Earlier this year I contributed a list of underrated westerns to Brian’s site Rupert Pupkin Speaks. It was kind of fun thinking about and compiling those titles and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to submit another selection. This time it’s underrated thrillers – I’ve written about all of them at one time or another on this blog, some of them a good few years ago now, but you’ll need to pop over to Brian’s place here to see which ones I settled on. Please have a look when you get the chance.
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It’s exactly seven years ago today that I put up my first post on the now defunct FilmJournal site. Although my output at this place has slowed to something of a trickle of late, I didn’t want to let the occasion pass without a mention. I hope to get back to writing a bit more regularly as soon as possible, time permitting of course. Anyway, in the meantime, let me just say thank you to all the visitors and movie-lovers who have helped keep this site going – there’s been some vibrant and informative chat over the years, and that’s what really forms the heart of the place.
Last weekend I went to the cinema to see a movie set in my homeland. I suppose it qualifies as a kind of period piece now, the action taking place over 40 years ago. ’71 is a thriller which unfolds amid the Troubles in Belfast in the titular year. Frankly, it impressed me a lot, and not only because it recreated the world in which I grew up, with its tight pacing and essentially simple storytelling. As I watched it, and then reflected on it afterwards, I was struck by how the film tapped into the mentality of the people, my people, and thus offered a very honest portrayal of the times and circumstances. The director of this movie is Yann Demange, a man of French birth. This had me thinking how some of my favorite films set in my country had been directed by those who were basically outsiders – Odd Man Out (Carol Reed) and The Gentle Gunman (Basil Dearden) – yet managed to get under the skin of the people on the screen and perhaps see us more clearly as we really are.
It occurred to me then that this isn’t some isolated phenomenon confined to films set in Ireland. Hollywood in its heyday was packed with émigré directors who shaped the popular culture of the era. Film noir is one of my own favorite styles and came to be a staple of American cinema in the golden age, yet the movement was largely dominated by those born far from its shores – Lang, Wilder, Siodmak (who grew up in Germany), Tourneur, Brahm, Ulmer and many others besides. Isn’t it a little odd that such men should wind up as the biggest movers and shakers in what was arguably a generic American film movement? The western, which is the genre closest to my heart, has fewer examples of course, but directors such as Lang, Tourneur, De Toth and Fregonese still made significant contributions to its development.
So, I guess that’s the question for the day: is it sometimes more beneficial for a filmmaker to come at their subject, or indeed genre, free of the inevitable baggage an insider brings along? Does distance in some way sharpen perspective and allow a clearer appreciation? I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer but if anyone feels inclined to offer their thoughts, they are most welcome.
As a huge Robert Siodmak fan, I just wanted to pass along the news that Arrow Films in the UK are releasing The Killers on Blu-ray on November 17. It’s up for pre-order on their website here.
It’s just come to my notice that veteran film and TV director Andrew V McLaglen has passed at the age of 94. The son of Oscar winner and John Ford favorite Victor McLaglen, his long career in showbusiness makes for impressive reading and some highly entertaining viewing. On TV he directed over a hundred episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel and wasn’t far off that total for Gunsmoke. On the big screen he helmed a number of late-era John Wayne movies and a trio of enjoyable adventures I remember seeing in the cinema back in the day – North Sea Hijack, The Sea Wolves and The Wild Geese.
I wanted to pass this message on from Toby’s westerns site. It’s a shocking state of affairs to say the least, and all of us who care about the movie, or just the legacy of cinema in general, need to pass our feelings regarding this along to the studio.
Originally posted on 50 Westerns From The 50s.:
It’s hard to believe that John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960) is in danger of being lost. What’s doing it in? First, the natural breakdown of its original film elements. Second, MGM’s lack of interest in saving it, even if the public helped pitch in to pay for it. (If there was ever a reason for Kickstarter to exist, this is it.)
Read Robert Harris’ report on the elements and MGM’s crappy attitude here. And if a letter-writing or Facebook-flodding campaign gets going, hop on it.
Today sees this site passing another little milestone. There have been one hundred thousand views since moving to the WordPress platform – a very pleasing statistic as far as I’m concerned. It’s an opportunity for me to send out a big thank you to all the visitors, commenters and contributors – it’s you (and you all know who you are) who make the whole thing not only possible but a pleasure too.
I also thought it might be nice to let people see which posts – excepting hits on the home page and index – have drawn the most traffic so I’ve added a graphic below featuring the ten most viewed. It seems clear enough that westerns and western related material are easily the most popular.
I reckon it’s time to feature another Audie Murphy western and I’ve narrowed it down to two options. Seeing as it’s been a while since I offered readers a chance to cast a vote for what they’d like to see, I thought it was a good opportunity to run a poll. The choice is between Tumbleweed (1953) and Ride a Crooked Trail (1958). I’ll leave the poll open until midnight on Saturday and will go with the majority decision. Take your pick people.
Where do our favorite movies come from? A fair few have been, and continue to be, the result of original scripts but many are adaptations. While a modern movie may credit a play, a TV show, a comic book, or even a video game as its source, the most traditional inspiration came from the pages of novels and stories. Now there’s an obvious advantage built in here – screenwriters have a fully formed narrative from which they can work. On the other hand, this also imposes certain limitations on creativity, depending on how faithful to or respectful of the original writer’s work it’s considered important to be. The greatest difficulties, from the perspective of the filmmakers, tend to rear up when the work being adapted is particularly well-known or well-regarded. Fans of the author or story have a habit of getting up in arms if they sense the filmmakers are straying too far, either in terms of plot or spirit, from their beloved piece of writing.
Yet that is a situation which is virtually unavoidable. When you get right down to it, we’re talking about different media here, with different aims and different aesthetics. Something which proves successful on the printed page may not, for a whole variety of reasons, translate well to the cinema screen. That may be a consequence of the narrative structure not being especially cinematic – lack of pace and urgency, too great a sweep, or too much stream of consciousness. The point here is that changes, maybe major ones, are frequently not only desirable but also entirely necessary for an adaptation to work on the big screen.
It also begs the question of what exactly constitutes a good source for cinematic adaptation. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that very often it’s safe to say that the more worthy or respected the book, the less satisfactory the resultant movie is. Generally speaking, that is. Hemingway was one of the finest writers of the 20th century, perhaps even the finest, yet the adaptations of his writing have all been somewhat lacking. F Scott Fitzgerald is another who could be said to have suffered a similar fate. Frankly, I’m sure we could all name plenty of renowned writers who have been poorly served by the films their work inspired. Conversely, there are countless highly entertaining, and sometimes artistically impressive, films derived from the kind of pulp writing I’m sure even its creators would cheerfully admit never aspired to being regarded as great literature. So those are my questions for anyone who cares to tackle them: What do think are the best literary adaptations? And why does the anomaly of poor books leading to good films, and vice-versa, exist?
Just wanted to let readers know that Brian at Rupert Pupkin Speaks has been running a feature on underrated westerns recently and getting contributions from various bloggers. Anyway, he asked me if I’d like to submit some for consideration. I was pleased to do so, and you can see my selection here. While you’re there it’s worth looking through the choices others have made – I think the series is a great idea.