Winter Project: Richard Burton, Spy

richard burton

My choice for this winter’s project to educate myself on the films and story behind an actor whose filmography I know little about is Richard Burton. I am reading Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s novel Furious Love and watching a lot of Richard Burton films based on recommendations from my great blogging buddies.

I chose to group them by genre than by chronological order. Here’s the first pair to talk about.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Directed by Martin Ritt

Starring Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack

Won the BAFTA for Best British Film

Synopsis:

At the height of the Cold War, British spy Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) is nearly ready to retire, but first, he has to take on one last dangerous assignment. Going deep undercover, he poses as a drunken, disgraced former MI5 agent in East Germany to gain information about colleagues who have been captured. When he is thrown in jail and interrogated, Leamas finds himself caught in a sinister labyrinth of plots and counter-plots unlike anything in his long career.

Image result for the spy who came in from the cold images of burton

The picture starts slowly but gains rapid momentum after the love interest and job assignment is established. When Leamas decides to infiltrate behind enemy lines to retrieve information, the movie became interesting. What did I like best about the film? The plot twists, the trial, the overall setting, and cinematography. I predicted Claire Bloom‘s character Nan Perry would show up at the fortress. When Nan entered the trial room, I felt her bewilderment.  The subtle emotion from Leamas as he realizes her life is in his hands was moving. It’s the ending that got to me. I was surprised at how sad and right his final decision was.  It was the perfect way to end the movie. 4/5

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Directed by Brian G. Hutton

Screenplay by Alistair MacLean

Starring Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure 

Synopsis:

A crack team of Allied soldiers stages a daring rescue during World War II. A U.S. general is being held captive in an imposing castle fort, high in the Bavarian Alps. The plan calls for Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), Maj. Smith (Richard Burton) and other operatives to parachute down wearing Nazi disguises. They’ll penetrate the mountain outpost while undercover operatives aid them from within. But their mission changes when they discover that there’s a traitor in their midst.

There’s a lot to like and laugh about with this film. The best part is the commendable cinematography set in the winter landscape in Bavaria. I enjoyed Eastwood and Burton marching around the snow and the filming location in Werfen, Austria was breathtaking. I thought it unlikely that their secret plan was to invade Hohenwerfen Castle, and their special ops team march right into the hornet’s nest as the only soldiers in the entire town wearing white parkas. Can’t say I approved of the decision for all actors to speak English, as well as the other German officers, but then the low ranking soldiers speak German when they were on their smoke breaks and talking among themselves seemed like a mistake to me.

Burton and Eastwood steal a ride on top of a cable car as it ascends the castle. That was clever. No one notices them. This happens throughout the film. I thought Burton was miscast in the film. He looked dazed and puffy standing next to Clint Eastwood. Clint looked out of place with his angry stare. Burton lacked chemistry with his sex kitten partner in crime, Mary (Mary Ure) who lay down every time he barked at her to spread her legs. She had an interesting spot in the film as a female special forces soldier. She parachutes down from the plane. She shoots the gun and saves the dynamic duo with a rope strategically place for them to climb up a vertical wall. But her character lacked any personality. Too bad.

The escape scene was impractical and staged. There’s enough dynamite to blow up the Alps, so for those who like action and machine gun fights, there’s a lot here to like. I enjoyed the plot twist in the great chamber when Burton’s character changes it up and confuses the Gestapo and the German officers before Clint blows them away.  The film has a long running time of almost two and a half hours. I think director Hutton should have cut out a few scenes to keep it the narrative tighter. Despite the holes, I enjoyed the action overall. 3.5/5.

L13FC: 1960s British & U.S. Significant Films

Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. I heartily give thanks to Pete from Norfolk, England who agreed to co-host this month. After a discussion about significant films, not necessarily Oscar winners or box-draw favorites, we hashed out the details and chose three favorites from each side of the pond. What do our choices show about society at the time? Please comment and feel free to turn this into a discussion board. What films would you add? 

PETE FROM BEETLEY asserts: 

The 1960s were an important time in the development of British Cinema. From the home-made epics to the emergence of the kitchen-sink’ dramas reflecting real life.  The ‘comfortable’ class-ridden films that had gone before began to fade away, as film-makers sought to portray life as it could be understood by the people who paid for tickets. With most of the poverty behind them, and the absence of the rigours of war and rationing, cinema-goers began to expect more, and they got it.

In the era of ‘Swinging London’ and the culture of pop music and fashion that defined it, I became a teenager and a film fan, at one of the best times in history to have been both.

I recall three films that, showcased what was going on. Changing attitudes to class, approaching the horror film in a very different way, and a fresh approach to the espionage genre.

Peeping Tom (1960)

In the same year that ‘Psycho’ was released, the esteemed British film-maker Michael Powell released this film about a disturbed serial killer. Set in London’s seedy glamour and soft-porn industry, it followed a troubled young man unable to control his impulse to not only kill, but to film those kills as they happened. The audience followed the camera into the terrors of the victims and then watched as he not only reviewed his crimes but also played old reels about his own abuse as a youngster. It proved too much for the time. Critics and censors were appalled, and the audiences were shocked beyond belief. Powell’s career was ruined by the uproar, and the film took many years to gain a cult following of those who appreciated just how radical and powerful it was.

 

The Servant (1963)

Joseph Losey made many films with the leading man, Dirk Bogarde. In this film, he is cast against type, as a nasty, manipulative manservant, keen to take advantage of his aristocratic and superior young employer, played to perfection by a young James Fox. To achieve his goal, he introduces an attractive young woman into the house, to act as a maid. He claims she is his sister, allowing his young master to believe he can take advantage of her. Once hooked on sex with the girl, (a suitably alluring Sarah Miles) the upper-class man has his life slowly dismantled by the scheming pair, as they destroy his relationships, and make him increasingly dependent on them both. With wonderful location filming in London, tight direction by Losey, and a powerful script, this film reflected changes in class attitudes driven by 1960s society. Foretelling the end of so much privilege by circumstance.

The Ipcress File (1965)

The first of the ‘Harry Palmer’ spy films saw Michael Caine emerge as a new kind of secret agent. Not an upper-class university educated gentlemen, or aristocratic fop, and not resident in the glamorous fake world of James Bond. This was the everyday slog of spies in the Cold War. They still have to overcome class prejudice from their superiors, but they are playing a new kind of game, one where winning is the only acceptable outcome. Ex-military, unimpressed, and wearily flirtatious, Harry was the perfect role for Caine, who ran with it to the sequels too. Although the film builds to a climax, it excels in the small details of Harry’s everyday life, and his interaction with his colleagues. When we went to watch this film, it was undeniable that things were changing in Britain, and we now had a new kind of hero.

CINDY’S CHOICES

Only three? Should I choose one from the start of the decade like Spartacus (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick for an undeniable well-crafted epic? What about the film that gave the voice to the counterculture in 1969, Easy Rider? Which film reflected the terror and paranoia of the Cold War best? Dr. Strangeglove? Should I choose a film that typifies vibrant NYC and its spokesperson, the endearing Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I adore West Side Story. It is probably my favorite film of all time. I chose not to mention it here today. God that was hard!

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

The 1960s was about finding one’s inner strength. It was about non-conformity. Paul Newman as Luke Jackson does this best and becomes a martyr in the eyes of his Florida inmates. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, what a cast and outstanding performances by Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon, and Jo Van Fleet. Just look at that trailer to remind you. The film is art.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In answer to my question about the Cold War, The Manchurian Candidate hit a nerve. It raised fears that top-secret missions existed and fanned the flames of fear and paranoia. Angela Lansbury as Eleanor Shaw was frightening while Frank Sinatra gave one of the best performances of his career.

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock pushed the envelope with his most famous film. He filmed Janet Leigh in her bra and slip. The central character was female; she had a steamy affair and embezzled from the bank. The toilet flushed for the first time in film. A trifecta of taboos inferred: transvestitism, incest, and necrophilia. Who can forget Bernard Herrmann’s score with violins that pierce the air like a knife? Or Hitchcock’s filming of angles, the play with light and dark, and the awesome editing montage during the shower scene? The exterior and interior shots of the house? Those top shots of the stairs? Doesn’t everyone cringe at one of the best final shots in film history–the stare of Norman Bates played by Anthony Perkins? Well done, Janet Leigh, for starring in two out of three of significant films from the 1960s.

Your turn!

Thank you, Pete! Don’t forget to visit Pete’s blog soon. You can find him in Beetley HERE.

Winter Project: The Final Five of Steve McQueen

5114-b9i2il-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Thanks to everyone for joining me while I explored the filmography of actor Steve McQueen. The 60s and 70s movie icon had a slew of great films to his credit. Since both parents had died at age fifty, with a sardonic sense of humor, he was sure he wouldn’t pass the half-century mark. His prediction came true. He died at 50 from Mesothelioma on November 7, 1980. Breathing the asbestos filaments located in several workplaces and in his racing helmets and suits, the industrial disease raced throughout his body in the final months of his life. He never thought he’d live long. That helped explain his drive and insatiable hunger for life. He negotiated and made millions per film including a percentage of the gross proceeds. He had full control of the directors, actors, and say of his films. Most know he was stubborn and egotistical, but his generosity and kindness extended in equal measure to his two children who loved him unconditionally and to friends with whom he had established long relationships.

cincinnati_kid_ver2_xlg

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) After Papillon, this would be runner up as my favorite Steve McQueen film.  Edward G. Robinson is Laney “The Man” who teaches “The Kid”(McQueen) a few lessons about life. In the game of 5 Card Stud, what are the odds two men are dealt a Straight Flush vs. a Full House? Read about THE LAST HAND here. Add Ann Margaret as the sexy temptress and Tuesday Weld as the good girl and stir in Karl Malden as Shooter, the puppet and chump into the mix. The music, the tension, and Steve convincing as “The Kid”, made it a thoroughly enjoyable film.  4.5/5

7d4d31a6a95340025fb1b6291c919eb4

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen are sizzling hot (It’s rated PG) in this billionaire bank caper. The split screen 60s technique, the dune buggy ride on the beach, the fashions, and that famous chess game scene full of sexual innuendos–it’s the stuff that made an Austin Powers parody possible.  It was the first time McQueen broke away from his poor anti-hero to represent the high-class anti-hero. Alone on his own plateau, this film helped cement McQueen as an icon of alpha male coolness. 4/5

the_getaway_1972

The Getaway (1972). This Sam Peckinpah film flows with interesting cinematography like close-ups, the loud machines grinding in the prison interior, the chase scenes, and the interior shot of a car with BBQ ribs, food fight. While Ali McGraw‘s performance left me cold, Sally Struthers and Slim Pickens were the best characters of the movie. 4/5

towering_inferno

The Towering Inferno (1974). It was the highest-grossing disaster movies of the seventies. They came to see the cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, Rober Wagner, Jennifer Jones, and Susan Blakely. The star power, the escape plans, the collapse of the skyscraper was engaging enough, but it can’t compete with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the winner of the best disaster film of the decade. It took Steve fourteen years to beat out his blonde eyed rival, Paul Newman, for top-bill, but McQueen solved the problem of leading man by having his name listed first while Paul’s would be set slightly higher.  3/5

2d2dcf9500000578-0-image-m-97_1444254765127

Papillon (1973). Franklin J. Schaffner was known as an innovative television director/producer in the early years of T.V. by employing film techniques within the new medium of television. He was known in the film industry for popular films like Planet of the Apes (1968), and for Patton (1970). Schaffner’s best contribution and my top prison film is the one and only classic, Papillon (1973). Listen to the Oscar-nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith. Lovely.  

Almost all great films begin with great novels. Papillon (1969) was written as an autobiographical account by Henri Charrière. In 1931, he was sentenced in Paris for a crime he did not commit and exiled to a penal colony in French Guiana. Over the course of many years, Papillon, named for the butterfly tattooed on his chest, attempted to escape. Eventually, he was sent to the inescapable Devil’s Island surrounded by hungry piranhas, sharks, and crocodiles.  Henri Charrière’s story is an audacious human account demonstrating what conviction and willpower can do. His book became an instant success.

Steve McQueen gives his best performance of his career as Henri. His relationship with the inmate, Dega, played by Dustin Hoffman, is dynamic and heartfelt. It’s the cinematography that wows me. The use of black and white or the lack of sound show the solitary confinement of Papillon’s situation perfectly. When Papillon hallucinates, his dreams are horrific and the camera angles portray a true nightmare.

I find it amazing this film was not nominated for anything at the Oscars in 1974 except for Best Score which did not win. What were the contenders that year? The StingSerpico, and The Exorcist.  Yes, all great films, but, I still think Papillon is just as good. Certainly, Hoffman and McQueen deserved recognition for their roles. What an underrated film.5.5

“Blame is for God and small children.” – Dega

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑