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Archive for the ‘Robert Aldrich’ Category

For some reason, Hollywood keeps remaking classic movies. This summer they’re releasing a new version of the 1939 MGM classic, The Women. And back in 2004, Hollywood saw fit to remake Robert Aldrich’s 1965 masterpiece, The Flight of the Phoenix.

phoenixtitlecard.jpg

The premise is simple: A plane filled with passengers from different walks of life, crashes in the Sahara. After a few deaths and no rescue attempts, the remaining survivors attempt to rebuild the plane from the wreckage and fly themselves to safety.

I saw the original version last year on the Fox Movie Channel and I expected a good movie–what I got instead was a great movie, filled with interesting characters and a plot twist near the end that will either make you laugh or gasp in horror. For weeks after my initial viewing, I became obsessed with this movie. I must have watched it six times in two weeks. I just couldn’t stop. I loved the characters, their problems and the way they banded together despite some serious personality clashes. The story unfolds beautifully, leading to an ending that you won’t forget. Some people say The Flight of the Phoenix is a bit too long, but I don’t know what you could cut out to make it shorter. All the parts are important.

The majority of the film is mostly dialogue-based and while you might expect a movie of that nature that to be boring, it’s not. It’s exciting because of the top notch performances put in by Jimmy Stewart, Hardy Kruger, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine and Ian Bannen. My personal favorite of the bunch is Dan Duryea, who portrays a meek, religious businessman (a far cry from his villainous days opposite Stewart in many Anthony Mann westerns). This film was also my introduction to Richard Attenborough, an actor I’ve really come to enjoy over the past year of my ravenous movie consumption. And as always, Aldrich keeps the energy of the film afloat with many different subplots that focus on the personalities of each character. I love Robert Aldrich. Very rarely am I ever disappointed with one of his movies.

Director Robert Aldrich felt that rehearsals were an important process for his movies. In this behind-the-scenes picture, Aldrich stands in the center while the entire cast takes their spots in an outline of the doomed plane. His son, Bill, is seated at the top left.*

Sadly, stunt pilot Paul Mantz lost his life during the filming of this movie and if that weren’t disheartening enough, The Flight of the Phoenix bombed at the box office when it was released in December of 1965. In a 1974 interview, Aldrich lamented about it’s misfortune: “There are failures you never think are right or justifiable or understandable. For example I put Too Late the Hero, Flight of the Phoenix, and The Grissom Gang in a category that says these are all fine movies, very well made. People understood what they were about, what they aimed to say. They were entertaining and exciting and should have been a success. That they weren’t means that something else was wrong besides the way the picture was made. Maybe in another five years Phoenix will break even. I think it deserved to do infinitely better than it did.”**

I saw the 2004 remake a few weeks ago and was disheartened by how it lacked in comparison. There are (of course) CGI effects for the plane crash and the PC casting adds a woman to the crew. There’s a “music video” sequence to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and somehow, the crew has working power tools in the middle of a desert. But mainly Dennis Quaid is no Jimmy Stewart. The one reason why I loved the original Phoenix so much was because Stewart wasn’t a very likable guy. In fact, his Captain Frank Towns is a stubborn jerk whose old methods are being replaced by modern ones and I liked that, mainly because Stewart is always the hero. I love when actors are cast against type because they’re fun to watch. Aldrich had plans to use him and John Wayne in a comedy called …All The Way to the Bank***, but that fell through when Phoenix bombed and Aldrich went on to making The Dirty Dozen instead. A good twist of fate!

One of the highlights (in a film of many highlights) is during the scene where everyone is stuck inside the plane during a sandstorm and Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine) is playing around with his radio. And as he fiddles with the knobs, a faint love song comes across the airwaves. The injured Gabriel (Gabriele Tinti) hears it and perks up; he’s desperately missing his sick wife. With a bit of prodding from Towns, Cobb begrudgingly hands the radio over to Gabriel, but smiles as soon as he sees how much happiness it brings to him. See the You Tube Clip here.

Connie Francis

The ballad in question is called “Senza Fine.” It’s sung by perky 60’s singer and actress Connie Francis and it has an absolutely gorgeous and haunting melody. The snippet used in the movie doesn’t do the song justice. While she’s best known for songs like “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Where the Boys Are”, “Senza Fine” is one of those lost treasures that seem to be forgotten by record companies today. A search on Amazon brings up only one item, an out-of-print cd that includes the soundtrack to both Phoenix and Patton (one copy is selling for almost $160!).

This site discusses it a bit:

“The English version of the LP “Movie Greats” has the song Senza Fine (means Without End) from the movie Flight of the Phoenix. Senza Fine was only done in two versions that is known. There is a single version which is a beautiful release from England on a single and also released on CD there a few years ago. The other is on the LP “Movie Greats of the 60s.” Connie did one whole version in English and one in Italian and they spliced in and out different versions.”

I found my copy through a file sharing service. This is the version that combines both the Italian and English verses and it has a running time of 3:12 (the version on the Patton soundtrack runs at 2:14 seconds). It took me a long time to find, but when I did, I was beyond thrilled. It’s a gorgeous song, one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it:

Download MP3: “Senza Fine (Love Song From The Flight of the Phoenix)” – Connie Francis

Do not direct-link download. Page will open in another window and follow the link from there.

* The picture is scanned in from the book, What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich: His Life and His Films by Alan Silver and James Ursini. Much of this information comes from this book as well. It’s a great read.

** From the book, Robert Aldrich Interviews edited by Eugene L. Miller Jr. and Edwin T. Arnold.

*** …All The Way to the Bank centered around “two retired safecrackers who steal money from a mob boss’s safe deposit box to benefit an old folks home.” Aldrich attempted to sell this project to 20th Century Fox, but fell through when he decided to make The Dirty Dozen instead.

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I’ve come to realize that part of the problem of updating this blog is, well, me. For the past few entries, I’ve been trying to write substantial entries and it’s slightly hard because I’ve been trying to supress my somewhat rough-around-the edges nature. Combine that with the fact that like, two people, visit this on a daily basis (not counting the person who found this site by looking up the phrase “Trog stories + spanking”. Seriously, are there people looking for that kind of stuff? If you’re still hanging around–who are you? And are there really stories like that? Really? Joan Crawford delivering a good ol’ fashioned wallop on Trog’s furry behind? Let me know who you are and where the goods are to be found. Not that I’m interested in that kind of stuff. Really.)

Anyway, I found that I can’t be that kind of blogger anymore. It’s like a “nightclub hostess” (wink wink) trying to reinvent herself as a grand lady. You can take the girl out of the nightclubs, but you can’t take the nightclub out of the girl. So if there’s a shift in narrative, you now know why. Congrats, give yourself a cookie.

Original movie poster for The Dirty DozenWhich leads me to something that both Paris Hilton and I have in common (it’s not a sex tape, appearing in movies that leave theaters empty or performing in burlesque shows with the Pussycat Dolls–although the latter kind of sounds like it would be fun, as long as I don’t have to take it all off): making lists. I know a lot of people say lists are for lazy people and I know that others out and out despise them, but I love them. And with that, I give you 5 Good Reasons on Why The Dirty Dozen Isn’t Just a Movie For Guys. It’s on TCM tomorrow night–Thursday, February 21st at 8 pm–and if you’re a girl who has ever skipped over this because you’re thinking about that scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Tom Hanks and some other guy are crying over this movie, while Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks’ real life wife (her name escapes me now. I’m not even sure if it’s those two. I saw that movie when I was a teenager. I can barely remember what happened yesterday) are bawling over An Affair to Remember, it’s time to clear your memory and start fresh.

(For the record, I would watch The Dirty Dozen over An Affair to Remember any day. I’m not that big on chick flicks, mainly because I wind up crying and I HATE crying in front of other people. You should have seen me after The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. You would have thought my dog just died. I usually have to lie that I’m getting something to drink and then run into the kitchen so I can bawl silently into a dishtowel and dishtowels aren’t tissues. They really leave your skin raw. Towel burn. It’s a really unattractive look.)

Anyway, 5 Good Reasons Why The Dirty Dozen Isn’t Just a Movie For Guys:

Kicking ass and taking names!1. Lee Marvin. Not only is he an awesome actor, but he’s probably the granddaddy of men with prematurely grey hair (Oh please, everyone swoons over Anderson Cooper and his grey hair. Lee Marvin totally beat him by what? 30 years? Take that, Anderson). Director Robert Aldrich originally wanted John Wayne to take on the Major Reisman role, but The Duke turned him down and went on to make The Green Berets instead. And since Aldrich has a knack for using the same actors in his films, Lee Marvin took the role instead. To which I say, Thank God! I have nothing against John Wayne, but Lee Marvin has that quiet intensity. He doesn’t come out and say he’s going to kick your ass, he just does it. And that’s hot.

2. The credits. I know you’re thinking, “The Credits?” But Robert Aldrich has a knack for making the credits into a work of art (also see: The Flight of the Phoenix and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte). As Reisman walks past “The Dirty Dozen”, the names of the cast roll past the screen. Okay, they’re not in order of how he announces them, but it’s still visually pleasing. It really grabs your attention and as someone with undiagnosed ADD, this is important. Of course, credits alone aren’t going to make the movie. It helps that…

3. The Dirty Dozen a really funny movie. Originally, it was supposed to be a flat-out adventure movie. Aldrich and Lukas Heller (who co-collaborated on many of Aldrich’s scripts) remade the movie into a comedy/action picture. And it works! Would The Dirty Dozen be legendary without Donald Sutherland impersonating a General or without the Dozen taking on Col. Everett Dasher Breed’s (played by one of my favorites, Robert Ryan) squad in a war game? Oh, hell no. When I first watched it, this exchange between Reisman and the psychopath Maggot (Telly Savalas) completely won me over:

Reisman: Any questions?
Maggot: Sir? Do we have to eat with N******?

(Maggot is then jumped by Jefferson (Jim Brown) while Reisman leaves the room. He closes the door and you can hear a huge fight beginning to break out.)

Sergeant Clyde Bowren (Richard Jaeckel): What’s going on, sir?
Reisman: Oh, the gentleman from the South had a question about the dining arrangements. He and his comrades are discussing place settings now.

Now, that’s original screenwriting. It was also my first clue to how The Dirty Dozen wasn’t just an ordinary war movie. Good dialogue wins me over and if you can make me laugh within the first half hour of a war movie, then you’ve probably earned a spot on my all-time favorites movie list. Good job.

4. It boasts great performances by the other cast members: Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker and Richard Jaeckel (all favorites of Aldrich) give good, solid performance as higher-ups in charge and as members of the Dozen, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker (who really doesn’t like to be pushed and he’ll be happy to tell you that–repeatedly) and in a bit of WTF? casting, Trini Lopez (according to the trailer, his character Jiminez is “filled with hate”, which he’s totally not. He’s the only member of the Dozen who cracks a smile. Give the man his guitar strings!), Of course, there’s also John Cassavetes as the somewhat insane, crazy eyed Franko. He was the only cast member to receive an Oscar nomination (Supporting Actor, lost to fellow Dozen cast member George Kennedy for Cool Hand Luke), which is a shame. The Academy could have certainly started giving out group nominations, which is exactly what this cast deserves.

5. The climatic scene where The Dozen finally infiltrate the Nazi castle. It’s the whole point of the story, but it’s sure fun to get there. This is where the majority of the action lays and while it’s exciting, it’s also heartbreaking to see the members of The Dozen go down one by one. I’m not going to say which ones live or die. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself going “NO!” as each member gets killed. You can thank that reaction to good character development. borgnineryan.jpgIf Aldrich and Heller had just left the script as it was, you probably would have a had a bunch of cardboard cutouts and you wouldn’t have cared if they lived or died. But by the end of this movie, you feel for each of the guys. You cheer them on. During the war games section, you’re rooting for them to show up the tyrannical rule of Col. Breed. Once unified by their hatred for Reisman, they’re banded together by the end using the “mess with one of us, and you mess with ALL of us” philosophy (this theme would be further explored to a much more violent extent in Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 western classic The Wild Bunch. Oddly enough, Borgnine and Ryan could thank The Dirty Dozen for their roles in that movie–they were both cast on the strength of their performances in this film).

And of course, I failed to mention that the final moments of this movie have a really, really awesome explosion scene. I know how odd it is for me, as a woman, to cheer on this type of movie making–but I can’t help it. I love a really good explosion scene. Other ones of note are in Castle Keep (1969) and Catch-22 (1970). The dynamite factories must have been working overtime in the late 60’s/early 70’s.

It’s also interesting to mention that Aldrich was repeatedly told “Save the women, get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Director” and he refused. His answer was “War is Hell”. It’s a pretty fair conclusion. The Nazis didn’t discriminate gender when they were throwing Jews into the concentration camps, did they? There’s a reason Robert Aldrich is my favorite director and his decision to keep the final scene intact is one of them.

So there you have it. A somewhat short list (I actually could have gone on forever, but I didn’t want to give all the good stuff away) of why I love The Dirty Dozen. You don’t have to be a guy to enjoy this movie. No, you just have to be someone who enjoys good moviemaking, great character development, witty dialogue and have a sense of humor while your at it. Movies shouldn’t be gender-specific. True movie lovers ignore genres and look for a substantial plot instead. And if you limit your genre watching, you’ll grow stagnant! And who wants to do that?

And come on, what woman doesn’t like to sit around and watch a bunch of guys kicking ass? The guys that make up The Dirty Dozen are MEN–give me that over the modern, sensitive pretty boys any day*.

*Okay, I wouldn’t go for any of the nutjobs like Maggot or the rapists. But Bronson’s Wladislaw wasn’t that bad. He shouldn’t have gotten caught doing what he did, that’s all. And I’m sure Jiminez would sing you love songs. Maybe. Unless he got really ticked off and decided to strangle you with a guitar string.

Tomorrow, Why I Love Clifton Webb.

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