Sin City Mercenaries

Las Vegas aka Sin City, the gambling mecca of the world, might be a symbol of capitalism at its worse but it makes an irresistible location for a movie with its dazzling neon lights and nightlife diversions from extravagant musical revues to strip clubs to glittering casinos. The intoxicating atmosphere has been featured prominently before in musicals like Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) as well as comedies (Honeymoon in Vegas [1992], Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [1998]) and dramas (Leaving Las Vegas [1995], Casino [1995). But I especially enjoy the crime caper films set in Sin City such as Ocean’s 11 (1960) and the remakes it inspired years later starting with Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001). To this list, I have to add an often overlooked but superior genre entry from 1968 – They Came to Rob Las Vegas

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Georges Franju & Jean Cocteau: Thomas the Impostor

World War I has been the subject of some of the most powerful and prestigious films in cinema from King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) to Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) and more recently, Sam Mendes’ 1917 (2019), nominated for ten Oscars including Best Picture. All of those films captured the grim horrors of the battlefield, the demoralization and death toll of the troops and the often reckless or unnecessary military strategies of commanding officers. Going against the grain is Thomas l’imposteur (Thomas the Impostor), based on Jean Cocteau’s 1923 novel which was inspired by his own experiences during WW1 as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Directed by Georges Franju from a screenplay by himself, Cocteau and Michel Worms, the 1965 film views war through the experiences of two idealistic dreamers, one an aristocrat, the Princess de Bormes (Emmanuelle Riva), the other an orphan (Fabrice Rouleau), who lies about his age and invents a fake backstory for himself so he can enlist. The result is a unique take on the Great War which combines the ambiance of a dark fairy tale with a realistic but emotionally detached approach to the events as they affect the two main protagonists.

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Woody’s Benediction

His name was Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode and he was a football star, a professional wrestler, a WWII veteran and a famous Hollywood character actor who should have become a star. But the closest Woody Strode ever got to playing the leading role in an American film was Sergeant Rutledge (1960), in which he portrayed the title character but was fourth billed after Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Tower and Billie Burke. In an ironic twist that makes sense in a Pre-Civil Rights Hollywood, Strode had to travel to Italy to finally receive top billing and the only genuine leading role of his career in Black Jesus (1968) aka Seated at his Right (the Italian title is Seduto alla sua Destra). It is probably one of his least known films but easily his biggest role and possibly his best performance.      

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