Friday, July 15, 2011

Evil in the Midst of Innocence

          "What religion are you preacher?"
          "The religion the almighty and me worked out betwixt ourselves."
       The Rev. Harry Powell's menacing conviction isn't that of a man of God but a pure psychopath. Like Dr. Childers said in Silence of the Lambs: so rare to catch one alive.
      The movie: The Night of the Hunter.
      The preacher: Robert Mitchum.
       The Night of the Hunter is a masterful work of story telling, cinematography and acting. Yet it sunk like a stone when it was released in 1955. The movie is part film noir, part fantasy in its dream-like quality and highly suspenseful, giving viewers a sick sense that evils lurks throughout, though it's camouflaged well. The forces of good versus evil set during the depression. Put that up against Cinemascope.
       Charles Laughton, a fine Brit actor, made his first and only directorial effort on Night of the Hunter, and did a great job. He also co-wrote it with script writer James Agee, who based the script on a novel that was based on a true story.
      In the 1930s, a man named Harry Powers who claimed he was a preacher was convicted and hanged for the murders of two widows. He went as far north as New England, but got nailed in West Virginia. Real life is stranger than fiction.
     This opening scene sets the tone:

       The Criterion Collection recently released Night of the Hunter in a 2-disk set. The first is the movie, a fabulous transfer of the film. The second disk has commentary by Laughton and a discussion by film critic Leonard Maltin. Lovers of cinema well done don't miss it. Go here.
Blujay - Visit My Store

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Of Peter Falk, Columbo, Husbands and glass eyes

      Anyone who has the chuztpah to pull out his glass eye and use it to taunt a baseball umpire is someone who has the stuff to be a winner in life. 

     Peter Falk, glass eye and all, was a winner.

     Everyone knows by now that Falk died yesterday, June 24. He was 83 and suffered with Alzheimers disease for about three years. The star of beloved Columbo  and many films had a start in life that would doom many others. He had a tumor at 3 years old that caused him to lose an eye. He also had a slight speech impediment. 

       Falk loved to tell a story about his glass eye. He was an  athlete in high school. Once, after he was called out at third base, Falk took out his glass eye, handed it to the umpire and said, "you'll do better with this."

     That's the stuff that makes legends.

     Falk was born in Manhattan, lived some in the Bronx and later in Ossining, NY. He went to college in New York, quit and joined the Merchant Marine, then returned to college and got a degree in public administration budgeting. Bah. Boring.  While working in Hartford, Connecticut as a pencil pusher, Falk got into local theatre. He made his Broadway debute in 1956.  The next year, he won a film role as the bartender in Eugene O'Neal's The Iceman Cometh.  Falk got early recognition after a role in Murder Inc. earned him an Oscar nomination.

       It was in 1967 that Falk created Columbo. He got the role after Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby turned it down. Falk blew off suggestions for a dapper attire and used his own raggedly trench coat, picked out a Peugot from the motor pool and made the Columbo character truly his own. The pilot, Prescription for Murder, aired that year.

     Most people think Columbo came after Falk's most notable movie roles, but it came first. The show aired off and on for the next three decades. Great roles: Falk was one of the trio of Husbands with Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara, a landmark film noted for its departure from traditional movie methods. That was 1971.
    Falks very best work ever was playing the husband of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence, 1976. Rowlands was Cassavetes' real life wife. It was a movie Cassavetes wrote and directed. Rowlands was nominated for an Oscar. It is a blistering story of a wife trapped and growing more claustrophobic, the film showing her descent into madness. 

   But man, beloved Columbo had staying power. The last round of feature length shows aired in the early 1990s and attracted the elite of movie stars. Watch this:

   Peter Falk beloved trenchcoat and all will be missed. RIP.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brando. Jiggle the molecules. TCM's marvelous bio in two parts.

           No other DVD  is as sought after, or is as hard to find, as Brando. The title says it all. Brando. This is TCM's two-part killer biography produced by Leslie Greif. The Greif company produced such penetrating and compelling video biographies, including one on Steve McQueen, called Steve McQueen, The Essence of Cool.

          You can't miss with great interviewees like Quincy Jones, who met Marlon Brando in the early 1950s, when the young man from the mid-West was falling in love with the Harlem jazz scene. Brando relished this knew, sultry and musical world and began playing conga. See this:


     Brando first aired in 2007, three years after Brando died and after his nine children settled most of the tangles over his estate. By the way, Brando left quite a huge estate. He did not die broke as some reported. He made and pissed away more money in his day than most small nations.

     Brando never ceases to fascinate. His childhood with a tough dad and drunk mom. His rebellious youth. Taking Broadway by storm. His re-defining acting, influencing nearly every actor of any repute. His smoldering sexy looks. His unflinching dedication to civil rights for all. 

    Nobody captures it like Greif. The trailer is tantalizing:


     The reluctant icon. Good way to put it. Now go get it. A deal you can't refuse. Just click here!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baby, I don't care

      Film Noir. They were just a bunch of entertaining B movies.  Then the French took a fancy to them. Now there are Film Noir scholars, Film Noir books. Film Noir DVD sets.

    They are the dark, brooding, movies with great contrasts of shadow and light, evil bad guys, bad good guys, and devastatingly beautiful femme fatales. Snappy dialog. Fast-paced plots. Often told by a narrator who goes into the past. Film noir isn't just the late 1940s and early '50s. There are a some great Film Noir today.

     I though Ronald Regan and the monkey were B movies. Then Film Noir Night came on TCM, so I watched three classics. 

    The best:  Out of the Past  (1950). Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas in a very early role. Mitchum's insouciance was a great contrast to Douglas' crisp, razor-sharp shark. I've never seen a man so big slouch so well in a chair while talking about so much money.

   I never thought muchl about Mitchum. I heard of him but  never appreciated his abilities on screen until this movie. Out of the Past caught my attention when I read that the film Against All Odds is a cheap knock off.  Having the best lines help. "You're like a leaf floating from gutter to gutter."  

   Night And The City  (1950). This is the better version even though so many love Robert DeNiro. Harry Fabian is a desperate guy, a two-bit hustler alternating between whiny resentment and enthusiasm for hare-brained schemes. He was was more desperate than funny. Always running. Fabian was running at the beginning of the movie in foggy London, and he was running at the end.

    In A Lonely Place (1950). Some say Humphrey Bogart's character here came closest to his true personality. I hope not. Bogie's a suspect in the murder of a young hat check girl. His beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame provides an alibi. But after she falls for him, Bogie's  violent and erratic behavior makes her wonder whether he IS the killer. 

    World weary anti-heros, tough bad guys, beautiful women who fall for the wrong men. Nothing new, but told well. Best film noir: Double Indemnity 1944 Fred MacMurry and Barbara Stanwick. Kiss of Death (1947) gave Richard Widmark his debut role in an chilling and creepy part. It was directed by Henry Hathaway who went onto the A-list, including the first True Grit in 1969. 
     Don't Bother To Knock (1952). This movie doesn't roll backward in time, but it stars Marilyn Monroe in a role that will put your hair on end. She was a fine actress, but I guess did not realize it. 

     Plenty of good Film Noir today. Pulp Fiction. Streets of Blood. Bad Lieutenant. Stone. Friends of Eddie Coyle. Ripley's Game. Angel Heart.. Film Noir is just too good to stay in the past.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great death scenes slow and low

         Great death scenes are really hard to come by. Lots of death scenes in film.  I'm talking about the really good ones. 

        Loud and explosive or slow and low? Slow and low are best, most suspenseful and shocking. Scare your hairs on end. 
        Take an early film noir death scene that has cinephiles still in awe today: Double Indemnity, the 1944 film Billy Wilder directed. Film noir was then called a "B" movie until the French took a fancy, noticing the great contrasts of shadow and light and the peppie story lines and anti-heros. Big in those days, like Indy flicks today. This one has Barbara Stanwyck in a lip-lock with lover Fred MacMurray when he pokes his pistol in her ribs and bye bye Barb. Double Indemnity Double Indemnity is an entertaining tale of greed, sex and betrayal in LA. And you thought Fred MacMurray did nothing exciting before he raised those three boys.

       Another slow and low is the fast shot the heart scene in LA Confidential,  leaving Kevin Spacey a few gasping moments, enough enough to breathe the movie's greatest clue: Rollo Tomasi.

       The best slow, and scary and creepy is the cross-bow through the gut in Deliverance .That scene let actor Bill McKinney all but almost steal the movie. John Boorman directed the 1972 film and was nominated for an Oscar. A tale of four city dwellers who were hoping to take an adventuresome but safe canoe trip down a beautiful Georgia river that soon would be a big lake due to construction. The four men had no idea what lawlessness lurked within. The movie is based on James Dickey's best-selling novel, Deliverance. The film propelled Burt Reynolds to stardom, fueled  Jon Voight's rising star, put Ned Beatty on the map and showed off Ronny Cox's beautiful guitar playing. 

     McKinney, a terrorizing, murderous hillbilly, is impaled by Reynold's cross-bow. He inches forward, slowly, back arched, pointing up at something. The camera swings around and around, character to character, showing their bulging eye shock, terror, curiosity, revulsion. Until the man finally plops on a tree limb, staring up, mouth agape. Everyone is paralyzed, even watching his hand twitch. "Is he dead?" 

     I saw Deliverance again a few days ago after many, many years. When it came out, a friend and I snuck in the local theatre because we were young teens and heard it was a wild movie and Reynolds and Voight were mega hunks. It was and they were.

     I never followed either Reynolds' or Voights' careers.  Deliverance, though, still is a riveting, excellent movie. Directing, acting, cinematography, Dickey's terrifying tale. Anyway, John Boorman is one of my favorite directors. I love Point Blank.  People think Lee Marvin's best role was in The Dirty Dozen but Point Blank really was his film. 

    For a great Blu-Ray version of Deliverance on DVD see The HD and Blu-Ray versions have running commentary by John Boorman, the Blu-Ray also has a vintage feature called "The Dangerous World of Deliverance." The movie was made for $2 million and grossed something like $46 million. Well. Squeal like a pig.

  See scenes from Point Blank and other great flicks in my store here gmt's youtube channel

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five not so easy movies

     Actually, there are seven movies, but five if you want to count those worth watching. I'm talking about of course the new release America Lost and Found: The BBS Story:. When I first heard of this I thought what  is the BBS? It sounds like a new British warship.

   Not so. BBS is taken from the filmmaking crew of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, a trio who together put out some inexpensive but wildly influential films. I think the Criterion Collection, which culled these together, pulled a sort of sleight of hand giving this the "so and so series" label because they are not like, say John Cassavetes who influenced an entire generation of movie makers. But it is a good excuse to plug good films, re-package and add some great interviews. A few flicks are quite good but never got the appreciation they deserved.

   Let's go a head and get past Head. That's the movie about The Monkees and the oldest, released in 1968.  No plot, no script, no acting. But the songs in the movie are probably the best ever done by Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork.  The film  is full of disconnected events and psychedelic scenes. The real charm is that they make no bones about being a media creation, actually poked fun at themselves.  I did like the new Head DVD for its extra features: the outtakes, screen tests, interviews and audio commentary. It's a hoot hearing those now-middle age men look back at the time they showed up for a "cattle call" auditions and see young Jack Nicholson hob-nobbing with Peter Tork. Who'da thunk? 

  America Lost and Found has its two blockbusters: Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) Easy Rider: What can we say that would illuminate this iconic movie any brighter? Who can forget the chicken salad scene in Five Easy Pieces? But each movie is a two-disk set with interesting interviews and commentary by Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and others involved as well as outtakes and theatrical trailers.

  So what's left? Of the four, two are fabulous films that were overlooked at the time: 
   The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) is an engrossing little flick I saw only a year ago, before this collection was released. It stars the usual suspects of back then: Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn. Nicholson is never better than when he plays it restrained. It forces him to give more. The complexity of characters and their interactions lept my interest piqued and my stomach a bit queazy.

  Last Picture Show (1971). Jeff Bridges was so young. It made Peter Bogdanovich a household name at the time. He shot it in black and white, which was pretty bold for an era when color film making was growing more and more vibrant. It works so well for the mood, time and space. This is also a 2-DVD disk set and the more interesting is the one with the comments from Cybill Shephard, Bogdanovich, Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman. She was one of two Oscar-winners. Most of us probably just remember her as the ditzy doctor's wife in Rhoda but Cloris Leachman is a fine dramatic actress. Ellen Burstyn and Ben Johnson also star.
   The little obscure: A Safe Place  (1971). I don't think there could be a more obscure flick, other than say, The Brain Eaters (1958). It stars Tuesday Weld with Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles. Did I say it stars Tuesday Weld? She's in nearly every single frame. Director Henry Jaglom must have fallen hard for her.  But the pacing and jumping around made me dizzy. There's no plot and who knows what Orson Welles is there for. 

   The other little known film is Drive, He Said Drive, He Said (1970). Jack Nicholson directed this feverish snapshot of a college basketball player who begins to unravel, and his loony roommate. Bruce Dern is great as the coach. He's always playing someone on the edge.

  Hey hey we're the know! 
Check us out!