Sunday, December 07, 2008

{revised, 12/9/08}

saw 2 movies. 1st Khartoum, which I saw on Hulu. a spectacular historical drama from the 60s, and really, it was a spectacle, with grand vistas and all that. 19th century British interests in Khartoum are besieged by Islamic forces following a visionary called The Mahdi. the story begins with the British sending an army to quell the nascent uprising. the army goes Custer-like into a trap and all 10,000 are wiped out. the Mahdists are now well-supplied with guns. back in England there is this backroom talk with Gladstone and such, how to save face, rather than save Khartoum. all these proper English accents sound like Monty Python, deciding how to cut bait without looking like it. the machinations are appalling and confusing, but the gist is that Charles Gordon is chosen to go save face for the British Empire. Charlton Heston pays Gordon. I think the point is that Gordon, a Christian fanatic, will stay at Khartoum to the death, that being how Gordon rolls, meanwhile Britain can get the rest of its interests out of the area. something like that, I need another shot at the movie to get this clear. the point is that Heston is onstage now. he has his pompous, hammy mannerisms, but he is fun to watch. and those mannerisms are not as exaggerated as they could be, Cecil B. deMille isn't directing. Gordon is a little like Obi Wan in Bridge on the River Kwai. he is not quite over the edge like Obi Wan, that is, the point of his duty is clearer, but he is still buggy. his 2nd in command is Stewart, who is there to keep an eye on Gordon. he attempts to run a blockade on the Nile with British citizens at Khartoum while Gordon awaits the Mahdi. shades of Dien Bien Phu. the Mahdi is played by Laurence Olivier, merely exotic to my mind, Iago minus 7. the show always has to be Heston, I think. not in the sense of chewing scenery, tho he is good for that, it's just that he is so commanding in his stiff, somewhat noble, somewhat silly way. even when up against the like of Yul Brynner, who is one hell of a screen presence himself, Heston just keeps you looking at his ridiculous grandeur. Gordon and the Mahdi meet near the end for a parley. they realize that their fanaticism is similar. in the course of conversation, the Mahdi shows Gordon the heads of some of the blockade runners, and the hand of Stewart. ah, all is lost. so Gordon goes back to Khartoum, the Mahdists attack and c'est ça. the battle scenes were done with a certain grace. since no one in the fighting were important characters there was never that exult of action and heroism, just this thronging of energy. I was surprised how well done the movie was. and not dated. I almost watched Casino Royale, the 60s version. which, surprisingly, was directed by John Huston, and starred most of Hollywood's 60s elite, all to no avail, from the few minutes that I saw. it was too dated for me. it was a Bond spoof but the comedic timing was dreadful, color was garish, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing Burt Bachrach was congestive, not to my taste. there was a legitimate Shakespearian quality to Gordon, not that Heston was really up to that stature. knowing that Heston went from Hollywood icon to IRA loony (then Alzheimer's???) adds a dollop of substance to his expansiveness. I do not think I know who is a good actor anymore. the laden consciousness of 'great' actors really tires me. Heston's earnest hamminess works in this movie, I guess because the director kept the screen wide and commanding, so that the tussle of actorly ego could not overwhelm scenes. the historical story certainly carries a freshness.

also saw Get Smart. this surprised me by having good pacing without the antic imperative of many comedies (I am thinking of Steve Martin's Pink Panther). the actors had good rapport, tho 99 was played generically. could 99 have been played strongly? she was strictly support team in the tv series, sense to be placed against Max's nonsense. Steve Carel played the role earnestly, that is, played Smart as an earnest fellow, less pompous than the tv character. the plot was stupid but flowed well enough. regularly sown throwaway jokes served to keep the standard plot from weighing heavy.
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