After The Storm (2001- TV) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
I was a kid in the 1950's, a black and white version of this movie was
on TV every single Saturday morning.
You geezers, remember along with me. They were all second features from the days when theaters usually had a double bill. There was some sunken treasure - gold, jewels, a strongbox, whatever. Because of some complicated plot twist, the good guy and a shady character had to team up and learn to trust each other so that one of them could dive down for the loot while the other operated the air compressor. (SCUBA was still in the future).
The good guy was always one of the grade-b good guys - never Jimmy Stewart, but somebody like Dana Andrews or John Payne or Clayton Moore. The bad guy was always the same type, an oily, swarthy guy with a cheap accent and a sneaky-lookin' Oil Can Harry moustache. Typically this part was played by Gilbert Roland or one of the other grade-b versions of Anthony Quinn. The script would claim he was Portuguese or French or Argentine, and he was generally something like a tango instructor, with an eye for the trampy island babes and rich widows. Whenever the sleazy guy would come on screen in his wrinkled white suit, we'd hear the horns play "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White", with plenty of wah-wah mute action.
There was plenty of tension as the antagonists tried to figure out how to split the wealth 50-50 without ever fully trusting each other. Often there would be a trampy girl with plenty of cleavage and a sweet virginal girl to complicate the plot. And then there would be corrupt sheriffs, major mobsters and mako sharks, all of whom took a personal interest in the underwater activities.
Eventually, Mr Squarejaw would be down there getting the last of the loot when Gilbert Roland would cut the air line, and Bruce the Shark would be hanging out for leftovers. The sweet virginal girl would end up doing something tough enough to foil the evildoer, and the trampy girl usually ended up full of lead or something.
Well, by golly, if you miss those films, here you go. After the Storm is a classy, 2.35:1 widescreen color variation on that theme, with an elegant look, some competent stars, and about a zillion double crosses and shifting loyalties, so that you never know who is aligned with whom. The square-jawed hero (Benjamin Bratt) and the designated Gilbert Roland (Armand Assante) are together on the boat with the trampy girl and the virginal girl, and everyone switches teams several times, leading to a fairly interesting conclusion. It even has the old-fashioned diving equipment, since it takes place in the early 30's. It may be the same old formula, but it was kinda fun.
This script is supposed to be based on a story by Hemingway, although Armand Assante points out in the special features that Hemingway's story was only seven pages long, so the movie really only retained his general theme and concept. The intense Mr. Assante expounds at length on Hemingway's life and themes in an unrehearsed interview, and he obviously knows what he's talking about. He is either a very scholarly fellow, or he did a boatload of research for the role, or both. The other actors are also interviewed, but they have nothing very interesting to say, just how they really enjoyed the water and loved working with the other actors and that kind of crap. Assante, on the other hand, is fascinating. I had no idea he was so learned. He makes the point that Hemingway was obsessed with America's loss of spiritual values, which left it bereft when the stock market crash took away the country's true god, wealth. Both before and after the Great Crash, Hemingway liked to question how far people would compromise their values in pursuit of large sums of money, and this script follows up on that question.
While it isn't a blockbuster, it really isn't a bad film at all. It is possibly one of the ten best movies ever to premiere on cable TV, and is certainly one of the best from the USA Network. I'm guessing, based upon the existence of a lovely widescreen version, that they hoped for a theatrical distribution that never materialized. The only thing I disliked about the script was the introduction of completely irrelevant minor characters that slowed the pace. (For example, there were some tough Irish guys who were always picking a fight with Bratt, but they didn't figure into the film's resolution at all, and could easily have been written out.)
Some fun performances highlight the film. The handsome Bratt plays the straight man with a touch of irony, ala Clark Gable. That seems to be Bratt's designated role at this point in his career, to play the George Clooney roles in projects too small for the real Clooney. He does it well, and the two women provide a good period feel and a sense of strength. The rest of the male cast hams it up big-time, led by Assante, Stephen Lang and Nestor Serrano, but it's all in the spirit of the script, and I generally enjoyed it. After all, every Bogart needs his Sydney Greenstreet.
Assante brought a spiritual ambiguity to his part that made it the most complex role in the film. While the other baddies were rotten to the core, Assante's character was only slightly farther off the straight and narrow than Bratt's. You might compare Assante and Bratt in this film to Claude Rains and Bogart in Casablanca - the admitted, blatant crook who is not really all that corrupt, and the good guy who is too cynical to be all that good.
comments in yellow:
After the Storm is a made for TV crime adventure inspired by a Hemingway short story. It features a standard plot line, with a good guy and evil guy each trying to salvage the wreckage of a luxury yacht. As is usual, they each have girlfriends, one good, the other evil and scheming. Naturally, they end up having to work together in an uneasy alliance to stay a step ahead of the really, really evil guys.
While the plot was trite and the film was a little show as it established characters (and introduced some minor players that were unnecessary to the plot), it had great pace once it got started. It is beautifully filmed and well acted, has plenty of double crosses, and leads up to a superb ending. It won best feature film at both of the festivals where it was shown. Very good genre effort.
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