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A TRIBUTE TO THE GROUND-BREAKING FILMS OF THE 20'S
Hello, fellow movie buffs. This page is our tribute to the ground-breaking work of film makers of the 1920's and 1930's. We will offer our views and reviews of selected films from those eras, and at the same time give you the opportunity to tell us what you think. Take a second to check out our links section.
We are graduate students just about ready to be unleashed upon the world. Since we are in our final year, we have some time to kill. We figured it would be fun to give this home page a try.
I have been trying to make some changes to this page that would make it better. I have experimented with an "in history" feature in which I tried to pull some headlines together from the year the film was made. I have scrapped that idea because the news becomes too general. I may start a "on this date in history" feature in which I would put in a single significant news story from the date on which I update the page. For example, if I update the page on June 1, 1997 and the fatured movie was made in 1930, I would have a section in which I recount the top story from June 1, 1930. This will go a long way toward giving this page the fell of going to the movies in the golden era with a newsreal section, some background music and maybe some cartoon shorts that readers could download and view (if I can find some that I am allowed to use). In any event, tell me what you think of these ideas. by the way, have you checked out the section yet? oh one more thing, is the larger text in the body of the reviews better or is the old way better??
Completely lacking in merit -- bad acting, writing, cinematography, etc.
Poor. One or two redeeming qualities, but inferior overall.
Average. Not outstanding in most respects, but worth a viewing.
Good. Solid acting, writing, cinematography, etc. Superior in many respects.
Excellent. A true classic. Superior acting, writing, cinematography, etc. Few, if any, flaws.
Gary Cooper. . .Michael "Beau" Geste Studio . . . . Paramount Pictures
Ray Milland. . . John Geste Director . . . . William A. Wellman
Robert Preston. . . . Digby Geste Edited by: Scott Thomas
Brian Donlevy . . . . Sergeant Markoff Written by Robert Carson
Susan Hayward. . . .Isobel Rivers Music by Alfred Newman
J. Carrol Naish. . . . Rasinoff. Cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl
Albert Dekker. . . . Schwartz Archie J. Stout
Broderick Crawford. . . . Hank Miller
G.P. Huntley. . . . Augustus Brandon
Heather Thatcher. . . . . Lady Brandon
Running Time: 120 minutes.
William Wellman and Robert Carson teamed up to bring us one of the very best action/adventure films ever made. Unlike much of today's fare which relies on techno/pyro wizardry, Beau Geste sucks the viewer into the story by giving us substantial characters in an interesting setting who have more to do than blow each other up. Rather, this film is a study of contrasts which is engaging above and beyond the action sequences which surely drew people to this film. In this respect, the film is both a good romp, and a significant view into the nature of the human condition--not an easy task to pull off.
Beau, Digby, and John Geste were brought up by their "Aunt" Pat Brandon. The boys above all else desire to taste the adventure that the Foreign Legion offers. As the boys grow up, financial difficulties begin to press down upon the Brandon estate, forcing Lady Brandon to sell the only thing left of real value, the "ocean water" sapphire. The Geste brothers ask Pat to show them the sapphire before she sells it. She obliges, but the suddenly, the lights go out, and when they come back on, the jewel is gone. Who stole the sapphire? That is the mystery that the movie solves. However, with all three Geste brothers running off to the Foreign Legion, it seems certain that one of them is the thief.
In reality, the whole jewel heist, if it can be called that, is merely a gimmick, the McGuffin to use a Hitchcockian phrase, which launches the movie into the true story--a survey view of human nature. While in the Legion, the brothers meet up with a rather sadistic officer, Markoff, played brilliantly by Donlevy. If this story is viewed as a simple morality tail of good versus evil, Markov is clearly the symbol of evil. The thing that Beau Geste does that so many other films fail to do, is to present a complex bad guy. While Markov is clearly out for himself, one must admire his abilities to lead and command. The same ambition that is necessary to be a successful leader, if not properly channeled can be perverted which leads to evil.
In contrast to Markov, we have Beau. Beau at many times becomes an idealized version of who we would all like to be. He is handsome, charismatic, and loyal to the bone. However, he may or may not be the man who stole the jewel, and this adds complexity to what could have become a boring goody-two-shoes. Rather, we have to wonder about Beau, and at the same time we really like Beau. The thoughtful viewer may from time to time wonder how he or she can so like a man who is superficially a great guy but at the same time perhaps a man who stole the only piece of security his family had. It is this duality that Markov and Beau bring that makes this film an interesting character study.
while the good versus evil reading of the movie is perhaps the most common reading, I saw this film slightly differently. While the overall film structure presents with the good versus evil duality, the body of the film presents a more realistic view of the world, because during most of the movie, Beau and Markov are actually working together to defeat a common enemy--the Arabs. It is this imagery of the righteous man treading the same path as the wicked, albeit for entirely different motives, that most interested me. it reminded me of how many times in my life I have had to work with those people whom I really didn't like to accomplish a common goal. I may be entirely off with this reading, but that is how this film spoke to me.
Another aspect of the story that I liked is the contrast between those who are fighting for something that they believe in, and those who are merely out for themselves. Markov represents nothingness while Beau fights for a cause. In the end, both men die (sorry but it doesn't change the fact that this is a great movie); however, Beau, becomes something greater in death--he takes on mythic proportions. Markov, on the other hand, is disgraced and, in the end, is treated no better than a dog. This is a subtle yet powerful message that one must live for something greater than himself. This is a lesson that seems to have been lost on many modern Americans.
The reason that the film works so well is partly because of the excellent direction of William Wellman. His work made this movie look more realistic than most war films, which tend to look like a game of G.I. Joe gone terribly wrong. The film feels real, and that is a big accomplishment for such a big movie. While Wellman deserves uch kudos for pulling this off, Robert Carson and the entire cast also deserve credit. Carson gave the actors excellent dialogue with which to work, and the actors delievered the lines to near perfection; there was not a bad performance in this film. In particular, Cooper, miland, and Preston were absolutely amazing as was Donlevy.
While there is much to praise in Beau Geste, it is by no means a perfect film. At a couple of junctures, there are story continuity problems. Just as an example, there is one point in the movie where Digby and John are trying to get by an Arab platoon. Digby decides that he will decoy them by blowing his bugle and acting like a whole army is backing him up. The Arabs are aroused by his actions and proceed to shoot him, but they fail to follow up. If they were so clearly concerned, why not charge the dune and kill the whole group? Another small problem with the movie is that Carson and Wellman make it abundantly clear that the Geste brothers love each other. From time to time, especially in the battle scenes, this leads to corny moments, and the viewer is reminded that he or she is just watching a movie.
This is a VERY good film. Watch it, and you'll enjoy it--I promise you. My rating:
The 39 Steps (1935), Destry Rides Again (1939), The Gold Rush (1925)
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