Wednesday, October 23, 2013
(March 1935, U.S.)
Even if none of you film fans are too familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's early British period, you've likely heard of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH because he remade it himself with James Stewart and Doris Day in 1956 (but we'll get to that later). The original black and white film is quite different in setting, tone and plot details, and in my humble opinion, it's better than the remake (but we'll get to that later).
The film opens with the snowy mountains of Switzerland where British married couple Bob and Jill Lawrence (played by Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are vacationing with their daughter Betty (played by Nova Pilbeam). They subsequently befriend a foreign gentleman named Louis Bernard (played by Pierre Fresnay), who is staying in their hotel also. One evening, as Jill dances with Louis, she witnesses his assassination as a French spy when a shot penetrates the glass pane and then his body. Before he dies, the spy passes on to them some vital information that must be delivered to the British consul. Before the couple can act on this, they learn that Betty has been kidnapped in order to keep them quiet. These criminals are lead by Abbott (played by Peter Lorre) and we eventually learn that their ultimate plan is to have the head of state of an unidentified European country assassinated during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Lorre, by the way is just as sinister looking (and acting) as any other film who may have seen him in like Fritz Lang's M, CASABLANCA or THE MALTESE FALCON. Take a look...
And so, unable to go to the police, Bob and Jill pursue leads that will help rescue their daughter and prevent the assassination. While this film doesn't move at a particularly quick pace, nor does it have any sort of musical soundtrack to accompany the story, their is, to its credit, a rather intense shootout between the bad guys and the police on the street (but again, to no music). In an interesting twist, it's Betty's mother (a crack shot with a rifle) who takes down the criminal bent on capturing her daughter on a rooftop. The bad guys are defeating and the child is reunited with her parents. Happy ending, indeed!
Although an enjoyable film, it's not my favorite of Hitchcock's British film (I still can't make up my mind if that honor goes to THE 39 STEPS or THE LADY VANISHES). What actually succeeds in holding my interest to this film is the considerable disappointment that I hold with the 1956 remake; in other words, the bad makes the good look better. The plot is more or less the same and James Stewart remains my favorite classic actor of all time. The real problem for me is Hitchcock's rather cheap shot at plugging Doris Day's singing abilities with her repeated performance of her song, "Kay Sa Ra Sa Ra". Seriously?? A Hitchcock with musical numbers in it?? This is not only unacceptable, in my opinion, it's downright tragic and completely ruins the film for me. Frankly, with the exception of Cecil B. Demille and his 1956 version of his own THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, I've never really understood the concept of directors remaking their own films. Really, what's the point? Move on, I say! The original film of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH also has that exciting climactic shootout I mentioned, which brings the excitement of the plot full circle.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jill Lawrence: "Ah, my love!"
Clive: "Ah, my darling!"
Bob Lawrence: "My lunch!"
Thursday, October 17, 2013
(August 1986, U.S.)
One night in August 1986, after having given my movie time and efforts to mega-blockbusters like ALIENS, THE FLY and TOP GUN, I decided to go see a movie that I knew absolutely nothing about with no prior knowledge of story, concept or stars. The result was Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, and in a way, my perception of big screen crime thrillers hasn't been the same since. During that summer, I was also in the process of attempting to write my first novel, also a crime thriller, and had reached a point where writer's block was getting the better of me. Then I went to see MANHUNTER and something inside of me clicked and within a couple of months, I'd finished the first draft of what would, indeed, go on to become my first novel. Many years later when I reached full adulthood (whatever the hell THAT is!), I realized that what I'd written was a completely amateurish (not that I consider myself a pro now!) piece of shit! No, really - this thing I wrote during my college youth is so bad that I refuse to even show it to my wife! In fact, the only evidence left that the thing was ever written is the one original hard copy that I've never been quite able to bring myself to throw away!
(but I've digressed long enough)
I can't help but wonder if the last twenty years of moviegoers raised on the over-exploitations of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (spelled LECKTOR in this film - don't ask me why) would have even heard of MANHUNTER otherwise? Yes, it's the first thriller (and the best) written by author Thomas Harris' novel RED DRAGON to feature the notorious flesh-eating psychiatrist, but the character in this story is somewhat minor. This film focuses almost entirely on FBI criminal profiler Will Graham who's brought out of retirement to help catch a serial murderer who slaughters entire families in their homes. Graham explores the evidence by also attempting to get deep into the mind of the killer and his potential motives and fantasies. As we follow along, we also listen to the profiling process as Graham speaks his thoughts and words into a microcassette recorder and expresses himself quite vocally as he watches video tapes of the victims before their unfortunate demise. Graham is an emotional man who not only feels for the victims he's never known, but is often overcome with anger and rage when realizing just how and why the killer operates the way he does. A contributing factor to Graham's psyche is the fact that he'd allowed the twisted thoughts of Hannibal Lecktor to remain in his head, even after being responsible for finally capturing the mad doctor.
As Graham continues to desperately try and figure out a connection between the murdered families, he soon realizes that he killer must have somehow seen their home movies before targeting them. This is a point that's actually quite frightening to consider because it turns out the killer Francis Dollarhyde (played by Tom Noonan) is an employee at a photo processing lab. Dollarhyde has been casing the victims' homes through home movies, enabling him to prepare for the break-ins in extreme detail. Most viewers may be willing to simply dismiss this fact as trivial or no more than an interesting twist in the process to catch a killer. But consider for a moment the idea that there are total strangers out there that we willingly invite into our private world every time we put in that order for hard copy photographs. Certain film makers in Hollywood recognized this chilling concept and gave us the Robin Williams film ONE HOUR PHOTO (2002), but that's a blog for another time.
Now let's talk about the infamous characgter of Dr. Hannibal Lecter for a moment. Yes, no one can deny that Anthony Hopkins is responsible for making the character legendary. But was he necessarily better at it? I would challenge fans of Hopkins to consider the very subtle intensity that Brian Cox originally brought to the role. Does a gifted actor necessarily portray an insane man by such obvious gestures as widening his eyes, licking his lips and speaking of fava beans and a fine chianti? Cox has a deeper voice and never smiles once in the role. He judges Will Graham with very harsh eyes and dead-on honesty with an ability to get deep inside Graham's head without the overkill of being too devilishly nasty, as I felt Hopkins did. Being purely evil does not necessarily constitute acting like a complete loon. Sometimes the art of intense silence and a brooding facial expression can perfectly personify evil. So, there it is, people - it may be an unpopular opinion, but I've always preferred Brian Cox over Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter! And as Will Graham, William Peterson is absolutely perfect in the role! It's no wonder that he was chosen for his role on CSI. It's also no wonder that MANHUNTER can claim responsibility for inspiring many of the criminal and forensic science investigative TV shows that are all over the air today.
MANHUNTER is one of the most unique crime thrillers I've ever seen, for more reasons than just a chilling story and very fine acting. In a way, it's quite the MTV thriller of the 1980s due to a soundtrack that explicitly dominates the film. This is almost easy to appreciate considering that Michael Mann also created TV's MIAMI VICE. Before this film, I never would have imagined Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" could be used so effectively during the climactic moment when a serial killer is finally brought down. Visually, the film is also driven by strong color cues and the use of tints. Different tints are used to evoke different moods for the audience. A "romantic blue" is used during the intimate and tender scenes of Will Graham in bed with his wife, while a rather "subversive green" brings out a moment of Francis Dollarhyde's evil intents. It may be safe to suggest that the elements of music and color, indeed, attempt to depict MANHUNTER as art. It's something to consider, anyway.
Now let me get back to the first time I saw this film on screen back in 1986. I loved it immediately, but then again, I've often had an immediate appreciation for films that haven't been well received at the time of their theatrical release and then go on to be so-called cult classics (ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE, BLADE RUNNER and DUNE, just to name some examples. When I returned to college less than a month after seeing this film, I learned that a very good friend of mine at the time whom I shall call INGRID (because that's really her name) had also seen it, too, over the summer. In fact, she was probably the only other person I knew in my life who had seen MANHUNTER (let's face it - this was not a well known film before SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!). Anyway, she was the only person I could have any deep discussions about this film with. When it was released on VHS for the first time, I think we even watched it together. Oh yeah, did I mention that I had the most enormous crush on this girl, too?? Well, all these years later, that's neither here nor there. In fact, other than a brief look at her Facebook profile a few years ago, I have no idea what's become of this woman (nor do I really give a shit!). So it's to Ingrid that I dedicate this post. Thanks for the memories of past friendship, Ingrid! Thanks for that night we made out when you came back to the dorm late at night drunk off your ass! Thanks for being the only person I could discuss and appreciate MANHUNTER with before Anthony Hopkins brought Thomas Harris' stories into a whole new world. And thanks for being nice enough (or stupid enough) to tell me that you actually liked that piece of shit novel I was writing during those college years! Thanks, Ingrid!
Oh, and just a final quick word about the 2002 remake known as RED DRAGON. Most audiences and critics preferred it over it's predecessor, but what the fuck do they know?? For me, it was like watching an inferior school play of something that was considerably superior sixteen years prior. Stop fixing what ain't broke, Hollywood!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Will Graham: "This started from an abused kid, a battered infant. My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks!"
Sunday, October 13, 2013
(August 1993, U.S.)
The prospect of Woody Allen teaming up with Diane Keaton again for the first time since MANHATTAN (though she did have a small singing cameo in RADIO DAYS) must have looked very financially promising to TriStar Pictures because without doing any serious research into it, it's the only Woody Allen film to be released during the summer blockbuster season, as far as I'm aware. For this Woody Allen fan, it was a return to the "mother's milk" of on-screen Woody Allen film chemistry because in my opinion, Woody never worked better with any co-star than Diane Keaton! It was also the return of writer Marshall Brickman, the other half of Woody Allen that had made previous films like SLEEPER (1973), ANNIE HALL (1977) and MANHATTAN (1979) so successful. On screen, Allen and Keaton have always been made for each other and in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, they still strike wonderful sparks of ditziness.
Allen and Keaton Manhattan married couple Larry and Carol who meet their next-door neighbors Paul and Lilian House (yes, I said HOUSE) for the first time after returning home from a Ranger hockey game at Madison Square Garden. Their encounter starts off pleasantly enough when they join them for coffee and conversation, but things turn the very next day when they learn that Lilian has died from an apparent heart attack. As in many mysteries, suspicions begin when Carol catches Paul in a lie when she discovers an earn filled with cremated ashes in his kitchen after he claimed his wife had been buried. Now although it may not seem all that deliberate, Woody begins to dive into the realm of Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW (1954) whereas one neighbor suspects another neighbor of foul play and the one closest to the suspicious one just cannot agree or conceive of the same act. Carol suspicions continue to mount and Larry continues to downplay or disregard the entire idea of murder in that infamous Woody Allen style of nervous, paranoid and neurotic behavior. Marital jealousy also develops when Carol's best friend Ted (played by Alan Alda) not only supports her suspicious theories of murder, but also tries to help her solve the ultimate mystery. Larry, of course, suspects that Ted is attracted to his wife, which he's not wrong about. Larry, on the other hand, is getting closer to one of his clients, author Marcia Fox (played by Angelica Houston). She's not only very attractive and highly sexual, but also very intelligent and very keen on trying to catch a potential murderer herself; hence the jealousy on Carol's side.
So by a certain point in the film, all four key members are working together to try and trap Paul into falling victim to his own guilt. They have no proof, mind you, so they can only rely on some very strategic bluffing and some carefully constructed tape recordings. One scene in particular, is very reminiscent of some great early classic Woody Allen comedy of the 1970s when the group's plan with the telephone and the tape recordings starts to go wrong and Larry is desperately and very sloppily trying to put the tape ribbon back together again. Watch him go at it and tell me you don't start having these great memories of him in SLEEPER or LOVE AND DEATH. It's classic, it's funny and you wish you could see more of it on screen! By the time the film climaxes, the murdering neighbor is caught (and killed) and the ultimate plot behind his crime is revealed to the audience (don't worry...I won't spoil it for you now), all to the backdrop of Orson Welles' film noir classic, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947). As you watch this little bit of screen farfetchedness, you can't help but take Larry's thought on it to heart in which he states that he's never say that life doesn't imitate art again. Here, though, it's life and art Woody Allen style!
By the time MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY was released, the world and the press was still reeling from the crazed family scandal between Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon Yi-Previn. Fans were faced with having to simply forget their personal woes over the man and his immoral actions in life and embrace the art as it was and give it its fair shot. The film may certainly come off as no more than a dated detective story, but it manages to achieve a rather gentle, nostalgic grace and a hint of un-self-conscious wisdom in its story and performance. One could also claim that Allen and Keaton are essentially playing ANNIE HALL's characters of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall gone middle-aged many years later. Well, even if such a claim is true, in my opinion, it's still an on-screen chemistry that's absolutely priceless, no matter what the interpretation. I only wish it hadn't ended with this film. Perhaps there's still hope for one more, as long as the two of them are alive and willing!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Larry Lipton (to his wife): "No, no, I forbid you, I forbid you to go! Is...I...I'm forbidding! Is that what you do when I forbid you? If...if that's what you...? I'm not gonna be forbidding you a lot, if you do..."
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
(April 1979, U.S.)
After the runaway success of ANNIE HALL (1977), including the Oscar for best picture of the year (something his films have never done since), it's safe to say that Woody Allen was free to make any kind of film he wanted. So did he make us laugh again? No - quite the opposite. Instead, he gave us the serious side of his creativity with INTERIORS (1978), quite possibly the most depressing film I've ever seen. No, seriously, this film made you want to slit your own wrists and drink your own blood! So all I can say, is thank goodness for MANHATTAN because, in my opinion, it not only redeemed Woody's film career but restored my faith in his ability to make us laugh again.
Not to say that MANHATTAN isn't without its serious quirks that explore human insecurities and neurosis, but it does so while truly inviting the viewer into the heart of a city that Woody's been in love with his whole life. From the moment that George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" begins to play, we witness a stunning montage of the city's most well-known and popular sites in glorious black and white. This captures my attention in particular because, I, too, have always felt that New York City was best captured in black and white. It's the only way I know that can make a city that I still consider a big garbage dump actually look good with visual beauty! This classic shot of the Manhattan bridge is probably the best known example...
Hell, many years ago I developed my own hobby of photographing what remained of the city's single movie houses in black and white (but that's another story). And just what is it about "Rhapsody in Blue" that equates itself with the city of New York? It was used again in an animated New York sequence in FANTASIA 2000. Woody would again show us Manhattan in black and white in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) and CELEBRITY (1998).
The first thing one notices is that Woody's character of Isaac Davis is not unlike many of the other New York character we've seen on screen; he nervous, he's neurotic, he's self-involved, he's self-righteous, he's narcissistic and he's always very horny! As in three films prior, he's teamed up with Diane Keaton again as Mary, who, this time is not playful or goofy as we'd seen her before. She's intellectual, she's blunt, to the point, self-assured and even vulgar, when necessary. She's in total command of her sexuality and in the knowledge of her own beauty, which she believes makes it very simple to secure relationships with men, good or bad. In the short span of time that this film flows, she loves her married boyfriend Yale (played by Michael Murphy) and she loves Isaac, too, but she breaks up with Yale to be with Isaac, but then finds she still loves Yale and then breaks up with Isaac.
(take a breath now!)
Perhaps her unstable attitude toward relationships make her perfect for Isaac, because he's almost no better. While he's falling in love with Mary, he's also dating and sleeping with a seventeen year-old high school girl named Tracy (played by Mariel Hemingway). He loves Mary, but doesn't want to fall in love with Tracy, so he dumps Tracy to be with Mary, but then ends up alone when Mary dumps him to be with Yale and then realizes later that he does, in fact, love Tracy, but by then it may be too late.
(another breath now, because this is all starting to sound like the lyrics to "Love Stinks" by the J. Geils Band!)
Woody's social message about how human beings (in this case, the island of Manhattan) are constantly and knowingly creating unnecessary, complicated and irrational situations for themselves when it comes to love and people. We're all guilty of it, I suppose. I'm sure I've done it myself during my younger, pre-married days. Interestingly, most people probably never learn from their mistakes and continue to try and find new ways to create new mistakes with new people. Does that make us human? Does that make us incredibly stupid? Does that make us pathetically vain and fool-hearted? All of it??
Now let's focus for a minutes on the rather interesting relationship between Woody Allen's character and a much, much younger girl. If one were to truly consider this, should this not have been a very real warning to the rest of the world for what he would eventually go and do with Soon-Yi Previn thirteen years later in 1992?? It's pretty obvious the man loves them young! Hemingway in MANHATTAN, Juliette Lewis in HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992) and Scarlett Johansson in various later films. That infamous scandal never really did hurt his film career, by the way. People tend to get over even the worst of scandals eventually.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Yale: "You are so self-righteous, you know. I mean we're just people. We're just human beings, you know? You think you're God!"
Isaac Davis: "I...I gotta model myself after someone!"
Yale: "You just can't live the way you do, you know. It's all so perfect."
Isaac: "What are future generations gonna say about us? I mean, God (pointing to a primate skeleton), someday, we're gonna, we're gonna be like him! I mean, you know, he was probably one of the beautiful people! He was probably dancing and playing tennis and everything, and, and now look...this is what happens to us! You know, it's very important to have, to have some kind of personal integrity! You know, I'll be hanging in a classroom one day, and, and I wanna make sure when I...thin out...that I'm well thought of!"
Sunday, October 6, 2013
(October 1962, U.S.)
As I've previously stated with some of his other films, director John Frankenheimer has always been hit and miss with me. While BLACK SUNDAY (1977) has been and will continue to be my favorite of his, who can deny that THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE may quite possibly be the best American Cold War suspense thriller ever put on screen? Aside from it's chilling political story, it was released during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and was rumored to have been removed from distribution from Frank Sinatra himself immediately following John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. The film would not be seen again until it was re-released theatrically in 1988. That's when I saw it for the first time. As a matter of fact, if my memory serves correctly, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE may have been the first classic black and white film I'd ever seen on the big screen. And because I was still just a college kid that was being weaned on silly franchise sequels, I had a good deal of trouble understanding the central concept of the film in that the son of a prominent right-wing political family has been brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy. All I can say is thank goodness for video releases and a personal level of patience for giving the literal film a second chance, because eventually I got the message and the film has gone on to become one of my top ten favorite black and white classics of all time.
The film opens in Korea where American soldiers that include Raymond Shaw (played by Lawrence Harvey) and Bennett Marco (played by Frank Sinatra) are ambushed by the Soviets. Although the audience isn't meant to understand this until later in the film, the captured platoon have been brainwashed into believing a fabricated version of what happened to them by their captors upon their eventual release. We also learn that Raymond Shaw has been turned into a cold-blooded assassin whom, on command, can be transformed into someone he doesn't know and can't remember upon hearing the words, "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire." While playing the game, it's when he finally sees the Queen of Diamonds card that he can be completely controlled to follow any command given to him. On paper, it may not sound too chilling. Watching it, though, and taking into consideration the specific time period in American history, makes it all the more valid and creepy. Even more unsettling is when we learn that Raymond main controller, aka his American operator turns out to be his own mother. Like Norman Bates himself, Raymond is and always has been under the control of this completely maniacal and dominating woman, whom he freely admits he's never been able to beat. This maternal control over him has cost him the woman he once loved (and her life, too!) as well as his self respect. In other words, the mind control that his mother uses on him is almost easily predictable.
The role of the mother, by the way, is played quite chillingly by Angela Lansbury, whom as it turns out, was only one year older than Lawrence Harvey when they made this film. She's a powerful woman who, on the surface, is an extremist on the ultra-righteous side of defending American and the American way of life against Communist tyranny. It's quite shocking when we finally learn who she really is and exactly how she intends to use the unwilling and unsuspecting son of hers to help her and her clown-of-a-husband-and-senator John Iselin (played by James Gregory) rise to ultimate power in the White House and implant their strong foothold of Communist power into the heart of America...unless Raymond is somehow able to stop them in time. Today's younger generation may not fully understand or appreciate just how life-threatening that was believed to be during the height of the Cold War in this country. Watching this film (more than once) and some good ol' educational research will definitely remedy that.
Earlier I mentioned that I had trouble understanding all the elements of this film when I first saw it in college. Today, I practically consider myself an expert on its themes and implications. However, even after all these years, there's one particular point that I still can't seem to fathom. Look closely at the film and you'll see that John Iselin has this rather bizarre obsession with Abraham Lincoln. There's a painting of him on the wall, there's a statue of his head on the table and at a costume party, Iselin dresses up as Lincoln. What are we supposed to derive from this? Does the highly immoral and corrupt John Iselin aspire to be more like Honest Abe? Does he consider Honest Abe to have not been as honest as history portrayed him? Does he seek to act with deliberate spite against a political figure that was so well respected in American history? Somewhere out there, there must be a reader who can interpret the Abe Lincoln obsession in this film, because I still haven't figured it out yet! Help me, please!!!
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is not only one of the greatest films of John Frankenheimer's impressive career, but also a classic that's as alive and smart as when it was first released. It's an inventive film that takes great chances with the audience in not only testing their wills and intelligence, but also reminding them (at the time, anyway, of the dangerous chances and possibilities that Communist insurgence would have had on America and it's free citizens had it taken a foothold. Again, while we may not live in a world like that anymore, we are faced with the threat of terrorism every day and the possibilities of not truly knowing who our neighbors really are. That's just as chilling and frightening, if not more, than Communism was more than fifty years ago. History repeats itself sometimes, one way or another.
By the way, the 2004 Jonathan Demme remake of this film with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep was both pointless and stupid! When, oh when, will Hollywood learn?? Enough said on that!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Bennett Marco: "I tell you, there's something phony going on! There's something phony about me, about Raymond Shaw, about the whole Medal of Honor business! For instance, when the psychiatrist asked me how I felt about Raymond Shaw, how I personally felt about him and how the whole patrol felt about him, did you hear what I said? Did you really hear what I said? I said Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life. And even now I feel that way, this minute, and yet somewhere in the back of my mind something tells me it's not true...it's just now true! It isn't as if Raymond's hard to like...he's IMPOSSIBLE to like! In fact, he's probably one of the most repulsive human beings I've ever known in my whole...all of my life!"
Saturday, October 5, 2013
(October 1941, U.S.)
Back in the "day", whatever and whenever that may actually qualify from your perspective, no one was as tough on screen as the great Humphrey Bogart. Even when he displayed great tenderness of love as with Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA (1942), he was still tough as nails. Thus, in the great tradition of classic film noir detectives, there was no one greater. THE MALTESE FALCON was also the first film of director John Huston (Angelica's father!).
The story follows a San Francisco private detective by the name of Sam Spade (Bogart) and his dealings with three unscrupulous adventurers, all of whom are competing to obtain a jewel-encrusted black falcon statuette known as the Maltese Falcon. Like many detective stories of the time, we not only meet "the man" himself, but the prospective client, in this case an attractive woman known as Brigid O'Shaughnessy (played by Mary Astor) who will not only set up the adventure of the film, but in most cases, will prove to be the main source of trouble. Mary Astor, whom I know very little about as an actress, is hardly Veronica Lake, Lana Turner or Rita Hayworth in terms of raw femme fatale sex appeal. While somewhat attractive, her character is mousy, insecure and never attempts to use any sexual enticement to further lure the hero detective into danger. What she does possess is a desperation and a rather persistent ability to make up lies and fiction throughout the entire film to ultimately try and get what she wants, which in this case, is the same thing everyone is after; the Maltese Falcon, which by the way, looks like this...
Sam Spade is no fool, though. From the moment he meets Brigid, he knows she's a bold-faced liar. However, business is business which means he'll gladly take her money and is also professionally compelled to see the mysterious assignment to the end in order to find out who killed his partner. There's actually an interesting piece of dialogue regarding Spade's partner that goes something like this, "When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it." An interesting moral code, I must say. Even as the mystery of the black bird and its value continue to unfold throughout the film, we see a clear picture of the good and evil on both sides of it. Along with Brigid, there are additional players who are just as dangerous and perhaps more violent in their methods. Also from CASABLANCA, this film features Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (the "Fat Man") as members of the group who want the falcon for themselves. Unlike the ruthless and mindless thugs of many other film noir examples, these two are rather charming in their delivery of persuasions against Spade. And although Sam wants to get to the bottom things like any other detective, he always knows how to maintain his own charm and level-headedness so as not to become too corrupted. Remember, good or bad, right or wrong, Bogart has to maintain hero status for his audience.
To watch a lot of film noir is also to engulf yourself in a whole lot of film cliché, particularly when it turns out that the femme fatale is the guilty one all along. By the film's end, we learn that Brigid is responsible for killing Spade's partner and ultimately trying to set up Spade as a victim, as well. Cliché also demands that the hero detective figure all of this out by the end and sacrifice his own personal love for the femme fatale in order to see that justice is served. Love, though, is a pretty strong word in this film, in my opinion. Spade clearly wants to screw this woman from the very beginning, and that's to be expected. However, he sees right through his compulsive lying and deceptions from the very beginning so I find it incredibly hard to believe that he could actually love a woman like this. But like I said, cliché demands some sort of love interest between detective hero and dangerous dame in a story like this, so there you have it. Love exists, but it ultimately doesn't triumph in the end.
As a piece of truly wonderful cinematography, THE MALTESE FALCON features low-key lighting and unusually arresting camera angles, sometimes low to the ground, that reveal the ceilings of rooms, which can be utilized to dictate and emphasize the nature of the characters and their actions. Some of the most technically striking scenes involve Greenstreet's character, Kasper Gutman, especially a scene where he explains the history of the Falcon to Spade, purposely drawing out his story so that the knockout drops he's slipped into Spade's drink will take effect when necessary. Very nearly as visually evocative are the scenes involving Mary Astor, almost all of which suggest prison. In one scene she wears striped pajamas, the furniture in the room is striped, and the slivers of light coming through the blinds suggest cell bars, as do the bars on the elevator cage at the end of the film when she takes her slow ride downward with the police, apparently on her way to prison and eventually execution. Consider all of this while you consider that it was John Huston's directorial debut and you can surely appreciate the extensive film career he had following this.
By the way, I have to say that I've been accused more than once of constantly citing ongoing clichés in films. Unfortunately, like it or not, clichés exist in film in a rather repetitive and redundant state. If they didn't, then there would likely be a whole lot more original stories on screen. But that just doesn't happen much anymore. So in other words, if the cliché fits, then spank the hell out of it (I made that up!)!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sam Spade: "I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. Yes, angel, I'm gonna send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means if you're a good girl, you'll be out in twenty years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you."
Yes, that's just how Humphrey Bogart was meant to talk to a dame!
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
(October 1993, U.S.)
During my recent task of watching Harold Becker's film of MALICE again for the first time in many years in order to write this blog, I discovered two things: first is that this film was released exactly twenty years-ago yesterday. Second is that when it comes to true motion picture female sexiness, nothing beats Nicole Kidman, circa 1993, sitting on top of you with her long, curly hair draped over her shoulder wearing nothing but a flannel shirt and panties while feeding you take-out Chinese food with cheap wooden chop sticks and then getting naked to fuck your brains out while her perfectly round, sculpted naked ass is showing in the foreground (at this time, my wife should be taking notes!)! This is only a partial image of her in that scenario, but use it to your brain's sexually-imaginative content...
(frankly, if that isn't enough of a reason for any horny, hot-blooded heterosexual male to watch this film, I don't know what is!)
But seriously, let's talk about the film. During the early part of the 1990s, there was what seemed to be an onslaught of sexy, murder mystery thrillers that offered its fair share of shocks and twists that most would probably attribute to BASIC INSTINCT (1992) as its origin. However, go back a few years and you'll discover that it was also a Harold Becker film, SEA OF LOVE (1989) with Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin that really kicked things off. These films came in droves with a new breed of femme fatale, whom unlike the infamous ladies of the 1940s and 1950s, were willing to show some tits and ass for the sake of sexier screen excitement and higher ticket sales. These films were even parodied in a spoof called FATAL INSTINCT (1993), which I never saw but I understand it really sucked! If one were to look back and examine the examples of such films that were released during this time, then the plot, sub-plot, twists and turns of MALICE may not seem all that blow-your-mind-fantastic. However, where I feel MALICE succeeds over some others is not so much its star power, as Nicole Kidman, Alec Baldwin and Bill Pullman were still in the process of getting their stardom off of the ground, but rather some good solid acting that doesn't seek to go over the top in excess or campiness.
The story begins rather mild-mannered, in which teacher Tracy and college associate dean Andy (Kidman and Pullman), a seemingly happily married couple take in border and brilliant surgeon Dr. Jed Hill (Baldwin) in order to get extra money to restore their home in western Massachusetts. Life isn't all happy, though. It would seem there's a serial rapist on the loose who likes to attack college girls and cut off their hair and Tracy is experiencing mysterious abdominal pains while trying to get pregnant. She's inevitably hospitalized and ends up being operated on by Jed. In removing one of Tracy's ovaries, which has ruptured due to a cyst, Jed discovers Tracy's pregnancy, but the stress of the procedure causes the fetus to abort. He removes her second ovary in order to save her life, but that proves costly as his judgment call is wrong and the removal of a healthy ovary will now produce a huge legal settlement with the hospital. Tracy is now a rich woman and leaves her mild-mannered husband. All seems over and done with and unhappily-ever-after, yes? No. Of course not. If it did, then we wouldn't have a mystery here, would we? Through Andy's personal investigating, determination and an accidental discovery of a hypodermic needle, we all learn exactly who Tracy is; a ruthless, money-hungry, lying, deceitful bitch (but sexy...let's not forget SEXY!) who'll stop at nothing to get away with the very carefully-conceived scheme she's engineered against the hospital whom she was more than happy to sacrifice her ovaries to. And guess what? Dr. Jed Hill, a very disgruntled and resentful man, is in on it with her...oh, and he's also fucking her! Get the picture? Good guy Andy has been duped by the woman he once loved and the man he called his friend while they get filthy rich behind his back! But we also know that film cliché dictates the good guy will win and get justice in the end. Oh, and speaking of cliché, you'll have to decide for yourself if the inclusion of the isolated, rather sinister-looking house atop the treacherously-high cliff during a violent thunderstorm isn't a bit over the top or not.
Now you read earlier that I rather casually mentioned a serial rapist in this story. This is an interesting element because it's perhaps the only thriller I've ever seen where such a horrific set of circumstances serves as no more than an atmospheric sub-plot to the main story, and perhaps unnecessarily. By the time that matter is resolved and the rapist is caught during which we've been watching all the other business that takes place in the film, the only real purpose this entire sub-plot serves in the outline of the story is to establish the relationship Andy has with Detective Dana Harris (played Bebe Neuwirth), who as it turns out, will provide Andy with the first mysterious clue that will eventually lead him to discovering who his wife really is. That's it. Nothing more. In the end, though, the mystery surrounding the main characters and the fact that you get to see Nicole Kidman naked is enough to keep you interested so that the whole serial rapist thing is not such a big thing after all.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tracy Safian (to Jed Hill): "Take me upstairs and fuck me!"
That, my fellow horny, hot-blooded heterosexual male friends, is what we'd all like to hear at least once in our lives (again, my wife should take notes!)! Though, in my case, we live in an apartment...no stairs.