Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From the Rental Vault

This blog has previously saluted the efforts of Budd Boetticher, Harry Brown and Randolph Scott's work in what's sometimes called the "Ranown Cycle" after the production company that Brown and Scott formed in the 1950s. The three met on the set of The Desperadoes, a 1943 Columbia picture which starred Scott and was produced by Brown. where Boetticher worked as an uncredited assistant director. Seeing Columbia put real talent and effort into cast, story and production probably helped them shape the same attitude on the seven movies that earned them their later acclaim.

Scott is Sheriff Steve Upton, a man who had some rough edges but has put them behind him to maintain the law in Red Valley in the Utah territory. He's trying to figure out who robbed the local bank and left three bystanders dead, especially since a contract to sell horses to the military will mean local ranchers will be loading said bank with cash soon, and the robbers may try again. Glenn Ford is Cheyenne Rogers, a gunhand who was supposed to be in on the bank job but didn't get to town in time. Meeting his old friend Steve and the hostler's beautiful daughter Allison (Evelyn Keyes) pushes him to make another try at settling down legally -- if he can. But the bank robbery involves more than meets the eye, and Cheyenne's violent past means he can't avoid mixing into the trouble, willingly or not.

Scott was the name brand star and lead in the movie, but Ford dominates it with his more complex role and centrality to the plot. The tension hinges on his desire to go straight in the midst of a lot of forces pulling him both ways. Claire Trevor lends her usual skill to add dimension to the town's "shady lady" madam and Keyes does a lot more than just bat her eyes and pine after her fella. The story lets them all make characters from the stereotypes the genre hands them, and it's a rewarding experience for fans of good movies, not just of the genre.
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If Desperadoes was one of the big breaks for Glenn Ford, This Gun for Hire was the break for Alan Ladd, who played the gangland assassin for hire Philip Raven in his first major role in the 1942 noir classic.

Raven has completed his job and been paid by the man who hired him, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar). But he finds he's been double-crossed and sets out to gain revenge on Gates and the man Gates fronted for. On the trip he meets Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) a singer hired by Gates for his nightclub, although neither of them knows of the other's connection. Further complicating the matter are Ellen's fiancé, police detective Michael Crane (Robert Preston) and Gates' suspicion that Ellen and Raven are working together.

The plot is a typically twisty noir number, but the excellence is in the performances of Lake and Ladd (they would team again three more times). Ladd is excellent as the blank-faced assassin Raven, taking the golden opportunity of the role and giving everything he had to it. His brief displays of human emotion are all the more real because of their flickering nature and length, and it makes his malevolence all the deadlier. Despite the poster view, Lake is not the fatal femme fatale common to these stories as much as a player in the game with her own ends. She's not just reacting to Ladd or Preston but is driving a line of the plot on her own. Gun is considered a classic of the 1940s noir catalog, and it earns its place.
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For its fourth animated original movie, Warner Brothers gave the lady her turn, featuring Wonder Woman in the 2009 movie of the same name. It was the first DC animated movie to be lead by a woman and to feature the Amazon heroine in her own story rather than in a Justice League adventure.

Weary of constant battles with the forces of Ares (voiced by Alfred Molina), god of war, Queen Hippolyta (voiced by Virgina Madsen) and her Amazon sisters retreat to the hidden island of Themyscira, where they are charged with guarding an imprisoned and depowered Ares in return for their seclusion. With the exception of young Diana (voiced by Keri Russell), a clay figure molded by Hippolyta and given life by the gods, no children are ever born on the island and with the exception of the prisoner Ares, no men are there either.

Until Steve Trevor (voiced by Nathan Fillion) crash-lands his plane on Themyscira and Hippolyta decides to send him back to his world with an Amazon guide. The crash unfortunately coincides with a scheme by Ares that endangers not just the Amazons but all of humanity. While Diana and Steve may have a chance to stop him, they will have to overcome mutual distrust to team up and take on the task.

The movie uses George Perez's "Gods and Mortals" arc from his 1987 reboot of the Wonder Woman character. Russell does a good job of communicating a character whose wise in her own world but inexperienced in a larger one, and Fillion is excellent as the cocky Trevor, even though the character as written is more irresponsible fratboy horndog than cocky pilot. Wonder Woman was one of the better-reviewed of DC's animated movies but did not sell well at first, leaving plans for a sequel on the shelf. It's still not clear why, since director Lauren Montgomery has either helmed or co-directed six more features for the studio to date. But DC's choice of storylines in its animated releases hasn't been best buddies with logic, as the existence of Superman vs. The Elite demonstrates. But the beauty of animated movies is that drawn characters never have to age, so we may yet see the Amazon Princess return to kick some behind and try to help facilitate communication between her hidden homeland and Man's World.

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