In the movie loft

In the movie loft

I watched Texas Rangers (2001) on DVD last night. It stars Dylan McDermott and James Van Der Beek, and it purpotedly tells the story of Leander McNelly, the man who made the famed Texas Rangers the force for justice in Texas that it is today. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t all that good. Oh sure, there was plenty of horseback gunfighting and all that action, but it wasn’t all that well-written or directed. It jumped around a bit and opened plot points that were never dealt with properly. We’re introduced to the daughter of a prominent rancher, the putative love interest, yet nothing ever happens with her. To make it worse, she is in unaccountable good spirits at the end despite the tragedy that has befallen her. And what about the Mexican general that the chief bandito (played by Alfred Molina, who always makes a good villain) urges to invade Texas? We never hear from him again and we’re left wondering why the director Steve Miner bothered leaving that in.

As for being based on a true story, about the only connection to history is the use of the names of real people and places and that they were connected to the history of the Texas Rangers. It’s not as if the real story of Leander McNelly and the Texas Rangers would not have made a good movie. In fact, it would have been a much superior movie. McNelly was a man made frail and sickly his life by tuberculosis, who couldn’t speak much above a whisper, but was a brilliant military leader in both the Civil War and as the leader of the Texas Rangers’ Special Forces that patrolled the Nueces Strip. He was an honorable man, one of the few who served in the corrupt State Police that preceded the rebirth of the Rangers in the 1870s. I wish someone would make that movie. Until then, Texas Rangers stands as a mildly diverting piece of Western fluff, an unremarkable addition to the genre that is neither the worst nor among the best. If you see it on the shelves of Blockbuster or in the Netflix listings, it might make an interesting diversion.

At the other end of the movie spectrum, I saw Casablanca for the first time on Friday night. Yes, I know, how could I have missed seeing this movie all these years? For one thing, it’s never on TV, and for another everyone else has seen it dozens of times so they never want to watch it again. But finally, Melanie took pity on my cinematic ignorance and brought her copy over. I understand why it is considered one of the best movies of all time. Bogart was great, as were Claude Rains and Sydney Greenstreet. The writing was excellent for the times (when movies were being mass-produced by the studio system), and I was amazed at the impact this movie has had on our culture.

In fact, so much of it was so familiar that I felt like I’d already seen it. From the “hill of beans” speech to Rains’ “shocked, shocked!” comment to Bogies’ “We’ll always have Paris” and “Here’s looking at you, kid” lines, it has to be among the most quoted, most referenced films of all time. Just look at IMDB’s movie connections page for Casablanca to see all the films that have referenced it over the years. Amazing.

Phew, cross one “must see” movie of my list. Now I have to see what all the fuss is about the Godfather movies. Are those any good?

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
18 comments
  • FWIW, I’ve never seen Casablanca, but from references in The Simpsons, MST3K, and Red Dwarf, I bet I can piece it together.

    I saw Citizen Kane for the first time a few years ago, and had the same reaction: my knowledge of the movie came entirely from the Simpsons.  And they covered that movie pretty well.

  • No Godfather?!?!  Mr. Bettinelli… for shame!! 

    Don’t rent it.  Buy it.  Get the box set and you can throw away Godfather III.  The first two films are masterful. 

  • Yes, yes, see “The Godfather.” See “Citizen Kane.” And see “Casablanca” again.

    See “Showboat.” See “Gone with the Wind.”

    See every movie starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

    See “The Bad Seed.”

    See “An Affair to Remember.” (This one is mandatory for every guy!)

    Kelly <——-watches Turner Classic Movies a lot wink

  • Obviously Dom has not had emember.” But I have seen “Roman Holiday” and “The Quiet Man.” I’m not a complete cinematic philistine. I really have seen a lot of great old movies.

  • Regarding your status as a “Complete Cinematic Philistine” (or CCP):

    You haven’t seen “An Affair to Remember.”

    You are therefore officially a CCP (or, as we in the Anti-CCP Department prefer, a “terrific movie challenged” person) and as such are entitled to certain benefits under the so-called “Anti-CCP Edict,” officially named the “Act Mandating Everyone to See The Greatest Romantic Movies Made EVER.”

    Details of your benefits will be forthcoming, along, of course, with the appropriate Anti-CCP forms.

    It is unfortunate—yea, incomprehensible!—that the failure to see “Gone with the Wind” does not qualify the failing viewer to the same benefits, but there you are. We are working on rectifying this sad omission with fortitude and steadfastness.

    Or, as we say here in the Anti-CCP offices: “As God is our witness, `Gone with the Wind’ will never be ignored again!”

  • Yes Peter, farenhype 911 will be an old movie. However, it is in the same vane as Leni Reifenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” or one of those old Stalinist propoganda pieces.

  • PMC, MRS. MINIVER is 100 percent MGM/Selznick; Dame May Whitty aside, there’s nothing British about it—British movies of that period tend to have a much scruffier, cheaper look about them. The British generally appreciated it as propaganda, but not as a good film (MRS. MINIVER is nothing if not an outsider’s view of a culture, and insiders will almost never find such works convincing).

    And Jonathan, Leni Riefenstahl, Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Dovzhenko had more film-making skill in their little fingers than Michael Moore has in his whole big body.

    I first saw CASABLANCA on TV when I was 18 (a time in my life when I rarely went to movies; preferring TV and reading) and frankly I didn’t really care for it, thinking it sappy and stupid and being more interested in the latters of transit and the spy intrigue than the love story. Not until I had fallen in love for the first time at 24 could I really see how fraught and heart-breaking the film is. And ironically, CASABLANCA is a film about the nobility of giving up love, of Rick and Ilsa *not* getting together because it’s the morally right thing to do.

    I also get the same sniffles at the singing of “La Marseillaise” (let’s face it; it’s a far better pure song than either “Star-Spangled Banner” or “God Save the Queen”). It’s the climax of this wartime flag-waving film about two highly-symbolic men (Renault and Rick) who regain their stomach to resist the Germans, the first having lost it through early defeat and demoralization, and the second having lost it through drowning in self-pity after romantic heartbreak. The Marseillaise scene and its immediate predecessor—Bogie rigging the gambling scene to benefit the Bulgarian woman who was willing to sleep with Renault to get an exit visa—are the scenes in which Rick goes from the indifference of a man who’s trying to convince himself of the world-hatred he doesn’t believe to a man who’s willing to act in the name of right.

    One of the film’s other virtues is how obscenely prodigous the supporting cast is. You’re constantly saying stuff like “hey, that roulette operator is the guy who was the lead in THE RULES OF THE GAME—and he’s only got three scenes to shine in.” And it really does give the sense of a whole, teeming world. Also there’s the extratextual knowledge that some of the “employees” at Rick’s—which is a microcosm of America in many ways—were actors who were in Hollywood because of flight from the Nazis (like roulette man Marcel Dalio, a French Jew). It all adds to the film’s incredible richness and makes it worth seeing 15 times, as I have.

  • Dom:
    By all means, see “Godfather I & II.”  I’ve seen each several times and never tire of them.  Great, entertaining films.  “III” was a disappointment compared with the first two, but still not all that bad.

    As for other great old movies, I’ll recommend a few of my favorites:  “The Train” (with Burt Lancaster – outstanding WWII action film); “The Bridge on the River Kwai”; “The Searchers” (John Wayne’s best); “On the Waterfront”; “Judgment at Nuremburg”; and that still-hilarious cold war comedy, “Dr. Strangelove.” 

  • I’ll second all your other recommendations. Here are some other old greats: “Rio Bravo”, which is among my favorite John Wayne movies; “Stalag 17”, one of the best WWII movies; “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” “Robin Hood”, and “Captain Blood”, three of my favorite Errol Flynn movies; and “Gunga Din”. Also the original “Three Feathers”, not any of the remakes. As you can see, my tastes tend toward the martial.

  • Oh, I love =Stalag 17=.  Excellent movie.

    I’ve not seen =Captain Blood= yet, but it’s one of my husband’s favorites.

    (I thought it was =Four= feathers, not three…)

  • Victor, I defer to your superior movie knowledge.  I assumed Mrs. Miniver was British-made since, in my hazy memory, it seems so clearly designed as wartime propaganda for an English audience.  (I assume your reference to Dame May Whitty was hyperbole; surely she wasn’t the only actor/actress from the English stage to appear in it.) 

    Aside from whether it’s convincing or not to yer average yob, I’ll stand by my opinion that it’s a terrific movie, with excellent performances, good narrative, and themes that still resound for this viewer today.  And, this is something of an esoteric point, but whether or not a film is completely convincing to the ‘home’ audience isn’t really the point, is it?  I mean, any New Yorker would tell you that the final 10 mins. of Carlito’s Way includes about a half-dozen complete impossibilities, including Pacino hopping a 7th Avenue downtown train at 125th St, only to emerge at Grand Central (on the east side), and then exiting the subway from below street level and magically alighting on a second floor balcony of the terminal, which happened to have been off-limits to the public in the 1970s.  And I’ll bet you could find some Dutch who found One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing to be completely ridiculous, too, but it’s still a fine movie. 

    And, leaving Mrs. Miniver aside, sometimes, cultural “outsiders” can observe and describe a culture better than “insiders,” no?  F’rinstance, I haven’t seen a better representation of the decadence of the mid- to upper crust New York suburbs of the 1970s than The Ice Storm, made of course by a guy who was still in college in Taiwan at that time.

    >END geeky film discussion<

  • You know, I think that I may add my two cents in here…..

    How about “Going My Way,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “The Shoes of the Fisherman,”

    AND

    “The Cardinal.”

    The Cardinal is a story about the rise of a young priest through the ranks of the Church.  He deals with every single issue that faces a priest.  Conversion, mixed marriage, abortion, a crisis of faith, and Nazism.

    It is an amazing film by Otto Preminger.  He brings a light on the Church that is refreshing and true.

    God Bless,

    Camilam

  • I’ve seen all Camilam’s movies except “The Cardinal.” How could I have missed that?

    And never mind about “geeky film discussions” PMC o’ mine! grin

  • I was just trying to beat Victor to his customary disclaimer, Kelly.

    But hey, you want more movie recommendations?  You can’t handle more movie recommendations!

    But here’s a few anyway—w/overt religious themes: 

    “Becket” is outstanding, w/the inestimable Peter O’Toole as the King and Richard Burton as the Saint.  (I won’t say it’s a Brit movie because Victor may contradict me.) 

    “I Confess”—not great Hitchcock but not bad w/Monty Clift as the Quebecois priest.

    ““Black Robe” – Jesuits and Mohawks on the St. Lawrence w/mixed results. 

  • PMC:

    >START geeky film discussion<

    Yes, my Whitty remark was hyperbole. Actually, Greer Garson herself was British, though she never acted in British movies. It was either Selznick or Mayer who saw her on the London stage around 1938 and brought her to Hollywood for GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS.

    THE ICE STORM isn’t really analogous, because Ang Lee had an American cast and was working off American James Schamus’s adaptation of American Rick Moody’s novel. Still, it IS an interesting comparison for its differences, because sometimes outsiders have the sharpest nose for social satire because what is wallpaper or car-radio noise for “us” is strange and particular for “them.” Particularly if the immigrant be newly arrived … it’s the shock of first impressions. I can certainly remember nearly everything I saw new in America … and I was coming from Britain, not Taiwan. In THE ICE STORM, Lee was depicting the America he first set eyes on in his early 20s around 1975 (I know THE ICE STORM is very specifically set in Thanksgiving 1973, but a couple of years makes little difference in this sense.) So in some way, his outsiderness might have helped capture the era’s eccentricities. Nabokov and his depiction of America in LOLITA also comes to mind in this light.

    Oh … and by the time you get to BECKET, a separation between US and British film production has become increasingly untenable.

    And if you want recommendations—here are my Top 10 lists going back to before 1920 (much of it canonized classics, and you have to account for my eccentric tastes. But nevertheless …)

    >END geeky film discussion<

  • Kelly,

    Go buy “The Cardinal” and watch it 9,000,000 times.  You’ll never tire of it.  It is the most Catholic movie I have ever seen. 

    God Bless Tom Tryon, Raf Valone, and Otto Preminger….for this merit alone….

    Camilam

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