Frozen, The Frozen North, The Fugitive, and a few more films

The Front Page (1931)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the same source material that became His Girl Friday nine years later. That movie is a classic, but this is just a movie. 

If you've seen His Girl Friday (and if you haven't, you should) you'll recognize the plot: Star reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) wants to quit, but editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) won't have it, especially while an execution is looming and a room full of reporters are looking for a unique angle. 

The reporters want the hanging rescheduled to better meet their deadlines, and they sit in a press room at the courthouse, trading jokes and insults and occasional racist quips.

#280  [archive]
APR. 22, 2024

There are laughs, and director Lewis Milestone gives the film some creative camerawork, but the acting is stilted, and most of the dialogue is barked or shouted. 

A larger problem is that there's no musical score, only dialogue, so it's an hour and a half with no relief from people barking and shouting.

But the biggest problem is that it's not His Girl Friday, so Hildy Johnson is a man, instead of being Rosalind Russell. A bunch of men barking at each other is inherently less funny and less interesting than having a woman bark back and win the arguments.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Frozen (2010)
Streaming free at Roku

Three young adults talk a ski lift operator into letting them have one last ride to the top, for a quick run down the mountain, despite word that "weather is coming in."

And then the staff forgets they're on the lift, and shuts everything down for the night. And it's near the end of the season, so the ski resort is only open on the weekends. And it's Sunday night, so they'll be up there for days. And remember, there's "weather" coming in.

There's the setup, and is it scary? Hell, yes. Before getting on the ski lift, one of the three has been annoying enough that seeing him Popsicled wouldn't be sad, but what about the other two? 

The film gets a little far-fetched, in ways I can't tell you about (spoilers and all). And when there's snow everywhere and talk of frostbite, but you can't see people's breath, you're in a movie, not on a ski lift. And that "weather" that's coming in? It never comes in. 

None of which matters. The film goes for goosebumps, and delivers goosebumps.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Frozen North (1922)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Did Buster Keaton ever try to be funny and fail? Doubtful.

Surprisingly, he's the bad guy here — robbing a tavern, shooting the wrong people dead, etc, in the snowy wilds of Canada. And who knew the subway went there? The snow looks real, and there's an igloo and ice fishing and a sled-dog team with chihuahuas. It's so far north, the North Pole is three miles south.

With half a dozen vignettes, The Frozen North runs 17 minutes, and never goes thirty seconds without a laugh. There's even a brief riff mocking Erich von Stroheim, a reference I might've missed if I hadn't seen Foolish Wives a few weeks ago.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

FTA (1972)
Streaming free at Kanopy, with your library card

FTA, of course, stands for Fuck The Army. As an antidote to Bob Hope's rah-rah performances for the troops, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland organized the "FTA" tour, offering vaudeville subversion to mostly-military crowds at or near bases in the Pacific Rim staging areas for the Vietnam War.

This is a film of their shows, interspersed with brief interviews with soldiers, whose impromptu remarks are among the best parts of the film. One of the grunts says, "You have to question, and I was always taught to question, but the service won't let you question because they don't have an answer. They only have a rule book."

During the shows, there are no chyrons telling who's performing, so you're largely lost unless someone's face is still famous fifty years later. If I'm correctly guessing who Pamela Donegan and Len Chandler are, they're terrific. Be forewarned: Jane Fonda cannot sing, but that doesn't stop her. There's also Michael Alaimo, Peter Boyle, Rita Martinson, Paul Mooney, and Holly Near, plus a cast of thousands. 

The funniest part of the show is when Sutherland covers the war by doing play-by-play as if it's a baseball game, but other than that, almost none of the comedy sketches struck me as funny. The troops laughed, though.

It's the movie's anarchic feel that recommends it, and it ends very unfunny, with Sutherland reading a passage from Dalton Trumbo's novel Johnny Got His Gun.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Fugitive (1993)

Here's the movie version of a great old-time TV show: Dr Richard Kimble has been falsely accused and convicted of murdering his wife, but escapes a death sentence when a train wreck luckily sets him loose. Inspector Gerard is always on his tail, only a step and a half behind. 

This version of The Fugitive is an entertaining and occasionally thrilling action-adventure. The story's resolution doesn't hold up if you stop and think about it, but you're not supposed to think about it — it's Hollywood entertainment, and a little better than the average of its genre. Thumbs up, definitely. End of review.

Now let's pause to ponder how an outstanding TV show becomes a slightly better-than-average genre movie.

It has a better train wreck, better helicopter chase, better stunts, and better screeching tire highway shots, but that's just money — any modern big-budget picture will top an old black-and-white show on such things. 

The moviemakers' smartest move was casting Tommy Lee Jones as its new Gerard — he's cockier, funnier, and more athletic than the TV show's Gerard, but it's clearly the same character, the same single-minded bloodhound's pursuit. Harrison Ford was a good choice to play Kimble, since the movie version of the character calls for no particular depth. It's just action, and for that it's tough to beat Ford in his prime. 

The movie's music, by James Newton Howard, is adequate if forgettable, but it's nothing next to the TV show's remarkably effective and evocative music by Pete Rugolo.

In a change for the better, Gerard is now a US Marshall, when on the show he'd been only a local cop, which never really made sense. Why would a local police department send a detective to chase an escaped prisoner all over the country?

Some of the changes are counterproductive, though. On the television show, Kimble and his wife had frequently argued, so accusations of murder were at least plausible, but the movie shows Kimble and his wife as being wildly happy together. 

By far the movie's biggest shortcoming, compared to the TV show, is that it's a movie. It's over in two hours. Even in the story's timeline, at most two or three days go by, between the train wreck and the happy ending.

The power and pathos of the TV show is that it ran for four years, which means Dr Kimble ran for four years — all over the country, always sweating and evading capture, always in peril, always alone, week after month after year. The show gathered momentum and emotional wallop, and often offered something to pause and think about, in ways a movie probably can't, and this one doesn't try. Because it's just another action movie.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fugitives for a Night (1938)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

John Nelson is a conceited movie star, trying to break his contract with the studio. Dennis Poole is another movie star, but treats everyone with warmth and respect. So there's your bad guy and good guy, and they're both suspected of killing the studio chief.

Here's the romantic element: Matt Ryan is a nice guy who wants to be an actor, but instead he's a stooge for the studio, protecting the stars from bad publicity. Ann Wray is sweet on Matt, but thinks he should find honest work instead of being a stooge. 

The screenplay is by Dalton Trumbo, and that's the only reason this was on my watchlist, but a week after watching it and writing the above, I remember dang near nothing about it. 

Verdict: NO.  

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fuji (1974)
Streaming free at Vimeo

This is an experimental short by Robert Breer, eight minutes about a Japanese train that's passing Mount Fuji in the distance.

It's mostly animation that changes perspective and colors several times each second, as a demonstration of how animation works. The frames move slowly at first, then pick up speed to create the illusion of movement, which is sometimes beautiful. There's no music, only clicking, to represent the noise of train wheels, or the projector whirling. 

Verdict: MAYBE.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Funeral (1996)
Funeral Home
Funny Face
Funny Girl
Funny Lady
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting recommendations for movies,
starting with the letter 'G'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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