My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three films set during WWII.
THE TRAIN (1964)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
John Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN was one of my late grandfather’s favorite films. I regret that we never watched the movie in its entirety together.
THE TRAIN should have a place on any lists of the “best” action films of all time. Frankenheimer, an excellent craftsman with an uneven career, is one of a handful of directors who really understood how to create action and danger on screen. From the stunts, most of which are performed by Burt Lancaster in extended but un-flashy takes, to the incredible set pieces, THE TRAIN is exhilarating from beginning to end. Of course, none of it would work without well-written characters and great supporting performances which are delivered through from the resistance fighters to the Nazi commanders.
It’s a brutal film too, one that doesn’t pull punches or go for a happy ending. And that truly makes it a classic.
Watched on Tubi
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Honestly, this film works a lot more than it should. With an odd assembly of American and British actors playing Germans, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED is a throwback to films made ten or twenty years before its time and therefore it is no surprise to find John Sturges at the helm. It would have worked even better with Humphrey Bogart as the eye-patched commander, William Holden in the Michael Caine role, and Kirk Douglas as the debonair Irishman. As is, the film is a fascinating and flawed hybrid of old and new Hollywood.
As a men-on-a-mission movie that places Nazi characters as the quasi-protagonists, I was impressed at how well the screenplay and execution engaged me to care about such characters. In fact, I wish it placed more emphasis on their journey and did not get distracted with semi-heroes on the allied side such as Treat Williams’ American soldier. But there are also major issues with the script and direction. The entire subplot with Sutherland’s character and the girl is absurd. Perhaps in the novel, Jack Higgins had time to develop this narrative thread but in the film it is rushed and I never believed the love either character has for each other. Dropping that element would have helped the picture and its overlong runtime.
Also, what John Sturges (who according to some reports was phoning this one in) misses is the chance to make a biting satire about war. By the end, the absurdity of everything is clear but Sturges didn’t capitalize on this opportunity the way that Andre De Toth did with PLAY DIRTY or David Lean did with THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. I couldn’t stop thinking of De Toth’s film and how much stronger it is than this one.
The action is good and the performances, especially Duvall’s, make the picture worth watching but it could have been much more than it is.
Watched on Tubi.
The Men-on-a-Mission subgenre of action movies is one of my favorites. This 2022 release could fall into that category, a group of men led by one woman on a mission, and therefore I was hopeful that this tepidly reviewed picture, now on Shudder, might be an overlooked gem. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
The main problem is the mission: to deliver Hitler’s body back to Russia for Stalin to get a peek at. Along the way, many lives will be sacrificed for what seems like a futile quest. And it is one but instead of creating a film about the futility of war, like Andre De Toth’s masterwork Play Dirty, the filmmakers double down and believe the importance of the mission even if their audience (at least this member) doesn’t. I never bought what the characters wanted and why they wanted it, from the lead female down to the villains that oppose her and her team. Without believing their motivations, the film was a tedious viewing, not aided by other issues.
The characters’ actions are also hard to believe, often lacking urgency in the most dire situations and sometimes they’re downright implausible. One of the principal tasks of the writer, director, and cast of a film is to ensure the audience isn’t frequently asking, “Why did that happen?” Unless you’re Christopher Nolan and weaving a web of mystery (even he blunders now and then), making the viewers constantly question the characters and their behavior is the sign of a poorly written, directed, and acted movie.
I wanted Burial to be good. Sadly, it is not.
Watched on Shudder.