Posted by: David Offutt | March 14, 2009

More Films for Summer (Part 2)

Here are four more films that are ideal for summer viewing. Three of them take place on rivers. Of those, two involve canoeing and the third has some English punting scenes (a punt is a long flat-bottomed boat that is propelled by dropping a pole into the water and pushing off from the bottom). These are usually good summertime activities. The other film reminds us of those hot, humid summer days in the South when you just can’t stop sweating.

Tarzan Scott1. Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) with Gordon Scott, Anthony Quayle, Sara Shane, and Sean Connery: Gordon Scott, who died on April 30, 2007, at the age of 80, was the last actor to play Tarzan who used his own yell. All the others since have used Johnny Weissmuller’s mixed recording. Scott was the first Tarzan in the series to speak in complete sentences as Edgar Rice Burroughs would have wanted.

This entry in the series is generally acknowledged as being the best. It was filmed entirely in Africa, which presented technological challenges that we can hardly imagine with all the special effects capabilities we have today. Since it takes place in the jungle, on a boat, on a river, and on a cliff, the film had to be shot in silence. All the voices and sound effects were added later at a studio in England – and it’s really hard to tell.

This one is uniformly well-filmed, well-written, and well-acted. Mr. Scott more than holds his own with a talented cast that includes one of England’s finest actors, Anthony Quayle. Around the same time period, Sir Anthony appeared with Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde in Damn the Defiant, with Gregory Peck in The Guns of Navarone, and with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. He later appeared with Ben Gazzara and Anthony Hopkins in QB VII. Here, he plays the murderer Slade who leads three other villains and his mistress up a river in quest of diamonds and wealth.

seanquayletarzanInterestingly, one of the villains is deliciously played by a young Sean Connery, more animated than we are accustomed to seeing him. Perplexed when confronted with an unorthodox rival, he shouts, “What’s with the bow and arrow bit? You can’t even see this guy!” Connery was so good that he was asked to be in Scott’s next film as well, but he declined because he had committed to a TV film about a spy called 007. That, of course, evolved into Dr. No and his own movie series franchise as James Bond.

Cheeta makes a brief appearance, but Tarzan leaves him in charge of their river hut when he canoes upriver in pursuit of a man he used to know: “I would have killed Slade a long time ago if not for man’s law. Now he’s broken that law.” Jane has been completely dispensed with. Instead we have Angie, played by Sara Shane. When Tarzan heads off to catch Slade, she tells the police officer, “I‘d like to be around when they meet.” He responds, “I wouldn’t.” Eventually Angie’s plane crashes, and Tarzan rescues her and has to take her along on the manhunt. Gordon Scott said that the two of them had four love scenes in the film and every one of them was cut from the final version. A hint of one of the love scenes was all that was allowed to remain.

As good as this film is, it is not perfect. The plane crash is unconvincing even for 1959 and especially by today’s standards. The villains cut their boat’s engine so as to quietly drift by Tarzan’s home and not wake him – how they got passed the hut and out of sight while going UP river is hard to imagine. Later, when Slade sends Tarzan’s canoe down river, we have to ask ourselves, “Why doesn’t Tarzan just go back down river until he finds it?” Also, there surely is a lot of natural light inside that diamond mine. Other than these reservations, this one is still impressive, a lot of fun, and enjoyable even for those who not Tarzan fans.

2. Deliverance (1972) with Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox: Here’s another film with a river, canoes, and a bow and arrow. Director John Boorman put together a fine cast to recreate the novel by James Dickey. Dickey even wrote the screenplay and also appears near the end of the movie as the Aintry sheriff.

deliveranceFour suburbanites from Atlanta decide to take a weekend canoe trip. Lewis (Burt Reynolds) is the outdoorsman of the group, and he explains why they need to do it. “Because they’re buildin’ a dam across the Cahulawassee River; they’re gonna flood a whole valley…they’re drowning a river.”

I have always had a special fondness for this film because, a few years before it came out, I had begun regularly canoeing the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas. I had met some people who lived along the river, and they would shuttle my car for me so I could put in at one place and take out thirty some-odd miles downriver. At that time there was a chance that this beautiful natural river would be damned to provide water and power for the little town of Marshall to the south. The river was permanently saved in 1972 when it became the Buffalo National River.

deliverance2aThe story begins with “Dueling Banjoes” (Ronny Cox as Drew on the guitar with a country boy on the banjo) and right away you know this is going to be a good one. Our four adventurers hire the rough-looking Griner brothers to take their two vehicles down to Aintry, and the excitement begins as they very quickly have to shoot whitewater rapids.

One of the first things I tell my canoe partner on the bow is that I never will be yelling AT him. I will only be hollering TO him because I may need him to paddle hard on one side of the canoe or the other as I attempt to steer a particular course. And I had been saying that even before ever seeing Deliverance. Bobby (Ned Beatty) tells Ed (Jon Voight) not to yell at him the way Lewis (Burt Reynolds) did the day before. “I’m an insurance salesman, Ed!”

Lewis, fishing with Ed’s bow and arrow, explains to Ed that someday man will have to return to having to survive in the wilderness: “Machines are going to fail; societies are going to fail.” “And you can’t wait. Can you?” Ed responds. Lewis spears a fish, and from the campsite Bobby resentfully snarls, “I hate him.” Later that evening Bobby asks about Lewis, “Who does he think he is? Tarzan?”

Whenever I canoe with a group – more than one canoe – I always insist that they stay within site of each other. After rounding a bend, be sure to slow up afterward and be sure those behind you don’t run into trouble and need help. However, the second canoe needs to be far enough behind the first canoe in case the first canoe runs into trouble. The second canoe needs to be able to avoid the same problem or running into the first canoe. Lewis & Drew and Ed & Bobby run into trouble when they violate these two rules.

delivranceTheir adventure turns into a nightmare. Ed & Bobby get way too far ahead of their companions, pull into the bank, and meet two evil mountain men. Bad things happen. Later, Ed & Drew’s wooden canoe gets lodged sideways between two rocks, and Lewis & Bobby’s aluminum canoe cuts it in half. As Bobby says, “There no end to it.” By the time they get to their cars in Aintry, only three of them are still alive. Also, there are three bodies buried in different places upstream that our survivors hope will soon be permanently buried under the newly formed lake.

3. Body Heat (1981) with William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke, and J.A. Preston: This is a film noir gem from director Lawrence Kasdan, who later gave us The Big Chill, Silverado, and Grand Canyon. My favorite definition of film noir, and I don’t think I originated it, is “Why me?”

This one is in the 1940’s tradition of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice. An unhappily married wife wants to get rid of her husband and lures some poor unsuspecting sap into killing him. One might suspect that divorce rates have been going up over the years because husbands have become afraid of what might happen to them if they try to stick with a discontented wife.

Here we have the unhappy Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) married to the super rich Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna) and divorce is not an option. He made her sign a prenuptial agreement whereby she would only get a reasonable allowance for a short period if they ever divorced.  She doesn’t even like his will. She and her sister-in-law will equally split his huge fortune. Matty wants it all. She wants to kill him AND find a way to change the will or get it nullified.

During a Florida heat wave she meets Ned Racine (William Hurt), an incompetent attorney who does most of his thinking with his libido. Ned consults a former client (Mickey Rourke) about how to set a bomb to burn down an abandoned building where he plans to place Mr. Walker’s body. The former client reminds him of advice that Ned once gave him: “There are 50 things that can go wrong. You’re a genius if you can think of 25 of them, and you’re no genius.”

body-heat_lNed never asks Matty “Why me” and doesn’t start putting the pieces together until it is much too late. And, of course, he starts running into several complications after he kills Mr. Walker. Not the least of which are his two best friends. One is a prosecuting attorney superbly played by Ted Danson, who steals every scene he’s in. Danson is almost unrecognizable and less wooden than usual. His character is even referred to as “Fred Astaire.” The other friend is a Black police detective, smoothly played by A.J. Preston. While Ned is not particularly good at his job, his friends are very good at theirs.

John Barry’s atmospheric music score is perfect, complements the sultry heat, and replaces the need for this film to be in black and white. There is one question we viewers might ask: Why is it that these rich people can’t afford air conditioning?

4. Hope and Glory (1987) with Sebastian Rice Edwards, Sarah Miles, Ian Bannen, and narrated by John Hurt: This semi-autobiographical film by John Boorman reveals the trials and tribulations of life on the homefront during the London blitz of World War II as seen by Bill Rowan from ages 7 to 9.

When war is declared, Bill’s patriotic father enlists to fight, but he is assigned clerical duties – he types for king and country. Before he leaves he passes on knowledge that can only be handed down from father to son. He shows Bill how to throw a googly.

Meanwhile, Bill (Sebastian Rice Edwards) tries to enjoy the war even though he must share his experiences with his mother and two sisters. He gets to wear a gas mask during a school-time air raid; he gets to see a German parachutist (Charley Boorman in a non-speaking role) land in his neighborhood; he gets to join a neighborhood club that smashes whatever remains of bombed-out buildings; he gets to see a renegade defense balloon get shot down by a local patrol; and he gets to spend several nights in his father’s air raid shelter.

Hope and Glory 3What makes this a great summer film is this: When his house catches fire, his mother (Sarah Miles) has to move the family to the riverside country home of her father (Ian Bannen). Thus begins an idyllic summer vacation of punting, fishing, and cricket – that’s where the googly comes in.

When summer ends, his grandfather drives Bill back to school; but they discover that the Luftwaffe has bombed the school. A classmate shouts in joy, “Thank you, Adolf!” Bill gets to return to his wonderful life on the river.

This magical movie won four Academy Awards and deserved them all.

by David Offutt, June 2007


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