“Top Gun” (1986) starring Tom Cruise & Kelly McGillis

Up there with the best of the best. -A tagline for the movie

Y’all know the story of this iconic/’80s action movie, its young (soon to be famous) cast, and maybe even a few lines. This was my 1st time watching. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise- in a star-making role), whose father was also in the Navy, and his closest pal, Goose (Anthony Edwards), get into the best flying school (AKA “Top Gun”). While Maverick is a flirtatious bachelor prone to risk-taking, Goose is a cautious/devoted family man (w/ a wife and toddler son). After filming ended, Edwards and Meg Ryan (his onscreen wife- Carole) started dating IRL. The tension btwn Maverick and his classmate, Iceman (Val Kilmer), is NOT just acting; Cruise and Kilmer didn’t get along, so avoided each other on set and didn’t socialize. When the students are being briefed by Charlie (Kelly McGillis) in the hangar, Maverick says that he gave “the bird” to a MiG. Charlie asks how he saw the MiG up close, and he explains it was by flying inverted. Iceman coughs “bullshit” (ad-libbed by Kilmer); the reactions of the other actors are genuine.

(The Navy Blue Angels) take Tom up there, and they do five Gs. They do barrel rolls, they do everything. He’s heaving in the plane. He gets on the tarmac, runs to a pay phone… and he said, “I’m in. I’m doing the movie. I love it. This is great.” -Jerry Bruckheimer (a producer) on convincing Cruise to sign on to the film (after his initial reluctance)

All in all, the movie was both a blast and an education. -Val Kilmer (who initially didn’t want to act in the movie)

The action and music make this movie V entertaining, I have to admit! Yeah, I was moving my feet to the soundtrack. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer produced some blockbusters over their long partnership; I’m a big fan of Crimson Tide. It’s also fun to see the young/cute actors; a few became movie stars, while others went on to good careers in TV. Though the romance w/ McGillis is lackluster (zero chemistry), I liked the friendship btwn Cruise and Edwards (best known for ER) and the father-son dynamic btwn Cruise and Tom Skerritt (Viper- the lead instructor). Of course, I teared up a BIT when Goose died (though I knew it was coming)!

The real stars are the pilots themselves. Top Gun is dedicated to Art Scholl, a stunt pilot (aged 54), who was killed when his camera plane failed to recover from a flat spin and plunged into the Pacific Ocean. Maverick’s stunt flying was done by Scott D. Altman, who eventually become an astronaut- wow! Charlie’s “older man” date at the officer’s club is the real-life “Viper,” Pete Pettigrew, a retired Navy pilot/Top Gun instructor, who shot down a MiG during the Vietnam War. Pettigrew served as the technical consultant on the film. Charlie is based on Christine Fox, a civilian flight instructor the producers met on a visit to Miramar while doing research to prep for the film. Fox eventually rose through the ranks at the Pentagon, retiring in May 2014 as Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, the highest post ever held by a woman at the DoD. You can stream this movie on Amazon (Paramount+) or Netflix.

“Submergence” (2017) starring James McAvoy & Alicia Vikander

In a room w/ no windows on the Eastern coast of Africa, James More (James McAvoy- an actor I really admire), is held captive by jihadists fighters. Thousands of miles away in the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders (Alicia Vikander), prepares to dive in a sub to the ocean floor. They’re drawn back to the Winter of the previous year, where a chance encounter in Normandy, France led to an intense romance. This was one of the recs (on Amazon Prime) a few weeks ago; I liked the lead actors and the trailer was V interesting. You can also see it on YouTube (for free). The veteran German director, Wim Wenders, is considered an “auteur.” The French cinematographer, Benoit Debie, does a fine job. This film is based on the novel by a British-born writer, J.M. Ledgard, who was a war correspondent and political consultant for 20+ yrs.

James: Death. It gets very real when you’re watching somebody die in front of you. You’re thinking, is this all I am? Is this all I added up to? And all the clichés are true. You’re thinking, why now? Why did it have to be… this happen, before I realize what life truly is? It’s direct, it’s immediate, and it’s their whole life exposed to you.

Dani: Did you think about your own death a lot?

James: I did, and I do.

Dani: I’ve heard people telling me that they’ve had those exact same thoughts when they fell in love.

James: No, you don’t die when you fall in love.

The 1st half is an intelligent and stylish love story; I thought it was told V well. James (an ex-soldier/intelligence expert) and Dani (a scientist who studies the deepest layer of the ocean) are opposites in many ways when they meet on the beach during vacation. It’s refreshing to see a romance where brains (as well as physical beauty) count! At first, James is the one to show interest, BUT it’s Dani who takes things to the next level (rare in modern films, as some critics/viewers noted). Their love/romantic scenes are shot in a way that is classy, unique, and soulful.

The 2nd half contains some action/intrigue, though is NOT as effective (yet important/modern issues- esp. terrorism- come up). Dani’s side of the story comes off as dull (unless you’re a scientist maybe), while James is put in more… and more danger. There are several scenes that drag on; the editing could’ve been much tighter. We see a few supporting characters, incl. a doctor played by Alexander Siddig (best known for his roles on Star Trek: DS9 and Game of Thrones). Many viewers were disappointed that the lovers were apart for such a big part of the movie. Also, there is a (possibly confusing) ending; we needed to see more! One of the main reasons to check out this film is its (natural) beauty. There was a LOT of shooting on location; sadly, the elegant home that serves as a hotel isn’t intended for tourists.

Brief Reviews of Recent Views (DEC 2022)

Dead End (1937) starring Sylvia Sydney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, & Claire Trevor

The Dead End Kids (a teen ensemble of actors who’d also appeared on Broadway) are introduced in their Midtown East (NYC) slum, overlooked by the new apts of the ultra-rich. Their antics, some funny, some vicious, alternate w/ subplots: jobless architect Dave (Joel McCrea- one of Hollywood’s “Everyman” actors) is torn btwn Drina (Sylvia Sydney- a big star of the ’30s), his hard-working/childhood friend and Kay (Wendy Barrie), the glam mistress of a rich man; gangster “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart- before his leading man days) returns to his old neighborhood and finds that nobody is glad to see him. Then violent crime, BOTH juvenile and adult, impacts the neighborhood and its inhabitants.

Samuel Goldwyn acquired the rights to Sidney Kingsley’s play for $165,000 – a V large amount at the time (equivalent to nearly $3M today). The play had been a huge success on Broadway; its content had to be altered b/c of censorship in film. As some of my fellow classic movie fans know, producers had a LOT more power than directors in the Hollywood studio system. William Wyler (director) wanted to film on location on the streets of NYC, but Goldwyn insisted that the movie be made in the studio. Richard Day (art director) was assigned to design the sets, which were the some of the MOST elaborate sets in film history. Bogart (who was borrowed from Warner Bros.) got his role after George Raft turned it down; James Cagney was Goldwyn’s 1st choice. In order to get past the censors, references to Francey (a young Claire Trevor) being a prostitute were veiled (though mentioned in the original play).

The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, & Basil Rathbone

The Jagged Mark of His Sword Struck Terror to Every Heart – But One! -A tagline for the movie

I’m a big fan of The Mask of Zorro (1995) starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins. Many of you will know re: the premise of this movie: a young Spanish aristocrat, Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power- 26 y.o.), pretends to be a “fop,” BUT protects the poor/powerless folks of Los Angeles (then a part of Mexico) as the masked vigilante- Zorro (“fox” in Spanish). Many viewers have commented that Zorro (who hails from the early 1820s) is a precursor to the superheroes we know/love today. Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell- just 16 y.o.) is the love interest; she meets Zorro (in disguise) and is impressed by his words. Lolita’s greedy/corrupt uncle, Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), has taken over Diego’s father’s job; his elegant/shrewd wife, Inez (Gale Sondegaard), dreams of being presented in the royal court of Spain. However, the main threat to Zorro is Don Luis’ right-hand man- Capt. Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone- a trained fencer). The swordfight btwn Power and Rathbone will amaze you- WOW!

Blood and Sand (1941) starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, & Anthony Quinn

Love flamed in the shadow of death! -A tagline for the movie

Illiterate Spanish peasant Juan Gallardo (Tyrone Power) rises meteorically to fame and fortune as a bullfighter, ONLY to sow the seeds of his own downfall. This movie didn’t impress me as much as the previous one; Power and Darnell are paired up again, BUT then Hayworth comes into the mix. The costumes looked great (IMO), esp. the ones worn by the bullfighters. There is a steamy (for that time) dance btwn (real) Latin hotties- Hayworth and Anthony Quinn (who plays Power’s friend/competitor). Power was Irish-American, though this dark hair/eyes and gorgeous looks got him cast in “exotic” roles.

The Racket (1951) starring Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott, & Robert Ryan

The big national crime syndicate has moved into town, partnering up with local crime boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan). There are ONLY two probs: First, Nick is the violent type, preferring to do things the old-fashioned way instead of using the syndicate’s more business-like methods. The 2nd prob is Capt. McQuigg (Robert Mitchum), an honest cop and the loyal Officer Johnson (William Tallman). They take on the Nick and try to foil the syndicate’s plans to elect Welch, the crooked prosecutor running for judge. I wanted to see it b/c of Mitchum and Ryan; Eddie Muller (TCM) commented that they should’ve switched roles. Muller also noted that it had 3 different writers and 5 directors over its (V troubled) production! Mitchum later said there were many reshoots.

Back from Eternity (1956) starring Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, & Rod Steiger

A South American plane loaded with an assortment of characters crash-lands in a remote jungle area in the middle of a storm. The passengers then discover they are in an area inhabited by cannibals, so MUST escape before they are found. Ryan is giving it his 100% (as he does in every role), BUT he doesn’t come in until 15 mins. into the movie. He speaks a BIT of Spanish- V cool! Swedish model Ekberg (sadly) can’t act and is NOT confident w/ her English. That doesn’t matter to the director/producers, as she’s there mainly for her looks (tall, blonde, and curvy). Later on, there is an (unneeded) catfight btwn Ekberg and another actress- ugh! The standout here is Steiger (looking youngish w/ dark/curly hair); he gets the best lines and is the most interesting (yet potentially volatile) character. Beulah Bondi (mom/grandma in MANY classic films) finally gets out of the house- LOL!

“Run for the Sun” (1956) starring Richard Widmark, Trevor Howard, & Jane Greer

A raging animal of a man…more savage than any jungle killer! -A tagline for the movie

Mike Latimer (Richard Widmark) is a Hemingway-like novelist who has been living in (self-imposed) exile for 5 yrs. A reporter for Sight Magazine, Katie Conners (Jane Greer), tracks him down in a small town in Mexico; she says some friends will be meeting w/ her soon. Mike enjoys having Katie around for company; she’s beautiful, intelligent, and challenging. They spend a week together, sharing meals and fishing on his boat. Mike lets his guard down, assuming that Katie is a tourist who likes his writing. Katie doesn’t reveal that he is her assignment; she feels badly about this (even telling her editor back in NYC). On a flight to Mexico City, Mike’s small plane goes off course and crashes in the forest! Katie has a few scratches, BUT Mike suffers more serious injuries. They’re near an estate owned by an Englishman, Mr. Browne (Trevor Howard), who is ready to help out. Browne is well-mannered/cultured, saying he’s also a fan of Mike’s books. Dr. Van Anders (Peter van Eyck) is another European living there; he is studying ancient civilizations. Only the local Indians (Native Americans) are nearby; the work on the estate. There are no phones to contact the outside world. After a few days resting/recuperating, Mike begins to realize that these men may NOT be as harmless as they seem!

Are you fan of the Indiana Jones movies? If yes, then you may also like this drama/adventure. The plot (partly) comes from The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell; this is a short story that kids often read in JHS here in the US. This movie is a remake of RKO’S 1932 hit The Most Dangerous Game (1932). While the earlier version was filmed entirely on the studio back-lot, this version was shot mostly on location. It’s implied that Howard’s character here is a former Nazi, NOT merely a madman like in the older version. The location of Browne’s estate was a former sugar plantation and refinery est. in the 16th C. In the ’80s, the main house and several buildings were turned into a hotel. The set for the inside of the house was the largest built at a Mexican studio up until that time.

In the 1st 40 mins of the movie, we get to see the easy/playful chemistry btwn Widmark and Greer; they seem to respect and like each other. Widmark is BOTH cynical and boyish; he smiles (and NOT in an evil way like in his noir films). There are a few moments when he speaks Spanish- V cool! Widmark gets to wear casual outfits, though Greer is more dressy and wearing glam makeup (until the 3rd act when practicality is needed). As a fan on YT commented, these actors should’ve made more movies together. Widmark and Greer appeared together in Against All Odds (1984), a remake of the noir classic Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Greer. Mitchum and Eva Marie Saint were considered for the leads of this film. Sadly, Greer contracted a tropical virus during the location shooting; this eventually required her to have a heart operation! The actress also fractured her tailbone on a rock while filming the scenes in the swamp. Widmark thought this was one of his worst films; he’d tell his kids that if they didn’t behave, they’d have to watch it (LOL)! Perhaps the acting wasn’t challenging, BUT the physical work looked tough.

[1] This film, though a little too long, is very exciting, particularly the last section, and will really hold the viewer’s attention. Both Widmark and Greer are excellent. Greer is in her early thirties here and finally in a color movie, and she’s beautiful despite a couple of frumpy hairdos and outfits. Trevor Howard underplays as the villain and is an introverted menace.

[2] Nice direction, very effective photography in sharp color. Greer was never lovelier and, except in the incomparable Robert Mitchum, never found a better leading man. …this lady had real talent.

[3] Jane Greer appeared in so many B&W film noirs of the ’40s that it’s surprising to see her in technicolor. She looks great and has good chemistry with Richard Widmark’s adventurous writer.

Gripping suspense yarn will keep you glued to your seat as you wonder how it all turns out. Give it a chance, as it starts slowly before the plot thickens.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Warlock” (1959) starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, & Dolores Michaels

In the frontier mining community of Warlock, rancher Abe McQuown’s (Tom Drake) San Pablo gang terrorizes the inhabitants, humiliating the town’s Deputy Sheriff and running him out of town. One of the cowboys in the gang is Curley Burne (DeForest Kelley); the actor would find fame as Dr. McCoy on the original Star Trek TV series. In desperate need of protection, the town’s leaders hire an (unofficial) Marshall, Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda), to bring law and order. Clay arrives w/ his close friend, Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), who is a businessman. These two men stand up to the gang and the town gets quieter (for a time). Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), a former member of the gang, reforms and decides to become the (official) Deputy Sheriff. Frank Gorshin (uncredited) plays Billy, Johnny’s brother; he later appeared in the famous TOS ep- Let that Be Your Last Battlefield. IMDb notes that this was the 1st movie for Gary Lockwood (the main guest star on the TOS ep- Where No Man Has Gone Before). I didn’t notice him as one of the gang; look for the tall man w/ a black hat, blue bandana, and dark mustache. Lockwood started his Hollywood career as a stuntman; he’d go on to star in 20001: A Space Odyssey.

Jessie: The men you posted are coming into town.

Clay: I thank you for warning me, but I’ve already heard.

Jessie: Why does it have to happen? Why do these things always have to end in bloodshed?

Clay: Ah, that’s how things are, Miss Jessie. That’s why I was hired… why you hired me.

Jessie: And so they’ll come into town, and you’ll shoot them all down dog-dead in the street, is that it?

Clay: Or them me.

Jessie: Or them you…

Someone once said, there are ONLY 2 types of movies: the hero goes looking for adventure or a stranger comes to town. In this case, we find 2 strangers (w/ money, shiny guns, and fancy clothes) primarily concerned w/ making more money, then moving on to another town. This is a complex/mature Western, as it subverts some of the tropes of the genre. Some viewers thought Clay and Tom are a BIT too close (more than pals), though director Edward Dmytryk (known for his work in film noir) said the homoerotic undercurrents were unintentional. There are 2 supporting roles for women; BOTH are blonde, pretty (of course), yet also independent-minded. Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone- tall/curvy/glam) tracks Clay and Tom down, looking to get revenge. Lily invites Johnny over for a home-cooked meal at her house. Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels) is one of Warlock’s leaders; her father left her a successful mine. Jessie does NOT approve of violence, though she feels drawn to Clay.

The acting is strong here, as we’d expect from the main cast. Widmark can play the angst and action well; he still looks youthful. Fonda (in a rare “shady” role) conveys depth to a gunslinger. Quinn (using a slight limp) is playing against type; he was often cast as a “macho” man. The running time is a BIT long (and feels like it); there is much going on w/ backstories of several characters. The action takes place mostly in the town (20th C. Studios in Culver City, CA); I wanted to see more of the (Moab, Utah) locations. There is the use of matte paintings for some backdrops (commonplace long into the 1990s).

[1] Complex psychological western. I like another reviewer’s point about the conflict between law and order in the film. Only Widmark’s Gannon appears concerned with enforcing law in addition to order, while the rest of the town is more concerned with simply order. Fonda’s Clay Blaisdell stands as the pivotal character, a morally ambiguous gunslinger with a dubious past. The mutual attachment between him and sidekick Morgan (Quinn) is highly unusual for a macho western. As hired gunslingers, they’re a formidable team.

[2] Here all central characters are multi-layered, there is a plenty going on that begs the utmost attention, where tragedy hangs heavy with its looming presence, and Dmytryk threads all the story strands together with thoughtfully potent results.

Adapted by Robert Alan Aurthur from Oakley Hall’s novel, Warlock boasts three excellent male lead performances and a firing on all cylinders supporting cast.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews