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: Clint Eastwood as the Isolated Hero

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me, and we approach a topic of the film industry and talk to visitors all day on the thirteenth of the month. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

The isolated hero is a loner who prefers his own company preferably in nature or isolated position. They are pulled into society to attend to the conflict at hand and by the story’s conclusion, they return to isolation, or at its extreme state, the coffin.

How many movies has Clint starred or directed protagonists that fit this description?

It would be easier to extract the rare ones that did not feature the isolated hero.

Fellow film blogger JOHN RIEBER and I had a conversation a while ago about Eastwood, and I wanted to include his summary of Eastwood’s career:

Clint Eastwood was an Anti-hero. It began with his “Man With No Name” trilogy –  “A Fistful Of Dollars”, “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”.  The ultimate “Anti-Hero” character of all was his “Dirty Harry” Callahan – 1971.  Another no-name stranger metes out justice as well in 1973’s “High Plains Drifter”.
Flash forward twenty years to 1993’s “In The Line Of Fire” and Eastwood is now on the side of law and order, risking his life to save the President.  “Space Cowboys” in 2000, older, ex-test pilots are sent into space to repair an old Russian satellite.“Gran Torino” in 2008 saw him as a bitter old man who takes it upon himself to tackle crime in his neighborhood and dies a martyr. “American Sniper” in 2014 told the story of an American Hero, again dying a martyr’s death.  In 2016, “Sully” was a true story of heroic action.

As director, Eastwood continues his exploration of the hero with his NEXT FILM: THE 1517 to PARIS.

 

However you want to classify Clint Eastwood as an actor or director, one aspect in all his films are the ISOLATED SETTINGS. Most key scenes and many of his stories occur around isolated positions, whether the job demanded it such as: a radio booth, a police car, the side of a hill, the boxing ring, the sniper’s corner, the cockpit, the convertible, the back of a horse, the front porch, a Japanese cave, or the bathtub. I find whenever I watch an Eastwood film, I am drawn to the isolated setting and it adds in my mind of him as the isolated hero.

Eastwood films are persuasive. He is out to showcase males and females who are strong, individualistic, dedicated, and atypical. His love-affair with the everyday hero inspires us to be true to oneself and to live life with integrity. It’s an important quality he admires, and it’s a virtue in most all his characters. He matches up unlikely friendships in unlikely conflicts. Is there a more universal human condition than how the individual survives within the community? I think Eastwood is one of the more interesting icons to come out of Hollywood. He’s not an icon. He’s Super-Icon.

How do you see Clint Eastwood’s idea of the hero? What do you think about the isolated setting as a way of creating characters and establishing isolation? Do you prefer him in front or behind the camera?  If you had room to pack only one Clint Eastwood film, which one could you see over and over? Ahh, now which film is his BEST film? 

I encourage you to comment to all who have visited. That’s the fun of discussion.

The Beguiled ’71 vs The Beguiled ’17

I recommend reading Keith’s thoughts about the 2017 remake found here:

REVIEW: “The Beguiled”

The 1971 Version

Three years into the Civil War, handsome Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is discovered and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. At first, he is delighted to be surrounded by the cloistered beauty of varying ages. An African American slave, Hallie,  (blues singer Mae Mercer) who remains on the estate and assists headmistress Martha (Geraldine Page, Hondo, Sweet Bird of Youth), try to keep order among the girls who are drawn to their new guest. The girls learn French, garden, knit and embroider, and take the post to look out for Union soldiers while getting updates from Southern soldiers as they pass by the imposing wrought-iron gate that keeps the girls in like a prison.

The 1971 version was produced and directed Don Siegel (Eastwood and he worked together in five films) was based on the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The 1971 version focused on sexual taboos and sexual repression created by isolation of the war. The male is the victim and Eastwood falls into the den of the black widow and her spiders. The theme of castration is outwardly expressed.

The 2017 Version 

In this version, headmistress Martha is played by the wispy, haunted, out-of-breath Nicole Kidman.  Colin Firth is Corporal John McBurney. Kirsten Dunst is the plump, aging spinster who wants to escape her confining post as the teacher at the school and hopes John will save her.

The weakness of one version was the strength of the other so that trying to decide which was better was difficult. Sofia Coppola‘s outstanding effort was her directorship. Applauds all around for capturing the humid, suffocating setting of trees and brush and cicadas and for creating an authentic historical climate of 1863 even though she filmed it at Lousiana’s Madewood Plantation while the location was said to be in Virginia.  Fine, I’ll give that to her because the location made for an ideal stage. Sofia does well with costumes in her films and uses them to accentuate the personalities of her characters. In this case, her female cast wears white and it is appropriate as boarding school garb and innocence even though they are all a bit too starched and brand new for a timeworn, ragged estate three years into the war. The ending shot was outstanding. It was a daguerreotype, the outcome frozen and ghostly. White seemed to be a motif Coppola played with throughout the 90 minutes.

The 2017 film felt like a lot of short stories I’ve read over the years and loved. The ghost stories of George Eliot, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Virginia Woolf come to mind. Sin is insinuated rather than fleshed out and laid on the table. (sorry) You’d get more of that from the 1971 version. While I appreciated the camera angles from Eastwood’s perspective and the manual pull in and out of the lens from Dan Spiegel, the occasional harpsichord felt like you were in a Vincent Price film. Not that that’s bad, just dated. However, the acting was much better in the 1971 version especially the “hussy” Carol played by Jo Ann Harris.

The biggest contrast between both versions was the matchup between Miss Martha the headmistress and Corporal McBurney. The 1971 version is better because of Geraldine Page. The motivating events propelled her performance to a higher, memorable plateau while validating the decisions of the others. I felt Sofia’s screenplay softened and blurred the characters. Since this is a film about relationships, Coppola’s characters paled by comparison. If you took Sophia’s directing and inserted the 1971 cast into her Southern setting, you’d have an outstanding film. As it is, I’d rate the 2017 version as a 3.5 and the 1971 version a 4. 

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