiet kindness.  

His goal is still to deliver a message to the leaders of the world and the man he wants to speak to is Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe). When he finally is able to talk, he warns against the use of atomic power, because other planets have become apprehensive and will surely neutralize the earth if they do not stop.

He is followed by Bobby and Klaatu finally reveals his true identity to Helen. Soon he shuts down all the non-essential power across the country, and when the chaos dies down, the manhunt for the culprit intensifies.

In his final entreaty before leaving earth Klaatu pleads with the people:

“It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rest on you.”

So ends a film that was not just another sci-fi flying saucer movie of the 1950s. It was a representation of the atomic age and an indictment of the Cold War sentiment at the time. Klaatu in many ways becomes a Christ-like figure who calls for peace, takes the name “Carpenter,” and even rises from the dead. In many ways he saved humanity too, on the day the earth stood still.

4/5 Stars

Gunga Din (1939)

ac5f5-gungadinStarring Cary Grant, Victor MClaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. with Sam Jaffe in the title role and director George Stevens, the film follows three men in Her Majesties’ Forces. They soon have a run in with a violent cult but they narrowly come out in one piece. However, after that things quiet down and one of the three plans to leave the service so he can get married. Another follows the water boy Din and happens upon a golden temple. Then the cult takes him prisoner while Din flees to get help. His tow buddies come alone only to be captured as well. After putting up a fight they watch in horror as their troops start to fall in the same trap. The wounded Din sounds the alarm just in time, allowing the forces to defend themselves and then lead an offensive attack. Miraculously the three friends come out alive and Din dies a hero. This film is a great combination of action and humor. As Kipling would say, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

4.5/5 Stars

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – Film-Noir

* May contain spoilers
Directed by John Huston and starring an ensemble cast headed by Sam Jaffe and Sterling Hayden, this was the first great noir heist film. Jaffe has just recently been released from prison and he has contrived an intricate jewel robbery. He teams with a multi-talented safe cracker, a small time thug with dreams of owning a farm, and an invalid driver. The whole operation is to be backed by an attorney who is in a difficult situation. Initially the procedure begins well enough but soon things go haywire with alarms, misfired guns, and then police. Now Jaffe is wanted again, Hayden is slowly dying, a bookie loses his nerve, and the attorney tries to pull a fast one. The perfect conception turns out to be far from it in the end. This film reminded me strikingly of The Killing which I saw earlier. Both are heist films starring Hayden and they end disastrously. For her part Marilyn Monroe steals the screen in her first prominent role which was a foretaste of what was to come.

4/5 Stars