Archive for January 2016

The Road Warrior or Mad Max and Lord Byron Walk into a Bar…   2 comments

max-and-dog-huddle-on-the-lookout

“I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air”

From the poem, “Darkness” by Lord Byron (1-5).

A world war devastates the earth and reduces the people to their basest selves.  They loot and riot and kill leaving only nomadic scavengers traveling alone or in packs.  Those who thrive on chaos, have a chance.  Lord Byron’s poem speaks of darkness.  The blinding, incessant sun of Australia’s desert belies a darkness of a different sort that has descended on those left alive after the firestorm.  As the narrator says at the beginning of the film, “Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive.”

“And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d”

From the poem, “Darkness” (10-13).

In the film, civilization and order fall apart in the aftermath of war.  There are no cities.  Max (Mel Gibson) drives endlessly through the vast Australian desert searching for food, water, and gasoline.  Gas, necessary for the modern Bedouin lifestyle, now holds more value than diamonds or gold.  Without it, there’s no relief from the harsh climate.  Without fuel, to paraphrase the narrator at the start of the film, they’re nothing.  On foot, a man could fall prey to the sun, starvation, or animals, often the two-legged kind.

“the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.”

From the poem, “Darkness” (32-37).

With so many souls living only to find food and fuel, the world, in this case, the Australian bush, becomes a mechanized LORD OF THE FLIES, in which everyone else is Piggy.  What keeps THE ROAD WARRIOR from becoming a series of car crashes and bloody melees is the humanity director and co-writer George Miller allows to seep through the twisted wreckage.

THE ROAD WARRIOR has great action sequences which must have kept every Australian stunt man employed for months.  The film has convincingly evil villains who deserve their violent ends, but it’s the virtue in many of the other characters that we remember.  THE ROAD WARRIOR is not just relentless, pounding action with occasional bon mots.  All right, it is relentless, pounding action without many mots at all, bon or otherwise.  Miller doesn’t need them.  He lets us know the characters using minimal dialogue and screen time.  He even allows the bad guys to have some depth before killing them off in spectacular ways.  Because we’ve met these people, we’re drawn into their world.  Their lives matter to us.  In the midst of this chaotic, desolate scenario, we care about a feral child, a quirky pilot in need of dental work, and a fiercely loyal mongrel dog.

“The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay”

From the poem, “Darkness” (45-49).

Why do we care?  George Miller, along with fellow writers Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant, shows us little glimpses of goodness in his bleak version of the future.  He demonstrates this goodness using a musical toy and a child, an expression of horror while witnessing a senseless murder, a dog’s loyalty, and a leader who keeps his word.

Oddly, that decency in the face of tragedy brought to mind another film about desperate people on a road trip from hell.  As I watched Mohawk-sporting cretins in assless chaps run amok in the Australian desert, I thought of THE GRAPES OF WRATH.  Yes, I mean John Ford’s sweeping chronicle of the Joad family’s trek from their Oklahoma farm to the promised land of California.  The film shows a family forced to scrounge for food and a place to live surviving despite constant assaults by evil brutes and cruel circumstance.  All through their discouraging journey, Ford allows small rays of light to pierce his dark tale.  The nobility of John Carradine’s homespun preacher, Ma Joad’s treatment of starving children in the run down camp, Al’s longing for a girl, and Tom’s dance with Ma as he sings Red River Valley all prove the clan has lost everything but what makes them human.

Miller could have been reading Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” when he wrote THE ROAD WARRIOR.  The poem’s post-apocalyptic tone fits Miller’s vision of a dark future.  He could also have been reading Steinbeck or Golding.  The point is, despite its reputation as a rollicking action film, THE ROAD WARRIOR is much more.  It’s an uplifting tale full of heroes and villains and hope and enough car wrecks to keep a claims adjuster busy for months.

wreck

This article appeared originally in The Brattle Film Notes.  Brattle Theatre

Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)   Leave a comment

cast poster

Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) leads a life of leisure.  He spends his days taking drives in his fashionable car, shopping, then retiring to his large country home with his wife, Monica (Mona Washbourne).  Monica, or Mony as he calls her, is somewhat older than her handsome husband and comes from a more refined social class.  Despite their differences, Mony loves her Teddy Bare and he, in turn, dotes on his elderly wife.  He is kind and solicitous toward Mony and she takes pains to teach Edward about etiquette and culture.  Everything moves along swimmingly until Mony’s attorney, Philip Mortimer (Robert Flemyng), who dislikes Edward, calls on Mony and asks her to rewrite her will, leaving Edward out.  Mony, you see, inherited great wealth when her first husband died.  Philip is pretty sure that Mony’s money, and not her charm, compelled Edward to marry her.  When the two shoo Edward out of the room to discuss Mony’s fortune, Edward fears the worst.  Edward hears that Mony will sign a new will the next morning.  Assuming the new will excludes him, Edward concocts a hasty plan.  He’ll have to move fast or lose Mony’s wealth and his carefree lifestyle.  Fear convinces Edward to act rashly.

sneaky
“Where can I find arsenic at this time of night?”

Without going into too much detail, things go poorly for both Mony and Edward.  Mony won’t be coming down to breakfast and Edward learns he may have jumped the gun a bit.  After Edward’s miscalculation, he needs another sugar momma or he’ll have to do something drastic like get a job or some such nonsense.  Enter Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), a brassy ex-barmaid who married the boss and inherited the pub when he died.  She sold the business and now she has money, but no direction.  Edward is taken with Freda’s straightforward personality and her healthy bank account.  Edward and Freda decide to make a go of it, but she’s no fool.  She knows he’s a fortune-hunter, but she can’t help herself.  Despite her street smarts, Freda falls for Edward.

charm
Mmmm cute bad boy.

All this time, Philip, the attorney, hangs around Edward hoping he’ll spill the beans about Mony’s suspicious death.  Freda is having none of it though and stands by Edward until another woman enters the scene.  Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh), yet another lonely, rich woman starts to show a little too much interest in Edward and then all bets are off.

Charlotte & Ed
“Freda will just love you.”

I’ve said this before, but I love the look of British films of the 1950s and 60s.  That shadowy black and white quality serves as a great backdrop for actors.  This is not a toney art film and director Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me) hangs back and lets the talented cast work.  Dirk Bogarde connives and plans and even outsmarts himself, but he does it so beautifully, you find yourself cheering for him.  Margaret Lockwood always delivers a strong performance.  She’s wonderful as the sarcastic and real Freda.  She was even nominated for a BAFTA for best British actress for her role in this film.  Writer John Cresswell based his screenplay on Janet Green’s play, Murder Mistaken.  The snappy dialogue gives Lockwood and Bogarde a chance to shine and surprises throughout the film keep you guessing.  If you’re looking for a sharp thriller with some black comedy, CAST A DARK SHADOW fits the bill.

surprise
“A whoopie cushion?”

Monstrous Industry

Whirr. Clank. Grr.

Musing to Myself

Pretty much what it says on the tin, my musings

Dance Dance Party Party Akron

Maniacs on the dance floor

raulconde001

A topnotch WordPress.com site

The Love Bungalow

a thoughtful lifestyle blog

Monkey Bread And Popcorn

Picking at Pop Culture

Pearls Of Blissdom by AntheasChronicles

It's the little things that make life blissful!

BooksAbound

Random musings from an extreme bibliophile.

Be Like Water

Music, Film and Life

immabelike

Its all about me that I know......rest you all can let me know

CURNBLOG

Movies, thoughts, thoughts about movies.

Planetary Defense Command

Defending the planet from bad science fiction