Along with Raoul Walsh, Andre de Toth, Samuel Fuller, Budd Boetticher, Robert Aldrich is an exemplary director of the “cinema of American toughness.” While even the most casual of movie buffs have at least seen Kiss Me Deadly or The Dirty Dozen, a further investigation into his filmography – an average of one feature per year from the early ’50s to the early ’80s – reveals (as it does with those other auteurs) a surprising sensitivity that complements (rather than subverts) the brutish, beer-swilling, frequently grotesque surface. A disparate group of films like The Big Knife (a Clifford Odets adaptation with amplified performances from the likes of Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters), Ulzana’s Raid (an early “revisionist” western that details the violent struggles between Native Americans and white settlers), even an early, poverty-row noir like World For Ransom, is held in ensemble form by Aldrich’s knack for generating pungent atmosphere through ornate, wrought-iron compositions, in which threats, suggestions, and acts of violence are often one and the same. He also had a mile-wide anti-authoritarian streak, personified by Burt Lancaster’s rogue General Dell in Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Lee Marvin’s myth-proportioned hobo A No. 1 in Emperor of the North, and Burt Reynolds’ incarcerated football pro in The Longest Yard. Even a problematic attempt at the slobs v. snobs genre like The Choirboys holds significant value.
What to see?