Daily Archives: July 1, 1992

Zulu

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1992). Reseeing the film recently in a splendid new Blu-Ray edition from Twilight Time, I now regard this as Cy Endfield’s greatest film — and one the best war films ever made, a magnificent epic that succeeds on many levels. — J.R.

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The only commercial hit made by Cy Endfield, the neglected, blacklisted American writer-director who emigrated to England in the 50s — an epic and visually quite impressive account of an attack by 4,000 Zulu warriors on 105 British soldiers in Natal in 1879. While the incident is recounted wholly from the British viewpoint, the film is not racist, as some charged when it was released in 1964. Reflecting Endfield’s career-long refusal to plumb his characters’ motivations, it presents all the events at face value, not even delving directly into the causes of the Zulu attack. (Reportedly, Endfield tried to compensate in the script he wrote for the 1979 Zulu Dawn, directed by Douglas Hickox.) While it might be argued that Endfield’s greatest work (i.e., Try and Get Me!) shows a political and social lucidity about class divisions and group behavior that is only hinted at here, the handling of action and spectacle and the direction of actors are truly masterful.… Read more »

The Swordsman In Double-flag Town

A visually impressive ‘Scope western, reportedly the first from mainland China, directed with flair and economy by He Ping. It may occasionally suggest Sergio Leone in a few aspects of its spare confrontational plot, but its subject (Gao Wei as a young hero protecting his child fiancee from bullies) and its style of presenting action (slower and faster than what we are accustomed to in western cinema) seems more Asian than European or Hollywood, which is entirely to this picture’s benefit. Whether you take it as pure Chinese or ersatz American or both, it certainly packs a wallop (1991). (JR)… Read more »

A Stranger Among Us

There’s apparently something about Hasidic Jews that makes normally talented and reasonable filmmakersDavid Mamet in Homicide, screenwriter Robert J. Avrech (Body Double) and director Sidney Lumet hereturn otherwise straightforward thrillers into harebrained hootfests. The best that can be said for this movie, which stars Melanie Griffith as an underground cop who lives with the Hasidim of Brooklyn while trying to solve the murder of a jewel merchant, is that apart from the talents of Griffith and Eric Thal (who plays a young Hasidic Jew she mildly flirts with) it has some educational value as a form of exposition about a fascinating subculture. The worst is that most of the other actors (and characters for that matter) get bent out of shape while trying to conform to the contours of the dotty plot. With John Pankow, Tracy Pollan, Lee Richardson, Mia Sara, Jamey Sheridan, Burtt Harris, and a lot of quotes from the cabala. (JR)… Read more »

Sands Of The Kalahari

Shot on location in South Africa, this adventure and social allegory, adapted by the highly talented director Cy Endfield from a novel by William Mulvihill, reveals the ethics of a group of plane-crash survivors as they move through the desert wildsincluding a self-absorbed, gun-packing American (Stuart Whitman), an English divorcee (Susannah York), a failed mining engineer (Stanley Baker), and a couple of middle-aged men from eastern Europe. Brittle and acerbic in the Endfield manner, with a fine visual sweep, this is a capable genre piece with little wasted motion; it can also be read as a brutal critique of American self-interest in a third-world context. With Harry Andrews, Theodore Bikel, Nigel Davenport, Barry Lowe, and a lot of justifiably pissed-off baboons (1965). (JR)… Read more »

House Of Frankenstein

An all-star Universal Pictures monster show (1944) about a mad scientist (Boris Karloff) and a hunchback (J. Carroll Naish), not to mention the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (John Carradine), and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Director Erle C. Kenton was no James Whale, but he made this fairly enjoyable; Edward T. Lowe and Curt Siodmak collaborated on the script. 71 min. (JR)… Read more »

Honey, I Blew Up The Kid

A worthy if often predictable sequel (1992) to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids that once again suggests a Joe Dante project developed by othersin this case writers Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling, and Garry Goodrow and director Randal Kleiser (White Fang). The setting is Las Vegas and environs, where a brilliant but absentminded, gadget-happy scientist (Rick Moranis) accidentally causes his two-year-old son (played by the twins Daniel and Joshua Shalikar) to grow to a height of seven feet and upward (eventually topping out at more than 100 feet), terrorizing everyone with some fair-to-middling special effects. Credibility is strained by the safe bet that no one will get killed, even though the near deaths are so plentiful that the plot comes to resemble a tricked-up theme park ride. Still, the allegorical possibilities of infantile innocence run amok (particularly as a view of this country in relation to the remainder of the globe) are amusing and potent, and the cast (also including Marcia Strassman as the kid’s mother, Robert Oliveri as his older brother, Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, and Keri Russell) does a good-natured job in holding up its end of the bargain. (JR)… Read more »

The Hairdresser’s Husband

Like his earlier Monsieur Hire, this 1990 feature by Patrice Leconte, written with Claude Klotz and filmed in ‘Scope, is a claustrophobic, bittersweet tale of middle-aged sexual obsession. But I enjoyed it more, perhaps because the colors and moods tend to be brighter, with more of a sense of comedy. After 40 years of dreams about marrying a hairdresser, the hero (Jean Rochefort) meets the manager of a hair salon (Anna Galiena). Peter Greenaway regular Michael Nyman composed the music; with Roland Bertin and Maurice Chevit. In French with subtitles. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Voices From The Front

A powerful and highly informative feature-length documentary by the Testing the Limits collective (Robyn Huff, Sandra Elgear, and David Meieran), about AIDS activism and, more specifically, the self-empowerment of people with AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. Two of the more eye-opening subjects broached here are discrimination against women with AIDS and drug profiteering as promoted and protected by the Bush administration. Many people tend to be scared away from documentaries of this sort because of the unpleasantness of the subject matter, but the passion and determination of the AIDS activists seen here (including quite a few, such as Vito Russo, who are no longer alive) make this inspiring rather than hopelessif only because this film shows that the major demonstrations of AIDS activists have been far from ineffectual (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Unlawful Entry

An efficient little thriller that imparts loads of queasiness and reasonable amounts of suspense while serving as an excellent corrective to the shameless celebrations of LA police power and brutality in Lethal Weapon 3. The LA cop in this case (effectively played by Ray Liotta) is a psycho who falls for an attractive yuppie housewife (Madeleine Stowe) after helping her and her husband (Kurt Russell) install an elaborate security system in their house. The movie runs through several changes on the different meanings that police power can have and the ways that burglar alarms can make homes resemble prisons. Neither Lewis Colick’s script nor Jonathan Kaplan’s direction is quite as streamlined as it could be, but you certainly get a run for your money; with Roger E. Mosley and Ken Lerner. (JR)… Read more »

Universal Soldier

Slugmeisters Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play two dead American soldiers who are still slugging it out over Vietnam 25 years later: they’ve been resurrected by a secret Pentagon project that makes them into virtually impregnable killing machines. Although the script of this bashfest (by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, and Dean Devlin) can’t exactly be accused of intelligence, there’s something satirically suggestive about the theme that justifies the dumb-ass expressions that Van Damme and Lundgren come up with. Director Roland Emmerich doesn’t always sustain the laughs, but there’s a fair amount of action bravura, scenic spectacle, and deadpan humor to go with the obligatory nonsense. With Ally Walker (a TV news reporter who becomes Van Damme’s impromptu date on an endless chase), Ed O’Ross, and, looking understandably embarrassed about the lines he’s asked to deliver, Jerry Orbach. Incidentally, there’s no connection between this film and Cy Endfield’s 1971 British melodrama with the same title. (JR)… Read more »

The Underworld Story

The first feature by the underrated writer-director Cy Endfield to attract much attention was this pungent noir item, socially corrosive in the best Endfield manner. The plot, based on a story by Craig Rice, follows the ruthless, cynical machinations of a newspaperman (Dan Duryea) taking over a small-town newspaper and boosting circulation by exploiting various aspects of a local murder case, including false accusations made against the victim’s black maid. Herbert Marshall plays a corrupt tycoon, and Howard da Silva is sensational as a cheerfully creepy hood. This isn’t quite on the same level as Endfield’s next feature, Try and Get Me!, but it’s still essential viewing (1950). (JR)… Read more »

Try And Get Me!

Conceivably the most anti-American Hollywood picture ever madeI certainly can’t think of any competitorsCy Endfield’s brilliant and shocking 1951 thriller (also known as The Sound of Fury) was adapted by Jo Pagano from his novel The Condemned, which was inspired by a lynching that occurred in California during the 30s. A frustrated and jobless veteran (Frank Lovejoy), tired of denying his wife and son luxuries, falls in with a slick petty criminal (Lloyd Bridges), and the two work their way up from small robberies to a kidnapping that ends in murder. Apart from a moralizing European character who isn’t really necessary, this is a virtually flawless masterpiece, exposing class hatred and the abuses of the American press (represented here mainly by Richard Carlson) with rare lucidity and anger. At once subtle and unsparing, this may be the best noir you’ve never heard of: Endfield’s American career was cut short by the blacklist the year it was released. With Kathleen Ryan, Katherine Locke, Adele Jergens, and Art Smith. (JR)… Read more »

Time Will Tell

A documentary about Jamaican and Rastafarian musician Bob Marley by Declan Lowney, priceless for its concert footage of Marley and his group, the Wailers, though rather skimpy as biography. (JR)… Read more »

Right On! The Original Last Poets

A fascinating time capsuleshot in 1968, released in 1970this is a filmed performance of three angry, talented black poets. Gylan Kain, Felipe Luciano, and David Nelson recite their highly rhythmic, passionate work to Afro-Cuban percussion (with occasional flute and guitar) on a rooftop and in other urban ghetto settings, working out a highly politicized poetics that anticipates rap while conveying much of the essence of black-power rhetoric of the late 60s. More than a simple objective rendering of an event, this film is interspersed with cutaways and found footage in a very effective fashion by director Herbert Danska, probably best known for his 1967 jazz feature with Dick Gregory, Sweet Love, Bitter. (JR)… Read more »

Prelude To A Kiss

I haven’t seen the stage version of this, but I suspect that what makes it work is the collective decision of cast and audience to believe in the fantasy conceit of two souls swapping bodies: it’s a bit like believing in fairies in Peter Pan. The conceit still carries charm in the movie, and the charisma of Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan as a romantic couple certainly helps, but inevitably one feels a bit more self-conscious about believing here; to some extent one remains on the outside looking in. Scripted by Craig Lucas from his own play and directed by Norman Rene, the original stage directorthe same team who wrote and directed Longtime Companionthis has enough old-fashioned appeal as a love story to carry one over its rougher spots, and the secondary castSydney Walker, Kathy Bates, Ned Beatty, Patty Duke, and Richard Riehleis uniformly fine (1992). (JR)… Read more »