by John Farr
John Farr lists his picks for legendary Burt Lancaster films.
Brute Force (1947)
Tough, unsmiling inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) has spent much of his long prison term butting heads with sadistic, power-hungry Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Sentenced to a merciless work detail in the subterranean drain pipe after one of Munsey’s stool pigeons is killed in a machine-shop accident, Collins determines to hatch a breakout plan with his cellmates.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Made just prior to “Naked City,” Dassin’s gritty prison melodrama puts a twist on the archetypal bust-out scheme by revisiting, in flashback, the pre-penitentiary lives of Collins – ably played by an intense young Lancaster – and his crew, colorfully brought to life by character actors Whit Bissell, Howard Duff, and John Hoyt. In a fine performance, Charles Bickford appears as the prison’s gruff de facto leader and newspaper editor who throws in his lot with Collins. The other ace in Dassin’s deck is Cronyn, playing a corrupt, savage prison guard bent on bringing “discipline” to his inmates, while nursing a megalomaniacal ambition to replace the wimpy Warden. Aside from the ominous noir visuals, Dassin explores issues endemic to prison life and wraps them up in an ugly finale meant to evoke a Nazi bloodbath.
The Train (1964)
Cold-blooded Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) wants to remove a a cache of priceless art from France by train in the waning days of the Nazi occupation. With the help of some gallant friends in the Resistance, railroad worker Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster) takes on the dangerous task of derailing this mission.
WHY I LOVE IT:
John Frankenheimer’s pulse-pounding war film is lean and riveting, as Lancaster’s character works intrepidly to foil Von Waldheim’s exacting plans. Lancaster is restrained and no-nonsense as Labiche- thankfully he doesn’t even attempt a French accent, while Scofield is icy perfection as the ruthless Von Waldheim. This is one of my personal favorites from the sixties and ranks among the talented Frankenheimer’s best work.
Local Hero (1983)
A large Texas oil and gas company wants to purchase a small Scottish town and turn it into a refinery. The company sends along Mac (Peter Riegert), the proverbial smooth salesman, to negotiate with the locals. Any hopes of closing the deal quickly evaporate as Mac must adjust to the more leisurely rhythms of the town’s natives. To force matters to a head, Mr. Happer (Burt Lancaster) , the company’s remote, eccentric leader, ultimately flies in for a personal visit. But is oil the only thing on Happer’s mind?
WHY I LOVE IT:
Bursting with unique personality and charm, “Hero” is a touching fable about finding magic in the everyday business of living. Riegert is spot-on as Mac, a man who thinks he understands his place in the world and then gets gradually transformed by a special time and place. The larger-than-life Lancaster is worth the wait, dominating the film’s later scenes as star-struck Happer. A movie with heart and spirit, that sneaks up on you.