The Lonely Man, 1950s Latency Period

DATELINE: Another Oddball Western

not so lonely Tony Meets Jack at Gay Bar?

The Western lone rider is the loneliest guy this side of the Maytag repairman in the 1950s.

After appearing as the despicable gunfighter in Shane, there was only one place to go for Jack Palance: revisionist hero from hell. So, he was cast as the good guy in The Lonely Man. This was a trend, as Ernest Borgnine had just transformed into an Oscar-winner after a villainous streak. Rod Steiger was around the corner.

In 1957, the way to do this was to play either a wronged teenage son or a well-meaning father. The James Dean phenomenon was at work: so, they cast Anthony Perkins as the fey son, long separated from his gunslinging father (called an ‘aging’ gunfighter).

Perkins plays it so silly as rebel with a cause that James Dean would have laughed. He likely would have laughed too that mid-30s Palance was considered aging as a father to mid-20s Perkins. It could have been Tab, but Tony will do.

Yet, that was the style of those days. Daddy didn’t know best, but he tried.

And, you use the baritone country music of Tennessee Ernie Ford instead of Tex Ritter.

Some bad guys are unremitting: Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Elisha Cook.  They are planning on gunning down Palance first chance that comes their way. Elisha Cook’s revenge comes after Palance gunned him down in Shane.

Brand would turn goodie on TV within a few years, but it would take Van Cleef more than a decade to turn to goody-two-shoes roles. All are in their evil-doer prime here.

If you have a strong sense of homoeroticism in this movie, you are not paranoid. Palance “picks up” his son in a bar for the price of a drink. Perkins boasts anyone can have him at those prices. These guys are all interested in their male on male relationships over all else.

As a piece of Hollywood Western ersatz history, this film is a true curio.

 

Winter Kills an Assassination Plot

DATELINE:  Not Citizen Kane

Taylor as Madam Hollywood Miss Taylor, We Presume?

Richard Condon’s novel called Winter Kills, a roman a clef of the Kennedy Assassination, makes for one of the earliest of conspiracy theory movies. Winter Kills is by the man who wrote the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor.

Vincent Canby of the NY Times called it equal to Citizen Kane, but that seems a stretch. It is more akin to Oliver Stone’s JFK.

A stunning cast of cameos appear and disappear quickly. The opening credits are about as jaw-dropping as Murder on the Orient Express:  Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Dorothy Malone, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, and on and on.

How could it go wrong? Well, you can start by scratching your head over the notion that movie is billed as a tragic comedy.

The Kennedy murder in 1963 may be a comedy of errors in its commission and solution, but hardly a comedy.

The film takes the off-putting hints of conspiracy and gives them fake names:  Joe Diamond for Jack Ruby, etc.

Jeff Bridges is the young man (at his most attractive in 1979) who is the brother of an assassinated president who decides to solve the crime himself. In the meantime, conspirators are killing everyone around him. His attitude is bizarre, like someone has strung together unrelated scenes (blame goes to the director).

John Huston gives another irascible performance as the President’s father and Dorothy Malone is his mother.

The film predates the Internet but makes some intriguing theories that a master-programmed spy network of computers is following everyone as early as 1960. It is a stunning prediction on today’s world. That alone is gripping and clairvoyant.

All the usual suspects are present: Hollywood moguls, billionaires, crackpot businessmen, mobsters, Cubans, political hacks, the CIA, and on and on. We know the drill by now, but back in 1980, this was shocking. With more evidence now available, the theories here are standard conclusions today.

As for the movie, it is over-the-top and worth your attention. Not Citizen Kane, it is equal to Stone’s JFK.

 

 

 

 

 

1974’s Murder on the Orient Express

 DATELINE:  Another Christie Version

1974 all-star murder

Before we tackle the newest Orient Express by Branagh, let’s look at the oldest version.

The star-studded Sidney Lumet version took Agatha Christie out of the hands of  1960s-style Margaret Rutherford and Miss Marple.  Murder on the Orient Express is bumpy in the night.

Indeed, the cast is spectacular, one of the last gasps of Old Hollywood gone mad. The suspects are so rococo and bizarre that they make Albert Finney’s weird Poirot look positively like Sam Spade crossed with Richard III.

As the names of stars pass in the opening credits, your jaw may drop. Bacall, Bergman (Bogart’s leading ladies), Perkins, Connery, Gielgud, Redgrave (later to play Christie herself), Widmark, and stellar second bananas too, like Balsam, Bisset, and let’s catch our breaths! Wow.

Lumet is not so much interested in atmosphere as glamour.

If Margaret Rutherford had not died the year before the film, she likely would have been cast in it too. Christie never liked the idea of Miss Marple joining forces with Hercule—but in this sort of movie, you almost expect it.

The new auteur Kenneth Branagh version cannot touch the sheer aristocracy of actors in this film. You have to savor each little gem from Lumet’s cast, as these great stars finally can play it to the hilt one last time and first time as an ensemble.

Agatha Christie was the Shakespeare of crime plots—and so we will have more remakes. After all, we have seen about seven great Hamlet movies. Christie cannot be far behind.

We do condemn the music score that lightly sounds over the credits at the end—which is completely wrong for the mood of the film.

Career Counseling in Order for Daniel Bard

DATELINE: HUMOR!

Mired in the lowly minors, once impressive and future closer Daniel Bard continues to slide into oblivion.

 

After a second season of nightmares has begun, the Red Sox may want to call in the therapists that specialize in mind games, not physical ones.

 

Bard may be more useful to the Red Sox in the role of groundskeeper and mound-raker than closer.

 

With the latest month of wild pitches and humiliating moments in front of astonished crowds, the Red Sox would do Bard a monumental service by helping him find another career.

 

Perhaps he might like driving a big rig on the nation’s highways. He’d be less likely to hit another truck than another ball player.

 

We begin to feel sorry for Daniel Bard who is writing a script that the original Bard would call historical tragedy.

 

If Anthony Perkins were still around and acting, he could appear in a movie called Fear Walks. Unlike Jimmy Piersall, Bard may resemble Perkins and would be a shoo-in for an Oscar. The role of Daniel Bard is a roller-coaster that any actor would die to play.

 

Alas for Bard, he must live the part.

 

Cock-eyed optimists may expect that Bard will return to the mother club as the expert closer, but that is in a parallel universe where quantum physics expand the strike zone into a new dimension.

 

No batter wants to stand in the box before the cock-eyed pitching of Bard.

 

 

 

 

 

Norman Bates and Daniel Bard: Let the Madness End

 DATELINE: HUMOR!

If Norman Bates had something to prove, he did it cleanly in the shower.

If Daniel Bard has anything to prove, he needs to clean up the mess after coming out of the bullpen.

Bardo, as his catcher calls him, made a start on rehabbing his shoddy image as the psycho of the Red Sox. He came in on one of the first scrimmage games of spring and struck out three college baseball players.

You have to begin somewhere after you sink the Sox car with the body in the trunk into the Charles River.

Bard never did any of the mythic deeds of the legendary Jimmy Piersall. That Red Sox player of the 1950s succumbed to the pressure of the game in the more innocent days of the 1950s. He preceded Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, that became the gold standard for madness and mayhem.

Piersall has been the gold standard of insanity in baseball. Bardo was never institutionalized, if you discount being sent to the minors. He used the infamous inside pitch to shave more players in a few games than Sal ‘the Barber’ Maglie in a career.

Daniel Bard resembles Norman Bates, as limned by Anthony Perkins. Both were tall and gangly young men—and each had a mild mannered demeanor.

Of course, before he played Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins also played Jimmy Piersall, swinging the bat at his Red Sox teammates in the dugout and climbing the net behind home plate.

Bard never did either, but had a season in 2012 that rivaled Fear Strikes Out.  We presume his long nightmare is over—and no baseball players shall be beheaded this season when he returns.