Brooks’ Vision Lives On in His Movies
The best of the 36 films of writer-director Richard Brooks, who died Wednesday, are available on video. They include:
“Key Largo” (MGM/UA, 1948). Brooks shares co-writing credit with director John Huston on this talky, stilted adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s play about a war vet (Humphrey Bogart) confronting a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) in a storm-torn Florida hotel. Film buffs love it because it’s one of the few films in which Bogart worked with wife Lauren Bacall.
“The Last Time I Saw Paris” (Congress, 1954). This is a glossy, romantic soap opera set in Paris after World War II, centered around a tormented writer (Van Johnson). It’s a mundane reworking of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” and far from Brooks’ best, but it’s memorable for its signals that Elizabeth Taylor was maturing into a fine actress.
“Blackboard Jungle” (MGM/UA, 1955). This was the first major studio film to effectively tackle the juvenile delinquent problem in urban schools. It was also the first to seriously use a rock ‘n’ roll song--Bill Haley’s pioneering “Rock Around the Clock.” Co-starring Sidney Poitier as a tough student, it details the trials of a dedicated high school teacher (Glenn Ford) in a New York slum school. Brooks also wrote the Oscar-nominated script.
“Something of Value” (MGM/UA, 1957). Black (Sidney Poitier) and white (Rock Hudson) childhood friends clash as adults in this drama of African racial strife set against the Mau Mau rampages in Kenya. Bold for its time but seems dated now.
“The Brothers Karamazov” (MGM/UA, 1958). Brooks loved to adapt great novels and plays to the screen. His shameless Hollywoodization of Dostoevksy’s novel about the reactions of brothers to their father’s death is one of his most misguided efforts. Co-starring Yul Brynner and Lee J. Cobb.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (MGM/UA, 1958). As a director, Brooks seldom pushed actresses to great performances. One exception was Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, the smoldering, sex-starved wife of sexually troubled he-man Brick (Paul Newman). Taylor manages to transcend the overripe Tennessee Williams dialogue.
“Elmer Gantry” (MGM/UA, 1960). Brooks’ finest screenwriting, adapting the Sinclair Lewis novel into an absorbing film, earned him his only Oscar. It’s the tale of an unscrupulous evangelist, boasting Oscar-winning performances by Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones as the hero’s ex-girlfriend-turned-prostitute.
“Sweet Bird of Youth” (MGM/UA, 1962). Another time that Brooks coaxed a great performance out of an actress was here with Geraldine Page, portraying the aging movie star hung up on handsome rogue Chance Wayne (Paul Newman), who clashes with a small-town bigwig (Ed Begley, winner of the best supporting actor Oscar). As a screenwriter, Brooks effectively purges the staginess and excessively literary dialogue from the Tennessee Williams’ play.
“Lord Jim” (RCA/Columbia, 1965). Peter O’Toole’s excellent performance nearly salvages this dull, interminable adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s philosophical novel about a 19th-Century British ship’s officer who is branded a coward.
“The Professionals” (RCA/Columbia, 1966). Arguably Brooks’ finest work, this Western is about a commando team headed by mercenaries (Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster) out to rescue a rich woman (Claudia Cardinale) from a Mexican rebel (Jack Palance). Brooks turns a cliched plot into a suspenseful, humorous, action-packed film.
“In Cold Blood” (RCA/Columbia, 1967). An adaptation of Truman Capote’s trend-setting novel about two thugs (Robert Blake and Scott Wilson) who kill a Midwestern family. The black-and-white, documentary-style probe of the crooks’ psyches and motivations ranks with “The Professionals” as Brooks’ best work.
“Bite the Bullet” (RCA/Columbia, 1975). Written and directed by Brooks, this Western, featuring Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen and James Coburn, is an overlooked gem. It’s an action/adventure movie about the competitors in a horse race covering hundreds of miles of rough terrain.
“Looking for Mr. Goodbar” (Paramount, 1977). Some film historians say Brooks’ shrill, lumbering examination of the pre-AIDS, singles bar culture signaled his decline as a filmmaker. Diane Keaton stars as the teacher of deaf children who turns sexual swinger after dark.
Others: “The Catered Affair” (Facets Multimedia, 1956), a family drama starring Bette Davis, Debbie Reynolds and Ernest Borgnine; “The Happy Ending” (Wood Knapp, 1969), a melodrama about a marriage, starring Jean Simmons and John Forsythe; “Dollars” (RCA/Columbia, 1971), an uninvolving heist comedy starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn; “Wrong Is Right” (RCA/Columbia, 1982), a broad, constantly misfiring satire about a TV journalist tracking down terrorists, starring Sean Connery and Katharine Ross.
WHAT’S NEW ON VIDEO: Here are some recent home video releases:
“Boyz N the Hood” (Columbia TriStar, no price). Rookie director John Singleton, who’s just 24, got a best director Oscar nomination for this acclaimed box-office smash about family life in a Los Angeles ghetto, focusing on two youngsters (Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr.) headed in opposite directions. (Also out on laser with an audio track by Singleton.)
“Dead Again” (Paramount, no price). This surprise hit thriller, directed by Kenneth Branagh, got many favorable notices. Full of twists and turns labeled improbable by some critics, it’s about a private eye (Branagh) and his client (Emma Thompson) who are eerily linked to the past.
“Child’s Play 3" (MCA/Universal, no price). Chucky the killer doll, a dazzling special-effects creation, is back again, this time spreading terror in a military academy and generating hardly any scares.
“The Hitman” (Canon, $93). An expensive B-movie for violence addicts with genre hero Chuck Norris playing an undercover cop in a contrived story that’s an excuse for well-staged action sequences.
“Body Parts” (Paramount, no price). Gore galore in this often silly horror film about a man (Jeff Fahey) who, after an accident, gets a new arm that belonged to a killer. The evil limb, of course, does nasty things on its own.
“The Pope Must Diet” (Media, $93). Some will be offended by the mean-spirited humor in this out-of-control, witless black comedy about a man (Robby Coltrane) who’s elected Pope by mistake.
“G-Men” (MGM/UA, $20). Exciting 1935 gangster classic, full of machine-gun shootouts, starring James Cagney as an FBI agent out to avenge the murder of a friend.
“The Geisha Boy” (Paramount, $15). In this typically low-brow Jerry Lewis comedy from 1958, he plays a magician bumbling his way through Japan.
JUST OUT ON LASER: “The Lost World” (Lumivision, $45), a 1925 special-effects classic about explorers in dinosaur land, including extra footage; “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (Criterion, $50), featuring 22 lost minutes from this excellent 1941 drama starring Walter Huston and including an informative commentary track; “The Thing From Another World” (Image, $50), the 1951 original (less scary than the John Carpenter remake), with James Arness as the monster, plus an extra six minutes; “The Flower Drum Song” (MCA/Universal, $35), overlong 1961 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein musical starring Nancy Kwan; “Midnight Cowboy” (Criterion, $80), the 1969 best picture Oscar winner about two seedy characters (Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman) in New York City, with insightful audio track commentary by producer and director.
UPCOMING VIDEOS: “The Doctor” (Wednesday), “Other People’s Money” (Wednesday), “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” (Thursday), “The Fisher King” (March 25), “Rambling Rose” (March 25), “Homicide” (April 8), “101 Dalmatians” (April 10), “The People Under the Stairs” (April 8), “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” (May 6).