Oldie Noir: Killers

DATELINE: Hemingway Classic

Burt Lancaster Awaits the Grim Reapers.

 

A late 1940s film noir version of “The Killers” made author Ernest Hemingway wince. He was hypercritical of the Hollywood versions of his novels and stories.

Yet, the star vehicle for Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster used the first twenty-minutes to tell the short story. The rest is Hollywood explanations that have nothing to do with Hemingway except to build off his message.

The original dark opening seems to tell an inexplicable tale of a gas station attendant who is hunted down by two hired gunmen. Instead of running when he is warned, he simply waits for the inevitable killing.

When asked why he won’t flee, he gives the ultimate Hemingway man’s answer. There comes a time when you stop running because it doesn’t matter in the end.

The moody and eerie tale is brilliantly directed by Robert Siodmak and were it a short subject could have been a masterpiece after the killers climb the boarding house stairs and let their bullets fly.

Young Burt Lancaster is suitably tough and handsome, as you’d want you hero, but he is antiheroic in not fighting. The rest of the movie is a pathetic attempt to flashback to his roots and how he upset the mobsters.

Quiet nighttime moments in an old-fashioned diner and the ominous sense the Swede’s friends have about the mystery visitors is all part of the philosophical insight of the author.

Many questions about the Swede are raised and there are no answers. It was always the style of Hemingway to omit key information: you fill in the blanks. Sometimes if you have enough questions, they provide an answer. The central mystery of the Swede is explained in banal terms during the remainder of the movie.

Heminway gives you suspense in the anticipation of answers, but you will be thwarted and left to your own devices to figure out the moral of the story.

 

 

Biggest Bit Player in 20th Century!

DATELINE: Changing the World

 Shannon.

Imagine being one of the most important people to live in the 20th century and being unknown!

This documentary teases us with the notion that we are remiss to have missed Claude E. Shannon, the greatest inventor/scientist of the 20thcentury. He is called The Bit Player because he is the man who created ‘the bit” as part of the first “thinking machine.”

Yes. He’s right up there with Einstein, though no one has given him the time of day. His theoretics led to the iPhone, email, and all the other unquestioned intrusions into life. He rode a unicycle and juggled, and some thought he was a walking, breathing, thinking carnival barker.

Years ago we used to drive past his home in Winchester, Massachusetts, all the time, but only now do we recognize that a great man lived in that distinctive house. Had we known, we might have dropped in as unannounced as a text message from a stranger.

Eclectic, poetic, he was all you would never think was a scientist. He once invented a flaming trumpet for his high-school age son who was in a marching-band.

Growing up in the Midwest, he came to MIT after writing a stunning Master’s Thesis at age 21, years before Alan Turing’s seminal work. Shannon created codes, and in particular he made the binary code, and his two-number system meant that 1+1=1.  Uh-oh, that meant you were a nutcase in 1930.

Idiosyncratic sometimes makes you an academic pariah, but many of Shannon’s ideas were borderline science fiction and considered useless. If there was no personal PC, how could they be implemented or pragmatic?

How much call was there for a calculator that worked in Roman numerals? He loved to tinker and to let his mind wander the byways of opportunity, much like his pioneer grandfather.

When he spent a year at Princeton, Shannon used to wave every morning at Einstein as the genius walked to Princeton, but is vague about their meeting and interactions. He said he met Einstein but Einstein likely had no memory of meeting him.

It is characteristic of oddity in this biographical story.

With much derived from a filmed interview he gave late in life, we have evidence of a vibrant, ageless thinker that displays the power that must have been thwarted all too often in the earlier days of the 20thcentury.

This man gave Marshall McLuhan all the war and peace in the global village that he could muster. It’s always delightful to meet the most important people you never knew existed.

 

 

 

 

  Jack Arnold: Swiss Cheese at Last

DATELINE: Forgotten Co-Star?

John Saxon, d. 2020.

 One of the great 1950s sci-fi directors was Jack Arnold who gave us Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and a western No Name on the Bullet,that were astounding movies.

Alas, not every great director has the freedom to be an auteur. Arnold wound up in TV, directing some of the big TV shows from 1960 to 1990. It was all trash in the end.  Even directors have to eat.

One of his final theatrical movies was from 1976 in which he received a nice vacation to Zurich and Switzerland where he filmed The Swiss Conspiracy.  It has so many plot holes that even literate Jack Arnold could only give the stolen ice an ending on the ice of the Alps He was witty to the end.

The film is about blackmail over Swiss bank accounts. And, the cast is fairly stellar: Ray Milland as president of the bank, Anton Diffring as his vice president, John Ireland and John Saxon as assorted blackmail victims. It also happens to be a rare movie in which both Elke Sommer and Senta Berger appear.

If you have trouble telling them apart, this movie will help.

The star is benighted David Janssen, already looking worn out. He would die a few years later from his profligate living, but he was always busy in a role, mostly TV movies like SOS Titanic as John Jacob Astor.

Here he is some kind of retired federal agent who takes on a job to uncover a conspiracy of Swiss banking fraud. It’s a conspiracy because you will never figure out who was doing it and why everyone is murdered.

Perhaps the ultimate humor was to have as many plot holes as Swiss cheese. Jack Arnold does his best on this movie. He usually wrangles top drawer performances and makes the script literate, but even he had his limits. No wonder he turned to TV after this movie trifle.

As we watched this film, word came to us that John Saxon had passed away at his home at age 83. He was in seminal form for this movie, and gave many supporting performances of high quality. He was one of those patented movie/TV villlains of the 1960s. His death was forgotten, occurring between Olivia De Havilland and Regis Philbin in a 24-hour period.

  Mae West: Dirty Blonde

DATELINE: Way Ahead of the Curve!

 Mae in Lion’s Mouth!

When PBS Masters finally recognizes Mae 100 years after her astounding Broadway run, you know she is still years ahead of the rest of society. How did this woman whose first plays were called “garbage,” or “lewd” or worse, manage to transcend Sexand The Dragto become a sotto vocecomic?

She was hardly a dirty blonde, but she was stunning to behold.

Her first play about a sex worker resulted in a week-long jail sentence that became the best publicity stunt New Yorkers ever saw. Her second play, she scoured the drag queen bars of the 1920s to find 60 gay men and women to do her ground-breaking shocker about homosexuality!

It took her thinking about why few women attended her plays (she wrote, directed, and starred). So, she came up with Diamond Lil, in hour-glass dresses, fancy lingerie, and big hats: add a few off-hand jokes, and she was Mae West forever.

You could say she saved Paramount Studios with her astute performances: she was in charge of everything and made $1 more than the highest paid executive. She insisted on black performers with billing in her movies, and she gave Duke Ellington his first Hollywood exposure!

Mae hated negativity—and she liked to be in control. Slowly she evolved into a real version of her creative version. She was forty and overweight when she made her first movie, and she was run out of Hollywood by censors. By the 1950s, she was considered a man in drag herself–and she was ripe for parody everywhere.

In the 1970s in her 80s, she made a comeback as a sex symbol, a shocking parody that was hilarious inSextette  and Myra Breckinridge. With her half-baked singing, shimmy, and snide overcurrent delivery, she was a striking original.

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer

DATELINE: Not in the Movie!

  Gomes has an ‘S”for scandal.

Despite the salacious title, you will see the male ballet dancer, but not much of his on-stage anatomy. And, you will not hear about the sex charges made against him.

Marcelo Gomes is one of the foremost contemporary dancers, and he does allow an inside look at his life, but you will not be going into his most private life.

His name is pronounced or mispronounced all too often: he is Marshelo Gomess, not like the Marchello Gomez.

He professes a hope to fall in love one day (on the backside of his career as a dancer in his 30s, we may think time is running out.

By all accounts he is the most proficient, modest, technically correct dancer of the age. Ballerinas love that he only performs to make them look better.

Marcelo has all the problems you might expect: he was an oddity, the only boy in ballet school growing up. He was clearly talented from the get-go. He is a genius in his work, and in his personality. He grew up in Brazil and never spoke English until he was 17. He sounds like he was born in Poughkeepsie.

His father and he are alienated, though they meet pleasantly in the film. However, the elder will not attend any performances, and the reason is not explored.

He studied in Paris and picked up French instantly. His great problem nowadays is injury. When he dances at St. Petersburg, he is overwhelmed to see Nijinsky’s rose petal costume from Spectre de la Rose,but he hears a bone crack when he dances Giselle.

He knows that his career is on its last legs, and he is already preparing to become a choreographer in his post-dance days.

As a personable and most untemperamental man, he came out on magazine covers, still shocking to many even today. He has a pet dachshund, and there is no boyfriend to be seen in this film. If you think you have a chance with him, this is your time for a pas de deux.

Apart from the creepy title, we thoroughly enjoyed this marvel of the modern dance world—and the film too. Alas, shortly after the film’s release, Gomes was accused of sexual harassment and resigned from the ABT. Nothing in the film indicates this issue.

Orson Welles in a Western?

DATELINE: Have Horse, Will Travel.

 Orson, Horse Optional.

When we saw the listing, it was beyond credulity! Can it be that Orson Welles made a Western?  Even worse than that, the film is listed as a “tortilla-Western,” made in 1969.

The film is called Tepepa. It would appear that the film never made it to the United States for release—probably to Orson’s great relief.

Well, if there was a chance to see Orson on a horse, we needed to view it and give a report to faithful fans. No, he did not direct this Spanish-Italian production. It was made when he took all kinds of roles for the money to bankroll his own films. This was done for a few dollars more without Sergio Leone.

You cannot expect much—or have we grown too cynical? The film is a dubbed mess, some of it in English, some in Spanish, and some in Italian. Dubbing was optional.

Welles does not appear on a horse. The tortilla setting is Mexico, beautifully filmed in clean, clear settings. And, the Western is actually set in 1920. This gave Welles the chance to ride around in an antique red automobile, obviously a man of the future.

He plays some kind of prison commandant, or colonel of the villainous order. He is the foil to Tomas Milian who plays some kind of revolutionary folk-hero in the Che Guevara mode.

The movie’s director reported that Welles was most disagreeable on the set—and particularly nasty to his costar. Yet, they had merely a few scenes together. Mostly, Welles appeared opposite blond John Steiner who played a British doctor who also wants to kill the revolutionary hero who raped his girlfriend.

One of the main characters is a Mexican boy who serves as a ping-pong ball between the other actors. As for Welles, you’d expect he’d phone in his scenes and act with nonchalance. Though he mumbles some lines in disdain, he actually gives a nuanced performance, as if he can’t help himself. He clearly enjoys playing the baddie and savors each moment. He chomps on a stogie and is half-apologetic for his evil.

No, this isn’t Citizen Kane,and it’s not even For a Fistful of Dollars, but it is an hysterical historical gem with Orson Welles. We hooted openly.

Mysterious Works of Stanley Kubrick

DATELINE: Faked Moon Landing?

Young Kubrick.

This is the ultimate close reading of Kubrick’s oeuvre.Alas, the narrator is a nasally turn-off, whatever interesting and looney stuff he feeds us.

Yes, this one-hour biographical conspiracy movie seems to hint that Kubrick was assassinated for being difficult, for revealing too many secrets, and for being moral. Taken one at a time: Kubrick was a perfectionist who was used to fake the Moon landing(s), all of them.

He knew too many buried skeletons in Hollywood about pedophilia, and he was an enemy of freemasons, billionaires, and world controllers in government.

Yes, that will get you killed. Just ask Jeffrey Epstein.

There is an interesting opening sequence about young Kubrick and his development into a movie director. His singular idiosyncratic, autocratic self-controlling career began after Spartacus (which the documentary says he hated). It’s a great film, nonetheless.

But this doc thinks his greatest film is Eyes Wide Shut(which we dismissed as overwrought and overindulgent).

The narrator goes on the reveal all the people he offended with each subsequent film. He had to do 2001: A Space Odysseyas a cover for his work making the Moon landing footage that was shown to the public. Those pesky astronauts were laden with guilt and hypnotized, according to this film.

The Shining (misspelled in the film documentary) is rife with references to Apollo 11 and to child molestation in case you missed it. And, the examples are startling to behold.

His final film, Eyes Wide Shut,took 18 months to film, and when important people saw the finished cut, Kubrick was alleged to have been assassinated by lethal drugs to imitate a heart attack in 1999.

Then, his final cut was altered so as to not offend billionaire government powerful figures.

The documentary is as frenzied as those monkey-men, faced with a giant monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

 

 

 

One Last Trip to Greece

DATELINE: Literary Road Trips

 Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.

With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.

These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.

The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.

Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.

They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.

These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).

The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.

Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.

After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.

 

 

Hunt for Elusive Unitah Skinwalker

DATELINE: Pre-TV Series

 Knapp Time.

 Two years previous to the History Channel series, the “paranormal investigator” named Jeremy Corbell took on the subject with his viewpoint. He rounded up George Knapp who had done 20 years of research—including work with Robert Bigelow before he sold the ranch and its rights to the new TV series owner.

The film is called Hunt for the Skinwalker.

Skinwalker Ranch is a paranormal Disneyland, according to this movie.

Corbell intones like he is Rod Serling stealing Twilight Zone phrases in his narrative. He found his matchmate in George Knapp, aging and renewed UFO hunter for decades. Knapp has boxes of old videotaped interviews and paper documents. Korbell won fame by bringing Bob Lazar out of hiding a few years ago to give an updated opinion on Area 51.

This is George Knapp’s seminall life work, apparently never digitized nor copied for posterity. Videos were never made into DVD and audio tape look like you couldn’t find the proper equipment to play them. No one has looked at this material in years. Now, the Hunt for the Skinwalker will make an attempt. It’s clearly enough to spark History Channel’s interest in doing a series two years later.

Korbell likens the area to “Area 52” and largely lets dramatic Knapp do narration duty. He knows how to make mystery more bizarre, for sure.

Knapp related the story of how he tried to do everything to provoke the poltergeist, UFOs, ghosts, orbs, or other phenomena, to no avail, even doing some forbidden digging. He was attacked only by mosquitos. He also knew Robert Bigelow and reveals that the strange billionaire did not want the associated horrors beyond UFOs. He indicated that Bigelow was warned off the property—and sold it to Brandon Fuglar.

Fulgar shows up in this film, refusing to identify himself because it would hurt his business “empire,” which is Fuglar to a T. However, something changed his mind between making this Corbell movie and the History series.

Here the cattle mutilations and other worldly voices are given far more attention.

Neither Corbell, nor Knapp, has any participation in the TV series. And, the movie is far better than the Fuglar produced show.

 

 

Lured: I Love Lucy!

DATELINE:   George Sanders Loves Lucy!

Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Boris Karloff, and Charles Coburn. If you are an old movie fan, these names together in a movie will send you into the stratosphere. It’s a murder mystery set in modern London with an American showgirl recruited by Scotland Yard to catch a serial killer.

Lured  is a 1947 film overlooked by most because it is such a cross against typecast.

Lucy is sarcastically funny when she needs to be. George Sanders actually has a line in which he states, “I’m an unmitigated cad,” and the killer has a penchant for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire.

This is not your usual mystery film. Douglas Sirk directs with his usual great aplomb and knows how to let his highly idiosyncratic actors play their stereotypes to the hilt. He made his name later in big budget soap opera movies, but here he plays film noir like a comic Hitchcock.

Not only that, the film is beautiful to look at—with its glossy black and white sets that do not scrimp on atmosphere.

Coburn is the lead Yard inspector—and his assistants are Alan Napier and Robert Coote!

The litany of rogue suspects is peachy Boris Karloff and Lucy are marvelous as he is the mad fashion designer and she is his model. Later she attends a Schubert concert after joining the staff of butler Alan Mowbray. She must hunt down each suspect with her brash comedy timing. You will soon recognize the Lucy you love.

You may not guess who the culprit is until the final reel—and Lucy does an excellent job working for Scotland Yard.

A lost gem, you owe it to see this charming comedy thriller.

 

 

 

 

 

  Gorky Park: No Parking

DATELINE: Cold War Murder Mystery.

 Sable Hat Man!

Back in 1983 came the crime thriller about the Moscow Police Department (who had the unfortunate privilege of working under the KGB). It’s a definite low-tech crime CSI story about the cold-blooded Cold War killing of three people in Gorky Park.

Martin Cruz Smith’s novel was a best-seller, but based on this movie, the story is grisly and pathetic. Three bodies are found with their faces and fingers cut off to prevent identification. It seems a bit much for a small-time crime. Top-notch Soviet policeman William Hurt must solve the case.

There are some interesting moments in the film, but it pales next to today’s sharp TV crime dramas. Here in this film, it’s the cast that holds you in place, however miscast William Hurt is.

We were surprised to see great actor Alexander Knox (who played Woodrow Wilson once) in a small role as a Soviet general. But it is Americans like star Lee Marvin who steals every scene he is in: with second billing no less. He plays one of those American billionaires playing footsie with the Russians, and he is marvelous. He has cornered the market on Russian sables.

The late Brian Dennehy is also in the film in a small role, but with top billing as a New York cop doing an investigation off-duty in Moscow. He too is wonderful to behold.

As for the drudgery of Moscow with its 1970s cheap cars and unpleasant milieu, it’s all part of the flavor you can’t find anywhere else. But this is not Agatha Christie in the Kremlin, not even close.

Though some called the movie boring, its Moscow setting is dreary and mostly downbeat and dim-witted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t It Romantic? Yes, We Need It.

DATELINE:  Rarity, Rom-Com!

 Charming Cast!

Oh, my, a mere trifle, a little movie satire of rom-coms.

It isn’t brutal, but is gently sweet and it manages to convey its cynical attitude through the big girl Rebel Wilson as a wall-flower overlooked by friends, coworkers, and society as a whole. She grows up learning she is not Julia Roberts.

We kept waiting for a new version of the classic tune Isn’t It Romantic,that was the key song in its own movie in the 1930s and in Sabrina in the 1950s. Well, it never shows up, though there are several hilarious and giant musical numbers that give the entire cast a chance to show off skills not otherwise employed.

She is unlucky in love, and then is mugged: banging her head, to awaken in an alternate universe of romantic comedy, the film genre she despises so deeply. It’s a movie stage version of her life, complete with musical interludes, a gay sidekick, and a wardrobe for the big size.

Throw in Liam Hemsworth as a billionaire playboy in counterpoint to the average nerd who adores her at work, and you have all the ingredients for a classic silly comedy. She fears she will end up in a slo-mo climax—and indeed, what she wishes not for.

Everything is right, not overbearing, and the sweetness is within the cursing cynicism of Rebel Wilson who decries this romantic version of the Big Apple and all the lovely people in it.

If you need a diversion nowadays—and who doesn’t with coronavirus and masks everywhere—then this ditty will hit the spot more than ever before. We might have disparaged it a year ago, but today, we embraced its escapist charm.

Depending on how bad the news becomes, this movie will be nearby for a second viewing, the only antidote to the horrors of a pandemic.

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.

 

Close Encounters on Blue Book

DATELINE: Pointless Flash Forward

 Real Hynek On Set of Third Kind

We give the show credit for a sixth episode that is a little different than all the others. Here, Dr. J. Allen Hyneck is all gray-haired, in 1976, 25 years later than the other episodes of the series Project Blue Book.

And, here he is advisor for Steven Spielberg’s classic UFO movie,Close Encounter of the Third Kind—which of course was Hyneck’s rating system. He worked as technical advisor on this film.

So, we have the wizened, older Aiden Gillen talking to a reporter. Of course, this is old school flashforward. Gillen is wearing a white-haired wig, but has not truly aged. And, he will discuss publicly the CIA investigation of the Air Force Blue Book that ended ten years earlier.

What was the point of this? It’s not clear, except that there is a studio set-up and an unsatisfying interview with a journalist, circa 1976.

The CIA and Robertson Panel are clearly operating under some other power—and that is as acceptable to this series and its inconclusive set of “facts.”

The show continues to feature murderous Russian agents who also have fooled Blue Book—and Captain Quinn. Once again, an eccentric with alien connections proves that the koo-koo birds are the ancient alien preferables for abduction and mental telepathy.

 

Trump as Movie Critic &/or Norma Desmond

 DATELINE: Old Time Movies!

At a campaign rally this week, Donald Trump showed another facet of his koo-koo bird presidency. He started attacking Hollywood’s Oscar choice of The Parasitefor best picture. It seems he does not care for South Korea’s movie industry.

 

If it had been made in North Korea, he might have been more tolerant. Perhaps he just has an intolerance for parasites, or movies that attack and ridicule rich people.

We firmly believe that Trump never watched The Parasitebecause of its subtitles. We all know that he is a dyslexic reader and has trouble with big words and fast scrolling of verbiage. His own notes are large block letter words that are monosyllabic.

However, he did cite 1950’s Sunset Boulevard as his idea of a great movie. We presume his followers have never seen it, and young people would never watch a black & white movie.

You may not recall the Billy Wilder-Charlie Brackett movie from 1950. It was a dark satire extravaganza about the dissolution of a silent screen siren.

Gloria Swanson took the role that Garbo refused and said the immortal words of Norma Desmond who is accused of once being big in movies: “I am still big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

Trump may well paraphrase the famous line: “I am big. It’s the White House that got small.”

You know that Trump is always ready for his close-up—and in fact, demands it every day. He is about ready to have the police and men in white coats come and take him away, just like poor old Norma Desmond.

 

Ossurworld’s William Russo just published a book on producer Charles Brackett who made Sunset Boulevard. It’s title is TITANIC’S FORGOTTEN MOVIE, available in softcover or ebook for smart readers.