Cold Warrior Spy: Richard Burton

DATELINE: Don’t Make’em Like This Anymore

 Dazzling Burton!

The extraordinary 1965 film of John le Carré’s classic,The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, has been listed on Prime as an action thriller. Of course, it is neither. It is a bleak, sober, cold and dreary film about moral turpitude among the espionage community.

John le Carré himself was an agent of MI-6 who turned into a novelist.

This was a seminal Richard Burton performance: and no one ever, even today, can convey the dissipation and ennui as he can. To watch him staggering around (as a double agent) in rainstorms and walking around bleak streets, avoiding a tail is in itself remarkable. We even see him in a Volkswagen, as an M-6 agent pretending to defect to the East.

George Smiley, the most famous of all the LeCarre agents, is here in the form of an unimpressive figure (actor Rupert Davies) working for Control. We believe it is the first Smiley appearance in a movie, as he later became known for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spyin several movie incarnations (Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman, notably). Here he is a plot key, but mostly as a spoken name.

Claire Bloom is the female lead. It was one of the few movies that Elizabeth Taylor simply could not play with her then husband. She would not make a convincing demure librarian—and had to pass on the role when director Martin Ritt put his foot down and said, “NO!”  Bloom is perfect. Burton was peeved and Taylor hung around the set causing mischief.

Oskar Werner has the other smallish but central part as the nemesis to the British secret agent. He is the elusive and dangerous East German spy that has hamstrung MI-6—and must be discredited to the Soviets.

That’s Burton’s job: not glamourous or exciting, but could mean his life is up for Cold War grabs.

Climax is at the Berlin Wall where double-crossing takes on a double meaning.

 

Burton’s angry speech near the end is worth the entire film.

 

 

From Afar, but Too Close for Comfort!

 DATELINE: Caracas Maracas

 Smoldering Luis Silva.

A few years back, a film made in Caracas called From Afar caused a minor stir in arty film circles. Indeed, some reviews left by “average” viewers noticed the only people who were intrigued with the movie were “professional” movie-goers.

What a miniscule, expert audience indeed.

Most called this a “hate” story, not because they were homophobic elements to the May-December relationship of a 50-year old denture technician and a teenage boy with an interest in cars, but because it did not fit the convention of an upbeat gay story.

Good grief. Two unusual and secretive people may well behave in non-traditional ways—and perhaps they are not really nice people deep down. Another critical crack at the movie pointed out that the ending was obscure, downbeat, or negative.  Oh, no, not in a gay movie!

It is what it is. But, activist gay types are limiting the rainbow colors. Only positive gay images should appear in your movie.

The two star-actors (Luis Silva as Elder, Alfredo Castro as Armando) are quite perfect in their roles. As a stand-offish older man who really isn’t into sex with an angry, passionate younger man who is “straight,” we have the makings of a power play of chess moves.

There is indeed something smoldering below the surface in which the younger (named ironically Elder) may be manipulated into a trigger man for a dirty job.

This is not a movie for those who see subtle psychology as “boring.” If you cannot read a Henry James short story, you may not be able to sit through a 90-minute film about motives under the surface.

As for us, we give all movies an even-break. This one deserves much more for its integrity.

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Turns into Typhoid Mary

DATELINE: NBA Comes in Second! 

If you need a little coronavirus history lesson, we are here to oblige.

Typhoid Mary was a 19thcentury Irish woman who was Patient Zero of her day. She went around the world, dispensing typhoid to anyone within her earshot. She herself never contracted the disease.

She was put into quarantine and only went to the supermarket to pick up hand sanitzer.

In that way she was like Johnny Appleseed, going around the countryside, planting infection.

Nowadays, the closest thing we have to Typhoid Mary is Donald Trump. Corona Trump seems to avoid having a test to prove his diseased body, but manages to meet with other world leaders. If you believe he has been tested and is negative, you probably are a U.S. Senator.

We think it’s time he went to North Korea again.

As for the NBA, no one likes to kick a basketball when it is out of bounds, but we will kick the can down the road.

Another NBA player has tested positive. He was guarding Rudy Gobert last week. It takes more than three days to develop coronavirus, and a player on the Detroit Pistons was in Gobert’s shirt last week, as they say of good defense.. Oh, well, do your job.

No one is mentioning that two kids from Rhode Island met Rudy Gobert at TD Garden in Boston, received an autographed ball, and a case of coronavirus. It took almost ten days to develop.

Nothing like spreading goodwill, NBA.

So, we are back to Typhoid Donald: he only had dinner and shook hands with people this week while being an incubator. We expect to see world leaders fall flat on their test kits within the next week. He and his crony, the Brazilian president, love to say “Fake Flu,” before you can say, “corona.”

We think Trump would be a better candidate for swine flu.

As for Trump, he just keeps sailing on, spreading cheer and coronavirus wherever he goes.

 

 

Knives In and Out of Fashion

DATELINE: Old-Fashioned Murder Comedy

Massachusetts mansion.

The comedy murder mystery of the year, of perhaps the decade, is a Charlie Chan rip-off that is as trendy as it is traditional. Knives Out  raises the question of why would anyone have a display of hundreds of knives in his parlor.

We think the set designer deserved an Oscar, or a strait-jacket.

An all-star cast of suspects seem to have as much fun making, perhaps more than those of us watching it. Director Rian Johnson moves his cast to the real star of the movie: a gothic house most suitable for his plot outside of Boston.

The lunacy of the house furnishings is like a Victorian nightmare, hardly something anyone would design, even an Agatha Christie murder mystery writer (Christopher Plummer) who hates movie versions of his books.

The family gathers for his 85thbirthday—including his mother who must be 100 at least. And, the family members and staff are equally troublesome.

The cast even gathers for the reading of the will, which entails just about everyone—except the murder victim.

The best line delivered by Chris Evans is about cornpone Daniel Craig, playng super sleuth Benoit Blanc as “CSI- KFC,”   in shades of Sherlock with Hercole thrown in. But, we keep seeing James Bond slumming.

Director Johnson is utterly cruel with his camera. We have never seen these old stars looking so old. Every crevice, crease, and open pore, is ready for your perusal. Even Daniel Craig looks surprisingly aged in the wood.

The red herrings fly by at an alarming rate, so quickly it’s hard to keep track of the lies and false statements. We suppose Plummer’s nurse may be from Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, or Paraguay, as everyone cites a different locale.

The few scenes around Boston are amusing for those of us who are homebodies—and we snickered when Gary Tanguay, a Boston sports reporter, showed up as a newsguy at another station.

It’s a silly romp and more like what old movies used to be, and those Sherlock/Chan/Poirot stories were more succinct. We suppose there could be a new series for James Bond here if he so chooses.

Bronson’s Land

DATELINE: Death Wish Out West

By 1971, Charles Bronson began to make the revenge picture his personal genre.

It’s also the year he met Michael Winner who became his John Ford, shaping a series of films, hardly great but full of fury and impact.

The first was a Western done in Spain called Chato’s Land. You might think it’s a spaghetti Western, but it is something far more American: a metaphor for pointless commitment to deathly war and racist attitudes.

It’s not a classic by any means, but it borrows from American classics and thus becomes part of the derivation formula. It seems to take its cue from The Ox Bow Incidnt, made thirty years earlier: a dour Henry Fonda picture about a lynch mob that hangs anyone it can put its hands on. It was led by a fool in a Confederate uniform of past glory.

This time it’s Jack Palance donning the Confederate officer garb—and leading an all-star gang of terrible Western settlers who want to hang a “half-breed” who has killed the town sheriff.

The cast will bowl you over: there’ Ralph Waite as the worst of the worst before he became Daddy Walton.

There’s Simon Oakland and Richard Jordan as his brothers. You will also be treated to James Whitmore and Richard Basehart as older men who should know better.

Charles Bronson turns the tables. And when he goes into full loincloth mode, his body puts body builders to shame. He was pushing sixty, said some, when he did this film. He claimed to be fifty.

There is a death wish pick off, one by one, of rapists and mayhem’s henchmen. Michael Winner wallows in rape and cruelty—and it would become worse over the next decade. Yet, this film is sharply in focus, however cruel, and it started the revenge movie in the urban jungle, starting in the American West.

 

 

 

Radius, or Radiation?

DATELINE: Instant Classic!

 Klattenhoff acts puzzled!

An independent film made in Manitoba has the distinction of being a fascinating fantasy-sci fi-thriller of most unusual quality.

Radiustakes its simple plot and never exceeds its tight grasp on the situation.

Supernatural? Science fiction? Fantasy? This film defies categories and transcends all of them.

Radiusmanages to hold our curiosity and shock us with a lack of monsters, UFOs, or other junk you’d expect. Special effects are minimal, but have a fascinating power that reminded us of those 1950s sci-fi thrillers.

Two people with amnesia are hopelessly tied to each other. If they go outside of a parameter of fifty feet, one emits a deathly energy that kills any living creature.

Diego Klattenhoff and Charlotte Sullivan are the essential two-actor cast. All others are doomed to some mysterious death ray almost immediately. Klattenhoff also served as producer on the picture.

Trying to figure out what’s going on never violates your intelligence quotient. It grows steadily—and the revelations are more and more disturbing. If there is a paranormal, inter-dimensional connection, it has provided justice and redemption for the main character. It is morality coming from some esoteric alien force.

We cannot stress enough how surprised we were at the high-quality production, direction, acting. Some viewers were apparently bothered that the film did not devolve into the usual clichés.

We enjoy such discoveries and love to share them. Take in this film.

 

Blue Maximum for the Blue Max

DATELINE: Chess in the Sky  

 Real Stars Fly High!

We missed this little forgotten gem back in 1966, and today it is just a delicious extravaganza from the over-the-top studio system on its last legs. It is another faux epic but it is as big as the sky.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, The Blue Max was an important war movie for the Vietnam era. It told the story of chivalry in Germany during World War I. There, a common infantryman rises to air corps—and is ambitious enough to rival Von Richtofen.

The film has the benefit of George Peppard as his most unpleasant rogue antihero. However, the picture does not take off for forty minutes. That’s when James Mason and Ursula Andress take to the air as a German general of some sort and his countess wife.

Suddenly the movie comes alive. And Mason and Andress steal every scene they’re in. Elegant, aristocratic, and disdainful, you could not have two more delightful actors to change the pace of a war movie.

When Mason calls Peppard as “common as dirt” and a hero for the masses, you have the new era of movies entering on a biplane that could only shoot down King Kong in the movies.

There are long stretches of dog fights between Peppard and British planes, which are spectacular, but we can’t help but think this is nasty combat and is meant to kill the other pilot, not merely shoot him down. It dampens the undercurrent of a fun war.

A large cast also displays ugly hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, interspersed with Jeremy Kemp and Peppard’s rivalry over their extra-marital interest in Kemp’s auntie Ursula.

Scenes of glorious air flight are contrasted with uninspired ground troop massacres. We know that the chess match between Mason and Andress will result in Peppard having his Blue Max match his blue eyes at any cost, but he will end up the patsy of the villains. It’s worth watching two great film stars (Mason and Andress) in full throttle.

More Lunacy: Whitey, UFOs, and MK-Ultra

DATELINE: Conspiracies Gone Amok?

Whitey as Man in Black

With more circumstantial evidence coming out about James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, you begin to think he will soon be the subject of Ancient Aliens as the Manchurian candidate of choice.

Yes, it appears that MK-Ultra, that mysterious CIA organization may have had more to do with LSD experiments on criminals and that could account for 16 years of missing time for Whitey when the Feds couldn’t find him.

Good heavens, can it be he was abducted by aliens who used him with the same experimental enthusiasm of our government agencies? After all, men in black have divided loyalties. Whitey would be the ironic Man in Black.

After all, Whitey was a split personality in his own way: preying off older gay men he picked up at gay bars around Boston in the 1950s, but also reserving the right to meet movie star Sal Mineo for some nefarious sexual purpose.

MK-Ultra is an off-shoot of the kind of occult UFO tie-in that the Nazis had with their notorious “Bell” project. You know, the one where the Nazis were experimenting with time travel with the help of ancient aliens living in Antarctica.

There are those who think Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis used the technology to speed away to another dimension, or through another dimension in their bell-shaped curve of time and space.

We once believed all this was fanciful and hallucinatory stuff coming out of the mouths of MK-Ultra victims who wanted an insanity defense at their trials.

Now we wonder if their fantasies and insanities correlate with other dimensional beings. Call us anything, but we haven’t done mind experiments with LSD. Our mind is more apt to be under the control of the Twilight Zoneof TV sci-fi.

You know those who know too much end up like Whitey, under federal prison protection, and assassinated. Only recently we saw the same scenario worked on Jeffrey Epstein. If you know too much, you are a sitting duck in a prison cell.

 

 

  Man off the Eiffel Tower

DATELINE: Flawed Movie 

 Laughton in detective hero mode.

Making a motion picture on location in Europe in the late 1940s was done masterfully by Carol Reed and The Third Man. Trying to emulate that came a Paris-based production called Man on the Eiffel Tower.

Filmed entirely in Paris and in color, it was meant to be a travelogue to whet the appetite of arm-chair tourists and fans of Hercule Poirot, with a bad stand-in, Inspector Maigret.

It should have been interesting and one of the post-war gems. Alas, despite car rides through the streets of Paris, lunch on the Eiffel Tower, and a climax in which the supervillain plans to jump off with breathtaking views, the movie is a mess.

It is a Maigret mystery with Laughton as a slightly irascible, overweight, curmudgeon. He is perfect and does his usual schtick in routine fashion, playing opposite a foppish and dissipated looking Franchot Tone. Laughton is not Hercule (who is Belgian, we know), but might have had trouble with the fastidious role.

Taking over directing duties when Laughton threatened to quit the movie (and you can see why he may have considered it), is Burgess Meredith. We see him here a decade before he played a similar role on Twilight Zone in a classic episode about a man wearing thick eyeglasses.

Also aboard is empty-suit leading man Robert Hutton, also looking less boyish than usual.

Perhaps the source material of the famous detective failed them, but the movie leaps and bounds to try to capture the flavor of Paris from rooftop chases to taxi rides around the ambiance of the Left Bank. It is mostly American actors or Brits pretending to be as French as the actual settings.

It just didn’t work, and throw in a music score that is intrusive and overbearing, and you have undercut drama, suspense, performances, and plot.

What a disappointment. This film is a classic of bad movie-making. The producer tried to bury it by hiding all the prints, but failed.

 

 

 

Democrats Self-Destruct in Nevada

DATELINE: Debate of Loser Status

 Hands Up!

What did we learn at the Democrat Nevada debate? Well, we learned most of all that the new candidate is not even on the Nevada caucus ballot this week. So much for voter input.

Beyond that, we learned too too much in all likelihood about what unpleasant people are running for president.

We learned that these candidates are filled with animosity, if not outright hatred, of Mike Bloomberg. And, we learned that they are so petty and set in their ways that not one of them will defeat Donald Trump.

You can start with Warren who showed her true colors, that of an ambitious person so angry that she would likely geld most men in the nation.

We saw an aging, demented Sanders who chokes on the idea that he is a millionaire who pretends to be a socialist. He also hates anyone with more money than he. He also hides his medical records like he has Trump’s tax attorney.

We saw some smaller candidates like Mayor Pete and Amy who have no chance in hell of being taken seriously. And we watched Joe Biden continue to go down for the third time, about ten times.

What a small-minded and unpleasant bunch.

And, they are prepared to attack, like the conspirators of Cassius, the billionaire who might actually win. The other billionaire never took such heat—and Tom Steyer wasn’t even allowed on stage this week.

Apparently, the Democrats have one fixed rule: only one billionaire at a time.

What a fiasco.

 

  Double Your Spies

DATELINE: Double or Nothing?

 Gere & Topher!

It only took us a decade to come around to The Double, a Russian spy infiltrates the CIA and/or FBI thriller. This one slipped through the cracks ten years ago, and we wondered why.

Perhaps the stars were box-office poison back then. Today, they look like classic performers, doing Hamlet.

You might be held back because of the smarmy leads: there is Richard Gere, in varying shades of white and gray as he plays himself in 25-year flashbacks as the ubiquitous CIA wrecking crew.

Then, there is the ever-irksome millennial Topher Grace as the research librarian turned field agent for the FBI.

They are forced to team up to find the former Soviet agent called Cassius who led one of the most dangerous murder groups out of Russia back in the 1980s.

You need only watch the trailer for this film, and you have a pretty good idea who the double is and how dangerous he may be. You will be on the road of the Red Herring.

Topher Grace’s analytical agent claims Cassius is not dead, not executed by Gere in his last act before retiring. They disagree, and then we begin to suspect that the double is the agent leading the hunt.

All of this is droll and clever until improbable meets impossible in the grand finale. We still aren’t sure who was supposed to kill whom for what government. Oh, Martin Sheen is along as head of the CIA. So, you can trust him.

As for the rest of these double agents, you sympathize at your own risk. Well, it was diverting.

Blue Book Invasion & MK Ultra

 DATELINE: MK Ultra

  More Malarkey 

Project Blue Bookcontinues to leave loose ends on the cutting room floor. The latest involves the blondie beauty who is some kind of Soviet agent, or was, now she has been dispatched after failing to stick Captain Quinn in the rear end with a hypodermic bigger than a switchblade.

Those nasty Commies don’t fool around—and she has been replaced by a dragon lady who is even more 50s butch with lipstick on thick.

She seems to travel with her own batch of Men in Black, Soviet style.

Blondie was  putting the make on Dr. Hynek’s wife Mimi, but that didn’t fly with the audiences, so they have given her a nerdy UFOlogist for company.

It may be the government is faking an alien invasion to gain more power in the new Einsenhower administration, but the ever-vigilant and heroic CIA (well, it is the 1950s) now has started a group of remote viewers called MK-Ultra.

You know things are changing when house villain Neal McDonough now is having doubts about UFOs.

Our clairvoyants can see the tea leaves and read them too. Only Dr. Hynek and his spit and polish liaison (Mike Malarkey looking spiffy no matter what costume they throw on him) can save the world.

How can Malarkey’s character smoke, drink bourbon and eat junk food and look like that? We think he may be the extra-terrestrial. The episode tries to open him up as a soldier with lots of PTSD, which doesn’t help with UFO, MK-Ultra, CIA, no matter what color you call your book.

When you end your episode with a three-ring circus, metaphor becomes reality.

 

 

 

 

Butt-Slapping Reaches New Bottom

DATELINE: Hard Knocks?

 Culprit caught red-handed.

You know society has hit rock bottom when pro athletes now are being tossed out of games—and arrested—for going for the formerly acceptable cheeky assault.

We cannot recall when butt-touching went public in our sports arenas. It must be a carry-over from hauling ass around the gym. Once upon a time, it was considered a means of expressing male “affection.”

We are unsure if we have ever seen this activity in a gay bar, but we believe that it will now be forbidden even in the inner sanctums. Queer as Folk avoided such behaviors. But, Downton Abbey’syoung butler may be guilty.

A pinch on the cheek used to be quite continental, but continence has reached a new plateau when it comes to below the belt buckles with knuckles.

OBJ recently slapped the butt of a mall cop, or pardon us, arena security after a college game. It was the locker room and one can almost explain how these things become viral.

The alleged hard-ass cop took umbrage and wanted to sock OBJ, but held his piece instead. New Orleans used to be a place when Fat Tuesday meant any buttock passing was slugged. No more!

Now, former Celtic Jae Crowder was innocently standing at the free throw line, ready to cut loose when Tristan Thompson, apparently without Iseulte by his side, added insult to injury by shocking Crowder with a tap on the buttocks.

You’d think he’d been given an injection of penetrating flu vaccine. Crowdah jumped like he fell into a bowl of hot chowdah.

Tristan Thompson claimed it was a means of bonding between former teammates. Heavens, high fives and man hugs, all now chaste and robotic, are the new currency. No one is paying for their erogenous zone to be invaded, and short of a porno film, we don’t expect to see this impact on our cable television when we are not on the LOGO network.

We remember when a crime was committed if your fist hit the tip of another’s nose. Now, the blow is lower than the standard for congressional oversight.

We believe the five-second rule should be enforced. If your food falls on the floor, you can still eat it within five seconds of being retrieved from any dirty crevice.

We hold that a slap on the butt that does not linger or return for second helpings should be excused with heart-feltmea culpa.

Slapping a bun of steel of your pro athlete of choice may be injurious to your digits. And spare us a fist pump.

New England Legacy: Video Cheating?

DATELINE:  The All-Seeing Video Eyeball

Spygate crashers?

What’s with video cheating and Boston’s managerial brain-trusts? Their genius may be all in the eye of the camera.

We have somehow come to accept every sordid charge that Bill Belichick somehow in some way has cheated his way to win six Super Bowls. From Deflategate to Spygates 1 and 2, he seems to appear in sequels more than Rocky.

This is now the New England championship ring of truth around the world. World champs here come from the bottom of the barrel. The ring is worn on the wrong finger.

And if you had any doubt, you had only to note that now Alex Cora, winner of the 2018 World Series for the Boston Red Sox is up to his video eyeballs in cheating for both the Houston Astros and the Red Sox.

He was awarded the Sox job, it now appears, on the false pretense that he was a mastermind of winning. Well, it now appears he was indeed the mastermind—of a video spy scandal in Houston as their coach. The manager and his general manager have now been fired as a result.

Cora is hiding in plain sight. MLB states he is being investigated for making a video conference room in the Red Sox clubhouse for cheaters to view signs and other insider activities of the opposing dugout.

How long Cora stands up to this withering accusation is anyone’s guess! Chances are, like Belichick, he will hunker down and figure winners never face punishment. Don’t look for Cora to resign in disgrace any more than Trump will for his impeachy behaviors.

Those old interviews in which Alex Cora waxed eloquent on his admiration for Bill Belichick now take on sinister tones.

No, it will be for the true-blue Red Stockings front office to fire him. Will they? It now seems like he may fall under the New England umbrella of winners never quit and winning is the only deodorant. Managers like Casey Stengel belonged to a different century and a different club.

Boston Stars Join Police Lineup in California!

DATELINE: Wine Chaser?

Call it Selfie Destruction?

Julian Edelman is preparing for off-season surgery by jumping on the hood of an expensive car in Beverly Hills. It’s called drunken vandalism.

Only in Beverly Hills is jumping on a MB SLK considered a misdemeanor.

Now arrested for vandalism, he will appear in the airport courthouse next month—that is, if he’s out of the hospital and Bill Belichick’s doghouse.

Tom Brady’s close chum was out celebrating not being in the Super Bowl with a bunch of former Boston stars; Danny Amendola (his usual mate and partner in crime, and the unusual addition of Paul Pierce, notably of the Celtics Past).

One can presume the stars were imbibing beyond the limits of good sense.

It may be that Edelman is planning to jump ship and is checking out the teams on the West Coast (he is originally a Bay butt). If he is on a mission to scout out teams for Brady, they may be going there in tandem. He may be practicing his jump skills by jumping on car hoods.

We presume Pierce is a technical advisor, and Amendola (as always) is a partner in crime and unnatural activities. They have also done Mexico last year on a skateboard tour.

The latest scuttlebutt from the butt buddies of Edelman is that he will have at least 2 surgeries to repair damage from his insane play at age 34. It’s enough to figure that Bill Belichick wouldn’t take him back or give him a plug nicklel for his future.

No wonder Tom is sending him out to test the TB12 market in the Bay area. Unfortunately, Julie has been derailed in Beverly Hills, a far cry from the Raiders  franchise. Josh McDaniels can have Cleveland! Give the Brady Bunch something of Hollywood.

The Peter Pan Syndrome is alive and well in anyone who thinks they can play NFL football beyond a certain age. How low can down-low go?