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“OVER MY SHOULDER”

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Kudos go to CBS Film Division for "hitting one out of the park" in their first-ever film epic, "Extraordinary Measures" (2010), starring Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell as real-life John & Aileen Crowley, who have two young kiddos suffering from the insidious "Pompe's disease". From the best-seller by Geeta Anand comes the story of how a young successful biotech engineer abandons a lucrative career in order to set up his own company (and thereby avoiding any "conflict of interest" charges) to raise money to support research into this crippling disease that threatens to destroy his kiddos. Harrison Ford is at his absolute best playing the gnarly, argumentative medical researcher, Dr. Robert Stonehill; Crowley, having pored through tons of medical journals and research articles, isolates Stonehill's work as having the best chance to afford his family relief from Pompe's disease. Dr. Stonehill, a self-styled "theoretician", works tirelessly at a lab located on the Lincoln campus of Nebraska University, and at first is reluctant to leave his post and follow this unknown fanatical fund-raiser, but he eventually sees that the university isn't going to provide him the necessary half-million dollar grant he needs to bring his theoretical findings to the trial drug stage. Crowley, played by Brendan Fraser, excels in getting large venture capitalist firms to fund their research, which leads to several stages, buyouts, legal maneuvers, etc. ending up with Dr. Stonehill's theory being vindicated, and the drug is tested on both Crowley youngsters with positive results. Harrison Ford's portrayal of the irascible "Doctor Bob" is an epic performance-he's some a long way from "Han Solo" in Star Wars! I give "Measures" an 8.1 out of 10.0-rent it thru Netflix or RedBox. My "B.W. & I, along with lifelong friend Orville Redenbacher, found this to be an excellent "feel-good" flick!
Quite the opposite was "Grey Gardens" (1975), a somewhat quixotic look at a mother and daughter, Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale, and Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale, American aristocrats, whose major claim to fame is that they were aunt & cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier. In point of fact, the actress who played the-then Jackie Onassis, who pays a somewhat long-overdue visit to her aunts in the East Hamptons in 1971, does little more than a cameo appearance and isn't even given a film credit; but neither is Lee Radziwill, who also put up some cash for the project. She didn't even rate a character to play her part! By then, the two crones were living in total squalor in their run-down old mansion-by-the-sea. Jackie ponies up the "geetus" for an entire work crew who work all one summer restoring the place to a semblance of its former glory. Probably took a week just to clear out the trash that the ladies had let accumulate, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore play the aunt and her daughter well, and the aging makeup is judiciously done; one can readily believe their characters as they grow from femmes fatale to crochety, irascible, immovable "old broads". Though a true story, and represented well as such, one gets tired of watching two formerly "with it" ladies neglect their surroundings and thus their own lives. The viewer does hafta admire their hanging on to the ol' family place, though, despite continual harassment by local authorities, who want the place condemned. Jackie saves the day by fending off the wrecking ball. Shades of "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1963) with Queen of the Screen Bette Davis playing a similar role, come readily to mind! Pretty good story, but quickly becomes boring; its redeeming factor is the outstanding character roles played by Ms. Lange and Ms. Barrymore. I give this one about a 5.0 on a ten scale. Worth renting, but barely.
Even Orville kinda gagged on it. Hey, they cain't all be winners!

Next movie...
"I wish to have no connection whatever with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way." This quote attributed to American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones was the inspiration for James Bassett to write the novel from which the title "In Harm's Way" was derived. IHW has the distinction of being not only the last black ‘n white WW2 epic film, but coincidentally, the last b&w John Wayne film, before he stepped off into making a passel of Western films like "Rio Bravo" et al. Not that this is merely a "Duke" film-equally brilliant performances are given by Patricia Neal as Navy Nurse Maggie Haines, who becomes Rear Admiral Rockwell ("Rock"-what else?) Torrey's love interest. Though some critics panned this Otto Preminger piece as too complex, this writer feels-has always felt-that it really is not complex-well, no more than Life is complex. It is a story not only of war and strategy-with some really good sea battle scenes-but of military couples coping with fear, loneliness, and separation from one another, in a former paradise-at least up to December 7th, 1941, along with their reactions as they struggle to keep their sanity in a world suddenly gone mad. The only rival it has in its lofty perch, I believe, would be 1953's "From Here To Eternity", which is also rife with "tangled tales of men and women in the service".
Trusting that most of you have seen this movie, I'll not take up a lot of space describing the action, OR the characters and their interwoven stories, though it is extremely tempting to do so. Suffice it also to say that this writer ranks IHW right up there just a scosh below his (and The American Film Institute's) top choice of all time: "Casablanca". He confesses to seeing it probably over a dozen times, and even watches out for it with each new week's "TV Guide" section of the Dallas Morning News. Either Fox Movie Channel, or AMC, seldom lets him down! As mentioned, "The Duke" plays a Navy Captain who gets injured and loses his cruiser to a Jap submarine, on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. More to rehabilitate him than as punishment, Torrey is assigned desk duty routing supply convoys in the Pacific, until none other than Admiral Nimitz (played exquisitely by Henry Fonda) re-assigns him to combat duty and promotes him to Rear Admiral.

Along the way he is tended by "Nurse Maggie", and he finally meets his estranged Lieutenant son Jerry ("Jere") who he hadn't seen since he and his society-maven wife divorced when the boy was but four. A poignant scene occurs when the father meets son, who is with a group of PT boats. The initial resentment of the son soon fades; he had fallen in with an opportunistic officer Neal Owyyn (strange spelling!), played by Patrick O'Neal, but he soon learns that his father is the real hero, and he ditches his society-minded patron to stand by his father as he plans naval strategy against the Japanese. The scene were Kirk Douglas (Capt. Eddington) gives Neal Owyyn his comeuppance is a savage delight!
I really cannot heap enough praise upon both the actors and the film itself. Though not a real Otto Preminger fan, I must allow that he was at his directorial zenith with IHW. But how could he miss, with this cast? In addition to John Wayne and Patricia Neal, there was George Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Carroll O'Connor, Kirk Douglas, Tom Tryon (2 years after his triumphal role in "The Cardinal"), saucy Paula Prentiss, and Dana Andrews. Playing Torrey's petulant spoiled son was young Brandon de Wilde, whose promising life tragically ended at 30 in a motorcycle fatality. Comparisons to James Dean are inescapable: Both exited the stage way too early, and in similar fashion. My love of this film is obvious, I'll not try and be merely objective, but I'll bet you a beer at the 19th Hole you'd feel the same! I give this one a "10" out of 10, easily one of the top five movies ever made, and quite possibly the best military film on a long, long list.
Steve H Kehoe This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it