Broken John Garfield in The Breaking Point

DATELINE:  Lost & Forgotten Movies

Garfield

Of the legendary Blacklist victims of old Hollywood, one of the most tragic is actor John Garfield, a star not much thought of nowadays. He died too young, but he would have been even bigger before another decade passed if only he had lived.

He had a career often playing tough guys with a conscience, often in socially redeeming movies. Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy for him, but he never played it. Elia Kazan was a buddy, but never directed him. Garfield’s last role, before he was forced off the screen in 1951, was The Breaking Point, based on an Ernest Hemingway tale.

As you might expect, Garfield played an independent owner of a small fishing boat that rented out to corrupt businessmen on holiday.

Needing money, Garfield’s character succumbs to dealing in human contraband, bringing illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico. The story almost seems ripped from present-day headlines.

Featuring Juano Hernandez as his partner, a daring cross-color friendship in the middle of the McCarthy era, Garfield’s hero must deal with temptations of corruption. Patricia Neal, in her blonde vamp role, is hard-hearted nemesis, tempting the hero from his wife.

Garfield suffered from a rheumatic heart in the days before medications and procedures—and yet he often played the action hero. Throw in the stresses he suffered personally from the House on Un-American Activities, and you have a shortened life.

The film treads on noir ground, and it plays as cultural realism too. It seems a contradiction coming from the macho-Hemingway mode, but this is a tale of honor with filmmakers who wanted to be relevant as well as entertaining.

Today The Breaking Point stands as a movie way ahead of its time.

 

 

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Alfred Hitchcock & Agatha Christie: Never the Twain

DATELINE:  Giants in Separate Corners

   agatha       hitch

Recently the question came to us: Why did the two great forces of mystery and suspense never collaborate?

The answer may be surprising. They were both highly successful, popular and beloved: one in film and one in literature. They were both British, lived and died around the same time, and trod the same grounds of creativity.

A few claim Hitchcock was a misogynist: but his greatest collaborators were women (apart from his wife Alma). He enjoyed the works of Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca, The Birds) and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train).

Apart from that fact, both Hitch and Agatha loved to use the setting of trains for their greatest works! Hitchcock could have directed Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, his peak, and most think he did direct it:  but it went to Billy Wilder who used Hitch’s techniques to great effect. Hitchcock could have directed Ten Little Indians in 1945, but chose to avoid the Christie works altogether.

Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he disliked the genre of the ‘who done it.’  He found it antithetical to his idea of what made for cinematic story-telling. He likened the genre to a crossword puzzle, with revealing clues as the main point of the story. It was bread and butter for Christie, but Hitchcock hated the notion and revealing the killer at the end of the story.

You may think two of Hitch’s intriguing films, at the least, were of the who done it school:  Psycho actually revealed who the killer was, but not in the way you expected it to be in the final reel. Stage Fright was one of Hitch’s least favorite films and he filmed it because he was told it was a Christie story, but turned out to be one of his weakest entries.

In Shadow of a Doubt in 1943, Hitchcock had two minor characters discuss how to murder each other—and referred to Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective of Christie, in less than flattering terms.

It’s almost tragic that Hitchcock did not direct Witness for the Prosecution or Murder on the Orient Express to see how he might have handled the material. Both films are brilliant stories and wonderful films, but the echoes of Hitch are omnipresent.

So, we were left without any collaboration between the two greats of 20th century murder mystery. It’s not much of a mystery, but it is a tale of audience misfortune.

Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders with Suchet’s Poirot

DATELINE:  A Worthy Series

ABC

Suchet as the inimitable Hercule

David Suchet’s bravissimo performance over two decades as Hercule Poirot might be appreciated many times. This week we took in The ABC Murders again.

The climactic murder scene takes place in a cinema where Hitchcock’s Number Seventeen is on the screen as a backdrop for the serial killer. We suspect the Master of Suspense would approve.

The Agatha Christie story became the first full-length movie episode from the delightful TV series. For that reason alone, the plot is clever and intriguing. Christie uses a device that brings together the grieving family of the serial ABC serial killer as Poirot’s band of intrepid sleuths.

The notion that the victims’ family would want to take an active role in catching their beloved one’s killer is compelling, even if Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) is exasperated by his friendly nemesis with the mincing steps, and obsessive neatness.

Poirot’s demeanor as a private investigator remains firm in its resolve, but already we begin to see in the nuances of Suchet’s performance that Poirot is beginning to become jaded and horrified by the endless murders he deals with.

Indeed, this serial killer sends Poirot a series of letters, challenging him to stop the carnage. It becomes so personal that the Belgian detective is more distracted by his moral repugnance.

As his aide-de-camp Captain Hastings, Hugh Fraser matches Suchet as the obtuse man of action—as they both seem weary from four seasons of sadistic killers. Pauline Moran’s Miss Lemon, Poirot’s dedicated secretary, is absent from this episode.

Christie had such brilliant creativity in finding ways to develop characters and contrive plots that are truly mysteries to entertain an audience.

Over the length of the Poirot series, bringing all the stories to film (something the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series could not do), is a monumental achievement, matching the flavor of the literature of the Christie stories with film plays. A large debt is owed to Suchet, the driving force behind the detective.

 

 

Holmesian Logic Applied to the Las Vegas Shooter

DATELINE: The Third Man or Stephen Paddock?

Welles as Third Man Welles as Harry Lime

A few friends have asked us to apply Sherlockian logic to the Las Vegas shooter case that has baffled so many people—and confounded police.

Authorities find Stephen Paddock a conundrum that defies profiles created by criminologists.

We deduce, first of all, that investigators have been probing deeply beyond obvious facts. The obvious often is deceptive and will mislead investigators.

After all, it was Sherlock Holmes who famously said that you need to eliminate all the impossible factors—and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

We must ask ourselves, what is served by misery, violence, and fear?

Paddock’s actions justify a private revenge, making his secrets all the more imponderable.

So, what can we deduce about the man who had millions of dollars from life as a high roller? He was confident in the risks and his odds of beating them.

Paddock was a fugitive from the law of averages.

This was an angry man who felt disrespected by society, despite his success as a gambler. He felt his status as an older, white male gave him no advantage in terms of respectability. As the sands of life passed by, he was dissatisfied with his lot. He hated time. It was cheating him.

Over the years, he found the ease of beating the system put him above law and society. He won millions of dollars by playing games against those he felt were dolts of society.

Paddock mistrusted other people—and had no need for their assistance. He worked alone in his problem-solving. People were manipulated to serve his own goals.

Paddock was a coward. He could not face the people he loathed—those who found happiness in simple living. He preferred the edginess of risk-taking. Thus, like infamous fictional killer Harry Lime, he took up a high position to commit his crime.

If you recall, Lime looked down on people from the perspective of a Ferris-wheel where his victims looked like “dots.” The film is The Third Man. It was easy to dehumanize those who would die if they are merely squirming dots in a dark night.

The armaments at his crime scene suggest he knew this could be a “glorious” Waterloo for him, but the use of cameras indicate he planned for the possibility to beat the law of averages to kill again.

Patriots Go to Hurricane Ravaged Tampa

DATELINE: Ill Winds in Tampa

off off-season

Thursday night in Tampa, the Patriots will lick their wounds and try to make former thug Jameswhatsis Winston pay for his past sins as a serial woman abuser. We doubt the defense is up to the job as morality police.

In the meantime, the Pats may want to visit one of the local hoosegows. It seems Jonas Gray, their one-game phenom of 2014, spent some time there recently for failing to pay for his child support.

Gray, the standup comic who failed to make Bill Belichick laugh, had one great game—and was benched for arrogance before Belichick, in his infinite wisdom, cast him adrift.

Gray became invisible and fell into disrepute faster than you can spell Kolin Kaepernick korrectly.

In the meantime, the Pats took off from Rhode Island for the land where a hurricane named Irma (or was it Harvey?) tested Trump’s ability to help white people survive a disaster.

We learned through special snooping that Tom Brady had a reserved seat in the front row of the new private Patriot jet. It’s the row with the most legroom. Yes, the seats on JetKraft are numbered with the player number. #12 is actually #1.

We did our crack work, but not on crack, to learn that the man sitting next to Tom was fellow captain and sweetheart of a moral goodness, Matthew Slater. Matthew has not played much this season, owing to injury, but he is keeping Julian Edelman’s seat warm.

Owners and coaches are in what would be considered first-class, where Kraft also has a bedroom where he can sleep well after berating his friend,  President and Lord of the Flies, Donald Trump.

In the meantime, the Pats have escaped Dodge City in Foxboro where their team is under siege. It now seems the NFLPA has called the new fake sod at Gillette “borderline actionable.” Talk about fake news.

We wonder if new turf will await the Pats during the Thanksgiving game when they conduct their world tour of disaster areas: Mexico City, earthquake central, is their next hot spot on the road.

Nikki Haley: Hatemonger

DATELINE:  Crypto-Nazi Emerges at UN

 NIcki Haley, armed & dangerous

Armed & Dangerous

UN ambassador Nikki Haley has now become Public Enemy #1 in the gay community of the United States. You might as well put her on an FBI wanted poster in every post office around the world.

With her vote in support of executing gay people, she put the United States in a basket of Deplorables with 12 of the most backward Arab states. Now our United States has joined the notorious group of repressive nations that are one step away from Nazi Germany’s execution of Jews.

When you advocate the genocide of a group of people, you are a Nazi, Ambassador Haley. You can’t put a pretty bow on it and claim that’s not what you did. It is exactly what your vote meant.

Not since Anita Bryant took on the Gay Community to her everlasting infamy of self-destruction, by throwing gay people out with the orange juice, has there been a woman who has become the face of gay scorn. Nicki Haley is the obvious Doppleganger of Anita Bryant.

Nikki Haley may be the first real casualty of the Trump political wars. She has effectively ended any future career in politics by joining the Trumpet Administration and becoming its new Crypto-Nazi, white supremacist pretty face.

Though she since insists her vote was not anti-gay, it’s hard to support voting against a resolution to call for NOT executing gay people for their lifestyles. She may think she has been misunderstood and misjudged. This is called self-delusion.

Welcome to the world of the LGBTQ community, where people are misjudged and misunderstood every day. Yes, Nikki Haley, that’s you, the face of the new Nazi-ism in America.

Nick Ray’s Auspicious We Live By Night

DATELINE:  Trite Rises to Fascinating

They Live

Though it may sound like a sequel to the Twilight vampire stories, the 1949 film noir They Live by Night is important as a marker of the start of director Nicholas Ray’s career.

As one of the new wave of Hollywood figures in the post-war years under Dore Schary, They Live by Night has an impressive pedigree: John Houseman produced it and gave Ray on location camera angles that must have been striking in their day.

Ray could direct both sensitive young men types and older tough guys were equal power. Actors repeated showing up in his films because he gave them memorable roles. His young men ran the gamut from James Dean’s rebel and John Derek’s ghetto thug to Farley Granger in this picture.

No one ever again filmed Granger with such adoring and flattering care. Farley’s two Hitchcock movies, well known Rope and Strangers on a Train, used the actor effectively as stalwart character of moral duplicity, not innocent victim of fate.

Ray directed his life with more elan in later years—and his films remained archetypal, but less powerful.

Cathy O’Donnell and Granger are bland, sweet young people crushed by the societal forces that put them into a crime world.

The film is less interesting as a story (adapted by Ray himself) and less compelling than his next films, Bogart’s two classics (In a Lonely Place, Knock on Any Door).

If there is another reason to watch, it is familiar faced, ugly actor Jay C. Flippen, whose roles as menacing villain and paternal pal dominated the 1950s.

flippenJay C. Flippen

What Price Glory? Bees’ Knees Have It

DATELINE: Trump’s Magical Misdirections

trump apron strings

The NFL anthem protest is a tempest in a teapot. Trump is dealing with more Teapot Dome tempests than any president since Warren G. Harding.

You might think there is no possible resolution to the knee-jerk reaction of Donald Trump to NFL protesting players. Forget them not: Basketball of the NBA is on the horizon where the lives of black players matter big.

When Trump notes that NFL owners are afraid of their plantation slaves, we are reminded that such a mentality was quite prevalent in the early 19th century among cotton-picking businessmen. Like any good magician, Trump is misdirecting his audience away from his sleight of hand, like a Mississippi riverboat charlatan.

So, the NFL has called in team captains and owners for a meeting of the minds. Fear is a great equalizer.

Roger Goodell met on Thursday with Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater, two New England Patriot leaders—and with owner Robert Kraft. Tom Brady seems to have taken a powder with his MAGA hat.

Powers that be may well be worried over the few knuckleheads who have burned their team jerseys with blow torches and have sworn never to watch another football game.

We don’t believe it. These followers of social media are like junkyard dogs, barking up a storm, but in the heady days of Super Bowl hype, we feel they will find their mettle melted.

Perhaps football Sunday should be immune from politics and inflammatory rhetoric. Fat chance with the Lord of the Flies Donald Trump tweeting out with presidential flair and Dumbo abandon.

Arm-in-arm, solidarity against racism would seem to be a no-brainer, though some conservatives feel the venue is inappropriate. Yet, their message is lost in a blinding white-out storm.

Anticipated more than victory may be the pre-game anthem, a place in America where black men have risen to fame and fortune while the majority of their peers face daily worry that a stray bullet may end their black and bleak lives.

If Russian agents exploited ‘Black Lives Matter’ to win a national election for the Lord of the Flies, you can bet your bottom dollar that, as that Fenway Park sign told a few weeks back, racism is as American as football and baseball, not to mention basketball.

 

Endeavour S4 Finale

DATELINE:  PBS Masterpiece

Shaun

 

Each season of Endeavour, the continuing prequel saga of Detective Morse, now in reverse order, has one superb episode that towers over the other excellent mysteries. The finale of S4 is top-drawer.

Endeavour is a prequel, of course, taking John Thaw’s original Morse back to the 1960s when he was a young investigator. The latest called “Harvest” starts with a 1962 murder that he opens as a cold case in 1967.

As usual, Roger Allam and Anton Lesser are around as Morse’s supportive superior officers.

In many ways this is the most modern episode so far: it deals with the red herring of an atomic energy plant emitting radiation. The tie to the murder of an Oxford botanist muddies the waters in a small town near the nuclear plant. Cleverly planted clues abound.

As a tarot card relates during the investigation, Endeavour (Shaun Evans) is facing “death,” in some form. He scoffs as that is his line of work, and the other insight is that he is unlucky in love. Yes, we’ve seen plenty of that over the four seasons.

This one hinges on autumnal equinox, which Morse notes is a scientific time, though cultists and local Stonehenge followers seem particularly in a state of high anxiety.

Entwined with the case, we have Morse’s complicated relationship with his superior’s daughter, which seemingly comes to a head. Alas, more information must await S5, which promises more episodes as this cast and storyline sharpens. We await more murders.

Lady in the Lake: Under Water, but Not All Wet

DATELINE:  Hard-Boiled School of Detectives

Marlowe:Montgomery

You have to enjoy a murder mystery that is set on Christmas and begins with a potpourri of carols to set the mood. We laughed all too hard during the opening scenes: it’s witty, sharp, and clever. Lady in the Lake is a classic.

The Raymond Chandler story was directed by Robert Montgomery in 1946 with the star also briefly in front of the camera. Mostly, he narrates, keeping his face out of the limelight.

Lady in the Lake is quite inventive and will leave you quite impressed with Montgomery’s dry and cynical comments. However, this style tends to undercut the film noir aspect, as it is studio-bound.

Director Montgomery also suffers from low budget-it is that makes his original murder tale cut too many corners. We never make it to the lake to see the lady fished out, only hear about it. Yet, the quick pace will surprise you.

That too is part of the first-eye view of the film: we see only what detective Philip Marlowe sees—and characters look directly into the camera frequently as they talk to Montgomery. It is diverting and intriguing. Alas, the mystery itself is not clever enough to fit the film’s technique.

Cast is uniformly superb, especially Audrey Totter as the femme fatale, Leon Ames as her boss, owner of a lurid crime publication, and Lloyd Nolan as a dubious cop.

We must confess that light-leading man Robert Montgomery is not as tough as the Marlowes of Bogart and Mitchum, but his dry and cynical wit is hard-nosed enough to cause other characters to give him a sock in the nose more than once.

You will fondly remember Lady in the Lake for its originality and dark humor.

No Crying Jag for Crying Game

 DATELINE:  Sexual Politics in the IRA

 jaye

 

Twenty-five years ago, The Crying Game was nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture and co-star Jaye Davidson was a nominee for supporting star. Davidson stayed in movies a few more years before deciding to drop out, disliking the attention.

Director Neil Jordan made his reputation with the movie and worked deliberately since, with Interview with the Vampire standing out from his oeuvre.

The Crying Game uses the terrorism of the Irish Republic Army as a backdrop for sexual politics.

The impressive cast is so young and fresh: Forrest Whitaker as a British soldier, Stephen Rea as his abductor, Miranda Richardson as a firebrand radical, with Jim Broadbent—and, of course, Jaye Davidson as the striking main squeeze of Forrest Whitaker.

The film is two distinct halves: the capture of the victim and his ordeal, and Rea’s escape to England to find Whitaker’s paramour (at the request of the prisoner).

Twists of the plot and turns of the body politic make for Jordan’s unusual take on how radical agendas may be dwarfed by the personal foibles of the participants.

If someone spoiled the story-line for you, curses on them. You need to see this to figure it out—and the clues are omnipresent from the easy friendship between Rea and Whittaker, to the odd Metro bar where Dil sings after daywork as a hairdresser.

Where Rea’s IRA escapee seems too easily manipulated by the women around him, the women are forceful and willing to take charge.

Jordan throws pop music handily into the plot—from Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” to the ultimate, “Stand by Your Man,” sung by Tammy Wynette. There is subtext here, mostly found in the song of the movie title, lip-synched by Davidson effectively in one scene.

Watching the film, you will know why it was all the rage a generation ago—and remains topical and effective today.

 

Lazaretto on Endeavour

 DATELINE: The Only Good Detectives are British

SE   Shaun Evans, Heartthrob

The third entry in this Endeavour S4 series takes superstition and murder to a hospital ward at Cowley General. It seems Bed #10 has suffered an inordinate number of deaths over the past six months.

When Superintendent Bright takes ill, he is transferred to the same ward where the mystery becomes unsettling to Morse (Shaun Evans) and the new acting Superintendent, Thursday (Roger Allam).

The 1960s are only slightly more evident in this episode, owing to the cars and less technological medical situations. As for the mystery, it is always clever to solve and filled with red herrings.

Set in Oxford, the cerebral capital of education seems rife with crime.

The usual suspects turn up, but it’s the usual members of the police investigation that always have a turn to remember. It’s a marvelous supporting cast, especially James Bradshaw as the creepy coroner who seems always to enlighten Morse with a witty clue.

Morse is known for his brainy solutions that even his Superintendent (Anton Lesser) has come to respect him.

Shaun Evans provides a boyish, though aging boy, who remains catnip to women. Indeed, the subplot of the series remains the bodies of women who have thrown themselves at him, including DI Thursday’s daughter who has left town because of Morse (more or less) as women continue to swoon over him.

Roger Allam as Thursday is not a saintly mentor and is not above using his contacts in the criminal world, nor showing a little tough love when he roughs them up. Beneath the barnacles, he is still a shrewd detective and a perfect foil for Endeavour.

The arc of the season is short, only four episodes, with one remaining, but already the show is renewed for a fifth season with a promised increase in the murder rate to allow for more mystery movies.

Thank heavens for good British detectives.

Rupert Everett as Sherlock Holmes

DATELINE:  No Deerstalker Here

Everett Holmes 

with Ian Hart as Watson.

We wondered back in 2004 why Rupert Everett’s fascinating take on Sherlock Holmes did not lead to a series. It was around the time that Jeremy Brett had passed on—and a new Holmes was certainly ripe for the picking.

Granada TV and PBS passed on Everett’s interpretation, much to our regret.

Instead, we had the dreadful Robert Downey movie version—and the marvelous updated Cumberbatch TV Sherlock.

Yet, for our money, the classic look and demeanor of Everett was delicious enough. In the Case of the Silk Stocking, not part of the canon, we had a story that was part of the problem. It dealt with sexual problems in the multiple murderer—and Holmes was brought up to date by Watson’s fiancée who now is an American psychologist.

The other problems with the story-line featured cruel mistreatment of women, largely teenage girls brutally killed in a fetish demeanor. Holmes does not help much with his misogynist attitudes that may be accurate, however off-putting. Indeed, when he intrudes on the bedroom one a teenage girl, it seems almost creepy.

On Rupert Everett these foibles work to the flaws of Sherlock.

Ian Hart’s Watson is a tad too smug, and Helen McCrory as his American spouse-to-be is too much a concession to political correctness.

We were delighted to see Michael Fassbender in an early, important role. But, the film belongs to Everett who makes Sherlock’s tired, drug-addled character quite intriguing. There is a sharp undercurrent of sexual malaise in this Holmes, played by the openly gay Everett.

What a shame he played the role only here. It’s a worthy effort in the history of Sherlock performances.

Twin Peaks: Revised and Unresolved

DATELINE: Confounded Yet Again

dead but not gone

If you walk with David Lynch, you play with fire.

Despite our wishes, David Lynch did not put the entire cast in a bus and drive it off a cliff at Twin Peaks. Perhaps he should have.

If you thought everything would be wrapped up as the story seems to end (as if ever possible), you’re looking for a Christmas present under the wrong Douglas fir tree.

Everything comes full circle, and Twin Peaks brings us right back to the first episode 25 years ago. There, you will find a rewrite, revisions galore, to the original story, as agent D.B. Cooper returns to meet Laura Palmer before her fate. His mission seems to be to prevent the murder that started the entire 25-year odd odyssey.

Thank heavens Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee have not changed one whit. They play themselves 25 years ago, no mean feat. And they don’t look too bad in the process.

Lynch does assemble the entire cast in the Twin Peaks police station, and there seems to be some kind of paranormal activity with spirits, smoke, and bad lighting.

However, unless you own some kind of Ouija board or crystal ball, you will not understand what on earth is going on. As a Greek chorus, the mobster  Jim Belushi standing there for no good reason also asks the question, “What the hell is going on?”

The actors themselves look befuddled as they perform the scene. Well, as long as the paycheck doesn’t bounce, actors will perform in any tripe being of any stripe.

This episode ends with the late Jack Nance being fondly remembered at the end of the credits this time, “in memory of.”  Yes, he starts the original series once again by not finding the dead Laura Palmer wrapped in cellophane on the shore.

Alas, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

No Night Too Long for Suspense and Mystery

DATELINE:  Lee Williams: Full Frontal and Center

Lee Williams

At first glance, the murder suspense mystery No Night is Too Long, from 2002, seems like Hitchcockian crime drama, but deep down it is purely in the mold of James Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Guilty parties are always caught for a crime they did not commit.

Tim, a beautiful bisexual college student, seems to attract people, including a young college professor and paleontologist. Their torrid affair is told in flashback, as Tim has murdered someone unknown in his narrative. Alas, he is being tormented by anonymous letters by someone who knows what he did.

And someone is stalking him too.

Lee Williams is perfect as the sociopathic lothario who admits to murder, but seems to be suffering guilt and blackmail.

If you want a gay subtext used as a key plot device, but miles ahead of your usual soap opera gay movies, then you could do with a dose of No Night is Too Long.

It’s not what you might expect.

Williams is hynoptic and equally adept in the sack with boys and/or girls.

Director Tom Shankland knows how to put together suspenseful mystery, and uses the setting of a tourist boat to the Alaskan wilderness as a fitting backdrop.

Your usual stereotypes are certainly undercut every step of the way, and suspects abound who seem to be even worse than Tim, the self-confessed killer.

How do these little gems fall off the radar? You might be put off by the sex motives, but the performances and storyline are utterly engaging. Supporting cast, including Marc Warren, all hit the right notes.

Look for this one.