Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sink the Bismark! (1960)

Viewer beware.

Sink the Bismarck! is marketed under Fox War Classics.

All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal Cinema Classics) is a classic (read the book too). The Longest Day (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) is a classic, as is Twelve O'Clock High.

Sink the Bismark! is OK, but it's far from great.


The source material is impressive, one of the most famous incidents of the Second World War. The Bismark, launched in April 1939, was the largest battleship ever built by Germany. If not stopped by the British navy in 1941, the Bismark with its huge guns and heavy armour, would have decimated Allied shipping.

The real star attraction in this 1960 effort from director Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita, The Admirable Crichton) is how all the intelligence the British navy gathered to track the Bismark's whereabouts. Resistance fighters, airplanes, ships and a little intuition all helped in the search for the killer battleship. Seeing how that information is assessed, and strategy developed, is engrossing.


But the script by Edmund North, based on the book, Sink the Bismark!, by C.S. Forester does little to humanize the script. There's plenty to see in this movie, just not much to feel.

Newly-appointed, and rigid, naval director of operations Capt. Jonathan Shepherd (Kenneth More) gets fleshed out in the latter half of the film when we learn his much-loved son, Tom (John Stride) is, conveniently, on one of the ships ordered to change course in the hunt for Bismark. He also happens to be a gunner on a Swordfish torpedo plane that will attack the feared German ship. Anne Davis (Dana Wynter) is the WREN who takes a shine to the seemingly gruff Shepherd. Her character is smart and empathetic and adds some much-needed humanity to the naval war room.

Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of staged shots of British sailors on decks holding binoculars. The special effects are, largely, lacking. (Yes, I appreciate this film was made in 1960). There are numerous phone calls made in this film except when Prime Minister Winston Churchill rings up to stress the mission's importance. That call, conveniently, is put on speaker phone so everyone can hear an actor imitate the great statesman's voice. "You must sink the Bismark," he implores.


For news junkies like myself, there's a few appearances by American journalist Edward Murrow, who broadcast from England during the Second World War. For those who need a little context, Murrow describes how Great Britain was in tough in the early months of 1941. Germany had taken over much of Europe. The Luftwaffe was bombing England. The United States would still be months away from joining the fight. The war wasn't going well.

Sink the Bismark! won't torpedo an enjoyable night in front of the tube, but it's hardly explosive entertainment.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Sink the Bismark! was John Stride's first film credit. He appeared in another so-so war film, A Bridge Too Far. Oh, he was in Oh! Heavenly Dog too. Kenneth More also appeared in The Longest Day. Dana Wynter was Queen Elizabeth in the 1982 television movie, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana. She died May 5, 2011 at age 79. Director Lewis Gilbert is now 91. His last credit was Before You Go in 2002.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Thin Man (1934)

Part comedy, part whodunit, The Thin Man is great entertainment.

William Powell and Myrna Loy team up for the first of a series of Thin Man films in this 1934 release from director W.S. Van Dyke (Tarzan The Ape Man).

Powell is Nick Charles, a detective of some reputation who's back in New York City after a four-year break. He's joined by his bride, Nora (Myrna Loy), and pooch, fox terrier Asta.

Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O'Sullivan) appeals to Charles for help finding her brilliant, but absent-minded and wife-cheating father, Clyde (Edward Ellis). Police suspicions fall on the father after his mistress, Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead), is found dead in her apartment. Father Wynant had earlier accused her of stealing $25,000 in bonds. Hey, this film was made nearly 80 years ago. Account for inflation and that's a whack of cash.

Charles tangles with family members who want answers, pesky reporters, curious police, his eager wife who wants him back on the job and plenty of drinks as he is drawn closer and closer to finding out who killed who, and why.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett (Maltese Falcon), suspects are aplenty in The Thin Man. Charles brings them all together for a final act gourmet dinner to identify the killer.

In its brief 90-minute running time, the quips quickly fly (Q. "What hit me?", A. "The last martini."), there's tough-talking mobsters, and dames, who've been done wrong.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: The Thin Man's cast includes Cesar Romero, who appeared as The Joker in the Batman television series.

Maureen O'Sullivan is familiar to modern-day audiences for her appearances in Hannan and Her Sisters and Peggy Sue Got Married.

Director Van Dyke received an Academy Award nomination for best director for The Thin Man.

Other series titles include Shadow of the Thin Man and After the Thin Man).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Aargh, there's a generous bounty for landlubbers who take to the sea with Muppet Treasure Island.

The fifth Muppets theatrical release offers plenty of slapstick, clever dialogue and some amazing looking puppets. Muppet Treasure Island may also qualify as one of the few, if not only, films to feature a tender ballad with our lovers hanging upside down waiting to imminently plummet to their deaths. That would be Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy when they sing Love Led Us Here.


Robert Louis Stevenson's 19th century classic finds Muppets in almost all of the major roles. There's Capt. Abraham Smolleff (Kermit), Squire Trelawney (Fozzie Bear), Samuel Arrow (Sam the Eagle) and Benjamina Gunn (Miss Piggy) sharing the plank with veteran actor Tim Curry (Long John Silver). Curry is a hoot as the one major flesh and blood character in this 1996 release.

There's plenty of extra touches added to the story about an orphan looking for treasure and the pirate who offers to be his father figure.


Dr. Teeth and his band, complete with Animal on drums, keep popping up performing at various gigs. Just try and find another pirate movie with a romantic sax solo.

Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys who sat in the balcony and heckled each performance of The Muppet Show, and the Swedish Chef are put to creative use on board Kermit's ship and a pack of wild boars.

The seven songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, including Professional Pirate and Sailing for Adventure, are a hoot. Cabin Fever, complete with spotlights shining into the night sky and a mishmash of musical genres, is a standout.


Keep an attentive ear to all the quips that get tossed out during the film's 99-minute running time (Kermit: "I'm a frog, you know, slippery hands." "Before we lose our tempers, we always count to 10," is a line from Professional Pirate.)

What's odd about Muppet Treasure Island is the lack of celebrity cameos. Past efforts, such as The Muppet Movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Great Muppet Caper, have featured everyone from Peter Ustinov, Art Carney and Gregory Hines to Bob Hope, Trevor Howard and Joan Rivers. Here, Curry is the man and he has great fun in the role.

No brief appearances from big stars is a minor quibble. Muppet Treasure Island is great fun with enough laughs to keep the kids, and the folks, amused.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACT: Joan Rivers was a perfume saleswoman in The Muppets Take Manhattan. She appears at a perfume launch in The Smurfs. Coincidence?