Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
"The Hindenburg is a disaster picture, all right. How else can you describe a movie that cost $12 million and makes people laugh out loud at all the wrong times? Why else would they film a story with an ending everybody knows and then try to build up suspense about it?
The movie's so bad I've made a little list. You just can't dismiss it; you linger over it. People stand in the lobby afterward like the survivors of a traffic accident. There was this that went wrong, and that, and...
Well, first on my list is the movie's fundamental flaw, a lack of understanding of what makes disaster movies interesting. We go to see the characters in the PROCESS of experiencing the disaster. As the disaster develops, so do the characters. The skyscraper in "The Towering Inferno" catches on fire in the first 15 minutes and burns for two hours. The good ship Poseidon is hit by a tidal wave 10 minutes after we walk into the theater; it turns over, and the characters spend the rest of the movie fighting fire and flood. The airplanes in the two "Airport" movies fly for 90 minutes after things go wrong, with George Kennedy wringing his hands on the ground and Dean Martin and Karen Black fighting the controls.
But in "The Hindenburg" almost nothing of consequence happens until the last few minutes of the movie. How can you thrill people with the saga of a dirigible floating across the Atlantic Ocean? We know it's going to blow up over Lakehurst, N.J. but we also know, alas, that it's not going to blow up before then. And so George C. Scott searches his conscience, and Anne Bancroft camps it up as a mysterious German countess, and the captain peers confidently out over the wheel, and for nearly two hours little of any consequence happens.