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.

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Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter directed.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

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

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“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:

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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.

“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS” (2008) Review

 

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”INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” (2008)  Review

As much as I enjoyed this latest installment of the INDIANA JONES saga – ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL”, I had found myself perplexed by it. There was something about the movie’s tone that failed to strike a chord similar to the past three movies. It took a second viewing of the movie for me to understand that it had a lot to do with its setting. 

”INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” is set in 1957, in which Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) leads a convoy of Soviet troops, dressed as American soldiers on a mission to infiltrate a military base in the Nevada desert called “Hangar 51”. Spalko and her men force Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) to lead them to a crate holding the remains of an extraterrestrial creature that crashed ten years before in Roswell, New Mexico. When Jones attempts to escape, he is foiled by his old partner, George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone), who reveals that he is working with the Soviets. Jones then escapes on a rocket sled into the desert, where he stumbles upon a nuclear test town and survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. While being debriefed, Jones discovers he is under FBI investigation because his friend Mac is a Soviet agent. Jones returns to Marshall College, where he is offered a leave of absence to avoid being fired because of the investigation. As he is leaving, Jones is stopped by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and told that his old colleague, Harold Oxley (John Hurt), disappeared after discovering a crystal skull in Peru.

Like 2007’s ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”, I had harbored some serious doubts on whether George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could relive the old magic of their previous three Indiana Jones adventures of the 1980s. Needless to say, my fears proved to be groundless. Like the Bruce Willis “DIE HARD” movie, this fourth installment ended up being very entertaining. And although it had some of the old magic of ”RAIDERS”,”TEMPLE OF DOOM” and ”LAST CRUSADE”, it had a tone that made it different from the other three. It took a movie review by someone named Lazypadawan and a second viewing of the movie to not only notice the difference, but to eventually appreciate it.

The main problem I originally had with ”CRYSTAL SKULL” was the presence of a spaceship at the end of the story. The City of Gold that Indy, Spalko, Oxley and others wanted to find, ended up with something to do with . . . an inter-dimensional being. One might as well call it an alien, judging by its look. This is something that has never been seen in an Indiana Jones film before. And of course it has not. The other three movies had been set in the 1930s. It would be only natural that they had a feel of a 30s B-serial adventure. But I made the mistake of expecting a 1930s serial adventure in a story set in the late 1950s. What I should have realized – and what Lazypadawan had pointed out in her review – was that ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” was not supposed to be a 30s serial adventure set in the 1950s. It was supposed to be a send up of the 1950s “B” movies. And what are the elements of a “B” movie from the 1950s? Here are just a few:

*atomic power
*the presence of Soviet troops or spies
*science fiction
*horror
*hybrid of science fiction and horror
*conflicts between biker hoods and high school/college jocks
*the “Red” scare
*Soviet (and American) interests in psychic paranormal activities and UFOs

”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” had most, if not all elements in the film. I had just read a review in which someone had complained that the movie seemed like a “rip-off” of a cheesy B-movie. I had made that same mistake when I saw the spaceship sequence near the end of the movie. But now I know better. Lucas and Spielberg had every intention of the movie being a “rip-off” of 1950s B-movies. Like I had said before, it would only make sense.

Someone else had mentioned that Harrison Ford had not seemed this animated in years. I am not surprised. Indiana Jones had always been amongst his favorite characters. And it really showed in his performance. It is also nice to see that after 27 years, his chemistry with Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood) seemed as strong as ever. By the way, she was great. And I was very impressed by Shia LaBeouf as Marion and Indy’s love child – Mutt Williams aka Henry Jones III. As much as I liked his performance in ”TRANSFORMERS”, I have always thought it seemed a bit too frantic for my tastes. I much preferred his role as Henry III (I’m sorry, but I can barely bring myself to say – let alone write – “Mutt”). LaBeouf managed to convey a strong screen presence that matched Ford, without resorting to the frantic acting he had utilized in “TRANSFORMERS”. Like Ford, I could tell that Cate Blanchett really enjoyed her role as the villainous Soviet Colonel-Doctor Spalko. She was as obsessive and ruthless as the past Indy villains. But Blanchett’s performance had a verve and theatricality I have not seen since Amrish Puri’s portrayal of Mola Ram in ”THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”. And John Hurt filled Denholm Elliot’s role as friend/mentor of the Jones family quite beautifully. But unlike Marcus Brody, Harold Oxley had a good reason for his loopy behavior. I also enjoyed Ray Winstone’s performance as Indy’s treacherous old friend and colleague, McHale. In a way, he reminded me of the Elsa Schneider character in “LAST CRUSADE”. But as much as I like Alison Doody, I must say that Winstone’s take on a very morally ambiguous character had been handled with more skill.

Is there anything about ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” that I disliked? Well, I was not impressed by John Williams’ score. There was nothing original or memorable about it, aside from moments of the old Indy theme being rehashed. Rather disappointing. Nor was I fond of the movie’s heavy-handed style of action and special effects. However, I could honestly complain about the same about the other three films. But the one thing that really irritated me was the sequence featuring the villain’s defeat/destruction. In the end, it was not Indy who had defeated the villain or set her destruction in motion. It was the inter-dimensional being. In other words, Indy became nothing more than a passive bystander of the villain’s defeat. This is the one major fault I have noticed in two other Indiana Jones films. And it gave those films – at least in my eyes – an anticlimatic feeling that I found disappointing. In ”RAIDERS”, the opening of the Ark of the Covenant set in motion Belloq and the Nazis’ deaths. Both Indy and Marion were tied to a pole, unable to do anything except keep their eyes closed. In ”THE LAST CRUSADE”, Elsa Schneider turned out to be responsible for the main villain’s death and the destruction of his men through her handling of the Grail Cup. Perhaps Lucas and Spielberg were trying to convey some message about humans being too arrogant to take heed of things/beings that are more powerful or more evolved than mankind. But that same message had also been conveyed in ”TEMPLE OF DOOM”. Only in that particular movie, it was Indy’s actions – invoking the power of Shiva with the Sanakara stone – that led to Mola Ram’s destruction. Perhaps this is why I have always found the 1984 movie’s finale a lot more impressive than those of the other three movies.

But despite my initial confusion on what Lucas and Spielberg were doing with the movie’s 1950s theme, along with my disappointment of the score and the handling of the villain’s defeat, I found ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” to be very enjoyable. It was great to see Indiana Jones back in action, again. And even more satisfying was his marriage to his lady love, Marion Ravenwood, in the end. After 30 odd years, those two finally got it right.