Whew. It's been a long time since I've written any long form review. I've been writing on the weekends, but nothing I'm ready to put out there yet. But two movies that I've been waiting to watch for many, many years appeared at the Cleveland Cinematheque over the last weekend.
Let me give a little explanation of how my mind sometimes works. Jaws is my second favorite movie of all time. And one of those reasons is Roy Scheider. Because he was in Jaws, he's become one of those actors that I will watch what he's starred in, regardless of quality. And one of the movies that he's the main actor in is William Friedkin's Sorcerer. Years ago, I had read about this film which tells the story of four guys who are hired to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerin over 300 treacherous miles to help stop a fire. I finally Watched Sorcerer just last year, and it was good. But I've also known for years that Sorcerer is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear. I've been meaning to see this film for a long time as well, not merely because it was the original template for Sorcerer, but because I love Clouzot's Diabolique.
The plot between both films is pretty similar, but the execution is different. The Wages of Fear spends the first hour setting up the desolation of place, the poverty of all the people there, the interpersonal relationships between everyone, and the absolute desperation of the men who would volunteer for what is almost a suicide mission, in the hopes that they can get out of their current situation.
The last hour and a half is a tension-filled masterpiece. There's four guys and two trucks. 300 miles to go. Along the way is a road that you have to drive either under 6 MPH or over 40 MPH or else the trucks explode. What happens when one of the trucks starts catching up with the other one on this road? There are roads that you can only get to by backing up on a half built bridge made with shoddy wood. There are boulders in the road that have to be blown up with some of that nitroglycerin. It's insane. And that's not even talking about all the conflicts between the characters, because we've seen all their issues that have been set up and are now being paid off.
Yes, the very last scene of the film is jarring. It's frustrating, because the entire film has been so meticulous up until this point, and yet the last scene feels like it came from a different director. And I'm speaking only in how it's shot. The end result is something I completely understand, because it works with what the character goes through, but the emotional impact is muted because of how it's shot.
But if you want to watch a strong, strong character-driven, suspenseful film, then this is the one for you. ***1/2
And the second film of the night was The Island of Lost Souls. My history of this film goes back to when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I grew up reading everything I could about monster movies - Them!, This Island Earth, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Island of Lost Souls (among many, many others). Before videotape, my only access to any of these films were Saturday afternoon screenings presented by SuperHost (Cleveland's awesome movie monster host). And I saw nearly every monster film I had read about. But the one (two, if you count the 1977 version) film that managed to elude me was The Island of Lost Souls.
Based upon the H. G. Wells novel, the movie opens with Edward Parker, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, getting picked up by a ship that is transporting a bunch of animals to a small island owned by the mysterious Dr. Moreau. Moreau is played by Charles Laughton, in one of his first leading roles, and he grabs it with gusto.
There's no suspense in the fact that Moreau is obviously a bad guy. It's not a spoiler to say that he's messing with nature in a very profound way. The true strength of the film is in what lengths will Moreau go to in order to prove his theories. The creatures he's created are both appealing (I'm looking at you Panther Woman) and monstrous (everyone else). The creatures live by three rules - Not to eat meat, not to go on all fours, and not to spill blood. When the rules are broken, chaos rules.
I have waited a long time to see this film. I recently bought it used on blu-ray, figuring I could end this long drought. But, as always, there's nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. And this film met all my childhood expectations. Scenes I've only seen in pictures, lines I've only read in books... it's all the more striking in glorious black and white. ****
Saturday night was both amazing and fulfilling!