The Flame and the Arrow 1950 Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Following in the footsteps of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Burt Lancaster swashbuckled to beat the band. In the time of Frederick Barbarossa, Dardo Bartoli (Lancaster) gets entangled in politics/civil war, and freeing an ingénue to marry the right man. You really don’t need to know more than that. Lancaster’s acrobatic skills are impressive. Warner’s offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that the star didn’t perform his own stunts for the film. With Virginia Mayo and Nick Cravat. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Come Back Little Sheba 1952 Adapted from the play by William Inge. Directed by Daniel Mann. The story of a loveless marriage whose fault line is tested by a young woman who rents a room. Recovering alcoholic “Doc” Delaney (Lancaster) dropped out of college to marry Lola (Shirley Booth- Academy Award Best Actress) when she got pregnant. The child died. Doc drowned what might’ve been a medical career. His wife is tender and solicitous. She knows why he married her. Doc is sober, but bitter.
Marie (Terry Moore) rents a room in the house. When she brings home a track star, her landlord is offended and jealous. Marie has a fiancé. She seemed so innocent. He observes the couple entering her bedroom. Marie sends the boy packing, but Doc doesn’t see that part of the scenario, gets drunk and goes on a rampage that continues at home. His AA friends cart him off to the hospital. When he gets back…A primer on naturalistic acting. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Rainmaker 1956 Adapted from the N. Richard Nash Play. Directed by Joseph Anthony. The Depression era, drought-ridden Midwest. Spinster Lizzy Curry (Katharine Hepburn) spends her days and nights taking care of two brothers (Lloyd Bridges, Earl Holliman) and her father H.C. (Cameron Prud’ Homme) on their cattle ranch. She’s sweet on Deputy Sheriff J.S. File (Wendell Corey). An inveterate bachelor, he avoids her family’s dinner invitations.
When Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster) drives his clattering wagon into town promising rain for a fee, her father hires the con man out of desperation despite cynical Lizzie’s objections. Starbuck makes Lizzie see herself as she never has before, offering appreciation, instilling pride. File gets angry then jealous. The rainmaker is “exposed,” but fate steps in. A really good film. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Sweet Smell of Success 1957 Based on the novel by Ernest Lehman which was based on his own experience working as an assistant to Irving Hoffman, a New York press agent and columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) will do anything to get his clients into the influential, nationally syndicated column of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Neither man has a moral compass.
Sidney strikes a deal to break up the burgeoning romance of JJ’s young sister, Susan (Susan Harrison) and clean cut jazz musician, Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), in exchange for client coverage. He plants both rumors and marijuana damaging Dallas’ reputation. Susan believes none of it. When JJ locks her up, she attempts suicide rather than remaining under his thumb. Sidney’s failure has brutal repercussions. Cinematography and screenplay are both outstanding. Biting Noir. Free with Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Elmer Gantry 1960 Based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis. Adapted and Directed by Richard Brooks. Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards. Motor mouth traveling salesman, Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster), is attracted to tent evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). He pretends to be saved with a “Christ in commerce” speech that goes so well Gantry becomes part of the “show.”
Testifying elongates until he’s preaching as much as Sister Sharon. While Gantry rails of fire and brimstone, she keeps to grace. Larger and larger venues beckon. Sister Falconer is taken in.
Old flame, now prostitute Lulu Bains (Shirley Jones) vengefully blackmails Gantry for dumping her by secretly having photos taken. Despite his coming up with the money, she has them printed in the paper. When he comes to her aid, she recants, but locals have been stirred up. Gantry must leave. He asks Sister Sharon to give up her “mission” and go away with him. The tent catches fire….Dean Jagger is excellent as Sharon’s manager. Terrific Lancaster. Good story, great ending. Free with Amazon Prime.
Birdman of Alcatraz 1962 A fictionalized version of the life of Robert Stroud, a prison inmate known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz.” Adapted from the book by Thomas E. Gaddis. As a young man, Robert Stroud is imprisoned for a murder he commits. Initial time in prison is volatile and punishing. When his devoted mother gets a death sentence commuted to life, it comes with the stipulation of solitary confinement.
One day Stroud (Burt Lancaster) rescues and heals a wounded sparrow. With the warden’s permission, he orders more birds. Other inmates follow suit and ask his advice. Gradually Stroud becomes an expert, even going into an avian remedy business with an outsider.
Moved to Leavenworth, he’s not allowed to keep the birds. Though at odds with authority, he helps stop a prison riot and is transferred to a less hard core prison. Confinement is palpable, acting subtle. Former inmates say that Stroud was a horrible man – not as Lancaster played him. With Karl Malden and Thelma Ritter. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
The Swimmer 1968 Based on a story by John Cheever. Written and Directed by Eleanor Perry and Frank Perry. At an affluent Connecticut drinks party, fit, middle-aged Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) realizes he could probably swim his way home in neighboring pools and decides to try.
At each house, he encounters and gets involved with lives of residents, some of whom share bad history with the increasingly possessed swimmer. As his past catches up with him, Ned loses his grasp on reality. Think David Hockney marries Edward Hopper. A sharp portrait of vapid class. With Marge Champion, Janice Rule, Kim Hunter AND Joan Rivers. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Field of Dreams 1989 Written and Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. A fantasy about belief in the impossible, family, America, and baseball. When Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) plows out part of his Iowa cornfield to create a full size baseball diamond because of a voice that tells him, “If you build it, he will come,” everyone thinks he’s crazy except his wife (Amy Madigan).
In search of reason for the message, he travels to Chicago and literally breaks in on reclusive 1960s author Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones). At first irascible, Mann agrees to accompany the crazy farmer only when he too gets a glimpse of what Ray is experiencing that can’t be ignored. The next “clue” leads the pair to Minnesota where they meet Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster) who gave up a promising career in baseball to become a country doctor. The three travel back to Iowa.
Once home, Ray is warned by his brother, Mark (Timothy Busfield) that the bank will imminently reclaim the farm and encourages him to sell. Suddenly, the diamond is occupied by players. Ray discovers the meaning of the message. Both the doctor and Terrance make radical choices. This was Lancaster’s last film role. It’s small. He’s marvelous. The film itself is a pleasure. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
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