Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Week of Movie Watching

The Small Back Room - Lesser known Powell/Pressburger offering from 1949. David Farrar stars as a one-legged, alcoholic bomb expert who has to put aside his problems and step up to his job. I love the Archers' war-era films, and this is a good one, as well. Farrar was the male lead in Powell's Black Narcissus, and Kathleen Byron, who played the insane nun in that film is also here. Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack have small roles.

Mystery Street - This is billed as a Film Noir, but that's a bit misleading. It's more a police procedural with Noir flavorings. Ricardo Montalban plays a detective who is investigating what looks to be an open-and-shut murder case, but there's just something that's not right. It was directed by John Sturges of Magnificent Seven and Bad Day at Black Rock fame. Richard Brooks co-wrote the screenplay. Elsa Lanchester is in this in one of her classic scene stealing roles. Recommended.

Coraline - Visually arresting animated story of a neglected little girl who finds a secret portal to another world, and comes to regret it. This is done in the old-fashioned stop-action style, and it's a treat for the imagination. Recommended

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Marquee (Blog-a-thon shout-out)

Swing on over to Filmsquish for details on his Bond blog-a-thon (or in Squishs' words - Bond-00-7hon)

Friday, September 25, 2009


Marisa Berenson

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Wages of Fear

Y’know how when you’re a kid, you pretend you are a character in one of your favorite movies? For someone in my age bracket, it might have been John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood or someone of that stripe. I always think back to the movies that I loved as a kid when I watch Henri-George Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. I missed out on some good play-days because I didn’t manage to see it until I was in my thirties. You can’t run around pretending you’re driving a truck full of nitro glycerin when you’re old enough to have a mortgage.

TWOF succeeds for me because it is a great action/adventure film whose little preachy bits are part and parcel of the action. You don’t even realize that the filmmakers have anything to say other than “Let me tell you a great story.”

The plot of TWOF can be encapsulated into one sentence fairly easily – Four men have to transport two truckloads of nitro over a treacherous mountain road. That’s a good movie right there. TWOF is a great movie because of the men in the trucks, and what they represent.

Mario (Yves Montand) is one of several men who loiter around in a small South American village waiting for work. When Jo (Charles Vanel) gets off his plane in town, everyone takes notice. Jo is supposed to be someone important – A gangster, I think – The film never really specifies clearly. It’s not important to the mechanics of the story just what Jo is, only that he is established as someone you don’t mess with. Go back and look again at the scene where he arrives, however. After Jo steps off, Clouzot leaves the camera on the door of the plane…. and a goat follows him off. This is a sly little way of letting us know that Jo is all smoke and mirrors. When Mario suggests that they go for a drink, they take a cab, even though the saloon is only a few yards away. It “looks better” to arrive in a cab. In reality, Jo is broke just like all the others.

One of the main things I love about this film it’s pacing. The scenes in the village are needed to establish a few things: 1) Jos' image as a tough guy, 2) The dilemma of the oil company, which needs the explosive to put out a well fire. And 3) That the oil company is callously sending these men a suicide mission. This stuff is all dealt with in the opening passages, and then the film plunges into its story. There’s not a wasted frame.

An interesting tidbit about TWOF – When it was released in the States, there were about 20 minutes cut out of it. Not violence or sexual content – It was many of the passages relating to the oil company (which represents capitalist America) and its disregard for the men driving the trucks. It was thought that audiences would be turned off by the films’ anti-American message. It is certainly true that the oil company is show in a pretty harsh light. The companys’ representative is a man named Bill O’Brien, and we watch him as he orchestrates the mission. One line stands out – “They don’t have a union, nor any families. If they blow up, there’s no one to come around bothering me.”

At its most basic level, TWOF is about cowardice, about how the supposed big shot Jo crumbles when he is confronted by death. It is also about the veneer of courage that men put up for other men. There is a great scene where the two trucks encounter a road blocked by a massive boulder, and one of them decides that they can blow it up with some of the nitro. As one man carefully prepares the explosive, the camera goes to the faces of each of the four men: Bimba sweating profusely as he works, Luigi chewing his gum feverishly, Mario playing with a book of matches, and Jo drumming on the truck with his fingers. When the bomb goes off, and the trucks are being showered with debris, the camera holds on Jo, paralyzed with terror. The film certainly picks on him, but in reality all four men are scared shitless.

The scenes in the mountain are striking for the way they develop suspense. In addition to the explosive scene, there’s also a marvelous sequence involving a rickety platform that the trucks both have to negotiate. As the scene progresses, we know the cable is going to fail, but the characters don’t. When the platform collapses, it’s in a gorgeous slow-motion shot – almost a bit of visual poetry.

Anybody who ever sees this film remembers the “tobacco scene.” The film takes us with these characters for a while, and we almost forget that the cargo they are carrying is lethal. Clouzot brings us back to reality with a bang – literally. Luigi and Bimba are ahead in the lead truck, and as Jo and Mario talk, Jo starts to roll a cigarette when the tobacco suddenly blows away. We then see a cloud of smoke way ahead, and then hear the sound of the explosion. The lead truck is gone – blown to atoms. It’s a remarkable scene, illustrating just how suddenly death can come to these men.

This leaves only the two – Mario and Jo, and it’s only now that we can really appreciate how much the dynamic between the two men has changed. The Jo who earlier in the film handed a pistol to Luigi and dared him to use it is long, long gone. It’s not unnoticed by Mario, either. Mario abuses Jo both mentally and physically, and the gangster covers under the treatment. Jo is reduced to whimpering, “You couldn’t do this if I wasn’t old!”

The centerpiece of the film comes when the surviving two men come to the point in the road where the other men perished. This is a remarkable visual - There are trees blown down everywhere, and a massive crater mars the road. To top it off, the crater is quickly filling up with oil from a ruptured pipeline. Clouzot takes his time in setting out the task before the men, and the sequence looks like it would have been almost as trying for the actors as the real thing might have been. The outcome seems sadly inevitable, based on the caste system that is now in place between Mario and Jo.

Although some (me, for instance) find the films’ conclusion ham-handedly ironic, I am at a loss to say how else it could have ended. I can’t argue with the result, just the method. This is not a story that can end well. Whether it’s in a explosion in the jungle, in a lake of oil, or somewhere else, these men all end up having to pay the wages.



Monday, September 21, 2009

The Marquee (Lemmy Caution Division)

Alphaville, 1965

a.k.a. Women are Like That, 1960

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Location

Arthur Penn explains some grand vision to Gene Hackman on the set of 1975's Night Moves.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My week of Movie Watching

Leon Morin, Priest – Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1961 meditation on faith and forbidden desire. An atheist widow (Emmanuelle Riva) goes to see a priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) with the intention of having some sport with him. He ends up converting her, and causing her to fall in love with him. This one is not a typical Melville, with guns and trenchcoats. It’s good, if a bit talky.

Act of Violence - This one was a real treat. Directed by Fred Zinneman, it involves a crippled veteran (Robert Ryan) who swears revenge on the man who he believes betrayed him to the Nazis (Van Heflin). It starts out looking an awful lot like Cape Fear, but it evolves into something unexpected. Janet Leigh is here as Heflin's wife, and I frankly didn't recognize her (The credits are at the end). Just a great-looking Noir, it was shot by Bruce Surtees. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Week of Movie Watching

The Delinquents – This 1957 public-service film about juvenile delinquency would have vanished without a trace, but for one famous name attached to it. The director was Robert Altman. This is pretty forgettable fare – A teen and his girl are terrorized by a gang of young toughs. Not recommended except as a novelty. In addition to Altman, the lead role is played by Tom Laughlin, who later gained fame as Billy Jack.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers – Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas are the three points in a triangle of love and murder in this 1946 offering from Lewis Milestone. There is a whole underplot of psycho-sexual domination going on here between the Stanwyck and Douglas characters, as well. At least I think there is. Lizabeth Scott has a meaty supporting role, but to me, her presence kills any intrigue about how the dynamic between Heflin and Stanwyck is going to play out. Added notes: This was Douglas’ first role. Robert Rossen wrote the screenplay. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Marquee / Dialogue I Love

Why didn't you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.

Well, ooo, I'll remember that when we need forty cars.


Perhaps you're interested in how a man undresses. You know, it's a funny thing about that. Quite a study in psychology. No two men do it alike. You know, I once knew a man who kept his hat on until he was completely undressed. Yeah, now he made a picture. Years later, his secret came out. He wore a toupee. Yeah. You know, I have a method all my own. If you notice, the coat came first, then the tie, then the shirt. Now, uh, according to Hoyle, after that, the, uh, pants should be next. There's where I'm different... I go for the shoes next. First the right, then the left. After that it's, uh, every man for himself.


Have you ever been in love, Peter?


Yes. Haven't you ever thought about it at all? It seems to me you, you could make some girl wonderfully happy.

Sure I've thought about it. Who hasn't? If I could ever meet the right sort of girl. Aw, where you gonna find her? Somebody that's real. Somebody that's alive. They don't come that way anymore. Have I ever thought about it? I've even been sucker enough to make plans. You know, I saw an island in the Pacific once. I've never been able to forget it. That's where I'd like to take her. She'd have to be the sort of a girl who'd... well, who'd jump in the surf with me and love it as much as I did. You know, nights when you and the moon and the water all become one. You feel you're part of something big and marvelous. That's the only place to live... where the stars are so close over your head you feel you could reach up and stir them around. Certainly, I've been thinking about it. Boy, if I could ever find a girl who was hungry for those things...

Take me with you, Peter. Take me to your island. I want to do all those things you talked about.

You'd better go back to your bed.

I love you. Nothing else matters. We can run away. Everything will take care of itself. Please, Peter, I can't let you out of my life now. I couldn't live without you.

You'd better go back to your bed.

I'm sorry.


Oh, er, do you mind if I ask you a question, frankly? Do you love my daughter?

Any guy that'd fall in love with your daughter ought to have his head examined.

Now that's an evasion!

She picked herself a perfect running mate - King Westley - the pill of the century! What she needs is a guy that'd take a sock at her once a day, whether it's coming to her or not. If you had half the brains you're supposed to have, you'd done it yourself, long ago.

Do you love her?

A normal human being couldn't live under the same roof with her without going nutty! She's my idea of nothing!

I asked you a simple question! Do you love her?

YES! But don't hold that against me, I'm a little screwy myself!


Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Orson Welles

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Marquee

a.k.a. Witness in the City

My Week of Movie Watching

Crime Wave – Simple, yet enormously effective Noir from 1954, directed by Andre De Toth. The story has been done hundreds of times – Earnest ex-con gets pulled back into crime. This one succeeds mainly because of a gritty, almost doc-like look. Sterling Hayden plays a tough, fast-talking cop. Charles Buchinsky (aka Bronson) is here, as is an uncredited Timothy Carey. Recommended.

Watchmen – The natural progression from Batman, The Crow, Dark City, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow continues in this black-as-tar, but visually thrilling entry into the superhero genre. This film does a fabulous job of doing something that I love, but seldom see in movies – It moves the good guys and bad guys so close together that they are indistinguishable from each other. This was the directors’ cut, running to 180 minutes plus, and I’m not sure all the extra detail was needed. I’m such a dork as to make a mental checklist of film references when I watch something like this, and I was busy in this one: Blade Runner and Batman for sure, but also Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, Raging Bull, and Conrad Viedt. Neat.

Decoy – This bargain basement Noir from 1946 was a strange viewing experience. It begins with a preposterous plot to bring an executed mobster back to life. I stayed with it, however, and it picked up steam, big-time. The central figure is the girl friend of the mobster (and everyone else in the film), played by Jean Gillie. She is the ultimate double-crossing femme fatale as she goes after a hidden cache of money. The finale is sweetly ironic. Recommended.

The Kid Stays in the Picture – The story of Robert Evans, as told by the man himself. Evans was the head of Paramount during the late sixties and seventies, an era that saw the studio turn out stuff like Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, Chinatown, and The Godfather. Evans narrates over a scrapbook-like montage of images, and he is refreshingly candid about both his triumphs and disasters – Regarding his discovery that wife Ali McGraw was having an affair with Steve McQueen: “How could I have been so fucking dumb?” Highly Recommended.

La Terre – 1921 adaptation of the Emile Zola novel has strong Learish notes. An elderly farmer divides his land amongst his three good-for-nothing children, with tragic consequences. This was generally well done, although I had some difficulty keeping track of the female characters. Shot on location near Chartes, France.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Francoise Dorleac