I mentioned before that Red River and The Searchers were two of John Wayne's best performances, I watched The Quiet Man again last night on TCM. Yup, I'd have to throw in this one as well to make it a trio for Wayne.
This film won the Oscar for best film. I didn't remember that. This is an old style biography featuring arguably
the best film actor of the '30's, Paul Muni. The first about 40% deals with Zola's early professional life as a struggling novelist/journalist. (There are some historical lapses here and at the very end of the movie, but before the action starts, there is a disclaimer which acknowledges that changes have been made.) Zola became the leading man of letters in France in the late 19th century. Then comes his involvement in "The Dreyfus Affair," which tore apart French society.
Dreyfus was a captain of artillery and a member of the French General Staff. (The fact that he was a Jew is glossed over in the film, but is was a major part of the furor.) He was accused of being a spy/traitor based on
a letter discovered discussing secret military information given to the German Military Attache. He was tried by a secret military tribunal and sent to Devil's Island for life. Dreyfus's wife approaches Zola for help.
By this time substantial information had emerged which very strongly indicated that another individual, Count
Esterhazy, was the real culprit. Zola writes an open letter to the President of France titled "J'accuse" where he indicts the French General Staff for a false conviction and a later cover-up.
Why you might find this film interesting even compelling is its relevance to our contemporary politics and judicial matters. Additionally, you get to see Muni in one of his signature roles. For those interested he was the original "Scarface" which is considerably easier to find than "... Zola." Highly recommended; it has aged surprisingly well, and the performances are almost universally excellent.
I haven't seen "...Zola" but I have seen a few other Paul Muni films, including "Scarface" and "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", both of which are also quite good. All of these movies get shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.
I debated the pros and cons of previewing this film. Probably many/most of you have seen this film,and I'm kind of a Civil War nerd so my own interest is suspect. However, this is well worth coming back to if you have seen it, and if you haven't, it's your loss. This is the first film that Turner produced for a theatrical showing. It is based on Michael Shaara's classic novel, "The Killer Angels." It took more than 15 years to bring to the screen.
Because of its length, 4 and 1/2 hours, it had only a limited showing in theatres, Turner made the money back with the huge success on cable and video sales. Perhaps the best story connected with
the film is told by Martin Sheen who played Robert E. Lee in the film. At the premier in Atlanta, Sheen was disturbed by an individual sitting behind him who was continually commenting on the action; he was prepared to make some comments, when he discovered at intermission that said disturber was the former president Jimmy Carter.
The film was made using 15,000 Civil War Re-inactors. One of my best friends was one of this large group of dedicated individuals who travel the country bringing their own weapons, uniforms, tents, and even historically accurate foodstuffs to the sites. Those who participated in the filming paid their way and saved the film hundreds of thousands dollars in costumes and props.
The plot should be familiar, but a few quick points for those who aren't particularly interested in history. Lee led The Army of Northern Virginia deep into the North. The plan was to draw the Union army out into the open to force a decisive battle. A Confederate victory would perhaps end the War; the Confederacy hoped that Lincoln would be forced to sue for peace. Gettysburg was of no strategic importance, but it was the hub of five roads. The Union troops were following a parallel path to Lee's forces. Union Calvary Commander, Buford, discovered the Confederate army. His two brigades of cavalry held up the Confederate advance so that the Union troops were able to occupy the high ground.
The next two days of battle had the Union forces holding the highpoints, but Lee's army was able to return to Virginia without further battles. Meede, the 6th Union commander of the Army of the Potomac, didn't pursue aggressively. The death toll for the battle on both sides is roughly equal to American deaths in Vietnam about 60,000.
The film follows almost exactly Shaara's novel. I should mention that some of the best parts of the film are the conversations between the principals. My favorite are those between Joshua Chamberlin, the Union hero
of the battle of Little Roundtop, and an Irish sergeant. They discuss what they are fighting for, and their views of humanity and God. This is Jeff Daniels best performance.
The battle scenes are enormously effective. It is disconcerting to see how close up most of the fighting and
dying was. Interestingly enough, another equally important battle took place simultaneously in Vicksburg, Mississippi where the Union army successfully ended the siege. Lincoln famously remarked that "the Father of the Waters flows unvexed into the sea." This was the begining of the end of the war. On July 4th 1863,
Lincoln was able to see the the hoped for reunion of the states. In November of 1863 Lincoln delivered one of the greatest speeches in English at the opening of the National Cemetery. He wasn't even the principal speaker, but that's another story.
The extras and the commentaries are excellent. This an excellent choice for a family viewing party for Memorial Day or the Fourth. See this again or for the first time, you won't regret it. One final note , it has been argued that the film doesn't deal with slavery in an adequate manner. The national view of the Civil War has changed, when the film was made no one thought of Lee as a traitor, and Civil War monuments weren't being torn down.
This film has definitely entered into popular culture. What can I say which isn't superfluous? Only Bill Murray could have played this role with the obnoxious nastiness the role required. The real turning point in the movie is when he attempts to help the homeless man. Up to that point all of Phil's actions have been about himself.
Phil asserts that no one would die on February 2nd; he fails in that one case. However, he finds and keeps appointments rescuing citizens of Punksatawney from choking, falling from a tree, breaking up at the alter, and dealing with a flat tire. We know that he is no angel, he gripes that the boy he catches falling from a tree never thanks him. Still this Phil has become a better person. Yes, he has acquired some amazing skills:snow and ice sculpture, professional level piano playing, and superior skill tossing cards into a hat. He has even cured a man's back problems, and his coverage of the groundhog's emergence has become so expert that all the assembled media use his coverage of this event. The auction at the Groundhog Day Ball shows that other people see him differently, Rita, his producer, has to pay top dollar for him at the bachelor auction.
It is interesting that many different religious groups found the film relevant and uplifting. His relationship with
Rita is central to his transformation. Jack Nicholson remarks in another film: "You make me want to be a better man." Rita, Andie McDowell, does that for Phil. Roger Ebert remarks in his review in volume 3 of "The Great Films" that Phil has not become an angel but that he can now see the angel.
The gags are still funny, and like the instances where they change like stepping off the curb into the puddle, they still have an element of surprise. The final instance when he wakes fully clothed in bed with Rita and hears "I've Got You Babe" on the radio, has it really become February 3rd? He goes to the window and sees no crowds heading to Gobbler's Notch, yes, he now has a life with a future.
This film is one of my all-time favorites; I included it in my list for the 'Yard tournament. Hopefully, this intro will convince you to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, Groundhog Day in Punksatawney, Pa. One final note; it was filmed outside of Chicago.