Treasure Island (1934)

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Me Timbers Remain Shivered

I’ve never read the book Treasure Island so I can’t compare this 1934 adaptation to the source material but rather give a point of view as someone who watched the film out of admiration for the stars involved. Treasure Island doesn’t have the unmanufactured feel or the neo-realism of the previous pairing of Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper of The Champ (then again few films do) but I was satisfied to get my fill of another Beery-Cooper pairing. The chemistry they share, what a pure and natural delight.

For me Cooper’s performance in Treasure Island is priceless; a little kid trying to act tough. I can’t help but let out an “awwwww!!” at any moment when he’s in over his head. I can see how his performance would rub others the wrong way but I can’t get enough of it. Cooper’s relationship to Beery, in reality, was nothing like it was in fiction but watching him on screen you would never think otherwise. You can see the admiration Jim Hawkins has for Long John Silver on his face and likewise, when he discovers the truth about Long John, just look at the pure horror that bestows his face. Wallace Beery on other hand looks just like a true, rugged seafarer and a beast of a pirate. Being an actor of the silent era he has a beat-up face which says so much. Beery simply had the look this role required.

Treasure Island saw the return of the swashbuckler to Hollywood, popular during the 1920’s but almost nonexistent during the pre-code era. Coming from MGM, the production values are second to none, even throwing some exotic animals into the mix and a taster of what was to come in MGM’s Mutiny on the Bounty.

Before Beery appears on screen Lionel Barrymore as Billy Bones steals any scene he occupies and when I say steals, I mean steals. I can’t determine whether or not his performance is supposed to be funny or not but his scenery-chewing grounceness, rambling and his constant desire for rum cracks me up (“Bottle of rum ya old hag!!”).

The ending is an emotional punch to the gut albeit one of mixed emotions. It’s not clear during the film whether or not Long John has any affection for Jim or is just manipulating him and taking advantage of his naivety. Regardless of watching Jackie Cooper crying his little heart out as Beery embarks of the ship, you would need to have a heart of stone not to be moved.

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Superman III (1983)

Clark V Superman

I don’t deny Superman III is a flawed movie but damned if I didn’t have fun with it! Even during the opening scene I prior to the credits I already found myself relating to Richard Pryor’s character of Gus Gorman and I thought this was supposed to be a bad movie? The monotony of a Benefits office and the employees who don’t want to be there and that they probably don’t like you as evident through their body language. Then Gus complains about his experience being employed by a fast food restaurant and how “they expect you to learn that stuff in one day”. Let’s just say I’ve had some similar real-life experiences. Untimely I enjoyed his character and didn’t mind him sharing the spotlight with Superman in terms of screen time.

The opening credits do look like they were done on Windows Movie Maker (or whatever the 1980’s equivalent was) but I won’t lie if I didn’t say the slapstick comedy in the opening credits doesn’t amuse me. The slapstick is at least done a director who understands and knows how to do physical comedy but how do I justify the use of slapstick in a movie which likely didn’t need it to be used to such a degree? I could say it ties in with the fact that Clark Kent is a bumbling fool, plus the series is light-hearted and campy as a whole, so there are other movies in which the inclusion of widespread slapstick comedy could feel more out of place. Regardless, it gets a few laughs out of me. Not all of the comedy is successful in my eyes; the scene in which Gus explains Superman’s exploits in Columbia is really head scratching-ly bizarre (just an odd way of progressing the plot) plus the green man and the red man in the pedestrian traffic light was going too far but I do enjoy the gags which use Superman’s powers for comedic effect such as his altering of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the blowing out of the Olympic Torch.

The villain Ross Webster comes off as a lesser Lex Luthor. I still quite like Robert Vaughn’s charismatic performance but I wish they could have taken the villain in a different direction rather than just being another evil business mogul. Also, why does the villain’s view of Superman flying through the canyon look like a video game? It doesn’t make sense but is fun to watch. However, I will say Vera actually turning into a cyborg was going too far. The action scenes, however, are fantastic, full of creative old-school special effects; the highlight being Evil Superman vs. Clark Kent (a sequence which really shows of what a great actor Christopher Reeve was). Is it ironic in relation to today’s needlessly dark and gritty superhero movies that Evil Superman’s appearance is similar to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, right down to the darkened colours? Forget Batman v Superman, this is where it’s really at!

Like Superman II, the element of the movie I found myself enjoying the most was the character relationships. I was surprised I liked Lana Lang almost as much as I do Lois Lane. Just look at the scene in which Clark and Lana are cleaning up the gym together and she tells him about her ambitions and how she wants to leave Smallville. At this point in the movie, I thought to myself how can people dismiss this movie as much as they do? Yes, it is flawed but when you have brilliant intimate moments like this then how can you not see it isn’t without merit.

Superman II (1980)

Kneel Before Perfection

Due to the complex and troubled production behind Superman II it seems more likely for it to have been a disaster of a film, yet despite of this I consider Superman II to be the perfect Superman film. While I enjoy the first film, I find Superman II improves on it in so many ways, delivering a more emotionally satisfying film. A rare instance of the perfect combination of cast and crew coming together to create something wonderful. I do feel on the whole Richard Lester is a better director than Richard Donner and after seeing Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut I thought to myself “thank God Donner was fired from this production”. The romance between Lois and Clark is very forced and underdeveloped; there is a lack of humor, and no exaggeration, one of the absolute worst endings I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick with the Richard Lester version.

The actors of all the Christopher Reeve era Superman films have such a great dynamic together that even in a movie as poor as Superman IV I can still enjoy their interactions. Especially the scenes in the Daily Planet offices have such energy to them and even contains a bit of that His Girl Friday feeling to them with Christopher Reeve having a bit of that Cary Grant to his acting DNA; plus you know an actor is perfect for a role when I find myself accidentally referring to the actor as Clark Kent and not Christopher Reeve. But if there’s anyone who steals the show its Terrance Stamp as General Zod. One of those performances which bring me eternal levels of respect to an actor. Every one of his beautiful hammed up, menacing lines I could listen to all day.

The wonderfully kitsch special effects of Superman II just get better with age; give me these charmingly fake effects over eyesore CGI any day (ok I’ll try and avoid a CGI rant). Likewise the 3rd Rock From the Sun type humor such as Zod and his minions mistaking Earth’s name as planet Houston to the visual comedy (Zod walking on water) has some big laughs (as well as that humorous use of product placement during a fight scene for Marlboro Cigarettes and then Coca-Cola only a few seconds later amuses me).

Many people will say Superman is a boring superhero, what tosh! A guy who makes the world a better place for others who can’t enjoy his own life and has to work with the woman he’s madly in love with, but can’t profess it to her. If that’s that tragic then I don’t know what is. Speaking of romance, that is perhaps my favourite aspect of Superman II; the romance between Lois and Clark is perfect. I so badly wanted to see these two get together, two down to earth souls who are too perfect for each other. Margot Kidder’s voice is so emotive and she has that Margaret Sullavan like quality to her. At the film’s most intense romantic moments her tearful pleas kill me.

The Champ (1931)

Wallace Beery, Boxing Picture, What Do You Need, A Roadmap?

I can’t imagine what kind an inhuman monster devoid of feelings one would have to be in order to not be moved by this film. Jackie Cooper as Dink and Wallace Beery as his father simply referred to as ‘The Champ’ is one of the most heartfelt and compelling on-screen relationships I’ve ever seen. A father who is a loser yet his son worships him despite the father not keeping his promises to stop drinking and gambling; regardless the father truly loves his son back. Despite his questionable character as a viewer I still feel a sympathetic liking for the character. With these two I feel I’m observing real human behaviour, not acting.

The film’s naturalistic and unmanufactured feel just doesn’t extend to the performances, partially thanks to the widespread use of real-world locations. Champ and Dink’s bedroom also appears run down and unpolished, it doesn’t look like your typical shiny Hollywood interior set; is it even a set at all? The Champ also disproves the misconception of movies from the 1930’s being static, right from the opening scene as the camera pans in several unbroken shots or the sequence in which Champ arises from bed in the morning with the camera following and zooming in on his movements are the room.

I initially reacted of dismay when Dink’s mother and her husband tries to separate him from The Champ, screaming to myself in my head “how dare you destroy this beautiful relationship!”. Thankfully I was glad they just didn’t just descend into becoming cliché villains. Child actors typically get on my nerves, not because of the children themselves but because of the way they are portrayed in movies, often as dim-witted and overly cutesy (it seems Dink is smart enough that he even drives a full of adults in one scene, even if the steering wheel movements don’t match that of the car’s). Not here though. Every time Jackie Cooper utters the name of The Champ (“Come on Champ”, “I want The Champ!”) I have myself a laugh of joy. Watch and let the waterworks roll.