Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Dec/06

15

Great moments in mediocre movies

I wonder how many movies I’ve seen that I can’t remember? We’ve all had that experience; turn on an old movie on TV and a few minutes into it, “Oh, I’ve seen this one before, but I can’t remember how it ends.”

You either have to sit through it again, if you have the itch that can’t let you switch channels until you know how it ended, or maybe you remember just a little before the end. Face it, there are a lot of forgettable movies out there, and more every year.

Then there are the movies that disappoint or downright suck – and are partly redeemed by one really great moment that you wish the rest of the flick could have lived up to.

*My earliest recollection of one is the 1963 ‘Oro per i caesare’, under it’s English title of ‘Gold for the Caesars’. It doesn’t suck, it’s just an ordinary, forgettable Grade B Italian sword-and-sandals epic of the kind that was popular in my youth. Oddly, they often had an American lead in an otherwise all-European cast. Remember Steve Reeves as Hercules? I think it had something to do with the savage/he-man image of Americans prevalent then.

Gold for the Caesars starred Jeffery Hunter, known for playing Jesus in King of Kings, and as Christopher Pike, the first captain of the Enterprise in the pilot that was later edited into a Star Trek two-part episode.

Hunter played Lacer, a slave engineer who at the beginning of the movie is supervising the building of a bridge in Hispania. At one point he brusquely shoves aside a centurion who’s getting in the way. The centurion starts to draw his sword, Lacer looks at him and says, “Kill me Roman, and who’ll build your bridges for you?”

The centurion hesitates a moment, then continues to draw. The tribune observing the construction from his pavilion calls out, “Centurion! You may kill him. But first – answer his question.”

What a line! And what volumes it speaks.

*A few years ago I discovered that there was a sequel to the greatest Musketeers movies ever made, The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlin and Frank Finlay.

These movies were great. They were the most faithful to the book ever made, and for us hopology/military history/martial arts geeks, the most faithful reproduction of period rapier fighting in a movie to date. (Most previous films went with a theatrical version of modern foil play, as in the Gene Kelley version.)

So when I rented The Return of the Musketeers (1989) , I expected a lot from it. Same director (Richard Lester), same writer (George MacDonald Fraser – author of the glorious ‘Flashman’ series). I was disappointed. Again, it wasn’t terrible – it just wasn’t wonderful in some way I just can’t put my finger on. Some have suggested that the death of actor Roy Kinnear (Planchette) during filming cast a pall over the mood of the cast. Or perhaps it was over-reliance on slapstick humor to show that physically, the musketeers weren’t quite what they used to be.

But it was worth sitting through to the final scene when at the end, after the musketeers have split up and fought each other, they are finally reconciled. The Three are going back into comfortable retirement and D’Artagnan has finally gotten a commission to the wars, after having cooled his heels in a dead-end position in Paris for years. They bid each other a fond farewell and D’Artagnan rides off down the road. The Three look at him riding off for a moment. Then they look at each other, shrug, grin, and ride off after him!

The film ends with them riding off together to whatever new adventures await them. Men like that don’t retire.

*I was really looking forward to Highlander II. After I saw it, I wished they could pretend it had never happened and start over – which is kind of what they did eventually.

The phenomenon of the immortals was best left a mystery, as expressed by Sean Connery in the first movie. “Why does the sun come up? Or are the stars just pin holes in the curtain of night, who knows?”

In Highlander II: the Quickening we learn that the immortals come from the planet of German binoculars. Bummer, now they’re just another bunch of space aliens. They moved the story out of the realm of good fantasy and into bad science fiction.

The earth is covered by a shield that cuts off sunlight for a generation. Anybody notice that without photosynthesis the air is going to be getting kind of stuffy by and by? An evil corporation somehow has an interest in keeping things the way they are – like they enjoy living in a world of perpetual night? And isn’t it about time Hollywood retired that cliche or admit that they are the evil corporations?

The interplay between Lambert and Connery is still there, and it’s great, but it doesn’t quite carry a lame script.

Yet, that moment when the aged Connor MacLeod manages to behead an immortal and walks out of the flames of an exploding gasoline truck, young and virile again – that’s grand. He walks up to Virginia Madsen, presses her against a wall and says, “I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was banished from the Planet Zeist 500 years ago… and I cannot die.” He then kisses her passionately, fulfilling all her dreams of the man she has admired from childhood.

*The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), unlike the Richard Lester Musketeer movies, seriously screwed with the book it was based on. It introduced plot complications like; D’Artagnan is the long-time lover of Queen Anne and the real father of Louis XIV and his secret twin brother – they just chose to ignore the hole it drives through the plot line about replacing the King with his secret twin.

The actors who play the musketeers are all great: Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, and Jeremy Irons play the musketeers, who are aging – but dangerous. Leonardo DiCaprio actually does well in the role of the superficial, amoral, sarcastic and thoroughly unlikable young king.

Nonetheless, I’ve got real problems with swiping the title of a classic and writing a whole new book around it.

But… in the end when the nasty little king gets enraged and stabs D’Artagnan with his dagger, the captain of the guards who was about to arrest the Musketeers and the king’s twin looks down at D’Artagnan’s body and says to the king, “All my life, all I ever wanted to be – was HIM!”

Wouldn’t any man wish that for an epitaph?

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3 comments

  • Gilmoure · December 15, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    Have been seriously bummed that for a long while, the only DVD of the Three/Four Muskateers was a transfer of the scan and pan for tv mess. Finally, as about a year ago or so, there’s a decent transfer on DVD now. Have put it down on my wish list. Hoping Wife or Daughter picks it up for me!

  • Piper · December 16, 2006 at 5:25 am

    Highlander II was a complete disappointment. The worst thing that can happen is when Hwood gets ahold of a franchise. Beyond Thunderdome and The Matrix 2 and 3 are good examples of this.

  • Eduardo · December 19, 2006 at 6:05 am

    There was no Highlander II.

    Repeat after me.

    There was no Highlander II.

    Keep doing that until you are sure.

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