Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - THE UNFORGIVEN and CAST A GIANT SHADOW on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - THE UNFORGIVEN and CAST A GIANT SHADOW on Blu-ray

THE UNFORGIVEN (1960; John Huston)
It's kind of remarkable to me how many blind spots I have as far as John Huston's filmography goes considering how much I like his early work. I seem to have gravitated towards the early (1940s) and later (1970s and 80s) parts of his career with some viewings of stuff in the middle, but clearly not enough. A bunch of his films have fallen through the cracks for me, this being one of them. It's rather silly I missed this one considering how big a Burt Lancaster fan I am. I'd certainly heard of it and encountered it many times when poking around online in searches about Clint Eastwood's well regarded film of the same name. 
THE UNFORGIVEN is an interesting companion piece to THE SEARCHERS in a lot of ways. It's not quite as epic in scale as far scope of the time covers, but the racial themes run deeper. It's also a lot more stationary. The racial elements  play a good-sized  part  in the second half of the movie. Basically the story revolves around a frontier family being confronted by the possibility that one of them is part Kiowa Indian. This causes a great deal of conflict and some killing. It's kind of a tough movie to watch in that respect as the hatred for Indians is so deeply engrained in the members of this family. John Huston directed this film, but apparently was at odds with the films producers a bit throughout the course of filming. I guess they really wanted THE UNFORGIVEN to be a more commercial western, whilst Huston wanted to make a account of racism in America. The final film lands somewhere in between the two and isn't quite as stark and hard hitting as I would imagine Huston wanted it to be. The cast here is good and it includes Lillian Gish, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn (who broke her back during the production after a fall from a horse). Audie Murphy (with a rather stylish mustache), and a young Doug McClure. John Saxon also has a memorable role as an Indian horse tamer. 
This Blu-ray looks pretty good and the transfer is bright and mostly pretty clean.

CAST A GIANT SHADOW (1966; Melville Shavelson)
From Kino's Site:
"Part fact, part fiction, Cast a Giant Shadow powerfully dramatizes Israel's heroic 1947-48 struggle for independence. Both realistic war story and passionate romance, it features an all-star cast including Kirk Douglas, Senta Berger and Angie Dickinson, as well as Yul Brynner, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra in notable supporting roles. After a brilliant career in the U.S. army, WWII hero and Jewish American Mickey Marcus (Douglas) is called to the new state of Israel to build an army capable of withstanding its Arab foes. Against the wishes of his wife (Dickinson), Mickey makes the journey and begins transforming a ragtag underground army into a first-class fighting machine. But as the threat of war looms, Mickey must also confront his growing attraction to beautiful activist Magda Simon (Berger). Directed by Melville Shavelson (The Five Pennies)."
Ahh the era of the military epic film. Unlike something like THE LONGEST DAY, which also has an stellar cast like this movie, CAST A GIANT SHADOW reveals its cast in a slower parade format. Kirk Douglas is there right up front of course, as is his gal (played by Angie Dickinson), and soon we meet a general buddy of his (played by John Wayne). Let me just say that John Wayne is (not surprisingly) well suited to playing Army generals. 

Director Melville Shavelson was a name I was not immediately familiar with. I had seen his film THE FIVE PENNIES earlier this year, but had only heard of a handful of his other movies (HOUSEBOAT, THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS, YOURS MINE AND OURS).
And let's talk about the context of Kirk Douglas' career at this juncture. To say he was a
"creative force" in Hollywood would be an understatement. He had done SPARTACUS in 1960 and that production is rife with stories of his involvement behind the scenes throughout the production. The phrase "I am Spartacus!" has always held some interesting special meaning to me in that I feel like it represents a certain coalescing of Douglas as an actor and a movie star. He was certainly a star before SPARTACUS and I don't necessarily think of that film as a huge boon to his popularity (though it may have been at the time, I have no idea), but I just feel like that line in the film is his kind "I'm king of the world" moment on some small way. I may be way off base, but there's just something about Kirk Douglas as movie star that always stood out to me from the way he delivered that line in the context of all that went on with the film. So Douglas followed SPARTACUS with some interesting choices in the early 1960s. He did TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN with Vincente Minnelli (a companion to their film THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) and the outstanding LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (with a remarkable script by the then formerly blacklisted Dalton Trumbo). He went on to make the sharp political commentary/thriller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY a few years before this with the great John Frankenheimer. It's clear in this period (and prior) that Douglas was not one to shy away from politics and expressing himself through his creative choices and that is rather admirable. One need only look at PATHS OF GLORY to get a sense of Douglas' view on war itself. Douglas' parents were Jewish immigrants and so Judaism was a big part of his life growing up. He started to distance himself from that side of things when he was pretty young and looking to be an actor, but it would crop up later in his life. Several films he made, including CAST A GIANT SHADOW and a few others, would explore these themes and specifically the idea of a man who doesn't think of himself as a Jew beginning to explore and get in touch with that part of his heritage. A good friend of mine mentioned to me that he was even shown CAST A GIANT SHADOW in Hebrew school at one point, so it is apparently something of a touchstone film that folks remember. I found it intriguing to visit now for the first time as it contains those themes weaved into a very Hollywood-style narrative with lots of big actors like John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Angie Dickinson making appearances.

Bonus: Here's a fun little clip I found with Kirk Douglas from 1988 wherein he is interviewed by Johnny Carson to promote his new autobiography:

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