30 April 2010
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.