“The Godfather: Part II” (1974) starring Al Pacino & Robert De Niro

[Don Cicci is threatening to kill young Vito]

Signora Andolini: But Vito is only nine. And dumb-witted. The child cannot harm you.

The early buzz on The Godfather (1972) was so positive that a sequel was planned before filming ended. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the entire script over a weekend b/c Al Pacino said he didn’t like the original and wouldn’t do the film. Later, he admitted to Coppola that he hadn’t actually disliked the first script all that much, but knew it could be better. Pacino was paid $500,000 plus a 10% share of the profits; he’d earned only $25,000 for the first film. Since Coppola had such a difficult time directing The Godfather, he asked to pick a different director for the sequel (and take the title of producer for himself). He chose Martin Scorsese, but the film executives rejected the idea; Coppola agreed to direct again and was given a lot of creative freedom.

Only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in Mario Puzo’s book. The story re: Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is unique to the film. De Niro (just 30 y.o.) had screen tested for Sonny; Coppola was so impressed that he called him back again to audition for Vito. De Niro (who is 25% Italian) lived in Sicily for 3 mos. and studied the Sicilian language for 4 mos. – wow! This was the first sequel to receive 5 Academy Award noms for acting: Talia Shire (Best Actress in a Suporting Role), Lee Strasberg (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), Michael V. Gazzo (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and Pacino (Best Actor); De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Sen. Geary: I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. You and your whole f*****g family.

Michael: We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.

The communion party here is a stark contrast to Connie’s wedding in Part I; it is out on Lake Tahoe (and for show/publicity), lacks culture (Frank Pentangeli laments that there is no traditional Italian food/songs), and (above all) seems emotionally cold. Sen. Geary (G.D. Spradlin) intentionally mispronounces “Corleone.” There is the awkward photoshoot w/ the donation check Michael gave to the local university. Before he died, Vito admitted to Michael that he hoped he’d a “big shot” who “pulled the strings” (like a governor or senator). We see Michael rebuffing the demands of the (openly racist) Sen. Geary, and making demands of his own. He is seeking respectability (still) and also trying to expand his empire to Cuba (w/ the help of Hyman Roth, played by renown acting teacher Lee Strasberg). Pacino requested that Strasberg take on this role, as he admired the man’s talent so much!

[during the play ‘Senza Mamma’]

Genco Abbandando: Vito, how do you like my little angel? Isn’t she beautiful?

Vito Corleone: She’s very beautiful. To you, she’s beautiful. For me, there’s only my wife and son.

In flashback, we see the life of young Vito Andolini; his father was killed for insulting a powerful man, Don Cicci. Soon after, his older brother (in hiding) was killed. When his mother (boldly) appealed to Don Cicci, she was shot/killed also. Vito was hidden by some (brave) neighbors and travelled alone to Ellis Island. The clerk thinks that Vito’s surname is the name of his hometown (Corleone). Then the boy is put into quarantine for several weeks in a tiny room from where he can see the Statue of Liberty. Wow, what an impactful series of scenes (w/o much dialogue)!

Michael Corleone: My father taught me many things here – he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

As one astute reviewer noted: “The Godfather Part II is not really a movie about the mafia, it is a movie about a man’s life long struggle.” While Vito’s empire was built on respect, Michael’s empire is built on fear. Look at the way Michael treats his own family- yikes! He doesn’t even acknowledge the fiance of his younger sister Connie (who he compares to a “whore”). Connie (Talia Shire) has lived overseas, trying to escape issues at home; she hasn’t spent much time w/ her kids (which concerns Mama). As for older brother Fredo (John Cazale), he’s still handling the hotel/casino end of the business, but wants to do more. His blonde/buxom wife gets drunk and flirts openly w/ other men. Michael is embarrassed by her behavior; Fredo is emasculated as he can’t control his wife (w/o intervention from bodyguards). There is an (obvious) distance between Michael and his adopted older brother/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), who is no longer privy to certain aspects of the biz. Kay (Diane Keaton) is still around, BUT we can sense the tension in the marriage; Michael had promised her that the biz would be “legitimate” several years ago. Then there is the audacious shooting in their bedroom; hitmen were able to come onto the estate w/o being noticed!

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don’ refuse. Don’ worry.

In 1920, Vito is already married w/ a baby son (Sonny) and delivering groceries in Little Italy; he is a quiet and observant young man. His best friend Genco (Frank Sivero) takes him to a show to see the actress he has a crush on. They see a flashily-dressed local man, Don Fanucci (Gaston Moschin), threatening the actress and her father backstage w/ a knife; Genco said they need to get out of there. It turns out that Don Fanucci is pushing around local businessmen; Vito loses his job b/c his boss (who is like a father to him) is forced to hire the don’s nephew. Vito handles this disappointment well, not even taking the box of food offered to him. We sense that somehow he will find a way to provide for this family. Enter Clemenza (a very young Bruno Kirby- best known for When Harry Met Sally), who is a petty criminal who asks Vito for help. Vito seizes the opportunity, hiding a bedsheet folded up w/ handguns in his apt.

This is NOT your typical sequel; it’s a mix of a sequel and prequel (as many viewers have commented). The two stories have distinct looks, as they take place in different time periods (mainly the early 1920s and late 1950s), and b/c of their different tones. Though Michael’s world is much bigger in scope than young Vito’s, it lacks the warmth of a happy home/family and close friendships/connections. Michael has distanced himself so far from his Italian/immigrant roots that he no longer recognizes the values of his father’s generation. Is Michael the villain and Vito the hero (some viewers have wondered)? De Niro (youthful/slim/handsome) knows how to play subtlety; he just becomes the character! You will even see a few gestures that Brando used, but they come off as natural.

[1] Al Pacino’s performance is quiet and solemn… He is cold and ruthless, with a whole contrast from the idealistic innocent war hero we initially met at the beginning of the first film…

De Niro’s rise, from an orphan child by a family feud back in Italy to a hood in New York and his position as a respected Don, provides a welcome break from Pacino’s relentless attitude…

[2] Al Pacino is the standout in the ensemble cast and its amazing how his eyes have changed from the first part. They are now cold , ruthless and unemotional and betray the price which Michael Corleone has paid for power.

[3] Without spoiling, I will simply say the Robert De Niro as the young Vito is the best acting performance of all time, a role for which he won a richly deserved Oscar.

[4] Nino Rota’s musical score plays an even greater role in this equal but different successor than it did in the predecessor. Yearning, lamenting, stimulating bygone ages, see how infectiously Nino Rota’s music affects our sentiments for the savage events on screen. It is the pulse of the films.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Godfather” (1972) starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, & Robert Duvall

Don Corleone: …a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

The Godfather is “Don” Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando- age 47), the head of the Corleone mafia family in New York. Brando wanted to make his character “look like a bulldog,” so he stuffed his cheeks w/ cotton for his audition. For the filming, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist. On the day of his daughter Connie’s (Talia Shire) wedding, he is meeting w/ several members of his (Italian-American) community on his estate on Staten Island. There is a saying that the Don’s adopted son/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall- age 40 and wearing a bad hairpiece), says: “no Sicilian can refuse a favor at his daughter’s wedding day.” Michael (Al Pacino- not yet famous at age 31), the Don’s youngest son/decorated WWII Marine, is also present w/ his blonde/WASP girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton- only 25). Pacino and Keaton started dating during filming and were a couple for 5 years. Michael seems thoughtful and introverted, as well as uninterested in the family business. Don Corleone is an influential man w/ connections to businessmen, politicians, judges, and celebs. He can be kind/generous to those who give him respect, but ruthless against those who don’t. When a dangerous rival wants to sell drugs, and needs the Don’s agreement, he says no way! His oldest son Sonny (James Caan) seems to disagree. What follows is a clash between the Don’s “old-school” values and the ways of the new generation.

Don Corleone [to Sollozzo]: I said that I would see you because I had heard that you were a serious man, to be treated with respect. But I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.

I saw some scenes (over the years) of this iconic movie; however, I don’t recall seeing it fully until this past week! Director Francis Ford Coppola (only 33) had received some notice for one earlier movie; he was young and untested like much of the cast. He wasn’t enthusiastic about making this movie (at first); he thought the book by Mario Puzo was too sensational. I learned that he feared being fired by the studio for the first 2 weeks of filming! The unique (dark) lighting chosen by cinematographer Gordon Willis also made the execs worried, until they were convinced that this showed the shady ways of the Corleones. Willis earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness” w/ the choices that he used; it turned out well (of course). Brando (due to heavy prosthetic makeup) is usually lit from above. Michael is brightly-lit in the first act of the film (before the Don is shot). Then the lighting scheme changes; we see half of his face in shadow. Once he has transitioned to the head of the family, dark shadows appear over his eyes. Caan (playing a loud/hot-headed man) is usually more well-lit than Duvall (who is calm, soft-spoken and tactful in his speech). Did you know that Caan improvised the part where Sonny throws the FBI photographer’s camera to the ground? Kay’s face usually looks bright; Keaton was lit from the side. However, I wasn’t a fan of the wigs (or hairdos) they chose for Kay. She is dressed in shades of red for most of the movie (a red/white spotted dress at the wedding, a maroon dress at the hotel dinner, and a bright red hat and coat when she goes to the estate).

Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.

Kay: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.

Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

There is much to admire here, but the most important thing is that we really care for these characters and go on a fascinating journey. As Roger Ebert commented (after the 25th anniversary): “In this closed world, The Godfather is the good guy. He is the hero that we root for.” I was esp. impressed by Brando when the Don becomes injured/weak; as for the tough-guy moments (we know he can do those well). Pacino (youthful/handsome) gives a nuanced performance (which may be a surprise to younger viewers); it’s almost all in the eyes (as we find w/ the finest of screen actors). We don’t see the angry/volatile side of Pacino (Coppola’s first choice for the role) until the final act when he yells at Kay. I learned that the studios wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neill for the role of Michael- LOL! Martin Sheen (w/ long hair and a mustache) auditioned for the role also; you can see some clips of screen tests on YouTube. All the supporting cast (incl. those who came from open calls, such as Abe Vigoda) suit their roles well. Look out for two veterans from the Golden Age of Hollywood- Richard Conte (the smooth-talking Don Barzini) and Sterling Hayden (the racist/crooked cop- Chief McCluskey). Both Conte and Hayden are in fine shape; they were known for noir films (I got into this genre over quarantine life). Fredo (John Cazale) doesn’t have a big role here, but I learned that he will feature more in The Godfather: Part II. He received much acclaim (from his peers and critics), died rather young, and was engaged to Meryl Streep.

This movie appeals to many people across the decades all around the world. One critic said: “It’s a simple story about a king and his three sons.” I’m sure it was rare to see a well-developed story of immigrants and first-gen Americans (w/ dark hair and olive/tan skin tones), even in the early 1970s. Having a Italian-American director must’ve been a great asset; it was Coppola’s idea to incorporate a real Italian-speaking wedding band, non-actors (incl. members of his own family), scenes which reflect everyday life (w/ kids running around, cooking, domestic disputes, etc.) There is the gorgeous/romantic sequence shot in Sicily where (some critics say) Michael finds true love (Appolonia) and happiness for the first time. When I saw the chaste courtship scenes between Michael and Appolonia (and her extended family) , I was reminded of the stories of my own family (parents, aunties, and uncles) who grew up in Bangladesh. This is a must-see film you can’t refuse!

“Citizen Kane” (1941) starring/directed by Orson Welles

Radio’s Most Dynamic Artist . . The Man At Whose Voice A Nation Trembled . . . Now the screen’s most exciting NEW star! ORSON WELLES in the picture Hollywood said he’d never make! – A tag line from the film

Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles- just 26 y.o.), reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his final word: “Rosebud.” The film begins with a news reel (which comes directly from RKO Pictures) detailing Kane’s life for the masses. Then, we see flashbacks from Kane’s life- his simple boyhood, life as an idealistic young newspaper publisher, attempt at politics in mid-life, and two (failed) marriages. As the reporters investigate more, we see a man’s rise to fame and fall from the top of his world. Kane (who died alone surrounded by statues and other treasures from all over the world) is based on media tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

Kane [in old age]: You know, Mr. Thatcher, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.

Young Charles Foster Kane (8 y.o.) comes into a LOT of money; his mother/owner of a boarding house, Mary (Agnes Moorehead), decides he should be sent away from Colorado to the East. He will be raised by his new guardian, a humorless banker named Mr. Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris). Charles’ father (Harry Shannon) is reluctant to give up his son; though he’s an alcoholic w/ potential for violence, the boy seems to love him. When Mary is signing away the boy, there is the (then innovative) use of the “deep focus lens.” While the mother acts cold (calling him “Charles), his father takes a warmer tone (calling him “Charlie”). Upon reaching 25, Kane (handsome/energetic) comes into ALL his inheritance; he impulsively buys a newspaper (The New York Inquirer) against the wishes of Thatcher. His closest pal Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten) becomes the theater critic; being from “old money,” Jed can scoff at high society. Kane’s general manager, Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), is loyal/helpful until the end. When Kane writes up his “declaration of principles,” his face is almost obscured in shadow; this is a hint of things to come. Jed looks almost directly at the camera, saying that paper will be worth something one day.

Mr. Bernstein: Old age. It’s the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don’t look forward to being cured of.

Kane’s first wife, Emily Monroe Norton (Ruth Warrick), is the sophisticated niece of the president; they meet (offscreen) in Europe and have a whirlwind romance. Emily starts to resent the long hours Kane spends at the newspaper; their politics are also different. In a series of clever/concise scenes at the breakfast table, we see the deterioration of their relationship (from flirty/loving to silent/cold). One night, outside a pharmacy, Kane meets a 22 y.o. aspiring opera singer- Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore). It turns out that he can maker her laugh; Susan also doesn’t know who Kane is (being a naive girl new to the city). After Kane enters politics, his affair w/ Susan is uncovered by a private detective working for his rival. When given the choice between Emily (who was loyal to him for 15 yrs) and Susan, Kane chooses Susan (thus loses his political career).

Kane: Mr. Carter, here’s a three-column headline in the Chronicle. Why hasn’t the Inquirer a three-column headline?

Carter: The news wasn’t big enough.

Kane: Mr. Carter, if the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.

Mr. Bernstein: That’s right, Mr. Kane.

They get married and he even builds an opera house where Susan can perform; it turns out she’s a terrible singer (no matter how hard she practices). Kane and Jed have a falling out; Jed is drunk and gives his true opinion re: Susan’s “talent.” Their break-up scene where we are looking up at the characters was achieved by Greg Toland (cinematographer) cutting holes in the floor of the studio. Later on, there is break-up w/ Susan, after she gets tired of living a lonely/unfulfilled life in his huge California estate Xanadu (named for the “pleasure palace of Kubla Khan” in the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

Jed [to Kane]: You don’t care about anything except you. You just want to persuade people that you love ’em so much that they ought to love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. Something to be played your way, according to your rules.

Once you see this film (or rewatch it a few times), you realize how influential it was to later films! It is very well made and ahead of it’s time, as I realized seeing it recently. Watching this film on TV, a young Scorsese began to notice editing techniques and camera moves (incl. the use of the “wide angle lens”). In previous American films, the camera didn’t move, Scorsese noted. As NYT film critic A.O. Scott commented: “Most of the scenes are shot a low angle, so we feel as if we’re sitting in an orchestra seat watching a play. It is also un-mistakenly cinematic… deep focus asymmetrical compositions and bold contrasts in light and shadow to get at themes not explicitly stated in the film’s script. Welles slows time down w/ subjective dream-like sequences and speeds it up w/ witty and inspired montages.”

[Susan is leaving Kane]

Kane: [pleading] Don’t go, Susan. You mustn’t go. You can’t do this to me.

Susan: I see. So it’s YOU who this is being done to. It’s not me at all. Not how I feel. Not what it means to me. [laughs] I can’t do this to you? [odd smile] Oh, yes I can.

Is this the best film ever made? I don’t think so, but it’s worth a watch for cinephiles. Citizen Kane is essentially a character study of a man who is rich, powerful, yet probably feels inadequate inside (as he can’t connect to other people). Love is something that Kane wanted all his life, both Jed and Bernstein tell the reporter. Most the the actors are newcomers from The Mercury Theater, Welles’ theater company. Cotten went on to have a fine career; he said he was proud to have appeared in several box office hits. He is perhaps best known as Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Sloane makes a terrific villain in Welles’ film noir The Lady from Shanghai.

Mississippi Burning (1988) starring Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, & Frances McDormand

1964. When America was at war with itself. – Tag line

Mississippi Burning was very controversial when first released; in this time (after the Trump administration), it resonates stronger than ever. Some younger readers may never have heard of this film; it is fiction, but based on a real case (labeled “Mississippi Burning” by the FBI). The film is inspired by the 1964 murder by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) of three Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) field workers who were registering Black voters in Mississippi: a Black man named James Chaney (age 21) and two white (Jewish) men- Michael Schwerner (age 20) and Andrew Goodman (age 24). Some critics felt that many facts were altered or left out. There is much to admire re: this movie, though to our modern eyes, the lack of a fully-fleshed out Black character may be problematic. Director Spike Lee didn’t like it; he felt the preacher’s son (Aaron) was a “magical Negro” trope. On the other hand, this was Roger Ebert’s choice for the best film of 1988. You know it made a big impact (overseas), b/c it was (unofficially) remade into a Bollywood film, Aakrosh (2010).

Mayor Tilman: You like baseball, do you, Anderson?

Anderson: Yeah, I do. You know, it’s the only time when a black man can wave a stick at a white man and not start a riot.

When you think about it, 1964 is NOT too far back in time from 1988. Barry Norman (BBC film critic) described the (harrowing) opening of the film as “pure cinema, something no other medium could do so effectively.” Then we shift to the (much lighter) scene w/ the main characters- FBI agents Mr. Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Mr. Ward (Willem Dafoe- just 32). Don Johnson campaigned heavily for the role that went to Dafoe- LOL! Anderson (older/rumpled) studies some papers from a folder and sings a KKK song; Ward (younger/crisply-suited) isn’t amused. Anderson is making fun of the KKK, but Ward says: “I could do w/o the cabaret.” Anderson is a former small-town sheriff; Ward is a former DOJ attorney (“a Kennedy boy,” as Anderson comments). These men don’t know each other well and are mismatched, the viewer knows right away.

When they reach the small town, the agents are met w/ long/angry stares and outright hostility from the locals. Ward makes a (Northern/liberal) mistake; he goes to sit at the “Colored” section of the busy diner (NOT heeding the warning from Anderson, who knows the South). The young Black man sitting beside him becomes nervous and refuses to answer Ward’s questions; all eyes are on them. In the sheriff’s office, they first meet Deputy Pell (Brad Dourif), who isn’t too welcoming. Dourif makes some interesting choices w/ his role; he doesn’t always play it tough (we see that Pell is being influenced by more stronger personalities). Suddenly, Sheriff Stuckey (Gailard Sartain) pops out of his office, and starts breezily chatting w/ Anderson. Ward corrects him after Stuckey (the epitome of a fat, uncaring, racist cop) assumes Anderson is in charge of the investigation. In the barbershop, Anderson meets Mayor Tilman (R. Lee Ermey), who is more casually racist. In the motel lodge (later that night), we see the agents drinking and sharing stories. Anderson (matter-of-factly/softly) reveals something about his childhood growing up in the South.

Anderson: Where does it come from? All this hatred?

Anderson: You know, when I was a little boy, there was an old Negro farmer that lived down the road from us, name of Monroe. And he was… well, I guess he was just a little luckier than my daddy was. He bought himself a mule. That was a big deal around that town. My daddy hated that mule, ’cause his friends were always kidding him that they saw Monroe out plowing with his new mule, and Monroe was going to rent another field now he had a mule. One morning, that mule showed up dead. They poisoned the water. After that, there wasn’t any mention about that mule around my daddy. It just never came up. One time, we were driving down that road, and we passed Monroe’s place and we saw it was empty. He just packed up and left, I guess, he must of went up North or something. I looked over at my daddy’s face. I knew he done it. He saw that I knew. He was ashamed. I guess he was ashamed. He looked at me and said, “If you ain’t better than a n****r, son, who are you better than?”

Ward: You think that’s an excuse?

Anderson: No it’s not an excuse. It’s just a story about my daddy.

Ward: Where’s that leave you?

Anderson: My old man was just so full of hate that he didn’t know that bein’ poor was what was killin’ him.

A shotgun fires from a screeching car into the motel room! Ward decides that more agents are needed ASAP. The young Black man from the diner is picked up my some (hooded) men, beaten, and imprisoned in a large chicken coop in a field of cotton. (FYI: Since this wasn’t the season for cotton, the crew had to decorate the field w/ bits of cotton.) Then we see the same Black man pushed out of a car in the center of town- sending an (obvious) message to the FBI. The local cops and a group of (suited) FBI agents run to check on the injured man; Stuckey declares that his men will handle the matter. Agents have set up their HQ in the movie theater. Later we see them (along w/ buses of fresh-faced sailors) drag a swamp (a real one w/ mud, bugs, and possible alligators) for dead bodies.

…I didn’t do research. All I did was listen to [Hackman]. He had an amazing capacity for not giving away any part of himself (in read-throughs). But the minute we got on the set, little blinds on his eyes flipped up and everything was available. It was mesmerizing. He’s really believable, and it was like a basic acting lesson. -Frances McDormand

Now this isn’t just a typical “macho” movie; at the heart of it is the wife of the deputy- Mrs. Pell (a young Frances McDormand)- who also runs a hair salon (Gilly’s). Anderson first drops in at the salon, making self-deprecating comments about his hair (w/ its receding hairline). This amuses some of the ladies; Mrs. Pell bluntly points out that the FBI wouldn’t be around if the white men weren’t missing (along w/ Chaney). Later, when Ward and Anderson drop by the Pell’s humble home, we see the (not so pleasant) dynamic between the couple. While Ward interviews her husband, Anderson goes to the kitchen and strikes up a convo w/ Mrs. Pell (in a humble manner, using folksy charm). Later that night, we learn more about both characters when Anderson comes by w/ some wildflowers. We see the romantic chemistry growing between Anderson and Mrs. Pell, despite their ages and the situation. She has to lie to cover for her husband; Anderson realizes that she is lying (and they both look disappointed about it). Before he leaves, he gently touches her hair (a bold, yet vulnerable move). In a previous scene, Anderson had made “a power move” on Deputy Pell; he is working late (or maybe getting into some violence w/ his KKK pals).

Mrs. Pell: It’s ugly. This whole thing is so ugly. Have you any idea what it’s like to live with all this? People look at us and only see bigots and racists. Hatred isn’t something you’re born with. It gets taught. At school, they said segregation what’s said in the Bible… Genesis 9, Verse 27. At 7 years of age, you get told it enough times, you believe it. You believe the hatred. You live it… you breathe it. You marry it.

After being hired by Orion Pictures, Parker made several changes from screenwriter Chris Gerolmo’s original draft (which was “a big/violent detective story”). Parker omitted a Mafia hitman and created Agent Monk. The scene in which Frank Bailey brutally beats a news cameraman was based on an actual event. Parker also wrote a sex scene involving Anderson and Mrs. Pell. The scene was omitted (after Hackman suggested to Parker that the relationship between the two characters be more discreet). Though some close-ups were shot, in the final film, the kiss between Hackman and McDormand is in shadow (at a respectful distance). The music (composed by Trevor Jones) is a very crucial part of this movie; it creates a tense (thriller-like) atmosphere in many scenes. In several key scenes, there is the gospel element. The movie was shot in Alabama and Mississippi, so there is authenticity. We see the old buildings, dust, poverty, rural lands, and (above all) local people (some of whom may had sympathies to the Klan). There are many character actors who add flavor to the story: Kevin Dunn (a young/eager FBI agent coordinating the case), Stephen Tobolowsky (a prominent businessman/KKK leader), Michael Rooker (the unapologetic tough guy/KKK member-Frank Bailey), a teen Darius McCrary (Aaron), Frankie Faison (a respected preacher/Aaron’s father), and Badja Djola (the Black FBI interrogator- Agent Monk). Ward (who is no pushover, despite his by-the-book approach) and Anderson (smarter than he looks) come to respect each other, but it happens slowly; they don’t become “buddy cops.”

Movies Under the Sea: “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) & “Crimson Tide” (1995)

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

In November 1984, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union creates a new nuclear submarine that runs silent due to a revolutionary propulsion system. The Russian submarine Captain, Marko Ramius (Sir Sean Connery), defects. His goal is taking it to the U.S. to prevent the Russians from using it to start nuclear war against the U.S. -Summary

Listen, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open. -Jeffrey Pelt

Filming started in 1989, w/ the Cold War still going on, but was released in 1990 when the Soviet government announced that the Communist Party was no longer in charge. Producers went on with the release, but using a disclaimer that the story takes place in 1984 (when Tom Clancy’s novel was published). This is the movie debut of Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who uses his brains (he writes books re: miliary history/speaks Russian) more than his brawn (though he holds the rank of Lt. Cmdr. in the Navy/graduated as a Marine). He is no pushover; Ryan speaks up for himself when it’s needed and doesn’t let others intimidate him. Alec Baldwin accepted the role of Jack Ryan (recently played by John Krasinski in the Amazon Prime series) b/c Harrison Ford turned it down. Kevin Costner turned down the role of Jack Ryan in order to make Dances with Wolves (1990). Director John McTiernan previously worked on Die Hard (1988); the same oversized teddy bear is in this movie. This movie starts out in Russian, then switches to English, as the political officer reads a passage from a book.

I miss the peace of fishing like when I was a boy. Forty years I’ve been at sea. A war at sea. A war with no battles, no monuments… only casualties. I widowed her the day I married her. My wife died while I was at sea, you know. -Capt. Ramius

Before filming, Sir Sean Connery spent time underway aboard the U.S.S. Puffer preparing for his role (Capt. Marko Ramius). He was given Commander status, and allowed to give commands while underway (w/ the Captain beside him). During filming, several actors portraying U.S.S. Dallas crewmen took a cruise off the coast of San Diego on the U.S.S. Salt Lake City a Los Angeles-class submarine. Cmdr. Thomas Fargo ordered his crew to treat actor Scott Glenn (Cmdr. Bart Mancuso) as equal rank, first giving reports to him, then give the same report to Glenn. The actor said he based his performance on Fargo: “whatever good happened in the performance, basically I owe to now Admiral Fargo, thank you sir.” Connery was in the Royal Navy before becoming an actor; Glenn spent 3 yrs. in the Marines.

[to himself, just before being lowered off a helicopter] Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo. -Jack Ryan

[To himself, imitating Ramius] “Ryan, some things in here don’t react well to bullets.” Yeah, like me. I don’t react well to bullets. -Jack Ryan

Star Trek: TNG fans will will notice that Ryan’s wife Cathy is played (in one scene only) by Gates McFadden (best known as Dr. Beverly Crusher). After she rejoined TNG, Anne Archer took over the role; Cathy lost the English accent (which McFadden had used). James Earl Jones (Adm. James Greer) was the only actor to reprise his role in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) where Ford takes over as Ryan. Jones also served in the Army as a young man. Fred Thompson (Adm. Painter) and Courtney B. Vance (Seaman Jones- another brainy guy) would go on to be part of the Law & Order franchise. The international cast includes Aussie Sam Neill (Capt. Borodin), Brit Peter Firth (Cmdr. Putin), Brit Tim Curry (Dr. Petrov), and Swede Stellan Skarsgard (Capt. Tupolev).

[1] It took a concept that is inconceivable to most people (living in a boat underwater with people trying to blow you up) and brought it up close and personal. The resulting suspense and excitement for this type of film is always extremely entertaining and this film delivers nicely.

[2] High tension and realistic (emphasis on that last word) depictions of modern warfare make for an excellent story.

[3] Baldwin, in what is and will probably be his career best role ever, shines as the intelligent and patriotic Jack Ryan, a thinking man’s hero. Connery lends incredible presence, as usual, to his interpretation of Ramius.

[4] The movie’s chief strengths are its moody lighting, its unrelenting pace, and especially its deep bench of acting talent. Connery suggests a note of uncertainty to Ramius that keeps the audience on its toes. For the longest time, we don’t know what he’s up to. Baldwin plays Ryan in a very realistic way that establishes his basically gentle, bookish nature but underscores the depths of his heroism as he pursues an increasingly dangerous path no one else believes in. Scott Glenn is terrific as a crusty U.S. sub commander…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Crimson Tide (1995)

In the face of the ultimate nuclear showdown, one man has absolute power and one man will do anything to stop him.

-Tag line

When some Russian rebels take control of some ICBM’s, the Americans prep for battle. Among the vessels sent is the nuclear sub, USS Alabama. They have a new X.O. (second in command) in Cmdr. Hunter (Denzel Washington), who hasn’t seen much action. Capt. Ramsey (Gene Hackman) gives an order for a drill after a dangerous incident (fire in the galley) and Hunter disagrees w/ how Ramsey handled it. It’s obvious that Ramsey doesn’t think much of Hunter b/c Hunter is college-educated; Ramsey worked his way up. They’re given orders to attack, but when in the process of receiving another order, the ship’s communications are damaged (cutting off the full message). Ramsey decides to continue with their previous order, while Hunter wants to reestablish contact first. That’s when the two men’s philosophies of war collide… and the tension rises!

This is probably my fave action movie, though this isn’t a familiar genre for me. There is much to admire- the directing (by Tony Scott), acting, intensity, music, and a few moments of humor (provided by Quentin Tarantino- who punched up the script). Washington solidifies his star status by having equal billing w/ Hackman, as we see in the posters. Tension between them grows b/c of their differing ages, races, personalities and philosophies on war. The cast includes Viggo Mortensen (Weps- Hunter’s close pal), James Gandolfini (Dougherty), George Dzundza (Cob), Danny Nucci (Rivetti), Steve Zahn (Barnes), former child star Ricky Shroeder (Hellerman), and a very young Ryan Phillippe.

The early scenes do much to set up the main conflict of the film. For example when members of the crew discuss Carl Von Clausewitz, and his 1832 work Vom Kriege (“On War”), the intellectual showdown occurs between Ramsey and Hunter. This scene not only heightens the tension, but also reveals the different philosophies of these two men, what they believe in, why they are there. This short scene goes a long way to setting up why each of these characters are so unbending when the crisis presents itself.

Crimson Tide possesses one of the most intense moments in film: two great actors eye-to-eye, portraying characters absolutely certain of their actions, absolutely convinced that the other’s course will lead to disaster. Washington believes, with good reason, that Hackman is unfit to command because he is disregarding naval procedures. Hackman believes, with good reason, that Washington is disobeying an order and instigating a mutiny. A possible nuclear exchange and the deaths of billions hang in the balance.

The cast – all of them – are spectacular, and the directing is masterful. […] More than just a cautionary tale, this is a very human drama about who people become under extreme conditions, and how they work out problems to reach solutions, or fail to do so. If that final sentence sounds cryptic, then let it entice you to see the film so you can figure out what I mean for yourself.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews