Then Playing — The Sheepman; Hangmen Also Die!; Don’t Worry Darling

The Sheepman (George Marshall, 1958). This Western stars Glenn Ford as Jason Sweet, a deceptively genial schemer who shows up in a ranching town with a herd of sheep he plans to graze on public land, much to the consternation of those who already count on having the space for the cattle. He particularly rankles Stephen Bedford (Leslie Neilsen), referred to as “The Colonel,” who presides over the community with benevolent menace. George Marshall directs the film with a mischievous whimsy that gives the comedic elements a special spikiness. The Sheepman includes some sly commentary on repressive systems put in place by capitalistic power brokers, but it mostly succeeds as a brisk, snappy entertainment. Shirley MacLaine lends her still-developing tart charisma to the role of a frontierswoman engaged to the Colonel but clearly intrigued by this newcomer.

Hangmen Also Die! (Fritz Lang, 1943). It’s amazing to think of this fierce drama about Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia coming from a major Hollywood studio right in the heart of U.S. involvement in World War II. Director Fritz Lang, who crafted the film’s story with Bertolt Brecht, brings a steely certainty to the narrative. In depicting the brutal abuses exacted by the Nazi regime in trying to coerce the populace into giving up the name of the shooter who assassinated a German officer, Lang is as uncompromising as the Hays Code allows. Hangmen Also Dies! has a stark, shadowy beauty that’s characteristic of Lang’s strongest work, but also owes a great deal to the visual brilliance of cinematographer James Wong Howe. Most of the performances are merely adequate, and several of the actors playing Nazis set the standard for countless ve-have-vays-of-making-you-talk hambone turns in years to come. The main exception is Walter Brennan, playing a professor committed to justice and his own dignity in the face of oppression.

Don’t Worry Darling (Olivia Wilde, 2022). Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort as a director is hardly the disaster it was made out to be by those who got distracted by the garish sideshow around its promotion and release, but it’s definitely messy. Getting into the plot particulars would be exhausting, so I’ll just note that Don’t Worry Darling is a thudding satire of modern movements that pretend men are oh so aggrieved because the women they lust after aren’t pliable enough. In the lead role of a dutiful wife growing suspicious about her idyllic surroundings, Florence Pugh is strong as always, but the other actors are all over the board. Chris Pine is especially off-kilter as a community leader, twisting his mild Star Trek aping with some zest of Christopher Walken’s alien cadence. Wilde takes big swings with her visuals and editing, which result in big misses more often than the satisfying crack of connection. She gets lost in her own ambition. The film provides worthwhile commentary, but does so with an ostentatious artlessness.

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