The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson

Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts, Meanderings,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).

Movie Commentaries

These are my comments and critiques of individual movies that I believe have been overlooked or underrated by the public and movie critics. When I watch a movie, I first watch it for its entertainment value, including the acting and supporting cast, the direction, the cinematography, and the music score. Afterward, I think about the underlying meaning of a movie. I prefer movies that have a very human element in them. Movies that deal with human passions or human conflicts. As such, the scripts for the movies I prefer are essential. Without a good script, it cannot be a good movie. If it does not have a good dialogue, or the dialogue doesn't ring true, then it cannot make my list. For more Movies and Television that I believe meets this criteria I would direct you to my article “That's Entertainment”. I make no claims that all these movies are great movies (although many of them are great), but I do claim that they are enjoyable movies.

Click to proceed to my latest Movie Commentary.

Clicking on the Move Title and Year will direct you the the IMDB web page for the movie.

Christopher Guest

Rather than focus on an individual movie, this commentary focuses on a body of works of Christopher Guest. Christopher Guest is a writer, director, and actor best known for his role as Count Rugen in the movie The Princess Bride (1987), although he has had many other notable acting roles. It is not his acting that I would comment upon, but his writing and directing that I wish to illuminate. He is a worthy successor to Mel Brooks, albeit his efforts are less goofball comedies and more deadpan comedies. He always surrounds himself with excellent character actors that are perfect for the roles for which they are cast.

He satirizes modern American life without being negatively antagonistic or antipathetical about American life. He instead focuses on some of the absurdities of American life in a straight-faced manner. All this makes for very funny situations and humorous movies.

I would highly recommend that you view the following Christopher Guest movies that are representative of his talents.

God knows, in this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic, we could all use a good laugh to relieve the stress.

David and Bathsheba (1951)

Many Biblical movies were produced in the middle of the 20th century. Most of them were pretentious and preachy, and often overacted and badly directed. Some of these movies, however, were very good movies. These good movies include “The Ten Commandments” and Ben-Hur”.  One of them, I believe, is a good movie but often overlooked is “David and Bathsheba”. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my commentary on this movie.

Storyline:

Though David has all the wealth, power, wives & children inherent for the King of Israel he does not have what he craves most: the true love of a woman who loves him as a man instead of as King. He is attracted to Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers who is more devoted to army duty than to his wife. David & Bathsheba succumb to their feelings. Their affair, her resulting pregnancy, & David's resolve to have her husband killed so Bathsheba will be free to marry, bring the wrath of God upon the kingdom. David must rediscover his faith in God in order to save Bathsheba from death by stoning, his kingdom from drought & famine, & himself from his many sins. Written by E.W. DesMarais.

Director:   

    • Henry King

Writers:              

    • Philip Dunne

Cast:

    • Gregory Peck as King David
    • Susan Hayward as Bathsheba

This movie spotlights the aphorism “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. From humble beginnings to the rise to power, and to the accumulation of power, David is corrupted by power. A corruption that eventually results in the murder of an innocent man by David to achieve his goal. It is only when David is forced by the wrath of God against his people does he resort to introspection and self-reflection, then repentance, and finds his way back to the purpose of his life.

It is also a story of lust and love. Not only for David but also for Bathsheba. Both of them are married, but neither of them is happy in their marriage. Their lust for each other turns very quickly to love for each other. But their unfaithfulness is no excuse for their deeds, and they pay a personal price as they are tormented by their deeds.

Finally, it is also a story of faith, a loss of faith, the regaining of faith, and redemption.

It is also a cautionary tale of a people who would allow this corruption of power in their leaders. For such corruption does not stop at the top, but always finds its way down the hierarchical structure of a society to the detriment of the society.

There is much to be learned about the corruption of power, lust and love, and faith in this movie. The corruption of power is a lesson that is very applicable to politicians. Most politicians become involved in politics to serve the people, but over the course of their political career, many politicians accumulate power and temporize or compromise their goals to maintain or expand their power. In doing so, they have lost their way. More introspection and self-reflection by politicians would alleviate this problem, but this character trait does not seem to be a common occurrence within politicians.

Inherit the Wind (1960)

The clash of God and Science has never been more illuminated than in this movie. Both sides are treated fairly and respectfully, although many would say the characters on the God side are harsher than that of the characters on the Science side. However, it should be remembered that this movie reflects the prevailing attitudes of early 20th century America, and as such, I believe that this criticism is unwarranted. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my commentary of this movie.

Storyline:

Teacher B.T. Cates is arrested for teaching Darwin's theories. Famous lawyer Henry Drummond defends him; fundamentalist politician Matthew Brady prosecutes. This is a very thinly disguised rendition of the 1925 "Scopes monkey trial" with debates between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan taken largely from the transcripts. Written by Ed Stephan

Director: 

    • Stanley Kramer

Writers:        

    • Nedrick Young (screenplay) (originally as Nathan E. Douglas)
    • Harold Jacob Smith (screenplay)
    • Jerome Lawrence (play)
    • Robert E. Lee (play)

Cast:

    • Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond
    • Fredric March as Matthew Harrison Brady
    • Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck
    • Dick York as Bertram T. Cates
    • Donna Anderson as Rachel Brown
    • Harry Morgan as Judge Mel Coffey
    • Florence Eldridge as Sarah Brady
    • Claude Akins as Rev. Jeremiah Brown

For those who have read my other writings, you may have noticed that I often utilize snippets of dialogue from Inherit the Wind. Although the acting is superb, the directing is excellent, and the cinematography is very good, the dialogue of this movie is crucial to the meaning of this movie. You must hear, retain, and think upon the dialogue to understand this movie. Fortunately, this is not a difficult task as the outstanding scripting lends itself to this task.

The interactions of the main cast, and the responses of the supporting cast, are illuminative of the questions that this movie raises. The questions of religion in the classroom, freedom of thought and the expression of your thoughts, the tensions between beliefs in God and the purpose of Science, the role of government at all levels of this debate, the passions invoked by this topic, and hero-worshiping and its mob actions are starkly contrasted in this movie. This movie also touches on the substance of the love and commitment between a man and a woman.

If you approach this movie with an unprejudiced mind and think about the topics espoused in this film, there is much that can be learned from this movie.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

This movie needs no commentary, but it does need to be viewed and pondered by all people, of all ages, and all times. For it illuminates and espouses a core truth of humanity – the individual natural rights of a person and the responsibility of society to protect these rights. It also discusses the requirement for ‘Justice’ for those people whose rights have been violated, and punishment for those who violated their rights. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my comments on this movie.

Storyline:

It has been three years since the most important Nazi leaders had already been tried. This trial is about 4 judges who used their offices to conduct Nazi sterilization and cleansing policies. Retired American judge, Dan Haywood, has a daunting task ahead of him. The Cold War is heating up and no one wants any more trials as Germany, and Allied governments, want to forget the past. But is that the right thing to do is the question that the tribunal must decide. Written by Tony Fontana.

Director:   

    • Stanley Kramer

Writers:              

    • Abby Mann, Abby Mann (based on his original story by)

Cast:

    • Spencer Tracy as Chief Judge Dan Haywood
    • Burt Lancaster as Dr. Ernst Janning
    • Richard Widmark as Col. Tad Lawson
    • Marlene Dietrich as Mrs. Bertholt
    • Maximilian Schell as Hans Rolfe
    • Judy Garland as Irene Hoffman
    • Montgomery Clift as Rudolph Petersen

This move is about more than the NAZI anti-Semitism that took over six million Jewish lives, but also about the NAZI intolerance for other peoples that took as many or more lives in its wake. It is also a warning that all individuals must stand for human rights or find themselves in the following conundrum:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

- Martin Niemöller
This movie also speaks as to the meaning and purpose of a nation as in the following dialogue:

“There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: ‘survival as what’? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. ‘It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!’ Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what ‘we’ stand for: ‘justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!”’.

The meaning of this movie and these historical events need to be internalized and remembered by all people. For if we do not learn this lesson of history, we are doomed to repeat it!

Mel Brooks

Rather than focus on an individual movie, this commentary focuses on a body of work of Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks films are goofball comedies, full of slapstick and physical humor, as well as corny dialogue and double entries. But it is all fun and laugh out loud comedy. However, his movies are all filled with satire and intellectual references. They can be enjoyed for the surface comedy, but they are even more enjoyable for the satire and intellectual references. I would suggest that you view these movies twice. The first time enjoy them for the surface comedy, and the second time focus on the satire and intellectual references.

I would highly recommend that you view the following Mel Brooks movies that are representative of his talents.

God knows, in this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic, we could all use a good laugh to relieve the stress.

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

A first-rate satire on war, excellently written, directed, and acted, this movie is thoroughly enjoyable and funny. A World War II movie that is unlike other war movies of this era, as it takes a dark but witty look at the military establishment. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this movie, and then my commentary of this movie.

Storyline:

During the build-up to D-Day in 1944, the British found their island hosting many thousands of American soldiers who were "oversexed, overpaid, and over here". That's Lieutenant Commander Charles Edward Madison (James Garner) exactly; he knows all of the angles to make life as smooth and risk-free as possible for himself. But things become complicated when he falls for English woman Emily Barham (Dame Julie Andrews), and his commanding officer's nervous breakdown leads to Charles being sent on a senseless and dangerous mission.

Director:

    • Arthur Hiller

Writers:

    • Paddy Chayefsky (screenplay)
    • William Bradford Huie (novel)

Cast:

    • James Garner as Lt. Commander Charles Edward Madison
    • Julie Andrews as Emily Barham
    • Melvyn Douglas as Admiral William Jessup
    • James Coburn as Lt. Commander Paul 'Bus' Cummings

In researching this move, I became aware of a commentary that is better than anything that I could write. Therefore, instead of commenting myself, I will quote this commentary:

Excellent, funny, sad, sexy by funkyfry on 24 September 2002

This excellent film combines humor and drama in ways I've never seen before. Far from heavy handed in either department, its notable trait is a kind of circular irony that runs through the film, becoming even more profound in the film's final scenes. Garner plays a man whose ideal is cowardice and self-service. Faced finally with having to become an official "hero" and wanting no part of it, he has to realize that to be true to himself he has to play this role -- the nobility of any grand gesture of honesty in his cowardice would be too outside of his character! Andrews is magnificent and more sexy than usual as Emily, a girl afraid to have any man who's not a coward! No sentimentality, just good old dark irony. Very well written. Good film!

The Big Country (1958)

The Big Country, an epic western movie, has been panned by many critics as good but not great. However, I believe that this film is great for its hidden meanings. Hidden meanings that are often overlooked by its critics. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my commentary on its hidden meanings.

Storyline:

Retired, wealthy sea Captain James McKay arrives in the vast expanse of the West to marry fiancée Pat Terrill. McKay is a man whose values and approach to life are a mystery to the ranchers and ranch foreman Steve Leech takes an immediate dislike to him. Pat is spoiled, selfish and controlled by her wealthy father, Major Henry Terrill. The Major is involved in a ruthless land war, over watering rights for cattle, with a rough hewn clan led by Rufus Hannassey. The land in question is owned by Julie Maragon and both Terrill and Hannassey want it. Written by E.W. DesMarais.

Director:    

      • William Wyler

Writers:               

      • James R. Webb, Sy Bartlett, & Robert Wilder (screenplay)
      • Jessamyn West & Robert Wyler (adaptation)
      • Donald Hamilton (novel)

Cast: 

      • Gregory Peck as James McKay
      • Jean Simmons as Julie Maragon
      • Carroll Baker as Patricia Terrill
      • Charlton Heston as Steve Leech
      • Burl Ives as Rufus Hannassey
      • Charles Bickford as Maj. Henry Terrill
      • Chuck Connors as Buck Hannassey

I shall not reveal any more of the plot than I already have, and there will be no spoilers in this review. My objective is for the viewer to recognize the development of the hidden meanings through the words and deeds of the characters. Rather than utilize the character names, I will instead utilize the actors' names, as to make it easier for the viewer to follow the hidden meanings. There are three hidden meanings that are interplayed throughout this movie and resolved at the end of the film. They are:

    • The meaning of the character of being a man.
    • The meaning of true love between a man and a woman.
    • The meaning of the hidden motivations of the protagonists.

Three different character types of men (as portrayed by Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, & Chuck Connors) are a gentle but strong man, an abiding and assiduous man, and a bullying man. All three are counterpointed against each other, and the character of each type of man is exposed. Through various scenes throughout this movie, we get to observe how the three different men react to a situation and to each other, which reveals the true character of the men.

Two different women (portrayed by Jean Simmons & Carroll Baker), are a strong and independent woman and a strong-willed but superficial woman, who also reveal their true character throughout the movie. Their viewpoints on friendship and the love for a man by a woman, and the changing dynamics of a relationship, highlight the true meaning of love between a man and a woman. The interactions between themselves and the other men in the movie are illuminative of their differences and their character.

The hidden motivations of two men (portrayed by Burl Ives & Charles Bickford) are of a gruff leader of his clan and a magisterial leader of his ranch, which is revealed at the end of the movie. The consequences to themselves, their family, and their associates of their leadership style and decision-making point out the impacts of leadership without introspection or self-deception of your intentions.

Very few people have the character of Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons, as most of us exhibit the character of the other cast members' roles. However, we should all aspire to achieve this character, as it will not only make us a better person but will make all those around us better. We would all do better if we elected leaders who exhibited the character of Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons, as well as listen to leaders that are of this character.

The fine acting and supporting cast, the direction, the cinematography, and the music score make for a very enjoyable and entertaining movie to watch. However, the unveiling of these hidden meanings makes for a thoughtful movie that reveals very human motivations.

Therefore, as this movie is billed as a western, it is more of a character study set in the historic west. It is the difference of being an action/adventure western appealing to the senses and being an adult western that appeals to the mind. Many such westerns have this difference, and they are some of the most satisfying westerns ever filmed.

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Desperate people in a desperate situation, making desperate decisions, combined with an excellent script and cast that explores their conundrum, makes for a first-rate movie. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my commentary of this movie.

Storyline:

A cargo plane goes down in a sandstorm in the Sahara with less than a dozen men on board. One of the passengers is an airplane designer who comes up with the idea of ripping off the undamaged wing and using it as the basis for an airplane they will build to escape before their food and water run out. Written by John Vogel.

Director:

  • Robert Aldrich

Writers:

    • Lukas Heller (screenplay)
    • Trevor Dudley Smith (novel) (as Elleston Trevor)

Cast:

    • James Stewart as Frank Towns
    • Richard Attenborough as Lew Moran
    • Peter Finch as Captain Harris
    • Hardy Krüger as Heinrich Dorfmann (as Hardy Kruger)
    • Ernest Borgnine as Trucker Cobb
    • Ian Bannen as Crow
    • Ronald Fraser as Sergeant Watson
    • Christian Marquand as Dr. Renaud
    • Dan Duryea as Standish
    • George Kennedy as Bellamy

Jimmy Stewart, in an un-Jimmy Stewart role (he hardly stammers in this movie, and he is not heroic), surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, makes this a riveting and more exciting movie than you would think. Their conflicting human emotions, desires, frailties, masculinity, and decision making, and the consequences of their individual decisions, makes for a tense and satisfying movie. The diverse backgrounds, intellect, nationalities, and social standings of the characters widen the scope and impact of this movie. Every scene and all the dialogue are essential to the story, and all the characters remain true unto themselves.

Alas, the 2004 remake of this movie pales in comparison to the original. Skip the remake and enjoy the original.

The Train (1964)

War often brings out the best and worst of a person. War also reflects the purpose and meaning of society. The Train is a movie that examines these issues in both the individual and society. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my commentary of this movie.

Storyline:

As the Allied forces approach Paris in August 1944, German Colonel Von Waldheim is desperate to take all of France's greatest paintings to Germany. He manages to secure a train to transport the valuable art works even as the chaos of retreat descends upon them. The French resistance however wants to stop them from stealing their national treasures but have received orders from London that they are not to be destroyed. The station master, Labiche, is tasked with scheduling the train and making it all happen smoothly but he is also part of a dwindling group of resistance fighters tasked with preventing the theft. He and others stage an elaborate ruse to keep the train from ever leaving French territory.  Written by garykmcd.

Director:   

    • John Frankenheimer
    • Arthur Penn (uncredited)

Writers:              

    • Franklin Coen (screen story) and
    • Frank Davis (screen story)
    • Franklin Coen (screenplay) and
    • Frank Davis (screenplay)
    • Rose Valland (based upon her book "Le Front De L'Art")

Cast:

    • Burt Lancaster as Paul Labiche
    • Paul Scofield as Colonel Franz Von Waldheim
    • Jeanne Moreau as Christine

Labiche, at the start of the movie, wants to blow up the train, but he soon learns the value of the preservation of his culture through the commitment and sacrifice of his friends and his fellow French Resistance fighters to simply stop the train.

A tense, quiet thriller, with some quality action scenes, shot in black and white as appropriate for the subject, this movie starkly contrasts those that would preserve their culture and those who would appropriate another culture. In war, there is much more than the survival of a society, but also for the preservation of the culture of a society. Otherwise, what is to be gained by survival if you have lost your culture. As has been said in another great movie, “Judgment at Nuremberg”:

“There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: ‘survival as what’? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. ‘It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!’ Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what ‘we’ stand for: ‘justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!”’.

In “The Train”, they stood for the protection of their culture and for the sacrifices of those who would protect their culture. May we all remember that in both war and peace, the preservation of our culture is more important than protection or survival. In America, our culture is of "Freedom, Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All" , and we must protect and preserve our culture for our society to survive.

They Might Be Giants (1971)

What is our reality, and what are our illusions? Who is to judge if we are sane or demented? Whether to live a life of sanity and unhappiness or to live a life of illusion and happiness? These are the questions that the movie They Might Be Giants addresses. First, a brief overview from IMDB of this move, and then my commentary on this movie.

Storyline:

They Might be Giants chronicles the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in modern-day New York City. The fact that Sherlock Holmes is a psychotic paranoid and Dr. Watson is a female psychiatrist fascinated by his case is almost beside the point. Dr. Watson follows Holmes across Manhattan and is, against her better judgment, drawn into the master detective's world of intrigue and danger. This is a sweet, goofy and fairly romantic film that asks the questions "Whose reality is right...and does it really matter?" Written by John Gerrath

Director:   

    • Anthony Harvey

Writers:              

    • James Goldman (screenplay)
    • James Goldman (play)

Cast:

    • George C. Scott as Justin / Sherlock
    • Joanne Woodward as Watson

This short (98 minutes), charming, witty, and sometimes humorous movie is excellently acted and directed, and enjoyable to view. The sane and unhappy Watson is pulled in the delusional world of Sherlock, where she finds happiness. Along the way, we meet a cast of characters that have their own illusions but their own happiness. The answers to the above questions are difficult and are never answered by this movie. This movie, however, leaves it for the viewer to resolve these questions for themselves.