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On the boards I've been called a reactionary and a Socialist, insightful and myopic, inciteful (sic) and diplomatic, I've been equated to a KKK member and to a bleeding heart do-gooder. I've been trolled by posters using similar names and trolled by posters who don't like my politics and I've even been accused of being a troll.
Yet this is where I come to relax.
RANDOM QUOTES FROM OTHER USERS ON WEB DEBATES
Arguing with idiots is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are, the bird is going to crap on the board and strut around as if it won anyway.
Duct tape can't fix stupid but it can sure muffle the sound.
When you are dead, you don't know that you're dead. It is difficult only for others. It's the same thing when you are stupid.
Everybody has the power to make someone else happy. Some do it by entering a forum while others do it by leaving.
Light travels faster than sound. That's why some people appear bright until they speak.
Avoid people who 1) Mess with your head 2) Who intentionally and repeatedly say things that they know upset you 3) Expect you to prioritize them but refuse to prioritize you 4) Who can't and won't apologize sincerely 5) Act like the victim when confronted with their abusive behavior 6) Insert Latin phrases to sound more intelligent barba tenus sapientes
"Monica sighed rolled on to her side She was so impressed that she just surrendered" (Brian Eno, for all of the Monicas. They know who they are. )
Any and all posts that I may make that concern broad trends in audience demographics do not apply to the village idiot. She knows who she is.
"He's the dumbest human being I ever saw. Every time he opens his mouth he subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge." (Warren William in The Dark Horse)
"When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." (Maya Angelou)
The Gangster (1947)
Is this a hallucinatory dream?
I'm not convinced that we're seeing a straight-forward crime story with THE GANGSTER. It's practically an opium dream. He goes to the beach in a suit and tie and Elisha Cook comes along with a cohort and Cook keeps yapping about how he's going to knock Sullivan down - the 12-inch disparity in height makes this laughable.
Skubunka, Jammey, Karty - these names are so precious. Note the stylized sets - the hotel just off the boardwalk that seems about six-feet deep, it stops at the boardwalk. Yet when he runs into the lobby, it's as big as The Waldorf.
Shubunka, the gangster with no gang. He apparently gets his mob from Rent-A-Hood and when he tries to recruit, the potential members all laugh at him. He's big time, but has no money to afford out-of-town hoods. Sheldon Leonard anticipates his every move, yet he needs some silly list of Shubunka's operations. If Shubunka has all of those businesses under his control, why is he in the ice cream parlor all day?
Belita thinks she's a dancer, Ireland has a system to beat the races but he's in dutch with the mob - apparently Shubunka doesn't have the gambling concession on the boardwalk so Ireland goes to him for the money he owes since his fool-proof plan didn't work. Harry Morgan thinks he a stud and Fifi D'Orsay thinks she's a Goddess. The only one who knows his place is Tamiroff and he's smart enough to be scared but too dumb to have cut his ties with Shubunka sooner.
Lest you think I'm being negative, I'm not. It all seems as if Sullivan is hallucinating about his life and all of the characters are exaggerated, including himself. It's fascinating to watch.
Almost a spin-off
A most unusual episode as it's Louis Quinn as Roscoe who is front and center. Stuart Bailey is nowhere to be seen, the rest have some perfunctory involvement and even Byron Keith (earlier billed as Keith Byron) has a substitute batter in Richard X. Slattery playing a homicide detective. Not only does Roscoe get the scenes and lines, he even gets a girlfriend - and one who loves playing the ponies also.
We get to see a better look than usual at Roscoe's living quarters, a rooming house which seems a bit better than the conditions he lived-in in earlier seasons. Perhaps that was necessary so as to provide a place suitable for the female math teacher in the room next door, she uses a slide rule to pick long shots. We get to meet Roscoe's bookie, a barber named Little Ed who is played (albeit not billed) by screen vet Murray Alper who was usually cast as a cab or truck driver as in "The Maltese Falcon," "Strangers on a Train" and "Saboteur." Alan Baxter, one of the primary villains in "Saboteur" is also present as a mob boss who puts the pieces in motion to set the story here.
Roscoe gets in the middle of a turf war among some organized crime families strictly by being in the wrong place at the right time. Plot developments cause him to be stalked by hired killer James Best as well as by the family of one of Best's victims - they think Roscoe was the finger guy for the killing.
With so little involvement by the regulars other than Louis Quinn, one might almost think that the waters were being tested for a spin off. Whether that's so or not, it's still a highly enjoyable episode especially since it does veer from the norm but then, Strip did that fairly often.
Maverick: The White Widow (1960)
An excellent Kelly episode
The Jack Kelly episodes have always tended to get the short shrift but this is a great example of the stylistic differences between what went to Garner and what went to Kelly. Here, as often happens to a Maverick brother, we see Bart winning a nice pot in the opening, only to lose it.
This time it comes from the hotel safe being robbed so in order to generate some cash, Bart accepts the job of body guard to the bank president played by lovely Julie Adams. She just happens to be receiving threatening notes and is the target of an errant shot from a would-be assassin. Of course, she and Bart become an item, much to the dismay of the town Mayor.
It's a good yarn with several twists, well worth seeing to catch Bart as a lover and a fighter and to appreciate Mr. Kelly's talents in both departments.
Follow Me Quietly (1949)
More style than substance - but that's not a bad thing.
It's been a long time since I last saw Richard Fleischer's "Follow Me Quietly" on TV with commercial breaks making it seem longer than its 60 minute running time.
Looking at it again last week via a Warner Archive DVD that sure looks a lot better than the copy I saw years ago, my first reaction was one of "style over substance" but that's hardly a knock, and actually common for me when it comes to noir. This is really a programmer showing the talent of a director with aspirations, or as Fleischer claimed "This is the film that, above all, increased my knowledge of the trade. I learned how to organize a film." One can see that he was handed a script that is fairly routine, despite Anthony Mann sharing the credit for story. But Fleischer manages to add a few touches here and there to make an impression. The bit in policeman William Lundigan's apartment with the female reporter trying to get some story leads is quite suggestive although the two don't even so much as get into a clinch.
Lundigan, along with partner Jeff Corey, are on the trail of a serial killer known only as "The Judge" and in piling up what few clues they have, they manage to create a dummy that is the killer's size and appropriately dressed based on thread samples found - it's just missing a face. One eerie segment has Lundigan talking to the dummy until Corey walks in and warns him that he's bordering on being as crazy as the killer. But the scene doesn't end there however you'll have to watch it without my spoilers. I will say that here Fleischer does demonstrate his awareness that a film can be more than the sum of its parts.
However that point is teased several times in the film - that Lundigan and the killer may be of the same ilk. Lundigan is so unhinged perhaps to even allow a suspect who is confessing to demonstrate the method of strangulation that he used on a victim. Douglas Spencer makes good use of his minimal screen time in this segment. Even a waitress comments on a pattern of behavior that the cop shares with the criminal.
As Howard Hawks has said, a good film should have three good scenes and no boring scenes. In that respect, Fleischer doesn't let us down, even if a few scenes are the clichéd montage bits of cops pursuing leads, interviewing and pounding the pavement. You have to move the action forward somehow, even in a film that runs only an hour.
There's a mix of location shots (especially good in the finale) and studio sets to represent what we can presume to be Los Angeles. I'm just about certain that "The Judge" lived on the same block that Peter Lorre terrorized in "Stranger on the Third Floor." Dorothy Patrick plays the plucky reporter, she's quite appealing and manages to stay out of the way when told and thus avoiding the need for the cop to rescue the clueless female. In fact she's quite helpful when Lundigan gets a new lead and it's he who struck me as clueless on this point. Jeff Corey shines as Lundigan's partner and walks away with the film with ease.
New York Confidential (1955)
Cast is the biggest virtue
The credits come on and one is really set up for something good. Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Onslow Stevens, Marilyn Maxwell, J. Carroll Naish, Barry Kelley, Tom Powers, Mike Mazurki, Celia Lovsky...
The film starts with location footage and the stentorian tones of a narrator so you figure you're going to get one of those De Rochemont docudramas or at least a cheapie along the lines of Conte's The Sleeping City which was shot on location here in NYC.
No, soon we're on the Goldwyn lot which wouldn't be bad if there were some creative angles or lighting. But no, individual scenes are all harshly lit except for a fist fight when they needed to hide the stunt men (not very well either). Also, there are no dissolves, all scenes end with a fade to black and you half expect to see a commercial.
The story structure is no better - two major characters are just written out with no drama to punctuate the exits. The story in itself is promising enough, with hit man Conte imported from Chicago and recruited to remain with Crawford's mob after he neatly disposes of some upstart who causes headlines which "the syndicate" would prefer to avoid.
Crawford's daughter Bancroft seems to be falling for Conte, but that goes nowhere. Crawford's girl Marilyn Maxwell is definitely falling for Conte, but that goes nowhere, but hey, at least now the subtext folks have something to read into it. All I saw there was poor writing.
Conte's character is fairly bright it seems, then Bancroft uses the word "penchant" and he seems dumbfounded. That reversal happens again at the end of the film, but I won't reveal in what manner. Crawford keeps telling Conte he's brighter than all the other "pigs" he has in his employ who can't even spell their own names. So then, how has Crawford managed to head the East Coast mob and hold off trouble for 20 years if everyone working for him is an idiot? By the way, you will never hear the word "pigs" used so often in 87 minutes unless you're at a hog-calling contest.
Worth watching to see so many familiar faces in one film, but as to whether it's worth watching again is another matter. If I do, it won't be soon.
Shed No Tears (1948)
No tears, just applause
Wallace Ford fakes his death in a hotel room fire. He hooks up with his much younger wife, June Vincent, and together they plan on bilking the insurance company for the payoff of 50 grand which will reunite them once she collects. She watches as he gets on the bus, then meets her boyfriend in the parking lot and they talk of how they're going to spend the money.
All this happens in the first ten minutes or so - there's no fat on this baby.
But meanwhile, Ford's son thinks that something is amiss, he thinks that Vincent killed Ford herself and he hires an investigator to prove it. This is where things really start perking as the Clifton Webb-like sleuth, played wonderfully by Johnstone White, soon figures out what's going on and he starts playing the supposed widow and the son against each other as well as Ford himself who comes back to town and discovers his wife in a clinch with her boyfriend.
But wait - there's still more but you're going to have to find out for yourself. Jean Yarbrough, veteran of just about every kind of movie and TV genre, manages to keep one's interest despite a lack of noirish touches. It's likely that he had to get this done in a week or so, so there wasn't any time for complicated camera set-ups. The story here is the main thing, you probably will not be disappointed.
Do You Know This Voice? (1964)
Dandy Dan Duryea doing dirty
Dan Duryea is once again a man down on his luck, so he opts for a new profession as a kidnapper. His inexperience shows as he kidnaps the son of some working class people who couldn't afford the ransom anyway, plus he accidentally kills the child. No spoiler here, this all comes out in the first fifteen minutes and just as exposition. On revealing that, he tells his wife who is also in on the plot, that the boy was "lucky to have died clean" - as in free of sin.
How considerate Dan! Otherwise, Dan's a nice guy who hung around in Britain after the war, he's nice to his neighbors, and that's where the tide turns. It seems that one of those neighbors, played by Isa Miranda, caught a glimpse of the kidnapper making a ransom call. She offers to help the police capture the man by making it public that she saw him and then just sitting as bait for the criminal.
She only saw the caller from the back, but that's a minor point as long as the caller doesn't know that.
All of this happens in the first twenty minutes, so don't worry about too much being spoiled. Some of it is only referred to anyway as it happens off-screen or even before the film starts.
From here on, as far as the story goes you're on your own. Unfortunately the director Frank Nesbitt not only telegraphs the ending, he writes it in the sky with gigantic letters by fixing the camera on a key prop that comes into play later.
Otherwise, the performances are tops and while it's obviously done on the cheap, that only enhances the look of the film which isn't exactly set among the upper class anyway.
Chicago Calling (1951)
Don't hang up on Duryea
This was a nice little film. Duryea played the average man here, a bit down on his luck as we first see him, a point emphasized by the stairway that we see him descending en route home. His wife is about to leave him since he's chronically unemployed, and says she's going to take their daughter with her.
This happens the next day and then he later gets a telegram stating that his daughter was injured in a car accident and is about to undergo surgery. He'll supposedly get the details the next day via a phone call. But that's just it - his day started out bad, and only got worse as the phone company terminated his service and if that isn't bad enough, his dog is also injured in an accident while he's out trying to scrounge up money to pay the bill so he can get the call the next day.
It reminded me of Loretta Young's "Cause For Alarm" in which we follow the protagonist through an agonizing day, in her case she was trying to retrieve an incriminating letter. It may have been sunny in each film, but the characters are having one very dark day.
"Chicago Calling" may be the title, but what we get is the lower environs of Los Angeles in all of its seediness. But still some helpful characters emerge, such as a counter-woman who must have seen The Grapes of Wrath and has a soft spot for Duryea's woe, and a young boy, the one whose bicycle hits Duryea's dog. The boy's "help" only compounds Duryea's problems, but he meant well.
A very nice job on a low budget, the director John Reinhardt died the next year, but based on this and "Open Secret" - another budget job that had antisemitism in its sights, he had a lot of promise that might have been fulfilled had he gotten the breaks.
The Underworld Story (1950)
Will Dan Duryea take the high road eventually?
Mike Reese is a reporter who is about as sleazy as they come. He must be, he's played by Dan Duryea in the Cy Endfield noir gem. Chuck Tatum of ACE IN THE HOLE has nothing on Mike - except that he probably makes a bigger salary.
Mike's lost his job because given some confidential info about a mobster's secret testimony, Mike runs it in the paper that employs him which causes the bad guys to know just where to ambush the man testifying. Sure, the paper is equally at fault, but they'll get off by printing an apology, Mike's the scapegoat.
With a stake provided by the local New England gangster who benefited most from the silenced witness, Mike buys into another suburban newspaper. Shortly thereafter, the murder of the daughter-in-law of a prominent publisher and the cover-up, as well as the innocent black woman accused of that murder, has Mike manipulating all in his path to make his way back to the top and a few bucks on the side.
As the guilty person says of the accused: "She's a n-word, who is going to take her word over ours?" This one is that gritty, but it moves with B movie speed not trying to make a social statement. Or is it? What happened to director Endfield, having to relocate to England owing to HUAC, has some reviewers reading "witch hunt" into the narrative. But if one didn't know the personal history, it's a riveting tale anyway that reveals the levels and layers of corruption and also of the depths of sacrifice. Subtext is just as often the baggage one brings to a film as opposed to what the director installs.
Gale Storm, Herbert Marshall, Harry Shannon, Michael O'Shea and Howard da Silva in what seems to be a return to the kind of character he played in THE BLUE DAHLIA all figure prominently. Mary Anderson plays the accused black woman and there's a bit of irony now in that casting (beyond her being Caucasian) - her brother James Anderson played the vicious Bob Ewell in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. She would also play Duryea's wife in CHICAGO CALLING a couple of years later. Both films are highly recommended.
A Time for Killing (1967)
Not even good enough for killing time
It aired on TCM last night and as I remembered that when it came out in 1967 I walked out of it, I wanted to see just how bad this thing was, or if I was that impatient. I rarely walk out on films.
As soon as the credits ended, I was reminded of one of the initial negative reactions I had to the film. We get a title song under the credits (left over from when the production title was "The Long Ride Home") and as soon as the director credit disappears, so does the song. As in someone picked the needle up off the phonograph record before it was done. That's only the first example of the kitchen blender editing that goes on in this film.
A group of Confederates are in a Northern fort, caged in a big pen and apparently treated decently by Major Glenn Ford. The leader of this group is played by George Hamilton and when his accent isn't atrocious, it's gone. The editing faults show up again when somehow a bunch of the rebels kill some guards, turn the fort's cannons around and begin firing on it. We just don't get to see how they managed to get out of the holding pen in which they were confined
They escape through some magical tunnel that leads to the river, but with no establishing shots, we have no idea of how far that tunnel goes. We never even get a shot in the tunnel. The rebs manage to catch up to and defeat a previously departed detail that includes Ford's betrothed Inger Stevens and they accomplish this by magically hiding in trees that manage to be right in the path of each Union soldier in the detail as they attempted to scatter when fired upon.
There's all sorts of exposition here to show us what a mean bastard Hamilton is - he's left most of his men behind when he should have waited for them at the river. There's so much exposition that we forget that top-billed Glenn Ford is even in the film since he disappears for about a half-hour. Ford's search party includes two comic relief types (one of whom is Dick Miller) who seem to have walked in from another movie or an episode of "F Troop." This is made more apparent as they are frequently seen in obvious studio shots that don't match the surrounding footage shot on location.
It was at this point that I recalled that this film was started by Roger Corman but it was usurped by the studio and given to Phil Karlson. Corman's involvement would explain Dick Miller, but the handling of his scenes might explain why Corman was dismissed. Apparently it was enough of a disaster for longtime producer Harry Joe Brown to quit the business.
Harrison Ford (billed with middle initial "J") gets reasonably prominent billing but he disappears once the film leaves the fort - we don't see if he's killed while the rebels escape. Paul Petersen is given very prominent billing above the title, but he doesn't show up with any dialogue until Glenn Ford comes back into the film in the last half-hour. That's just as well, Petersen is horrendous in his few scenes.
Even worse is Max Baer, Jr. as a whacked-out Confederate who loves killing and physically sparring with a buddy. This goes on my list of all-time worst performances and it indicates why Baer never got beyond Jethro Bodine on "The Beverly Hillbillies." Surprisingly effective is Todd Armstrong as Hamilton's sympathetic second-in-command yet this was his last feature film. As George Hamilton's moral conscience, he has the most well-written role in the film.
There is one strong plot twist here involving Inger Stevens that is quickly thrown away. En route, Baer comes across a Union dispatch carrier and kills him, taking from him the message that the war is over. The message couldn't have been that important to the carrier anyway as he's hanging out in a cantina with a bunch of whores. Hamilton swears Baer to silence (this way he "can kill more blue-bellies") as he wants to engage in a cat-and-mouse game with Ford.
This makes no sense as there would be no need for further pursuit but that would mean that the film would end just as abruptly as the title song. So just in case, Hamilton rapes and beats Stevens after telling her that the war is over. He leaves her there, but when Ford (the Glenn one, not Harrison) catches up to her, she fails to tell him that the war is over. She wants vengeance for having been spoiled. The film makes little more of that motive.
I could go on, but the film isn't really worth the verbiage I've given it thus far. Consider this a public service message and beware at all costs.
Oklahoma Outlaws (1943)
Where did I see this before?
THE OKLAHOMA KID rides again as this Warners short reaps miles of footage from that feature film into an abbreviated version. The names of the hero and villain are unchanged, and leads Robert Shayne and Warner Anderson are dressed just as were Cagney and Bogart in the original film.
At times you can spot both Bogie and Cagney in long shots or "from behind" shots. All of the action and crowd scenes come from Lloyd Bacon's film, and it's practically a sin that he wasn't credited.
Charles Middleton, who was in the original film, shows up again, this time in a different role. Addison Richards, often seen as a doctor, lawyer or military man in tons of 40s films, shows up as a judge. Like most of these shorts featuring either Shayne or George Reeves (who would appear together years later in the "Superman" TV series), the budget may have been minuscule, but they're fun to the maximum.
Hangman's Knot (1952)
Scott's best prior to Budd Boetticher
1952 saw the Columbia release of one of Scott's best - Hangman's Knot.
They don't come much more taut than this, and its success only brings into question as to why director Roy Huggins never made another film as director. This one really begins to approach the later Boetticher films, being set in an isolated way station, as several of Budd's films happened to be, with Randy as a Confederate officer, who has stolen Union gold, not knowing the war is over.
Outlaws, learning of the loot, besiege the soldiers at the way station, but just as much danger comes from within - the menacing soldier played by Lee Marvin. The cast is better than those in the then most recent Scott vehicles, including Donna Reed, Claude Jarman, Jr., Richard Denning and Guinn "Big Boy Williams. Randy's son C.H. Scott, in the book "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott" speaks fondly of Donna Reed, as if she was a second mother, and says that she and his father never lost touch over the years, and were devoted to each other.
Omitting the Boetticher films, this one is clearly the strongest Scott offering of the 1950s. That Huggins never directed a feature film again (he did direct a 1970 TV movie) is more our loss than his. Huggins did quite well in the long run, with items like Maverick, Rockford Files and The Fugitive in his future.
With much of the film set within the way station, Huggins manages to keep the tension high as Scott has to deal with the group of bounty hunters outside (led by Ray Teal in a rousing performance) and the wayward loose cannon Ralph, the Lee Marvin character. Lee must have impressed producer Scott as he got a much showier role in the first Scott-Boetticher classic SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. Meanwhile, Scott must serve as surrogate big brother of Claude Jarman Jr, no longer the little boy of THE YEARLING and in fact nearly as tall as the film's lead star.
Richard Denning also impresses in his part as Donna Reed's fiancée, a character as weak-willed as the fiancée in the later Boetticher film THE TALL T. At first willing to call attention to an attempted escape by Scott and company (despite giving his word otherwise), he later bargains to give them an alternate plan of escape - in exchange for two bars of the captured gold.
My favorite of Scott's 50's westerns prior to his Boetticher films and dollar for dollar, the equal of many much bigger budgeted items from the likes of Wayne and Cooper.
Fort Worth (1951)
Well worth the time and the price
Warner Brothers had a thing for "city westerns" ever since the success of DODGE CITY in 1939. In its wake followed VIRGINIA CITY, SAN ANTONIO, DALLAS, Carson CITY and this 1951 tale, the last film of director Edwin L. Marin. Marin and star Randolph Scott had previously worked on many several films together, including some oaters for RKO as well as Christmas EVE, Scott's last non-western. Here they were doing a follow-up to their successful COLT 45 for Warners in 1950.
In this one, Scott stars as a reformed gunman, now "shooting" lead type from a printing press rather than bullets from a six shooter. Not intending to set up shop in his old home town, when he comes across a nearly vanquished Ft. Worth, and spurred by the death of a child which was the result of a cattle stampede caused by the errant shot of of member of the Clevenger Gang, Scott opts to use the power of the press to bring settlers back to the city and achieve justice for the slain boy. The death of a child is a plot turn that goes back to the first in the series, DODGE CITY. In that film the child was played by Dickie Jones, here, twelve years later, Jones plays Scott's reporter Luther Wick, soon he'd be on his way into the hearts of millions of kids in the series THE RANGE RIDER, followed by BUFFALO BILL, JR.
David Brian co-stars as a man banking his future on the future of Fort Worth by buying up options on properties abandoned by those terrorized by the Clevenger gang. But as Scott's mentor wonders, if Brian cares so much for the town, why is he letting its population dwindle from 5000 to less than 1000? Could it be to be able to secure more options, is he in cahoots with Clevenger? Plot twists cause he and Scott to take on an alliance at times, while at others, they're inches away from gunning each other down, and rivals for the hand of Phyllis Thaxter.
Clevenger is played by Ray Teal, known to most as Sheriff Coffee from BONANZA. Often villainous in these things, he outdoes himself here by occasionally being quite charming in his delivery - perhaps his glee at being given more dialog than he usually gets and more screen time also. Another fine performance is given by Emerson Treacy as Ben Garvin, Scott's partner in the Fort Worth Star and his teacher in ways of the press. Usually uncredited in scores of films, he makes the most of his screen time.
The DVD offers glorious Technicolor, the detail right down to Scott's pearl-handled pistols is a sight to behold. The film is packaged with two other Randolph Scott features, COLT 45 and TALL MAN RIDING. and at 15 bucks list price, they're one of the great bargains a Scott fan is likely to find.
7th Cavalry (1956)
Nice piece of historical fiction
A very satisfying western with Scott as a cavalry officer who returns with his fiancée to his detail to find the fort apparently deserted. There's a nice 360-degree shot of the surroundings as Scott surveys the area, then he's interrupted by the voice of a woman (Jeannette Nolan) whose claims that Scott is alive at the expense of her husband who took his place in the infamous battle of the Little Big Horn.
The story deals with the aftermath, not the battle itself, so anyone looking for an epic confrontation in the manner of THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON or even one as budget conscious as that in THE GREAT SIOUX MASSACRE is bound to be disappointed. However, there are rewards to be found - one of them Scott's performance. Even at about age 57 or 58, he still looks splendid in a uniform, and while of course doubles are used in two fight scenes, there's enough of him present to debunk the rumor that he was not exactly at his best in such scenes. In the inquest scene alone he delivers more dialog than he probably had in his previous three films, and does so convincingly. This scene also features testimony by Captain Benteen and Major Reno, two survivors of the battle who are treated sympathetically.
Director Joseph H. Lewis claimed to not be inspired with the assignment of this film, but he does not let it show. Granted the story may seem slow to start by those who are expecting more than exposition, but here is where we find the first filmic questioning of the judgment of General Custer in what was one of the great military debacles in history. The chase scene in which one comment claims the same stump was passed twice is actually passed three times, once by the Indian brave being chased, next by Scott and then last by two riders following Scott. The scenery is not that of the Montana plains, but it subs nicely. If John Ford can shoot MY DARLING CLEMENTINE in Monument Valley, then Lewis should be allowed his own dramatic license.
The cast is filled with familiar faces, including Michael Pate, Leo Gordon and Harry Carey, Jr., all more recognizable as being part of the Duke's stock company. Add to that Frank Faylen and Jay C. Flippen, as well as Barbara Hale who did deserve more screen time. Just about all are questioning Scott's decision to voluntarily take a patrol to retrieve the dead from the massacre site, but Scott's reasons are to redeem himself for various reasons to each.
A nice touch is in the scene where Scott questions a Sioux "peacemaker" who claims that the bodies, cavalry included, are all now part of sacred ground and instill in each brave the courage and honor of the tribe that conquered them. Scott asks if this is not just mere "superstition" whereas the brave turns the term back at Scott relative to his own spiritual beliefs. This was heady stuff in the mid-fifties when religious epics such as THE ROBE and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS were treated with such reverence. In turn, the appearance of Custer's riderless horse, further takes up the issue of superstition although it would spoil the outcome to reveal just how it does. 7TH CAVALRY is an interesting piece of historical fiction that can take its place among the better non-Boetticher westerns for Scott.
The Walking Hills (1949)
A treasure hunt that's a gem itself
A very rewarding "lust for gold" adventure that tells its story in a brief 78 minutes and is all the better for it. Director John Sturges would later in his career allow some of his films to run overlong (THE GREAT ESCAPE) or blow up what should have been more simply told (GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL - the depicted gunfight itself is but one example), but earlier in his career made a number of lean, taut treasures, this is one of them.
A group of people are bound together in the search for some wagons believed to have been lost in the desert a century earlier, and the legend has it that gold was on them. When the youngest of them happens to mention something spotted in the desert, the need for secrecy binds the group together lest someone reveal the "golden opportunity." Several in the group have pasts that they are trying to hide and potential futures they are trying to escape if caught. One of them is a detective hot on a fugitive's trail, but willing to set aside duty for his share of the loot.
Randolph Scott headlines as the more or less moral center of the group, even if his intentions and actions seem to defy that description. For a slightly less than "A" feature, the film boasts an admirable cast of characters, among them Ella Raines, John Ireland, Arthur Kennedy, Edgar Buchanan (scene stealing as usual) and blues/folk revivalist singer Josh White whose musical contributions to the film capture a legendary performer for posterity. William Bishop, a young man whom Columbia was grooming for stardom (but who failed to click and would soon "descend" to mostly TV work) is the least familiar perhaps of the major actors, but he's impressive enough here for one to wish he had done better within the ten years that he had left before cancer took him at 41.
An interesting subplot has Scott's mare about to foal - a metaphor for new life or spiritual rebirth being created among the desert ruins. It gives nothing away to reveal that the fugitive surrenders or that some characters realize that gold fever can cause one to suspend principles - the latter is expected in such melodramas. But with its stunning black-and-white cinematography, especially in night scenes and the climatic desert storm, this film is as much of a treasure as that which its protagonists seek. Camera ace Charles Lawton must have impressed Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown as he would do five more films with the pair in the next decade. Highly recommended.
House by the River (1950)
Lang's hidden masterpiece
For some reason, the great director chose to degrade this film on some occasions, yet at other times he would revel in details of the film's opening quarter-hour. However, at the time that he made this film, he was despondent over the collapse of his Diana Productions which was a co-venture with Joan Bennett and her husband Walter Wanger. With no offers in sight from the majors, Lang chose to visit "Poverty Row" which may have left him with bad memories of a film of which he should have been more pleased.
In HOUSE BY THE RIVER, we have Lang working at the bargain basement Republic Pictures, where Orson Welles had just made a similar descent to make MACBETH. In each case, the decline was only in budget, not in quality. In Lang's case, we have a film that plays as a great companion piece to his SECRET BEHIND THE DOOR, both being a change of pace Gothic thriller from the master of spies and noir.
Incidentally, the promise of artistic freedom offered at Republic did stop when Lang attempted to cast a black actress as the maid. We're just lucky that Vera Hruba Ralston (wife of company head Yates) wasn't cast as the wife.
The screenwriter, Mel Dinelli, working from the A.P. Herbert novel, was a past and future hand at these "house" mellers - he previously did the screenplay for THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and would do BEWARE, MY LOVELY in 1952. He segued well from Robert Siodmak to Fritz Lang as long-time Langian themes such as conscience and fate are in evidence here. Oddly, it is not the lead who suffers a conscience. Hayward's Stephen Byrne, a hack writer who has been lusting for the new maid played by Dorothy Patrick, revels in his self-promoted celebrity now that she's "disappeared." She's actually been accidentally murdered by Stephen, who had been filled with lustful thoughts as the maid bathed and seems to have a near orgasm as he hears the bathwater go down the drain outside the house - the look on Hayward's face is priceless.
It's his brother John who aided him in hiding the body (and who is referred to as having gotten his brother out of other scrapes) who turns to drink to quell his conscience and who is the primary suspect in the inquest. Little does he know that his brother is subtly implicating him in the crime in toto. His fate would be that no good deed (siblingly speaking) goes unpunished. The brother is played by Lee Bowman, and it's the only role of his in which I can say he's memorable. That's not to say that otherwise he's a forgettable player, just that he's not distinguishable from a bunch of mustachioed players who came out while the head ranks were off to war and who quickly had to retreat once they returned.
Hayward is so enjoying his celebrity that he's signing books by day and wife Jane Wyatt refers to him being out all night and smelling of cheap perfume when he comes home. She's beginning to realize that Lee Bowman's John Byrne is the better of the brothers, although the story implies that she was his own unrequited love.
But as unsympathetic as Stephen Byrne may be, before an audience ever rooted for Robert Walker trying to retrieve his lighter in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, we share Stephen's fears of the body doing some synchronized swimming with the deer. While attempting to retrieve it, he only makes it worse for himself by accidentally (he can't do much right it seems) opening the top of the sack and letting out some flowing blond hair to make it even more obvious. When Stephen later finds that his brother's monogram is on the sack, he breaks into a devilish smile of contentment.
Cinematographer Edward Cronjager works well with Lang on their second pairing (the previous one was the gorgeous Technicolor WESTERN UNION). When the body (in a sack) starts popping up in the river, we recall the image of a floating deceased deer from earlier in the film and a character's claim that it shows up at about the same time every day given the tide.
If the ending seems rushed, it's only a reflection of the lead character's madness (a quick snap), unlike the state of mind of Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) at the ending of SCARLET STREET which is more detailed. It could have been a bit tidier, but maybe the head man cut the budget and schedule short. It was known to happen at Republic.
Certainly not faster than a speeding bullet
It's all up there on the screen - the attention to period detail, with the exception of an anachronistic Bobby Vinton song being played early on in the film, some excellent performances and the cars and clothes which appear to be spot-on from what I've seen in movies of the period.
However, watching the film unravel, I was thinking of a horse race in which each one-quarter mile was run in the exact same number of seconds. In other words, there's no pace.
That's a shame because all of the actors are quite good and Affleck particularly so. Bob Hoskins reaches back to his "The Long Good Friday" days for his role as Eddie Mannix. Diane Lane plays Mrs. Mannix and her character is written as a woman who actually cares for Reeves and is not just keeping him.
But the revelations come with two smaller roles - Kathleen Robertson is right there as Carol, Adrien Brody's girlfriend, and Joe Spano of "Hill St. Blues" is subtle but chilling as Mannix's right hand man.
Brody's role is not so well-defined - maybe because it's so clichéd. The "divorced-dad-trying-to-make-up-for-his absence" has been done to death - "Heat" and "True Crime" come to mind. The intent may have been to provide an analogous character suffering depression upon learning of Reeves's death but it backfires.
Do I recommend it - yes, on home video. This way you can get up and stretch when you begin to feel as if you have been sitting for the last six hours. Oh, one more thing -make sure to remove your watch as you will be tempted to glance at it every once in a while.
A frequency worth tuning in to...
Father and son reconnect after 30 years, re-establishing the bond lost so long ago. Not exactly an exceptionally novel idea, but here it is given a new twist the connection comes via a ham radio that links 1969 with 1999. Father Dennis Quaid exists in the past, but perhaps not for long as his number is supposedly up in a fire to occur. The son, in sudden rushes of ancient memories, warns his father of the event, and of the mention by another firefighter that his father made the mistake of turning the wrong way as he attempted to exit the blaze.
The film manages to utilize themes already explored in films such as `Peggy Sue Got Married' and `Back To the Future' and even `Field of Dreams' can be said to have provided some input. Even so, while not entirely original, `Frequency' manages to offer much that is fresh and entertaining, as well as cause a few lumps in the throat.
The inherent problem with time travel films especially those that manage to alter events that occurred in the past, is that old `suspension of disbelief' requirement. If events aren't moving fast enough, the implausibility almost surely will dawn on the viewer.
The film almost gets away with it, only at the very end does it trip on its own contrivances, but this viewer was able to forgive it as the human element, the way the characters so endear themselves, made the transgression forgivable if not plausible.
Dennis Quaid, a native Texan, does a rather remarkable job of capturing the intonations of a lifelong Queens, New York resident. Being one myself, I think I'm qualified to make such an assessment. James Caviezel is less successful in that regard, but still he is ingratiating as the son grown to manhood who must come to grips with the forces unleashed by having tampered with time. Because dad was spared on the day of the fire, his wife a nurse didn't have to leave her job owing to the emergency, and thus was there to prevent a dosage error that would have proved fatal to a patient. The problem is however that this patient just happens to be a serial killer who is now still managing to provide victims even in 1999.
Did I mention that the killer stalks nurses? Unfortunately, now the one who managed to save his life is scheduled to become his next victim.
Alright, that's as much as you're going to get in terms of spoilers, as it would be unfair to spoil the rest of the story as father and son in their respective eras must keep the killer from increasing his count of victims. But, in doing so, both men become prey for the killer and both are subject to disbelief by the family friend who is investigating the crime in each era. Andre Brougher plays this character, now the son's supervisor on the 1999 police force. He's practically replaying his role from the TV series `Homicide: Life On the Street' but that's not necessarily a bad thing Brougher is excellent in that role.
Sure there are some gaps in logic, and even in presentation, but they didn't dawn on me during the viewing, nor did they detract during a second viewing. As a bonus, the background of the New York Mets winning the 1969 World Series provided a most fascinating subplot that even manages to lend credibility to the claims made by Quaid to Brougher as he is trailing the killer in 1969.
Quaid once again gave me reason to wonder why he has never managed to make it onto the `A' list of performers. He's done consistently good work for over 20 years, but has trailed behind the likes of Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas even though he's probably the better actor. James Caviezel's stock has risen somewhat since this film, and rightfully so. While only in the same scene together once, we can still believe that they are related. A standout performance is also given by Shawn Doyle as the killer in both eras, and his make-up as the elder version is always convincing.
Credit must also be given to scripter Toby Emmerich despite the lapses in logic as his dialog always rings true and his characters really do seem to exist which had to help immeasurably to what Quaid and Caviezel bring to their performances.
Django il bastardo (1969)
Horror Western is not the horror that some would have you believe...
A most unusual item for an Italian western - or for a western from any source. There were probably two-dozen films featuring the Django character first made famous by Franco Nero in Sergio Corbucci's DJANGO in 1966 - and that's just counting the ones with Django in the title. That film spawned as many imitators as the Sergio Leone film FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and while not all featured the name "Django" in the title, there was a character with that name doing all of the shooting. From what I've seen of a sample of them, they all appear to have the commonality of a hero clad entirely in black. This one stars Anthony Steffen (Antonio De Teffè) who was previously in A FEW DOLLARS FOR DJANGO - thus proving the inspirational sources, or at least the desire to repeat their respective successes. Whatever Steffen lacks in the terms of Eastwood's or even Nero's charisma, he makes up for in his having co-authored the very original screenplay with director Sergio Garrone.
Coincidentally, what this may lack in terms of originality of being yet another Django outing, it is actually more of an inspirational venture than an imitation. A gunman apparently returns from the dead to seek vengeance on those who betrayed him. Sound familiar? Does HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER come to mind? Other characters have flashbacks of him in his final moments - in the Eastwood film it is his character who has the flashbacks. Both films feature the gunman spinning around in a chair to shoot a few enemies, but actually that was more an homage on the part of Eastwood and this film's director, Sergio Garrone, to a similar scene in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The final shot of both THE STRANGER'S GUNDOWN and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER is most similar in theme if not in actual execution - in here Django walks rather than rides away.
This Django appears in rooms and locales out of nowhere, adding to the horror content - along with a music score similar to the both the Eastwood film, and especially to some Hammer horror outings. One of his calling cards is to announce his arrival with a cross designed as a tombstone - the next victim's name and his date of death is marked on it. Unlike most vengeance seekers, Django is clearly here to avenge his own death. In another scene, he sends three dispatched villains back to town propped on horses with cross-like supports behind them in order that no one realizes until they are close that these men have gone to that great round-up in the sky.
The performances are what one would expect - and after all, hard to gauge via the often flat English dubbing. While Paolo Gozlino makes little impression as the head bad guy Rod Murdoch, the character's nutty brother Luke does, here Luciano Rossi provides the film's best performance with a character reminiscent of Klaus Kinski's hunchback in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE - minus the physical affliction. Luke is considered to be so stupid that his brother Rod had to pay a woman to marry him. But Luke isn't so dumb as he's able to capture Django twice - if only momentarily, but that's more than any other character manages to accomplish. Luke is clearly more crazy than dumb, but so are the guys in the Murdoch gang who play a game of catch with a stick of lighted dynamite.
Much of the daylight cinematography is poorly lit, yet Gino Santini does an admirable job in the night scenes of which there are plenty. It has its slow spots, and the Civil War scenes appear to be done on the cheap, but overall the "few dollars" appear to have been spent wisely. Not that the VCI transfer helps any - there are lines and scratches, and some color distortion, but at 10 bucks for the DVD, I was happy enough just getting a widescreen transfer.
Vado... l'ammazzo e torno (1967)
Any Gun is much fun
I watched this today after not having seen it since it was released in 1968. It was a lot of fun, but admittedly it is not the equal of the Sergio Leone works, or even those of Sergio Corbucci - although both are spoofed here.
In the opening scene we see a trio that has two resembling Eastwood and Van Cleef's characters in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and another who is clearly based on Franco Nero's Django. Clertainly Castellari is letting us know early in the film that he's going to have some fun at the expense of what had preceded him in the spaghetti western canon. George Hilton's bounty killer dispatches these three and we're informed that his next target is Monetero, played by veteran Gilbert Roland, then in his early 60s and still the epitome of machismo elegance. At this point he had been in the business for 40 years, and with the slightest of gestures, blows away his younger cast mates.
Monetero and his gang rob a gold shipment from a train loaded with the cavalry as well as Edd Byrnes playing a bank employee. Kookie, Kookie, lend me some money. His gang gets away with the loot, but the money gets away from Monetero. The bank man is after Monetero for the gold shipment, Hilton's character ("They call me the Stranger" - a nod to Tony Anthony's films?) is after him for the reward, and the rest of the film play out a series of crosses and double-crosses, all with a fair dose of humor.
The film even anticipates some of the later spaghetti westerns - particularly Gianfranco Parolini's "Sabata" films which also relied heavily on circus-styled gymnastics. Byrnes' character Clayton gets into some Faibanksian-styled gymnastics fights with both Hilton and later about six members of Monetero's gang, and then later both Byrnes and Hilton take on many of the same gang in a bathhouse.
None of this is to be taken any more seriously than Terence Hill's antics in MY NAME IS NOBODY, it's probably just that this early in the game, it wasn't obvious that it was a spoof as the sub-genre was barely around for four years. A scene where Hilton and an insurance man spot each other through binoculars tips its hat to a similar scene in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, and the overall tale of three men and the search for hidden gold is obviously based on THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.
But the best homage comes at the end, a face-off among the three main characters that satirizes the similar scene in the latter film. Only the music fails to make the point here, whereas in other scenes the score is appropriate - as long as one keeps in mind that this is just an affectionate spoof, and on its own, it is an appealing film. The leads are more than capable - although the looping is often flat, and the production design quite attractive. Even at 105 minutes, the film moves quickly and never runs out of steam.
I remain enthusiastic even 40 years later...
To this writer, the film is Roger Corman's best entry into sci-fi. Many of his 50s efforts hold a certain campy charm, with their low-budget effects - and this film is similar in that regard. It does not dwell on the effects, in fact some of them are rather poor. What it does have in its favor is a tight screenplay that gets into the story quickly, as will the viewer - and it's engrossing enough and the characters interesting enough that one stays involved through the episodic story.
What it has most in its favor is an excellent performance from Ray Milland, then in his last days being top-billed, and he milks it for all that it's worth. In some scenes Corman goes for a direct close-up and Milland's facial reactions indicate that he took the the role in a small-budget/tight schedule film with all the enthusiasm that he did in one of his roles for Alfred Hitchcock ("Dial M For Murder") or Fritz Lang ("Ministry of Fear"). Smooth, refined, but a man of immediate action if necessary, Milland's Dr. Xavier is not your usual mad scientist. As with Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man" or Al Hedison in "The Fly" he's the scientist who made the mistake of being his own subject.
Occasionally Corman goes for the cheap gag (the party sequence, where Xavier examines the guests sans attire - but inoffensive in a typical 60s approach), but the carnival scenes and the basement healer scenes show a maturity to Corman's direction, and these scenes are greatly helped by the performance of Don Rickles. He's as sleazy as one can get and admits that if he had the power, he would use it to see "all the undressed women my poor eyes can stand" and you believe it. A scene where Milland confronts other carnival workers who are speculating on his "power" shows the doctor to be both introspective and world weary at the same time. At this point even he does not know what to do with his ability, but Rickles' suggestion of setting up a site to "heal" others leads to the film's most revealing and almost poetic sequence. Xavier's original intention was to help the ill, but his implication in an accidental murder led him to seek refuge in the carnival Richard Kimble-style.
Diana Van Der Vlis does well with her underwritten role in which at one point she's rather quickly dropped, and then resurfaces rather conveniently later in the story - to no great effect. This was only her second feature film, though she had done a number of TV guest shots. Although half Milland's age, she seems more mature than her 28 years and they make a believable pair. A bonus is the appearance of a number of veterans in brief roles - John Hoyt, Harold J. Stone, John Dierkes and Morris Ankrum, as well as Corman stalwart Dick Miller. Miller shares his scenes with Jonathan Haze, whom it appears was getting the cheapest rate Corman could pay as he has no lines at all. He was rather bitter about this as he revealed in an interview years later.
Floyd Crosby's cinematography belies the small budget - only $300,000 and a shooting schedule of about three weeks. According to Corman they did rehearse a bit more than usual - and in the finished product it shows. He claims he even went as high as four takes, which may not exactly put him in William Wyler or Stanley Kubrick territory, but it's a far cry from what he'd do in the 50s. Les Baxter contributes what may be my favorite of his scores, fully complimentary to the action on screen without overwhelming it.
There's a bit of controversy over the ending - some attribute an extra line of dialog that never appeared in any print that I've seen, but it is still one of the most surprising endings of any sci-fi film since "The Incredible Shrinking Man." That it won the top prize at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival would be enough for one to be curious enough to see it even this many years later - that it has held up so well over 40 years points to that award's validity.
Guilty by Suspicion (1991)
This is not Kazan's story no matter what else is said here...
(MAJOR SPOILER BELOW)
Kazan talked, this film's fictional character David Merrill does not.
Sorry to give it away, but in no way should anyone interpret this as based on the infamous whistle blower at all. Kazan could have returned to Broadway where there was no concern over a blacklist, the film's protagonist does not have that option - although he considers it and does make an attempt.
The film does mix its few historical references - making it appear that Merrill is assigned to "High Noon" (which is referred to as a "B" film), but while that film's screenwriter Carl Foreman was under suspicion, he made it to the end of the film. Also quite interesting is the importance made on constant references to Darryl F.Zanuck - this is a Warner Brothers release. Had they checked, they might have noticed that it was Jack Warner who named Kazan and Arthur Miller as Broadway subversives (with no further elaboration offered or requested in the real hearings). I guess that Warners didn't want to denigrate their own history, but did manage to thumb its nose at Zanuck who left Warners back in the early thirties in order to head up what eventually became 20th Century Fox.
De Niro gives an excellent performance, his soul searching, his pain and his final triumph (at a price) do feel real. Annette Bening is less so, but she has much less of a role. Martin Scorsese, De Niro's frequent collaborator as his director, scores as a fellow director who leaves for England - most likely he is based on Joseph Losey. Their discussion on film-making has the ring of truth to it. Shortly after this, De Niro made HIS directorial debut, so the two got to reverse roles in real life as well.
Sam Wanamaker, an actor who actually suffered under the blacklist, plays an attorney named Graff who is recommended to Merrill and most likely he's based on Martin Gang who served a similar function during the HUAC hearings. He does an admirable job in what came close to a career finish for the actor/director. Chris Cooper and Patricia Wettig also rate in smaller roles as a show biz couple whose life is torn apart by the hearings, and which serves as the catalyst for Merrill's own introspection.
The subject still warrants a better, more accurate treatment, but at least this comes closer to truth than the bits covered in "The Majestic" or in "The Way We Were." There are some anachronisms, but the period detail of the production design is still admirable. The last quarter hour of the film packs a wallop as it fairly well duplicates the footage of the real events in depicting the misapplication of justice that came as close to being un-American as the subversive activities that the Committee was supposed to be investigating.
Hell's Highway (1932)
Needs more to sing its praises
This film isn't well known enough, and its reputation pales beside that of "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang." That being said, it should be noted that this film was released first and actually received fairly good notices. One can even speculate that Mervyn LeRoy may have seen it - there's one shot of chains being pulled through the shackles that is common to both films.
Hell's Highway opens with newspaper stories depicting chain gang abuses - and unlike most films, it uses real newspapers such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Richard Dix is "Duke" - a hardened criminal, not an innocent victim of injustice, but it's never mentioned if he's committed any crimes worse than bank robbery. Dix is better here than in some other films in which I've seen his over-emoting - such as "Cimarron" which I've found almost unwatchable.
Early scenes in the film have Charles Middleton as Matthew - Ming the Merciless - as a character who seems to predate John Carradine's "Casey" in "The Grapes of Wrath" in being a rather touched preacher. He even resembles the lanky Carradine and coincidentally, Middleton also happens to appear in 1932's most famous chain gang film. Duke involves Matthew in a plan to aid his escape, but Duke turns back when he sees his younger brother Johnny (played by Tom Brown) has just arrived in the holding pen. While Duke tries to keep his sibling on the straight and narrow, he receives the wrath of his fellow prisoners who think that he's sold out to the screws. C. Henry Gordon, so memorable in a number of Charlie Chan films, is the primary villain, although Oscar Apfel's "Billings" - a contractor relying on convict labor is really the one setting policy. Wonder if he's the one who decided to have the prisoners wear large circular targets on their shirt backs, he's sure proud of his sweat box used for discipline.
Although the story may now seem by-the-numbers, it must have been fresh in 1932 being the first film to depict the horrors of the chain gang. Although not as hard hitting as the Warner film, it's hardly as "viewer friendly" as the much later "Cool Hand Luke." RKO's film may not have broken a thousand chains as did the Warner classic, but it makes a great companion piece, and is one of the best examples of a rival studio attempting to tread on Warner territory. There are some quick cuts, which combined with the running time of only 62 minutes, that give the impression that the film may have been longer before release - Dix was too big a property for a programmer.
Act of Violence (1949)
Zinnemann again looks at the aftermath of war
In "Seventh Cross" director Fred Zinnemann depicted the isolation of a concentration camp escapee (Spencer Tracy) with MGM studio sets stepping in for actual locations - that would have been impossible at the time. In "The Search" he made use of a ruined Berlin to tell the story of a very young concentration camp survivor - a young boy separated from his mother - using the ruins as a metaphor for the many ruined lives.
In "Act of Violence" Zinnemann returns to the aftermath of war - this time telling of two prisoner-of-war camp survivors, one of whom was a Nazi collaborator, the other one a vengeful fellow prisoner who takes it upon himself to track down and kill his former friend. Cinematographer Robert Surtees makes great use of Los Angeles' seedier parts of town - I was reminded of how his son Bruce Surtees made similar effective use of San Francisco in "Dirty Harry" - this is noir at its best, not only in cinematic terms, but with those "only come out at night" characters you expect in a top notch thriller.
Mary Astor is most effective as the barfly (couldn't make her a prostitute, though it is more than obvious) - and after her performance in the garish "Desert Fury" it's nice to see her in black-and-white again. We first meet her in a pub in which Van Heflin runs for sanctuary, the lighting there has us admiring the way she has held up, but when we move to the harsher lighting of her apartment (the lamp hanging on a cord is unshaded), we realize that the first impression was too kind. It's a magnificent performance - perhaps the best that I've seen of her.
Barry Kroeger, whose altogether too infrequent appearances included such noir classics as "Cry of the City" and "Gun Crazy," makes the most of his few moments as an underworld "enforcer" who would be quite willing to kill Ryan for a price. While Ryan seems to be a man who is on the verge of violence at any second, barely able to restrain himself, Kroeger is even more chilling. His calm, rational demeanor puts him in a different class of predator - he's good at what he does and he's used to doing it, like Alan Ladd's character in "This Gun For Hire" we can be sure that when committing murder, he feels "Fine, just fine."
Janet Leigh appears as Heflin's wife - it's an early turn for her, and while it is a most stereotypically written "wifey" role, she invests it with all that she has, but the ending is such that we have to wonder just how she will react. Right before that we have a taut scene with Heflin about to confront Ryan while Kroeger is watching. The tension is almost unbearable, all done through editing and camerawork and not one line of dialogue.
Zinnemann would continue to look at war's effects on those who came home in "The Men" as well as "Teresa" and in "Hatful Of Rain" - the man may be the most unheralded of classic film directors, but his resume includes Oscar winners such as "High Noon" and "A Man For All Seasons" as well as such nailbiters as this film and the original "Day of the Jackal."
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Not all that it could be, but better than most
Last night I saw this film for the first time in 35 years. Time has been kinder to it than it has to many Hammer films, but this one is less driven by effects and make-up and more by dialog.
That's all for the better because once again, when need be, Hammer fails in the effects department. I had forgotten how the theater went wild in 1968 while looking at the cheap tarantula effect - was it growing or not, the perspective changed constantly.
Some of the effects are of the "stop the camera" variety, no more convincing here than on "Lost In Space." But still, it is the performances, situations and the dialog that engage us. Christopher Lee, who brought the project to Hammer, seems to be enjoying himself as the Duc de Richleau, finally getting to play a hero. His longtime friend Rex, played by Leon Greene (but voiced by Patrick Allen) is a real stalwart guy, given to punching out windshields when necessary, climbing into car trunks, and throwing a crucifix from a running board to eliminate the specter of the devil himself.
The best scene has Lee and company in a circle in which to protect themselves from the evils sent by Mocata, played by Charles Gray with a suaveness that matches the twinkle of his blue eyes. Mocata tries every trick in the book, including trying to make it appear that the daughter of the household is being threatened by the tarantula, as well as an Angel of Death on horseback (it is a large room). Meanwhile, outside, Rex has a potential female victim tied up for her own good, she later becomes a medium when the previously "threatened" little girl is kidnapped - to take the place of the medium on the sacrificial altar!
Nike Arrighi plays the "medium" - a young woman who was to have been re-baptized as a servant of the devil, but whose life now hangs in the balance between the black magic of Mocata, or the efforts of the Duc de Richleau, and she has more talent than most of the Hammer actresses of the period. The Duc's friend Rex falls for her, but is hard pressed to keep up with the spells of Mocata, who will stop at nothing to reclaim his servant.
What really helps the film is a great sense of period - somewhere midway between the two world wars. The props (especially the vehicles) and costumes are quite right, and the landscapes are far more diverse than the usual Bray Studios trappings. There's no doubt that the team sought to make this one special and shoot on some real locations - and it's perhaps here rather than in the effects that the budget was concentrated. All in all, despite some shortcomings, a very enjoyable Hammer film, a solid Richard Matheson script from a superior Dennis Wheatley novel makes for exciting viewing, far superior to the previous Satanic Hammer film "The Witches" (aka "The Devil's Bride") and equal to the later adaptation of Wheatley's own "To the Devil A Daughter" - the last Hammer film which may have its less than sterling reputation for that measure alone.