Film Reviews by Steve Mason

Welcome to Steve Mason's film reviews page. Steve Mason has written 423 reviews and rated 6881 films.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Hud

Texas Elegy.

(Edit) 11/05/2021

The film where Paul Newman emerged out of the shadow of Marlon Brando and the myth cast by the death of James Dean. Hud shares similarities with Dean's breakthrough in East of Eden, being about a strong but ageing father (Melvyn Douglas) who lives by a rigid moral code and his contrasting relationships between his bad son (Newman) and the good (grand)son played by Brandon de Wilde. It's a film about the passing of generations.

Hud Bannon really isn't an anti-hero at all, but an irredeemably contemptuous villain, though with a charming façade. In the era of the sixties counterculture Hud was taken as a role model for the way he stood up to and contested the rules his father lived by. They admired his individualism, however corrupt. Newman was alarmed to find the character made him a college poster boy, though that may have been in part because of his star charisma and obvious sex appeal. Which the film exploits.

 Patricia Neal is very sympathetic as the Bannon's sassy housekeeper with a past, who occasionally enters into the crosshairs of Hud's licentious gaze. There is another of many felicitous scores by Elmer Bernstein in this period, elegantly performed on Spanish guitar. But the unmissable glory of the film is James Wong Howe's magnificent high contrast Panavison, dominated by the big white, oppressive Texas skies.

There is a political element to Hud, a perception that times are changing. It may be viewed as an elegiac lament to the passing of the old west, or a rallying call that the old men have let us down and it's time its institutions and conventions were challenged. Hud Bannon is a rapacious capitalist who intends to flatten his father's ranch with its his venerated Texan longhorns and produce oil. It is a landscape where sickness is endemic, and the future uncertain and to be fought for.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Shock Corridor

Political Allegory (includes spoiler).

(Edit) Updated 12/05/2021

Punchy political allegory by genre superstar Sam Fuller is straight melodrama but typically idiosyncratic. Genius journalist Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) goes in pursuit of the Pulitzer Prize by learning how to appear insane which will allow him access to a mental hospital and potentially discover who committed the murder of one of its patients.

 Only once admitted, Johnny's real mental frailties start to betray him. The film adopts the sixties idea that madness is a reasonable response to an abnormal environment. And this is what has driven the three witnesses to the killing to their insanity. A soldier has been brainwashed in Korea to be a communist and is rejected by the army as a red on his release. A student responds to being the only black child in a racist southern school by becoming convinced he is in the KKK. And a nuclear physicist withdraws to the security of infantilism because of the crazy paradox of mutually assured destruction.

 Johnny finds out the killer, but immediately forgets because exposure to the hospital has loosed his own schizophrenia. Fuller deploys the corridor where the residents congregate, known as the 'street', as a metaphor for America. He is saying the country has become deranged by ignorance and prejudice and inevitably when people conform to its rules, they become irrational themselves.

 Shock Corridor is boldly sensationalist and was released as an exploitation film. But although ostentatious and provocative, it is a clever and convincing film produced to good effect on a single studio interior. Its budget must have been minuscule, but typically Fuller gives it plenty of visual clout, particularly in the scene when we see the corridor awash in the torrential rain that terrorises Barrett when in his psychotic state.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Naked Kiss

Suburban Hypocrisy (includes spoiler).

(Edit) 11/05/2021

This film kicks off with a bang and never lets up. Gypped big city sex worker Kelly (Constance Towers) is slapping down her pimp for £75 dollars he has held out on. Her wig falls off revealing the bald head he has brutally spoiled. And as she peels only the 75 off his roll, we know this is an honest girl.

 Kelly leaves town and pitches up in small town America where she eventually works as a nurse on a children's ward and falls in love with hospital's benefactor Grant (Michael Dante) who wants to marry her. But this is a film about appearances and reality and the deception and hypocrisy that lie between. Griff is a paedophile who uses his largesse to snare his vulnerable victims. There are no fairy tales or happy endings. When Kelly confesses her past, Grant states he wants to marry her because they are both deviant and this is the only marriage he could ever have.

There is an amazing scene in The Naked Kiss when Kelly and the kids from the orthopaedics ward sing a sentimental song to each other. And this sounds unbearable, but it is so elusively peculiar that it is actually incredibly moving (especially once when we discover the threat to these children). The film is indefinably uncanny, set in a hyper-idealised fantasy of America that we would one day call Lynchian, yet steeped in a tragic sorrow. Every dream has a mirrored heartbreak. It seems the only two places a young woman can work is either the hospital or Candy's brothel where the sex workers are called bonbons.

Nothing is what it seems. This is Fuller's masterpiece. It is brilliantly written, dense with cynical wit and disingenuous hope. Towers is in every scene and her performance of exaggerated sweetness is aptly, and unforgettably strange. What a role this is. The film is a fascinating curiosity.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Night of the Iguana

Whisky Priest.

(Edit) Updated 12/05/2021

Tempestuous and heartfelt adaptation of Tennessee WIlliams' last great play, set on the coast of the remote Mexican rain forest. The unconventional, wandering characters all assemble by chance at the end of the world, and at the end of themselves. John Huston finds a location where cinema rarely goes, not just on a map, but in our being.

The Reverend Shannon (Richard Burton) is the figure in the title, tied up and hysterical and essentially saved by nomadic artist Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) as he finally fails to outrun his spooks. This is like alcoholics anonymous for desperate people. Hannah has been there herself and knows what it takes to endure, to survive.

Shannon has been locked out of his church back home for having sex with a girl in his congregation and preaching atheistic sermons. Finding work as a tour operator, he leads a religious party led by a repressed middle aged woman more interested in finding the comforts of home than the glories of Mexico. Shannon is tempted by Sue Lyon playing his ultimate bête noire, what used to be called a nymphette.

This is a wonderfully cast and performed version of the richly symbolic and philosophical play. Burton, Kerr and Ava Gardner (as the earthy proprietor of this remote hotel) are all touchingly believable in what is a highly schematic narrative. It's pretty funny in its early scenes with Burton particularly good as a (WC) Fieldsian figure, driven loco by relentless torment. It mostly triumphs by illustrating so vividly Williams perennial theme, that in the absence of god, we can only ever be saved by the will of others.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Pawnbroker

Harlem Inferno.

(Edit) Updated 12/05/2021

Intense and groundbreaking drama about the suppressed memories of Sol Nazerman, a holocaust survivor living among the violence and squalor of Harlem, NY. The Pawnbroker was original in its presentation of the survivors of the concentration camps in terms of them being Jewish. In addition, the film courted controversy because of its female nudity, a first in Hollywood cinema.

The authenticity of Rod Steiger's lead performance is horrifying. We now recognise his condition as survivors' guilt, as he is haunted by subliminal flashbacks to the camps. But interestingly, we glimpse in these suppressed traumatic images his experiences on the streets of New York too. The lawlessness and brutality of the present also torments him. He seeks to be invisible, but his shop is a front for the Mafia and is a hub for laundering money from prostitution. In rendering himself numb to cruelty, he helps to sustain it.

It is interesting how distant Sol is to his present reality. A simple remark about his religion can only be answered in terms of 7000 years of struggle. He is so removed from his environment he can no longer see the humanity in himself and others.

Most of the film is shot in the pawnshop, and Steiger and his assistant Jesus (Puerto Rican actor Jaime Sánchez) are pictured throughout trapped in the wire cages that partition the establishment. As elsewhere, Lumet draws meaning from the limited space within the room, but when his camera does stray beyond the shop it captures Harlem most realistically. It is a powerful, very depressing film which gives an identity to a hidden, voiceless demographic through Steiger's potent, repressed, unreachable anguish.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Campus Classic.

(Edit) Updated 12/05/2021

Brilliantly cast, faithful adaptation of Edward Albee's waspish theatre hit of 1962. It's hardly opened up from the stage, mostly being set in George and Martha's rather scruffy university residence: 'What a dump', as Martha comments in the famous opening lines.

Albee's dialogue is so intelligent and very funny as the academics take us on a tour of their esoteric fantasy life into which they initiate two arrivals on campus. George works in the history department without ambition; Nick is an assertive appointee to biology, burdened by his frail, irksome, alcoholic wife Honey. The games the characters play are fascinating, but there is a deep, elegant tenderness too, which feels a little Shakespearian.

The two stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, have ruined the play for any other actors. They are definitive, captured for eternity. This is Taylor's best performance, as the aggressive, insolent daughter of the university Chancellor. Burton is adept at the coruscating verbal sparring, but there is also a lovely melting sadness to him. It's so much fun just watching the Burtons lightly warming up in the opening scenes. What chemistry. What then unfolds is astonishing. They become like two warring civilisations.

George Segal and Sandy Dennis are fine as Nick and Honey but they get blown away in the storm. The film was quite controversial in its use of rather frank expletives but there were few alterations. While the film is quite entertaining, it creates a dense intellectual environment which continually provokes. It is a perfect film, which yields so many glorious moments and seems to stay alive and fresh every time.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Group

Period Drama.

(Edit) 11/05/2021

Attractive ensemble melodrama based on Mary McCarthy's popular novel of 1963 about eight privileged female friends who graduate from a prestigious girls' school in 1933, and their experiences from the depression to WWII.

The young women have diverse encounters across these years which focus on gender issues such as contraception, free love, childbirth and inequality in the workplace or more general themes like politics and psychoanalysis. Of course these were even more pertinent to the sixties than the thirties. But the film is not heavily didactic, it is a striking and sympathetically acted melodrama. Or a soap. These women are intellectuals, but it really isn't an academic film. They are called aesthetes but their gifts remain in the background. The story is about their social experiences.

 Lumet and screenwriter Sidney Buchman do a fine job in telling a story with so many lead characters, particularly as the actors were all relatively unknown at the time save Shirley Knight and fairly unfamiliar to us (well, me anyway) now, except for Knight and Candice Bergman.  There are a lot of debuting female actors here.

 What seems quite groundbreaking now about The Group as a Hollywood film is that it is a story about a group of women which isn't patronising or satirical. It also inspired a whole sub-genre of films about the experiences of a clique of graduate friends. The Big Chill (1983) owes it a lot and there are many others. Its message is that in 1933 these females left college looking for a meritocracy and the opportunity to play a full part in society And by 1966, they were still waiting.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Political Allegory (with spoiler).

(Edit) 11/05/2021

Faithful adaptation of Horace McCoy's bitter, despairing political allegory of American capitalism. It is set at a dance marathon in LA in 1932 during the long American depression. Poor, desperate couples dance around the clock for weeks to win a large cash prize, ignorant that the last pair will just pay for the staging of the event out of their winnings.

It is a grotesque depiction of social Darwinism, a movement that would eventually find its way into the courts at Nuremberg. The strongest survive, but the game is crooked. As failed actor Gloria (Jane Fonda) hopelessly laments, 'maybe it's just the whole damn world is like central casting: they got it all rigged before you ever show up'. The event is staged to entertain a crowd. Poor people pay to watch other poor people suffer. The characters talk about Hollywood movies like the medieval idea of heaven.

This was a breakthrough role for Fonda as the strong minded agitator, helplessly mangled in the gears of the free market. Like the rest of her community, she is at liberty to make a choice; take it or leave it. The film is most memorable for Gig Young as the cynical, manipulative, indifferent MC and Susannah York who is heartbreaking as a vulnerable would-be actor driven to madness.

The film is directed with flair by Sydney Pollack who ornaments the cinemascope frame with imaginative impressionist touches and haunting close-ups. The period recreation is wonderful and the soundtrack of standards adds atmosphere. The film is so tragic, but real. When Gloria just can't go on, she asks her partner Robert (Michael Sarrazin) to shoot her. It is a mercy killing. She is in too much pain. The last line of the film is devastating, and is its title.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Reivers

Southern Nostalgia.

(Edit) 11/05/2021

Comedy-drama based on William Faulkner's autobiographical novel (1963) located in the American south of the distant memory. It is set in motion by the delivery of a new car to a rich family in a small rural town in Mississippi, the first in the county. The stable boys Boon and Ned (Steve McQueen and Rupert Crosse) 'borrow' the car and drive the family's 11 year old boy Lucius (Mitch Vogel) to Memphis where bawdy, picaresque adventures take place and life-lessons are learned.

Reaction to this film is going to depend on response to the initial premise voiced by the narrator (Burgess Meredith): that the citizens of Mississippi in his youth were a 'pleasant courteous people' compared to the present time. When the deep south back then was a place of apartheid, religious fundamentalism and poverty. There is racism in the film (and free use of racist expletives) but it feels cleaned up. There are rednecks, a stupid fat sheriff, ribald sex workers... all the archetypes of the southern comedy. But they lack menace.

Perhaps this defanged idealisation of the past is acceptable and understandable because it is a memory film. The suffering has been forgotten. If that hurdle can be overcome, and McQueen's rather grotesque, broad caricature, then there is a warm coming of age story to be enjoyed set in the endless summers of all our pasts.

The film is quite beautifully photographed, particularly the light on the countryside. There is a folksy score by John Williams, all banjos and fiddles which would be endlessly ripped off in years to come, as well as a sentimental orchestral theme which supports the photography agreeably. McQueen said it is a film about the car. And arguably the vehicle is the star. There is a sense of the past being a place of safety and childhood being a time of adventure, which may be a little guileless, but allowing for its faults this is a winsome, tranquil period film.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Period Drama (includes spoilers).

(Edit) 11/05/2021

Meticulous and and detailed version of Harper Lee's 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning classic is a success on every level. Most gratifying is its inspired casting, from Gregory Peck's embodiment of Atticus Finch all the way to Robert Duvall's debut as inarticulate recluse, Boo Radley. There are lovely child performances too, particularly from Mary Badham as Scout.

The first half of the film is mostly plotless character development, mostly of the children as they learn about the world from their small southern town. The relationship between the lawyer Atticus, a widower, and his daughter Scout is sensitively sketched. The latter part of the story relates to Finch's defence of a black farm labourer Tom Robinson who has been set up by a mob of bigoted smallholders.  

The white agricultural workers of depression-era Monroeville, Alabama are destitute. They have nothing, only their perceived superiority to black people, which they guard ruthlessly. Robinson is found guilty of raping a white woman, not because he has a reasonable case to answer, but principally because he professed to feel sympathy for her life. Which strikes too deeply into the poor farmers' conviction of primacy. Robinson is shot by the police before a retrial can be arranged.

 The rural south of the 1930s is brilliantly realised, not just the sets, but even the rich and intricate sound atmospherics. This is a memory story and there is an impression of time and events being distorted by the act of recollection. It's a remarkably subtle and intelligent film which pertinently made an issue of southern apartheid during the sixties civil rights movement.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Elmer Gantry

Period Melodrama.

(Edit) 10/05/2021

A vivacious, intelligent film set in the midwest in the 1920s about an itinerant troupe of revivalists working the rural towns of the bible belt, passing the hat around the poor farming families of the depression. After being joined by travelling salesman Elmer Gantry, they try to take on the challenge of adapting to the new markets of the cities.

 This is the role Burt Lancaster was born to play, the charismatic preacher: big hearted, generous, forgiving and full of sin. And he delivers a huge performance. It is an actors' film, with Jean Simmons cleverly ambiguous as the star of the show, Sister Sharon, and Shirley Jones dazzling as Lulu Bains, the sex worker from Gantry's past.

Elmer Gantry was adapted from Sinclair Lewis' 1927 novel which drew on Sister Aimee Semple McPherson's showbiz evangelism. It is a curiously American phenomenon, fusing capitalism and Protestantism. The film examines quite forensically a broad range of themes around the subject of evangelistic faith, much of it editorialised through Arthur Kennedy's atheistic news journalist. It is cynical of revivalism's provenance, ethics and virtues.

The story has a valid point to make about the preachers' exploitation of their followers, but this is by no means a dissertation. The threadbare locations, the impoverished times, the showmanship and the personalities are vividly brought to life. It is an exuberant, colourful and rich production carried with dynamic magnetism by Burt Lancaster.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Inherit the Wind

Courtroom Drama.

(Edit) 10/05/2021

Period recreation of the 1925 Scopes monkey trial (with the names changed) which prosecuted a teacher for explaining Darwinism in a Christian fundamentalist school in Tennessee. Spencer Tracy defends the jailed teacher against an unrecognisable Fredric March as the prosecuting lawyer who believes in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament. The film is mostly an actors mano a mano between the two stars.

 But there is a deeper issue on trial here. March (as Matthew Brady) claims that religion is a solace for communities made wretched by poverty. Brady is a politician but offers no insight into how their existence might be made less burdensome by other means. But that is not the role of the faith we see in Hillsboro, Tennessee. There, Christianity is a means of suppression and of spreading ignorance, bigotry and hate. There is just a fast heartbeat between this control of the masses and the fascism about to divide the world.

Some of the ideas pass by a little too quickly. Occasionally the writing is imprecise. But for a film which is about a contest for the supremacy of ideas, it is extremely entertaining and the performances are a lot of fun, including Gene Kelly as an acerbic, loquacious news journalist. The real flaw in the film is it seeks to find a balance between Christianity and science, which doesn't really exist.

But that's America, and the Hays Code. Unbelievably, this battle is still being fought nearly a hundred years on and its themes still matter today. There is a caustic, witty conclusion to the film, which really sums up its themes in an instant: when the frenzied Matthew Brady collapses in court,  someone shouts out "Pray for a miracle and save our holy prophet" and another yells "Get a Doctor"!

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Judgment at Nuremberg

Warning from History.

(Edit) 10/05/2021

Meticulous and intelligent adaptation of Abby Mann's 1959 television play mostly set within the single space of the courtroom. Four judges from the Nazi era in Germany are on trial for crimes against humanity, but it seems increasingly unclear who is actually responsible for these atrocities.

 In fact as the Soviets enter Prague, it becomes evident that neither side is interested in pursuing these convictions as the west needs Germany as a bulwark against Communist expansion and the Germans seek to bury their past. There is even the rather alarming insinuation that the Republican politicians just want the men released and consider the trials to be the obsession of Liberal extremists.

 There is a lot of talk over three hours in Judgment at Nuremberg, but it works brilliantly as entertainment because its ideas are so fascinating and the performances so incisive. There is a pair of poignant, very raw cameos from Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland as victims of depraved Nazi injustice. Maximilian Schell won the best actor Oscar as the lawyer defending the judges. But the central role of the American judge was played with real dignity and authority by Spencer Tracy.

 He has many long passages of speech to articulate including a very lengthy edit in summing up in which he manages to remain objective to many interested parties and deliver a stirring and wise verdict. And this is that the end never justifies the means, however expedient. 

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Children's Hour

Includes Spoiler.

(Edit) 10/05/2021

Powerful, heartbreaking drama from Lillian Hellman's 1934 play about the wreckage visited on the lives of two female teachers after a young student falsely accuses them of being lovers. This is an ominous film with a slight flavour of horror. The girl who makes up the lie out of spite (played by Karen Balkin) is a pretty convincing villain and the rich, small town bigots who take their children out of the school on her evidence make the forces massed against the accused very sinister.

But what is most powerful is the response of Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) to the realisation that she is a lesbian. Contemporary values have blinded her to this truth. The girl's lie is a scandal, but Martha's denial of her feelings is a tragedy.

Audrey Hepburn is well cast as Karen Wright, the other slandered teacher who loses her planned marriage to a liberal doctor (James Garner). But Shirley MacLaine is magnificent. Her performance burns you and not just because of her anguish in having to confront her repression, but because she sees her true identity as degenerate and unendurable. Her pain is so powerful, and pitiful. By killing herself, Martha sets Karen free, which I suppose is the ultimate expression of love, and makes the end even more  devastating.

This was a controversial story in 1961 (though less so than in 1934) but time hasn't bled its impact. Homosexuality is obviously more accepted now, but the emotions on screen will still be recognised. The capacity for onlookers to cheapen, malign and offend is greater than ever. It is an extremely moving work, including one of the great film performances and a fine example of Wyler's cinematic artistry.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Hustler

Pool Hall Tragedy.

(Edit) Updated 11/05/2021

The Hustler wistfully captures an aura of nocturnal transience, where passing strangers cross paths in bus stations, hotels, waiting rooms and pool halls. It traps these nightflies in the exquisite frame of its b&w cinemascope, in its noirish lighting, in its urban set design and authentic pool hall locations. It is realistic, yet as poignantly mythic as an Edward Hopper painting.

Most of all it catches the essence of this world in its ill-fated anti-hero, the pool shark Fast Eddie Felson who must overcome personal tragedy to beat Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in an epic contest at the Ames Pool Hall. Eddie is brilliantly inhabited by Paul Newman with huge intensity and charisma and sadness.

 Newman and Piper Laurie as Sarah, his lonely, aimless, alcoholic lover are extremely affecting together, framed in the narrow deep spaces of her apartment. George C. Scott is tough and intimidating as Eddie's manager who shows the hustler how much of himself he has to sell in order to succeed.

The film is atmospheric, though inevitably slow, as it develops scenes leisurely, assembling the strangers in a sort of ceremony in the pool rooms as the night settles in and the hustles begin. Everything works, like the powerful script, which often sounds like beat poetry, with its slang and pool jargon. Much of the dialogue is astonishing. So broken hearted. As when the would-be story writer Sarah says goodbye to Fast Eddie: 'I made you up. You weren't real. I wanted you to be real'.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
1234567891029