#296 The Dirty Dozen

Watched: December 21 2020

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, George Kennedy, Richard Jaeckel, Trini López, Ralph Meeker, Robert Ryan, Clint Walker, Robert Webber, Tom Busby

Year: 1967

Runtime: 2h 30min

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We continue our criminal-men-do-fun-but-risky-stuff-together-while-paying-an-inordinate-amount-of-attention-to-their-attire with The Dirty Dozen – a suspenseful war drama featuring a host of well-known tough guys.

“We have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass . . . and bubblegum is heavily rationed so our options are limited.”

During WWII, Major Reisman (Marvin) is tasked with blowing up a French château housing a bunch of important Germans. To help with this suicide mission he enlists not the best of the best, but rather the worst of the worst: conviced rapists, murderers and other assorted criminals who are promised freedom should they happen to survive. What could possibly go wrong with this scenario?

It’s all fun and games until…oh… Eh, yes. Carry on.

A lot, it turns out. For some reason, these condemned sociopaths have trouble working together and listening to authority. Luckily, the Major understands them and knows how to get them all on the same page (hint: liquor and prostitutes will go a long way..). So gradually, they learn to cooperate, have each other’s backs, and the greatest bonding exercise known to man: burning Germans alive. Yay!

“How do I reach these kiiiiids?”

The Dirty Dozen was our family’s big Christmas movie this year and while it didn’t necessarily give us a lot of Christmas spirit, it was very good entertainment. While it all leads up to the mission itself, most of the film shows the teambuilding and training the soldiers/convicts are put through, and how their comradery grows as they get ready.

Nothing strengthens friendships like blowing shit up together. Takes us right back to our university days. Such carnage… Such bliss…

We loved the base building, the military band gag, Pinkley’s impersonation of a General (can’t go wrong with a Sutherland!), the opposition of Franko, the practise maneuvers, and of course George Kennedy. The movie is funny, exciting, tense, brutal, dramatic, ultimately heartbreaking, and we really enjoyed it.

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. Kamikaze soldier of the Allied Forces and proud owner of a pack of dental floss.”

What we learned: Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty. Also, don’t entrust religious fanatics with sensitive missions… Or misogynists with anything, really.

Next time: The Firemen’s Ball (1967)

#179 Odds Against Tomorrow

Watched: May 13 2018

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame, Ed Begley

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Ex-cop Dave Burke (Begley) hires two men to carry out a robbery. Both Earle Slater (Ryan) and Johnny Ingram (Belafonte) are debt-ridden, and they are promised the neat sum of $50 000 each for the job.

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$50 000 may not seem much to risk your life for nowadays, but in 1959 it would buy you protection from several M*A*S*H cast members, which was a real threat at the time

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Slater is a big, stinking racist, and is not happy working with Ingram who is black. Ingram himself is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but has a gambling problem and owes a baddie $7500. Burke, the sly mo-fo, pulls strings to pressure the men and make sure he gets the crew he wants. Soon the three are preparing to rob a small bank.

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The monetary loss was nothing compared to the humiliation of being held at gunpoint by three dentists, one of whom was clearly blind

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As with all (or at least most) daring capers, despite their prep work and good planning, things go awry. This time though, it’s not because of a Dame or unplanned events, but because of Slater’s racism.

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“Why does the black guy get the cool hat? He also got the sunglasses! It’s not faaaair!”

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Odds Against Tomorrow is a very good and suspenseful noir with intriguing characters  and a fantastic soundtrack. Johnny, though by no means perfect, is infinitely more likable than little bitch Slater, who is passive aggressive with his girlfriend Lorry (Winters) and plain aggressive with everyone else. That being said, he too shows vulnerability and humanity at times, and he is disillusioned and angry after a hard life.

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“Honey, even though I try really hard to bang the neighbour, you’re my everything!”

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It’s a caper movie, but it focuses a lot on the characters and what drives them, rather than the heist itself, though that too is tense and exciting.  The ending (which we won’t reveal completely) is heavily symbolic and reminiscent of (slight spoiler alert!) White Heat, and we absolutely loved it! A great, late film noir.

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If intriguing characters, great music, a tense heist and social commentary don’t do it for you, there’s also the glorious Gloria Grahame in a bra. You creep.

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What we learned: All men are evil. Also, racism has no place in a heist.

Next time: Rio Bravo (1959)

#126 Bad Day at Black Rock

Watched: August 19 2017

Director: John Sturges

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, John Ericson

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 21min

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The tiny town of Black Rock is amazed to see the train actually stop for the first time in four years. Even more puzzled, and suspicious, are they to find a stranger getting off in search of a hotel room and a cab to take him to Adobe Flats.

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“I vote we just kill him now and get it over with. There’s no way we can share our one female resident with yet another man.”

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The stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), is met with hostility from all sides, mainly led by Reno Smith (Ryan) who everyone seems to be afraid of. The hostility increases when Macreedy reveals he is looking for a Japanese-American farmer named Komoko, and he is served a story of Komoko being relocated in the wake of  Pearl Harbor.

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Pictured: tension. And not the homoerotic cowboy movie kind.

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As Macreedy is trapped in the town for the night and all lines of communication with the outside world are sabotaged by local followers of Smith, vet/undertaker Doc (Brennan) is the only one willing to help him. Doc reveals that Komoko is dead, although the details of his death are still unknown to our hero.

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Hint: there’s racism and bigotry at work. Thank God the world is not plagued by those kinds of outdated ideas anymore!

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Smith and his croonies, most notably Coley and Hector (Borgnine and Lee, respectively), no longer operate under any pretense of innocence, and the chances of Macreedy surviving the night grow smaller and smaller.

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It doesn’t help that our hero is a one-armed man trying to fight a pissed off Ernest Borgnine

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Bad Day at Black Rock is an exciting and tense murder-mystery-western with a crime at the centre of the plot which is strangely (and sadly) relevant to our own times and political climate. Macreedy is a stoic badass, yet you’re never sure things will go his way or who he can trust. The men in this one-woman-town must make some tough choices and decide whether or not to make up for the mistakes that were made four years ago.

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It’s hard to see how anything at all could happen in a town this small, let alone something horrible

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There’s nothing not to love about this film. It’s shot in Eastman Color and Cinemascope, and beautifully so. There are car chases, shoot-outs, bar fights, Dames (well – just the one dame, actually), murder, mystery, and mayhem, and we loved everything about it. Loved it!

What we learned: This is a local town for local people. There’s nothing for you here! Alternatively, they don’t take kindly to strangers round these there parts.

Next time: Blackboard Jungle (1955)

#118 The Naked Spur

Watched: June 30 2017

Director: Anthony Mann

Starring: James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Howard Kemp (Stewart), a farmer turned bounty hunter, is tracking Ben Vandergroat (Ryan) through the Rocky Mountains. Along the way he runs into old prospector Jesse Tate (Mitchell) and “morally unstable” dishonorably discharged Army Lieutenant Roy Anderson (Meeker).

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There’s tension from the get-go

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The three join forces, sort of against Kemp’s wishes, and manage to capture the murderer. However, they are surprised to find him in the company of Lina Patch (Leigh) – the daughter of a dead criminal. As Kemp’s companions learn that he is no lawman but a bounty hunter set on collecting the $5000 reward for Vandergroat’s capture, they decide to accompany the party back to Kansas to get their share of the reward.

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#SquadGoals

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Vandergroat turns out to be a master manipulator who has his female companion convinced that he is innocent. As the five travelers make their long way towards Kansas, their captured killer works on turning them all against each other, which isn’t a hard task considering they don’t really trust each other to begin with. Will they all reach Kansas in one (five?) piece(s)?

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While the men do men stuff, the girl is tasked with womanly work such as tending the wounded, making coffee and falling for the protagonist

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The Naked Spur is a tense Western Thriller and we enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would. It’s engaging and interesting, and it’s often hard to tell who the bad guys actually are – they all have their moments. It’s violent and suspenseful and we loved every minute of it. If you’re in the mood for a tense Western, you could do a lot worse than this Technicolor feature.

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Although the threat of rape lies heavily on poor Lina throughout…

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What we learned: It’s OK for strong, macho cowboys to cry. Also, are you willing to sell your soul for $5000?

Next time: The Wages of Fear (1953)

#90 Caught

Watched: March 11 2017

Director: Max Ophüls

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes) has one ambition in life: to go to Charm School so that she can be eligible to marry a rich, upper-class man. After saving up all her money to attend said school, she gets a job modelling clothes in a store which, through a series of (un)fortunate events leads to her meeting Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), the epitome of the rich bachelor.

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As you can see, she is instantly comfortable in his company

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Ohlrig marries his model more to prove he will than because of any true affection for her, and as soon as they are married, she starts to see his true nature. Rather than a wife, he treats her as property – he expects her to be at his beck and call at every hour of the day and even embarresses her in front of his friends and co-workers. To Leonora’s credit, she realises that no amount of money is worth this kind of treatment and she leaves her abusive husband.

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As the spoiled man-child he is, Ohlrig’s reaction is to ignore everything not going his way and play his pinball machine instead.

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Though not divorced, Leonora is now on her own and gets a job as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office, where she meets Dr Larry Quinada (Mason). For once, she is in the company of a man who expects more from her than being arm candy – she must give her all to her job and show that she can learn. After a somewhat rocky start, she realises that she is capable of more than being a charming wife

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Unlike Ohlrig, Quinada is looking for a woman of substance, not flirty “charm girls”

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However, despite the lack of love in their marriage, Ohlrig has no intentions of giving his estranged wife a divorce, and his treatment of her becomes more and more brutal throughout the film. In addition, Larry is unaware of her marital status as she is afraid to reveal her real identity to him. Will she be able to escape this mess?

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And what’s going on here? Watch Caught to find out!

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Caught is a suspenseful noir which we completely loved. While Leonora’s ambition at the start of the film is questionable, it seems as though this is something she has been told to do, more than something she wants deep down. She is reluctant to go to parties she’s invited to, and she is weary of the sort of men who invite random models to parties. Her readiness to leave her rich husband without a penny also speaks to her true nature. She’s sweet and likable although a bit irresolute and helpless in the beginning.

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Until she starts flashing people, that is

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It’s a great watch with an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that may have been even more controversial to a 1940s audience than it is today. A very good, somewhat unusual noir with great performances – kind of like Citizen Kane from the wife’s perspective in a lot of ways. Although parts of Citizen Kane is also from the wives’ perspective so it’s not a perfect comparison… Suffice to say – we loved it!

What we learned: The only reason we haven’t married rich yet is because no one ever sent us to Charm School. Damn our equal opportunity, sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves country! Also, money alone isn’t everything.

Next time: Criss Cross (1949)