Archive for the ‘Stuff I wrote for other blogs’ Category

Fight Club (1999)   3 comments

fight club

Ed Norton can’t sleep. He goes through the motions at his mid-level executive job traveling from crappy airport to crappy airport and back to his cookie cutter condo where his big fun on a Saturday night is sitting alone ordering from the Ikea catalog. Something has to change or he’ll lose his mind.

couch
“Did he just buy a vowel?” 

 Sleep deprivation drives him to his doctor for sleeping pills. His doctor isn’t buying it though and makes an offhand remark which leads Norton to a series of support groups which meet in hospitals and church basements. Each group deals with a specific disease that Norton does not have. Despite his relatively disease-free body, Norton continues to go to these meetings which he finds oddly comforting. He’s no happier, but at least he can sleep. Just as he thinks he’s found dull, soulless peace, Norton meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). Crude, brash, and inappropriate, Marla crashes Norton’s pity party sending him back to insomnia-inspired sessions of mind-numbing channel surfing. Norton figures he’s doomed to spend eternity alone in a haze, neither awake nor asleep.

marla
This is NOT the smoking section. 

 Then he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden is a smart-ass who says everything Norton longs to. Norton’s whole life changes. His condo blows up so he moves in with Durden. They live in a dilapidated mansion in the abandoned industrial part of town. Norton stops caring about acquiring the perfect collection of dress shirts. He also stops caring about electricity, what anyone thinks of him, and personal hygiene.

norton
“PC Load Letter?” 

 He stops caring about all that because he develops a new priority…Fight Club. Started because Tyler Durden believes the only way young males can become men is by finding out what they’re made of, Fight Club’s bare-knuckle boxing clubs thrive in the basements of bars all over town.

norton fight
Leto’s not gonna like this. 

 Apparently they’re not the only ones who think there has to be something more than consumerism and trudging slowly up the corporate ladder. Others long for an idea of who they are inside, too. Accompanying all this self-discovery is some terrific dialogue. Durden asks if Norton knows what a duvet is. When he says yes, Durden asks,”Why do guys like us know what a duvet is?” After Norton mentions Martha Stewart, Durden says, “Fuck Martha Stewart! Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic! It’s all going down, man.” In the same conversation, Durden poses the question that gets the Fight Club ball rolling. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

As Norton becomes more involved with Fight Club, he changes.

gandhi
Well who wouldn’t? 

 No longer the quiet guy who lets people walk all over him, Norton even walks differently. He has a swagger. He walks with confidence; like a guy who knows where he’s going. He walks like Durden. He says what he thinks and stops putting up with all the petty crap people deal with every day. He’s alive. Just when he thinks he knows what he wants, everything changes. Other young men Including Jared Leto and Meat Loaf, in a terrific small role, start showing up at their house looking to join the movement. Baffled by this talk of movements and missions, Norton stumbles through his own house, hopelessly out of the loop. At first, it was Norton and Durden and Norton felt happy and part of something. Now other recruits and the missions performed by Operation Mayhem threaten Norton’s place beside Durden. Durden’s even sleeping with Marla. As Fight Club and its original idea spiral out of control, can Norton rein Durden in or at least decipher his master plan?

I’ll never tell.

Director David Fincher (SE7EN, GONE GIRL) keeps the camera moving and the pace brisk. He shows us just enough of each scene to make us want more. There’s a knack to that. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who works with Fincher a lot, manages to make a film shot mostly in basements and poorly lit rooms look perfect. It’s appropriately gritty, but you can still see the players. The soundtrack which includes music by the Dust Brothers and the Pixies is appropriately cynical and dark. Michael Kaplan designed the costumes for FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN, and BLADE RUNNER. He has a talent for combining vintage edginess with reality so people don’t look like they just stepped out of a pricey hipster boutique.

tyler
“Yeah, I’m a Viking. So what?” 

 Other than the direction, which is stellar, and the acting which is perfect, the writing stands out. Jim Uhls wrote the screenplay based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel and it’s cool. The dialogue crackles and the little touches make this film stand out. The bit based on some biology texts Norton finds in the basement of the house written from the point of view of an organ runs throughout the film. I AM JACK’S MEDULLA OBLONGATA. I AM JILL’S NIPPLE. When Norton get’s jealous of Durden’s affection for Jared Leto’s character, he says, “I AM JACK’S INFLAMED SENSE OF REJECTION.” Later he says, “I AM JACK’S SMIRKING REVENGE.” after getting back at his boss. It works. The elaborate pranks Durden and his followers pull entertain as well. Busting the headlights of pretentious cars, degaussing videotapes, blowing up window displays all serve to advance Durden’s anti-consumer agenda and make the audience laugh. Even the pranks we don’t see play a role. Press clippings of the group’s exploits read Police Seize Excrement Catapult and Missing Monkeys Found Shaved.

billboard
I did not know that. 

 Of course the concepts behind FIGHT CLUB involve something deeper than some goofs setting fires and flinging poop. Themes of consumerism, complacency, the feminization of men, and isolation run throughout the film and Durden and Norton get into some deep conversations after a few beers.

FIGHT CLUB works as a comedy, an off-kilter buddy film, and a modern love story. The production team, cast, and especially the writers created a clever and thought-provoking film that stands repeated viewings without diminishing its impact.

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I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF SURPRISE.

Freaks (1932)   11 comments

freaks poster

Hot off his success directing DRACULA for Universal Studios, Tod Browning had carte blanche to decide what he’d like to do next. Browning chose to film Tod Robbins’ story Spurs. The dark tale of life in a traveling carnival appealed to Browning who had left home at sixteen to join the circus. Browning liked Robbins’ macabre stories. He directed the 1925 version of Robbins’ THE UNHOLY THREE starring Lon Chaney.

spurs

FREAKS takes place in a traveling sideshow filled with trapeze artists, animal acts, clowns, and human anomalies. The performers live together in a cluster of caravans not unlike a small town. The little community, made up of outcasts and people on the fringes of society is a tight knit group. Their fear of ridicule and distrust of the outside world bands them together. Just how much only comes out when a so-called normal person threatens one of their number and they act as one to retaliate.

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Director Tod Browning and some of his cast

Hans and Frieda (Harry & Daisy Earles) play little people engaged to marry. In real life, the two were brother and sister, performing all over the United States with two other sisters as The Doll Family. Hans loves Frieda, but has a crush on Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), the glamorous, and tall acrobat. Cleopatra considers Hans’ infatuation a joke, but puts up with it because of the gifts he gives her. When Cleopatra discovers Hans has inherited a great deal of money, she and her lover Hercules (Henry Victor) decide she will marry him to get her hands on it. She says to Hercules, “Midgets are not strong. He could get sick.” Thus they hatch a plot to kill Hans.

hans
Hans and Frieda in happier times

Unfortunately for the evil couple, they’re not too bright and their plan is pretty obvious from the get go. Here we see the famous wedding feast scene. Hans, Cleopatra, and the entire company including the jilted Frieda, sit at a long table drinking champagne to celebrate the nuptials. As Angeleno (Angelo Rossitto) passes a loving cup full of champagne from one performer to the next, he calls out, “Gooble gobble one of us! We accept her! We accept her!”

cleo
“Slimy freaks!”

As the glass nears Cleopatra we see her face harden. She screams, “You filth make me want to puke!” Happy honeymoon!

wedding
Strike one.

Cleopatra and Hercules start dosing Hans with a slow-acting poison right after the wedding. He’s bedridden immediately and under the care of his doting new wife. Hans’ convenient illness arouses the suspicions of his friends and soon Cleopatra and Hercules fall under their watchful eyes.

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Oh us? Just hanging out. *whistles*

Everywhere the conspirators go, freaks, as outsiders refer to the sideshow performers, watch their every move. When Cleopatra and Hercules are caught red-handed, they find themselves at the mercy of the freaks and their brutal code of justice.

freak attack
We’re coming to get you, Olga.

FREAKS does a lovely job of showing the beauty and ugliness in people. Cleopatra and Hercules look attractive, athletic, and healthy, but under their shiny appearance lurks ugliness, cruelty, and disdain for those they consider beneath them. The freaks, on the other hand may be physically abnormal, but they love, trust, and protect each other like a family. The beautiful Cleopatra and Hercules plot against Hans for money while the ‘ugly’ freaks celebrate the birth of a child. Over and over we see examples of the nastiness of Cleopatra and Hercules juxtaposed with the kindness of one of the freaks. Of course, when crossed, the sideshow denizens show their violent sides too. This works because it shows these people to be exactly what many normal people think they are not…human.

bearded
The Bearded Lady’s new baby

Not all supposedly normal people in FREAKS are heartless jerks. The marvelous character actor Wallace Ford plays Phroso, the Clown. He treats the sideshow performers as he would anyone. He’s affable and genuine. If you’re kind to him, he’s kind to you. Leila Hyams as Venus is also a friend to the freaks as is Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) who cares for her microcephalic ‘children’.

phroso
Wallace Ford and Elizabeth Green

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Madame Tetrallini and her charges

Tod Browning cast FREAKS from sideshows all over the United States and Europe. He hired popular acts like Johnny Eck, the half boy, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and Harry Earles, who later gained fame as one of the Lollipop Guild in The Wizard of Oz. Angelo Rossitto, was a popular performer who worked on and off until the 1980s. Among many other roles, he played The Master in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The Armless Girl, Frances O’Connor worked under the name The Living Venus DeMilo in circuses and sideshows. Beautiful, gregarious, and dextrous, Frances was a sought after performer for years.

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Frances havin’ some suds

Schlitze and the other microcephalic members of the company were often called pinheads and billed as Aztec Children in the sideshow circuit.

schlitzie
Schlitzie

Then there’s Prince Randian. Often called The Living Torso, Randian has an incredible scene in FREAKS in which he lights a cigarette. He opens a matchbox, takes out a match, closes the matchbox, and lights the match and his cigarette. It’s fascinating to watch. What you should know is they cut an earlier part of the scene showing Randian rolling that cigarette. Randian lived to his 60s, worked in circuses, married, and had kids.

prince
Prince Randian

I’ve always loved FREAKS because of its engaging story, compelling characters, and because it affords us a glimpse into a world we’d never see if not for the film. Since the 1960s when FREAKS started showing in art house theatres, it’s gained a cult following, but the controversial setting, plot, and especially the characters did not thrill audiences or critics in 1932. In fact, the reaction to FREAKS killed Tod Browning’s career. Even though he lived until the 1960s, Browning only made four films after FREAKS. Audiences did not want to know about these people. In my opinion, it’s one of the reasons freak shows and carnivals started closing. It was just too ugly for refined people to see. They called it exploitation and put many performers, who made a good living, out on the street. Unable to get other jobs, many had to rely on charity to survive. Even critics who didn’t hate the film said that though it was well made, the film had no chance of working because there was no way a normal man or woman could empathize with a midget. That’s sad because there’s so much to love about this film and the characters in it. Browning manages in sixty-four minutes to let us into this closed world. FREAKS pulls you in and lets you see things from another point of view which is one of the best things about film.

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I wrote this piece for the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Karen @TheDarkPages http://www.shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com and
Danny @PreCodeDotCom http://www.pre-code.com

Another fun idea, you two!

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The Outer Limits: The Invisible Enemy (1964)   7 comments

TheOuterLimits-Screenshot-old

The rocket M-1 lands on Mars. Its crew of two congratulate each other on a flawless landing and a start to their alien expedition.

M1
“Phew! We made it. It’s all smooth sailing now.”

Lieutenant Bowman (Anthony Costello) admonishes Captain Thomas (Michael Mikler) to “stay in touch at all times.” With that, Thomas heads to the surface of the planet to check the place out. Seconds later we hear a bloodcurdling scream and Bowman runs out of the capsule to rescue his comrade. Soon another scream pierces the silence, then nothing. Since communications are delayed by three and a half minutes, we get to hear the entire exchange again as ground control listens to the two doomed men.

ted
“Marco!”

Cut to three years later. It’s 2014 and the four-man M-2 land on Mars to explore and to find out what happened to the M-1. I can’t help thinking about the old joke. Q: “Why does the new Navy sail on glass-bottomed boats?” A: “To look for the old Navy.” Anyway, Major Merritt (Adam West) leads the M-2 and orders Captain Lazzari (Peter Marko) and Lieutenant Johnson (Robert DoQui) to go out and do some exploring. He too orders the men to stay in contact with the ship at all times. There are screams and men not staying in contact with the ship and bazookas and pretty soon, it’s a two man expedition.

shore
“This looks friendly.”

Merritt and Captain Buckley (Rudy Solari) are ordered by their bosses on the ground to stay put and, you guessed it, stay in contact at all times. Merritt’s had a tough mission, so he takes a nap. This gives Buckley the ideal opportunity to, um, tool outside and not stay in contact and stuff. You see, Buckley has a theory (ahem ahem) and he’s just itching to try it out. Merritt wakes up to find Buckley gone (no comment) so he blows off his orders to go look for the captain. Martian hijinks ensue.

adam chat
“You didn’t even leave a note.”

I don’t want to give away the entire plot here, but I will say this is the only television show, film, or toothpaste commercial that scared me as a kid. The episode aired first on Halloween 1964. I watched it and most of the Outer Limits episodes as reruns in the 1970s. I remember sitting, mesmerized, on the floor watching the famous opening segment narrated by Vic Perrin. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. we are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to The Outer Limits.” Yes! I’m ready, Vic!


Isn’t that the coolest?

As much as I enjoy The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I’ve always considered The Outer Limits darker, edgier, and weirder. Like Serling’s and Hitchcock’s shows, Outer Limits starred a ton of film and television actors I knew. Robert Culp, David McCallum, Martin Landau, Bruce Dern, James Shigeta, Vera Miles, Ivan Dixon, Ted Knight, and Leonard Nimoy all starred in episodes.

adam west
…and Adam West!

Written for the magazine Imaginative Tales in 1955 by Jerry Sohl, The Invisible Enemy went through a few rewrites before filming began. Director Byron Haskin (Arsenic and Old Lace, War of the Worlds), producer Ben Brady, and the fabulously named Seeleg Lester also touched up the script.

So far I’ve mentioned everything but the thing that really scared me as a kid. It was a combination of the ominous music by Harry Lubin, cinematography by Kenneth Peach, who worked on the original King Kong, and special effects by Pat Dinga, who also worked on Bride of the Monster. The creatures in The Invisible Enemy were downright scary. They looked something like this.

open mouth outer
See! I told you.

piranha shark
“Hiya!”

These sand-loving piranha sharks move fast and have a great roar. They don’t seem to displace much of their odd, sparkly quicksand either which makes them hard to see coming. They’re also smart and a tiny bit territorial. This is their crap end of the universe and they’ll be damned if any buttoned-up astronaut types are going to swim in their pool. “Batman Shmatman!”, quoth the evil fish dudes. Well, maybe they don’t actually say that, but it’s implied.

adam
“Dammit! I should have brought my utility belt.”

I love The Invisible Enemy for the cool story, well-done effects, original creatures, and because it brings back great memories of sitting, cross-legged on my living room floor getting scared. Fun stuff.

I wrote this for the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by the lovely and talented Terence Towles Canote on his blog mercurie.blogspot.com @mercurie80

Fun idea, Terry!

amoktime

Dune (1984): Now with More Spice   2 comments

german dune

Dark, alien, and plagued by a period in development Hell that would make Terry Gilliam shudder, David Lynch’s 1984 film Dune endured a lot of false starts before making it to a theatre near you. The film tells the story of two warring factions: House Atreides and House Harkonnen. House Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow, Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis) rule the beautiful ocean planet Caladan. They’re attractive, intelligent, and noble. House Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan, Paul Smith, Sting) dominate the desert planet Arrakis. They’re ugly, barbaric, and cruel. OK, Sting’s not ugly, but he’s so nasty you think he is. Filled with political intrigue, spirituality, and even references to the Middle East’s control of oil, Dune is an ambitious film. It aims high, and while it doesn’t hit all of its targets, it hits enough to make for a bizarre and entertaining experience.

close
Don’t stand so close to me.

Though Lynch’s Dune premiered in 1984, attempts to film it started in 1971. Arthur Jacobs, who produced Planet of the Apes and Play It Again, Sam, gave it a shot first. He asked David Lean to direct. Lean said no. Jacobs searched for a director and worked on other projects. He died in 1973 before production began.

computer says
Computer says no.

Jean-Paul Gibon’s company took over after buying the rights from Jacobs’ estate. They hired Alejandro Jodorowsky, who brought in the dream team of Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Dan O’Bannon, Mick Jagger, H.R. Giger, Moebius, Pink Floyd, and Shirley Temple Black. All right, not Black; I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Cost overruns abounded, and the producers, afraid of what would have been a 10-14 hour film, wrestled the script from Jodorowsky’s hands.

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Japanese poster for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights, asked Dune author, Frank Herbert, to write a screenplay, and hired Ridley Scott to direct. Now the film would be made in two parts and last a more manageable four hours. The death of Scott’s brother Frank caused him to reassess his life and career. He left the production to make Blade Runner.

sean
Either way, Ridley, you’re stuck with me.

De Laurentiis scrambled to secure the rights again, and his daughter, producer Rafaella De Laurentiis, hired David Lynch to direct Dune. Fresh from the critical success of The Elephant Man, but with no science fiction background or knowledge of the Dune series, Lynch began writing a screenplay. He wrote another screenplay. And another. Lynch wrote a whole bunch of screenplays; then he made the film we know and love. Well, some of us love it. Some lump Dune in the same category as Cimino’s 1980 film Heaven’s Gate: an expensive, rudderless epic. I don’t. For me, Dune has everything a good science fiction film needs.

heaven
Enough already with the abuse.

First, it has space. The two feuding houses don’t live on either side of the Adige in Verona. They live on different planets. It’s the year 10,192 and space travel is a snap. This is especially true if you’re in the Spacing Guild. Spacing Guild members travel the same way Carlos Castaneda did. They drop a little spice and fold space. It beats walking.

spice ad

guild
Hey man, come over and we’ll fold space. It’ll be epic.

Next, it has cool futuristic weapons. House Atreides invents these awesome weirding modules that can kill a guy with the right wavelength. Also, Patrick Stewart and Richard Jordan, clad in transparent armor, train Kyle MacLachlan in hand-to-hand knife fighting. Stewart and others refer to atomic weapons, and remote-controlled hunter seekers armed with poison darts float from room to room.

weird
Pew pew pew!

Then, it has nomadic desert troops waging jihad against their Harkonnen oppressors. The allusions to Arabic culture don’t end there. The character name Thufir means victory in Arabic and Kyle MacLachlan’s tribal name, Mu’adib, translates to teacher. Herbert made comparisons to the Middle East oil crisis and environmental issues throughout his Dune series.

sun
I hope they’re wearing sunscreen.

Then, it has worms and spice. Is there a relationship? The worms are rather large and have accompanying lightning. People fear and worship them. The spice mélange expands consciousness, changes eye color, and helps with that space folding thing.

worm
I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite a while.

Last, it has an alien aura like no other film. Dune looks like a post-apocalyptic steampunk S&M club’s rendition of Lawrence of Arabia. Vast deserts, steam-powered weaponry, red mohawks, burqas, goggles, leather Speedos, and dimly lit rooms contribute to the overall atmosphere of Victorian future space Bedouin chic. The sweeping theme by Brian Eno and Toto reinforces Dune’s epic status. With a supporting cast that includes the Lynch repertory company of Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, and Jack Nance, Dune is well acted and fun to watch. I even like Alan Smithee’s two-part televised version even if David Lynch doesn’t. I’m not alone either. Quite a few of us find the strangeness of Lynch’s vision appealing. Recently, the topic of guilty pleasure films came up on Twitter and I named Dune as one of mine. Immediately, people came out of the woodwork expressing their love for the much maligned film. The praise for Lynch’s odd science fiction gem surprised and delighted me. I guess I’m not the only fan of worms.

A version of this essay appeared first in the Brattle Film Notes, the blog for the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my favorite theatre in the world. Here’s a link to that piece. http://www.brattleblog.brattlefilm.org/2015/02/25/dune-now-with-more-spice-2654/#more-2654

baron
What’s up, Baron?

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And the Winner Isn’t…   13 comments

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Despite the fact that two of the five best picture nominees for 1957 took place in courthouses, there was no justice for quite a few filmmakers at the RKO Pantages Theatre that year. I started to write this piece about the snubbing of a particular film, but after researching the story I found many glaring omissions for that year. We think of Oscar snubs as a modern phenomenon, but even in the 1950s, filmmakers found fault with the Academy’s choices. In fact, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas sang a duet during the awards ceremony called “It’s Great Not To Be Nominated”. Who did grab the glory that year?


“It’s Great Not To Be Nominated”

In 1957, for the first time in Academy Award history, the five nominees for best director came from the five nominees for best picture. Here are the nominees.

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The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957 was David Lean’s year. The Bridge on the River Kwai got eight nominations and won seven Oscars including best picture and best director. Full of strong performances from Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa, and the entire cast, Lean’s epic on the futility of war scored big and deservedly so. I think there were other films that could easily have won or at least grabbed a nomination in a few categories, but no matter. Kwai plowed through all of them.

witness

Witness for the Prosecution
Billy Wilder’s incredible courtroom drama boasts a great story written by Agatha Christie and adapted for the screen by Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, and Lawrence B. Marcus, and stellar performances from its cast. Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power create memorable characters in this legal drama full of fun plot twists. Witness received six Oscar nominations, but won none.

12 men

12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet’s claustrophobic drama about jury deliberations that will decide the fate of a young man was nominated for three Oscars. 12 Angry Men’s playlike blocking and intelligent script keeps the audience rapt and the memorable performances by Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, and the rest of the jury still hold up.

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Sayonara
Joshua Logan directed this socially conscious drama about American servicemen stationed in Japan who had to battle military regulations and racial prejudice to marry Japanese women. Paul Osborn wrote the screenplay based on the James Michener novel. Michener based the book on his own experience in marrying a Japanese woman after his deployment to Japan during World War II. Nominated for ten Oscars, Sayonara won four. While the topics of miscegenation and prejudice are worthwhile, the film isn’t all that great. The main reason to watch this film is Miyoshi Umeki’s poignant Oscar winning performance.

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I don’t get to keep the clothes?

Peyton Place
Don’t get me started. Grace Metalious’ wildly popular tale of small town hypocrisy and scandal received a whopping nine Oscar nominations, but was shut out anyway. Thank goodness. Peyton Place boasts some of the stiffest acting of the 1950s. The trite script written by John Michael Hayes allows Lana Turner and Lloyd Nolan to over-emote while remaining as wooden as Hope Lange’s woodpile. Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the occasional bad film. I just don’t expect it to get nine Oscar nods. Clearly someone wasn’t paying attention.

I agree with the academy about nominations for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Witness for the Prosecution, and 12 Angry Men, but I take issue with some of the Sayonara nods and all of the Peyton Place nominations. What other films deserved attention from Oscar? I’m glad you asked. 1957 saw some terrific films that were all but ignored come award season.

3:10 to Yuma
Delmer Daves western nail-biter ramps up the suspense and Glenn Ford gives his best performance. Zero nominations.

Desk Set
In this charming romantic comedy, Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert hired by a television network to study Katharine Hepburn’s department. The script, written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron and based on William Marchant’s play is clever, realistic, and warm and you can’t deny the chemistry between the two leads. Zero nominations.

Edge of the City
Martin Ritt’s gritty noir deals with racism, loyalty, and personal integrity. Sidney Poitier, John Cassavetes, Ruby Dee, and Jack Warden deliver powerful performances. Zero nominations.

The Enemy Below
This taut war thriller pits U.S. Navy Captain Robert Mitchum against U-boat commander Curd Jürgens in a game of sea chess. Dick Powell produced and directed this suspenseful WWII film. The Enemy Below won its only nomination for best special effects.

Fear Strikes Out
Anthony Perkins hits it out of the park (sorry) as Boston Red Sox player Jimmy Piersall who battles pressure from his domineering father, played by Karl Malden, and mental illness to play in the majors. Robert Mulligan directed and Perkins and Malden are wonderful in this true story. Zero nominations.

Gunfight at the Ok Corral
The John Sturges directed western starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday is just fun to watch. Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, Dennis Hopper, and Whit Bissell round out this great cast. Two nominations (sound and film editing).

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
John Huston’s sweet love story has a tough Marine (Robert Mitchum) falling for Deborah Kerr’s nun as they duck Japanese soldiers on a Pacific island during WWII. Two nominations for best actress and adapted screenplay. Zero wins.

Three Faces of Eve
Nunnally Johnson directed Joanne Woodward in her Oscar-winning role as a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Lee J. Cobb and David Wayne add their tremendous skills as character actors to this gentle psychological study. One nomination. One win.

ymir
Peyton Place? Are you kidding?

Oscar ignored some other good films that year. 20 Million Miles to Earth and The Black Scorpion boast effects by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien and Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man comes from a Richard Matheson story. Zero nominations, not even for special effects. The noir sleeper The Burglar, based on a story by David Goodis and starring noir fave Dan Duryea got zero nominations. Fred Zinnemann’s tale of addiction, A Hatful of Rain received one nomination for best actor. Jailhouse Rock, Elvis’ best film, wasn’t even nominated for music or set design. Budd Boetticher’s suspenseful western The Tall T has some lovely cinematography, a tight story by Elmore Leonard, and Randolph Scott! Zero nominations. While these omissions may surprise a film fan, the three I have left will probably baffle you. They did me.

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A Face in the Crowd
Budd Schulberg’s prescient look at the power of fame, television, and manufactured celebrity has direction by Elia Kazan, and a talented cast which includes Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick. It also boasts a stunning performance by Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, the southern ne’er-do-well whose homespun wisdom and charisma lifts him from obscure slacker to national power broker. It’s absolutely criminal that Griffith wasn’t nominated for best actor.

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Paths of Glory
Really? This one kills me. Penned by Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson, and Humphrey Cobb and based on Cobb’s novel, Paths of Glory serves as a searing indictment of hypocrisy, politics, and war. Kubrick’s promise as a director showed in his earlier films Killer’s Kiss and The Killing, but Paths of Glory elevated him to another level entirely. Georg Krause’s gorgeous cinematography and those long Kubrick shots of the trenches show the contrast between the squalor of the front lines and the officers’ palatial digs. In this fact-based story from WWI, Kirk Douglas dominates the screen, but the supporting players offer stellar performances too. Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Timothy Carey, and especially Ralph Meeker more than hold their own alongside the dynamic Douglas. Zero nominations.

tonyburt

Sweet Smell of Success
Alexander Mackendrick’s gorgeous, vicious story of a ruthless newspaper columnist and the people he manipulates captured exactly zero nominations. Zero. Zero nominations for the brilliant screenplay written by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman based on Lehman’s novella. Zero nominations for James Wong Howe’s amazing noir camera angles and lush black and white cinematography. Zero nominations for Elmer Bernstein’s dramatic, jazzy score. Zero nominations for Tony Curtis’ clever, nuanced performance. Zero. If you judge the quality of a film by the number of quotable phrases, you’d have to place Sweet Smell of Success near the top. Of course, the same goes for Jaws, Caddyshack, Die Hard, Casablanca, and Pulp Fiction. Actually, that’s a pretty cool crowd. Success has some real zingers. After Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) makes a particularly nasty crack J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) says, “I’d hate to take a bite out of you, Sidney. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” Later, Falco commits a crime which will frame someone Hunsecker dislikes and reports to him, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.” I’m not the only one who finds this dialogue memorable. Barry Levinson has a character in his film Diner who recites the dialogue from Sweet Smell of Success throughout the entire film. Clifford Odets (Bigger Than Life, Clash by Night) and Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) wrote sparkling dialogue for a gritty tale of power, ambition, and manipulation. The cinematography, music, and direction combined with a powerhouse cast including not only Curtis and Lancaster, but also Sam Levene, Martin Milner, and the highly underrated Barbara Nichols make for a film that stays with you long after it’s over. The fact that Oscar bypassed Sweet Smell of Success strikes me as the biggest of gyps.

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I wrote this piece for the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon hosted by Paula of paulascinemaclub.com @Paula_Guthat,
Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com @CitizenScreen, and Kellee of kelleepratt.com @IrishJayhawk66

Thank you, ladies! You run a fun blogathon.

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The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)   6 comments

“Horses ain’t like people, man. They can’t make themselves better than they’re born.”

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Charlie (Mickey Rourke) puts the finishing touches on his ensemble as Frank Sinatra croons Summer Wind in the background. Like the dressing scene in American Gigolo (1980), this glimpse into Charlie’s pre-work routine gives us some insight into his character. Unlike Gere in Gigolo, Charlie travels in working class circles, but yearns for something more. He manages a restaurant in a predominantly Italian New York City neighborhood and dreams of owning his own place. His ne’er-do-well cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) works as a waiter in the restaurant and from the start we see what an irresponsible man-child he is. After Paulie steals from the restaurant, the owner fires him and Charlie. Desperate for money to support his ex-wife and son and to pay the rent, Charlie agrees to help with the burglary of a payroll office. They’ll stroll into a closed office building, Barney (Kenneth McMillan) a clock repairman and small time thief will open the safe, and the three men will walk out $50,000 richer. Easy, right? A side story involving crooked cops, local wise guys, and dirty money complicates their simple caper and the rest of the film shows us the strength of Charlie and Paulie’s friendship.

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The break-in and its aftermath don’t drive The Pope of Greenwich Village though. The characters do. Filled with actors like Val Avery, Tony Musante, M. Emmet Walsh, and Burt Young, the film has a real neighborhood bar look to it. Performances by Geraldine Page and Jack Kehoe as a mother and son stand out. The Academy nominated Page for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in this film, but she lost out to Peggy Ashcroft for A Passage to India. All I can say is Ashcroft must have been awesome because Page hits it out of the park. I couldn’t take my eyes off her boozy, chain-smoking mother or make a sound for fear of missing a single word she spoke.

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Another nomination?

All the characters have great lines. Vincent Patrick wrote the novel and screenplay and has a real feel for his characters. An exchange between Paulie and his father played by Philip Bosco has the dad telling his son about a relative who is successful. He has a wife and kids and a home. Paulie counters with, “Pop, he shines his own shoes.” When his dad asks Paulie what success means to him, he says “I took 500 from shylocks, Pop, to see Sinatra at the Garden. Sat two seats away from Tony Bennett. That’s success, Pop.” Those few lines speak volumes about Paulie. Charlie has some great things to say too. When Charlie’s girlfriend Daryl Hannah gets fed up with Paulie’s antics she asks, “When are you going to outgrow him, Charlie?” Charlie answers, “Diane, maybe WASPS outgrow people. Italians outgrow clothes, not people.”

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Why am I in this film? Oh right.

Originally, The Pope of Greenwich Village had Robert DeNiro cast as Charlie and Al Pacino as Paulie with Michael Cimino directing. Delays in the shooting schedule forced Cimino to drop out so DeNiro and Pacino followed. Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Laughing Policeman) directed and does a nice job of giving us the feel of the neighborhood and the people who live there. Music by Dave Grusin lets you know this is a film from the 1980s, but the real reasons you watch this film are the performances by Rourke and Roberts. Rourke showed great promise in Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) and Roberts impressed critics with his performance in Star 80 (1983). Together they have great chemistry. Scenes with the two cousins walking arm in arm through the neighborhood or swaying to a Sinatra song while taking over a kids’ stickball game look natural. You believe they grew up together. I recommend this film. It falls short in showing you Charlie’s one foot in each world indecision, but as a character study full of lovely, small performances, it succeeds. Look for a fun bit of business with a tow-happy policeman and a horse physic and Mink DeVille’s pretty song Just to Walk That Little Girl Home.

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I wrote this piece for the 1984-a-Thon hosted by forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com on twitter @ForgottenFilmz
Check out his blog and the other films reviewed for this blogathon.

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Jaws (1975)   6 comments

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A series of bizarre deaths plagues a small community. Local officials, unable to deal with an emergency of this magnitude call in the pros from Dover.

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Not these guys.

The imported scientist, sensible law enforcement professional, and smart-ass guy with horse sense team up to thwart the evil ant/spider/squid/gerbil/shark’s plans for world domination or chowing down the locals. People die. At least one person does something massively heroic. Stuff blows up. In one last ditch effort to save the world from the mutant lemming/reindeer/gnat, our plucky hero takes a wild stab and saves the day. The End. I’ve just described the plots to Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Thing From Another Planet, a bunch of less professionally made B-movies from the 1950s/60s, and Jaws. I know. I’ve heard the arguments. Jaws is a drama or an action/buddy picture, but it’s not horror. To that I say, “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” Wait. Of course Jaws is horror. It’s also a drama with comedic moments, a buddy picture, a floor wax, and a dessert topping. Jaws ticks a lot of boxes.

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Harry

Director Steven Spielberg took the biggest novel of the day and its author, Peter Benchley, his actors, crew, and a barely functioning mechanical shark to Martha’s Vineyard to make one of the best movies of the last 40 years. The film opens with the violent death of a young girl in the ocean off fictitious Amity Island. Told by the coroner the cause of death is shark attack, chief of police Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convinces him to keep them open saying “We need summer dollars.” Meanwhile, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to consult with Brody as to whether or not they have a shark problem.

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Did you see a shark?

They do. The public deaths of two more people force Vaughn to close the beaches and hire Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark. Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out to sea to catch them a porker. Bonding ensues. There’s also chumming and knot-tying and drunken story-telling and death.

If the story sounds simple, that’s because it is. The simplicity of the story allows Benchley and co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who also plays the local newspaperman, to fill it up with complex characters and great dialogue. When Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) meets Hooper she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.” When Mayor Vaughn stubbornly refuses to listen to Hooper and Brody and says the beaches will stay open Hooper says, ”I’m not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.” Great stuff.

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“Amity, as you know, means friendship.”
-Mayor Larry ‘Hot Lunch’ Vaughn

The characters have some depth too. Through their anecdotes and conversations we learn more about Brody, Hooper, and Quint than cop, scientist, and crusty sea-dog. The men indulge in some macho one-upsmanship including a funny scene in which Quint chugs a can of beer (Narragansett, or ‘Gansett in the local parlance) and crushes the can. Hooper drains his drink and crushes a Styrofoam cup. Then there’s THE scene. Brody dumps chum over the side of the boat. He turns to make a smart ass comment to Quint, then turns back just in time to see a huge shark come up beside him. He backs up slowly to Quint in the cabin and says the famous, ad-libbed line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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Surprise!

After a day of shark hunting, the boys toss back a few and the exchange that follows has become one the most famous scenes in modern cinema. According to Steven Spielberg, he first asked Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden to play Quint, but they both turned it down. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown suggested Robert Shaw. I like both Marvin and Hayden, but I can’t think of anyone other than Shaw in the role of Quint. His speech and spot-on delivery about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is a gorgeous example of story-telling. Writer Howard Sackler (Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire) had the idea for the speech. John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now) gets most of the credit, but Robert Shaw, also a writer, polished and delivered it over two nights. Editor Verna Fields pieced together the two readings to make the speech as we know it. She also blended real shark footage with that of Bruce, the mechanical wonder and made it look real…and scary. The rest of the film is a rollicking good time that is better seen than described. Since we’ve gotten to know these three men, we care when we see them in danger. They care too. You see it in their faces.

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Great writing and acting make Jaws a wonderful film. What elevates it to top ten list status is the music. Spielberg chose to work with John Williams in Sugarland Express the year before after hearing Williams’ score for The Reivers. He asked Williams to score Jaws and that choice made the film. The soundtrack moves from ominous and suspenseful to joyous and light-hearted seamlessly and Spielberg uses the music to punctuate his scenes. Spielberg knows a good thing when he hears it. Williams has scored all but two of his films.

The writing, cast, and acting combine with the beautiful location to make Jaws a terrific film, but it’s the little things that make it one of my favorites. I love when Brody knocks over the paintbrushes in the hardware store and grimaces. When he tells his deputy, Jeffrey Kramer to make Beach Closed signs he says, “Let Polly do the printing.” Then there’s that great dolly zoom shot of Brody on the beach.


Perfect.

Later Quint sees Hooper’s high-tech equipment and says, “Jesus H. Christ, what are you some kind of half-assed astronaut?” Perfect. I grew up in Massachusetts and have spent time on the Cape and islands all my life. The phrases and cadence in Jaws are pretty darn good. My dad says Jesus H. Christ on occasion. The accents even pass for the most part. One of the town council sounds more like Maine than the Vineyard, but we’ll let that go. Even Quint’s brogue of sorts fits.

I love Jaws. My top ten changes around as I see new films and re-watch old favorites, but Jaws is always there…looming in the depths.

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I wrote this piece for the Spielberg Blogathon hosted by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled http://kelleepratt.blogspot.com/ on twitter @IrishJayhawk66

Michael It Rains…You Get Wet http://le0pard13.com/ on twitter @le0pard13

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen http://aurorasginjoint.com/ on twitter @CitizenScreen

Thank you!!

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Smile!

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Army of Shadows (1969)   5 comments

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Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a prisoner of the Vichy French travels, in manacles, to a French POW camp. Stoic and confident, Gerbier says little and observes much. It’s clear from his demeanor and his treatment by the camp’s commandant that he’s more than a simple smuggler. After an audacious escape from Gestapo custody, Gerbier meets up with his comrades in the French Underground and we begin to understand his importance. We meet the members of Gerbier’s underground cell after his escape as they gather to assassinate the turncoat who ratted him out.

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It’s a tense series of scenes in which a group of civilized men are forced by war to perform uncivilized acts. These acts and the missions they accomplish daily have formed the group into a de facto family, with Gerbier at its head. The men, along with Mathilde (Simone Signoret) work well together. They carry out their orders efficiently and without question. They’re accustomed to taking risks. Clandestine meetings, signals to their comrades, and smuggling supplies are the norm. A scene in which Mathilde smuggles a radio in her bag under some fruit reminded me of something Bob Crane would do in Hogan’s Heroes. That doesn’t mean the scenes were dull or ordinary. Insightful direction by Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge, Bob Le Flambeur) keeps the pace brisk, but he knows when to linger on a scene or on a character’s face. We even get to see the characters relax a bit.

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When Gerbier goes to London via submarine with the leader of their organization to get funds and supplies, he tours the city with his friend. They even see a film. After a screening of Gone with the Wind, Luc (Paul Meurisse) says, “The war will be over for the French when they can see this wonderful movie.” It’s a small moment, but one I watched a few times because it said so much.
With its narration and onscreen date and location stamps, Army of Shadows feels like a documentary. Under the guise of a procedural, a story takes shape. The story Melville presents is one of suspense, bravery, sacrifice, and love. The Resistance members risk everything to save their country from evil. They respect and even love each other and go to great lengths to protect one another. That sounds heavy and ponderous, but it’s not. Melville lets us know enough about the characters to care about them so when they face danger, we feel it. Army of Shadows is an account of one group of resistance fighters and how they interact. It’s a patriotic WWII film. It’s an action movie with some real weight. Joseph Kessel wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay with Melville. The story has enough twists to make it interesting and the acting is superb. I had never seen Lino Ventura before this film. He was a perfect choice. His quiet authority gave him the look of a natural leader. Simone Signoret is always wonderful and I wish Jean-Pierre Cassel had a bigger part. Eric DeMarsan’s music fit. The jangly piano he added to a few scenes gave the music a crazy quality I liked. This film kept me on the edge of my seat. After seeing Army of Shadows, I look forward to seeing Melville’s other films.

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I wrote this for Tyson Carter’s wonderful film blog http://headinavice.com/ and his Recommended By blogathon. Really fun idea, Tyson! Jay from http://www.007hertzrumble.com/ , a cool blog mostly, but not entirely devoted to James Bond musings and music, recommended Army of Shadows and the rest of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films to me and I’m glad he did. Thanks, Jay! Great stuff!
Tyson is also on twitter @Tysoncarter as is Jay @007hertzrumble and me @echidnabot

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Jurassic Park (1993)   9 comments

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Billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) owns an island. He wants to turn the island into an amusement park so he mines amber for the dinosaur DNA found in preserved mosquitoes and uses it to make dinosaurs. Of course he does. In the hands of any other director and cast this might come off as the nineties version of Sharknado, but since Steven Spielberg, Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and JEFF GOLDBLUM direct and star, it works. Suspension of disbelief, you say? Oh yes.

huh
Say what again.

I believed every frame of every scene because Spielberg and company sold me. B.D. Wong plays a smug scientist in a lab coat? Check! Samuel L. Jackson sips a tasty beverage while chain-smoking and writing code? Check! Wayne Knight whines and annoys everyone while sabotaging decades of work? Newman! Check! Martin Ferrero plays a bloodsucking lawyer more interesting in the bottom line than safety or due diligence? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple of PhD dinosaur groupies? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple? Check! Jeff Goldblum plays a hip leather-clad chaos theorist? Check and mate!

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Cue: angelic music.

The coolest member of the cast, Jeff Goldblum stars as Dr. Ian Malcolm who espouses chaos theory, teases Hammond, and questions everything. He even puts the moves on Dern when Neill isn’t looking. Brought to Hammond’s island along with Neill and Dern to give the park his seal of approval and assuage investors’ fears, Goldblum’s Malcolm is funny, skeptical, and charmingly irreverent. In the words of John Hammond to Ferrero’s lawyer, “I bring scientists. You bring a rock star.” Damn straight. Malcolm is a rock star. Fashionably intellectual and fatally attractive in black leather, Malcolm makes key observations about the fault in Hammond’s logic. When told that they control dinosaur breeding in the lab, Malcolm’s not buying it. After arguing with Wong about it Malcolm says “I’m simply saying that life finds a way.” Yup.

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Oops. They bred.

Malcolm has the best lines all through the film. When Hammond asks his opinion of his scientific achievements, Malcolm says, “The lack of humility before nature is staggering.” Hammond mentions his advancements in DNA research to which Malcolm replies, “You wield it like a kid who’s found his dad’s gun.” Hammond points out that he’s created life to which Malcolm replies ”Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Brilliant. We’re supposed to care about Neill and Dern and Hammond’s grandkids played by Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello and we do, but honestly, I wanted to see dinosaurs and Dr. Malcolm. Fangirling much? You could say that, but how can you resist Goldblum, at his hottest I might add, cracking wise and asking Neill whether Dern is single. To explain his question he adds “I’m always on the lookout for the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm.” Fabulous.

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John Williams’ music adds to the mood of the film, as always, and the production values are stellar. Spielberg spared no expense in making the best ‘old rich guy wants to have the coolest theme park so he makes dinosaurs oops they’re eating a guy’ film imaginable. He picked a great crew, a great cast, and a great Michael Crichton concept. Together they made a cool film that never fails to get me hooked. And Jeff Goldblum.

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I wrote this for the Goldblumathon hosted by Barry of Cinema Catharsis fame. Thanks, Barry! Here’s his blog. http://cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com/

I can be reached on twitter @echidnabot

Please, check out https://prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com/

Victim (1961)   5 comments

opening

Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) sees a police car pulling up to his job as a clerk on a construction site and runs. Desperate, he goes from friend to friend trying to borrow money or a car to leave London. Boy embezzled money and the police are on his trail. His friends console him and try to help, but Boy gets picked up at a roadside diner and police bring him to headquarters. There, sympathetic Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie) and his assistant Bridie (John Cairney) attempt to convince Boy to talk to them. During their investigation into the missing funds, the detectives discover that despite his windfall, Boy lives simply and has no cash at his tiny flat. To the police, that means one thing: blackmail. That blackmail and those affected by it on both sides of the law are the focus of director Basil Dearden’s taut drama.

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Early in the film we learn the reason behind the blackmail is Boy’s homosexuality and his desire to shield another from both blackmailers and police who could still arrest gays until 1967. When Harris finds clippings about a prominent barrister in a scrapbook Boy attempted to destroy, he summons subject Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) to the station to learn if Farr knew of the plot. When he hears of the police’s theory and the consequences, Farr decides to root out the cowardly criminals even if it means the ruin of his own highly successful marriage and career. We see Farr as a man of great integrity who lives by his principles. He has a lovely wife, Laura, played with restraint by Sylvia Syms (The World of Suzie Wong), a wide circle of friends, and a tremendous future in the law. His investigation threatens all that and yet he continues, trying to help others ensnared by the thieves without implicating them. As Farr learns more about the crimes, he sees many of the men victimized by the blackmailers and their reasons for paying off without seeking help from police. An older shop owner tells Farr he’s already been in jail three times and couldn’t bear it a fourth. A colleague of Farr’s must keep his activities under wraps or lose his career. A well-known stage actor, placed by Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets) just wants the whole thing to go away.
The film shows us the attitudes of those on the periphery as well. During Boy’s early attempt to flee, he meets friends who obviously care for him and one who find his sexual orientation loathsome. One of his true friends jokes “Well, it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.” One friend promises to send him money and another begs him to go to the police and offers to accompany him. In the pub where many of Boy’s friends congregate, we see knowing glances and rolled eyes along with sympathy and indifference. The two policemen on the case feel differently too. In response to Bridie’s negative comment about homosexuals Harris says “I see you’re a true puritan, Bridie, eh?”
Bridie: “There’s nothing wrong with that, sir.”
Harris: “Of course not. There was a time when that was against the law you know.” Farr’s family and close associates differ in their attitudes as well. His wife knows her husband’s history but trusts him. Laura’s heartbreak is based more on a feeling of betrayal and less about who Farr may have betrayed her with. Her brother, who shows disgust about Farr’s homosexuality makes a salient point. If Farr stays outside the law in his investigation of the blackmailers, he becomes as dishonest as those who would hurt him. These moral ambiguities make Victim a deeper, more satisfying watch.

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Written by Janet Green and John McCormick to call attention to a law the authors hated, Victim’s strength is that it shows homosexuals as people, and not stereotypes. The victims of the nasty blackmailers have families, friends, jobs, and feelings. They’re not portrayed as predators or corruptors of the young, but men who love other men, a fact which leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals. Characters in the film mention the law against homosexuality quite a bit. One of the victims says “Consenting males in private should not be pillaried by an antiquated law.” Later Detective Inspector Harris tells Farr “Someone once called this law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter.”
Farr: “Is that how you feel about it?”
Harris: “I’m a policeman, sir. I don’t have feelings.”

thought

Basil Dearden and director of photography Otto Heller shot Victim in glorious black and white and the Criterion version looks crisp and gorgeous. Phillip Green’s spare music with piano punctuation blends seamlessly with the action on screen. The acting by the entire ensemble of veteran stars and character actors including Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, and even an uncredited Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served) looks natural and never over the top. Dirk Bogarde plays Farr brilliantly. He is stoic, but not unfeeling. The calm, subtle way he speaks with his wife, the police, and his fellow victims belies knowledge of the tragic turn he expects his life to take. Bogarde as Farr shows great strength of character and his resignation makes you believe him. As Farr says to Laura when they discuss his uncertain future, “My friends are going to lower their eyes and my enemies will say they always guessed.” I love this film. A decent man risks everything to fight something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t get much better.

I wrote this review as part of the British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his site A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
I write a blog called Prowler Needs a Jump: Films of Every Stripe prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com
You can talk to me on twitter too @echidnabot

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