Mary Poppins Returns
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All Critics (4)
| Fresh (3)
| Rotten (1)
| DVD (1)
Something of an understated masterpiece...
Great acting from Belafonte, akward social commentery drags it down though.
According to this film racism is a bigger problem than even nuclear warfare.
Belafonte is magic in his loneliness.
Isn't it interesting that it's often science fiction that presents groundbreaking topics so relevant to the real world? What starts as a dystopian film, where Harry Belafonte's character finds himself alone in a world destroyed by WWIII while he was buried in a mine shaft, quickly introduces racial themes when he finds a white woman played by Inger Stevens. The two of them turn in strong performances, both beautiful and expressive, with great scenes including her returning from a 'shopping trip' (quipping "the service was terrible, but I got a few bargains"), him cutting her hair at her insistence (though she grows concern with each hack he takes), and him setting up service for her on her birthday at a supper club. The racial undertones start with Belafonte concerned about the two of them living together because "people will talk" (what people?!), and then Stevens exclaiming "I'm free, white, and 21, and I'll do what I please" while flustered, that ultimate assertion of white privilege at that time. I love how Belafonte calls her on it later, saying that while it's just an expression to her, "to me it's an arrow in my guts!" You know then that the film is actually saying something. Things get even more complicated when Mel Ferrer shows up, and immediately, even with only three people in the world, we feel the basis for so much of mankind's problems - sexual jealousy, and racial divisions - captured in a nutshell.
Stevens is more attracted to Belafonte, who is charming, sings, takes interest in preserving books and paintings, fixes things like the electricity, phones, and radio, and who loves her too - but he's black. Ferrer, on the other hand, is a chauvinist who literally says "Me man, you girl, how about it?" The film tried to toe the line with what would be acceptable in 1959, and doesn't include an interracial kiss (despite the cast's wish that it would have), because producers deemed that America was not ready for that - and indeed it wasn't, given the reaction to the film in the South. There are fantastic scenes of the two men hunting each other in the deserted New York, including a scene at Ralph Bunche Park with the phrase from Isaiah ("They shall beat their swords into plowshares...") on the wall in the background. I loved the ending ("The Beginning") as well, campy as it might have been.
If you watch and find the beginning dragging a bit, give it a chance. I think one of the main problems is we've seen this "last man on the earth" type scenery copied so many times in films over the years. Belafonte was a huge star at the time, but I personally could have done without his songs, not because they're bad or anything, but because I think they defocus things. Inger Stevens, who others know as the "Farmer's Daughter", but who I remember fondly from the 1967 movie "A Guide for the Married Man" with Walter Matthau, is a good match for him. Overall, the film seems to capture so many elements of the 1950's - the fear of nuclear war, a little bit of the 'B movie' camp (I mean, check out that title), and the racial unease, with a hint of the progress that would follow. It may feel a bit like an extended Twilight Zone episode with a bigger budget, and it's very well done.
Its the end of the world again, only this time there's a problem: the only guy alive is a black guy. And then he finds there's a woman alive, and she's white. And that's the underlying tension of this offering from 1959, when such concerns were a big deal. That the film lingers on this concern is its downfall, even when we discover there's a white guy alive too, so now the two guys gotta fight over the woman. Its a classy production, and all the actors are better than simply good. The material drags it all down finally. I say: remake the sucker. Two guys are gonna fight over the last woman anyway (ask Roger Corman). Give 'em some action if yer gonna go apocalyptic and all.
Okay post apocalyptic thriller that plays as an extended segment of The Twilight Zone. That's through no fault of the actors, all of whom are good although Inger Stevens stands out with a superior performance to her costars, or the direction but the whole thing comes across as rather studied.
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