Fred Kaplan

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Fred Kaplan  |  Jan 23, 2013  |  0 comments
Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion remains, 75 years on, one of the greatest films ever made. To some, it may seem a bit clichéd, but that’s only because so many movies since have cribbed from its plot lines. It takes place in German POW camps during the First World War and was shot on what many recognized at the time as the eve of a Second World War. One of the things it’s about is the world that vanished, for better and for worse, in the two decades between the two wars. There has been much debate over just which “great illusion” Renoir was referring to in his title. Some have assumed it’s war. But this is not a simple anti-war movie; at the end, our French heroes, who have escaped from the camp, can’t wait to get home so they can reenlist in the fighting.
Fred Kaplan  |  Aug 14, 2012  |  0 comments
There are few more enduring classics of American theater than Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, an over-the-top, sweaty steam bath of a play that straddles Greek tragedy and Gothic camp yet still commands attention, even astonishes, 65 years after its creation. The show ran on Broadway for two years; the film adaptation was shot two years after that; both were directed by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando. This was only Brando’s second film. He was 27 years old. And despite all the subsequent parodies of his sultry pout and his mumblecore rage (“Stella! Stel-l-l-laaa!”), he was a blazing-hot actor. It’s a natural heat that he radiates, and he modulates it seamlessly, from simmer to boil and all shades in between. Brando’s amazing to watch: The acting is all there on the surface, yet he’s so immersed in his character, it seems completely uncontrived. You see the moves and attitude that countless actors later copied, but none of them ever matched this. (That said, his performance in Kazan’s On the Waterfront three years later was even better, subtler.)
Fred Kaplan  |  Sep 23, 2011  |  1 comments
Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a nifty film noir with brisk dialogue (by noir novelist Jim Thompson) and brushstroke characters. It features a taut narrative within a daringly fitful structure (the plot starts over and over, charting the events from different points of view, leading up to the climax) and an ending straight out of O. Henry. The story line is fairly conventional—a racetrack heist, the mastermind who devises it, and the gang of misfits who try to pull it off. But the theme—human foibles trumping the best-laid plans—anticipates many Kubrick films to come, notably Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is also the first film where Kubrick, just 28 years old, displays a master director’s touch: a keen visual sense, both for the composition of the frame and for the fluid camera motion (it seems to be moving almost constantly). The acting is a bit outsized, but so it is in most Kubricks, and as with most, it fits the movie’s mood. This one marks his first association with Sterling Hayden, who’s very fine as the methodical planner: mordantly witty, slow-burning with desire to break through life’s trappings, and in the end stoic about his prospects.
Fred Kaplan  |  Aug 30, 2011  |  0 comments
John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King is one of those great films the likes of which “they don’t make anymore” (and, in fact, they rarely did), a grand tale of adventure and greed set against the great outdoors and the judgment of Nature. It’s based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel, but in many ways, it’s a throwback to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which Huston also directed, nearly 30 years earlier. This movie’s prospectors are former soldiers in Britain’s colonial army, seeking power and fortune by conquering tribal warlords in the mountains of Afghanistan, rather than American ne’er-do-wells panning for gold in the foothills of Mexico. But the outcome is the same: Our (anti-) heroes win everything then lose it all through avarice and arrogance. In Treasure, they dig up more gold than they can carry (or their capacity for mutual trust can endure); in King, they stumble into a cavern of riches, but one of them starts believing he really is a god (as they’ve tricked the natives into thinking), until the act is exposed.