#305- Man of the West

Quick recap: Gary Cooper plays former outlaw, Link, who must go back to his wild west gang when his train leaves him and two other passengers behind.

probably thinking about why he keeps getting thrown into roles he is too old to play

Fun (?) fact: Gary Cooper was 10 years older than Lee J. Cobb, who played his surrogate father, Dock Tobin.

And these two were supposed to be the same age, according to characters in the movie

My thoughts: As you have probably picked up on, Gary Cooper’s age was an issue for me in Man of the West. Now, before I get into my spiel, I just want to go on record and say that I am not ageist. There are plenty of  actors who have played meaningful roles, if not some of the best roles of their career when they were in their 50s and 60s. Gary Cooper did a fine job in this film, in fact. But the role shouldn’t have been given to him. And it really wasn’t his to begin with, looking at trivia. Jimmy stewart was originally cast but he had a falling out with the director and seeing as how there were literally only two men in Hollywood at the time, Cooper was chosen. I don’t know, maybe this is Gary Cooper’s thing, being in a role meant for a much younger man. He did the same thing in Sergeant York, but that was mostly because the real Sergeant York insisted on him. A few years after Man of the West Cooper would be dead so maybe he wanted one last role. I don’t know, but it really took away from the impact of the film, seeing him fit into something not meant for him.

Story wise, Man of the West was no better or worse than other Westerns I have seen. It was darker than I expected, especially that rape scene at the end.  A lot of innocent people died and in the end, good triumphed, so no surprises there. What did surprise me was that I thought I was going to see a buddy movie, from the synopsis I read. The singer Billie and the Gambler Sam were Link’s companions when he was stranded by the train. I thought the three of them would become best pals and fight the bad guys together, but that’s not at all what happened. As soon as Link introduced him to his old gang, Sam was told to dig a grave and Billie was told to strip. Zero fun was had by all. I really did like the role of Link, despite his age. Cooper added a lot of depth to the character and there was this melancholy mood of his that really resonated with me. I’m glad there was a happy ending, but with almost everyone dead, I don’t know how happy it really was.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Forrest. Forrest Gump

#301- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Quick recap: Benjamin Button is born an old man and ages backwards, from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 Fun (?) fact: There are several nods to the concept of ‘backwards’ in the film- a hummingbird, which is the only bird able to fly backward, and a hurricane which spins in the opposite direction depending on the hemisphere.

Even if I had hated this movie, I’d watch it again and again for young Brad Pitt

My thoughts: Before anyone else says it- logically,I know that 32 isn’t that old. I’ve never wanted to be one of those people that lied about my age or tried to ‘stay’ 25 until I was 50. But a few weeks ago, while in a hotel room getting ready to go out, I had a freak out about aging. I was blow drying my hair and noticed a (to me) huge patch of gray that had definitely not been there a couple of weeks ago. It was such a sudden change to my body and it took me by surprise. I don’t feel old but there was something about seeing myself age that terrified me. I’ve seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button before, back when it was in theaters, and at the time, all I remember was being impressed by the special effects. Had I watched this movie two months ago, I would’ve felt the same. But seeing it now, at this weird time in my life, it just means so much more.

By my estimation, the first 2/3 of the movie is largely forgettable. It’s not bad, but it’s also not profound. My main motivation for continuing to watch was to see how Brad Pitt would look next and when he would finally stop looking so old. The movie picked up towards the end as I finally understood the importance of the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy, his true love. I had grown tired of their ‘will they, won’t they’ issues and when they finally hooked up, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and both to realize that this would never work. But that’s not what happened. The last 1/3 of the film explores the true consequences of aging- the fear of being a burden and the regret of missing out on life. The way Daisy cared for Benjamin in his last few years, until he was just a tiny infant was beautiful and spoke to the longing most people have-for someone to love them no matter what. Aging isn’t going to stop, nor should it, but it also shouldn’t keep us from opening up to those who truly care.

 

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Braveheart

#300- The African Queen

Quick recap: She’s a missionary, he a riverboat captain who delivers the mail to remote areas in Africa. Together, they team up to fight the Germans and maybe even fall in love.

Fun (?) fact: Katharine Hepburn was so disgusted with John Huston and Humphrey Bogart’s drinking during filming that she stuck to water only. As a result she got dysentery, which is some kind of life lesson I feel I should pay attention to.

My thoughts: In the hierarchy of Romantic movies, the ‘ uptight woman falls in love with spineless man’ is probably my least favorite. I was worried that’s what I was heading into with this film, but I’m so glad that ended up not being the case.

I loved Katharine Hepburn as Rosie and I would even venture to say she is one of my favorite characters I have encountered on this list. There was just something about her instant love of adventure that immediately endeared her to me. I’d like to think I would do the same in her situation, except picking leeches off the love of my life. Sorry. Rapids, yes. Germans, hell yes. Leeches, no. I also loved Hepburn’s chemistry with Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie. It was a little too much at times but the moments when they were just sitting together and enjoying each other were really sweet. He seemed to genuinely care for her and she for him. I didn’t buy the ending where their tiny little boat sank a German ship but my heart might have melted a bit when at the end they were able to celebrate the fact that they just got married.

The constant threat of danger got a little old after awhile but it also made for an entertaining film so I won’t fault the plot too much. The scenery was lovely and I really appreciated that they filmed on location. Anything less would’ve made this movie a laughing stock, I think. Still, it doesn’t make me want to pack up and trek through Africa anytime soon.  I love a good adventure but the director made it seem that I would be attacked the second I landed.

 

Final review: 5/5

Up next: In Retrospect Part 3!

#288- The Night of the Shooting Stars

Quick recap: Told through the perspective of a little girl, a group of Italian villagers flee their town from Nazis. Along the way to find Americans to liberate them, they decide that they are going to fight back however they can.

Fighting the Germans. What could go wrong?

Fighting the Germans. What could go wrong?

Fun (?) fact: The scene where the Germans bombed the church filled with villagers was based on real events. After some research years later, it was discovered that it was the Americans who were behind the accidental bombing. Oops.

My thoughts: Let me tell you, there is nothing that brings in the Christmas spirit more than a war film, featuring children, no less. I’m not much of  a ‘Christmas’ person to begin with, so it didn’t have much effect on my near non-existent cheer. Not that it would anyway, because out of the bunch of films I have watched so far featuring World War II, this one can almost be described as optimistic.

Almost. Mind you, there is still a lot of death happening to a lot of people you get attached to. But most of the death comes from fighting the Nazis and Fascists, which, by the way, really sucks that Italy had to fight two evil powers during the war. Everyone had it bad back then, but from what I’ve seen, Italian war films are generally the most depressing because it’s so difficult to grasp the amount of suffering the villagers went through. Night of the Shooting Stars further drives this point home as I watched the journey of these families as they fleed their town and homes. It made me wander where all that courage came from. I have no idea the first thing I would do if war came to my town. I’d like to say that I could muster up something deep inside to fight and keep going, but I don’t know. And these villagers didn’t know either, until it happened to them. The scenes where the people ran through the wheat fields to escape the fighting were the most heartbreaking for me. Here were these old women, impeccably dressed , crawling on their hands and knees, just trying to survive. It was almost too much at times.

But as I said before, this film is not just blood and gore and sadness. I think by putting this through the eyes of a 6 year old girl, the audience can see the optimism and hope. During the final battle scene, the little girl imagines her neighbors as Roman soldiers, defending their people. In reality, these are a bunch of people with weapons that barely work and little to no experience fighting. But to the little girl, they are heroes and they save the day. The Night of the Shooting Stars is based of Italian lore that once a year in August, shooting stars streak across the sky and if you make a wish, everything will come true. It was enough to keep her going and something for me to think about when times are rough.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Forbidden Games