White Fang (1991)
Dog stories (Rin Tin-Tin, Lassie and Benji) used to be a staple of family entertainment. With a few exceptions (the Shiloh series), contemporary Hollywood seems to have forgotten it.
White Fang is the third screen adaptation of Jack London's classic coming-of-age novel set in Alaska during the 1898 Gold Rush. Nineteen-year-old Jack Conroy (Ethan Hawke) travels to the Klondike to work his dead father's claim and hooks up with a grizzled old-timer (Klaus Maria Brandauer). The boy's life is saved from a savage bear by a wolf-dog named White Fang. The canine goes his own way and is captured by a mean youth (James Remar) who makes him compete in illegal dog fights.
Jack risks everything to save Fang and then struggles to win back the dog's confidence. The young hero must learn whom he can trust and that some commitments must be honored. The wintry scenery is eye-catching and the action well staged.
The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
“Home is where the heart is,” goes the lyric of an old popular song. All too often people find themselves living by circumstance in a place alien to their temperament and longing to return to the place of their birth. The elderly Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page, in an Oscar-winning performance) hates the cramped big-city apartment in which she resides with her son Ludie (John Heard) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn). It's 1947, and she dreams of going back to Bountiful, the small Texas farm town where she was raised. Her daughter-in-law can't stand her “pouting” and constant singing of hymns that are “out of style.”
One day it becomes too much, and Carrie runs away, heading back home on bus, not even sure her birthplace still exists. Based on a play by Horton Foote (Tender Mercies), The Trip to Bountiful dramatizes the difficulties of reconciling long-cherished fantasies with reality. The Watts family loyalties are preserved, but at a price.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epics (Samson and Delilah and The Sign of the Cross) are filled with enough action and romance to satisfy viewers hungry for cinematic thrills. Some might call them overly calculated and corny. But the movies also convincingly communicate God's majesty and power as he intervenes in human history.
The Ten Commandments makes the story of the Hebrews' liberation from Egyptian bondage into a Cold War allegory about the spirit of freedom overthrowing tyranny. A romance between Moses (Charlton Heston) and pharaoh's beautiful daughter (Anne Baxter) is added to the biblical tale.
The special effects used to depict the miracles seem old-fashioned by contemporary standards, but the burning bush, the deadly plagues and the writing of the holy tablets still pack a punch. The parting of the Red Sea is especially awesome. When an old man comments that “God opens the sea with a blast of his nostrils,” you believe him.
The Shop on Main Street (1965)
Tono's (Josef Kroner) belief in himself to “do the right thing” is about to be put to the test. It's 1942, and the fascists have taken over the small Slovakian town in which Tono is a decent, working-class citizen trying to better himself. To please his nagging wife (Hana Slivkova), he takes a job as the “Aryan controller” for a button shop owned by an elderly, deaf Jewish woman, Rosalie (Ida Kaminska).
The first half of the Oscar-winning The Shop on Main Street is a gentle comedy as Tono and Rosalie gradually become friends. The mood turns somber when the Nazis order the deportation of all the Jews. Tono searches for a way to help Rosalie without jeopardizing his relations with the authorities. Director Jan Kadar shows how good intentions aren't always enough and that compromise can produce unintended consequences.
Arts & Culture correspondent John Prizer writes from Los Angeles.
- December 19-25, 1999