The Cincinatti Kid (1965)

January 4, 2009

Any film where the premise is that Steve McQueen faces off against Edward G. Robinson doesn’t have to try very hard to be gripping, but this one does.  It’s a sports movie and so the usual love interest/bad kid made good stuff is included, but it is peripheral.

The direction and cinematography of the movie (both excellent for me) are focused solely on the poker game conclusion.  All else is background.  Just as the players push everything else out of their mind, during the game so does the director.  And what a finale- McQueen’s ice-cube cool and Robinson’s world-weary confidence are staged against a Greek chorus of watchers “he has the jack!, “no way does he have the jack”.

The only way you can be the man is to beat the man, and beat him fair and square.  The support players (Malden, Rip Torn and Ann-Margret) are all pushing for the kid to cheat, but he takes the only honourable path and faces him fairly.

This is a superior level of sports drama between two absolute masters.  Great stuff 8/10.

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Soylent Green (1973)

January 4, 2009

I don’t like Charlton Heston.  I don’t like him as an actor and I didn’t like him as a man- though the man he was in the 60s was admirable, by the 80s he was an utter wanker.  I don’t like how he bullied his way onto Orson Welles’ fantastic ‘Touch of Evil’.  I don’t like how his acting technique consists of drawing his lips back over his teeth to express his entire range of emotions.  I don’t like how he punctuates sentences by.  Putting an unnecessary full-stop in the middle.

But I often like the films he stars in despite him starring in them.  This was one of them.  Coming after Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man, this was a third sci-fi drama set in a dystopian future he made in five years.  And he plays more or less the same character again.

What makes this film, however, is the magnificent supporting performance from Edward G. Robinson.  He is compelling.  It’s also curious to see how this one-time screen tough guy is about half the size of Heston.

Robinson’s performance needed to be good, though as he had a hell of a lot of film to carry.  This is your standard seventies sci-fi in which everyone wears flared lapels and trousers and Richard Fleischer (who I’ve already put the boot into in the past week or so) spells out everything for the viewer in triplicate.  Soylent Green was dumbed down before dumbing down was invented.  The ‘twist’ therefore can be predicted inside the first ten minutes.  Stick with the film past that, though, until Edward G’s death scene which is pretty moving actually.

Finally, in a film where one screen legend puts in a bravura performance another (Joseph Cotten) simply turns up to collect his paycheck.  The producers of ‘Ashanti’ should have noticed how Fleischer failed to get a performance out of a man who is capable of so much more, they could have saved themselves a bomb.

This is the usual ‘future of man is in peril through our own greed/stupidity’ bollocks which is single-handedly made watchable by Edward G. Robinson.  4/10.