Fox, 1968, Color, 112 mins.- 35th Anniversary Edition

Charlton Heston: "I can't help thinking somewhere in the universe there has to
                                be something better than man."

Wishful thinking, Chuck, for while you may meet intelligent beings who think that they're better than man, they're actually just as flawed. After a crash landing on the titular planet, Heston and some fellow astronauts discover, to their cost, that they aren't at the top of the local primate pyramid. Instead, a stratified society of apes rules, with orangutan scholars at the top, chimpanzee scientists in the middle, and gorilla soldier types providing the muscle. After being treated like an animal, Heston is aided by hairy but sympathetic researchers Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, and tries to discover the reason for the topsy-turvy man/ape relationship. But when he finds the answer, he'll be sorry...

This enduring piece of pop culture kicked off a whole series of films, among other things. Its mix of adventure and social commentary is always entertaining, even when it veers into outright silliness- in fact, some of that silliness provides comic relief from the more serious events. And serious is the word for it, as Heston and the other humans on the planet face a grim future. It is a neat irony that Heston’s character, a confirmed misanthrope, is forced to act as a representative of and defender of the whole human race- with results that are mixed at best. The film is technically dated in some respects, but on the whole, it's one of the best presentations of an alien world ever done. Worth a look in the unlikely event that you've never seen it, and for fans there is a generous bunch of extras on this two-disc set including audio commentaries, featurettes, and an excellent documentary.

MGM, 1944, B&W, 113 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

Charles Boyer: "Now you know, Nancy, don't you, that gentleman friends
                           are sometimes inclined to take liberties with young ladies."

Well, Boyer should know, for he's insinuated himself into the life of Ingrid Bergman and nudged her to move back into the childhood home that she vacated after a particularly tragic bump in the road. Bergman fights the bad vibe that she gets from the place, which is an example of the Victorian era at its most suffocating, and she and Boyer settle into happy domesticity. Until she apparently begins to lose her marbles, that is. It starts with little things, little lapses- things that might be brushed-off if Boyer weren't so quick to keep score on them. But the charming Frenchman turns out to be- surprise, surprise- not as nice as he pretends. He has a hidden agenda, possibly involving his unhealthy fascination for jewels, and definitely involving poor Bergman's mental state. Lots of men drive their wives crazy- is Boyer doing it on purpose?

The story here is the stuff of Gothic potboilers, but it's handled with all of the polish that MGM and famed "Women's director" George Cukor can muster. Indeed, Bergman received an Oscar for her performance- although it must be said that Boyer is more fun to watch, playing against his romantic screen image in a way that must have been shocking to his fans. Joseph Cotten, as a cop looking into the strange goings-on, pales in comparison to the two leads, but he gets the job done. And a teenaged Angela Lansbury is amusing in her first movie role as a cheeky maid. Overall, as a suspense melodrama, it ain't bad. Extras on the disc include a featurette and the original, comparatively lusterless British film version.

United Artists, 1927 &1928, B&W, 76 & 70 mins.- Image DVD

Buster Keaton: "If you lose this war don't blame me."

When the Old South decides to show those darn Yankees a thing or two, train engineer Keaton is judged too valuable to enlist, thus earning him the scorn of girlfriend Marion Mack. But when Union agents hijack Keaton's train, "The General," with Mack aboard, Keaton gets a chance to prove himself. Commandeering another train, he chases his favorite gal and steam engine well into enemy territory.......and then is himself chased back towards his own lines, carrying some information that the Northerners would like to keep a lid on. The two train chases- and every other sequence in this picture- are such marvelously inventive examples of pure cinema that you won't even care that this is a silent movie. The multiply-talented Keaton co-writes, co-directs, edits, and does all of his own stunts here, maintaining during the latter his famous "Stone face" expression- which somehow adds to his character rather than detracting from it.

This is one of the best of the silents, and Image's presentation is nicely cleaned-up, with a new score by The Alloy Orchestra.

The other half of this "Double Feature" disc is "Steamboat Bill, Jr." Keaton's less-than-macho student is reunited with his tough steamboat Captain father, Ernest Torrence, who tries to make a man of him- with predictably poor results. Making it worse is the fact that Keaton's girlfriend is the daughter of Torrence's big competitor, which leads to plenty of dislike all around. But everybody's personal problems drop into the background when a hurricane hits town, and Keaton once again shows what he's really made of. Relying more on character humor than "The General," this picture still features some terrific bits of business, and the stormy climax has some moments that are real jaw-droppers. Recommended, unless you have a silent movie phobia.




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© Melt Magazine 2004