Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 8

Jaws

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Jaws has become more than the prototype of the modern blockbuster. With the pandemic, it has become something of a political statement. Specifically, the Mayor of Amity who insists on keeping the beach open because it’s the 4th of the July weekend, and local businesses will be crushed if the tourists stay away. Hey, it’s just a shark. Never mind that people are dying. Putting that aside the film remains a great thriller/horror story perfect for the summer. Jaws is so perfectly paced that one is always on the edge of your seat, tense even when the scary moments turn out to be false alarms, and just when you start to relax it hits you with the real shocks. Like “Psycho” “Jaws” has become a pop culture icon. There are even bits of dialogue that have become catch phrases (you’re gonna need a bigger boat) which is always a sign that a film has moved on to be more than just a great and entertaining film, but is now embedded into our pop culture.

M*A*S*H

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In January 1970, I was back from Vietnam for about five months or so. A four month stint followed in the states at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and now I was on leave before heading off to Germany to complete my three years of service. While home, I was catching up with family, friends, and movies, lots of movies. It’s well known that director Robert Altman used the Korean War as a metaphor for the then ongoing and unpopular Vietnam War. The film struck a nerve. M*A*S*H was a crass, subversive, and sacrilegious anti-war comedy unlike any other. The film not only mocked military bureaucracy and war but religion takes a bit of a beating too. Like Dr. Strangelove, made some six years earlier, the film laughs at the absurdities of war and the bureaucracy behind it. Egotism, incompetence, and piousness all take a shellacking. The only thing our anti-heroes (Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould as Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John) value is proficiency in the operating room. When the chips are down, saving the wounded men from the insanity that engulfs the world is what matters. Sutherland and Gould lead an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Sally Kellerman, Tom Skerritt, and Robert Duvall among others. While the film has lost some of its shock value over the years it remains a classic.

Lust for Life

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Kirk Douglas made for the perfect Vincent Van Gogh. He managed to dig into the emotional depths of his character and is charismatic enough to make the audience believe him to be the tortured artist. It was this movie, and soon after, Irving Stone’s autobiographical novel, that introduced me to the world of art. Eventually, I made my way to read about other artists, going museums and in the process creating a lifelong love for art. “Lust for Life” is the portrait of the artist as someone who suffers for his art. There is rejection and abuse in every one of his relationships. Douglas, in one of his finest performances, was nominated for an Oscar and deserved to win. Instead, the Academy gave the Best Actor award to Yul Brynner for his overly theatrical performance in The King and I.

The Front

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The Front is a well-intentioned black comedy of an ugly period in American history. The Blacklist ruined many peoples’ lives, destroying careers and livelihood many times without proof or cause. It turned friends and colleagues against each other. Narrow-minded politicians preached hate, and fear listened to by blind narrow-minded followers. The film was written by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt, two of the artists blacklisted back in the 1950s. Using Woody Allen as the front lightens the dark subject matter yet they still managed to make a film that conveys the dark times and fears the country was facing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It didn’t matter if you were a member or not of the Communist Party or were a member sometime in the past. If you were friends with someone who was or had knowledge of someone with left-wing leaning, once they got you in their headlights, called before the HUAC and forced to testify; name names, or be blacklisted. Allen plays his usual self-centered coward who eventually finds himself in deep water when he is subpoenaed because he acted as a front for a few friends on the blacklist. Is the film an oversimplification of what happened, yes, but it works at the limited level it is presented. And it has a great closing line!!! “The Front” had one other special memory. John Lennon and Yoko were in the audience! I spotted them after the film ended and the audience began filing out. I never saw Lennon in concert but I did go to the movies with him,,, sort of.

Murder Inc.

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 Murder Inc. mixes facts with a fictional love story. The film allegedly tells the true story of the Brooklyn based independent murder for hire crime organization that carried out assassinations for the Mafia and the Jewish Crime Syndicate. Peter Falk plays contract assassin Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a cold hearted killing machine, and he is the best thing in the movie. In real life, and in the film, Reles turned rat after he was marked for a contract himself. Both in the film and in real life, Reles died suspiciously when he was tossed out a window of Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel despite being under 24-hour police protection. The on location shoot gives a realistic feel to it all. The rest of the cast includes Stuart Whitman as his rather stiff self, May Britt, Sarah Vaughn, making her film debut, Sylvia Miles, and Morey Amsterdam as what else but a standup comic. But the worse casting is that of TV comedian Henry Morgan as the real life prosecuting attorney Burton Turkus.

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 7

Scene 7 in the continuing series Movie Watching in Quarantine.

Annie Hallanniehall

It wasn’t the first time Woody and Diane Keaton teamed up on the screen but Annie Hall would solidify their coupling as one of the great screen couples. Neurotic lovers seemingly perfect for each yet destined not to last. What does last is Woody’s second lover in the film, not a person, but the city of New York. In Annie Hall, Allen for the first time puts on screen New York City, or at least his version of New York City, consisting of the Upper East and West Side, movie theaters, bookstores, museums, and restaurants all populated with a closet full of pseudo-intellectuals.
For the first time in his career Woody, while managing to continue the self-deprecating bookish pseudo-intellectual laughs, blends in or rather introduces new colors onto his palette: passion, romance, love, and regret. In “Annie Hall,” Woody gives us the many colors making up the romantic rainbow. Even if you lose in the end, it was great to have had made the trip. With Annie Hall, Woody Allen found his voice.

The 39 Steps

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 Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller speeds along like a shooting star. A moment is not wasted during its tight less than 90 minute running time. Filled with suspense and humor, some risqué for its time, the film is a roller coaster ride that never stops. For the first time, Hitchcock used what would become one of his most famous motifs that of the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit. It would surface again in films like The Wrong Man, Saboteur and North by Northwest. Another Hitchcock theme that will appear again and again in his films is the cool blonde; Madeleine Carroll, I believe may be the first in a long line of cool Hitchcock blondes. Spies and secret organizations are another theme that would continue to show up in future works. Of his British period, this ranks for me as his best. The Lady Vanishes, Sabotage and The Man Who Knew Too Much not fare behind.

Point Blank

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Based on a novel (The Hunter) by Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake, John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir Point Blank was a revelation when it first came out in 1967 one of the most stylistic and earliest films, along with “Bonnie and Clyde” released the same year, to reflect the influences of the French New Wave. Boorman uses flashbacks, inter cutting, offbeat camera composition to create the paranoid universe Lee Marvin’s Walker travels in attempting to collect the $93,000 owed him. Though dressed in suits and working out of corporate offices, John Boorman’s underworld characters in Point Blank are as treacherous, backstabbing, and a conniving group of low life’s as gangsters from the days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. But as slick, as they think they are, they meet their match in Walker a relentless, lifelong criminal, doubled crossed out of his share of money from a robbery and left for dead on Alcatraz Island. More than revenge, Walker wants his damn money.
Don’t bother with the Mel Gibson 1999 remake (Payback). Gibson’s character is less anti-hero and more a crude gorilla dressed up in false modern day movie cool. The film as a whole has no heart or soul. It’s mindless pulp.

Rosemary’s Baby

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 Motherhood can be a joyous thing; the miracle of birth, a child, the result of a bond between two people. Watching the child grow and discover life can be heartwarming and reaffirming. Then again, the idea of a live organism, another person growing inside you, just might be a bit unsettling and disturbing as you watch your body change, and you ask yourself what the child will be like. He/she could turn out to be a bright, upstanding member of the community. Then again, your little precious could turn out to be another Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer or even worse. Many films have focused on the dark side of motherhood: Psycho, Mommie Dearest, and The Manchurian Candidate. And then there is Rosemary’s Baby.
We have been conditioned to expect witchcraft to be practiced in places like Salem or it’s like. But, not on the Upper West Side of New York City. Rosemary’s Baby can be watched as just a great horror film, but it can also be read as a mother’s worst nightmare. Betrayed by her husband selling her out for a successful acting career, arranging to have her impregnated by the devil, forcing her to be left in the hands of a demonic doctor and some very devilish neighbors. The terror of rape, an unwanted pregnancy, and the fear of abnormal deformed childbirth are also filtered into the storyline. Rosemary becomes isolated, trapped with no family or friends to confide in or help her. Roman Polanski has given us a room full of paranoia with an eerie atmosphere and morbid humor. The acting adds much. The waif-like Mia Farrow makes her look even more vulnerable. John Cassavetes has a perfect demonic look in his eyes. Polanski opens and closes the film with sky-high views of the Bramford apartments where most of the film is shot. The Bramford is of course the famed Dakota Apartments on the Upper West Side, home of many famous people, and sadly most notable for where John Lennon lost his life.

Psycho

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While Psycho may not be as shocking as it was back in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic till outshines the Freddy Krugers, Hannibal Lectors, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees that have followed. Though there are deeply disturbing themes running through the film, Hitchcock always makes it feel entertaining. Shot for under 1 million dollars, the director lures the audience in with masterful editing (the famed shower sequence), suspense, thrills, black humor, and a brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann.

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 5

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

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John Ford’s brilliant western is both a romantic, three-way, love story and a look at the west on the cusp of change. Watching it again I realized how political a movie this is. There are battles between two factions. Those who want to remain a territory and those who want to become a state. It’s a typical rich versus the everyman battle. The future versus the status quo. Even the film’s love story, a triangle between a tenderfoot, a gunslinger, and the woman they love represents a dying western way of life. John Ford blends it all together with this filmmaking classic, his last great western.

 

The Graduate

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Some films are indelibly burned into your psyche for many reasons. It may have to do with the heart of every audience member jumping into their throats the first time the shark comes out of the water in “Jaws,” or the blaring rock sound of The Ronettes great song, “Be My Baby,” on the soundtrack in “Mean Streets,” or the discovery of a little know film called “The Panic in Needle Park” as you watch a then unknown actor named Al Pacino blow you away. There are certain films that are etched into your life and become a brick on the wall that helped build your love for movies. For me “The Graduate” was one of those films. It’s one of the seminal films of the 1960s ushering the “New Hollywood.”

Bananas

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One of the early, funny films that the more mature Woody Allen would dismiss later in his career. That said, this disjointed, sometime hodgepodge of a film remains funny. The jokes come fast, some fall flat, others remain fresh. Of all of Allen’s films “Bananas” is the closest he ever came to the satirical lunacy of the Marx Brothers (think “Duck Soup”). Here Allen’s banana republic of San Marcos meets Freedonia! Look for an unknown Sylvester Stallone stretching himself as an actor playing a subway thug.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

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This is no masterpiece but there is a dark streak of satirical comedy running through the film as it strikes at the ideal the perfect American family trip. Yes, the Griswold’s are on an ill-fated trip across America. Destination? The vacation promise land, Wally World, (think Disney World). It’ a bumpy road but there’s enough fun along the way thanks to Chase, Imogen Coca, and especially Dennis Quaid as the family’s country hick cousin (“I don’t know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper. It does just fine by itself”). There’s a great soundtrack headed by Lindsay Buckingham’s catchy “Holiday Road”.

 

A Kiss Before Dying

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Not wanting to marry his pregnant girlfriend Dorothy (Joanne Woodward) who will be disowned by her over strict and cold-hearted father if he found out, Slick college student, Bud Corliss (Robert Wagner) gives her a loving kiss and tosses her off the roof of a seven story building. The police are convinced it was a suicide, but her sister, Ellen (Virginia Leith) does some investigating of her own. Bud meanwhile begins dating Ellen, never bothering to mention he knew or dated Dorothy. Soon Ellen’s life is in danger as Bud’s perfect murder begins to unravel. Based on Ira Levin’s (Rosemary’s Baby) novel this is a dark thriller that will keep the tension building in high gear throughout.

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 3

Here is scene 3 in my list of Movies Watched in Quarantine.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

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 With the mood, the ambiance, the Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, the perfect deadpan voice-over by Steve Martin, we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain-filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all, that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an affectionate, funny, and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames, and mean darkly lit streets.

 

Murder By Natural Causes

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Written by William Levinson and Richard Link (creators of Colombo) the 1979 Made for TV movie is a clever and devious story filled with one twist after another, and when you think you have it figured out, there’s another twist. A must-see for mystery lovers. I originally saw this on CBS back in 1979. In the late 1990s, I found a used VHS copy at Blockbuster Video and held onto it to this day. Unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD. The film stars Katherine Ross, Hal Holbrook, and Barry Boswick.

 

The Narrow Margin

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One of my all-time favorite Film Noir’s. Running a rapid 71 minutes, the film’s pace is as hi-speed as the rails they are riding. We are back in time when most people still traveled by train. It’s a world filled with sleeping berths, club cars, dining cars, porters, and whistles shrieking in the dark of the night. Most of all, the film has the great Charles McGraw, the unofficial king of B film noir. Whether portraying a cop or a criminal, his gravel like voice and square jaw looks have graced many film noirs. McGraw meets his hardcore match in Marie Windsor. Known as the “Queen of the B’s,” for the countless low budget films she made in her career. Windsor’s off-beat beauty graced a wide variety of films most importantly, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. Windsor’s 5’9” slinky frame, her coldhearted, seen everything looks make her a perfect femme fatale, and a superb counterpoint to McGraw’s rugged honest cop.

 

Broadway Danny Rose

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Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business: a one-legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his client’s worth no matter how bad they are. Allen creates a nostalgic world filled with the lower levels of New York’s show business community that he knew well from his early days as a TV writer and standup comedian. Many of the characters have a colorful Damon Runyon like quality to them. Classic Woody!

 

Movie Watching in Quarantine

As a writer, I stay home and write. That’s the nature of the process, but when I put my photographer’s hat on I am outside. Again, that’s the nature of the process. Covid-19 has put my photography on hold. Sure, I can do indoor photography, but my taste has usually run toward the outdoors.
These days, I’m spending more time inside than out. My writing is at its best in the early hours. Subsequently, to pass the time I read, and I have been watching movies, movies and more movies.
I have been posting on Facebook a few thoughts on most and decided to share a few here.

Cape Fear

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Cape Fear one of the great thrillers from the early 60s. Robert Mitchum’s revenge-seeking crazed Max Cady is one of cinema’s great psychopaths. What makes his performance so effectively terrifying is his laid back style. He’s a relentless, vengeful, monster that would put fear in anyone’s heart. The film is a twisted tale that will keep your nails short due to all the biting you will do while sitting on the edge of your seat. Bernard Herrmann’s score is one of his best as is Mitchum’s off-kilter, heavy-lidded, sexually charged, nasty performance.

Carrie

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Brian DePalma’s Carrie is best remembered for the film’s prom night climax: the bucket filled with pig blood dropping on Carrie, the split-screen, the bursting flames of fire, and the deadly revenge filled bloodshed as the highlights in this film. True, it’s one of the most shocking of screen massacres and all-time great sequences in horror. But complementing thasequence is the sequence that comes prior to it. The tense filled scenes beginning with the collection of prom queen ballots to the tracking shot of the bucket’s cord and the fated spilling of blood onto Carrie’s hair and body. That sequence creates a slow, but tense, nail-biting buildup to the final destruction

Three Days Of the Condor

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Paranoia Strikes Deep as Buffalo Springfield once sang. Three Days of the Condor strikes deep into the heart of the CIA. Robert Redford reads books for the agency looking for ideas, plans, secret codes that may be Thembedded. He is not a field agent. So when there is a mass slaughter of his co-workers (with the hits occurring while he is literally out to lunch). Redford calls his superior and wants to be brought in from the cold. One little problem. He finds himself a target not only from the assassins but the Agency itself. Condor is one of the great paranoid thrillers of the day. Sydney Pollack was an efficient filmmaker whose crisp, no nonsense style moves the film along at a sharp pace. There are no fancy shots, and he manages to clearly explain what is sometimes a convoluted tale. Even in quiet, simple scenes like the elevator ride where Redford slowly comes to the realization that Max Van Sydow, his co-rider on the elevator is the enemy Pollack can build up suspense. I did find the love affair that ensues between Redford and Faye Dunaway lacking believability but this is a film I like watching over and over.

The Professionals

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Recently watched Richard Brooks’ classic western, The Professionals, a film that contains one of the great closing lines in cinema. Ralph Bellamy’s arrogant and lying Texas millionaire calls Lee Marvin, one of four men he hired to bring his alleged kidnapped wife back, a bastard. Marvin’s character responds “Yes sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, you’re a self-made man.”

Agatha Christie’s Biggest Mystery

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Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery remains a mystery over ninety-years later. On December 3rd, 1926, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight, packed a small bag, and left a note for her secretary that she would not be returning that night. She got into her two-seater Morris Cowley automobile and drove off.

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The next day, the automobile was found hanging over a ditch, held back from falling by bushes. An attaché case was found in the car as well as some clothing. There was no sign of the author. Christie was a well-known author by then, her most recent novel at the time was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which made her disappearance international news. Her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who had recently demanded a divorce, claimed she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A massive search by a thousand police and thousands of volunteers looked for three days before the hunt was called it off. Christie’s bother-in-law claimed to have received a note that read she’s going to a Yorkshire spa for rest and treatment. Not convinced or reassured, the police continued their search.

As the manhunt continued, rumors spread that the disappearance is a publicity stunt, a rumor her secretary vehemently denied. Other rumors claimed the future Dame Agatha was in London dressed in men’s clothing. A spiritualist was consulted, determining Christie met with foul play.

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Eleven days later, the author was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate registered under the name of Mrs. Tressa Neele. The Colonel claimed the entire incident was due to a nervous breakdown, and he had no idea about the significance of her alias. That second point was a complete lie. The name belonged to her husband’s lover. Christie knew of the affair and had been distraught.

When the Colonel came to pick up his wife, it’s been said Christie met him with an icy stare.

Fifteen months later, Agatha Christie sued and divorced her husband. In 1930, she remarried. Archibald Christie also married. His new wife, none other than Tressa Neele.

Over the years, many biographers have tried to find out exactly what, why, and where Agatha Christie disappeared. Was it revenge for her husband’s affair, manic depression, amnesia or something else? No one knows for sure. Throughout her life, Christie refused to talk about that period, except once to a British newspaper, and her story revealed few details.

Agatha 1When one of the greatest mystery writers has an unsolved mystery in her own life, you can bet there would be much interest. In 1977, author Kathleen Tynan wrote the novel, Agatha, featuring her own interpretation of what happened during those eleven days. Hollywood released a big-screen adaptation of Agatha in 1979 starring Vanessa Redgrave at the shy author, Dustin Hoffman as a fictitious American journalist, and Timothy Dalton as Archibald Christie. More recently, two British Made for Television films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018), and Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019) turn Ms. Christie in Jessica Fletcher. A third film in the series is scheduled for this year.

Anniversaries: New CMBA eBook

I have been working on editing a new collection of film essays for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s  (CMBA) ninth eBook. Each book has its own theme, Banned and Blacklisted, Underseen and Underrated, and Hollywood on Hollywood to name a few. This book is no different. The subject is Anniversaries. Why Anniversaries, you ask? Well, in October of last year the CMBA celebrated its 10th anniversary, so it seemed fitting.

Anniversaries Book Cover

The CMBA began in 2009 as a dream of Rick Armstrong who blogs as the Classic Film and TV Cafe. He was the organization’s first President and its guiding light. Today, there are close to 90 members and going strong.

This book contains 10 essays from celebrating how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other films from 1969 bridged the Old And New Hollywood to how the Spanish Flu of 100 years ago affected the film Industry.

Anniversaries: 10 Years of the CMBA book is now available at Amazon for .99 cents (proceeds are donated to the National Film Preservation Foundation, and at Smashwords for free!

 

 

 

Five Stephen King Films and Characters Who Are Writers

Anyone who has read Stephen King knows many of his characters are writers. I don’t know of any other author who has used a writer in so many of his stories. Many of these stories have been transferred to the movie screen, once again, possibly more than any other author. And there are more on the way. Here are five of my favorites.

 

Misey

Whether you’re a musician, actor, artist or writer you know having fans is an integral part of the experience.  Fans are supportive, financially and artistically. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted.  Sometimes like Annie Wilkes, a little too devoted. In Misery, King created one of his most devoted and deranged fans. One of my favorite King novels and films.

Shining

Every writer needs time alone when he’s working. Solitude to think, research and create. In The Shining, Stephen King’s Jack Torrance is no exception, and he finds his opportunity when he is hired as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, closed for the winter. The fact that the previous caretaker went mad does not deter Jack from taking the job and his family along. HERE’S JOHNNY!

Salem

I read the novel and saw the made for television movie back in the 1970s.  All I can say is that Salem’s Lot remains one of my favorite King novels. A mini-series was made in 2004.

Secret Window

In Secret Window, a psychological thriller (based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden from Four Past Midnight), Johnny Depp portrays a successful writer going through a rough divorce. He is stalked by a wannabe writer (John Turturro) who accuses him of plagiarism. I like this film more than a lot of folks do. One of Depp’s finest performances.

 

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Stephen King’s novella, Big Driver (a TNT film), originally part of King’s Full Night, Dark Stars collection is a tale of not so sweet revenge in line with the film I Spit on Your Grave.  Tess Thorne, an author of cozy mysteries, is attacked, brutally raped repeatedly and left for dead, on an empty back road while she is on her way back home from a speaking and book signing engagement at a library. Afraid to tell anyone about her rape she seeks revenge on those responsible. With the help of her inner voice and a GPS named Tom, The author’s perpetrators get their bloody revenge.

 

The Late Show is Coming

THE LATE SHOW AND OTHER TALES OF CELLULOID MALICE includes 8 short stories all with two things in common… Malice and Movies. Below are some of the movies that inspired me to write the stories. Pre-order at Amazon. Available March 3rd

The LAte Show Movie Collage

Looking Back at 2019

With only a few days left in 2019, I thought I would look back a bit and share a few small accomplishments.

I sold the use of one of my photographs (Colburn’s Shoe Store) for use in an ad for Belfast, Maine realtor  Martha Martin in The Republican Journal Newspaper.

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A photograph I took way back in 1976 of the Baronet/Coronet theaters in New York City is used in Abel Ferrara’s recent documentary, The Projectionist which debuted at this year’s New York Film FestivalBaronet & Coronet Theatres-002

 

Published Bitter Ends, my second collection of short stories. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo

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Published, Make it Write, a short story. Available at Amazon and Kobo

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My short story, (The Bombay Hook Incident), published in the on-line magazine A Millon and One.

I was interviewed by the online  magazine NRReads.coed

Interviewed by Jeremy Richey for Soledad Arts Journal. Available at Amazon.

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Looking Forward to the New Year

My latest collection of short stories, THE LATE SHOW: AND OTHER TALES OF CELLULOID MALICE will come out in the first half of 2020. As you can easily deduct, all the stories have a common theme. More details to follow.

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My thanks to all who have stopped by my little abode. Here’s wishing for all a happy, healthy and peaceful 2020.