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Anne of the Indies (1951) February 24, 2007

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Not one of Jacques Tourneur’s better-known films, this technicolor swashbuckler from 1951 is a surprisingly fun, if minor, addition to the genre. The twist with this film is that the scoundrel pirate captain is a woman: Jean Peters - of whose charms I am an unreserved fan - is the title character, captain of the Sheba Queen. Orphaned as a child, she was raised by the larger-than-life Captain Blackbeard (the wonderful Thomas Gomez) and naturally chose the same life. Among her crew of rogues, Herbert Marshall gives a typically solid performance as the ship’s drunken yet principled doctor, who acts as voice of conscience to the headstrong Anne.

Blackbeard and Anne

When a young Frenchman (a fresh-faced Louis Jourdan) is captured from a plundered English ship, Anne recruits him as her navigator and, despite the warnings of her crew, begins to fall for him. When “Frenchie” reveals that he was in search of hidden treasure (aren’t they always?) before being captured by the British, he and Anne join forces to track it down.

Jean Peters and Herbert Marshall

A bar-room brawl and cutlass fight later, things are looking promising if predictable, but there are a few of twists yet to come. I won’t pretend I liked all of them, and the last act didn’t work for me at all (the film could also have used another 15 minutes to wrap the story up properly), but I still enjoyed this knockabout caper a lot more than I’d expected to. Peters seems to enjoy the chance to play such a baaaad (in a good way) character, and I have to say she does a pretty convincing job in the sword fights, too (I certainly couldn’t spot a stunt double).

There’s a nice French DVD out there, from which my copy came, and with this being a Fox film, a UK or US release will hopefully follow before too long. It may not be in the same league as Captain Blood, but Anne of the Indies is still perfect matinee viewing.

Beyond the Final Frontier February 23, 2007

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I just got through watching the “classic” Trek movies, something I do every 2 or 3 years, once I get to the stage where my desire to see the supremely entertaining sequels outweighs my dread at having to endure The Motion Picture again beforehand (although I must admit to actually quite enjoying it this time). I love re-watching the classic Trek films over a short period, no more than a few days, because they’re not just damn good stories, well told; they comprise - together with The Original Series – the complete story of these characters over the course of 30 years (in the Trek timeline). We see the young adventurers embark on their Starfleet careers, watch them mature, earn promotion, take on new challenges, fight new battles - but always stay together. That’s what I love most about the Trek films: the sense of family among the characters I grew up watching, maintained over the course of six (and a bit) movies.

The Original Star Trek cast

It wasn’t there behind the scenes of course, a fact I was reminded of today upon rewatching William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the fascinating Mind Meld. Shatner speaks of how he feels affection for their fellow castmates only in terms of the amount of their working lives they spent together, but claims he never understood where any rift between them originated. Nimoy is a little warmer: “I’m always happy to see them when I bump into them,” he says, but admits that the original Trek cast have never been the kind who “get together at barbecues all the time”. Shatner makes a convincing argument that there was never the basis for such a relationship in the first place: The Original Series was a 3-man show: Shatner, Nimoy and De Kelley. The rest of the cast were never “regulars”; the show was never an ensemble in the same way as The Next Generation. With the advent of the movie franchise, the supporting cast were able toShatner and Nimoy in 2006 gain more recognition, but the resentments and ill-feeling were already entrenched by then. Shatner and Nimoy were, and remain, close friends, a relationship shared, at least in part, with Kelley until his death in 1999. Doohan, Nichols, Koenig and Takei meanwhile formed their own, somewhat independent unit, often making Star Trek convention appearances as a group in later years.

None of this really matters, though. I know that Shatner and Doohan couldn’t stand each other in real life, but does it make an ounce of difference when I’m watching them on-screen as Kirk and Scotty, best of friends? Does it hell. It’s nice that the Next Generation cast remain close friends after 20 years, but no matter how much I enjoy watching them on-screen (and I do, a lot), nothing compares to the sheer pleasure of seeing the original cast in action: whether’s it Kirk striking back at Khan in Star Trek II (”here it comes …”), Kirk and Spock’s priceless double act in Star Trek IV (”I love Italian - and so do you.”) the theft of the Enterprise in Star Trek III … I could go on all day. I once heard it argued (I can’t remember where) that one’s enjoyment of The Original Series is enhanced by the existence of the later films - knowing that you’re watching only the very beginning of the journey for the crew of the Enterprise, and that so much more is to come for each of them. It certainly works that way for me.

Captain Styles: ”Kirk … you do this, you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again.”

Kirk: “Warp speed.”

I Walk Alone (1948) February 12, 2007

Posted by jackal in : Films, Film Noir , add a comment

Over the course of their careers, off-screen pals Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster made several movies together, ending with the septuagenarian stars playing old-time gangsters adjusting to modern-day life in Tough Guys. Almost 40 years earlier, the pair starred together for the first time, also as gangsters, in little-seen film noir I Walk Alone.

Under the direction of Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, Too Late for Tears), Lancaster headlines as ex-con Frankie Madison, released from prison after serving 14 years for bootlegging during prohibition times. His ex-partner in crime, the ruthless ’Dink’ Turner (Douglas), has transformed their business into a respectable, top-flight supper club, and has no plans to honour the 50/50 gentleman’s agreement he made with Madison 14 years earlier. As Madison attempts, with increasing anger, to obtain his ‘fair share’ of Dink’s empire, he comes to realise just how much things have changed. Now a respected man of society, Dink’s money is locked up in corporations and trusts. Frankie (anticipating Lee Marvin’s Walker in Point Blank) is a single-minded criminal, for whom big business has no meaning - all he wants is the money he’s entitled to, and now. Also thrown into the mix are the sultry Lizabeth Scott as Dink’s on/off girlfriend who falls for Frankie, and Wendell Corey as the guilt-ridden accountant who betrayed Frankie’s friendship by getting him to sign away his claim to the money.

It’s unfortunate that I Walk Alone is so obscure; it’s really an excellent noir drama, with an interesting slant (old-time criminal finds himself lost in the post-war business world). It does degenerate into predictable theatrics in the last act, but otherwise there’s much to enjoy, not least the inaugral screen pairing of Douglas and Lancaster. Having such a magnetic duo bouncing off each other in the lead roles heightens the drama immensely.

I Walk Alone was screened in a brand new print at Noir City 5 in San Francisco only last week, and good DVDR copies are thankfully fairly easy to come by. Given that it’s a Paramount movie, though, who knows when we might see an official DVD release.

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