Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Two Popes, Dodsworth, Lord of the Flies, & Shane

A bad cold (or maybe the flu) kept me out of movie theaters for the last couple of weeks. I spend a lot of time watching beloved films with their commentary tracks. But I did stream four films I’d never seen before, or hadn’t seen in a very long time.

A- The Two Popes (2019), Netflix

The Vatican really must have wanted this film to be made. Much of it was shot there, and Pope Francis is the hero – albeit a deeply flawed one. Two of England’s great aged actors, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, play Pope Benedict and his future successor, Pope Francis, as they get to know each other over the years before Benedict’s abdication. At first it seems morally simple, but that changes. The future Francis wants to help the poor and oppressed, while Benedict wants nothing to change…even if priests are getting away with child rape. But both have terrible sins in their pasts, and the film doesn’t really delve into Benedict’s Nazi youth the way it does with Francis’ collaboration with the Argentinian junta.

B+ Dodsworth (1936), Criterion Channel

A middle-aged capitalist (Walter Huston) sells his company and takes his wife to Europe for what they assume will be a never-ending vacation. But the wife (Ruth Chatterton), fearful that age is taking away her beauty, flirts too much and the marriage is soon in trouble. That sounds like a ’30s comedy, but it’s actually a ’30s drama – and a relatively believable one, too. With much of the film set in France, Austria, and Italy, you can’t help wondering about the rise of fascism, which never comes up in the movie.

Director William Wyler guides the cast into excellent performances, while producer Samuel Goldwyn made sure the that production is sparklingly expensive. Screenwriter Sidney Howard adapted Sinclair Lewis’ novel. I don’t know how the ending got through the production code of that era.

C+ Lord of the Flies (1963), Criterion Channel

Peter Brook’s adaption of William Golding’s novel disappointed me considerably. A plane crash leaves a group of English schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island, where most of the boys revert to a savage, dog-eat-dog existence, attacking the few nice kids who keep their stiff upper lips. This is unquestionably a message movie, but it’s hard to say what the message is supposed to be. That civilization is just a thin veneer over human cruelty? That hunting makes people mean? That the British school system turns boys into monsters? It certainly tells us that people in proper clothing are better than those that paint their faces and hunt with sharpened sticks.

C- Shane (1953) Amazon Prime Video

I can’t figure out why so many people consider this a great western. The title character (Alan Ladd) enters the movie with a ridiculous shirt. When he switches to more reasonable clothing, they’re always clean and pressed. The two fistfights border on genre parody – without being funny. The farmers vs. open range plot had been done to death long before 1953. The overdone music keeps reminding you how you’re supposed to feel. And the closing cry of “Shane, come back!” is as pleasant as a dentist’s drill. I saw Shane once before, some 30 or 40 years ago, and wondered why it was so loved. I still don’t know.

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