Archive for Dr. Strangelove

32 – A Carol For Another Christmas

Posted in The 50 Apocalyptic films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2013 by Duane Patrick

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“When we stop talking, we start swinging,then we bleed. Then we got problems. Like winding up dead.”

You can imagine how hard it is to find an apocalyptic Christmas movie, this is the time of year for ‘feel-good’ classics. However A Carol for another Christmas is right up my street, written by the great Rod Serling, a man who has played a big part in my interest in the apocalyptic genre, this tv movie also stars, Peter Sellers and Sterling Hayden who earlier in the year had starred in Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove, and finally this movie was directed by two-time oscar winner, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, again who had earlier directed that year Cleopatra. This is the traditional retelling of A Christmas Carol, which has been adapted so many times, and with each adaptation tells a story also of the time it is made, and no more so than this adaptation from the 1960’s , instead of Victorian England’s Ebenezer Scrooge gaining a belated appreciation for the spirit of Christmas, this production would offer an isolationist U.S. industrialist who gains a belated appreciation of the spirit of U.N.-style diplomacy.

Back in 1964, the Xerox Corporation agreed to underwrite a series of made-for-television films that were designed to promote the positive humanitarian activities of the United Nations. Xerox, which prided itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility, agreed to spend $4 million on this endeavor, and that was no small sum back in 1964. A nonprofit organization called the Telsun Foundation was formed to produce these films; Telsun was an abbreviated version of “Television Series for the United Nations.”

“Carol for Another Christmas” opens at Christmas Eve in the isolated mansion of the terminally brusque Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden). Grudge’s academician nephew (Ben Gazzara) shows up to argue about Grudge’s role in canceling an educational exchange between a local university and a university in Poland. Grudge angrily believes the Cold War atmosphere should not encourage this exchange. However, Grudge is also nursing the bitter reminder that his only son, Marley, was killed on Christmas Eve during World War II.

Grudge then receives the Dickensian three ghosts treatment. The ghost of Christmas past is a World War I soldier (cabaret singer Steve Lawrence) “When we stop talking, we start swinging,” he tells Grudge. “Then we bleed. Then we got problems. Like winding up dead.” The ghost then takes Grudge to Hiroshima after the Japanese surrender in World War II – Grudge visited a hospital as part of his duties as a Navy commander and observed young girls who were gruesomely disfigured in the atomic blast. Grudge is unmoved by their plight.

Then comes the ghost of Christmas present (Pat Hingle), who is depicted as a reactionary glutton enjoying a huge dinner.  Next to his table is a barbed wire fence for a refugee camp where displaced persons live in squalor.  Grudge is appalled, especially when the ravenous ghost exaggerates Grudge’s isolationist politics.

[the Ghost of Christmas Present gorges himself at a banquet table, while barbed wired keeps out starving refugees] 
Daniel Grudge: How can you sit there and eat like that, when these people are starving? 
Ghost of Christmas Present: Oh? Do they bother you? 
[he snaps his fingers, the lights go out and the refugees disappear] 
Ghost of Christmas Present: Feel better? 

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The ghost of Christmas future (British actor Robert Shaw, wearing a white robe) escorts Grudge to the post-apocalyptic remains of his local town hall.  A raucous meeting is being chaired by a character called Imperial Me (played by Peter Sellers in his first role following a near-fatal heart attack earlier that year). This individual wears a ten-gallon hat, speaks in an LBJ-worthy twang, and bangs a huge gavel that bears the label “Giant Economy Size” while spouting the philosophy of every man for himself. “Each behind his own fence!” he exclaims. “Each behind his own barricade! Follow me, my friends and loved ones, to the perfect society! The Civilization of ‘I’!” Grudge’s African American butler shows up to make an impassioned speech about brotherhood, but a little boy holding a huge gun assassinates him.

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The film itself receives a very negative review at the time, and scanning the internet it still does, however, for me it sits well on this list, it is heavy-handed, but for me it was at a time that needed heavy-handed, it is a very bleak future that Serling and Mankiewicz depict here, there is no big change in Grudge’s attitude at the end, it feels like the apocalyptic nature of the future in this film is inevitable.  But without these heavy-handed films like this and ones that followed , perhaps the apocalypse would have been inevitable.  Mankiewicz  only uses a limited amount of big sets, but he does use them very well, the ghost of Christmas past, on a boat full of coffins of world war I dead, the ghost of christmas present eating a luxurious banquet, while the starving refugees stand on the other side of a fence, and of course the ghost of christmas future in the post apocalyptic setting of town hall, where the talking would have happened. This allows for Serling’s great script, characters debating with each other, Sterling Hayden gives a great performance as Grudge, and of course Sellers, who cannot fail when ever he is on-screen.

I may have rose-tinted glasses for any of Serling’s work, but I am firmly a fan of this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, the film itself is not available on dvd, but you can watch the whole film on you tube, linked below.

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45 – Fail-Safe (1964)

Posted in The 50 Apocalyptic films with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by Duane Patrick

And the Lord said, gentlemen, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”

Fail-Safe, written by Walter Bernstein from the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, directed by Sidney Lumet, 1964, 110 min.

It is very hard to talk of Fail-Safe without also mentioning Dr. Strangelove. Fail-Safe has always existed in the shadow of Dr.Strangelove, which I will look at in future weeks. The similarities between the two films caused a legal storm at the time, because the basic plots are indeed copies of each other (to put it diplomatically). I am glad that audiences over the years have recognized Dr. Strangelove for what it is — an absolutely unique work of genius — but I was also deeply impressed with Fail-Safe, which is a tight story, well directed and boasts great acting. Both movies do good work in emphasizing the profound lunacy of nuclear war.

The films were put into production and released only two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, this was the height of the cold war, tensions were at their height between America and the Soviets, this is represented with themes in this movie, there is never a Soviet character seen on-screen, however we do hear their voices, there is always a ‘do we trust them element’ and a really nice scene in the film is when an American general talks to his russian counterpart over the phone, they talk of both being in England during the second world war, where they would have been on the same side, and as they speak, the American General flicks through his counterparts file, putting a face to the voice.

The film’s plot deals with the chances of accidentally starting a nuclear war, through mechanical and human error, it also deals with the first strike mentality and could you successfully win a nuclear war. There is no score for the film at all, its shot in black and white, and intentionally minimalist sets, like a stage play. There is no establishing shots, of outside the buildings, and after an initial party scene,there is no shots of normal life, this goes against a lot of the apocalyptic motifs we have already seen, and will discuss again and again, the director Sidney Lumet, uses similar techniques in other films such as twelve angry men, and dog day afternoon. Lumet knows how he wants things to look, and he sets up the shots and the actors to reflect the action, something that can easily be missed in today’s movies. As the tension and suspense grows, the shots become closer, tighter. Cuts between scenes become quicker. Every aspect of filmmaking is accounted for in this film.

The acting especially makes it worth watching. Walter Matthau, usually seen in comedic roles, is exceptional here as a war-hungry political professor. Henry Fonda, a Lumet favourite, is excellent in his role as the President, playing him with a president-next-door kind of appeal that you have to see to understand, who has to make the toughest of decisions. There are some Twilight Zone favourites of mine in here also making their big screen debuts, Frank Overton and Fritz Weaver, their story in this film could well have played out as a Twilight Zone episode on its own, you would not be surprised if Rod Serling was to appear in the corner giving a narration.

This is not a happy film, and it goes against the typical conventions that you’ve come to expect from your typical war film, or Hollywood production in general, the ending is still as unexpected today as it must have been then. The pacing, directing and acting make this a must see apocalyptic film, and I would highly recommend seeing it before the world ends.

A brilliant 1960’s trailer for Fail-Safe, I love this style of trailer

A trailer showing some of the scenes

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