Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1930s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1930s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1930s

1. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) – In this exciting second installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, the intrepid archaeologist is asked by desperate villagers in Northern India to find a mystical stolen stone and rescue their children from a Thuggee cult practicing child slavery. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie starred Harrison Ford as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones.

2. “The Sting” (1973) – Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in this excellent Oscar winning movie about a young drifter who teams up with a master of the big con to get revenge against the gangster who had his partner murdered. George Roy Hill directed.

3. “Death on the Nile” (1978) – Peter Ustinov made his first appearance as Hercule Poirot in this superb adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel about the murder of an Anglo-American heiress during a cruise on the Nile. John Guillermin directed.

4. “Chinatown” (1974) – Roman Polanski directed this outstanding Oscar nominated film about a Los Angeles private detective hired to expose an adulterer, who finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption and murder. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway starred.

5. “Gosford Park” (2001) – Robert Altman directed this Oscar nominated film about a murder that occurs at shooting party in 1932 England. The all-star cast includes Helen Mirren, Kelly MacDonald, Clive Owen and Maggie Smith.

6. “Evil Under the Sun” (1982) – Once again, Peter Ustinov portrayed Hercule Poirot in this entertaining adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel about the murder of a stage actress at an exclusive island resort. Guy Hamilton directed.

7. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) – Ethan and Joel Coen directed this very entertaining tale about three escaped convicts who search for a hidden treasure, while evading the law in Depression era Mississippi. George Clooney, John Tuturro and Tim Blake Nelson starred.

8. “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) – Albert Finney starred as Hercule Poirot in this stylish adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel about the Belgian detective’s investigation into the death of a mysterious American aboard the famed Orient Express. Sidney Lumet directed.

9. “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) – Harrison Ford made his first appearance as Dr. “Indiana” Jones in this classic movie, as he races against time to find the iconic Ark of the Covenant that contains the Ten Commandments before the Nazis do in 1936 Egypt. Steven Spielberg directed.

“Seabiscuit” (2003) – Gary Ross directed this excellent adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2001 book about the famed race horse from the late 1930s. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Banks starred.

Honorable Mention: “Road to Perdition” (2002) – Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin and Paul Newman starred in this first-rate adaptation of Max Collins’ 1998 graphic comic about a Depression era hitman who is forced to hit the road with his older son after the latter witnesses a murder. Sam Mendes directed.

Advertisements

“INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” (1981) Review

editindy-raiders_02_03_35_02

 

“INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” (1981) Review

I suspect that many would be astounded to read the following – I did not want to see “INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” when it first hit the theaters back in 1981. I simply did not. And there were a few reasons why I felt this way.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was not a particular fan of George Lucas. Aside from 1973’s “AMERICAN GRAFFITI” (which I saw on television), I was not in love with his movies. I heartily disliked “STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE”, when it first hit the movie theaters during the summer of 1977. “MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI” did not impress me in 1979 (and it still does not). And I had felt torn about 1980’s “STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. A part of me felt impressed by the movie. Another part of me was distressed by its darker tone and cliffhanger ending. My feelings about Steven Spielberg were equally muted. I was not a big fan of 1977’s “CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND” or any other movie he did during the 1970s. And “E.T.” was a year away. When “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” first arrived during the summer of 1981, I read a negative review that completely turned me off from wanting to see it. However, movie attendance was (and still is) a family affair. So, I found myself forced to watch the movie. I fell in love with it and wondered how I could have ever harbored doubts about it in the first place.

The plot for “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” focused on the adventures of an archaeologist/university professor named Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. The movie began with Dr. Jones trekking through a South American jungle in 1936, with two local guides, in search of a golden fertility idol. After securing the artifact with great difficulty, Indy lost it, thanks to a conniving competitor and fellow archaeologist named Dr. René Belloq. But he also managed to escape with his life from a group of Hovitos tribesmen set upon him by Belloq. Indy made it back to the States and resumed his job as a professor at Marshall College. Not long after his return, two U.S. Army Intelligence agents questioned him and fellow colleague Dr. Marcus Brody about a Nazi communique that mentioned the name of Indy’s former mentor, Professor Abner Ravenwood. When Indy and Brody explained that Ravenwood was an expert on the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis and possessed the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, they came to the conclusion that the Nazis were after the Ark of the Covenant. The agents tasked Indy with finding the Ark before the Nazis, on behalf of the American government. Indiana’s search for Ravenwood and the Ark took him on a globe trotting adventure to Nepal, Egypt and finally to a small island in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Along the way he reunited with his former lover and Ravenwood’s daughter, Marion Ravenwood, formed a new friendship with a professional excavator from Cairo named Sallah el-Kahir and clashed with his old rival Belloq . . . and the latter’s Nazi allies.

For the past three decades, critics and filmgoers have acknowledged “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” as one of the greatest adventure films of all time. They also regard it as the best film in the INDIANA JONES franchise. Not only do I agree with the first assessment, I believe the same could be said for the other three INDIANA JONES movies. As for“RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” being the best film in the franchise . . . well, it is all subjective, is it not? I must admit that the movie holds up very well, after so long. Aside from some narrative flaws and a major historical blooper, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wrote a tight adventure filled with memorable characters, exciting ation sequences, snappy dialogue, a complex love story and most importantly, well constructed character development.

One cannot discuss the 1981 movie without recalling the memorable action sequences that many still talk about. Who can forget Indy’s escape from Belloq and the Hovitos in South America? Or the shoot-out inside Marion Ravenwood’s Nepal tavern? Or even Indy’s attempt to save the kidnapped Marion from thugs hired by the Nazis in Cairo? But it was Indy’s epic-like attempt to recover the Ark of the Covenant from Belloq and the Nazis that proved to be the most memorable action sequence . . . at least for me. Not only did it turned out to be the film’s longest action sequence, but also the most exciting. More importantly, Lucas, Spielberg and stunt coordinator Glenn Randall, Jr. utilized an old stunt from John Ford’s 1939 Western, “STAGECOACH” with equal success.

However, “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” was not all memorable action sequences, thanks to Kasdan’s tight writing. He did an excellent job in establishing the relationship between the protagonist and the main villain even before he established the main plot. Kasdan’s screenplay created the main narrative with a somewhat witty discussion about the Ark of the Covenant between Indy, Brody and the two Army Intelligence agents. There were other dramatic or comedic scenes that made this movie a joy to watch. One of my favorites include a visit by Indy and Sallah to an old friend of the latter’s named Imam, who managed to translate the Staff of Ra’s headpiece for them; Indy and Belloq’s conversation about Marion’s “death” and their rivalry; Belloq’s attempt to seduce a captive Marion; Indy and Brody’s last conversation before the former’s depature . . . and especially Indy and Marion’s rather funny romantic scene aboard the Bantu Wind.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s production values. Lucas and Spielberg were wise to hire Douglas Slocombe as the movie’s cinematographer. Thanks to Slocombe’s work, “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” featured some beautiful scenes rich in color and style, as shown in the images below:

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_harrison_ford raiders sunset

I also have to commend the special effects team for some of the most iconic moments in film history, including Indy’s escape from the rolling boulder and the sequence that featured the opening of the Ark. Norman Reynolds’ production designs, along with Michael Ford’s set decorations and Leslie Dilley’s art direction beautifully re-created the mid-1930s in the U.S. and Egypt. And I cannot mention “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” without bringing up John Williams’ memorable score. Unfortunately, Williams failed to win an Oscar for his exceptional work and lost to Vangelis’ score for “CHARIOTS OF FIRE’. Pity. I thought Williams truly deserved that statuette.

As much as I love “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”, I cannot deny that it has flaws. I was in my mid teens when I first saw the movie. And I believe that my enthusiastic reaction to the film’s virtues may have blinded me from its flaws. Despite a strong narrative, “RAIDERS” suffered from a weak ending. I could probably say the same for two other films in the franchise. The finale for “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” struck me as anti-climatic. In other words, Indy played no part in the villains’ defeat. The wrath of God did. I understand that Lucas and Spielberg wanted to show the consequences of the villains’ lack of respect toward the Ark’s power. But I still wish Indy had played some kind of role in their downfall. And once the power of God destroyed Belloq and the Nazis on that Aegean Sea island, how did Indy and Marion get off that island? I doubt the two of them could operate the U-boat that delivered them to the island on their own.

Another problem I had with “RAIDERS” proved to be certain costumes worn by actress Karen Allen, who portrayed Marion Ravenwood. I was not particularly impressed by two costumes designed by Deborah Nadoolman. The first was the red-and-white outfit worn by Marion in the Cairo street scene, which struck me as some bizarre take on mid-1930s fashion. If “RAIDERS” had been set during the year of the movie’s release (1981), I would have no trouble with the outfit. But for a movie set in 1936? To make matters worse, Allen wore wedge-heeled shoes with it. And the white dress that Marion received from Belloq blended well with the 1936 setting. Unfortunately, Marion was in her mid-to-late twenties in the film. And the dress seemed more appropriate for a 17 year-old debutante. Either the dress was some expression of how Belloq truly regarded Marion . . . or an example of what Deborah Nadoolman regarded as the height of fash”ion for a woman in 1936. And in both cases, I find this unfortunate.

The main problem I found in “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” turned out to be a case of a major historical blunder. Although the movie’s main villain is the French-born René Belloq, the latter’s allies are a Gestapo agent and more importantly, two senior German Army officers . . . with a complete regiment at their command. And entire German Army regiment roaming freely throughout Egypt in 1936? What were Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan thinking? Egypt was a British Imperial protectorate between 1882 and 1936. In the latter year, both Egypt and Britain signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, which led to the withdrawal of British troops from the country . . . with the exception of 10,000 personnel stationed around the Suez Canal. I doubt that the commander of those 10,000 British troops would sit on his heels and allow a regiment of German troops to roam nilly willy all over Egypt. I doubt that the Egyptian government would have allow this, as well.

Harrison Ford had already made a name for himself in the first two “STAR WARS” films. But he was a supporting character in the movies, not the leading man. And Lucas’ first choice as Indiana Jones was Tom Selleck. But the latter lost the role, due to obligations to CBS’s “MAGNUM P.I.”. And the rest is Hollywood history . . . for both Ford and Selleck. I suspect that Selleck would have been superb in the role. But you know what? So was Ford. He did an excellent job in portraying all aspects of Henry Jones Jr.’s personality quirks – both the good and the bad. He also created a strong screen chemistry with his leading lady, Karen Allen. Not only was she magnificent as Indy’s former flame Marion Ravenwood, she did a great job in balancing her pseudo machismo and feminine allure. I was originally surprised to learn that Paul Freeman, who portrayed Indy’s rival René Belloq, was actually English. And he did a great job in portraying a Continental European without the cliches and portraying an intelligent, suave and villainous character.

“RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” proved to be the first time I had laid eyes upon John Rhys-Davies on screen. His portrayal of Egyptian-born excavator Sallah el-Kahir seemed a touch theatrical. Surprisingly, it worked. I believe Rhys-Davies is one of those actors who can do theatrics with perfection. And he also injected a great deal of intelligence and pragmatism into the role. Wolf Kahler gave a performance just as subtle as Freeman, in his portrayal of Colonel Herman Dietrich, commander of the German regiment. I was relieved to see that his performance avoided the old “Ve haf vays of making you tahk” crap from old Hollywood World War II films. Anthony Higgins managed to avoid the same cliche in portrayal of Dietrich’s second-in-command, Major Gobler. However, I was amused to discover a certain degree of cockiness in his performance. Ronald Lacey’s portrayal of Gestapo agent Arnold Taht seemed less subtle. In fact, his performance seemed to be a strange mixture of subtle dialogue and gestures, blended with theatrical moments. I found Lacey’s performance to be the most interesting in the movie. Denholm Elliot’s role as Indy’s mentor, Dr. Marcus Brody, struck me as charming and witty. But he was not in the movie long enough for me to really enjoy his performance. George Harris gave a commanding performance as the captain of the Bantu Wind, Captain Simon Katanga. He was especially effective in his character’s encounter with the arrogant Colonel Dietrich.

What else can I say about “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created an imaginative and exciting movie that kick-started a first-rate movie franchise that has withstood the test of time. The movie also featured some memorable action sequences and dramatic moments, thanks to Lawrence Kasdan’s well-written screenplay and Spielberg’s superb direction. And although “INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” has some obvious flaws, it still remains one of my favorite adventure films of all time . . . period.

“THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” (2010) Review

926118_original

 

“THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” (2010) Review

Anyone who has read Agatha Christie’s 1925 novel, “The Secret of Chimneys”, will be disappointed by the 2010 television adaptation that stars Julia McKenzie as Miss Jane Marple. The television movie bears little resemblance to the novel. But that does not mean one should completely dismiss the movie. 

Although a long time fan of Christie’s novels, I have never read “The Secret of Chimneys”. Familiar with many of the author’s novels, I knew that the former was not one that featured Jane Marple. I did not care. I have come across other Miss Marple television movies in which the literary source did not feature her as the main character. However, I was surprised to learn that the 2010 movie bore very little resemblance to the original novel. Then again, I should not have been surprised. The forces behind the adaptations of Christie novels seemed to have a penchant for changing the plots and sometimes, even the murderer’s identities, whenever the whim struck them. And this whim certainly went into full gear for “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS”.

Written by Paul Rutman, the plot for “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” begins in the 1930s, when an Austrian named Count Ludwig Von Stainach first visited Chimneys, the estate of the 9th Maquis of Caterham to attend a diplomatic ball. During that visit, a famous diamond belonging to Lord Caterham, is stolen; leading to the beginning of the decline of his family’s fortunes. Over twenty years later, Jane Marple, who is related to Lord Caterham’s family, visits Chimneys for a weekend house party when she learns that it is being considered to become a part of National Trust. Also attending the house party held by Lord Caterham is a local ambitious Member of Parliament (M.P.) named George Lomax, who wants to marry the aristocrat’s younger daughter, Lady Virginia Brent; older daughter Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent, and National Trust advocate Miss Hilda Blenkinsopp. However, the main reason behind the house party proves to be the visiting Count Von Stainach, whom Lomax wants Lord Caterham to entertain in order to sign a deal for iron ore that post-World War II England desperately needs. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Lady Virginia has met and fallen in love with a young man named Anthony Cade, who has decided to crash the party in order to prevent her from marrying Lomax. However, the house party takes a dark turn when someone shoots and kills Count Von Stainach in one of the manor’s secret passages. And since Anthony was the first to stumble across the count’s body, he becomes “Suspect Number One”.

Knowing that “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” was not an original Jane Marple mystery, I had no idea on what to expect from this television series. Thankfully, the movie proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film filled with some humor, strong characterizations, plenty of romance – both charming and poignantly sad, and two very puzzling mysteries. Although one mystery surrounded the disappearance of the Brents’ diamond and the other featured the murder of Count Von Stainach, both proved to be connected to one another. I have read the synopsis of Christie’s 1925 novel. I must admit that it read more like a political thriller than a murder mystery. And a part of me felt somewhat relieved that screenwriter Rutman did not attempt a faithful adaptation of the novel. Some have claimed that Anthony Cade, who was featured as the main investigator in the novel, had been pushed into the background. I cannot agree with this assessment. Instead of the story’s main investigator, Cade was used as one half of the movie’s main love story and the main suspect of Von Stainach’s murder. Rutman did a very good job in utilizing the Cade character, while replacing him with Miss Marple as the main investigator.

There were technical aspects of “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” that I certainly enjoyed. Chris Seager’s photography struck me as beautiful. The movie’s photography displayed its filming locations – Hatfield House for the exterior shots and Knebworth House for the interior shots – with beautifully sharp colors. Miranda Cull contributed to Seager’s photography with her art designs for the movie’s interiors shot inside Knebworth House. And Sheena Napier did an excellent job of designing costumes for the movie’s characters. This is a movie filled with upper-class or aristocratic characters who have seen better times, financial. This means that Napier’s costumes had a mid-century elegance that seemed slightly worn, and did not come off as expensively glamourous.

Charlotte Salt, Jonas Armstrong, Ruth Jones and Matthew Horne. Anthony Higgins, whom I have not laid eyes upon in years, gave a charming performance as the elegant, yet extroverted Count Ludwig Von Stainach. But there were performances that really caught my eye. One of them came from Stephen Dillane, who gave a deliciously twisted performance as the slightly eccentric Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Fitch. Another performance that impressed me came from Adam Godley, whom I last saw on USA Network’s “SUITS”. I thought he perfectly portrayed the ambitious, yet controlling politician George Lomax. I rather liked Dervla Kirwan’s portrayal of Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent, Lord Caterham’s older daughter. I felt Kirwan did an excellent job in portraying a woman who is struggling to deal with the possible erosion of a lifestyle she had known all of her life. Edward Fox is another I have not seen in years. But I felt that he, along with Dillane and Julia McKenzie gave the best performances in the movie. Fox’s Maquis of Caterham proved to be a skillful portrayal of an elderly, yet sad man whom seemed unable to stop grieving over a recently deceased wife.

Julia McKenzie has received some criticism for her portrayal of Jane Marple over the past three to four years. Apparently, many fans believe she seemed a bit too robust and young to be portraying the elderly sleuth. McKenzie, who is in her early 70s, is old enough. And quite frankly, I have enjoyed her portrayal just as much as I have Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan’s. McKenzie simply has a different, slightly less incoherent style in approaching the Miss Marple character. And not only did I enjoyed it in “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS”, but also in her other Miss Marple movies.

I would not exactly view “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” as one of the best Miss Marple mysteries I have seen on television. But thanks to some solid direction from John Strickland, a surprisingly first-rate script written by Paul Rutman and some superb performances from a cast led by Julia McKenzie, I ended enjoying it very much.