The Cape Town Affair (1967)

The_Cape_Town_Affair-256914667-largeStarring James Brolin, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Trevor, Bob Courtney, John Whiteley, Gordon Mulholland

Directed by Robert D. Webb

Expectations: None.

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The Cape Town Affair is a beat-by-beat remake of Sam Fuller’s wonderful noir thriller Pickup on South Street, and it’s just painful as all hell to get through. But this is a bad movie unlike any bad movie I’ve ever seen. Remakes are always tricky business when the original is a well-loved film, but the choices here are truly strange. Based on the film’s opening credits, you might be persuaded into thinking that Sam Fuller had actually been involved with this remake, but that was not the case. No, Fuller’s screenwriting credit comes by way of his original script, which was used here almost word for word.

Pickup on South Street is a late-period noir film, and it carries with it a style of hard-edged dialogue that usually typifies the genre. Within the confines of the original film it works; the actors inhabit their characters fully and deliver the lines with conviction and passion. Not so much with The Cape Town Affair. The actors in the remake feel like they’re just passing the time until the catering truck arrives with only mildly interesting food. The once-edgy dialogue now seems out of place in 1960s Cape Town; it’s as if all the film’s characters were scooped up from 1950s New York and dropped into 1960s Cape Town without any knowledge or self-awareness. It’s such a strange thing to watch and try to make sense of. I can understand why you’d want to use Fuller’s original dialogue because it’s often bristlin’ with great wit, but to ignore the passage of time and place is a glaring oversight.

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The Command (1954)

thecommand_3Starring Guy Madison, Joan Weldon, James Whitmore, Carl Benton Reid, Harvey Lembeck, Ray Teal, Robert Nichols, Don Shelton

Directed by David Butler

Expectations: None.

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The Command features an interesting premise for a fairly standard “Cowboys & Indians” western: after the Captain of the cavalry unit is killed, the unit’s doctor is given command of the company until they reach Ft. Stark and a hard-earned rest. But along they way, the cavalry runs into an Infantry Unit escorting a wagon train of civilians through Indian country. The infantry commander requests the cavalry unit to provide support on their journey, so now what was to be a short career in command for Dr. Robert MacClaw (Guy Madison) becomes a test of the doctor’s ability to save lives on a massive scale through strategy and confidence, instead of healing.

This kind of story, where an unlikely hero rises to the occasion, is nothing new (even in 1954, I’m sure), and The Command doesn’t do a lot to separate itself from the pack. Guy Madison has a great presence as the doctor turned commander, evoking the sensitivity of a caring doctor well. The only problem is that he begins the film nearly as confident as he ends it, so his struggle to find strength is more of a red herring than it initially seems. The film is actually more about MacClaw proving himself and earning the respect of the men he’s leading through dangerous territory. This is further complicated for MacClaw with the introduction of the infantry, who apparently have a long-standing rivalry with the cavalry, so the Doc must also convince these infantrymen and their commander that he’s worthy of their trust and respect.

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The Tanks are Coming (1951)

tanksarecoming_6Starring Steve Cochran, Philip Carey, Mari Aldon, Paul Picerni, Harry Bellaver, James Dobson, George O’Hanlon, John McGuire

Directed by Lewis Seiler

Expectations: Moderate.

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The Tanks are Coming is the epitome of a middle-of-the-road film (and no, that’s not intended as some dumb attempt at a tank pun… although if you laughed, I’ll take it!). This is a shame because there are a lot of great scenes of tank action that really deserve to be in a better movie. Many of the characters also show potential, but none of them ever fully realize it. So when it’s all over, and you realize that the whole she-bang is kinda mediocre, it’s more disappointing than it would normally be because you can almost see the better movie it could have been.

The plot is one of the film’s main issues, because there really isn’t one. OK, there is one, but it’s incredibly brief. Here it is… ready? A few tanks from the Army’s 3rd Armored Division (nicknamed Spearhead) attempt to bust through Germany’s Siegfried Line and into Germany. As you can see, that’s more of a general goal than it is a plot. The Tanks are Coming is largely episodic in nature, but because of the clearly defined end-goal, the episodes feel more directly connected than in a traditional episodic film. In this way it’s kinda like an adventure across the countryside in tanks (not that war should ever be considered an adventure). Anyway, this episodic structure has been done effectively in war films, but in The Tanks are Coming the elements never congeal. We’re watching these guys go through many different situations, yet everything still feels somewhat disjointed and glossed-over. For me, this frustration is further compounded by the fact that the film’s story is credited to Sam Fuller, the man I consider to be not only the master of the realistic war film, but also the episodic, survival-based war film.

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Shockproof (1949)

shockproof_2Starring Cornel Wilde, Patricia Knight, John Baragrey, Esther Minciotti, Howard St. John, Russell Collins, Charles Bates

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Expectations: Moderate.

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Sam Fuller’s stories are known for their interesting story hooks that immediately take hold of you and demand your rapt attention, usually defying what you generally expect a movie to be about. Shockproof is no different, and while I’m sure the finished film was diluted from his original draft, it still bears much of Fuller’s known style. The dialogue sparkles with his wit, and the premise is as “Sam Fuller” as any premise ever was; there’s even a character named Griff! The dilution does come with a price, though, as the ending is far too contrived and happy for the story that came before it. It’s not quite as bad as “…And it was all a dream,” but it’s definitely cut from a similar cloth.

Shockproof opens on Hollywood Blvd. A beautiful woman in black walks into a shop and purchases a new set of clothes. She also bleaches her hair blonde and soon emerges ravishing and ready to take on the world. We follow her into an office building, where she’s told by a secretary that the man she’s here to see is just behind the next door. Surely this is the beginning of a nice little film where the girl gets a quiet bookkeeping job for an executive and falls madly in love, right?

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Gangs of the Waterfront (1945)

gangs_2Starring Robert Armstrong, Stephanie Bachelor, Martin Kosleck, Marion Martin, William Forrest, Wilton Graff, Eddie Hall, Jack O’Shea, Davison Clark, Dick Elliott

Directed by George Blair

Expectations: Moderate.

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Gangs of the Waterfront isn’t so much a sequel to Gangs of New York as it is a follow-up, and by “follow-up” I mean a film that just uses the same premise to build a movie on. So if you enjoy the type of movie where a gangster is impersonated by someone who happens to look exactly like him, then these two movies are nothing but sweet bread and butter. If, on the other hand, you’re me and you just watched Gangs of New York not too long ago (and weren’t too thrilled with it), Gangs of the Waterfront is going to hit you in roughly the same way.

This is going to seem obvious, but honestly the main difference between the films is that these gang members are the ones running the waterfront. It’d be hard to know this if you missed the film’s title, though, as outside of a few foggy waterfront warehouses, most of the film takes place in apartment buildings and offices. Gangs of the Waterfront is a low-budget film, without even the benefit of stock footage to sell itself, so instead of wasting money on waterfront sets, the producers apparently decided to combat this problem by having an incessant foghorn blaring over probably 75% of the movie, no matter what the location is. It’s so annoying! And it also had the side effect of lulling me into a light sleep at times.

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Margin for Error (1943)

marginforerror_1Starring Joan Bennett, Milton Berle, Otto Preminger, Carl Esmond, Howard Freeman, Poldi Dur, Clyde Fillmore

Directed by Otto Preminger

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Margin for Error is an interesting film for the way it handles tensions among Americans and Germans in the US during World War II, but interesting is about the kindest thing you could say about it. It’s not all that entertaining, nor does it deliver any deep message, so instead it just feels like some kind of pro-American propaganda film. The Germans are predominantly of the villainous “Sieg hiel!” variety, with the main villain sporting a monocle and doing absolutely nothing to hide his outright hatred of America, the country he’s living in and is a diplomat to. If he had a mustache you can bet he’d be twirling it like the war depended on it, too.

But before we get to this guy, Margin for Error opens on a military boat carrying a load of soldiers off to some unnamed foreign shore or WWII battle. Max (Carl Esmond), one of the soldiers, has a thick German accent. When the red-blooded American soldiers give him a hard time, Moe (Milton Berle) stops the group and tells them the story of how Max came to become an enlisted man. No, this doesn’t lead into a 1940s version of the Full Metal Jacket boot camp scenario; it’s about the intrigue that develops at the German consulate in some unnamed East Coast city.

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Power of the Press (1943)

powerofthepress_1Starring Guy Kibbee, Gloria Dickson, Lee Tracy, Otto Kruger, Victor Jory, Larry Parks, Minor Watson

Directed by Lew Landers

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Power of the Press doesn’t bother with subtlety. It’s a film that focuses like a laser on the power that the press can wield and how constructive/destructive it can be in the right/wrong hands. It’s a story and a setting that makes the Sam Fuller connection seem like a given, but unfortunately little of Fuller’s biting social commentary or affecting dramatics make it to the screen here. Power of the Press is an enjoyable little movie, but it’s one so straightforward and obvious that it’s almost pointless to watch.

The film opens as John Carter (Minor Watson), the publisher of the New York Gazette, is about to give a speech about the freedom of the press. What stops him from heading out and delivering the speech is an editorial in a small Nebraska newspaper that was recently sent to him. The editorial was written by an old friend, Ulysses Bradford (Guy Kibbee), and it takes Carter to task for being at the head of a completely corrupt newspaper that cares little for the truth. Bradford writes that freedom of the press means freedom to tell the truth, not the freedom to twist the truth.

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