Playing Catch-Up — The Fugitive; Little; The Odd Couple

fugitive

The Fugitive (John Ford, 1947). This drama resulted from an innovation production mounted in Mexico. In collaboration with the country’s largest production facility and using a crew mostly made up of local residents, director John Ford relates the story of a priest (Henry Fonda) living in secret because of brutal law enforcement efforts against religious figures. Ford’s usual high craft is in full evidence, but there’s a markedly different tonal approach. The movie has the pronounced restraint and emotional ache of European cinema of the time, as if Ford wanted to take a crack at his own version of the emergent Italian Neorealism style. The depiction of oppression is rendered with admirable bleakness, especially for an era when timidity outside of melodrama was far more common. The film’s chief attribute is the cinematography, a feast of shadows and artful intrusions of light shot by Gabriel Figueroa.

 

little

Little (Tina Gordon, 2019). Famously first pitched by young star Marsai Martin, who was fourteen years old at the time of the film’s release, Little is ingenious in its hooky simplicity. The film spins Penny Marshall’s Big on its axis, imaging the comic repercussions if a bit of inexplicable magic spurred the transformation of a high-powered, adult executive (Regina Hall) into her younger self (Martin). Naturally there are lessons to be learned, mostly related to the beastly bullying of her underlings, behavior stemming from humiliations suffered during her school years. Simultaneously, the boss’s beleaguered, undervalued assistant (Issa Rae) comes into her own. While smoothly executed by director Tina Gordon, there’s simply nothing about Little that takes it beyond the generic. Practically every storytelling beat is obvious, the jokes are uniformly flat, and there’s no emotional heft to any of the character development. Except for the trivia question fodder of Martin becoming the youngest person to nab an executive producer credit on a major Hollywood feature, Little is thoroughly unmemorable.

 

odd couple

The Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1968). Neil Simon adapted his own hit play for the screen, bringing to the masses the tale of two cast-aside husbands with markedly different approaches to cleanliness. Most of the structure of the original work is maintained, with only cursory attempts to move the action of the New York City apartment the men share. Preventing the film from feeling overly confined, Gene Saks makes fine use of the sprawling space, sending leads Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau zipping through and around different rooms as they bicker almost relentlessly. It’s not just the endless recycling of the premise that makes some of The Odd Couple feel sitcom basic, but there’s also no denying Simon’s mastery at setting up a comic target and then shooting an arrow straight at the center of the bullseye, sometimes splitting the previous arrow with his next shot. Lemmon and Matthau worked together in the ten different films over the years. In every instance, they were swinging a bottle in the hopes they’d catch something remotely resembling this bolt of lightning.

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