Friday, April 11, 2014

#1,329. Inherit the Wind (1960)

Posted: 06 Apr 2014 09:55 AM PDT

Directed By: Stanley Kramer

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly

Tag line: "It's all about the monkey trial that rocked America"

Trivia: To heighten the tension of Spencer Tracy's final summation to the jury, the scene was filmed in a single take

Based on the Scopes “Monkey” trial, an actual court case that occurred in Dayton, Tennessee in 1924, Inherit the Wind opens with the arrest of Bertram Cates (Dick York), a school teacher in the small southern town of Hillsboro who broke the law by teaching his students Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (a subject banned from all state-funded schools). Those closest to Cates, including his fiancĂ©, Rachel (Donna Anderson), want him to apologize, but he refuses to do so. When the news of what’s happening in Hillsboro goes national, reporters from all over the country, such as Chicago-based newsman H.E. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) descend on the small town, and as a result of the publicity, Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March), former Presidential candidate and a firm believer in the fundamental view of creation, agrees to prosecute the case. Fortunately for Bertram Cates, Hornbeck’s newspaper has secured a defense attorney of equal standing: Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), the best criminal lawyer in America. With the entire world watching, these two legal superstars square off against each other in the courtroom, leading to a trail that will ultimately determine much more than the fate of a single man.

Directed by Stanley Kramer, Inherit the Wind should be subtitled “The Spencer Tracy / Fredric March Show”. Portraying characters inspired by real-life historical figures William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, the veteran actors play off each other perfectly, bringing an almost explosive energy to the film’s trial scenes. Personality-wise, these two couldn’t be more different. March’s Brady is an outspoken religious leader that can quote bible verses from memory, and loves the attention the case has brought him; surrounded by supporters at a dinner table, he pontificates on the importance of winning this trial, and is convinced God is on his side. As played by Tracy, Drummond is much more subdued, a man who’d rather do his talking in front of a judge, and who strongly believes in his client’s cause. One of the most interesting aspects of Inherit the Wind is how it explores the relationship between Brady and Drummond, who, despite being adversaries this time around, are the oldest of friends (in one of the film’s quieter moments, the two sit together on a porch, reminiscing about the past). Yet the fact they’re still on somewhat friendly terms doesn’t prevent them from trading jabs in the courtroom, resulting in some truly tense showdowns (the climactic scene, where Drummond calls Brady himself as a witness, is positively unforgettable). There are other fine performances as well, notably Gene Kelly as the acerbic reporter Hornbeck and Claude Akins as Rev. Brown, the town’s overzealous minister, but as good as the supporting cast is, its March and Tracy who steal the show.

As much a critique on the fundamentalist view of religion as it is a slice of American history, Inherit the Wind ranks among the best courtroom dramas ever made, and is one of the finest motion pictures I’ve ever seen.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Living in the material world (2011)

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 09:58 AM PDT

Directed By: Martin Scorsese

Starring: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon

Trivia: Olivia Harrison, George Harrison's wife and the producer of this film, chose Martin Scorsese to direct this documentary after she had seen his 2005 Bob Dylan documentary

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who George Harrison was. Even the man known to millions as “the Third Beatle” was still a Beatle, which, by default, made him one of the most recognizable names in Rock and Roll history. That said, my first “exposure” (for want of a better word) to George Harrison outside of the Beatles occurred years ago, as I was reading a book about Monty Python my brother had bought, which told how Harrison had put up the money to produce Life of Brian when every other studio passed on it. In fact, the production company he formed to finance that movie, Hand Made Films, also produced Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (which, by the way, marked the first time I’d ever heard one of George Harrison’s solo tunes; his “Dream Away”, written especially for the 1981 fantasy, played over that film’s ending credits).

Martin Scorsese’s 2011 documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, touches upon Harrison’s cinematic achievements, as well as the near-immeasurable contributions he made to the world of music, giving us as complete a picture of the man as we could ever hope to see.

Starting with his childhood in Liverpool, Living in the Material World takes us on a journey through George Harrison’s life: the formation of the Beatles; their eventual break-up; his experience with Eastern philosophies, and how they shaped his solo career; and so much more. Utilizing archival footage, home movies, and interviews, Living in the Material World is an open book, exposing us to nearly every facet of the man’s life, both professional and personal.

Which, in the end, is what makes Living in the Material World such a fascinating documentary. Given the same subject matter, most filmmakers might be tempted to linger on the “high points” of Harrison’s career, namely his time with the Beatles. And while Scorsese’s doc does cover that specific era in great detail, it doesn’t do so at the expense of any of Harrison’s other accomplishments. So, along with the “standard” Beatles clips, including the group’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and footage of the tumultuous Let it Be recording sessions, Living in the Material World also treats us to some of Harrison’s home videos, and provides stories told by those who knew him best, some I’m sure the rocker himself wouldn’t have related, like how his first wife, Pattie Boyd, left him to marry his good pal, Eric Clapton (interviews with Boyd and Clapton appear in the movie).

To Scorsese’s credit, he’s crafted a film that will appeal to everyone, even those who aren’t fans of the Beatles, a claim most similar-minded documentaries can’t make.