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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paint Whose Wagon?

DATELINE: Don’t Fence Clint In!

  A couple of song and dance men?

Back in 1969, Clint Eastwood had just returned from his stint on the spaghetti western circuit. He wanted to break molds—and went on Mr. Ed,then made a musical Western. It’s not easy to turn Clint into Tab.

Paint Your Wagonhad credentials to stagger into a gold-digging mode. Josh Logan directed another 1951 classical musical from Broadway. Paddy Cheyevsky (urban TV legend) wrote the screenplay—another unlikely figure out West.

The only true singer in the cast allegedly was Harve Presnell who stops the movie with his stunning rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.”  Even Logan in his inepti director style could not screw that up.

As far as Clint singing, we had forgotten that in 1962, on the heels of every TV and movie actor with heart-throb fan clubs made a musical album:  as we recall, Sal Mineo, Richard Chamberlain, Tab Hunter, and even Clint Eastwood sang.

The big difference was that Clint’s album of country-western tunes was actually a hit. You need to hear his version of “Don’t Fence Me in.”

Lee Marvin also sings in the style of Rex Harrison—and he is witty and delightful. He also dances cheek-to-cheek with Ray Walston, which certainly puts Fred and Ginger to the test.

The film is an all-male homoerotic gold rush until Jean Seberg shows up: beautiful and damaged. We cannot imagine what off-screen between-takes conversations went on during this production.

There are enough offensive ethnic stereotypes to make this film about as incorrect as any Western of the 1960s. And, in a true 1960s mode, the film is nearly three hours long—really.

If you like surprises and changes of pace, you cannot go wrong with this Western that seems to be the exclamation point and end punctuation to the era of Hollywood westerns.

 

 

 

 

Point Blank: Right on Target

DATELINE:  Unusual Film Resurfaces

 point blank

Can it really be 50 years since John Boorman gave us his curious precursor to Twin Peaks, long before David Lynch had a brainstorm?

Point Blank confounded audiences in 1967 who were far less prepared for the kind of stuff Lynch gave us 25 years later. This film essentially introduced Boorman to serious audiences. It took a crime film and made it arty.

Lee Marvin is the dead Walker, left to die in haunted, empty Alcatraz after a botched crime pickup. Some undetermined time later, he is looking for revenge, in a gray suit with white hair. No one knows him by any other name, and everyone asks, “Aren’t you dead?”

Indeed.

Boorman films Marvin through screens, drapes, and other opaque filters. He even grapples with a ghostly sheet after he drives his nemesis off the penthouse roof.

Walker wants his money as well as revenge—and a litany of marvelous actors plays the hierarchy of the Mob, befuddled by him. John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner, and a marvelous and hilarious Carroll O’Connor, are his lineup.

Angie Dickinson spends a full minute trying to beat him up, slapping and punching the impervious Marvin in an amazing bit.

Marvin is indestructible and single-minded as Walker.

The film is short in minutes, but long on violent moments that were a revelation 50 years ago. The film plays with haunting memories repeatedly as Walker seems obsessed with reliving them, like a residual spirit.

It’s a tour de force by Lee Marvin and John Boorman. Just wonderful and fresh 50 years later.

 

 

 

Several Cowboys Removed from John Wayne

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Randolph Scott was a rich man’s Audie Murphy. In the 1950s, all the good western B-scripts were sent to Scott. Those he didn’t want went to Audie.

As a result, both cowboy star actors made half-a-dozen fascinating and memorable Westerns in the late 1950s.

Many of the films were made with legendary Budd Boetticher as the director. His sense of what made a Western great made for great western drama that transcends cultures and times.

That brings us to a re-viewing of Seven Men from Now, a revenge tale perfectly suited for Randolph Scott who was then in his late fifties with steely gray hair replacing his blonder locks.

If John Wayne was not looking over his shoulder at Scott, he ought to have been. The two stars did make several movies together earlier in their careers, but Scott never garnered the popularity of Wayne and was far more understated in a William S. Hart cowboy fashion

Seven Men from Now also featured Lee Marvin, already in cross-over mode and ready to costar with Wayne in Donovan’s Reef and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He was always a dangerous bad guy in movies, but was making waves that would finally send him into leading man territory within a few years.

The female lead was another personality on the ashcan perimenter of Hollywood, Gail Russell, who had also made some movie history with John Wayne, but was on the downslide to oblivion and premature death. Here she is slightly disturbing as a “good wife” to another man.

By today’s standards, Scott’s revenge at taking down seven killers responsible for a heinous murder is rather tame—except for the hero’s steely resolve.

It is not the best of the Scott Westerns of the era (see The Tall T), but at 75 minutes, it is short and stunning.

Movie insights from Ossurworld’s Dr. William Russo can be found in his books like MOVIE MASHUP and MOVIES TO SEE–or NOT TO SEE!  All Russo’s books are available at Amazon.com in softcover and in e-book formats.