Marilyn Monroe Shines in RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954)

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River of No Return - posterStreaming Video Review:  RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954)

by

Michael Arruda

I recently reviewed MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011), the Oscar nominated flick about Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) filming THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh.)  Watching that movie and enjoying Michelle Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe, got me in the mood to watch a Marilyn Monroe film.

I decided to choose one I hadn’t seen before, and so I went with RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954), now available on Streaming Video.  In RIVER OF NO RETURN, Monroe co-stars with Robert Mitchum, and I have to say, it’s one of the finest performances by Marilyn Monroe that I’ve seen, mostly because it was so refreshing.  Monroe is not cast as a ditzy blonde but as a strong-willed feisty frontier woman, and she pulls it off nicely.

In RIVER OF NO RETURN, Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), recently released from jail after serving time for murder, is reunited with his young son Mark (Tommy Rettig) at a gold rush town.  Before returning home together, Mark asks to say goodbye to the woman who’d been looking out for him, a saloon hall singer named Kay Weston (Marilyn Monroe).

Later, at their farm, Matt and Mark are approached by Kay and her gambler husband Harry (Rory Calhoun).  The couple is traveling by raft to the next town to register a mining claim Harry won in a poker game.  When Matt refuses to give Harry his only horse and rifle, Harry steals them and leaves his wife Kay behind.  Something tells me Harry isn’t winning any Husband of the Year Awards!

When Indians attack the farm, Matt, Mark, and Kay have no choice but to escape onto the river using Harry’s abandoned raft, and thus begins the excitement in this old-fashioned adventure yarn which pits Mitchum and Monroe against the natural elements of a raging river, a hungry mountain lion, vicious Indians, and ultimately, the weasel of a husband, Harry Weston.

RIVER OF NO RETURN is a fairly entertaining movie, standard western fare from the 1950s.  The script by Frank Fenton, based on a story by Louis Lantz, isn’t anything special.  The story of three people against a raging river is a good one, but compared to some of the classic westerns of the decade, it doesn’t measure up.

We don’t know a lot about Matt or Kay for one thing.  We know that Matt seems to be a good guy, but he served time for shooting a man in the back, and his character is darkened by a jarring rape scene in which he attacks Kay.  Thankfully for her, a hungry mountain lion comes along and Matt has to rush off to protect his son.  After a scene like this, one has to ask, how good a guy can he be?

Yet, Monroe’s Kay falls for him anyway, setting the stage for a happy ending that comes as no surprise.  This is 1950s cinema, after all.

Kay isn’t clearly defined either.  She keeps telling Matt that if he only knew the truth about her husband Harry, he wouldn’t hate him so much for stealing his horse and rifle.  But the only truth we continually see about Harry is that he’s a jerk and a weasel.  I’m not sure what Kay is talking about.  Is she a poor judge of character?  All her other actions imply that she’s a pretty smart person.

RIVER OF NO RETURN showcases some colorful cinematography by Joseph LaShelle, with some breathtaking background shots of the mountains of the northwest.  But the river scenes with Monroe and Mitchum on the raft were obviously shot in studio, and they look it.

The film was directed by Otto Preminger, a first-rate director, but RIVER OF NO RETURN is simply not on par with the classic westerns of the decade, films like THE SEARCHERS (1956) and HIGH NOON (1952).

But Marilyn Monroe is impressive, and by far, she’s the best part of the movie.  She has such a screen presence.  It’s difficult to take your eyes off her, and not just for the obvious reasons. She has a charisma here that is exhilarating.

While I certainly enjoyed Monroe in such films as SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), in those movies she’s playing the role she will be forever identified with:  the ditzy blonde.  Here in RIVER OF NO RETURN, she’s not ditzy at all.  I had a lot of fun watching Monroe act, realizing just how good she was, and really just sitting back and enjoying her performance.  It’s easy to see based upon her performance in this movie that Monroe had a range that was rarely exploited.  It makes her untimely death all the more tragic.

Robert Mitchum is also very good, understated as usual.  I can’t say that this was one of his better roles however.  Matt Calder is a weird character, unsavory at times, heroic at others.  I found him kind of creepy, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers.

And for you classic TV buffs, young Tommy Rettig who played the son, Mark, would go on to entertain TV audiences that same year as Jeff Miller on the LASSIE TV show.  Rettig would play Jeff for three years, before being replaced by Jon Provost as Timmy Martin for the show’s next seven years.

RIVER OF NO RETURN is nothing spectacular.  We’re not talking four star classic here.  However, it’s a phenomenal showcase for Marilyn Monroe’s acting abilities, and for that, I enjoyed it immensely.

So, if you’re in the mood for a river trip, take a ride on that raft with Monroe and Mitchum on the RIVER OF NO RETURN.  It’s an entertaining, colorful excursion, and hey, Monroe even sings.

Better yet, she acts.

—END—

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: PSYCHO (1960)

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Anthony Perkins has some things to say as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960)

Anthony Perkins has some things to say as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960)

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  PSYCHO (1960)

By

Michael Arruda

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

 

So says Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in PSYCHO (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece shocker, the film that changed the way people take showers.

Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at memorable quotes from the movies.  Today we look at PSYCHO, the classic thriller starring Anthony Perkins as everybody’s favorite cross-dresser and knife-wielding maniac, Norman Bates.  The film also stars Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and John Gavin.

There are a lot of neat quotes in this movie, most of them coming from Perkins’ Bates.  So here are some of the better ones for your reading pleasure, quotes from PSYCHO, screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch.

Some of my favorite exchanges are between Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, after she makes the fateful decision to stop and spend the night at the Bates Motel.  Speaking of which, she should have known immediately that the place was trouble, as soon as she asked Norman her initial question.

MARION CRANE:  Do you have any vacancies?

NORMAN BATES:  Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, Twelve vacancies.

 Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

But alas, Marion doesn’t run away.  She spends the night.  Her last night alive, as it turns out.

But before she takes that fateful shower, she accepts Norman’s invitation to join him in his office for a small simple dinner.

NORMAN:  You eat like a bird.

MARION (looks at the stuffed birds in the room):  And you’d know, of course.

NORMAN:  No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression ‘eats like a bird’ is really a fals-fals-falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But  I don’t really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things. You know – taxidermy.

Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

Just before this dinner get-together, Marion overhears an argument between Norman and his mother up at the main house.

MOTHER:  No! I tell you no! I won’t have you bringing some young girl in for supper! By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap, erotic fashion of young men with cheap, erotic minds!

NORMAN:  Mother, please…!

MOTHER:  And then what? After supper? Music? Whispers?

NORMAN:  Mother, she’s just a stranger. She’s hungry, and it’s raining out!

MOTHER:  Mother, she’s just a stranger! As if men don’t desire strangers! As if… ohh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy? Go on, go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food… or my son! Or do I have tell her because you don’t have the guts! Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?

NORMAN:  Shut up! Shut up!

And then later at dinner, Norman tries to explain his mother’s behavior to Marion.

NORMAN:  It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

Some of the more intriguing exchanges occur when Marion’s boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) and sister Lila (Vera Miles) talk to Sheriff Chambers, as they investigate Marion’s disappearance.

SHERIFF:  Your detective told you he couldn’t come right back because he was going to question Norman Bates’ mother. Right?

LILA:  Yes.

SHERIFF:  Norman Bates’ mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cenetery for the past ten years!

SAM:  You mean the old woman I saw tonight wasn’t Bates’ mother?

SHERIFF:  Now wait a minute, Sam, are you sure you saw an old woman?

SAM:   Yes! In the house behind the motel! I called and I pounded, but she just ignored me!

SHERIFF:   You mean to tell me you saw Norman Bates’ mother?

LILA:  It had to be, because Arbogast said so too. And the young man wouldn’t let him see her because she was too ill.

SHERIFF:  Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates… who’s that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery?

Who, indeed?

And of course my favorite quote of the entire movie might be its last line, as Norman sits in a prison cell, thinking thoughts in his mother’s voice.

NORMAN (as Mother):  They’re probably watching me.  Well, let them.  Let them see what kind of a person I am.  I’m not even going to swat that fly.  I hope they are watching— they’ll see.  They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!

 

Well, that’s it for now.  Thanks for joining me on MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the PSYCHO edition.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

THE FAMILY (2013) – An Uneven Mix of Drama and Comedy

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The-Family-2013-Movie-PosterMovie Review:  THE FAMILY (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

True, when I saw the trailers for THE FAMILY, I didn’t think much of it, but how could I not see a movie starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, two of my favorite actors?  I like De Niro in pretty much anything he’s in, and way back when, Michelle Pfeiffer as the Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS (1992) was the hottest thing going.

In spite of my misgivings about this movie, I was eager to see the two actors in action.  That being said, THE FAMILY is a rather odd movie.  Its tale of a former mobster hiding out in the witness protection program who has to move constantly because both he and his nutty family can’t seem to stop killing people has screwball comedy written all over it, but this isn’t the path  this movie takes.

It follows a far more subtle path and tries to be a sophisticated comedy-drama that is oftentimes as elegant as the rich Italian dinners Pfeiffer’s character prepares.  But the subtlety here is juxtaposed against both serious scenes of violence including some graphic mob hits, and comedic over-the-top ones, played for laughs, making this movie a difficult one to figure out.  It’s as if the filmmakers weren’t sure what kind of movie they wanted to make— comedy, drama, comedy-drama, dark comedy, or nuttiness unchained— but one thing is for sure, regardless of intent, the whole thing would have worked better with a sharper script.

THE FAMILY opens with a jarring mob hit, as the underworld is out to get the former Giovanni Manzoni, a former mafia boss who ratted out his associates and now goes by the name Fred Blake (Robert De Niro).  Blake and his family, his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), teen daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) and teen son Warren (John D’Leo), have relocated to Normandy, France, under the protection of CIA Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones.)

Stansfield is frustrated with Blake because he can’t seem to stay out of the limelight, and as a result the CIA has to relocate him and his family every few months.  Stansfield is fighting a losing battle, because it’s not only Blake— who goes out when he’s not supposed to, and talks openly with neighbors when he should be keeping a low profile— but his wife and kids.  When the local store owner insults his wife Maggie, she turns around and blows up his store.  When some boys try to take advantage of Belle, she beats them silly, and likewise, young Warren is up to no good in school as well, building up a criminal resume that would make his dad proud.

Because the Blakes are not subtle, it’s not that difficult for the mobsters to find them, and when they do, they send in a massive hit squad to wipe out Blake and his family.  Of course, his family, being who they are, are not about to go down without a fight.

The biggest problem with THE FAMILY is it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a comedy or a drama.  When Maggie blows up the store, it’s supposed to be funny.  When the mob’s hit squad attacks the Blakes at the end of the movie, this part is played seriously, with ample tears, blood and death.

As a result, while earlier I had laughed here and there, during the ending, I wasn’t laughing at all, as thing were played straight.

The film could certainly have benefitted from stronger writing.  The comedy could have been funnier and the drama darker.

Most of the comedy misfires.  There’s a scene for example where De Niro’s Fred is signed up to give a talk about a movie, and it turns out to be GOODFELLAS (1990).  This should be an uproarious moment, but it hardly garners a laugh.

One of the funnier gags is De Niro’s various uses of the F-word.  When Maggie complains that he uses it too much, he explains that he has to because it has different meanings depending on the situation and on the way one says it.  He goes on to demonstrate, in one of the film’s funnier scenes.

But the scenes with his teen children— and I hate to point this out, but isn’t De Niro a bit old to playing a dad of teen kids at this point?— mostly misfire.  The humor is all off, and as a result in spite of some decent acting performances by Dianna Agron and John D’Leo, they’re not very likable characters.  Plus Agron gets stuck in a subplot in which she has a crush on a student teacher that is about as realistic as an old BRADY BUNCH episode.

Luc Besson, who also directed, wrote the screenplay with Michael Caleo, based on the book by Tonino Benacquista.  There are plenty of set-ups for some decent comedy, but time and time again the writing fails to deliver, and the jokes just don’t work.  The story is also not dark enough to completely work as a drama either.

Besson has a ton of writing credits, so he has plenty of experience, but that didn’t seem to help him here.  He fares better as a director, as I liked the look of this one, very polished, and it captures the mood of a gangster film.

A lot of emphasis is placed on food in this movie, from characters complaining about the rich creams of French food, to Michelle Pfeiffer going on about the benefits of olive oil, to elegant Italian dishes, to Robert De Niro preparing a barbecue.  I found myself hungry by the time this one was over.

I did enjoy the two performances of the leads, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.  De Niro can play a mobster in his sleep by this point, and he’s certainly fun to watch here.  I probably enjoyed Pfeiffer the most in this movie, as she cracked me up just with her fiery personality.  Imagine how funny she could have been with a better script!

Tommy Lee Jones was good as well, but to a lesser degree since he enjoys far less screen time than De Niro and Pfeiffer.  And again, both Dianna Agron and John D’Leo deliver decent performances as the Blake teen children, but the characters they play are rather annoying.

I would have enjoyed THE FAMILY far better had it either been flat out funny or a much darker drama, or even a well balanced mix of the two.  As it stands, it’s an uneven hodgepodge of light and dark, a dish that’s not easy to digest, like that French cream poured on a barbecued burger served on a heap of olive oil pasta.

—END—

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – Deleted Scene

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Severed head in a scene cut from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Severed head in a scene cut from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – Deleted Scene

 

Here’s a picture of the rotting severed head, in a scene cut from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), the Hammer classic that made international stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

The photo on the right shows Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein holding the head from the body he’d recently robbed from a gibbet, the body of a highwayman who’d been terrifying the countryside.  Earlier, when Victor Frankenstein examines the body, he laments that he can’t use the head, since the birds had pecked away at it, making it unsuitable for his new creation.  So, Victor cuts the head off and then disposes of it in his vat of acid.

When Victor cuts off the head, the action occurs off-camera, as the scene switches to his assistant Paul’s (Robert Urquhart) squeamish face, and later, when Victor drops the head into the acid vat, that also occurs off camera with another cutaway to Paul.  In fact, you never see this head/face in the movie.

I’ve seen this photo tons of times, and it’s been in existence my whole life, but as far as I know, this scene has never appeared in the movie, at least not here in the United States.  Perhaps it made it into the initial theatrical release in 1957, I don’t know, but for as long as I’ve been watching it, first on TV back in the 1970s, then on VHS, DVD, and now Blu-Ray, I’ve never seen this sequence.

Does it exist in other countries, I wonder?  Anyone know?

Looking at the photo now, it looks rather fake, but it was all so gruesome back in 1957.

This photo comes to us courtesy of the UK Peter Cushing Appreciation Society, where I found it online at http://petercushingblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/acid-bath-head-peter-cushing-curse-of.html.

Hope you enjoy it!

—Michael

DiCaprio Shines In Early Role in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998) -Streaming Video Review by Michael Arruda

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the-man-in-the-iron-mask-movie-poster-1998-Streaming Video Review:  THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998)

by

Michael Arruda

Today, with a so many movies available at the drop of a hat thanks to streaming video, one of the things I like to do is go back and catch early performances of some of today’s most popular performers.

With that in mind, as a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, in such recent films as THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), DJANGO UNCHAINED (2013), and THE DEPARTED (2006), it was fun to turn back the clock and catch one of his earlier performances in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998), now available on streaming video.

In THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the dual role of King Louis XIV and his twin brother Philippe, the titled man in the iron mask.

Young King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) rules France with an iron fist, keeping the country poor, starving and miserable.  The now retired three musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich) and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) understand that a change is needed in order to save the country.  Only D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) remains loyal to the king.

It’s discovered that the mysterious imprisoned man in the iron mask is really the king’s twin brother, and Aramis hatches a plot to free the man and then switch him with the real king in order to restore sanity to the crown.  And of course, young Philippe (Leonardo DiCaprio) is everything his twin brother is not:  sensitive, caring, and thoughtful.

As the three musketeers reunite to carry out their plan to replace the king with his identical twin in order to save France, D’Artagnan finds himself pitted against his former friends, with orders from the king to do whatever is necessary to stop the plot from happening, even if it means killing his former associates.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK is a decent enough movie, and it’s fairly entertaining, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as fun as the Richard Lester’s 1970s romps THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974).

I watched it specifically to catch an earlier DiCaprio performance that I had missed the first time around way back when in 1998, and in this regard, I wasn’t disappointed.  While I prefer the DiCaprio of today, he’s actually quite good here in the dual role of King Louis XIV and his poor brother Philippe.

Of the two roles, I preferred him as the evil king, as his performance is a nice foreshadowing of things to come, specifically his role as the sinister Calvin Candie in DJANGO UNCHAINED.  He’s good as Philippe as well, but Louis XIV is certainly the meatier role, and much more satisfying to watch.

The rest of the cast is decent, as they should be, considering the quality of the actors involved here.  Jeremy Irons makes a respectable Aramis, and he’s strong throughout the movie, but I could give or take Gerard Depardieu as Porthos.  Only John Malkovich truly stands out in a very sincere and riveting performance as Athos, who’s anguished in this story because the king had his son murdered.

Gabriel Byrne isn’t bad as D’Artagan, but I’ve seen him better in other movies.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK was written and directed by Randall Wallace.  Wallace also wrote the screenplay for the Mel Gibson epic BRAVEHEART (1995).  His screenplay for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, based on the novels by Alexandre Dumas, is adequate enough.  It tells an entertaining story but falls short of accomplishing anything grand.  It’s not hopping and humorous like the Richard Lester films from the 1970s, nor is it riveting enough to be considered a rousing adventure in its own right.  It plays like a straightforward historical drama, and there’s nothing wrong with this, but in the same breath, it didn’t wow me either.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK looks fine— it’s a great looking period piece with excellent sets and colorful costumes— but don’t expect many exciting action sequences.  While there is sword play here and there, none of it is all that electrifying.

The film is driven by its acting performances, and is carried by the presence of an ensemble of veteran actors.  Among these actors was an up and coming youngster- Leonardo DiCaprio- who probably, with the exception of John Malkovich, delivers the best performance in the movie.  It’s a nice precursor to DiCaprio’s future roles which so far, have taken him along the very successful road to stardom, where now he’s the one who is the accomplished veteran actor.

While I can’t say that I loved THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, I did enjoy it, and I did have fun watching the Leonardo DiCaprio of a decade ago begin to strut his stuff.

—END—

Remembering Bob Booth, NECON founder, 1947 – 2013

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Bob Booth at a recent NECON, photo courtesy of Horror World.

Bob Booth at a recent NECON, photo courtesy of Horror World.

Members of the horror writing community were deeply saddened earlier this week when our good friend and mentor, Bob Booth, the man who started NECON, the Northeastern Writers Conference, and the founder of NECON EBooks, passed away earlier this week, after a courageous battle with lung cancer.

“Papa Necon” leaves behind a legacy that will be difficult to match.

While I never was close to Bob, I’d known him for a while, since I first attended NECON in 2001.

Bob Booth was a gifted storyteller and a visionary.  He was one of the first people I heard singing the praises of EBooks as the wave of the future.  He made his case well, and from the very first time I heard him speak about the subject on a panel at NECON several years ago, I’ve been paying attention.

He was also a very generous man.  When I proposed several EBook projects last year, he was quick to say he was interested in all of them. As a result, he published L.L. Soares’ and my Cinema Knife Fight Volume 1 Collection, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, my short story collection, and most recently a novel, all as EBooks under the NECON EBooks label.  I will be forever grateful to him for this opportunity.

Professionalism aside, Bob was also a lot of fun.  He told the best stories, and listening to him at NECON was always a treat.

I always remained somewhat in awe of Bob, knowing that he socialized and was revered and respected by so many of the great horror authors of our time.  He was also a great fan of horror, and he often reminded me of a New England version of Forry Ackerman, specifically of the horror writing world.

Yet this never prevented Bob from speaking to me and everyone else on the same level, as if we had always been old pals.  He put you at ease naturally, and it was a pleasure to sit and listen to “Papa Necon.”

Bob will always live in our hearts.  I’m thankful to have known him.

—Michael

—In memory of Bob Booth 1947-2013—

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: STAR WARS (1977)

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Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977)

Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977)

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  STAR WARS (1977)

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.

This column exists because I’m a huge Peter Cushing fan, and Cushing’s work as an actor is one of the main reasons I’m in the horror writing business.  In short, his performances were always an inspiration for me.

Today we look at some of Peter Cushing’s lines from the science fiction classic STAR WARS (1977).  For a while, it used to irk me that so many STAR WARS fans only knew Cushing from his role in this movie.  How could someone think of him in STAR WARS but not be familiar with any of his previous work?

Anyway, I’m over that now, so let’s get on with things and celebrate some of Cushing’s great lines of dialogue as the dastardly Grand Moff Tarkin, the one man in the entire STAR WARS series who bossed Darth Vader around and lived to tell about it.

I remember the days back in 1976, when I first heard about STAR WARS, before the George Lucas franchise had taken root in popular culture, and I was just so happy to hear that Peter Cushing was going to star in a new movie.  I had seen so few of his performances on the big screen.

I knew very little about STAR WARS before its release, other than the word of mouth which was saying that it was going to be the best movie of the year and probably one of the all-time best science fiction adventures ever.  I wasn’t the only one who knew so little about it.  One of the early movie ads read, “STAR WARS, starring Alec Guiness and Peter Cushing.”

Anyway, Peter Cushing does have some memorable lines in STAR WARS, screenplay by George Lucas, as in this exchange with Darth Vader:

DARTH VADER:  He is here.

TARKIN:  Obi-Wan Kenobi? What makes you think so?

DARTH VADER:  A tremor in the Force. The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old master.

TARKIN:  Surely he must be dead by now.

DARTH VADER:  Don’t underestimate the Force.

TARKIN:  The Jedi are extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.

Yes?

VOICE:  We have an emergency alert in detention block AA-23.

TARKIN:  The Princess? Put all sections on alert.

DARTH VADER:  Obi-wan is here. The Force is with him.

TARKIN:  If you’re right, he must not be allowed to escape.

DARTH VADER:  Escape is not his plan. I must face him, alone.

Some of Tarkin’s best lines are when he’s speaking to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), as in this scene, when he meets her for the first time:

PRINCESS LEIA:   Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.

TARKIN:  Charming to the last.

And then later when he threatens to destroy Leia’s home planet using the firepower of the Death Star if she doesn’t give him the location of the rebel base:

PRINCESS LEIA:  No! Alderaan is peaceful! We have no weapons, you can’t possibly…

TARKIN:  You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system! I grow tired of asking this so it will be the last time: Where is the rebel base?

PRINCESS LEIA:  Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.

TARKIN:  There. You see, Lord Vader, she can be reasonable. Continue with the operation; you may fire when ready.

PRINCESS LEIA:   WHAT?

TARKIN:  You’re far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration – but don’t worry; we will deal with your rebel friends soon enough.

There’s a lot of Baron Frankenstein in Cushing’s performance as Tarkin.  As when he receives word that the princess lied to him.

OFFICER:  Our scout ships have reached Dantooine. They found the remains of a Rebel base, but they estimate that it has been deserted for some time. They are now conducting an extensive search of the surrounding systems.

TARKIN:  She lied. She lied to us!

DARTH VADER:  I told you she would never consciously betray the Rebellion.

TARKIN:  Terminate her… immediately!

One of my favorite Peter Cushing moments in STAR WARS is when he pretty much tells Darth Vader to knock off his villainous behavior.

ADMIRAL:  Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe! I suggest we use it!

DARTH VADER:  Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

ADMIRAL:  Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels’ hidden fortress…

(Darth Vader motions with his hand, and the Admiral starts choking.)

DARTH VADER:  I find your lack of faith disturbing.

TARKIN:  Enough of this! Vader, release him!

And of course, since it’s Peter Cushing giving the order, Vader obeys.

We finish with another of my favorite lines, right near the end, just before, sadly, Tarkin gets blown up with the rest of the Death Star.

OFFICER:  We’ve analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?

TARKIN:  Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.

Oh well. Tarkin should have listened to his subordinate.  Then he could have appeared in the sequels.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for joining me on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING.

 

See you next time.  Thanks for reading!

—Michael