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Sci Fi Sunday: In the Dust of the Stars December 31, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Science Fiction , add a comment

The final film in the DEFA science fiction box set is by far the worst. A spacecraft lands on an alien world in response to a distress signal but the inhabitants claim the message was only sent to test the transmitter. Before long the crew of the ship find that the real natives of the planet are being used as slaves to work in mines under the supervision of an alien race.

To call the film simplistic would be to understate matters. The evil aliens forcing the natives to work in the mines are the evil capitalists (to show how evil they are, they keep snakes as pets!) while the good aliens are the communists, come to save the poor downtrodden workers from oppression. The film has nothing more to offer than that jingoistic point of view and it gets tired long before the 90min running time has run its course.

In place of a more interesting plot we get some dance sequences, including one in the nude (though only in silhouette). Imagine Pan’s People in a musical episode of Doctor Who (original vintage, not the current series) but without the charismatic presence of the Doctor and you’ll have some idea of how tedious this was to sit through.

It’s hard to believe this was made only the year before Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s not just budget and language that set the films apart but ideals as well. Hollywood had got over it’s obsession with invading aliens/communists but on the other side of the Iron Curtain they were still pushing the same tired propaganda.

The Weekend Western: The Professionals

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Westerns , add a comment

A Texas millionaire hires four men to rescue his wife, who’s been kidnapped by Mexican bandits, but all is not as it seems as the soldiers of fortune soon discover. They find themselves with a dilemma – do they complete the mission and collect their money or do they do they stand up for what’s right?

A proto-Wild Bunch? The Dirty Dozen go west? While the film shares its setting (Mexico) and period (early 20th Century) with the Wild Bunch it lacks the depth of character and the “end of an era” feel of Peckinpah’s film. As for The Dirty Dozen, Lee Marvin may have been in charge of the in both films but in The Professionals he’s surrounded by just that – men who know there trade, be in explosives or horses, better than anyone else, rather than condemned men whose only goal is survival.

Richard Brooks provided the script as well as directing the film, and it’s a good one. It may not have the scope of The Wild Bunch but it’s far from a dumb film. Its meditations on the nature of freedom and revolution don’t feel heavy handed and never get in the way of the (plentiful) action. It’s the kind of movie they’ve forgotten how to make these days, where an action movie is measured by how many and how big the explosions are.

Brooks may have had a great script but it’s his cast that really make it work. Woody Strode and Robert Ryan may have the less showy parts but they do sterling work, Ryan is particularly good as the man who cares more for horses than he does for men. The stars of the film though are Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster.

Lancaster gets all the funniest lines as well as the best action set piece, a one man holding action that allows the others to get back across the border. His and Marvin’s characters have a history together, having both fought in the Mexican revolution, and that sense of familiar camaraderie is well realised.

If Lancaster gets all the laughs, Marvin gets the best line, a classic closing shot that’s aimed at Ralph Bellamy, who plays the millionaire. Bellamy, unhappy with the turn of events, calls Marvin a bastard. “Yes, Sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, Sir, you’re a self-made man.” retorts Marvin before riding off with his companions.

Jack Palance makes a convincing Mexican bandit and if Claudia Cardinale is somewhat less believable as the kidnapped wife, who cares? “$100,000 for a wife? She must be a lot of woman!” quips Lancaster at one point and if she fails as a Mexican she certainly fits the bill as “a lot of woman.”

If The Professionals had been made today there would doubtless have been a sequel, thankfully it came before the term “flogging a dead horse” became Hollywood’s byword. Lucky really as Ryan’s character wouldn’t stand for that sort of thing.

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