actors, culture, directors, Film Spotlight, History in Films, In My Opinion, movies, scores

Rooster Cogburn vs. Two Mules for Sister Sara

What’s interesting about Rooster Cogburn (1975) and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)? Not the plot or even the acting. These are four legends playing their iconic selves transcending any conceived character on a script. Through the lens of hindsight, we can see similarities beyond the obvious–these films are more than two westerns depending upon the chemistry between a man and a woman. The female in each role is as smart and strong as the male. I suspect your decision whether which film is better has more to do with the star’s ability to claim your emotions than the films themselves. Let’s see.

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The Duke and queenly Katharine Hepburn

Rooster Cogburn and the Lady

John Wayne plays U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in a reprisal role of the character that garnered him an Oscar from the film True Grit (1969).  In Rooster Cogburn, he attempts to bring down a band of outlaws who have stolen a pallet of nitroglycerin and murdered the father of Eula Goodnight, a determined Christian spinster who becomes his accomplice for justice.The bad guys, Hawk (Richard Jordan) and Breed (Anthony Zerbe), didn’t stand a chance against these two old grizzly bears.  Filmed in Oregon, the gorgeous scenery and light-hearted banter between the two is why most find it a charming western. Born in 1907, both Hepburn and Wayne spent their lives surviving the wilds of Hollywood, and they both put a large stamp on it. By 1975, they arrived on-screen for the first time together as symbols of manhood and womanhood, each a strong model for their gender.

John Wayne had a sweet center inside that rock hard personality when he solved all of life’s problems. He took care of the bad guy, protected his women and property, and was loyal to those who deserved it. In a John Wayne world, there was order, and it appealed to many who suffered through a century filled with depression, world wars, riots, and mayhem. His conservative integrity combined with his giant-like stature made him an American hero.

Katharine Hepburn was as unwavering and explosive as a wagon of nitroglycerin. Her characters quibble with intelligence, sarcasm, or religious morality, and she was an equal to her male counterparts whether played by Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, or Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen (1951). Although Katharine herself was an atheist, Hepburn’s Eula Goodnight and Rose Sayer were beacons of Christianity and paired with gruff sinners for the purpose of dramatic tension. Who wins the battle of wills? It’s a draw, but her softened heart concedes to Bogart’s Charlie and for Wayne’s Rooster. Only Katharine Hepburn could have played the dynamic character so effortlessly. Regardless, many critics panned Rooster Cogburn as a formulaic repeat of The African Queen. Hasn’t Hollywood been doing that since its inception? Several worried that John Wayne breathing at a high altitude with one lung would collapse and that Hepburn was too old. To her critics, I imagine Katharine would retort with a line from Eula Goodnight: I do not fear the skunk; I simply do not care for its odor.

You can read all about the facts and trivia of Rooster Cogburn and the Lady at TCM HERE  

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Two Mules for Sister Sara 

Interesting facts and trivia at the TCM site are found HERE.

Shirley MacLaine embodies with perfection all that signifies the Madonna/whore complex. With her melodious voice and porcelain skin she charms and loves devotedly. On the other hand, she has portrayed the complicated temptress with ease. Behind the scenes in Two Mules for Sister Sara, she intimidated director Don Siegel as well as Clint Eastwood with her bitchy personality like the older characters you’ve seen her play later in her career such as Steel Magnolias, Guarding Tess, or Rumor Has It. 

Could there be better way to open a film than with a score by Ennio Morricone?  I think not.

I love the opening scene in the deft hands of cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa as he suggests the wilderness of the Mexican frontier by focusing on the dangerous creatures such as the rattlesnake and the mountain lion. Clint Eastwood plays Hogan, a mercenary who rescues a nun under attack by three outlaws. She convinces him to take her to a French garrison as she is aiding Mexican revolutionaries against the French government. He is interested in a strong box of money he has been told is hidden there. It’s a dark comedy with plenty of charm. Hogan is sexually attracted to Sara who manages to keep him at bay. Their escapades such as the arrow shot through Hogan’s chest, the attempt to blow up the train bridge, and the garrison attack are some of the reasons for its popularity. Sara’s revelation toward the end of the story makes it a fun plot twist, although, only strengthens the stereotype that women are either saintly Mary or seducing Eve.

In the end, I presume their iconic selves became interchangeable with their real selves. Of course, I don’t know, but after decades playing certain roles, don’t you think their roles shaped the person? Four icons. Four imprints.

John Wayne, Herculean; Katharine Hepburn, self-important queen; Clint Eastwood, scowling rogue; Shirley MacLaine, sweet and sour crab.

If you threw a dinner party and could invite one of them, which one would it be?  

actors, directors, Film Spotlight, movies

Film Spotlight: Gran Torino

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Clint Eastwood directed, produced and starred in the 2008 film, Gran Torino. There’s much to say about this oxymoron of a character: scarred and sweet, rude and noble, cantankerous and romantic all wrapped up into a celluloid package and delivered by the scruffy, inaudible Clint Eastwood. It’s ranked high at #95 on the IMDB 250 film countdown. Should it be?

Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski

This was a film that had my heart and my head fighting each other. Any plot with a dynamic character is preferable than a static one. Clint acted as an old ‘Dirty Harry’ with too many snarls and one-liners; I thought the script by Nick Schenk was a choppy mix of horrible, mediocre, and small beams of brilliant. Walt Kowalski I could relate to. I grew up listening to veterans of the Korean war talking like Walt Kowalski. Men back then were supposed to be hard, unsympathetic. You better know how to chase a skirt, drink beer, swing a hammer, and  shed no tear. That generation kept their yards immaculate, took care of everything they owned and threw nothing away. They would die for their family and country. Racial tags and slurs were common growing up as a kid.  Political Correctness hadn’t been suggested yet. Another way to put it, Walt Kowalski was Archie Bunker, and Archie was as common as apple pie, lemonade, and the American flag. Experiencing this, I didn’t have a problem with Walt Kowalski in the film. Clint Eastwood has played the same character for fifty years, so I wasn’t surprised he was, again, the hard shell with the soft middle.

Walt reluctantly mentors Thao, who he nicknames Toad. Thao is played by actor Bee Vang. It was his first acting job, and you could tell. Unfortunately, Bee Vang was one of the worst actors in the cast along with the neophyte priest, Father Janovich. Anytime they conversed with Clint Eastwood, it was painful to watch. The script was terrible and their acting wooden and unbelievable. There was very little chemistry between Eastwood and the actors in the film except the bright spot, Sue, played by Ahney Her.

Ahney Her had a great role in Sue. Her lame boyfriend, appearing briefly as pretty-boy Trey, was played by Clint’s son, Scott Eastwood. Another family member contributed to Eastwood’s film, Kyle Eastwood, who wrote the score. But back to Ahney. She delivered her lines with grace and energy which was sorely lacking in the other performances. Sue was the interpreter, the feminist, the “smart” Asian female who intercedes and befriends Walt Kowalski. It is only after she is attacked that the film becomes interesting. While Walt hacks up blood, the ending is clear, but the climax is nicely done.

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While it sounds like I disliked the film, I cried at the end, and still love the film despite its flaws. Perhaps because I understood what Clint Eastwood was trying to do.  Here was a film about the effect of the horrors of war. Walt Kowalski lived with the guilt of killing Korean soldiers. It haunted and jaded his entire life. Here, now, was Thao, who was Walt’s redemption. By sacrificing his life for Thao, he was able to come to peace with his past and give a life to Thao who would be free of the gang preditors. By vindicating Sue’s attack, Walt in one move saves the neighborhood, the family, and Thao and Sue. The irony in the film is wonderful. Walt Kowalski becomes more comfortable with the customs and food of the Hmong than his own family.  Walt had failed as a father to his two sons, unable to have a positive relationship with them or affirming their manhood. With Thao, Walt is able to teach him how to be a man (albeit in an old-school way) by teaching him how to repair, garden, build, and care for possessions. That’s what real men do. They care for their families and protect them.

For those reasons, the audience discovers they look beyond the gruff exterior of Walt and see the loyal, loving man at the same time Walt Kowalski looks beyond the Asian stereotype and sees his Hmong neighbors as people with similar values as his own. While the traditions and customs displayed in the film might be inaccurate at times, the purpose behind the film is why Gran Torino is ranked pretty high. Clint Eastwood attempts to reveal Universal Truths in his films, and I appreciate that.

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Oh, also the sweet, green 1972 Gran Torino. I want one of those!

actors, directors, history, History in Films, movies

History in Films: Clint Eastwood’s Changeling

Eastwood’s Changeling (2008) portrayed the horrifying events which occurred in Los Angeles, 1928. Angelina Jolie’s character, Christine Collins and her eight year old son Walter live in a nice neighborhood. She’s a manager for the phone company and one evening when she returns home late, her son is missing.

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It’s a compelling story for many reasons and while the last third of the film brings to light the Canadian ranch of the man who snatched Walter and other boys, I’m glad Clint Eastwood didn’t focus the film on that. Instead, he focused on Angelina Jolie’s role as an independent woman who stood up to the corrupted Captain of the LAPD. Aided by Presbyterian Pastor Gustav Briegleb, (John Malkovich), an activist used to exposing the ineptitude of the LAPD, he comes to her aid and gets her radio coverage.  The disfranchisement (the police send Christine to an asylum to try to keep her silent) and  “finding” her son and presenting him to Christine in front of a large media crowd is the craziest part of the film, for the boy found is not her son. Here’s where the title comes in. Did you get a chance to read yesterday’s post about changelings?

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It is incredulous to think the replacement boy would pacify a mother whose child had been kidnapped.  Writer J. Michael Straczynski (World War Z, Babylon 5) researched the events and created a credible script of corruption, deception, and abduction. Did they find the real Walter? I’m not telling.

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The telephone operator was one of the only jobs open to women in the 1920s.  Jolie roller-skates across the room from operator to operator and this touch is not only accurate of the job, it illustrates the early days of the public phone system when you asked your operator to patch your request through using a code of letters and numbers based on the neighborhood. Operators could listen in on your conversations, too. In rural areas, you knew her name and she knew the county gossip. The re-creation of downtown Los Angeles during the late 1920s is perfect. Angelina Jolie gives a fine performance in a multifaceted role.  It’s one of Clint Eastwood’s best films, and one I highly recommend watching.