TCM is in the middle of its annual Summer Under the Stars festival featuring blocs of films with favorite actors and actresses. At the moment they are running films starring Randolph Scott that continue through tomorrow morning. You may want to set your DVR tonight for Ride the High Country (1962, directed by Sam Peckinpah). Regardless of the star, every film played this month demonstrates the superiority of the old Hollywood to the current version.
Marlon Brando’s turn came over the weekend. TCM included the rarely seen Reflections In a Golden Eye (1967) in the Brando lineup. I love concision and therefore admired the one-sentence précis served up by my cable provider. It went something like this: “Married to lusty Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando is feeling homosexual on an Army base in the South.”
Filmed in Technicolor, the color elements were drained in post-production to give the film a sepia tone. Director John Huston may have taken the “golden eye” thing too literally, though I’m sure he had an artistic purpose in mind. Not appreciating the effect, the studio restored the color for commercial release. Thankfully, TCM showed an original print. It is something to behold.
However, I wondered what Huston saw in the story (based on the Southern Gothic novel by Carson McCullers). Huston followed up on his interest in the Southern Gothic genre at the end of the next decade with the terrific Wise Blood (1979), based on Flannery O’Connor’s novel. It occasionally turns up on TCM as well.
My point here, and I do have one, is that TCM is featuring films starring Toshiro Mifune on August 19. TCM has posted an excellent account of Mifune’s career by Rebecca Kumar here.
Within the lineup of 11 films starring Mifune is a set that makes for a mini Kurosawa festival. Using TCM summaries, I want to note these masterpieces scheduled to run on August 19:
Rashomon (1950) is the classic Oscar-winning tale, set in the eighth century, in which various characters provide differing accounts of the same incident – the rape of a bride and the murder of her samurai husband. Mifune plays the notorious outlaw who claims to have seduced the wife.
Seven Samurai (1954) is another hugely influential classic – an epic samurai drama about a village of farmers in 1586 who hire seven rōnin (masterless samurai) to combat bandits who plot to steal their crops. Mifune is Kikuchiyo, a rogue who lies about being a samurai but proves himself as a warrior.
Throne of Blood (1957) is an historical drama in which Kurosawa transplants the story of Macbeth from medieval Scotland to feudal Japan. Mifune stars as the Macbeth character.
Yojimbo (1961) is a samurai adventure about a wandering rōnin known as Kuwabatake Sanjuro (Mifune), who arrives in a small town where two competing crime lords try to hire him as a bodyguard.
High and Low (1963) is a police drama starring Mifune as a wealthy executive who is told that his son has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. The executive faces a moral dilemma after he realizes that his chauffeur’s son was taken by mistake.
Kurosawa’s films are entertaining and great on their own terms. They were also highly influential on a generation or two of American filmmakers. Kurosawa was a great artist. The films above are some of the greatest ever made.
Not surprisingly, Kurosawa loved Shakespeare. Throne of Blood gives us Macbeth as Ran (not in the August 19 lineup) gives us King Lear, Japanese style. That is what goes under the denomination of cultural appropriation in today’s parlance. Can Kurosawa do that? Yes, he can. Kurosawa shows how and why it’s done.
Kurosawa’s samurai films appropriate the genre of the Western from Hollywood. They seem to me to rank up there with the Westerns of John Ford. Hollywood returned the favor in The Magnificent Seven, adapted from Seven Samurai. It’s a beautiful world.
The cultural appropriation continues in High and Low. The film is based on the police procedural A King’s Ransom, by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter), but goes far beyond it. It is an amazing film.
At the opening we meet businessman Kingo Gondo as he is engaged in raising funds to buy out the shoe manufacturing company he runs. Having raised the funds to save the company in the form he seeks to build on, he is told that his son has been kidnapped for ransom. He will have to use the funds to ransom his son. It is a decision he doesn’t agonize over. He doesn’t give it a second thought.
It turns out, however, that the kidnapper has mistakenly taken the servant’s son. Now what? That is a decision over which Gondo agonizes for a night. The drama is excruciating.
The second half of the film depicts the police pursuit of the kidnapper. In an unforgettable scene toward the end of the film, Gondo seeks out the kidnapper in prison. He wants to meet the man who threw his life off-course. In a moment of deep humanity, the kidnapper’s reflected face is superimposed over Gondo’s. You can glimpse the image in the first few seconds of A.O. Scott’s comments on the film from the Times’s Critics Picks series in the video below.
Here again is the link to TCM’s August schedule. Clint Eastwood comes up on August 21 and Peter Sellers on August 31.