Movie Reviews

See all reviews By Wayne Engle

Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918): ( DVD) ~ Thomas A. Edison

5.0 out of 5 stars – Pure gold from film’s birth years, November 24, 2007

If you have any interest in the first years of American movies, this boxed set will fascinate you. Thomas A. Edison invented many of the processes that made motion pictures as we understand them possible. From his earliest, very brief test films made in his miniature studio the Black Maria, to the full-lenth feature “The Unbeliever” about a privileged man’s education in the trenches in World War I, you can watch Edison’s work become steadily more professional and entertaining.

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3:10 to Yuma:  (DVD) ~ Russell Crowe

3.0 out of 5 stars – Technically great — but…, November 13, 2007

This is one of those movies that are technically superb — great acting, the best in cinematography, a first-rate screenplay (albeit one that was filmed before, back in the 1950s). But at the heart of this movie, at the core of its concept, is moral rot. I’m from the old school of westerns. I don’t demand that my heroes be perfect — but I want them to be real heroes, nonetheless. I don’t expect that the townspeople will automatically rush forward to help the good guys win their struggle with the baddies. After all, “High Noon” and other classic westerns showed us ordinary, honest citizens who wouldn’t lift a hand to defend themselves from the scum of the prairie — who expected “the marshal” to do all their fighting for them.

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Blood & Black Lace: (DVD)  (2005) ~ Cameron Mitchell, Starring: Brian Cox

5.0 out of 5 stars – A more mature view, 43 years later, July 16, 2008

The first time I saw “Blood and Black Lace,” I was a 20-year-old GI getting ready to be shipped out to the Vietnam War. It fascinated me so much that I sat through viewing after viewing of it (movie houses would let you do that in those days without your having to buy another ticket). But my initial viewings as a very young man were to see the displays of female flesh (very tame by today’s standards) that the movie offered. Viewing the DVD now, from the perspective of my retirement years, I can see that there is far, far more to this trend-setting mystery than skin.

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Fargo: ( DVD) (1996) ~ William H. Macy – Starring: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand

5.0 out of 5 stars – Ja, dat vas a goot vun!, January 2, 2008

An American dialect not well known to most of us helps to raise this movie from the level of just another police drama almost to the definition of a new genre of film. Could you call it a “comedy-kill”? William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard, a Minneapolis car salesman, hires Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare), two thugs who are neither too smart nor too competent, to abduct his wife for ransom so he can split the loot (supplied by her father, Harve Presnell) with the two miscreants.  Lundegaard’s nefarious scheme leads ultimately to six murders before the case is solved by policewoman Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand) who displays a good instinct as a detective — and a seven-month pregnancy which she hauls around gamely, even to walking on heavy snow in the frozen Minnesota countryside.

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Oh Susanna: (DVD) (1936)

5.0 out of 5 stars – A fine musical “B” Western, December 9, 2007

Halfway into Gene Autry’s first full year of making feature westerns, he was getting the hang of it just fine in this tuneful but action-filled entry that mixes music, riding and fighting, comedy and romance in just the right proportions. Autry, a radio cowboy singer, is knocked out by a fleeing outlaw, Wolf Benson, while on a train. Benson changes clothes with the unconscious Autry and throws him out the window of the passenger car. Two traveling minstrels, Smiley Burnette and Earle Hodgins, find Autry, who recovers and goes into town with them, only to be arrested because the sheriff mistakes him for Wolf Benson, whose wanted posters show him in the clothes Gene is now wearing.

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Home on the Prairie: (DVD) (1939) ~ Gene Autry

4.0 out of 5 stars – An off-beat entry for Gene, October 10, 2007

Gene Autry’s westerns often required a certain suspension of disbelief, and that’s certainly true of this one, which involves Frog Millhouse’s temporary acquisition of a real, live elephant! Gene and Frog are county cattle inspectors who try to help save the herd of pretty young June Storey and her father, George Cleveland (later Gramps on TV’s “Lassie”) from being destroyed by the state veterinarian because of hoof and mouth disease. The bad guys are smuggling a herd which actually is infected with the fatal disease through to the railhead so they can sell them before the contagious condition becomes visible, and they have fooled the state official into thinking it is Cleveland’s herd which is actually afflicted.

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Rage At Dawn:  (DVD) (1955) ~ Randolph Scott; Forrest Tucker

5.0 out of 5 stars – Southern Hoosier “pioneers”, October 8, 2007

I had a special, selfish reason for enjoying this vintage western: The action all takes place within 25-50 miles of my hometown of Madison, IN. When I began watching the movie I thought it was just another western — until I heard the names “North Vernon” and “Seymour” mentioned. What a shock! This was one of Randolph Scott’s last few movies — he was 57 by this time, rather long in the tooth to be playing Mala Powers’ love interest. But he managed. After all, when you’re tall, have kept yourself in pretty good shape, and still have all your hair, with a distinguished gray cast, you can get away with that.

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Melody Ranch: (DVD) (1940) ~ Starring:Gene Autry & Jimmy Durante

4.0 out of 5 stars – Autry’s unique westerns, September 30, 2007

Like many of Autry’s pictures, this one’s different from your average run of B-westerns, all right, and that’s why some film reviewers over the years have acted as if Gene Autry’s movies gave them the toothache. But I believe his pictures have to be considered on their own merits, not according to some rigid formula, and on that basis I found this one funny, tuneful, with some excellent action, some good romantic scenes and beautiful cinematography, and a plot that, while it meanders a little, is nonetheless interesting and reasonably believable.
Radio singing cowboy Gene Autry returns to his hometown Torpedo to be proclaimed Honorary Sheriff. He finds that three brothers, bullies he remembers from his childhood, run the community, and he undertakes to bring real law, order and justice to his hometown.

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The Searchers – (DVD) (1956)  (John Wayne Collection)

5.0 out of 5 stars – Best of the westerns, November 5, 2008

Controversy has swirled around this western ever since its release in 1956. Chief among the criticisms leveled at it is John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards’ “racist” hatred of the Comanches, manifested from the first minute he sees his brother’s stepson, who is one-eighth Indian. In this day and age, when anything that smacks of “racism” is deemed to lower a work of art’s rating, Edwards’ freely voiced antipathy to the Indians is considered by many to be more than sufficient to demote this film from “Best Western of all time,” which some have called it.

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