“Rosebud was his sled!” – Random Notes on Orson Welles

"Rosebud was his sled"2-Peanuts***************************************************************************************

Citizen Kane-posterThe first time I saw Citizen Kane – an experience I’ll never forget — was in a film class at the University of Iowa in 1964 or ’65. The class was held in a long, narrow room with rows of fixed, wooden seats and a small projection booth in the back. Not a likely setting for a powerful revelation. I’d heard of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane , but wasn’t prepared for the thrilling jolt I was about to get at the end of the film’s noirishly ominous opening sequence — almost like the beginning of a horror film — with the abrupt cut to the blaring “News on the March!” footage. This was something else again. From that point on, Kane completely blew up my notions of what movies could be.

Joseph Cotton, Welles, Everett Sloan

Joseph Cotton, Welles, Everett Sloan

We had a single 16mm projector for the classroom. Citizen Kane runs 2 hours, and as I recall, the print was mounted on at least three reels. When a reel ran out, there was about a 5 minute break while the next reel was threaded up on the projector. I remember feeling quite anxious during the reel changes, for fear Kane wouldn’t continue to be as great as it had been up to that point. No problem there. I very much wanted to see it again, but it was only being shown once for this class. I’m not sure how I managed this, but I borrowed the print from one of the class TAs, who I think had the responsibility of shipping it back to the distributor. He must have also given me a key to the classroom, because I went there at night to watch Kane by myself from the projection booth. It was just as great the second time. Bernard Herrmann wrote a powerful music score that lends amazing emotional resonance to the film, especially during the ending, which gets me every time I see it..

Ambersons-Italian posterTouch of Evil-poster2My favorite Welles films, after Kane, are The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Touch of Evil (1958). Ambersons was famously taken away from Welles when he was out of the country. It was re-edited, additional scenes were shot, and an ending was added that was definitely not what he intended. Even so, it’s a beautiful film. Sure, I’d love to see it in the form Welles had planned, but it’s pretty great as it is. Touch of Evil, a flamboyant display of B-movie pulp raised to a much higher level, is a tour de force from beginning to end, especially in the astonishing opening — a single-take tracking shot lasting 3 minutes, 20 seconds. I saw it again last week at Film Forum, and it still burns up the screen.

Directing "Too Much Johnson"

Directing “Too Much Johnson”

Orson Welles is never far from my mind, especially of late. He keeps turning up. In 1938, three years before Citizen Kane, Welles directed a silent film called Too Much JohnsonIt had been intended to be part of a Mercury Theatre stage production of the 1894 comedy by William Gillette. This didn’t happen, and the film was never publicly screened. Too Much Johnson was thought lost until a print was discovered in a warehouse in Pordenone, Italy, in 2008. It was shown at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in October 2013, and had its New York premiere at the DGA Theatre the following month. Richard Brody wrote a lively piece about the film in the 11/26/13 issue of The New Yorker , which is definitely worth reading. (Too Much Johnson is available on You Tube. I’ve included the film at the end of this post.)

John Huston, Welles, Peter Bogdanovich

John Huston, Welles, Peter Bogdanovich

And then last month there was news that the last film Welles had been working on for years, The Other Side of the Wind, would be completed and released next year, in time for what would have been Welles’ 100th birthday on May 6th. After Ernest Hemingway’s suicide in 1961, Welles had the idea to make a film about an aging bullfight enthusiast. By 1966 he had changed the character to that of a film director — played by an aptly-cast John Huston in scenes shot between 1970 and 1976. Per an article in the The New York Times on 11/10/14, Welles had “worked obsessively on the film” during the last 15 years of his life. After his death in 1985, he left behind a 45-minute edited work print and hundreds of cans of negatives. The film had already been tied up for years in legal struggles with investors. It appears that now the various rights holders are in agreement and have cleared the way for the film to be finished by producer Frank Marshall and director Peter Bogdanovich (who plays a character in the film), using notes from Welles. We can only hope.

Magician-posterAnd more Welles! Last month I attended a screening of a documentary called Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, directed by Chuck Workman, well-known for creating short films and openings for twenty Academy Awards telecasts over the years. His film Precious Images (1986), an 8-minute compilation of 470 shots from films covering the range of American film history, won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short. Magician didn’t quite meet my expectations, but it came close. It’s very good, and well worth seeing. What I found most compelling was the material on Welles’ early life, and the rich variety of clips from interviews conducted over the years. Chuck Workman’s strength as a filmmaker is evident in the way he has edited this wealth of material together. It’s a good film for those who know little about Welles, as well as those who know a lot.

Magician opens here on December 10 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

"War of the Worlds" broadcast, 1938

“War of the Worlds” broadcast, 1938

Orson Welles is a nearly unique figure in American life, a brilliant, tragic, magical presence. In 1938, at age 23, he freaked out a good part of the country with his War of the Worlds broadcast. I’ve listened to it several times, and I can see why. Three years later he delivered Citizen Kane, arguably one of the greatest films ever made. How could anyone follow that, even Welles? His subsequent efforts to get films made despite lack of funds or studio support are well documented. It’s seems appropriate that Welles never finished his film of Don Quixote, since he seemed to spend much of his life after Kane tilting at windmills. There have been hundreds of books and articles written about Welles, and I’m sure there’s no end in sight. Welles is a cinematic touchstone, an endless source of fascination.

Orson Welles-later in lifeOrson Welles-1981 wine adPart of my preparation for writing this post was searching for photos and film clips to include. What struck me when I saw the many pictures of Welles was how much his appearance and presence changed over the years. Off the top of my head, it’s hard to think of anyone else where this evolution has been quite so dramatic. The image that most readily comes to mind for a lot of people now, I’m sure, is that of the grossly overweight Welles in his later years, seen frequently on talk shows or in ads selling Paul Masson wine. The man who made Citizen Kane! Seeing him younger can be quite a jolt. In photos taken when he was 15 or so, he has a strange beauty that can seem almost extraterrestrial.

1937

1937

1934

1934

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directing "Citizen Kane"

Directing “Citizen Kane”

Welles & Chaplin, 1947

Welles & Chaplin, 1947

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris, 1952

Paris, 1952

 

 

Welles the magician

Welles the magician

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I wrote earlier, Orson Welles is never far from my mind. He keeps turning up. He’ll always be here. – Ted Hicks

image0000003AA.700.jpgOrson Welles-bearded

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Supplemental:

Too Much Johnson (1938)

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, 10/30/38.

Orson Welles interview 8 days before his death on 10/10/85.

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There’s more! Bruce Goldstein at Film Forum, here in New York, has programmed a 5-week Orson Welles retrospective celebrating his centennial year. This series kicks off on January 1 with an 8-day run of Citizen Kane, followed by all of his features and many films he acted in.

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Film School Flashback – Double Feature

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I started at the University of Iowa in 1962, but at the time I thought that meant journalism. I quickly found out that wasn’t the kind of writing that interested me, and by 1963 I was taking fiction writing courses in the Undergraduate Writers Workshop. Some of the people I met in these workshops were also taking classes in the Film Department. This clicked for me. I was already a full-blown movie buff, so it seemed perfect that I could be writing stories and making movies at the same time.

In the Fall semester of 1964 I took a course called Cinematography Techniques, taught by Dr. John Kuiper, who a year later became the Head of the Motion Picture Section of The Library of Congress. TAs in that class were Ted Perry — later the Director of the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and Chairman of Cinema Studies at NYU, and now in the Film and Media Culture Department at Middlebury College in Vermont — and Bob Rose, a crazy guy with a big beard, sort of a beatnik, and kind of brilliant. I’m still in touch with Ted, but unfortunately have lost track of Bob. This was a very exciting time. I was just off the farm, turned loose in a college town seemingly filled with crazy hipsters as the 60s got rolling. I was over-stimulated by all this stuff and all these people. Anything and everything seemed possible. Ah, youth!

At that time, production courses and film studies classes were held in the Old Armory Televison-Film Laboratory, seen below in a map of part of the campus at that time.

Old Armory on campus map

In the second semester of that school year, I took Cinema Production, which is when I made my first short film, Bridgework. We’d done short exercises every week as part of the Cine Tech class, but this was the first time it was my film, not an exercise, and something I was totally responsible for from start to finish. I discovered that editing was what I enjoyed most about the filmmaking process. Which I guess makes sense. I’m a writer, and film editing is a kind of writing, splicing shots together instead of words.

This was no-frills filmmaking. We didn’t haveBell&Howell 70DR camera sync sound capabilities and were using spring-wound Bell & Howell 70DR cameras that held 100 feet of 16mm black & white film and were basically indestructible. They’d been used by combat photographers during World War II. I shot most of Bridgework riding on the back of a motorcycle. So if I’d fallen off or we’d crashed, the camera would have been okay. Good to know.

In the fall of 1965 I made my second film, The Killing Ground. This one was more ambitious than my first, but as usually happens, it turned out somewhat different than I’d imagined. I’ve kept prints of both films all these years, and recently had them transferred to Blu-ray disc and flash drive. When I watched them a few days ago, for the first time in many years, they were almost exactly as I’d remembered them — except that The Killing Ground has some shots that are way too dark. Do over!

Remember that these films were made nearly 50 years ago when I was 20 years old. But no more excuses; here they are in all their glory. – Ted Hicks

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Headbanging with “John Wick”

John Wick-posterJohn Wick is an uncommonly good action film, a B-movie on steroids. It’s lean and mean, and gets the job done. I found it immensely satisfying from beginning to end, much the same way I felt during Guardians of the Galaxy and The Guest earlier this year. The basic format is familiar and predictable: a protagonist (almost always male) takes revenge on those who’ve done him wrong. There’s something hugely satisfying and wish-fulfilling about these kinds of films. We’ve seen this many times before in such films as The Big Heat (1953), Death Wish (1974), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Rolling Thunder (1977), Kill Bill I & II (2003/2004), and Taken (2008), to name just a few.  The protagonists have to either acquire the skills necessary to achieve their goals, or they already possess those skills.

At the beginning of John Wick, the title character (played by a perfectly cast Keanu Reeves) has been retired for five years from his career as a professional killer for a Russian gang in New York City. Of course, in these films, we know that guys like this never really “retire.” Wick had fallen in love, gotten married, acquired a vintage ’69 Mustang, and moved to a split-level house in New Jersey with a lot of glass that lends itself nicely to a subsequent shootout. It’s unlikely that the Russians would have been willing to let Wick leave, since he was apparently the best they had at his job, by far. Usually in these scenarios, getting out is not even an option, but I was willing to go with it, perhaps because the head of the Russian mob, Viggo Tarasov, is played by Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, from the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and the two sequels. He brings an avuncular, unusually understanding dimension to a character type more frequently portrayed as a thuggish, sadistic sociopath (see Martin Csokas, for comparison, as “Teddy” in The Equalizer, a poor, but more common, example of this type of film that even Denzel Washington couldn’t save).

We learn very quickly that John’s wife has died from an illness, but not beforeJohn Wick-puppy ordering a puppy to be delivered after her death so he won’t be alone. This might sound sappy, but it plays nicely — and in any event, it’s a necessary set-up for the plot, which shifts to the next gear when John is at a gas station. Iosef Tarasov, Viggo’s violent, privileged, nutjob son, pulls into the station and demands to know how much John wants for the Mustang. John says it’s not for sale, which doesn’t make Iosef happy. As we see later, just mentioning the name “John Wick” is enough to strike fear in the hearts of those who hear it, and give them pause. Iosef obviously doesn’t know who John is and probably wouldn’t care if he did. So he doesn’t think anything of breaking into John’s house that night with his companions, who savagely beat John with baseball bats and kick him in the head a few times. Then, annoyed by the barking puppy, Iosef takes a bat to the dog as well (this is not a spoiler since it’s in the trailer). This is all it takes to bring John out of retirement. Stealing his Mustang is bad enough, but killing his dog is way over the line for John (it was gift from his dead wife!), and basically justifies all the mayhem to follow.

Chad Stahelski & David Leitch (r)

Chad Stahelski & David Leitch (r)

Someone once described John Woo’s Hong Kong gangster films as “maximum firepower at close range.” If you’ve seen The Killer (1989), Bullet in the Head (1990), or Hard Boiled (1992), you know what this means. It‘s also an apt description of John Wick, which was co-directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two former stunt men and stunt coordinators. Stahelski was Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix (1999) and martial arts stunt coordinator for the The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions  (2003). Their backgrounds and experience have served John Wick‘s action sequences well. There’s a clarity to the choreography of the fight scenes that reflects a level of filmmaking skill you might not expect from first-time directors. These scenes — involving gunplay and martial arts (called “gun-fu” by the directors) — are shot and edited so that we know what’s going on. They don’t use disorienting close-ups and quick cuts the way so many action films do, nor do they use shaky, handheld cameras.

Here are two examples that illustrate the film’s method and style. These clips should also tell you if this is a movie you’d want to see or not. The music is very effective here and throughout the film.

Of course, nobody could do this. It’s absurd, but the film follows its own logic, and it basically works if you get on the ride. Though no one would claim it has redeeming social value (not that it has to). Reeves’ performance is just right for this role, which is similar to many he’s played before, i.e. tightly wrapped and showing little outward emotion. Which serves to heighten the deadpan humor he brings to many of his line readings. His character here evokes Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo (1961), Lee Marvin in Point Blank (1967), Brandon Lee in The Crow (1994), and the unrelenting drive of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator. Reeves’ John Wick may not be invincible, but he is unstoppable. He becomes increasingly tattered and beaten up as the film progresses. Which doesn’t prevent him from dispatching approximately 84 mostly nameless adversaries (this is the directors’ count, and I’ll take them at their word).

John Wick-Keanu still2One of the pleasures of this film is the quality of the actors who round out the cast. Whether their parts are large or small, everyone knows what they’re doing. Willem Dafoe and John Leguizamo are standouts. Two of my favorite actors from HBO’s great series The Wire, Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters, are here. Reddick is especially effective — and funny — as the the manager of the Continental Hotel, where Wick resides when he comes from New Jersey to NYC to take care of business. The Continental, whose clientele is apparently made up entirely of professional killers, seems to occupy an alternate dimension of some kind, like something David Lynch would come up with. Other actors include Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy on HBO’s Game of Thrones) as Viggo’s mad dog son Iosef; David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, 1979; 48 Hours, 1982) as the leader of a team of “cleaners” dispatched to remove the bloody evidence of John Wick’s dust-ups; Ian McShane (HBO’s Deadwood) as the owner of the Continental Hotel; and Dean Winters (from 30 Rock, as Tina Fey’s sometime boy friend, and currently in Allstate Insurance TV spots).

John Wick is an impressive debut feature from two new directors who clearly absorbed a great deal about filmmaking from their time on movie sets. They obviously knew what they wanted to do with this film and how to go about it. Something this assured makes me look forward to what they do next. If you like this genre, John Wick is a cut above, and a hell of a ride. - Ted Hicks

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“Force Majeure” – Women and Children First

Force Majeure-posterIf you’ve ever wondered, as I often have, how you’d react in a crisis situation (you’re with your family on a ship that’s sinking, or in a store that’s being robbed at gun point, or trying to get out of the way of a tidal wave – or an avalanche), then you should see Force Majeure, an extraordinary Swedish film written and directed by Rueben Östlund that puts a nasty spin on that question.

In films I always want to identify with characters who stand up and do the right thing, usually at great emotional, professional, or (especially) physical risk to themselves. Many movies are built on this dynamic and depend on audiences identifying with these characters. Gary Cooper coming back to town to face the men who’ve come to kill him in High Noon when it would be easier to turn away, for example. Force Majeure, however, confronts us with a lead character who doesn’t do the right thing, who briefly abandons his wife and two kids in a moment of panic and later denies that it happened at all. Not much of a role model, not much to admire, and not someone you’d want to identify with.

Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Konglsi), and their two children Vera and Harry (real-life siblings Clara Wettergren & Vincent Wettergren) have come from Sweden to a resort in the French Alps for five days of skiing and relaxation. It’s stated that Tomas spends so much time at work that he has very little time for his children. This is a chance to be together. They seem quite ordinary, nothing out of place, an Ikea family. The first day is pleasant and goes smoothly; they ski together, they all nap on the bed (a great shot that’s held for a long time), and in a scene that’s repeated several times during the film and feels increasingly unsettling, we see them standing side by side reflected in the bathroom mirror as they brush their teeth with electric toothbrushes.

Force Majeure-family in bedForce Majeure-brushing teethOn the second day they are eating breakfast outside on a terrace facing the mountains (actually, every view from this resort seems to face mountains). Since the start of the film we’ve been hearing sporadic booms that sound like cannon fire. I couldn’t figure this out at first, but then found out it has to do with deliberately creating avalanches as a way of preventing large, dangerous avalanches (or something like that). These random booms throughout the film add to a sense of unease. As the family eats, they see a “controlled” avalanche start down the mountain. Tomas says not to worry, this is perfectly okay. But as the billowing snow advances closer and closer, the situation suddenly doesn’t seem quite so safe. People definitely rush to get out of there, but Tomas bolts, knocking someone aside to clear the way, leaving his wife and children at the table. The frame whites out from the snow and stays that way for what feels like a long time as we hear sounds and voices. People and objects slowly emerge, first as shapes and shadows, then more recognizably as the snow settles. There have been no cuts and the camera hasn’t moved an inch during this entire scene.

Force Majeure-the avalancheThat night Tomas and Ebba are eating dinner with a couple they’d met earlier. Ebba starts talking about the avalanche that almost got them at breakfast. With a kind of chagrined laugh she says that Tomas ran away and left them, which he immediately and emphatically says never happened. This denial seems actually worse than his running away in the first place. He keeps it up even when he and Ebba are alone together.

Force Majeure raises issues about what it means to “be brave” and “be a man,” and challenges those concepts in the process. In press notes for the film, the director writes that inspiration for the film came from researching “…true stories of distress and emergency, of passengers during the sinking of ships, of tourists stricken by tsunamis or held hostage by hijackers. In such extreme situations, people can react in completely unexpected and exceedingly selfish ways… It also appears that, in many cases, men do not act according to the expected codes of chivalry. In life or death situations, when their own survival is at stake, it seems that men are even more likely than women to run away and save themselves…” This is uncomfortable information for us guys, though women will probably just nod their heads in agreement.

Force Majeure-Tomas & MatsThe concept of masculinity is also examined in a very funny, off-kilter scene in which Tomas and a friend of his, Mats (Kristofer Hivju), are seated outdoors drinking beer after skiing. A woman comes over and tells Tomas that her friend (a woman we don’t see) has pointed out Tomas and Mats as being the most attractive men there. She returns a moment later to say sorry, her friend didn’t mean them, she had pointed at someone else. There’s something about this scene that just seems so odd and so deadpan. Like so many scenes in the film, this plays out in a single camera setup, with no cuts to distract as Tomas’ and Mats’ egos are puffed up and then deflated in rapid order. (The actor playing Mats looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him. It turns out he plays a Wildling leader, Tormund Giantsbane [that’s some name], on HBO’s Game of Thrones.)

Force Majeure is impeccably made. The images have a clarity that’s stunning at times. Scenes often play out in silence, or with pauses (often uncomfortable) and looks that are quite revealing without spelling things out. The following scene takes place on the night of the third day when Mats and his much younger girlfriend Fanni are having dinner in Tomas and Ebba’s suite. Ebba again returns to Tomas’ actions of the day before.

This is a very unusual film with an almost clinically objective eye. I liked it a lot. Original and provocative, Force Majeure is a sharp-edged satire that wraps up in a way that makes us rethink much of what’s transpired, and suggests that the issues may not have been as clear-cut as they originally seemed.

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Force Majeure won a prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is Sweden’s 2014 official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. After playing the international and domestic festival circuit earlier this year, it opens theatrically in this country on Friday, October 24th. - Ted Hicks

*** Since posting this review yesterday, I read an interview with Rueben Östlund in the October 19th New York Times. If you’re interested in the film, this is definitely worth checking out.

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“Tracks” – On the Road with Camels and a Dog

Tracks-posterIn April of 1977 a young woman named Robyn Davidson set out walking from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia on a 1,700 mile trek through Western Australia, much of it desert, to the Indian Ocean on the west coast, where she arrived nine months later. She was accompanied by four camels and her dog, Diggity. Robyn’s epic undertaking was funded by National Geographic, in exchange for allowing photographic coverage by an American, Rick Smolan, who visited Robyn periodically along the way.

Robyn published an account of the journey in her book Tracks in 1980. As Rick Smolan said in an interview with myself and several others this past Monday, Robyn wrote the book entirely from memory, as she kept no notes or journal on her journey. I hadn’t heard of Robyn or her book until I read about the film version, but as producer Eric Sherman said, “Tracks is one of those books that pretty much every Australian knows. It’s sort of a seminal epic Australian story.”

That story has been turned into an extraordinary film that opens here in limited release this Friday, September 19th, after successful screenings at many film festivals last year, including Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, as well as San Francisco and Seattle earlier this year. But it didn’t happen overnight. Reportedly there had been five previous attempts to film the book in the 1980s and ’90s. Julia Roberts was “attached” to star as Robyn Davidson in 1993. Nicole Kidman and Helen Hunt were also mentioned at various times. But it was Mia Wasikowska who was finally cast as Robyn. Having seen the film, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Wasikowska playing the part. She really owns it. Filming finally began in October of 2012 with John Curran directing from a script by Marion Nelson. The results are amazing, inspiring, unsentimental, thought-provoking, and incredibly human. I loved it.

Like most people in this country, my first exposure to Mia Wasikowska was in 2008 in the HBO series In Treatment as Sophie, a tightly-wrapped teenage gymnast undergoing psychotherapy. She was explosive, violent, suicidal, and totally got my attention in the role. (I’ve since learned, by the way, that Wasikowska is pronounced VAH-shee-KOF-ska.  Maybe everyone knows this, but I was clueless. She was born in Australia and her mother is Polish.) Mia Wasikowska has done great work since then in features that include Defiance (2008), Alice in Wonderland (2010), The Kids Are All Right (2010), Jane Eyre (2011), and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), to name but a few.

Per Rick Smolan, the extent to which Mia embodied Robyn was uncanny. He also said, “What’s amazing about Mia is she reminds me of a young Meryl Streep, you don’t even believe it’s the same person from movie to movie, she completely transforms into that character. As somebody who spent three months traveling with the real Robyn, it was eerie watching (Mia) become Robyn.” Several weeks before shooting began, Mia and Robyn Davidson traveled to South Australia so Mia could meet the camels and Robyn could show her how to work with them.

Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson

Mia Wasikowska as Robyn

Mia Wasikowska as Robyn

John Curran says he’d heard of Adam Driver because of the HBO series Girls, and began to consider him for the role of Rick Smolan when he came across a blog that described Driver as “…weird and fantastic.” This piqued Curran’s interest. Driver has an unpredictable, wonderfully off-center quality that feels just right for his role in Tracks. When asked if it was weird seeing himself on screen, Rick Smolan said, “Very.” Then he was asked if he felt that Adam Driver’s portrayal was authentic and if he’d taken liberties, and Smolan said, “My brother’s a director, so he said they’re going to have to make you into a jerk at the beginning, and then hopefully you’re better by the end of the movie.” He added, “It was the most interesting year of my life, being out there with this woman (Robyn).”

Rick Smolan, NYC 9/15/14

Rick Smolan, NYC 9/15/14

Adam Driver as Rick Smolan

Adam Driver as Rick Smolan

John Curran’s direction is straightforward and intensely quiet. He never gets in the way of the material; he lets it speak for itself and doesn’t amp up moments that are powerful enough in their own right. Curran’s films all have strong female characters. In addition to Mia Wasikowska in Tracks, I’m thinking especially of Laura Dern’s powerhouse performance in We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004). Tracks has an ineffable quality that at times has echos of such Australia films as Picnic at Hanging Rock (d. Peter Weir, 1975) and Walkabout (d. Nicolas Roeg, 1971). These films have a strangeness that feels almost extraterrestrial, especially that scene in Walkabout with Rod Stewart’s “Gasoline Alley” playing in the distance when the father shoots himself to death in his car after driving with his children into the Outback. All of these films have an expectant air about them, like something terrible or great is about to happen, but you don’t know what. When Mia loses her compass at one point, it made me think of Peter O’Toole losing his compass during an arduous desert crossing in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but unlike O’Toole, she finds hers. And promptly gets lost, but Diggity gets her home.

John Curran, NYC 9/15/14

John Curran, NYC 9/15/14

John Curran, NYC 9/15/14

John Curran, NYC 9/15/14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Animals are major characters in Tracks, as is the landscape itself. This film could not have been shot in a studio, and Robyn could not have made the trip without the aid of her four camels, Bubs, Dookie, Zeleika and Zeleika’s calf, Goliath. At first I thought,  camels in Australia? Then I learned early in the film that camels were brought to Australia in 1840 to help transport people and goods because they were well suited to desert country. When motorized vehicles replaced them, most of the camels were turned loose, and now Australia has the world’s largest population of feral camels.

Here is a short clip of Mia and her camels. In voiceover we hear the letter she writes to National Geographic requesting sponsorship for her venture. It also has a nice taste of the very effective music score by Garth Stevenson.

There’s so much about Tracks that has stayed with me. Such as Mr. Eddy, the tribal Elder Tracks-Mia & Mr. Eddywho travels with Robyn across sacred territory where women are not allowed to go unaccompanied. Mr. Eddy is portrayed by the indigenous Rolley Minutma in a wonderful performance that expresses an abundance of humor and dignity. Or the rather tender interlude when Mia encounters an old man and his wife living on a dried-up farm with nothing else in sight for miles around (it is the desert, after all). She spends a day or so with them, almost like a daughter with her parents. It’s hard to describe. Or the beautiful shot of an incredibly starry sky at night that fills the screen, and then dissolves into a tight close-up of Mia’s face as she watches the sky. Or her relationship with the camels and her dog Diggity (who we learn in the credits is played by a dog with the wonderful name of Special Agent Gibbs). At one point we hear her say in voice-over, “The universe gave us three things to make life bearable: hope, jokes, and dogs. But the greatest of these was dogs.” I was especially blown away by a shot of Mia swimming underwater in slow motion toward the camera; then she pauses and her hair billows forward in a way that’s beyond magical. - Ted Hicks

Tracks-Mia & camel in ocean__________________________________________________________________

Extras:

Below are clips from an interview with John Curran at the Venice Film Festival last year followed by an interview with Robyn Davidson & Mia Wazikowska.

And for those who really want to get into it, The Weinstein Company (U.S. distributor of Tracks) has provided impressively extensive production notes for the film.

And finally, here’s an excerpt from the book itself.

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On the Radio – Monsters & Noir Podcasts!

Podcasts are now available for the two interview shows I did earlier this year for “Talk Art Radio” on WSOU, the campus radio station at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, not far from Manhattan. I wrote about doing the first show in a post last April called “On the Radio – Movies, Zombies & “Homecoming.” About two months after that program, Mark Svenvold and I did another one; this time the focus was on film noir. Both can be heard via free iTunes downloads at the following site:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/wsou-talk-art-radio/id542463190?mt=10

Under the Description heading look for “Noir: A Style or Genre?” (released 8/23/14) and “Monsters and Me” (released 7/5/14). Both are just under 30 minutes each.

I think they both come off pretty well. It actually sounds like I know what I’m talking about. Mark is also great at keeping the conversation moving forward with a minimum (I hope) of stammering and/or dead air on my part. I was disappointed that our discussion of Joe Dante’s great Homecoming episode on Showtime’s series Masters of Horror wasn’t included, but we talked well beyond the 30 minutes allowed for the shows, so something had to go (see the blog post indicated above for more about Homecoming).

Big Heat-posterThe second show really should be called Film Noir: Then & Now, since we spent a lot of time talking about how the classic noir films of the 1940s & 50s have influenced the “neo-noir” films that came after. Classic noirs include Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), Edward Dmytryk’s Murder My Sweet (1944), Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945), Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947), Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), to name but a very few. It’s a long list.

Key neo-noirs include J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962), Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), ), Carl Franklin’s One False Move (1992), and Curtis Hansen’s L.A. Confidential (1997). Chinatown-poster3Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Noir is an incredibly fluid, flexible category. While noirs typically tend to have urban settings and involve some sort of criminal activity, there have been science fiction noirs (Blade Runner – 1982) and even Western noirs (Ramrod – 1947). Noirish elements turn up almost everywhere these days in films and television. It’s basically endless.

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I could go on and on but I’m sure most of you already know this stuff, so I’ll let the podcasts speak for themselves. I’ve enjoyed doing these shows and I hope you enjoy hearing them. Mark and I intend to do more of them.

A special thanks to Ben Rader at WSOU, who engineers these epic broadcasts.- Ted Hicks

 

Posted in Books, Comics, Fiction, Film, Home Video, TV | Leave a comment

Barry Gifford on Film Noir – A Way with Words

As a writer, Barry Gifford definitely gets around. Born in Chicago in 1946, Gifford’s hefty  output (over 40 titles to date) includes fiction, non-fiction, biographies, poetry, and screenplays. I first became aware of his name as the author of the 1989 novel Wild at Heart, which David Lynch made into one of his very strange (as you’d expect) films the following year. In 1997 Gifford co-wrote the screenplay for Lynch’s even stranger film, Lost Highway.

Gifford also co-wrote a 1997 film called Dance with the Devil, based on his novel 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango. The cast includes Rosie Perez, Javier Bardem, James Gandolfini, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, which is pretty intriguing lineup. As far as I can tell, this film was not released theatrically in this country, only on home video.

So far I haven’t read any of Gifford’s fiction or poetry (though I just remembered that I’d read and liked Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac, a book Gifford did with Lawrence Lee that came out in 1978), but I recently read his incredible Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir (University Press of Mississippi, 2001). This is an expanded edition of a collection previously titled The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films, published by Grove Press in 1988. I’m not even sure what you’d call this book. It’s not film criticism in any traditional sense. Gifford covers approximately 120 films (mostly noir, but not exclusively) in short, punchy entries of a page or two each. The pieces are not necessarily descriptive of the films, though sometimes they are. The writing is highly subjective, impressionistic, sarcastic, cynical, sincere, even poetic at times. I love his use of language, which is very alive, often with surprising and unpredictable word choices. He’s loose, idiosyncratic, and as far from stuffy as you’re likely to get. It occurred to me at times that if Charles Bukowski had written film reviews, they might have been something like these.

In an Author’s Note at the end he writes: “Insofar as accuracy is concerned in the following, I guarantee only the veracity of the impression. I wrote these essays as I imagine many of the Cahiers du Cinema reviews of the 1950s were written, on the café or kitchen table at one in the morning. None have been revised for their publication in magazines. This is and was by design, in an effort to retain the freshness of the thought.” Indeed.

Out of the Past Adv in Film Noir-cover

Barry Gifford

Barry Gifford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Following are quotes from 48 of the films Gifford writes about. I found these particularly vibrant. They definitely got my attention. Reading these can be a kick even if you don’t know the films, but even more so if you do.

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American Friend-poster2The American Friend (Wim Wenders,1977) with Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Sam Fuller, Nicholas Ray.

“The real dramatic life of this movie is in the undertow, the way Wenders meanders broodingly, using Ganz as his ameneusis, stroking the viewer with images, making all colors seem brown at their core – the world turning to shit.”

The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950) with Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, Marilyn Monroe, James Whitmore.

Jungle reflects two shades: dark and darker.”

“…the streets are filled with spiders and their webs enfold the earth.”

"Asphalt Jungle" - Spanish

“Asphalt Jungle” – Spanish

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Autumn Leaves (Robert Aldrich, 1956) with Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson, Vera Miles.

“She’s giddy, wild with the smell of love and she’s not sure what to do about it.”

The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955) with Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Jean Big Combo-poster3Wallace, Lee Van Cleef.

“…the tentacles of light directed at us and slowed down so that the smoke curls and wraps around the darkness like reticulate pythons.”

“…dynamite. When it blows it’s in slow motion again, the white piles of flame and smoke slithering over and around each other, another exquisite maze of deathclouds.”

“Darkness disguises cheap sets… but it takes a visual artist to make the black work, to infect it with just enough light so that anything other than dark seems wrong, uncomfortable, unnatural.”

The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953) with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin.

Big Heat-Marvin, Grahame, Ford“Grahame’s sharp-angled face is savage enough to begin with, but after she’s burned by the coffee she becomes a kind of she-creature, an untouchable sex bomb.”

“…Gloria Grahame comes out looking like Mary Magdalene, a slender cut above all the other sick fools caught in the bad light.”

The Big Steal (Don Siegel, 1949) with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix.

“The plot is simple but Siegel makes it lively as hell, with wild cutting during the chase scenes. It’s easy to pick out the sequences shot exclusively in the studio; they’re hokey but topsy-turvy and it’s fun to watch Mitchum and Greer goose each other like Bogart and Bacall. Short, sweet, and not too deep.”

Body Heat (Lawrence Kasden, 1981) with William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke.

“Kasdan does a good job there, and he throws in enough rustling palm leaves, clanging wind chimes, and sweaty foreheads to usher in a grand sexual rush.”

Born to Be Bad (Nicholas Ray, 1950) with Joan Fontaine, Zachary Scott, Robert Ryan.

“Krisabel’s got Curtis snowed – he hardly notices that cash kicks off her shoulders like dandruff and that she manages to find a double dozen reasons to avoid making love with him.”

Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson, 1962) with Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Polly Bergen, Telly Savalas, Martin Balsam.

Cape Fear-still“Mitchum is a giant of evil in this movie; a slithery, completely corrupt, malevolent force.”

“He’s the angel of death-with-pain, put on earth to give men pause. When he describes to Peck how he got back at his ex-wife after he got out of prison, kidnapping her from her new husband and holding her captive in a motel room for days, raping and torturing her, and finally throwing her naked and filled with whiskey onto the road, we hear the Truth; it’s a swift lesson in the validity of Bad.”

Charley Varrick (Don Siegel, 1973) with Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker.

“The movie is dusty and low-rent, a late 20th-century western with no generous souls.”

Conflict (Curtis Bernhardt, 1945) with Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Alexis Smith.

“The atmosphere is heavy, ponderous, dark, with lots of rain and misty windows and too much furniture in the rooms.”

“The movie is like good German potato salad, heavy and spicy at the same time.’

Cry Danger (Robert Parrish, 1951) with Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, William Conrad.

“Nancy lives in a bric-a-brac heaven, a cozy trailer covered by clinging vines. The setting is claustrophobic, and you can see Rocky squirm thinking about life with this devil-woman.”

Cult of the Cobra (Francis D. Lyon, 1955) with Faith Domergue, Richard Long, David Janssen, Jack Kelly.

Cult of the Cobra-poster2“…Cobra Princess, played by Faith Domergue, who somehow manages to look reptilian even in female human being drag.”

“Faith Domergue gets to like her life as a hot-blooded woman more than her slimey cobra body; she heats up as a dame and can’t take the schizophrenia of it all and goes out her apartment window one last time.”

Cult of the Cobra” is director Francis D. Lyons great paean to anthropomorphism; sophisticated foolishness that nevertheless conveys a vivid image of psychosexual conflict.”

Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947) with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead.

“So here we have Agnes Moorehead’s best screen performance. She literally vibrates with evil as the murderess Madge Rapf, an arch slut/bitch unlike any other female villain this side of Judith Anderson in Rebecca.

“…the feline Bacall picks up Bogey on a country road.”

“The scene with the crazy plastic surgeon at two A.M. whose office is down a dark alley is the best of all, full of distended closeups and warped proportions, like faces leaning over a coffin; and we see them as would a corpse. Everyone looks already-dead, half-faded in failing light.”

“…Bacall slithering across the room toward him…”

“…Bogey’s grinning like the Chesire Cat as the warm waves slather the palm-strewn sands, and we fade out to a wonderland where the wounded survive and the wicked don’t.”

Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) with Humphrey Bogart, Lisabeth Scott.

“Movies like this depend on nothing so much as mood, on Bogey’s epiphanic expressions, his ability to skate through and around the ham-fisted situations, to make the viewer comfortable through an illusion of competence.”

Dead Reckoning is better than the sum of its parts would seem to yield, which is probably due to the soft sea breeze that blows through it.”

Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) with Tom Neal, Ann Savage.Detour-still

“Ulmer’s master was F. W. Murnau (Sunrise, Nosferatu), and those Prussian shadows shriek throughout his work.”

“Tom Neal is perfectly cast as the dumbshit dupe who thinks he knows what he’s doing. Ann Savage… gives a tour de force performance as the tubercular madwoman manipulating Neal to Total Loss.”

“Her head is like a bowling pin with brown hair and heavy eyebrows painted on.”

“She looks like a deranged leopard stalking off to the bedroom with the telephone to call the cops on him.”

“The almost ultraviolet bands of light across Neal’s face in Ulmer’s film are like streaks of evil.”

“Even the daylight in this movie is cloudy.”

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Felix Feist, 1947) with Lawrence Tierney.

“The hours covered in this film are from midnight to dawn, the period during which reality is suspended, when the rational mind loses control, and everything goes haywire. This is one of the meanest, most boldly deranged exercises in maniacal behavior this side of Ed Gein, minus the dismemberment.”

“…evil doesn’t lurk in his face, it gloats.”Devil Thumbs a Ride-Tierney

“Tierney invests this basically stupid plot with such genuine virulence that Devil must be ranked in the upper echelon of indelibly American noir.”

“There is no daylight in that face.”

D.O.A. (Rudolph Maté, 1949) with Edmund O’Brien, Luther Adler, Neville Brand.

“…this ultra-noir masterpiece, a movie that has everyone in a violent sweat from beginning to end.”

“Maté uses the city streets brilliantly in this, making it all into a maze with O’Brien the fightened, maddened, careening rabbit slamming into the wall with nothing making sense. Sweat, sweat, sweat – this movie has it. All improbable, impossible, with finger-snapping blondes, bop, post-World War Two ‘50s-prosperous American city scenes twisted through the bottom of a glass by an uncompromising Kandinskylike eye.”

Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) with Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland.

“An underrated, seldom-mentioned noir masterpiece, Mike Hodges’s Get Carter is the shiny suit of British cinema.”

Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) with Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, George Macready.

“It’s enough just to watch Rita in all her glory descend a winding staircase, to fluff up her hair with one hand and let it fall all over her face while her ears and eyebrows twitch and Macready’s nose goes out of joint.”

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Gun Crazy-poster2Gun Crazy-stillGun Crazy (Joesph H. Lewis, 1949) with John Dall, Peggy Cummins.

“The guy – long, tall John Dall, kind of a horse-faced Gary Cooper – has to wrest the platinum Peggy Cummins away from the carnival owner.”

“The camerawork is wicked, like Peggy’s mind; the eye is unblinking, relentless, raking across everything it sees like a claw. It’s a hard, mean focus, and I suppose that’s Joseph Lewis’s trademark: the screen pulsates like an injured nerve…”

“The climactic scene, shot in heavy white fog, is exquisite, startling because of the visual quiet – we just hear voices and shots. All in all, a remarkable little movie: sexy, violent, stupid, sad, pretty, tense, strange. More than enough.”

High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941) with Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino.

“When he gets pinned down on a mountaintop, Marie returns with the dog, who leaps out of her arms and runs to Bogey, who’s then drilled into immortality by the bulls.”

House of Horrors-posterHouse of Horrors (Jean Yarbrough, 1946) with Rondo Hatton.

“A personal favorite of mine, House of Horrors is a fractured exegesis on art, love, and curvature of the spine.”

“His face really was remarkable: a grotesquely beautiful shape that the sculptor in House of Horrors just has to render in clay.”

I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943) with Francis Dee, Tom Conway.

“The light is always hazy, the black not quite black but with an opaqueness that makes you strain to see more clearly. The effect is like looking through a keyhole and being shocked by a cold fingertip on your neck.”

Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942) with Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway.

“So much is unexplained in this movie that it works – it’s simple but bizarre and very dark.”

The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur, 1943) with Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Isabel Jewell.

“The Penitente Parade at the end is as weird a procession as anything ever filmed. Lewton and Tourneur knew precisely how to make the innocent and obvious seem strange and unknown. Submitting yourself to them is like giving yourself over to a leering hypnotist and his hunchback dwarf assistant…”

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I Want to Live! (Robert Wise, 1958) with Susan Hayward, Simon Oakland, Theodore Bikel.

“All that’s stacked against a woman is in evidence here, and for a chick who’s trying hard to be a stand-up guy it’s especially gut wrenching. Bodies and shadows pass through, the blacks and whites licking at one another like flames, giving out auras of blue, yellow, green, and gray – until she goes down for the count and everything fades to basic black.”

In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950) with Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy.

“Bogey’s problem is that he can be a mean drunk even when he’s not drinking.”

In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks, 1967) with Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Jeff Corey.

“The dark quality of remote flatlands haunts the frame, even indoors. What’s outside is real, ominous, waiting; as dramatic and dynamic as a madman in a hockey mask holding a hatchet.”

“The killers are scars on the plain face of the land, scuttling across it like crabs miles from sand, no place to bury themselves, to escape the light. When they’re hanged their perverse energy oozes out of them like pus from a wound. As valid a portrait of the heart of the country as It’s a Wonderful Life.

The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946) with Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmund O’Brien.

“The Swede offers no resistance: he knows it’s time, life isn’t worth living, and they plug him. But why go down so easily? Why the fatalist? You guessed it: betrayed by a woman. Again. Remember the green scarf with the birds or whatever the hell it had on it? The one she used to wear? Especially if she’s Ava Gardner at her loveliest. Just enough to make you swoon and die. If you’re the Swede, that is.”

The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956) with Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Jr., Timothy Carey, Colleen Gray.

“It’s another great Carey performance as he leers and grunts and groans out of his permanent death-mask face.”

“Everyone looks so worried and concerned throughout that their features are marred, twisted, bent, screwed up in the physical as well as psychological sense.”

Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) with Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Cloris Leachman.

“This Hammer is kind of an automaton, almost as if he’d been body-snatched and is running on remote control – very remote.”

Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1947) with Victor Mature, Richard Widmark, Colleen Gray, Brian Donleavy.

Kiss of Death-Tommy Udo3“Mature fills up the screen while Widmark wriggles sideways into the frame, a nasty little reptile.”

Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) with Joan Crawford, Ann Blythe, Zachary Scott.

“The theme here is greed, like always, except it’s Southern California style. We get beach houses, mansions, drive-ins, swanky yellow convertibles, adultery out the wazoo, and prick-teasing at its middle-brow best.”

Mr. Majestyk (Richard Fleischer, 1974) with Charles Bronson.

“Bronson doesn’t really mind Cristal’s attention but life beyond the melon patch isn’t quite happening for him.”

“If Peckinpah had made it, movie lizards would consider Mr. Majestyk a masterpiece.”

Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975) with Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, Melanie Griffith.

“Daylight is just some stage we have to go through to get to the moments of truth.”

Night Moves-posterOn Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1952) with Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino, Ward Bond.

“The first half of this movie moves ahead like an express train barely able to stay on the tracks.”

“And the music by Bernard Herrmann, who did so many Hitchcock scores, fractures the pictures, taking them apart and then rewelding them so that the pace hits home like a whirling, bucking bronc, each concussion shattering the previous mood or moment.”

On Dangerous Ground-posterShack Out on 101 (Edward Dein, 1955) with Lee Marvin, Terry Moore, Keenan Wynn, Frank Lovejoy.

“It’s as if William Inge were forced by the government to rewrite some Chekhov play, but set in McCarthy-era America, and he took twenty Valium, washed them down with Old Crow, and dashed it off as the drug grabbed his brain and put him in Palookaville.”

“This movie is a dead-on minimalist portrait of America at its most paranoid. It’s the one to show the history class.”

Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard, 1978) with Dustin Hoffman, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, Theresa Russell.

“This is a troubling movie; it doesn’t make it all the way and yet it nags, gnaws on the viewer like food that just won’t digest.”

Strange Love of Martha Ivers-posterThe Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Lewis Mileston, 1946) with Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, Lisabeth Scott.

“This movie is filled with darkness, brown soot, pessimism, secrecy, control freaks.”

“Nice story, yes? Nobody is happy in this, not even a little bit.”

“Rain, smoke, dirty minds, and bad ideas make this a classic of the corrupt.”

The Strange One (Jack Garfein, 1957) with Ben Gazzara, George Peppard.

“Jocko’s malevolent leer has everyone weirded out, but they’re powerless to avoid him.”

Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951) with Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Leo G. Carroll.

“Nothing’s bolted down in Bruno’s brain; his head is like a trashed pinball machine, with little sparks and bulbs lighting up here and there but in all the wrong places and sequences.”

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) with William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Jack Webb.

“The movie is an arrow straight into the heart of the Hollywood mystique. It’s something beyond aberration, a larger remark which may not be literature but is nevertheless serious and quite profound.”

They Made Me a Criminal (Busby Berkeley,1939) with John Garfield, Claude Rains.

“This is a sentimental sucker punch of a movie.”

Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) with Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Akim Tamiroff, Dennis Weaver.

“He uses Akim Tamiroff, who looks like a Turkish Groucho Marx, to set up Vargas’s wife, Susan, as a junkie in order to discredit Vargas. This is an especially fascinating scene, with Mercedes McCambridge playing a lesbian Mexican hoodlum, with the gang of wolf-eyed, leather-jacketed Mex punkers coming down like hyenas on the vulnerable blonde babe.”

The Turning Point (William Dieterle, 1952) with William Holden, Edmund O’Brien, Ed Begley.

“…he’s an amoral monster, willing to torch babies in order to stay on top.”

Where Danger Lives-poster2Where Danger Lives (John Farrow, 1950) with Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains.

“She was snakily seductive, though, and her reptilian eyebrows slither and squirm as she coils, strikes and collects Big Bob.”

“Actually, there’s a lot of eyebrow raising in this movie: Domergue, Mitchum and Rains were all experts at one-eyebrow-upmanship, so for a while here it’s kind of an eyebrow Olympics, with the three of them madly manipulating their respective forehead muscles.”

“This is a guy who hasn’t been laid enough because he’s been too busy studying, and when Domergue makes him think she’s giving herself to him when in fact he’s being sucked dry and made stupid by a voracious vampire whore, all we can do is shudder and be wary of love at first bite.”

The Wild One (Laslo Benedek, 1954) with Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin.

“Actually, Brando’s mob are decent fellows compared to the group led by Lee Marvin, who steals the picture right, left, and up the middle.”

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Most, if not all, of the films referenced here should be available for either rental or streaming from Netflix, Amazon, and other points on the compass. - Ted Hicks

 

 

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