Fort Apache – Help! We are Surrounded week

This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Fort Apache is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Fort Apache (1948) – Not rated.

“This classic Western from legendary director John Ford explores the darker side of the Old West. When arrogant Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) takes command of Fort Apache, he is determined to make a name for himself. Against the advice of seasoned soldier Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne), Thursday wages war against Apache chief Cochise and his tribe — and the Fort Apache troops must follow the misguided command of their glory-seeking leader.”

“I suggest the Apache has deteriorated since then, judging by a few of the specimens I have seen on my way out here.” – “Well, if you saw them, sir, they were not Apaches.”

It is very clear that John Ford patterned this movie after the story of General Custer. Thankfully Ford does his best not to whitewash our expansion. The Indian Bureau are painted (rightfully) as the villains although we only have one representative, Silas Meacham.

Henry Fonda plays Lt. Col. Thursday, our Custer substitute. He does a wonderful job of portraying an officer trying to do his duty while wrestling with unbridled ambition, being a father and an ignorance of frontier knowledge.

This is a John Wayne film but not a John Wayne film if you catch my drift. He is a star in this film as opposed to being THE star. In fact he is practically a fixture or perhaps a backdrop until nearly the end of the film. It almost seems as if he wandered in from another movie.

While Ford and Shirley Temple reputedly did not get on at all, Temple adds some levity as well as a romantic interest. She does quite well in one of her few adult film roles. She retired from movies the year after this was released. Her part, that of the daughter of the commander became a stereotype and is essentially the same as the role of daughter of the Governor in swashbuckler movies.

This is the feature film debut of John Agar (Lt. O Rourke) who would go on to star in a bunch more westerns, many with John Wayne (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Undefeated, Chisum, Big Jake). He also became a very popular genre star (Tarantula, Attack of the Puppet People, The Brain from Planet Arous, Revenge of the Creature). At the time of filming Fort Apache, he was married to co-star Shirley Temple though they did divorce shortly after.

Ford regulars Ward Bond (Wagon Train), Victor McLaglen (Gunga Din), and Pedro Armendariz (From Russia with Love) all put in their usual amusing supporting performances.

The cinematography is absolutely wonderful. Cinematographer Archie Stout used a special infrared black and white film to film in Monument Valley. This really enhances the gorgeous rock formations and cacti out there.

While I appreciate that Fort Apache is practically an epic, being over two hours in length back in 1948, this film could have used some serious editing. There is essentially no peril until almost the halfway point. Way too much time is spent showing how much fun life on the frontier was.

I highly recommend this classic western. Being 1948, the battles are bloodless and the brutality of life on the frontier and of the Apache conflict are not present but while the U.S. Cavalry as a whole is the hero here, this movie is very honest for its time. Monument Valley is of course a fabulous location for a western and it shows.

Fort Apache is presented in high definition for those of you with the bandwidth. It is of course an old black & white western but the HD makes it quite vivid.

People Watch: Veteran character actor Ben Johnson was a stuntman on this picture.

Fail-Safe – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. Fail-Safe is currently available on instant Netflix.

Fail-Safe

WATCH: Fail-Safe (1964) – NR – Not rated

“Director Sidney Lumet transforms the doomsday scenario played for laughs in Dr. Strangelove into a taut thriller. When a computer glitch sends a bomber crew on a suicide mission to Moscow, the U.S. president (Henry Fonda) agonizes over how to stop it. Will Fonda tell the Russians to shoot down the plane? Global thermonuclear war may hinge on his decision.”

“I say every war, including thermonuclear war, must have a winner and a loser. Which would you rather be?”

“Whats the difference between 60 million dead and a hundred million dead?” – “Forty million”

Fail-Safe shares a remarkable number of resemblances to the film we reviewed yesterday, Dr. Strangelove. They were both released in 1964. Both are directed by celebrated directors and feature wonderful casts.

Both are based on cautionary novels about the possibility of error causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plots are remarkably similar and Kubrick wisely stipulated that his film be released first. Dr. Strangelove had already been delayed as a result of the Kennedy assassination.

While thematically identical, the two films could not be further apart in tone. Where Dr. Strangelove is a droll satire, Fail-Safe is a deadly serious examination of a nuclear issue and cold war politics.

Director Sidney Lumet does a wonderful job with ensemble casts in tense situations. He deals heavily in characterization and his movies are usually very light in physical action. This predisposition suits this topic well.

Lumet uses his 12 Angry Men star Henry Fonda as the President. This is wonderful casting of course coming after decades of Henry Fonda playing American everymen. Fonda is both powerful and sympathetic here in very tense situations.

Walter Matthau is exceptional as an extremely hawkish professor. Even while working on (okay mostly exacerbating) the current crisis, it is clear he is positioning himself for advantage in a future situation. Dan OHerlihy is our nominal hero, a General with a conscience. A young Larry (Dallas) Hagman plays an interpreter caught in the middle.

The stark black and white cinematography works well for the bleak depiction of possible nuclear tragedy. Sidney Lumet avoids any kind of flashiness that might detract from the drama. The movie is, not surprisingly, somewhat heavy-handed.

To show how serious the subject is, there is no music whatsoever during the film. A horrifying twist three quarters of the way in the movie, while somewhat difficult to swallow, delivers quite a punch to the proceedings.

Netflix presents Fail-Safe in HD for those not viewing it on a computer. This is a good slice of Cold War paranoia that had the misfortune of following the brilliant Dr. Strangelove. While worth recommending, it is nowhere near as good as Dr. Strangelove so watch that one first.

People Watch: This movie was quite the launching pad for a number of careers. This is the debut not only of Fritz Weaver but also of comedian Dom Deluise and Dana (MacGyver) Elcar.

The Swarm – Nature Gone Wild! week

This is Nature Gone Wild! week. The Swarm is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Swarm

AVOID: The Swarm – NR – Not rated. The theatrical version was rated PG and this version adds more content but as near as I could tell not more objectionable material.

“Entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) and his crack team of scientists attempt to intervene when swarms of voracious killer bees begin attacking a number of cities in Texas, and an army general (Richard Widmark) threatens to use military firepower against this force of nature. This doomsday epic buzzes with an all-star cast, including Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda.”

“I never dreamed it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend.”

“We have been invaded, by an enemy far more lethal than any human force.”

“Until we have destroyed the African bee. Or it has destroyed us.”

As you may have noticed I have rated this AVOID as any sane person should. However I must admit to having enjoyed the stupidity of this film immensely. This is a great big slice of 70s cheese and boy does it stink.

The plot holes practically define the film so this must be Swiss cheese. Right off the bat the military discovers Dr. Crane in the middle of the command center of a semi-secret military base. He has been following the bees and claims he just walked right in after everyone was killed off.

Later Dr. Crane needs some specimens of the swarm which is somewhat odd since he is right there in the base where the swarm killed everyone. Are you telling me the base was wiped out and then the bees carried away their dead?

Later still Jud Hawkins (Slim Pickens) arrives and threatens to shut off the water to the base if he doesn’t get to see his son. Rather than detain him, General Slater figures that they’d better do what he says. What?!? Of course I’m glad they did because one of the most hilarious scenes in the film is Slim Pickens crying over the Hefty bag his son is in.

Crane has one bee to work with. Seriously one bee and they have a room full of body-bagged soldiers. Did anyone read the script before they filmed this?

As they’re playing back the surveillance tapes, you can clearly hear the swarm. Dr. Crane asks, ‘what’s that?’ so I tell him it’s the swarm obviously – where did you get your PhD? in a box of crackerjack?

Three boys go out hunting for the bees. They find them just out of town swarming everywhere. There is no mistaking them but one of the boys needs to use his binoculars to see what is filling the whole screen.

Still later Crane figures out that the bees showed up at the base less than 30 seconds after the base tested a siren. Earlier they indicated that the swarm was traveling at 7 miles an hour. Alright I’ll let you do the math but that pretty much means the bees had to be on the base already.

Crane sees three clouds of bees – all three are headed in completely different directions and Crane says the bees are headed straight for Marysville. That’s okay though because while the bees have no problem wiping out an underground military base, they seem to have difficulty getting into buildings.

They take the survivors of Marysville and pack them all on a train. I’d tell you what happens next but I have to stop with the ridiculous plot now before I get into spoilers. I imagine you  can guess though.

The cast is absolutely first rate even if they don’t put in good performances. Michael Caine headlines the scientists and really chews up the scenery. Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain appear as scientists. The townspeople are played by Fred MacMurray (his last film), Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens. The military is represented by Richard Widmark, Katharine Ross, and Bradford Dillman.

The theatrical version was 116 minutes – this is the extended version and runs a whopping 155 minutes. The extra time is not kind to this film – it makes it seem to go on forever. Netflix has also brought this in a nice widescreen ratio so you can properly appreciate this disaster.

Unless you have a taste for truly terrible movies, avoid this movie. Please note: while this film worked fine on my computer, it was glitchy on my Roku box about 37 minutes in. Inexplicably this movie was actually nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

People Watch: Jose Ferrer appears briefly as Dr. Andrews and Cameron Mitchell plays General Thompson.