Reel Life #30: A Simple Plan, The 39 Steps, and Fail Safe

The best laid schemes of mice and men make for interesting film plots apparently, as at least two of the ones I saw this week demonstrate.

A Simple Plan (Sam Raimi, 1998)

This story about a group of friends who happen upon a large sum of money in a briefcase goes about as well as you would expect in a film called “A Simple Plan”. It reminded me of Fargo due its wintry setting and focus on a group of people who aren’t making rational decisions. It’s no coincidence, as the Coen brothers apparently gave pointers to Sam Raimi when making the film about how to shoot in the snow.

In recent times, I have criticized works for crafting what could only be described as idiot plots. It’s not as though a film where nobody is capable of making a rational decision is impossible to make – something A Simple Plan and Fargo prove all too well. It’s when otherwise competent characters are making bad decisions for no other reason than to keep the plot from resolving incorrectly or too quickly that the suspension of disbelief is shattered. Here, the cast’s irrationality is perfectly in-character, which makes its somber ending the only logical conclusion. I don’t think it quite hits the same high as Fargo, but it’s a solid effort that I can see fans of Sam Raimi or 1990s cinema enjoying.

The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)

If you ask a British film critic what the defining dark age of their own cinematic scene is, there is a very high probability their answer will be the 1930s. There were numerous reasons why this was, though it certainly didn’t help that they were competing against Hollywood during its golden age. Naturally, this doesn’t mean every single British film made in the 1930s was bad; in fact, The 39 Steps is widely considered one of the country’s hallmarks. This thriller was quite ahead of its time in terms of subject matter, and although one could argue North by Northwest (which is a loose remake of this film) is the superior product, I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964)

It’s always a shame whenever a good film underperforms. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Fail Safe is essentially the serious version of Dr. Strangelove, dealing with the idea of mutually assured destruction during the height of Cold War tensions in the 1960s. Due to having not performed well commercially, its impact on pop culture is a significantly lesser one. I wouldn’t exactly call it one of Sidney Lumet’s better films, but it is worth seeking out. The film reminded me a lot of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky in that it can really hold your attention by just having characters discuss what should be done in a desperate situation.

9 thoughts on “Reel Life #30: A Simple Plan, The 39 Steps, and Fail Safe

  1. I haven’t seen any of these, but I knew Fail Safe as that serious sort of Dr. Strangelove. I really liked that film, and it sounds like it would be worth seeing Fail Safe as well. Some of my favorite movies, series, and games are about people stuck in a desperate situation and trying to find a way out.

    I haven’t seen too many Hitchcock movies, but I have enjoyed everything I have seen from him (big ones like North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds and also Dial M for Murder, which looked more like a stage play but still had really good performances and an interesting story.) I haven’t heard of a film he made that people really put down either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That does sum up Fail Safe nicely, and if you like those kinds of works, it certainly delivers. I think you’d like Eye in the Sky as well.

      And Hitchcock was pretty consistent in terms of quality – much like Steven Soderbergh and Sidney Lumet, now that I think about it. I have enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen of his with Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, and The 39 Steps being the highlights.

      I do have to admit I didn’t think Vertigo was all that good, though. I like what it tried to do in how it shifts gears significantly around the halfway point, and it was actually kind of daring in the days of the Hays Code. Unfortunately, it ends up being subversive in the “Rian Johnson”/early New Hollywood sense in that it had an extremely anti-climactic, unsatisfactory ending that doesn’t really resolve much of anything. If you’re looking for films with a similar two-act structure, I’d say High and Low, Waves, and Touch of Evil are much better.

      Liked by 1 person

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