30 August 2010
"This is Huffman," White says in the same tone you'd use to say 'this is a sack of shit.'
Edward Huffman. I had to call him down from PC to administer a DNA test.
"I was wondering when you'd get around to this," Huffman says in a rather merry wheeze.
I tear off one end of the paper wrapper covering the swab stick.
"All right, Mr. Huffman, if you'd just pull the stick out, and then swab the little foam pad up and down the sides of both your cheeks, please."
Huffman delicately grasps the stick with his bony fingers, and slowly slides it free. His fingernails are long, yellow, and filled with the black muck of the jail. Huffman stares at the swab, a loony grin on his face. This fellow is the perfect creepy old man.
The old boy stuffs the swab into his mouth and goes at it with a fevered enthusiasm. His mouth hangs open, glistening. He's salivating as he furiously strokes the insides of his cheeks. I watch Huffman with a morbid fascination. His eyes flash like lightning storms. He has a look of maniacal ecstasy, as if the act of this court-ordered DNA test brings to life again the sordid deeds he enjoyed with a child under the age of thirteen, and for which he now requests Protective Custody.
For the test, Huffman has to swab two sticks--which just seems to double his pleasure. I wonder, as he's rapturously rubbing the second swab around his drooling piehole, if somewhere in the county a boy or girl is shaken with a sudden shiver? Is a child's spine tingling? Is Huffman's reprobate reverie emitting psychic haywires? As Huffman seems to float on a Cloud Nine daydream, is there a child blackened with a spontaneous dread? Some kid who had managed to momentarily escape the nightmare, now looking over his/her shoulder, sensing the return of the beast?
Maybe Huffman was once just such a kid. . .and then as the years passed, he changed over? Who knows?
"All right, Mr. Huffman, that's good," I say. "Give it a rest before you shred the thing."
White laughs. And then, so does Huffman. Whereupon White stops laughing.
I take the swab from Huffman, roll the foam pad on the pink dot on the test card. I get his thumbprints, then send him back with White.
The old bag of bones will spend most of the rest of his life alone in a cell. First, here. Then, after he's sentenced, in prison.
How does that happen? How does that whole thing happen? Quite a tangle to unknot. And I'd say it's in most of us, give or take three or four years. . .
I look down at the two pink dots. Huffman's saliva is turning them white. Supposedly the code is right there, drying on those pink dots. Maybe those cells down there are Huffman's real prison? Who knows? I don't know. . .I don't know.
The county jail is a strange place to work. Man's crazy try at judgment. Really, I ought to feel guilty every day when my shift is over and I walk out the gate, for leaving Huffman and all the rest behind. But I always feel ten years younger going out than when I come in. . .
08 July 2010
Robert Ryan, always one of Hollywood’s best at playing violent misfits, seethes as Jim Wilson, a big city cop slowly being suicided by the job. After years of performing the thankless and soul-crushing task of collecting the city’s human garbage, Wilson’s skin is worn dangerously thin, and he rages at the slightest provocation.
Like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle twenty-five years later, Jim Wilson is sickened by the depravity of the city, and lives an isolated existence. Whereas Bickle sought release for his sexual frustration in pornographic theaters, Wilson appears to indulge in kinky sex with gutter girls, judging from one classic scene in which he appears to oblige a masochistic girlfriend of a gangster he is chasing. (In another similarity to Taxi Driver, On Dangerous Ground briefly sports an underage prostitute, played by Nita Talbot and looking like a jailbait cross between Gloria Grahame and Lauren Bacall).
As Wilson’s temper spirals out of control, his police captain sends him out of the city for a cure. Wilson is sent upstate to help the yokels track down a teen girl’s killer. The bleak snow-covered landscape is a kind of Magic Mountain for Wilson—he can breathe in the clean cold air, after years of choking on the city’s sewer fumes. Wilson is finally able to let his guard down a bit, and actually seems less trigger happy than the local vigilantes (though when one of the hicks gets a close-up look at the face of death, his innocence bewilders the calloused Wilson).
In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle believes his ministering angel is Cybill Shepherd’s Betsy, and he becomes obsessed with her. On Dangerous Ground’s Jim Wilson has a fixation with Mary, the blind sister of the teen girl’s killer. Mary is not nearly the worldly princess of Taxi Driver’s Betsy. Mary lives nearly as isolated an existence as Wilson, having sacrificed her own happiness to look after her disturbed brother. Quirkily played by Ida Lupino, Mary is frail and sad, and also a bit of a dreamer. . .she’s kind of a northern woods version of one of Tennessee Williams’ southern gothic girls.
Wilson and Mary, recognizing the desperate loneliness in each other, communicate in fits and starts, never quite fully connecting. Had On Dangerous Ground ended one scene earlier, with a teary-eyed Jim Wilson driving alone back through the dark and ugly city streets, instead of turning back for a tacked-on and phony happy ending in Mary’s arms, this would have been one of Film Noir’s greatest entries, a character study of two emotional exiles, doomed by their contrasting environments. The Smiley Face ending scars an otherwise powerful portrait of alienation.
05 July 2010
Few knew of him. And of those who did, most laughed at the Christian *nut.*
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of His coming?
Meyer published a newsletter: *Last Trumpet.* Sent it out faithfully every month for the last twenty-nine years. He’d sift through the news and pick out the stories he believed heralded the nearness of the *End Times.*
I didn’t agree with all of Meyer’s theology. For example, if trouble hit New Orleans, it was usually because the city sponsored a Faggot’s Day parade. Well, if that were the case, why weren’t San Francisco and New York and some of the other premier faggot enclaves similarly troubled? Such doctrine fails to square with our Lord’s teaching (Luke 13:1 – 5).
Meyer, as he dutifully informed his readers every month, was *saved out of the occult,* and hence he had an eye for the witchy shadows creeping across America. The sheeple see only the lying vanities of the world, while Meyer had a pretty good eye for the unseen *rulers of the darkness of this world.* That was his trademark, so to speak, reading the events of the day as the signs of the *End Times.*
Unlike the vast majority of red, white and blue Christians, Meyer understood America was under a Satanic spell, and that the majority of those Americans who call themselves Christian are either hereticks or apostates, and the American *church* is a spiritual weakling composed of shameless materialists, sensation seekers, Jesus compromisers, and spineless pew-warmers who buckle under the small weight of their daily cross, and pout over their imaginary persecutions.
In the June or July 2001 issue of *Last Trumpet,* Meyer related a vision he received while on a trip to New York. He saw Manhattan choked with flames and smoke. The vision would turn out to be eerily similar to the famous events of *9/11.*
Meyer’s time on this side is over, and I would imagine he is now with our Lord and Savior. He devoted nearly half his life to a newsletter warning the *End* was near, and sinners should repent and receive the gospel of Jesus before that Door was shut.
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are. . .
I wonder what it is like, over on Meyer’s side, out of the Big Lie, secure in Eternal Truth? His labor done, his soul rescued from this burning rubbish heap of time, the Adversary must not seem quite so alarming.
Satan will continue gathering the world until the Last Day. With Meyer gone, there is one less faither standing in his way. And that is how the *End Times* clock truly ticks down—one faither at a time, until there are so few left, our Lord, looking forward to that Day, could well ask:
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?
01 June 2010
It turns out to be a rather rough day for both Norma and Arthur. Norma is viciously teased about her gimpy foot by one of her (weird) students, and then is informed by the principal the school can no longer provide a discount for her son’s tuition. Meanwhile, Arthur goes to work at NASA, and receives the news that he has been rejected for the astronaut program (his life’s dream) because he failed the psychological exam.
Back at home, a depressed Norma mopes about, and then as the clock strikes five, Mr. Steward arrives. This Steward, who will turn out to be quite a mysterious figure, indeed, has a mug one will not soon easily forget, as a good portion of the left side of his face is gone, marked off by a large and gruesome burn scar. After recovering from the sight of Steward’s unsettling visage, Norma lets him in, whereupon he explains the meaning of the box:
If you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don't know, will die. Second, you will receive a payment of one million dollars. You have 24 hours.
Naturally, Norma and Arthur debate the pros and cons—though Arthur is skeptical about both the money and the death, believing the situation will turn out to be nothing more than an elaborate prank. Norma thinks the money will make their life better, and is therefore more inclined to have *faith* in the box (for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also). Arthur is then prompted to ask if Norma really thinks they need money to be happy (for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?).
As the deadline approaches, Norma yields to temptation and pushes the button (and the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me). Steward once again appears right on time, delivering the million dollars and taking back the box. Before he leaves, however, he issues a cryptic comment that may imply Norma or Arthur will be the box’s next victim. Immediately, Norma and Arthur regret Norma’s decision, and Arthur tries to return the money (then Judas, which had betrayed Him, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders), but, alas, too late! The deal is done. . .
Certainly one could say of the plot to this point it requires a fair degree of credulity. And yet these opening scenes are as close as The Box gets to *realism,* as the eccentric script takes one increasingly bizarre turn after another. As Norma and Arthur try to unravel the mystery of Steward and the box, the viewer learns the following:
Steward also worked for NASA on the Viking Mars mission, and while on duty, he was killed when struck by lightning (I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven), but, in a rather sinister miracle, he returns from the dead, though with a good portion of his face burned away (and I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast).
Steward now works as a glorified errand boy/messenger for those who brought him back to life, and whom he enigmatically terms his *employers.*
Steward’s *employers* may be from another dimension. . .or from Mars. . .or from Hell. There are clues, I suppose, as to the precise identity of the *employers,* and these clues might seem more obvious upon closer or repeated viewings of The Box, but, to me, IDing the *employers* didn’t seem particularly germane to the spirit of this curious movie.
There are many other lesser *employees* of the *employers,* and, seeming to accord to the degree to which they have become indoctrinated into whatever the *employers* *mission statement* is, they exhibit symptoms ranging from nose bleeds (when they step out of line) to total mind control.
I must also mention the feel-good subplot involving Arthur’s attempt to construct a prosthetic foot for gimpy Norma (and if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched).
Indeed, The Box is thoroughly implausible. . .and yet it is, without doubt, the most realistic American movie of recent memory. No film has better captured the chilling spirit of beguiled America. It depicts Americans undergoing trance-formation, the victims of an unknown power (for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places).
The Box offers an artfully crafted surreal mix of SciFi, horror and metaphysics, yet at heart it presents a simple parable of a people who condone the killing of nameless, faceless others in exchange for material comfort. The Box, quite simply, renders the *American Dream* as gnostic nightmare.
As one observes America choked with ‘Who Would Jesus Bomb?’ patriots willing to push America’s red war button, one must conclude The Box presents America exactly as it is:
A Crypto-Christo Creepshow.
A vastly under-rated film (by both viewers [5.9 on IMDb] and critics [47 on metacritic]).
PS: The Box’s vision isn’t totally bleak, as the movie’s Sophie’s Choice-esque conclusion offers hope for redemption (but, unfortunately, The Box’s soteriology finds no parallel to the gospel).
19 May 2010
There is no denying the great humor of The Hangover, a tale of a Las Vegas bachelor party that strays far from the usual track of liquor and titty bars, and ends up in a roofies-fueled comic nightmare of (among other weirdness) auto-dental-extraction and insta-parenthood. This is a jester's The Lost Weekend, in which the delirium tremens of four juvenile American males result not from withdrawal, but from the tasers of the clown police. This is the 21st century America in which the terminally sophomoric male can have both his madonna and his whore in a single female soul (played here by a remarkably well-preserved Heather Graham).
That the hero of this American folly should be an obese child molestor is entirely fitting. There is room under the Big Circus Tent of American Uncritical Hedonism for every debauchee. It is a testimony to the cleverness of the script that the audience laughs good-naturedly at the pervert antics of the pedophile character Alan, including his infant masturbation simulacrum. American dysfunction is presented as essentially harmless, the aberrant characters have a joie de vivre which immunizes them against their own stupidity.
The Hangover is well-written, well-directed, well-edited, well-acted and fast-paced freak show comedy. It's a cotton candy movie, the only kind Hollywood still excels at. It dazzles with its demented action, the audience laughs easily at its kOOky characters (you know you have a movie chock full o' kOOks when Mike Tyson, playing himself, seems the epitome of reason)--and when it's over? No thought has been provoked. But there's no point in criticizing The Hangover for its limitations. It's a movie from and about severely limited people, and it must be applauded for its lunatick honesty. This is America, in the Looking Glass.
12 May 2010
There's no point in hashing out the plot, other than to say Sam Wild will murder you even if just your shadow gets in his way, and his homicidal charm really gets Helen wet between her legs. Helen's almost as cold-blooded as Wild, as she tells one character who threatens to turn over to the police incriminating information about Wild:
I'm just warning you. Perhaps you don't realize - it's painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.
Sam and Helen are like two roaches feeding off each others dead souls, and their sick relationship ends in chalk outlines. Ignore the two-bit Grand Guignol plot and enjoy this weird little flick for the demented characters, which include not only Sam and Helen, but a couple of noteworthy nuts among the supporting players. Elisha Cook Jr., plays Marty, Sam's faithful (but unexplained) man servant. There's definitely something queer about the relationship between Sam and Marty. Marty follows Sam everywhere, always trying to calm down his hot-tempered big buddy--why? Dunno--other than it's certainly queer. Anyway, Little Elisha delivers this classic line, shortly after one of Sam's impromptu murders:
You can't just go around killing people whenever the notion strikes you. It's not feasible.
Esther Howard plays Mrs. Kraft, the buttinsky friend of one of Sam's murder victims. Howard is real riot as the bug-eyed, loud-mouthed slovenly gadfly who tries to put Sam behind bars, in between her numerous beer drinking marathons.
Enjoyed on its freak show terms, Born To Kill is an amusingly twisted little tale that still packs a heavy punch sixty-three years after it first crawled out of the cinema sewer.
10 May 2010
Written (and based on the real-life spree killer Billy Cook) and directed by Ida Lupino (fifty-seven years before all the hoopla over the *female director* Kathryn Hurt Locker Bigelow), the story is remarkably free of the cliches of the day. And there's barely a wasted shot in the crisp seventy minute telling of the tale of two Average American Joes on a get-away-from-it-all fishing trip who make the unwise decision to pick up the Hitch-Hiker, Emmet Myers. Myers forces the two buddies to take him through Mexico, making it crystal clear he'll kill them when they are no longer of service.
William Talman plays the Hitch-Hiker and gives us one of the most memorable *bad guys* in screen history. With his greasy hair, bum eye and filthily stained teeth, Talman's Emmett Myers could have been Henry Lee Lucas' father.
Even more ugly than his mug is Myers' text book sociopath's profile: alienated, lacking empathy, drowning in self-pity. Talman's Myers delivers the serial killer's sermon for the ages, as he tells his two hostages:
You guys are soft. You know what makes you that way? You're up to your neck in IOU's. You're suckers! You're scared to get out on your own. You've always had it good, so you're soft. Well, not me! Nobody ever gave me anything, so I don't owe nobody! My folks were tough. When I was born, they took one look at this puss of mine and told me to get lost.
Ida Lupino must also be commended for the film's almost anti-climatic ending, as she cleverly tweaks Hollywood for its tendency toward the *big shoot-out* finale. There's a shoot-out tease, here, but no typical Hollywood tidy *satisfactory* ending with the bad guy lying in a pool of his own blood. A movie decades ahead of its time, it remains psychologically valid in the 21st century.
07 May 2010
Lancaster plays Steve Thompson, a zero with only one thing on his mind: his ex-wife Anna (played without much sizzle by Yvonne *Lily Munster* De Carlo), who is now married to gangster Slim Dundee. Desperate to win back Anna, Thompson, an armored car driver, cooks up a scheme to double-cross Slim in a robbery—but, of course, *things go horribly wrong.*
Really, about the only thing that holds interest in this hum-drum love triangle is spotting all the bit players who went on to better things, such as Tony Curtis and Alan Napier (Alfred the butler on the Batman TV series).
The great Noir villain Dan Duryea plays Slim Dundee, who is supposed to be the bad guy here (in one scene Lily Munster shows Lancaster the bruises Slim has left on her), but Lancaster and De Carlo are such dullards, I imagine most viewers, like me, end up sympathizing with Slim, who actually has some personality, and see the movie’s supposed tragic ending as a happy ending, instead.
Again, as in The Killers, Lancaster’s character is pretty hollow. Indeed, the only memorable thing about Steve Thompson is the ridiculous coat he sports through most of the film. I mean, look at that thing! How can you take anybody seriously who goes around in a goofball get-up like that?
06 May 2010
In a fluke encounter, Cross meets Kitty, an attractive young woman whose beauty only goes skin deep--but that's enough to blind the hapless old eunuch. Kitty is a real alley cat, and she just about devours the mouse-of-a man Cross in a series of increasingly high-stakes cons.
Kitty is involved in an S&M relationship of her own with pimpish boyfriend Johnny. The more Johnny beats Kitty, the more she loves him. In fact, Kitty is a lazy tramp (there's a nice scene of her spitting grape seeds around her filthy apartment, dirty dishes piled high in the kitchen sink), and really only gets the energy required to fleece Cross from the motivational beatings Johnny gives her.
The sap Cross, who has been a loyal and faithful bank employee for twenty-five years, and a punching bag husband and *solid citizen,* begins what might seem a moral slide, as he steals from his wife and then the bank in order to get the cash necessary to support his Kitty addiction. But then money quickly starts flowing in when, in a rather far-fetched plot twist, Johnny accidentally launches Cross' art career. Cross' paintings are discovered and take the art world by storm, but at Johnny's violent urging, Kitty takes credit as the artist, which leads one art critic to marvel at the *masculinity* of her work. The colossal patsy Cross goes along with the scheme, stupidly thinking his pictures are only valued when they are believed to be the work of a woman.
Robinson's skillful performance, though, subtly suggests Cross has always been other than he appears, and that he just needed the scent of Kitty's kitty to give him the courage of his flawed convictions.
Indeed, when the mercilessly suckered Cross finally wises up and realizes what a dope Kitty has made of him, that she loves the repellent Johnny and considers Cross to be a literally laughable ugly old wimp, all of Cross' tangle of repressed conflicts and desires explode, and he assaults Kitty in a predictable act of psycho-sexual revenge (one can only imagine the sticky mess in his pants after he has had his violent way with Kitty. . .and the film would have played much better had the masochistic Kitty stayed true to character, and welcomed Cross' ultimate S&M finale).
Scarlet Street is not-quite a great movie. The plot requires a too-high degree of credulity, the early scenes are played a little too light, and there is an over-long and tediously moralizing post-script. Most damaging, however, is Joan Bennett's performance as Kitty. She tries hard, but lacks the charisma necessary to light up what could have been a great femme fatale role. She's dull, not seductive, and it makes Robinson's blind infatuation hard to believe.
03 May 2010
I runne to death, and death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.
So you know it's not going to be Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but even if the film were released today, I think it would still be considered unusually somber.
The story starts with nice girl Mary being forced to quit her cloistered private all-girls school to go to New York City to look for her missing older sister, Jacqueline. And let me tell you, Jacqueline is one weird chick, and I assume she must have seemed especially weird to The Seventh Victim's 1943 audience. Weary and restless, with her pale skin and jet black hair, finding nothing in life to hold her, Jacqueline would fit right in with our contemporary angsty goth girls.
Had there ever been a more morbidly depressed character to appear on the screen? Jacqueline would have given pause to Bud Cort's Harold. When Mary discovers Jacqueline has rented a room she never uses, but for which she faithfully pays the rent every month, she convinces the landlord to let her in. I figured Mary would enter the room, poke around and find a clue in a book or a picture or something--the typical mystery stuff. Given my own surprise, I wonder what the '43 audience's reaction was when the door opened to reveal a room empty except for a chair and a hangman's noose dangling over it?
It turns out Jacqueline has told several people of her death wish, but nobody seems to have really understood her. For example, Mary (played by Kim Hunter, who would later earn fame as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire) learns Jacqueline has married the lawyer Gregory Ward, whom she quickly abandoned. Ward has been looking for Jacqueline, also, and when Mary tells him about the room with the chair and the noose, Ward (played by Hugh *Ward Cleaver* Beaumont, and foreshadowing his relentless Leave It To Beaver optimism) downplays the macabre implications by saying:
Your sister had a feeling about life, that it wasn't worth living unless one could end it. I helped her get the room. . .No, that room made her happy, in some strange way.
As goody-goody Mary and the square Ward spend time together looking for Jacqueline, they discover in each other the bourgeois charms that suit their conventional 1943 souls--they *fall in love,* and become a bit less diligent in their hunt for Jacqueline. A bohemian poet who'd been on the fringe of Jacqueline's social circle assumes the lead role in the search, and he persuades a cynical psychiatrist who is treating Jacqueline to reveal what he knows. Through this ultra-sophisticate shrink, Mary learns her terminally bored sister has joined a gang of Greenwich Village Satanists!
But Jacqueline has broken the Satanists' code of silence by revealing the group's existence. The previous six cult members who did the same have all died--will Jacqueline become the seventh victim?
Billed as a horror movie, The Seventh Victim is more goth trippy than scary. Lean (it runs only 71 minutes) and elegantly moody, this is a beautifully eerie melodrama, with several hauntingly visionary moments (the suicide room with chair and noose, a creepy subway ride, a better-than-Psycho shower scene, the slow-burn showdown between Jacqueline and the devil worshippers, and that rarest of all movie moments: a pitch-perfect ending, which contrasts death-loving Jacqueline with a death-fearing woman who lives down the hall from the suicide room). This is first-rate gloom-and-doom.
30 April 2010
This Magnum Dopus begins with Cloris Leachman running down a highway nude, except for a trench coat. And the trench coat is probably the star of this flick, as even a young Cloris Leachman still looks like Cloris Leachman. Anyway, Mike Hammer, a tough-but-dim-witted private eye, just happens to come driving along, and a furiously huffing and puffing Leachman flags him down. Leachman jumps in the car, and like all the ugly actresses in this picture, she is instantly attracted to Hammer--even though she is also in what is frequently referred to as *grave danger.*
And even though she is running for her life, literally holding the key to unlock the secrets of the universe, she takes a timeout from her own personal nightmare to psychoanalyze her new friend:
You're one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.
OK. But anyway, it turns out Leachman has just escaped from a loony bin, and she tells Hammer remember me if anything bad should happen to her.
Well, Kiss Me Deadly is only a mystery movie because Cloris Leachman is too much of an airhead to tell Mike Hammer exactly what the Hell she has gotten herself into. Listen, not to spoil the preposterous plot of this thing, but Leachman has a secret of apocalyptic dimensions, and yet the only info she gives up to help safeguard sunny southern California from a possible nasty dark mushroom cloud is her nearly useless enigmatic advice to remember me.
Of course, some wrong-doers soon appear and try to kill Leachman and Hammer. Hammer survives, and because Leachman has been kookily cryptic, he now has a mystery solve, instead of being able to just turn over the crime of the century to the government.
Hammer's investigative techniques consist of wandering around looking for people who knew Leachman, while coincidentally bumping into various women played by ugly actresses (one of them, who plays Hammer's girlfriend/prostitute employee, is the greasiest-looking chick I've ever seen. . .gobs of oil shine off her face. . .did somebody wipe her down with Turtle Wax or something?) who become instantly attracted to him. When he does find somebody who knew Leachman, Hammer asks one or two pointless questions, smirks, and then hurries off to an auto shop run by his annoying ethnic pal who loves to shout (for no known reason) VaVoom!
Hammer's peculiar *investigation* is interrupted by several half-hearted attempts on his life by the wrong-doers, some of whom Hammer dispatches off-screen with what one must assume to be his SuperHero powers.
Miraculously, Hammer gets one bright idea at the end of the movie and manages to figure everything out--but listen here, have you ever seen Repo Man? The pseudo-Punk Theater of the Absurd cult classic Repo Man has a similar mystery. . .but a much more cosmically grounded ending than this weirdo Noir entry.
PS: Dick Cheney must have seen this on a late show ten years ago, and plagiarized its insane plot for his Iraq/al-Qaeda disinformation.
28 April 2010
Act Of Violence has a simple, straight-forward revenge plot, but the film is well-made and asks a fairly sophisticated series of questions on morality, and features a wide variety of psychological misfits in its cast of characters.
Robert Ryan plays Joe Parkson, and he’s pretty creepy for most of the film, as crippled mentally as he is physically. Ryan gimps along on his bum right leg (it sounds like sandpaper dragging over wood, and in one memorable scene that’s all the we hear as Enley and his wife cower in their kitchen, listening to him shuffle around the outside of their house), gripped with a mania to kill Enley.
Van Heflin plays Enley, and he does a fine job as a man who sinks lower and lower as he processes his own craven nature. Enley hits rock bottom when, on the run from Parkson, he meets up with a cheap bar tramp (played by the old movie queen Mary Astor) who introduces him to a sleazy lawyer and an even sleazier thug, setting up the film’s rather unsatisfying and convenient denouement.
We don’t see much of Janet Leigh, unfortunately, although she still manages to look hot even in her character’s frumpy pajamas. . .and she does a decent job playing the innocent dollhouse wife (in one early scene, before she and Frank are aware of Parkson’s threat, Frank is about to leave on a fishing trip, and she pretends to be upset, but when Frank says he is willing to cancel the trip, with the implication they can have lots of sex, she becomes truly mortified, and quickly shoos Frank out of the house) who gradually comes to terms with the realization her husband does not belong on a pedestal.
Not-quite-great (because of its easy-way-out ending), but still pretty compelling viewing even sixty-two years after its first release.
27 April 2010
The plot is driven by a twisted love triangle involving Mr. Brown, a merciless crime boss, Leonard Diamond, a double-minded detective, and their mutual object of desire, Susan Lowell, a blonde society princess brought low by her taste for the pleasures of the flesh.
As Diamond compulsively tracks Brown to get to Lowell (he’s been stalking her for six months, and when the police department refuses to pony up for his surveillance, he pays his expenses out of his own pocket to follow her to Las Vegas and Cuba), we meet an assortment of secondary neurotics, including showgirl Rita, a sort of anti-Susan Lowell, of whom a weeping Diamond says upon her death I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up. And there’s also Mingo and Fante, Brown’s peculiarly inseparable henchmen.
There’s something in The Big Combo for everyone: fetishists will admire the high-heeled scene where Rita orders Diamond to put her shoes on her feet. Fanciers of homo-erotics will be tickled pink as they see Mingo and Fante sharing salami(!) in their cozy little room, and then reaching for Kleenex at Mingo’s utter lover’s despair over Fante’s death. Sadists will marvel at the ingenuity Brown displays in torturing Diamond with a hearing aid and a bottle of hair tonic. Dime-store philosophers will busily scribble notes as Brown, a demoniac’s Dale Carnegie, lectures on how to conquer the world through inspirational hate. And sex addicts will quiver and moan knowingly as they watch Susan Lowell, in the instant after telling Brown I hate and despise you, become helplessly enraptured as Brown goes down, down, down on her. If anybody ever deserved an Academy Award for five seconds of acting, it’s Jean Wallace as Susan Lowell, becoming intoxicated at Mr. Brown’s dirty deeds. The dilemma of Romans 7:23 (But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members) has never been so ecstatically and graphically presented as on Ms. Wallace’s fevered face.
Richard Conte is outstanding as the arrogant and ruthless Mr. Brown. Delivering classic tough guys lines (Joe, tell the man I'm gonna break him so fast, he won't have time to change his pants. Tell him the next time I see him, he'll be in the lobby of the hotel, crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don't break my word) at half-a-click faster than the rest of the cast, he appears to be operating on a higher level than everybody else, and creates his character's aura of invincibility.
Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman are also quite good as Fante and Mingo, Brown's queerly bonded muscle.
The Big Combo is literally one of the darkest of the Noirs. It seems as if everyone in this movie is trying to save on their light bill. Even the hospital where a suicidal Susan Lowell is taken is a gloomy, barely lit crypt of shadows.
Unfortunately, The Big Combo does not have an ending worthy of its first sixty minutes or so. The whole thing begins to unravel as the dead bodies pile up in a clumsy attempt to tie up the script's loose ends, and bring about a weird Casablanca-alternate-ending for Diamond and Lowell. A small price to pay, however, for the perverse pleasures that precede it.
23 April 2010
The movie begins on a note of the darkest pessimism, with the hit man, Frankie Bono (played by writer/director Allen Baron) riding a train to NYC. Going through a pitch black tunnel with a tiny light at the end representing birth into a hopeless world, Stander intones in a merciless voice-over:
Remembering, out of the black silence, you were born in pain, you were born with hate and anger built in. Took a slap on the backside to blast out the scream, and then you knew you were alive. Later you learned to hold back the scream, and let out the hate and anger another way.
Well, there’s no Christmas cheer in the Big Apple for Frankie, as he wanders the streets alone, biding his time until he can kill his mobster target:
You’re coming into town on Christmas. It gives you the creeps. But that’s all right--everyone on the goodwill kick, maybe they’ll leave you alone. You hate cities. Especially at Christmas. But that’s all right, too. When the Better Business Bureau rings the Christmas bell, the suckers forget there’s such a business as murder, and businessmen who make it their exclusive line.
There’s a fine scene of Frankie tracking the mobster in Harlem:
The streets of Harlem are busy enough. No one notices you. Your hands are sweating but that’s all right because you know what it is—the hate of Harlem. You hate them and they hate you.
Another memorable scene has Frankie visiting the filthy apartment of a repellent and grossly obese gun dealer, who wheezes business with Frankie in between feeding his pet rats.
Frankie’s lonely walks through streets of New York end when he wanders into a restaurant and an old friend nags him into attending a party, where he meets Lori. Lori tempts Frankie from his years of isolation, but he is far too damaged to connect with her. The one *date* they have ends in a near-rape attempt.
The scenes between Frankie and Lori could have elevated this film to the minor masterpiece level, but unfortunately, the actress who plays Lori, Molly McCarthy, gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. I mean, a pot of dead flowers would seem more appealing and lively than Molly McCarthy’s Lori. McCarthy’s Lori would make an autistic seem like the life of a party. Even *wooden* would be too much praise for her acting. That a bitter loner like Frankie would be attracted to such a stick-in-the-mud? No, it just doesn't work. And the great tragedy of McCarthy's clumsy turn is it undoes all the *art brut* atmosphere of the first third of the film, and makes you aware, painfully aware, you are watching a cheapie.
Fortunately, once Frankie is done with Lori, the film quickly regains its edgy luster, and ends on an as equally beautifully grim yang as its opening yin. All-in-all, not a bad little movie, and certainly more interesting than our contemporary Hollywood fare, shot with budgets literally 5000 times as large.
21 April 2010
Lancaster’s character is one of the great Straw Men in film history. The script sets him up for whatever is needed, then knocks him down just as quickly. There’s nothing real about any of it, especially his mania for Ava Gardner. He meets her at a party and is INSTANTLY bewitched by her. This isn’t love at first sight, it’s mesmerism. I guess this is all supposed to be a case of style over substance, but the style, other than the opening few minutes, is nothing special, either. Even eye-candy Ava Gardner doesn’t seem to have any real appeal here, either. In fact, she seemed a lot hotter almost twenty years later as a middle-aged wench in The Night Of The Iguana. The Night Of The Igauna? I should have watched that, instead.
19 April 2010
Often we lose sight of how weak the supposed great really are. In the bubble of what we call *day-to-day life,* we struggle against the material mischief of the wicked. But the power and authority of the wicked is temporal, utterly insignificant outside the lying vanities of the world. Nothing the world treasures has any lasting value. The shame is how the poor lust after it, too.
Satan sifts everyone as wheat. . .some benefit longer than others for betraying Christ. The Jew Madoff lived as a mighty one for decades, but now he is a punching bag in a North Carolina prison. Even if the demoniacs don’t toss their patsies to man’s schizophrenic justice, their sin condemns them just as everyone else. The elite and the great unwashed are all subject to their own fallen nature, troubled in mind, body and spirit until they end up together in the fraternity of the grave. The great of this world have their moments of delicious living, which they extort from the poor, but how quickly those moments are forgotten, once they cross-over to eternity!
The earth hiccups in Iceland, and we see how fragile are all the schemes of man. And yet that is where the overwhelming majority of God’s human creation deposits their faith. That bubble of *day-to-day life* is Satan’s masterpiece, separating the masses from the Eternal. Great clouds of ash in the sky, yet even the signs of the times are beyond the bubbled mass!
The Satanic bubble of *day-to-day life* will only pop at the End of the Age:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
May God in His mercy send the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to penetrate the bubble of *day-to-day living,* and save souls from that doleful epiphany for the great unwashed, the unbaptized of the earth, as they realize in an instant they lived a lie.
16 April 2010
Gabin plays the ridiculously named *Bobo,* a hard-drinking French dockside drifter, burdened with a faggy leech of a *friend* named *Tiny* (played by It's A Wonderful Life's Uncle Billy). As best as can be determined from Moontide’s obtuse script, Tiny once helped Bobo escape from a murder pickle, and now out of blackmail-tinged gratitude, Bobo lets Tiny use him as a kind of one-man dock worker temp agency—Bobo works, and Tiny gets a nice cut of the pay to finance his E-Z barfly life.
Moontide features one of the most bizarre scenes in Hollywood history, with faggy Tiny shown in a lockerroom sadistically snapping a towel at a nude Claude Rains, with nothing before or after to explain this arbitrary glimpse of the pseudo-homo nightmare world.
There’s another weird scene early in the film. Bobo is on a bender, and his descent into an alcoholic blackout is rendered in a surreal montage, featuring clocks with wildly spinning liquor bottles for the hour and minute hands. Salvador Dali was hired to do the scene, but his ideas were found too disturbing for use, so a watered-down Hollywood version was substituted.
Moontide’s rather thin plot revolves around the murder of an old rummy named Pop, with Tiny showing up every now and then to darkly hint Bobo did the killing during his drunken blackout.
This non-mystifying murder mystery quickly takes a backseat to the romance between Bobo and Anna (played by a scrawny-looking Ida Lupino). Bobo saves Anna as she tries to drown herself in the Pacific Ocean. Why is Anna suicidal? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not Anna, who regains her will to live with astonishing alacrity after meeting Bobo. In fact, Anna marries Bobo three or four days after her suicide attempt, and there can be no finer testimony to the joys of living on a bait barge with an alcoholic French drifter.
Tiny, now broken-hearted in addition to being faggy, turns up one last time to nearly spoil the newlywed’s fun, but is eventually forced by Bobo to take a long walk off a short pier. And so Bobo and Anna can live happily-ever-after selling chum together.
Because this thing started production shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the resulting Pacific Coast-wide fear of further Jap mischief, no filming could be done on location at the San Pedro harbor, so a bait barge set had to built in a studio—thus all the waterfront scenes look loopily artificial, further adding to the already kooky vibe of this eccentric Noir exercise. Worth a look only for the sake of curiosity.
15 April 2010
But if one can accept this grotesque farce as a parable of our contemporary American times, one can appreciate its apocalyptic take on the vanishing American Dream. Set in the mall, the retailverse is the perfect microcosm of materialist America, and Ronnie, therefore, stands as the American Everyman, chasing a Dream he can never catch, and for which he is not fit.
Unstable Ronnie answers the trivial frustrations of his mall patrol with potty mouth profanity and violence, and thus serves also as a larger symbol of the irrational American empire, an empire unable to process the complexities of other cultures (this is allegorized in Observe And Report in the subplot involving Ronnie’s personal war with a Middle Eastern mall merchant), only able to lash out with its military, seeking to solve all the empire’s problems (real and imagined) through violence.
The supporting characters are similarly archetypes of ruined Americans. There is Brandi, the oblivious cosmetics counter slut, who thinks nothing of exposing most of her young white flesh in tiny tight skirts and titty revealing tops, yet who then is somehow scandalized by a male flasher who trolls the mall.
Observe And Report also features a supposed *good* girl, Nell, who works at the mall pastry shop. She’s presented as one of America’s vague new megachurch *Christians,* a reformed tramp who fancies herself a *born-again virgin.* Yet just as American Christendom rejects Christ’s call to resist not evil, and to love, bless, pray for and do good to them that hate you by condoning America’s endless wars, *Christian* Nell rejects the Savior’s teachings as she embraces Ronnie’s brutal assault on her manager, a Napoleonic dimwit who had been cruelly teasing her.
Of course, I may be guilty of reading too much into Observe And Report. It may simply be just a cinematic exercise in the dumb and the coarse, and in that regard, the natural fruit of America’s rotten culture.
One other fellow who seems perplexed as to how to interpret Observe And Report is the film’s supporting actor, Ray Liotta, who plays Ronnie’s real cop foil. Liotta appears befuddled in most of his scenes, and unsure whether to go for the broad laughs of a stupid comedy, or play it more subtle, as if in a dark satire, so he stumbles dumbfounded throughout most of the picture.
Celluloid garbage of no redeeming social value? Or blistering parable of decaying America? Or, perhaps, one and the same?
13 April 2010
In Detour, Tom Neal’s Al is the masochist, a lounge piano player with Carnegie Hall ambitions, a man of exceptional self-pity, born to frown and whine and pout over the continual kicks ‘fate’ will send his way.
Hitchhiking from New York to California to see his girlfriend, Al gets a ride with a self-aggrandizing gambler, who has a heart attack and then falls out of the car and hits his head on a conveniently placed rock. Life’s whipping boy Al assumes he’ll be charged with murder, so he hides the body, then rides off in the dead man’s car.
At an Arizona gas station, lucky Al spots a female hitchhiker, Vera (played by the appropriately named Ann Savage). There’s something about Vera:
She was young - not more than 24. Man, she looked like she had been thrown off the crummiest freight train in the world! Yet in spite of that, I got the impression of beauty, not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about with your wife, but a natural beauty, a beauty that's almost homely, because it's so real.
That’s Al’s description of Vera. The key line: not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about with your wife. Ha. That’s 1940s speak for the kind of dirty girl you don’t marry, but pick up, finger and then throw in the gutter. But our boy Al is no match for Vera, a snarling sadist the like of which has never been seen on the screen before or since. As it turns out, she knows about Al and the gambler, and quickly has Al under her greasy thumb, and friend, Al doesn’t really protest too much, or try too hard to get away from her.
Ann Savage’s Vera is the wildest, most over-the-top femme fatale in all of Film Noir. She’s got dirty hair and a dirtier mouth and an even dirtier mind. And it’s all very tempting to our boy Al. If you watch this thing and break the 1940s code, you can almost hear Al begging for Vera to piss on him. . .
A cheap, absurd little film, barely an hour long, yet a grimy masterpiece of human baseness. Lit up by Ann Savage’s crazy star turn, it will shine forever in the B-movie firmament.
11 April 2010
If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
Such is the state of Humphrey Bogart’s character Dixon Steele in the Noir epic In A Lonely Place. Steele is a fading screenwriter, a bitter, paranoid, violent barfly with a hair-trigger temper. When his devoted agent offers him a chance to rejuvenate his career by turning a trashy best-selling novel into a script, Steele grudgingly agrees. He then invites a restaurant hatcheck girl who has the read the book to his place to tell him the story, so he can avoid the hassle of having to read the crappy book himself. Alas, the hatcheck girl is murdered a couple hours after leaving Steele’s apartment, and Steele becomes the prime suspect in the killing. The closest Steele has to an alibi is his new neighbor, Laurel Gray, who happened to see the hatcheck girl leave Steele’s apartment alone. The murder mystery quickly takes a backseat to the relationship that develops between Steele and Gray.
My favorite scene in In A Lonely Place is the one in which Steele summons the nerve to go to Gray’s apartment to ask her if she’s decided whether or not she wants to start a relationship with him. Bogart’s Steele is a hand-wringing nervous wreck. He’s fallen hard for Gray, who is played by Gloria Grahame. Grahame’s Laurel Gray has snapped Steele out of his cranky crash to the bottom. Infatuated like a blushing schoolboy, Steele imagines a new beginning with Gray. Gray is his last chance to escape his lonely descent into oblivion. Bogart is completely convincing as the sweating, fretting Steele, desperate to know if Gray will commit to him. Up to this point, Grahame’s Gray has been cool and coy, keeping Steele at a distance, but when she agrees to begin a romance with him, Steele is instantly transformed. “I know your name! I know where you live!” he says in a non sequitur of malignant triumph, his hands around Gray’s neck as he is about to kiss her.
By the end of In A Lonely Place, it is Laurel Gray who is the hand-wringing nervous wreck, terrified nearly out of her wits she is just one ruffled Steele feather away from having the shit beat out of her. And the hatcheck girl murder is mere afterthought compared to the mystery of Steele’s sick psyche.
In A Lonely Place has one of the great unhappy endings in film history, as Steele trudges wearily and alone to his apartment, undone by his damaged soul. He’s the precursor of the modern American wife-beater, a slave to his emotions, unable to control his behavior, and a helpless witness to his own destruction. Bogart is no Johnny One Note tough guy, here. He has to play the divided soul, and he gives a top-notch performance as man whose better angels lose out to the bitter angry angels of his dark nature.
As much as I like the naughty Noir nymph Gloria Grahame, it must be said the role of Laurel Gray is a little beyond her usual cheap tramp range. She’s a little too toying in the beginning, and a little too melodramatic at the end. But this is only a minor distraction from an otherwise early masterpiece of Obsessive Love, American Domestic Violence Style.
06 April 2010
Of course, for Mommie Dearest it certainly is too good to be true. Ugly-and-weird-looking Jack Palance is still bitter over being fired, and, more importantly, he smells the old bag’s money, and it is an intoxicating scent, indeed—fragrant enough to cover the stench of coital relations with Mommie Dearest, who really is nearly old enough to be his Mommie, indeed.
Noir Super Hottie Gloria Grahame plays the ugly-and-weird-looking Palance’s real object of desire, and the odd-looking couple scheme to murder Mommie Dearest. . .but Mommie Dearest discovers the odd-looking couple’s vile plans, and seeks to turn the tables on her much-younger tormentors.
Flicks like Sudden Fear are made-to-order for Grande Dame scene-chewing actresses like Joan Crawford, and Mommie Dearest didn’t disappoint here, putting on enough of an over-heated thespian display of love, fear and hate to earn her last Academy Award nomination. This is good old-time movie fun.
31 March 2010
Out of the Past features a trio of old school hotties: Rhonda Fleming, Virginia Huston and Jane Greer. Greer’s character is one of the most amoral femmes fatales in screen history. Her allure, remarkably, is due more to her sociopathy than her fleshly charms. Her nearly demonic deviousness prompts Mitchum’s character to utter the classic line:
You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.
But her appeal is so powerful, Mitchum’s character is more than willing to follow her gutter-to-gutter. Greer’s character neatly summarizes their relationship:
You're no good, and neither am I. That's why we deserve each other.
Virginia Huston plays the ‘good girl,’ about the only character not totally enslaved to carnality. There’s really no place for her in the dark world of Out of the Past, and in the end, she must believe a lie in order for her to make the compromise necessary to keep on going.
Made over half-a-century ago, Out of the Past is an icon of post-Christian