Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker is a classic, featuring a remarkable performance from Rod Steiger. If you only think of Steiger who overacted too often, his performance here will completely change your mind.
While Steiger was the only actor here to get and awards consideration, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Jamie Sanchez give incredible supporting performances. Boris Kaufman once again proves that he was the best black & white cinematographer in the 1950s and early 1960s. There’s also a very unique score from Quincy Jones, making his film debut here.
The Pawnbroker is a real mix of feelings, as Sal Nazerman (Steiger) gives up on all humanity. The world of Harlem turns into a Nazi concentration camp, but he only realizes that he is the one who made it that way when it is too late. He’s the one who has become so consumed with the past that he can’t keep his present and future from looking like it.
If any film screamed for scholarly analysis or a commentary, this is one. Sadly, Olive Films doesn’t create new features, but at least the film looks remarkable on Blu-ray. There’s not even a trailer, but it’s still worth it to have on home video. I think this is a film that stands up for multiple viewings and is a must-have for any collection.
While Fox and MGM have licensed most catalog MGM/UA/Orion titles to third parties like Criterion, Kino and Twilight Time, strangely, they decided to release Sergio Leone’s forgotten classic Duck, You Sucker (A Fistful of Dynamite) on Blu-ray themselves. The main advantage of this is that it’s dirt cheap – only $14.99 on Amazon during release week.
The film itself is one of the great Westerns. Leone is beloved for his Dollars Trilogy with Clint Eastwood, his Western epic-to-end-all-epics Once Upon A Time In The West and his passion project, Once Upon A Time In America. However, during that long gap between OUATITW and OUATIA, there was Duck You Sucker. It is set during the Mexican Revolution, and pairs Mexican outlaw Juan (Rod Steiger) with Irish revolutionary John (James Coburn). Both stars give incredible performances over the 2.5-hour runtime and it never gets boring.
While there’s a lot more I could say about the film itself, I want to focus on the Blu-ray release. While it looks much better than Kino’s horrendous release of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, it is clear that there is significant damage to the film. It would take a lot of money to bring Duck to the level of Paramount’s gorgeous OUATITW Blu-ray and MGM doesn’t have it or doesn’t want to spend it.
While Fox gave the Dollars films a menu, this disc has none. For some inexplicable reason, Fox continues to release most MGM titles without menus and it’s disgusting at this point. (Even In The Heat of the Night didn’t get a menu!) At least all the extras from the DVD release are here, including Sir Christopher Frayling’s 20-minute overview of the film and his commentary. There’s also a neat Criterion-esque featurette on the different versions of the film.
Duck is an essential part of Leone’s career and I don’t think you can fully comprehend the link between OUATITW and OUATIA without it. While a glorious restoration and a menu would have been nice for this Blu-ray release, I can’t not recommend it enough.
For today’s quick post, I just want to recommend Go For Broke!, a 1951 war movie from MGM. It’s actually in the public domain, but Warner Bros. Home Video did issue an official version in 2006 three-pack with Objective, Burma! and Never So Few.
Go For Broke! was written and directed by Robert Pirosh, who also penned William A. Wellman’s 1949 classic Battleground. Van Johnson, who also starred in Battleground, plays Lieutenant Michael Grayson, who is assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Much to his surprise, the group is made entirely of Japanese-Americans. They have all volunteered to fight for a government that was putting their families in internment camps. Yes, that topic is actually touched upon in the film, surprisingly.
Over the course of the film’s 90 minutes and between fighting with them in France and Italy, Grayson learns to respect his fellow soldiers and fight alongside them.
Several members of the 442nd actually played in the film and many of them are actually very good. Pirosh got performances in the film from the Japanese actors that are authentic. They don’t seem cardboard or flat, which can sometimes happen when you don’t have professional actors in a film. Johnson doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb among them.
Maybe Go For Broke! will show up on TCM, but if it doesn’t, seek out the three-pack that includes it. The set should be cheap… I got it for $5 at an FYE. Or, you can find the film in its entirety on YouTube:
Without a doubt, Sing You Sinners is probably the most bizarre movie in Universal’s The Bing Crosby Collection.
Bing is a bad boy in this movie. He’s the wayward brother in this film, directed by Wesley Ruggles (who also helmed the first and worst film in the set so far, College Humor) and released in 1938. Yes, Universal decided to jump a few years following Mississippi. We’re now at a new part of Bing’s career at Paramount, where he seems to be more interested in showing off acting skills than just using films to sell records.
While Bing still has a few years to go before Going My Way, when he would really shine as an actor, he shows some surprising range here. Finally, we discover that Bing can play drunk and he’s pretty funny throughout. He frequently outdoes Fred MacMurray, who plays the straight-laced brother. The musical brother trio is completed by a 13-year-old Donald O’Connor.
The three brothers are desperately hoping for better lives, but Joe (Bing) is too much of an idealist to keep a job. He thinks he can swap his way to the top. That really annoys David (MacMurray) who thinks he can’t get married to sweetheart Martha (Ellen Drew) until Joe gets his life in order. Joe decides to head out to Los Angeles, where he opens a successful swap shop and sends for Mom (Elizabeth Patterson) and Mike (O’Connor). So, David and Martha head out there, thinking Joe has finally made good, only to discover that the swap shop is gone and Joe bought a race horse! Can that horse win to save the family?
Sing You Sinners, which actually has very little singing – aside from the brilliant performance of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser’s “Small Fry” – is the best definition of an entertaining movie that has no higher aspirations. MacMurray is still a few years away from Double Indemnity and it shows. He really struggles at some of the dramatic points. But overall, this isn’t one of the terrible movies in the set. I’ve got one more to go!
Gone Girl was simply amazing. I know there’s some critics who weren’t as impressed, but I really found it to be one of David Fincher’s best. Please check out my full review of the film at TheCelebrityCafe.com.
And now we finally get to the jewel of the collection, Mississippi. From 1935, the film pairs Bing Crosby with comedy icon W.C. Fields. It was directed by some guy named A. Edward Sutherland and is based on a Booth Tarkington story, but you wouldn’t tell. The story – Bing needs to earn his honor (a.k.a.: grow a pair) so he can sweep the girl he loves off her feet – is really secondary here. For the most part, we care about how many hilarious Fields bits can be squeezed into 73 minutes.
While in the earlier films in this set, Bing often was shoved to the side, here he gets much more time and doesn’t have to sing the same three songs repeatedly. There’s some great Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart songs. He also gets to sing “Swanee” throughout. Amazingly, Bing gets to be an action hero. Mississippi is probably the only Bing movie with a brawl in the middle of a song. Right after killing a guy, he gets right back on stage to finish and sing with blood dripping from the corner of his mouth.
Mississippi does feature some classic Fields bits. Personally, I find it hilarious that he wears a hat that reads “CAPTAIN” in the entire movie. (Although, he does get to wear his familiar top hat in some scenes.) There’s also this amazing running gag where he has to have a drink in his hand in every scene.
Joan Bennett also gives a good performance as Bing’s love interest, but she is out of the film a lot. That’s for the best though, since we get a lot of scenes between Bing and Fields.
This is one of the films in the collection with its trailer. The movie is only available in this set, but it’s still worth it. Mississippi is not some hidden gem, but it’s a blast to see two greats you would never expect to be paired together in the same film.