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Posts Tagged ‘Spencer Tracy’

Book Review:
Last Thursday, I accompanied my wife downtown.  She likes to go to the Farmer’s Market and I like to go to the used bookstore.  While there, I picked up a copy of the book: “Inherit The Wind”  (1955©), written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, which I found on the $1 shelf.
The book is essentially the script of the play by the same name.  The story is a dramatization (fictionalized) of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.  Although the book / play is arguably about the conflict between the theory of evolution and the creation of the universe as stated in the Book of Genesis, the authors claimed the play was actually about the conflict between freedom of speech / thought and “McCarthyism” in the United States in the 1950’s.  (McCarthyism is here defined as the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.  It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.”  In this case, a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution without accounting for the substantial scientific evidence supporting evolution and an absolute dearth of evidence supporting Creationism / Genesis.)
The book is barely 100 pages and is a VERY fast read. It effectively points out the difficulties of trying to use a book of faith as a wall against scientific progress.  Essentially, you end up with a ridiculous speed bump instead of a barrier.  Although I found the book less powerful than the movie, it is still very engaging.  Final recommendation: highly recommended.
Movie Review:
Having read the book, I felt compelled to re-watch the movie: “Inherit The Wind” (1960).  The movie stars Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) the defense attorney, Fredric March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan) the prosecutor and Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck (H. L. Mencken) the out-of-town-journalist.
This is a “classic” black and white movie and one of my favorite works starring Tracy.  I have watched this movie well over a dozen times in my life and continue to watch it through to the end whenever I stumble on it playing on the TV.  Two other points bear mentioning…  This is my defining memory of March as an actor, which is both good and bad. Good because he is fantastic in the role.  Bad because he is SO good it has biased me against him in the few other roles I’ve seen him in.  March is so good, you almost think he is playing himself – much like John Wayne in “True Grit“.  It is only in seeing him in other roles that you realize it was all an act.  This is, I believe, the classic definition of a great actor.  As much as I love Tracy in this film, I am almost magnetically drawn to viewing and listening to (studying) March when I watch this film.  My second point is for those of you who think of Gene Kelly as purely a gifted “hoofer” (i.e. “Singing In The Rain” and many others), watch this film.  Kelly can act!  His face speaks a million lines and his sarcastic / comedic / cynical timing is impeccable.
Needless to say, the play the movie is based on is a fictionalized version of a real trial and the movie is a dramatized version of the play.  I first saw this movie as a youngster (probably pre-teens) and it had a profound impact on my life as I wanted to become a scientist and discover “Natural” law.  I wanted to be a “free” thinker.  Raised a Roman Catholic, this movie made me question at an early age – not my faith – but the Church and those who proposed an absolute belief in the Church (any church) and the Bible (any “holy” book).  It is only now, years later, that I realize the conflict between faith and science was not the basis for the movie.  As mentioned above, placing the film in historical context, it is actually about the fight against bullying and ostracism of those who are able to (and choose to) think for themselves and who wish to discuss their thoughts openly without fear of harassment (prison).
This is a powerful movie and is well worth watching and discussing with family and friends – at multiple levels.  This is particularly true in an age where there is a new law (wall) being discussed to protect us (America) from the threat of terrorists (“illegals” taking our jobs for lower wages).  As fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim or any other faith) cannot halt the progress of science, American reactionaries cannot halt the progress of macroeconomics.  Left to its own devices, corporate socialism / monopolistic capitalism will drive down the cost of labor just as water seeks its own level unless we, as a people decide as a matter of public policy that enough is enough.
Okay, climbing down from my high-horse, final recommendation: this is a very highly recommended movie.  An excellent story, told with great actors.
Movie Review:
My second movie review today is for: “Reign Of Fire” (2002).  This is a dragons destroy humanity movie starring: Christian Bale as Quinn Abercromby, Matthew McConaughey as Denton Van Zan, Izabella Scorupco as Alex Jensen and Gerard Butler as Creedy (Bale’s character’s best friend).  As a lad, Bale discovers a dragon buried under London.  Somehow, the single dragon begets a million other dragons and they, more or less, destroy human civilization.  There are a few pockets of survival and Bale and Butler are the bosses of one.  Along comes McConaughey, who proposes to destroy the dragons, not merely out-last them by hiding.  And, so, off we go to London to slay the dragon…
This is not a movie which bears much thinking about.  You either watch it and enjoy it, or you think about it and don’t.  I have chosen (frequently) to watch and enjoy.  It is what it is and it’s pretty good at being just that.  As an aside, the most interesting thing from my latest viewing is the way this movie presages “Batman Begins” with the fluttering birds and dragons in Reign being reminiscent of the fluttering bats in Batman and then the dark tunnel / the Bat Cave.  On the other hand, it could just be my recent marathon session of the “Dark Knight Trilogy” has me seeing things which really aren’t there.
Anyway, while it doesn’t stand much thought, it’s a surprisingly viewable movie.  Final recommendation: Strong.
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On This Day In:
2015 Natural Shapes
2014 Seeing The Light
2013 Requirements
2012 Tricked Again
2011 Liberty And Justice For Earth
2010 Home Again, Home Again, Jig-A-De, Jig…

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This weekend I watched three movies – one DVD and two on-line: “The Jericho Mile” (1979), “Bruce Lee – The Legend” (1977), and “Woman of the Year” (1942).  They are all good movies for very different reasons.
The Jericho Mile” stars Peter Strauss as Rain Murphy, a man serving life for murdering his father.  The movie has multiple themes: crime, racism, friendship, corruption, justice and (mainly) running.  Rain is serving his time by running around the exercise yard of Folsom Prison.  He is fast and it gets noticed.  There are three rival racial factions in the prison: the Whites, the Blacks and the Hispanics.  Rain’s black friend and training partner runs afoul of the White gang and is murdered.  The gang tells the Black gang it was Rain’s fault and the leader of the gang beats up Rain.  Behind the scenes, the warden and the prison psych want to use Rain to inspire other prisoners to rehabilitate themselves and arrange for Rain to get a chance to run against some college runners in the hopes of getting a shot at qualifying for the USA Olympic Team.
My favorite line in the movie belongs to Murphy.  After getting beaten up, he promises to nail the Black gang leader for insulting his friend/brother and the leader asks Rain what he intends to do after that.  Rain, who is badly beaten and struggling to breathe, let alone stand up, replies: “I gotta finish my workout.
It is a terrific movie which I saw in it’s original broadcast back in 1979 (as a “Movie of the Week”).  The final running scene set against the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” instrumental is a cinema classic (as far as I’m concerned”).  The movie just appeared up on YouTube.com, so you better go see it while it’s still up there!  Strauss won an Emmy for this role.  The movie won a total of three.
Bruce Lee – The Legend” is a documentary about the life and art (martial and theatrical) of Bruce Lee.  This is the first time I’ve seen the documentary and it’s a typical promotion of a dead star by the Chinese movie industry.  Having said that, the individual scenes of Bruce getting interviewed for a job and his describing Jeet Kune Do – the martial arts system Bruce created – is truly outstanding.  If you are interested in the background of a martial arts legend, this is a good place to start.  The question will always remain if Bruce was truly a great martial artist or just a handsome and charismatic actor who was also a superior athlete and martial artist.  Because there is no record (at least I’m not aware of any record) of Bruce Lee appearing in a “real” mixed martial art competition, I’m afraid it’s a question which will never be answered.  I watched this movie on HULU.com, which is a pretty good source of current TV shows and
Woman of the Year” stars Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  The film was their first movie together and their chemistry is obvious.  The movie is a about two competing newspaper writers – one on politics and the other on sports.  They meet.  Fall in love.  Marry.  And then the problems begin.  While the movie has some tremendously funny moments – especially when Hepburn’s character attempts to cook Tracy’s character breakfast, the movie is symptomatic of its time and has an incredibly sexist message that ultimately, every woman, no matter how successful, must ultimately define herself within her role as a wife (and eventual mother).  My daughter Sarah watched the movie with Hil and me and I asked her about this message.  She said she really didn’t see it that way at all and it was “just” a funny, but unrealistic movie.  I asked her why, and she replied, “One, she never would have married that far beneath her; and, two, she wouldn’t be able to stay home and live on only his salary when it was obvious she had a much more important (and well paying) job than he did.”  From the mouth of babes……
As I said, all three are entertaining movies for entirely different reasons, but I recommend all three – particularly “The Jericho Mile“.
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Yesterday, I relaxed by watching a couple of movies: Ip Man 2 and Adam’s Rib. Ip Man 2 by myself and Adam’s Rib with Hil.  The former is another of the movies I picked up on Veteran’s Day.  The latter is from the Katharine Hepburn – Turner Classics Collection which I purchased for Hil for her birthday last month.
Movie reviews:
The first movie I watched was “Ip Man 2“, which is the 2010 sequel to “Ip Man” (see my review of the original here) and once again stars Donnie Yen in the title role of Master Ip.  While the first movie was supposed to be quasi-biographical, I don’t think the sequel is based on any historical event.  It is merely the glamorization of the main character who is (historically) a famous Chinese boxing master.  (He was Bruce Lee’s instructor.)  Anyway, the film surprisingly doesn’t add anything to either the “legend” of the man or the art of Kung Fu films.  It is not a re-tread of the original, but neither does it break new ground in film-making.  The fights sequences are mostly excellent choreography, but nothing that leaves you saying “Wow!“, which I must admit I thought several times during the first film.  The climactic boxing match is surprisingly “Rocky-esk”, but unconvincing.
My own opinion of a Kung Fu versus Western boxing match at the “professional” level is that if the Kung Fu fighter is allowed to kick below the waist or use killing blows, he will almost certainly win and win fairly quickly.  If he is restricted in the type of blows he can use and can only kick above the waistline, the advantage probably shifts to the Western style boxer.  My only other comment is the original I viewed was boot-legged in the Philippines and for some reason did not have English dubbing.  It did have English sub-titles, but they were distracting and detracted from the movie.  However, since I don’t speak Mandarin, the sub-titles are required to follow along.  The version of “2” I have was purchased legitimately and has both English dubbing and sub-titles (but for whatever reason I was not able to turn the sub-titles off).  Recommended viewing if you enjoy a well-done martial arts movie.
Incidentally, I also bought a copy of the original and intend to re-watch and re-review it later.  I may even view both and combine the reviews.
The second movie was “Adam’s Rib” starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.  The film is from 1949 and involves two married attorney’s on opposite sides of a vigilante case of a wife shooting at her husband when she catches him cheating on her.  The film works because of the obvious chemistry between the two main characters.  There is also an outstanding supporting role for David Wayne playing the scoundrel next door neighbor – Kip Lurie.  I must admit that while I love this film and it is definitely one of my favorites combining these two stars, the court / legal scenes are completely unbelievable – particularly the verdict.  It remains a classic in the battle of the sexes / battle of the spouses movie genres.  Highly recommended if you want to see two old-time Hollywood stars in one of their best roles together.
Hil said she enjoyed the movie (and especially Katharine Hepburn) but didn’t find it particularly comedic.  On reflection, I have to agree with her.  There were funny lines and humorous moments, but all in all, it wasn’t a particularly “funny” comedy.  Interesting…
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