Easily the best film about two people you want to punch in the mouth. Especially the wife. The husband? Not as much. I actually feel sorry for him, but since he’s her enabler, he has to get one. Just for good measure.
Screenplay by Fredric M. Frank & Barré Lyndon & Theodore St. John, story by Fredric M. Frank & Theodore St. John & Frank Cavett
Starring Charlton Heston,
It’s a fact: sit around and talk to anybody about the Oscars long enough and eventually you’ll get around to arguing over which was the worst Best Picture Winner – that I s, which was the worst film to win in a given year. Inevitably, people in my generation, or at least those with no sense of history, will make strong arguments for Crash, Shakespeare in Love or maybe Titanic being the worst choices in recent memory. Those with any real sense of history will instead bandy about two other choices:
- Citizen Kane, one of which is arguably the greatest film of all time, being bested by How Green Was My Valley, a film that isn’t even one of the five best films by its own director – for John Ford, his best films obviously include The Grapes of Wrath, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, and one of about ten other films not named How Green Was My Valley.
- The Greatest Show On Earth winning Best Picture over Ford’s own The Quiet Man and a little Gary Cooper movie called High Noon.
It’s hard to decide which of the two is the most egregious win. On the one hand, the Citizen Kane loss was expected, because Welles’ hubris and his clashes, his clashes William Randolph Hearst and inability to play the Hollywood political game rubbed everybody the wrong way. Plus, How Green Was My Valley wasn’t outright terrible – it just wasn’t very good – and the industry loved John Ford. After all, they loved him so much they gave him six Oscars.
On the other hand, The Greatest Show On Earth win sticks out because the film is a big, bloated, boring mess of clichés and melodrama, mixed with documentary footage and wooden characters, that would be completely forgotten today – and rightfully so – if not for the fact the damned thing won Best Picture.
The strange thing is, at the time, neither film couldn’t actually have seemed like that bad of a choice – but The Greatest Show On Earth especially. After all, leading up to the 1952 Oscar ceremony there really wasn’t much consensus as to what film should be Best Picture. The Photoplay Gold Medal was given to With a Song In My Heart, The National Board of Review gave theirs to The Quiet Man, the New York Film Critics gave theirs to High Noon and the Golden Globes handed theirs out to The Greatest Show on Earth – they even gave best director to C. B. DeMille. Given no film seemed to have a stranglehold on the awards leading up to the Oscars, in context the victory for The Greatest Show on Earth at least seems reasonable, condemning How Green Was My Valley to the status of worst Best Picture ever.
Although, perhaps The Greatest Show On Earth winning isn’t all that reasonable. After all, there’s an argument to be made that High Noon didn’t win Best Picture because of its anti-McCarthy overtones and the fact High Noon screenwriter Carl Foreman had just been blacklisted. In other words, it lost the award because the Oscars lacked the nerve to honor a commie. But honestly, if that were true, The Quiet Man should have won in a walk. And yet it didn’t.
Whether it made sense at the time or not, The Greatest Show On Earth winning seems unfathomable today. After all, there is the melodrama and the terrible acting, plus, the movie is paced terribly and bloated – I already said it was bloated before, but it needed to be said again. Never mind it’s a weird mix of documentary, puff-piece and soap opera. Or the special effects work in the train sequence could not be less convincing and look more like a Lionel Train being crashed than an actual train being crashed. Or the matte shots are glaringly apparent and shoddy – compare the photographic work on Gone With The Wind, which recreated the old south on the back lot in Hollywood through matte paintings and process shots and the process shots here and you see just how shitty it really looks. Or that…or that everything. And I mean everything.
Or, how about this: the movies trailer is almost seven minutes long? Don’t believe me – watch it yourself.
And yet – and yet – the win for The Greatest Show On Earth will never be as bad as How Green Was My Valley simply because High Noon, or The Quiet Man will never be Citizen Kane. In that respect, How Green Was My Valley will always be worse.
In fairness, though, as lousy as I make it sound, The Greatest Show On Earth isn’t entirely terrible – there are indeed things about it I like.
- Charlton Heston. I know lots of people think his acting style is terrible and antiquated, that he couldn’t emote worth a damn and was all square-jaw toughness. Never mind his politics are completely off-putting – especially his gun-craziness. But I’ve always liked him and even when the movie’s awful or cheesy, I still find him watchable. I guess I’m just a sucker for the kind of tough-guy he used to play. Besides, the guy was in at least five movies that everybody thinks – or should think – is great: Touch of Evil, Planet of the Apes, Will Penny, The Big Country and The Omega Man. And even in dreck like The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur, he’s still fantastic.
- The intermittently trashy dialog and innuendo. Consider two of my favorites:
Sebastian (to Holly, as his blood is being transfused into Brad): “If he should make love well after this, pay no attention – it will be me.”
Phyllis (washing her hair when a handsome man walks by): “Why is it that whenever he’s around I’m all wet?”
I suppose, on the whole, while The Greatest Show On Earth is definitely not the greatest movie ever, and could certainly use a judicious amount of editing – you could easily lose about a half-hour from the film and never miss it – but if you had to sit through it and didn’t fall asleep during the most boring parts, you’re not going to be completely un-entertained.
For other entries in the Best Picture Project, please go here.
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I came to this movie after digesting the first season of Veep over the course of two days with my wife on DVD — Veep and In the Loop share the same creator, if you didn’t know.
Anyway, think of In The Loop as being like Veep, only with a different cast of characters, and where the stakes aren’t whether the vice-president is pregnant or getting a clean jobs bill passed – in this instance, it’s war.
For those who haven’t seen Veep, think of In The Loop as being The Office – American or British version – only more insane, and instead of selling paper, they’re selling war.
Also, as a creepy, there-are-some-thoughts-you-should-keep-to-yourself side-note — definitely into Anna Chlumsky.
I know this is going to sound absurd, in the same way as saying that of all the mass murders in the world, one of them is not as bad as the others — because can any mass murderer truly be better or worse than another? — but seriously, Pain and Gain might just be the best movie Michael Bay ever directed.
In the past I’ve had a mixed relationship with Michael Bay — see this for proof — and I had good reason to feel the way I did. After all, of late he’s done nothing to really inspire me to change my mind. I mean, with three straight Transformers movies to his name, it was starting to look like he’d basically given up any shred of integrity he ever had. If he ever had any to begin with.
But with Pain and Gain, which I only saw because the tickets were basically free, I was pleasantly surprised — I guess that’s the advantages of lowered-expectations. Sure, it’s got all the usual over-the-top excess and fetishization of women and cops and guns his other movies have, but for once Bay’s style and the subject matter come together perfectly. And as much as I loved The Island, and as much as I liked Pearl Harbor — I’m not ashamed to admit I liked it, even if I might’ve been the only one — Pain and Gain might just be better than both. It’s energetic, it’s witty, it’s fast paced, has chemistry and charisma to spare, all held together by deliriously-unhinged and intensely-watchable performances from Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, and catchy supporting turns from Stanley Tucci and Rebel Wilson.
My only issue: it’s too long. Sordid excess has it’s limits and in this case, clipping out about ten minutes of the film wouldn’t have hurt it at all.
Written by Hope Loring and Louis Lighton, from a story by John Monk Saunders
Starring Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Richard Arlen, Clara Bow and Gary Cooper
Some movies deserve the scorn heaped upon them. After all, they’ve been given every chance to succeed, been given all the money to succeed, and failed and deserve to whither on the vine and die. These would the pretentious, the superficially-important, and the later-career Michael Bay movies — in other words, films that could have — should have — been better, but just weren’t. Continue reading
Well, actually not a double feature, given that it would have made for 8 hours or more of viewing in one day if I’d taken in these two films back-to-back, though I did watch them over a successive number of days during the course of one week. Still, it was close enough. Continue reading
All right, so here’s the cover for my latest book. There isn’t quite a timetable yet on a release date — still have to write a blurb and coordinate other stuff — but as always, I will let you know when I have it.
To see the evolution of the cover, you should look at the pics on my Facebook page and especially my comments on them. It’s a little clearer why I chose this over other, abandoned ideas.
This might honestly be the most terrifying movie I saw in recent memory — and there is not one speck of blood, nobody hits anybody else, and no threats of grievous bodily harm were made. If not for the fact that the ‘based on actual events’ tagline turning out to be true, you’d think this was a far-fetched joke.
But knowing that not only did it happen in real life, pretty much as it happened in the movie, but that it has a scientific explanation behind what went on, makes it all the more shocking.
Oh, but the real kicker: the perp on the phone was acquitted.
It will never be mistaken for a ‘great’ film, but given what Shepard — co-Director, writer, star — set out to do, it’s great for what it is. Uncomplicated, unpretentious, breezy, silly, fun and filled with good repartee and dialog. Plus, the soundtrack is fabulous, not to mention a show-stealing performance by Bradley Cooper.
I’ll just say it: better than Smokey and the Bandit.