The Morning After: Jan. 27, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Great Escape

The genre had many hits before and after, but The Great Escape is the standard by which all others will and should be compared. The story of a group of World War II POW’s who task themselves with breaking out their men from a newly-constructed prison camp designed specifically to hold them.

The crew includes a number of compelling characters brought to life by a laundry list of incredible talents all working at their prime. The cast is led by Steve McQueen as a motorcycle-riding (naturally) American soldier who seems to spend more time in the Cooler (an isolation cell) than among his fellows; Richard Attenborough as the mastermind; James Garner as a scrounger who manages to acquire various goods to help the others along; Charles Bronson as the Tunnel King, the key digger; Donald Pleasance as the forger; James Coburn as the construction foreman; and several other actors whose names might not be familiar to new audiences, but who keep the action moving quite spectacularly.

The director behind some of the most prominent westerns, modernist and traditional, (The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Bad Day at Black Rock and The Magnificent Seven), understands the power of a strong ensemble even when his films have minimal action. The Great Escape uses some of those slow build mechanics of his prior films, while trying to blend in actual action segments (the motorcycle chase is one example). The film plays best leading up to the actual escape, but then becomes a tad muddled in the last third. With so much going on, it feels entirely at odds with what came before.

In Cold Blood

Speaking of slow-boil true-life dramas, Truman Capote’s classic novel following the real story of two killers who murdered four members of a family in a small town in Kansas, was brought gorgeously to life screenwriter-turned-director Richard Brooks who directed Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In Cold Blood is a complete departure from that film in terms of tone and creativity. While Cat relies heavily on the interaction of characters and performances, Blood depends heavily on style to create one of the most mesmerizing true crime stories ever filmed.

While captivating, the film drags at points and by the time you finally get to the re-enactment portion of the film, less time has elapsed than you expected. Regardless, Conrad Hall deserves as much praise for the film’s success as Brooks. Hall’s photography is stunning, employing shadow and contrast in ways that would become legendary, influencing all that came after him. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson are terrific as Perry and Dick while John Forsythe as less to do than the audience wants as the man who eventually brings them to justice.

This marks my fourth outing into this material. I read the novel for the first time a few years ago after having watched Capote and before watching Infamous. Those two films cover the crime in a different way following Truman Capote as he documents the crime thriller for his novel. Seeing a dramatization of the book in full helps elements of those two films feel more striking. It also enhances my feeling Bennett Miller’s Capote is utterly inferior to Infamous, but both pale in comparison to Brooks’ film.

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