Tag: henry fonda

MOVIE REVIEW | Once upon a Time in the West (1968)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Leoni does such an expert job of exploding the rules of the genre, while also faithfully adhering to them, that it feels like a classic western, and a whole new take on classic westerns at the same time.”

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“Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them.”

Possibly the single most important and influential name when it comes it westerns, is director John Ford.  From the silent era, through to well into the 50s, his movies defined what westerns still look and feel like to this day.  But post Ford, there were a couple of other blokes who played a big role in taking what Ford started, and pushed it to new limits of violence, grit and an almost nihilism.  Sam Pekinpah deserves some of the credit for his work on The Wild Bunch, but there’s another man who almost rivals John Ford for the stamp he left on the genre, Sergio Leoni.  And after he made westerns huge again with the Clint Eastwood starring Dollars trilogy, he took it to even more extreme lengths with Once Upon a Time in the West.

Three dirt covered scum bags wait at a train station with guns drawn.  When the locomotive finally arrives, only one man disembarks, Charles Bronson as Harmonica.  After a few jaw clenched words, he quickly dispatches the three gunmen.  Meanwhile, homesteader Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) prepares for the arrival of his new wife.  But before she gets there, McBain and his entire family are gunned down by the black hatted Frank (Henry Fonda). It turns out, the McBain property has access to the only water in the region.  Water needed by the company building a railroad through the area.  So instead of paying for the water, the railroad sent Frank to scare the McBains away.  Only Frank got a little carried away. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #23. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

Grapes of Wrath The_02
“I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

The downtrodden, little guy, fighting back against the man seems like the kind of story that would be as old as cinema itself. How could anyone have ever had a problem with an inspirational story of someone overcoming adversity through their sense of spirit and morality? Well, it turns out that America was so insane with their fear of communism, that there was such a time when a story like this wasn’t seen as inspirational, but instead seen as pro union, commie propaganda. It’s hard to fathom now, but there was a time when The Grapes of Wrath, an undisputed all time classic, was seen as subversive and dangerous.


Making his way home from a stretch in the pen after killing a bloke in a drunken dancefloor fight, all Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) wants is to live the quiet life, working his family’s farm. But while he’s been on the inside, the Great Depression has hit hard, and the once fertile Oklahoma land farmed by Tom’s family, has become a desolate dust bowl. Tom arrives home just in time to see the bank foreclose on their land and his family put out on their asses. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Long Night (1947)

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“Don’t ask me how but the more you hear the less you know.”

There’s a certain mood to most eras of film making.  And the 40s might be the most foreboding, the most cynical and the most impressive.  There’s a darkness, literally and thematically that seems to hold that decade together.  Noir may have been the standout, but there’s more to this literal and tonal darkness than trench coats, deceitful dames and the gumshoes who fall for them against their better judgment.  And it’s on display at its best in The Long Night.


Opening on a murder in a tenement building, gun shots are heard before a man falls dead, through the door of a top floor apartment.  The gunman (Henry Fonda as Joe) makes no effort to conceal his involvement.  Instead, he decides to bunker down in the apartment as more and more police arrive, attempting to flush him out.  The story then plays out, flashing back and forth between the titular long night of the apartment siege, and the events that lead up to it. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #87. 12 Angry Men (1957)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

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“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know.”

Movies adapted from stage plays often face the same criticism, that they feel like stage plays. Out of necessity, plays tend to take place on a limited number of sets, and tend to be all about dialogue. While I like August Osage County a lot, one of the main bones of contention with its knockers was the long scene at the dinner table where almost every character got a monologue. On stage, that’s great, on screen, it can seem a little static and bland.

But when a play is built entirely on the claustrophobia of one restricting set, and the characters are there to argue with each other, all of a sudden limited sets and speechifying monologues make everything that more intense. Which is why 12 Angry Men might be one of the greatest ever stage to screen adaptations. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** On Golden Pond (1981)

On Golden
“Don’t you think that everyone looks back on their childhood with a certain amount of bitterness and regret? It doesn’t have to ruin your life!”

On Golden Pond is a movie title I’ve heard plenty of times over the years. On Golden Pond is a movie about which I knew absolutely nothing. I wouldn’t have been able to name a single actor in it, what it was about or even make a rough guess about when it was made. Then I decided to do a week of Fonda family movies. Turns out, On Golden Pond gives me double the Fonda, with father Henry and daughter Jane playing a father and daughter.


Norman Thayer Jr (Henry Fonda) and his wife Ethel (Katherine Hepburn) arrive at their summer lake house. In the lead up to Norman’s 80th birthday, he’s obviously and openly feeling the ravages of age. In the early stages of some sort of dementia, he’s still in enough control to realise that he’s slipping. Openly disdainful of pretty much everyone in his life except his wife, Norman takes crotchety old crank to a new level. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** Mister Roberts (1955)

MIster
“We’ve got nothing to do with the war. Maybe that’s why we’re on this ship, cause we’re not good enough to fight. Cause our glands don’t secrete enough adrenaline, or our great-great-grandmothers were afraid of the dark or something.”

When director John Ford teamed up with actor Henry Fonda for Young Mr Lincoln, I got exactly what I expected form a biopic about an American president made by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda. It was very earnest, very respectful, and very reverential. So when I fired up Mister Roberts and saw John Ford’s name appear in the credits, I was expecting a similar earnest, respectful, reverential approach to American sailors during the Second World War. While I did get that to some degree, I got a lot of stuff I didn’t expect as well.


World War II is underway in the Pacific. Aboard the merchant ship the USS Reluctant, morale is low. Under the official leadership of the despotic, Napoleonic Captain Morton (James Cagney), the men actually follow their much more beloved cargo officer, Lt. Roberts (Henry Fonda). As the movie opens, none of the men have the left the ship for any form of recreation leave in over a year. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** Jesse James (1939)

Jesse

“He was one of the doggonedest, gawl-dingedest, dad-blamedest buckaroos that ever rode across these United States of America!”

It’s funny how history can be kind to some criminals. As mythologies build, all of a sudden intentions become more noble, back stories become more tragic, and the black and whites become more grey. In Australia, we have bush ranger Ned Kelly. He was portrayed (for some reason) by Mick Jagger in the 70s and Heath Ledger in the new millennium. Basically just a thief, outlaw and killer, the movies felt the need to make him a hero of the every man, fighting against oppression. In America, a very similar legend seems to have been built around Jesse James.


The American Civil War is over and the country is being rebuilt via a transcontinental railway. The only problem is, that new railway is coming at the expense of a lot of hard working people’s humble farms. Including that of the James family. When brothers Frank (Henry Fonda) and Jesse (Tyrone Power) James resist the intimidation tactics of the St Louis Midland Rail Road Company, the feud escalates until their mother is dead and the James boys are on the run after taking a little revenge. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** Young Mr Lincoln (1939)

Young
“I think I might go on a piece. Maybe to the top of that hill.”

One of Hollywood’s biggest and most successful directors… One of Hollywood’s biggest and most respected actors… Telling the story of Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s most revered presidents. A couple of years ago, it was Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis teaming up to make that happen. But 75 years ago, those same biggest, successful, respected titles belonged to John Ford and Henry Fonda when they made Young Mr Lincoln.


It’s 1832 in New Salem Illinois. A poor family travelling through town has no money to pay for groceries, so they barter with the store owner, a young Abraham Lincoln, who accepts a crate of books as payment. Discovering an old law book in the mix, Abe reads up and finds he has a knack for remembering and interpreting the complex nature of the legal system. Inspired by a gravesite chat with a dead ex girlfriend, he decides to move to the big smoke of Springfield and open a legal practice. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | How the West Was Won (1962)

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“About 150 years ago, an idea took shape in the mind of a man named DeWitt Clinton. And in the way Americans have of acting out their dreams, it came to be.”

One of the biggest problems in big budget movies, is the tendency for studios to pile on more. More big name stars, mores special effects and action, more romantic interests, more, more, more. The theory being, if they put enough crap in there, everyone will find a reason to hand over their hard earned at the cinema. 99.9% of the time, this only makes movies worse. The more surface level glitter they throw on there, the more substance has to be taken out to make room. But sometimes, more really is more, and it actually pays off. And it pays off big in How the West Was Won.


Five short stories, following several generations of one family across half a century and an entire continent, the movie opens with Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden), leading his family from the East Coast, to the new frontier in Illinois. Along the way, they meet and befriend a mountain man, James Stewart as Linus Rawlings. Soon, a Prescott daughter’s in love with him and they’re saving each other from ruthless bandits. (more…)