THE BREAKING POINT (1950) / DARK OF THE SUN (1968) / AVALANCHE EXPRESS (1979). The latest sampling from the made-to-order Warner Archive Collection (www.warnerarchive.com) includes three macho movies from three different decades.
Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not had already been made into an excellent 1944 feature directed by Howard Hawks and offering the immortal first pairing of Bogart and Bacall, but Warner Bros. decided to return to the source material a second time (albeit under a different title). In The Breaking Point, it's Casablanca helmer Michael Curtiz overseeing the dynamic John Garfield as Harry Morgan, a skipper who's struggling to make the payments on his charter boat during a particularly tough time. As his wife (Phyllis Thaxter) waits and worries at home, he gets mixed up with a shady middle man (Wallace Ford) who facilitates illegal activities and a free-spirited woman (Patricia Neal) who tries to pique his interest. As Harry's moral crewmate, Juano Hernandez steals this unrelentingly downbeat picture.
Based on the best-selling novel by Wilbur Smith, Dark of the Sun appears to have been one of the first films to cash in on the landmark success of the previous year's Bonnie and Clyde in allowing more violence to make it onto the screen. This is a surprisingly brutal movie, with Rod Taylor and Jim Brown cast as two mercenaries who agree to rescue both a stash of diamonds and a group of civilians deep in the Congo. Taylor's Curry is only in it for the money, while Brown's Ruffo is fighting for his country; those under their command include Wreid (Kenneth More), a perpetually soused doctor, and Henlein (Peter Carsten), a former Nazi who's not above murdering small children. Much of the action takes place aboard a train, although the two most jolting set pieces are set on terra firma: a chainsaw battle between Curry and Henlein, and the African rebels' capture and slaughter of a group of civilians.
Fourteen-year-old boys are game for pretty much any action film, and 14-year-old film buffs are game for pretty much any action film featuring an all-star cast. Yet even at that age, when I caught Avalanche Express during its initial theatrical run, I knew that this movie stank on ice. Watching it lo these many years later, it still proves to be a miserable experience. An adaptation of Colin Forbes' popular novel, this finds Lee Marvin as an American agent who, with his team in tow, attempts to help a Russian bigwig (Robert Shaw) defect by escorting him on a perilous journey aboard a transcontinental train. Critic Leonard Maltin hilariously noted that the "cast has enough stiffs in it to resemble audition time at the Hollywood Wax Museum," and he isn't kidding: Marvin and Maximilian Schell are uncharacteristically awful, while Horst Buchholz, Mike Connors, Linda Evans and especially gridiron great Joe Namath (or, as he's billed, "and Joe Namath as Leroy"), are all DOA. Shaw at least had an excuse: He died of a heart attack during production, resulting in practically all of his dialogue being dubbed by others. Two months prior, the fine director Mark Robson (Von Ryan's Express, Peyton Place) had also died of a heart attack, thereby marking this as a doomed production almost from the start. The only achievement of note is the visual effects work in the avalanche sequence, supervised by John Dykstra (Star Wars).
The only extras on the DVDs are the theatrical trailers.
The Breaking Point: ***
Dark of the Sun: ***
Avalanche Express: *
EVERYTHING MUST GO (2011). This adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story ("Why Don't You Dance?") is a gem — perhaps more of a diamond in the rough than a polished jewel, but still. Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, a relapsed alcoholic who loses his job, his wife and his house all on the same day. Locked out of the home he shared with his spouse (who's temporarily living at an undisclosed location) and low on cash because she froze all their assets, Nick parks himself on the front lawn, guzzling beer while surrounded by all the possessions she chucked out along with him. Only two people in the neighborhood bother socializing with him: Samantha (an excellent Rebecca Hall), a pregnant woman whose husband is always away, and Kenny (promising newcomer Christopher Jordan Wallace), a portly boy fighting boredom since his mom's up the street working as a caretaker. Nick's AA sponsor, a cop (Michael Pena), informs him that he can't live on his lawn, but he can legally remain there for a couple of days if he holds a yard sale. So with the help of Kenny, Nick starts selling his cherished possessions, all the while attempting to come to grips with his present situation and future uncertainty. While it's true that a better actor might have knocked the rich role of Nick Halsey out of the park, Ferrell is nevertheless fine in the part, allowing us to largely forget the baggage that his clownish canon can't help but bring to the project. It's a smart career move on his part, and it will be interesting to see if he's able to build on it. Yet the real discovery here is writer-director Dan Rush, making impressive debuts in both capacities. From little moments that sneak up and surprise you to climactic confrontations that don't always go down as expected, he shapes the material into something memorable and meaningful.