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BY John Prizer
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Director John Ford (Stagecoach) is Hollywood's poet of the American West.
His movies explore the period's myths and cultural archetypes with passion and a unique intelligence.
My Darling Clementine is his expressionistic re-creation of the events leading up to the real-life gunfight at the OK Corral, where Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) face off against Ike Clanton (Walter Brennan) and his murderous clan.
The legendary confrontation has been the subject of countless films (Tombstone, Hour of the Gun, Wyatt Earp, etc.).
This is the best. Ford sets the fascinating friendship between lawman Earp with the cardsharp Holliday at that moment when the West is being transformed from frontier anarchy into civilized communities.
Ford's narrative hook is the search of prim Boston school-teacher Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) for her fallen ex-boyfriend Holliday during the days before the shoot-out.
The action is thrilling and the rugged landscapes have a primal beauty.
But it's the complexity of the moral decisions Ford's characters must confront that makes the movie great.
12 Angry Men (1957)
The American justice system depends on the jury system and the assumption of a defendant's innocence until he is proven guilty. 12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet (Serpico) and adapted by Reginald Rose from his television play, dramatizes how one juror can make a difference.
A teen-age Puerto Rican is accused of knifing his father to death. The prosecution asks for the death penalty. It looks like an open-and-shut case. On the first ballot the jurors vote 11 to one for conviction.
The lone hold-out (Henry Fonda) insists they examine the evidence more closely.
Some jurors (Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall and Martin Balsam) resist for reasons of prejudice, anger or fatigue. But they slowly realize that a man's life is in their hands, and they become personally involved.
All the action is set in the jury room. The filmmakers skillfully build up the tension as the audience comes to understand the mind and motivations of each juror. The result is both educational and inspiring.
In a day when movies resort too often to special effects thrills in place of character, drama and story, 12 Angry Men is a special treat. It has the feel of a play with the reality-factor of the cinema.
The 1955-56 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott was the beginning of the civil rights movement as most of us understand it. Nonviolent civil disobedience was used by blacks and their white allies to protest the morally unjust laws that enforced segregation in the South.
Boycott, a cable-TV movie directed by Clark Johnson and adapted by Daniel Farrell III and Timothy Sexton from Stewart Burns’ book, emphasizes the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jeffrey Wright) in organizing the demonstrations and his emergence as a national spokesman for the movement.
Rosa Parks, a local black, is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. When she refuses to pay the $10 fine, the one-day protest turns into a protracted boycott that leads to the U.S. Supreme Court finding Alabama's bus-segregation laws unconstitutional.
King and his young wife are presented as vulnerable human beings rather than political icons. The film-makers cleverly mix the dramatic material with documentary footage, black-and-white re-creations and eyewitness testimonial interviews.
BY John Prizer
Kids face tough ethical questions on a regular basis, just like grownups, even if their quandries seem mundane from an adult perspective. Shiloh is the first of a series of low-budget features based on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's trilogy of Appalachian novels. It dramatizes the problems presented to 12-year-old Marty Preston (Blake Heron) when an adorable beagle named Shiloh follows him home one day.
The dog belongs to Judd Travers (Scott Wilson), a mean loner who abuses him. Marty wants to buy Shiloh, but Travers won't sell. The boy's father (Michael Moriarty) asserts that Travers is the legal owner and the law can't be broken. The local country doctor (Rod Steiger) confides to the boy his own struggles to get legal guardianship of his granddaughter after her parents' death. Marty must sort through what's he's been told and figure out for himself the right course of action. Director Dale Rosenbloom skillfully captures the flavor of the backwoods locations while telling the story from the boy's point of view.
A Thousand Heroes (1994)
The courage of our nation's rescue workers has been on full display in recent weeks.
But the intelligent training and deployment of those personnel is almost as important as their brave spirit in the saving of lives. A Thousand Heroes, a TV movie directed by Lamont Johnson, is a documentary-style re-creation of a real-life plane crash in which 180 of 296 passengers survive.
Gary Brown (Richard Thomas) is a fire official in Sioux City, Iowa, who fights an uphill battle against entrenched bureaucracies to establish a coordinated, interagency plan for disaster relief. His only ally is a National Guard leader, Jim Hathaway (James Coburn).
On July 19, 1989, a United Airlines flight en route from Denver to Chicago loses pressure simultaneously in three engines. When its pilot, Capt. Haynes (Charlton Heston), crash-lands in Iowa, Brown and Hathaway work together to achieve what seems impossible — a rescue effort in which nearly two-thirds of those at risk are saved. The movie is uplifting, but not for viewers with weak stomachs.
The Crusades helped create an understanding of masculine virtue which persisted in our culture from the middle ages up until the 1960s. The Oscar-nominated Ivanhoe, based on Sir Walter Scott's novel, is an unapologetic endorsement of these chivalric ideals, as interpreted by Hollywood during its golden age.
Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) is a Saxon knight who served England's King Richard the Lionhearted (Norman Wooland) during the Third Crusade. When Ivanhoe learns that his brave monarch is being held for ransom in Austria, he returns to England to raise the money.
Disinherited by his father (Finlay Currie) for serving a Norman monarch, Ivanhoe must outwit the evil Prince John (Guy Rolfe) and his clever henchman, De Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders). He makes an alliance with a wealthy Jew (Felix Aylmer) and his beautiful daughter (Elizabeth Taylor). Although the plot occasionally creaks, director Richard Thorpe (The Prisoner of Zenda) stages an exciting jousting tournament, a thrilling castle siege, and a suspenseful, climactic duel between Ivanhoe and De Bois-Guilbert.