Saturday, October 22, 2016
(December 1977, U.S.)
There are, in my humble opinion, three kinds of motion pictures that exist in our society. The first kind being the average, run-of-the-mill, Friday night multiplex movie whose sole purpose is to rake in as much opening weekend box office dollars as possible by those stupid enough to waste their time, intelligence and hard-earned money on it. The second kind being reserved for the great movies of history; you know, immortal titles like GONE WITH THE WIND, CASABLANCA, THE GODFATHER, JAWS and STAR WARS. The third kind are the movies that manage to secure a place in our popular culture and establish themselves as a public phenomenon. These are not necessarily great movies, however. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II (1985) is not a great movie, and never will be. However, it's impossible to deny the impact it had on our American pop culture and even our American politics under Ronald Reagan during the latter half of the 1980s. When strongly considering this third category, one can't help but wonder if it's at all possible to select a single film that has managed to resonate so effectively with our popular culture and our very psyche in terms of how we viewed cinema, how we viewed music and even how we embraced our favorite movie stars. I believe that I can. The star is John Travolta. The music is the Bee Gees. The movie is SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and it's going to be one of the most in-depth and personal blogs I shall write, thus far. So stay with me for a while and remember the time.
John Badham’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, based upon the 1976 New York magazine article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" by British writer Nik Cohn, was released during an era when America was exhausted from the fallout of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, and when the popular disco craze was already beginning to phase itself out of the public’s pop culture scene. Nonetheless, it was a global hit with both critics and audiences. It reinvigorated the disco craze for the next three years and made international stars of both John Travolta and the musical group the Bee Gees. On its surface, it's a simple about disco and the freedom that dancing brings to a young Italian-American kid from Brooklyn named Tony Manero (Travolta). At closer examination, however, the film offers a much deeper and more valid social implication. First, let’s take a moment to examine the neighborhood of Bay Ridge that Tony resides in. It is, by all physical accounts, a mixed melting pot of residents that include Italian-Americans, African –Americans and Puerto Ricans. The existence of these mixed races isn't always a pleasant environment of peace and social harmony; far from it. From the moment we're first introduced to the 2001 Odyssey Disco where Tony and his friends frequent every Saturday night, they're already entertaining themselves by freely using racist and disparaging terms against their Puerto Rican and African-American neighbors. Once inside the disco, amid the pulsating effects of the colorful lights and the loud music, we can see the same mixed melting pot of people who are on the dance floor enjoying their Saturday night of freedom and liberation. Compared to world of the disco, the outside world practically ceases to exist for many of these dance goers. The disco floor is a place for letting go of not only one’s daily existence of routine and structure, but to also, perhaps, redefine one’s identity, and this especially is true for Tony. By day, he's just a mere paint store clerk whose existence in life is no greater than to simply blend in with the rest of the Brooklyn working class while providing extra money to support his family while his father is temporarily out of work. On the dance floor, however, Tony is the superstar of the neighborhood with not only his extraordinary dancing abilities, but also his movie star-like charms and personality, even resembling Al Pacino to one of the women there. This is the power of the transformation of Saturday night from the mundane to the glamorous for Tony and for all who come seeking the magic of the disco.
Like many social scenes of interaction, though, there still exists the cliques of those who will only interact with each other more regularly and more intensely than others in the same setting. This situation is broken, however, during a pivotal moment in the film’s disco sequence when the Bee Gees are singing “Night Fever” and slowly, the dance floor begins to fill with people who have all chosen to do a dance together known as “The Electric Slide”. Look carefully at this moment and one can easily see that the bonds of racial separation have been (at least temporarily) broken for the artistic and joyous purpose of the dance. Only a short time ago, Tony and his immature crew were racially slandering other patrons of the disco and now there appear to be no racial separations because all the people of the disco have come together as one with all their social differences put aside for at least the duration of one song. Even the dance of “The Electric Slide” itself is a very finely choreographed set of steps in which all participants must work together as a collective in order for the dance to work. On film, it’s a beautifully effective scene filled with bright color, music and the physical appearance of social harmony and understanding. This may easily be attributed to the practical sense of the dance itself requiring the need for all of the people coming together to make it work, but its social significance, in my opinion, is very clear and very effective.
It’s interesting to note also that such strains in human relations don't just occur within the mixed neighborhood races, but also within the primary relationships of the film, specifically between Tony and his female interests, Stephanie Mongano and Annette. While Tony agrees to enter the big dance contest with Annette, it’s for no other reason than the fact they had previously won another dance contest together. It’s clear from the beginning of the film that he doesn’t respect her as a person and doesn’t display any tact by making it clear to her that he wants little to do with her. She claims to love him, but for Tony, she’s nothing more or better than a moment of sex in the back seat of a car when he ultimately feels threatened that she'll end up sleeping with one of his friends instead if he doesn’t give himself to her first. Despite both of them gladly using each other sexually when they please, he still disrespects and looks down on her because she’s a free-spirited woman who wants to have sex uninhibitedly during a decade when sexual politics were practiced so freely and so openly. As he bluntly puts it to her, "Are you nice girl or a cunt?", offering no room for anything in between those two choices. By the time he’s callously dumped Annette as his dance partner and taken on Stephanie instead, his perspective of a relationship with a woman has improved only slightly because unlike the common women of the neighborhood, Stephanie has a little more to offer. This is what we’re supposed to believe, anyway. Stephanie, in her own fashion, looks down on Tony because he’s not educated, still lives with his family, routinely blows all of his earnings every Saturday night at the disco and is, as she bluntly puts it, “a jerkoff guy that ain’t got his shit together!” Stephanie acts as if she’s older, more mature and places herself on a higher social level than Tony based on nothing more than the most superficial elements of her life that include her working in Manhattan, drinking tea with lemon instead of coffee to blend in with the female executives in the office, shopping at Bonwit Teller, and occasionally being introduced to celebrity clients as part of her job. During the coffee shop scene with Tony, she appears dumbfounded at the fact that he doesn’t know who Laurence Olivier is and makes no secret of her superiority over the fact that she does. Still, even when it comes to truly and properly identifying the legendary English actor, she can't seem to come up with a better account of the man’s current status other than the fact that he’s the one on television who does all those Polaroid commercials. The fact is that despite Stephanie’s ongoing efforts to place herself on a high pedestal above Tony and every other person her age in the neighborhood, she is, like it or not, just like the rest them with an almost desperate to need to hide and compensate for it. She has the right idea of who she wants to be but is not yet as accomplished as she realistically wants to be. When finally pushed against the wall during an argument with Tony over an older man she was once involved with, she breaks down and confesses her own human social weakness in not knowing how to effectively do anything at work and requiring the guidance of her older friend in order to make up for it.
Social acceptance and peace and harmony in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER appear to only be valid at the 2001 Odyssey Disco on Saturday nights. Once the work week has arrived again, many of the film’s characters revert to their old attitudes of racism and intolerance. At times, these attitudes are displayed with extreme violence. This first occurs when Tony’s friend Gus is brutally attacked by a gang of Puerto Rican youths when walking home carrying his groceries for no better reason than being one of the neighborhood Italian kids in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up in the hospital. As a retaliation later in the film, Tony and his friends strike back by invading the hideout of the Puerto Rican gang they believe to be responsible for Gus’ attack and inflict their own personal revenge on them “Italian style” as Tony’s friend Joey puts it. Even as this streak of racism and violence appears to be an unstoppable plague in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Tony Manero, who is, at heart, a good and moral kid, cannot deny by the film’s end that his own beliefs and perspective of life must inevitably change for the better. During the film’s final dance competition, he and Stephanie are declared the winners. Everybody in attendance at the disco is joyous at this result except forTony himself, because in his heart, he knows and believes that the Puerto Rican couple that followed him and Stephanie were far superior in their dance performance. At this moment, in what may easily be defined as one of mature clarity, Tony concludes that all of the lying, the phoniness and unfair social “dumping” of one’s angers and frustrations on others has to finally stop in order for him to regain his humanity, even if it means giving up his dance contest victory to those who truly deserved it and never stepping foot inside the 2001 Odyssey disco again. By the end of the film, Tony Manero makes it clear that he will never see his old friends again and perhaps will finally leave his family and the neighborhood he grew up in. This shall likely be the price of his finally growing up...even if growing up means that, unfortunately, your life story continues in the horrible 1983 sequel STAYING ALIVE!
Okay, so now that I've made my philosophical views on SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER very clear to you, let me move onto a much lighter movie topic and that is the subject of the screen kiss. You've heard of it and you've heard others declare what their favorite screen kiss is; from Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in GONE WITH THE WIND, to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA to even Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in TITANIC, the list of choices is likely endless. But does a great screen kiss necessarily have to be a romantic one? That being a possibility, let me tell you why I consider the kiss between John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney on the disco dance floor during the Bee Gees' "More Than a Woman" my favorite screen kiss. By the time these two characters are dancing their routine for the big disco contest, we're already very familiar with the friction in their relationship in that they cannot completely account for how they both feel about each other. During a point in the dance, Tony lifts Stephanie in his arms and the two of them decide to kiss for the first (and only) time in the film. The couple spins on the dance floor and the camera follow them as their lips are embraced with each other's. Study Stephanie's face with her eyes closed and you can easily read a look of tenderness that can only be identified as a woman's tender love for the man she holds in her arms and kisses. However, when the kiss ends, the two of them share a brief look of confusion and wonderment as they try to determine what it is exactly that they just did and why they chose to do it. But even then, that particular moment is immediately replaced with another when their puzzled looks gradually turn to mutual smiles. These smiles seem to say it all, for me. They say that the kiss shall not be identified, nor shall it be judged. The kiss was a simple and genuine gesture between two people who respect each other and who are ultimately identified as people better off as just friends, but who also, nonetheless, got caught up in the magic and the heat of the disco floor and the music of the Bee Gees that briefly carried them off into a world between them that they'd never visited before, and will never visit again. Perhaps it doesn't lend itself to the standard definitions behind the traditional screen kiss, but it does worlds for me and I may chose to interpret the meanings behind a kiss.
Now it's time to get personal about SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and what it meant to me and my life back in the day. Despite the fact that I was only ten years-old when the film was first released in theaters, its impact, both on screen and in music deeply affected my place in the popular culture of the time. This was the first R-rated movie I ever saw on the big screen, and as anyone can attest to, this is a true rite of passage for any child who is finally permitted (even for just two hours) into the sordid world of adults and their less-than-wholesome existences. For a small child, the film was a raw look into a movie that was displaying violence, nudity and endless amounts of profanity before my eyes and ears. The profanity was so bad, my mother almost made us all leave the theater...almost. For a child obviously too young to get into real discos, this was as close to being permitted into the adult world of the 1970s popular culture as I was ever going to get. Even within the film itself, inside Tony's bedroom, there were visuals that clearly defined the 1970s for me, including posters of the movie ROCKY, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. On the radio, the Bee Gees were everywhere! On the family turntable, the film's soundtrack never stopped playing because it was four sides of pure disco dynamite! For a three year period, from the end of 1977 to the end of 1980, it seemed that SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was constantly a part of my life, including the 1979 re-release in a PG-rated format, in which I first learned about the potential butchering behind Hollywood cuts and edits for the purpose of widening the audience gap...
...to it's 1980 double feature re-release of the PG version with GREASE (a movie poster I happen to own!)...
...to it's airings on HBO (both R and PG versions) and finally its television broadcast debut on the ABC Sunday Night Movie in November 1980, which by that time, may as well have been futile because disco was considered as dead as a door nail!
Finally, I want to share with you, something very deeply personal to me and its relationship to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. I had a first cousin named Lena. I say had because she passed away in August 2000 at a young age. She was nearly ten years older than me and I was always very fond of her as a kid. Although I don't have a photo of her that I can share with you now, believe me when I tell you that she bared quite a resemblance to Karen Lynn Gorney in the film. As it turns out, Lena lived in Brooklyn during the late '70s (and never left, actually). At the time when the film was popular, she told me that she herself frequented discos. When I was a kid and I told her that I thought she looked like "the girl from Saturday Night Fever", she smiled and thanked me for what she considered to be a true compliment. Those memories being very strong still, I cannot help but think of Lena whenever I continue to watch the film. So that being said, I dedicate this post to cousin Lena and all those who were touched by her place in this world. We love you, we miss you and we'll never forget you. And to her daughter Jennifer, a dedicated mother of twin girls and a true symbol of strength and spirit, I say to you now that I love you, admire you, and that if you still have never seen SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, then it's high time you did, and perhaps you'll see in it what I do, and you'll think of your beloved mother, as I often do.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tony Manero: "Would you like to know what I do?"
Stephanie Mongano: "That's not necessary."
Tony: "I'll tell you what I do. I work in a paint store and I got a raise this week..."
Stephanie: "Right. You work in a paint store, right? You probably live with your family, you hang out with your buddies and on Saturday night, you go and you blow it all off on Two Thousand and One, right?"
Tony: "That's right."
Stephanie: "You're a cliché, and you're nowhere, on your way to no place."
Tony: "What do you got, a fuckin' stairway to the stars, or what?
Stephanie: "Yeah, maybe."
Stephanie: "I'm takin' a course nights at the New School. Next semester, I'm gonna take two. Now you, you probably didn't get no college, did you?"
Tony: "No, I did not."
Stephanie: "Well, did you ever think about goin' to college?"
Stephanie: "Not ever?"
Tony: "No, did you?"
Stephanie: "Well, not back then, no."
Tony: "Well, then why the fuck you buggin' me about it for?"
Stephanie: "Well, why not? Why didn't you ever wanna go to college?"
Tony: "Oh, Jesus, fuck off! I did not, alright!"
Stephanie: "No, really, tell me, why not?"
Tony: "Oh, Jesus Christ! I didn't !"
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
(December 1949, U.S.)
The book I'm currently reading is called FIVE CAME BACK by Mark Harris and it tells the story of Hollywood and the Second World War, specifically geared toward the films, both documentaries and Hollywood releases, and military services of filmmakers John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. It's a good read, though not perfect. One of the more valid points of the book by the time it reaches the end of World War II in 1945 is that American movie audiences were already losing their tastes for government propaganda films, as well as war pictures, in general. Like anything else, it was all about timing and with the war coming to an end, America wanted to move on with lighter material. That in mind, I can't help but feel that SANDS OF IWO JIMA, released four years after the war ended and not covered in Harris' book, may very well feel ill-timed and outdated. From the moment the film opens with the U.S. Marines' Hymn "The Halls of Montezuma", you immediately feel the corniness of what you're watching, despite its apparent relevance back in the day. Still, one can't ignore the true relevance of the subject matter of this war film and that's the legendary battle of Iwo Jima which resulted in the planting of our American flag in that iconic black and white photograph I know you've seen before...
It should come as no surprise that the film stars John Wayne as the traditional tough-as-nails Marine Sergeant John Stryker who's tasked with training U.S. Marines to prepare for inevitable battle. The soldiers under his command are some of the silliest and most arrogant men I've ever had to sit through in any war film made during the years of World War II and shortly thereafter. As drama, the film falls short of any real and plausible acting or character development. Even as John Stryker is likely the one man we're supposed to follow and care about the most, his true self is hardly exposed to us other than the fact that he's a drunk and an irresponsible father to the son he's left behind. Even as a drill Sergeant, we're never quite sure where he stands. The man has a heart, but almost always fails to use it, other than the occasional smile when it's provoked. His true heart is actually revealed only when he's shows pity toward a USO mother raising her baby boy without a father, but even then, his heart doesn't extend itself much more than leaving her a wad of cash to help support the baby.
So clearly, SANDS OF IWO JIMA is not a film you watch for drama or human emotions. This is a film based on real historical battles and the story doesn't short-change us on the its sequences of combat, which are also mixed in with genuine World War II footage of the time (you can always tell the difference because the real footage is of a grainier quality). The battles are generated with all of the traditional action, blood and guts one would expect to see in a classic black and white war film. But I suppose what makes the film truly worthwhile, despite its flaws, is that historical moment when our country's flag is planted and the men who have survived the battle stare in awe and wonderment and their significant and victorious achievement on the battlefield. This takes place, ironically, when after surviving much of the battle, John Stryker is shot and killed by a single bullet and misses that iconic moment. Perhaps its in his death and the letter to his son that he kept in his pocket that we finally learn who John Wayne's character really was in this film. On the other hand, Wayne made so many war films that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish who he really is in one or the other. Still, there must have been a reason he made so many of them. He never actually went into the service during the war, but did his part back home for the war effort through the American hero that he was on the big screen. That had to have counted for something.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Corporal Robert C. Dunne (removing a letter from the deceased John Stryker's pocket): "It's a letter to his kid." (reading it) "Dear Son, I guess none of my letters have reached you, but I thought I'd better try again because I have the feeling that this may be the last time I can write you. For a long time, I've wanted to tell you many things. Now that you're a big boy, I will. If we could've been together even for a little while, I could have explained many things much better than writing. You've gotta take care of your mother and love her and make her happy. Never hurt her or anyone as I have. Always do what your heart tells you is right. Maybe someone will write you someday and tell you about me. I want you to be like me in some things, but not like me in others, because when you grow older and know more about me, you'll see that I've been a failure in many ways. This isn't what I wanted, but things just turned out that way. If there was only more time, I...(stops reading). "Guess he never finished it."
Private First Class Peter Conway (taking the letter): "I'll finish for him."
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
(November 1979, U.S.)
Halloween is almost here and it's always a good thing if I can post at least one horror film (or in this particular case, a television mini-series) during the month of October. It's even better if I can write my post for a horror film on October 31st, but this year, it just ain't happening, people. Still, horror films based on the work of Stephen King are more often than not, a good thing. SALEM'S LOT, as it originally aired on CBS-TV over two consecutive nights, was only the second film ever made based on King's novels, the first being CARRIE (1976) and THE SHINING following only six months later in 1980. It's not only one of the best King adaptations, but also one of the best vampire films I've ever seen, with a subgenre added to the classic haunted house.
I never watched very much Starsky & Hutch in the 1970s, so I knew very little of the acting style of David Soul. It's quite safe to say that he own's this film with his outstanding performance as Ben Mears. He's the hero, to be sure, but he knows how to be real scared of his situation, too (note the scene with his make-shift crucifix and the "undead" awakening of a woman on the table near him as he prays for his life and repeated shouts, "Bill!"). From the moment he arrives in the small town of Salem's Lot, it's very clear that he's the outsider worthy of suspicion by all the locals, despite the fact that he grew up in that town as a child. He's newly-arrived to write a book (Stephen King's main protagonist of his novels is often a writer) about the infamous Marsten house; a site with a long history of mystery, murder and death and a house that can easily be physically associated with or inspired by the legendary Victorian house in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO. Look for yourself...
Pretty damn close it, isn't it. This is not a problem, in my opinion, and I would hardly waste any energy in claiming any copy-cat issues here. The house itself and its isolation effectively works in the telling of a vampire tale, in which citizens of this small town are dying off, one by one, and then returning as the undead to serve the master vampire whom we're not meant to see too early on in the film. We know only that there's a mysterious Mr. Kurt Barlow who no one in the town has actually seen before. He's only described and discussed by his business partner, Mr. Richard Straker (played by the James Mason). Straker is an odd sort, to be sure, even as a simple and quiet man who's preparing to open up the town's new antique shop. His involvement in the vampire's reign of terror is no mystery because we see early on in the film that he's responsible for the kidnapping and murder of small child, presumably a sacrifice for his vampire master. Even as we're made aware of the vampire's arrival in Salem's Lot, there is a true creepiness about it the form of a large crate being delivered to the Marsten house; a crate that moves by itself and creates a climate of cold to anyone near it. When the vampire's presence and existence is finally revealed in the kitchen of a family he's come to attack, he is, without a doubt, the most hideous and frightening creature in the vampire genre I've ever seen, no doubt a throwback and homage to Max Schreck in the black and white silent vampire classic NOSFERATU (1922)...
Unlike Schreck, though, I have to say that actor Reggie Nalder's make-up work as Barlow is far more terrifying in its own way. While both men are fashioned with teeth that resemble rat claws rather than the traditional fangs, Nalder's entire vampire persona - a creature more monster than man who does not speak but rather shrieks like a hideous ghoul eliminates any of the previous charm and grace that the many faces of Dracula has given us over the decades. In other words, the vampire tale of SALEM'S LOT is not some TWILIGHT story! The monster is destroyed in the classic sense at the end with the traditional wooden stake, but even after the Marsten house is burned to the ground and the town of Salem's Lot is presumably burned with it by the spreading fire, we're left with the notion that the vampire threat originating from Barlow is now global and that the hero Ben Mears, and his teenage sidekick Mark Petrie, will be fighting the remaining ones that continue to hunt them down.
I've never been a fan of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) because I don't like horror films that involve any kind of torture. POLTERGEIST (1982) is, of course, a classic but has often been the subject of controversy as to whether or not Steven Spielberg did most of the directing himself. So if I'm to give director Tobe Hooper credit for his true talent, than surely SALEM'S LOT is it. His influence from NOSFERATU and PSYCHO is clear enough, but I credit him for using his inspirations in his own fashion for the modern television hellraiser of the time with his creepy atmospheres and lurid camera work. I remember watching this on TV as a twelve year-old kid during a year when vampire material was all over the big and small screen, including that of Frank Langella and George Hamilton, and being very freaked out by its material. A few years later, I managed to tape a copy of the film off of HBO (or was it Cinemax?), but it was a condensed down to a 112 minute version. By the time I finally purchased it on DVD, it was finally restored to its complete version, including the prologue and epilogue with Ben and Mark in Guatemala, as well as the fate of Ben's girlfriend Susan, who has become - you guessed it - a vampire!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ben Mears (shouting in fear): "Bill! Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Bill!"
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
(September 1954, U.S.)
When I saw the late Sidney Pollack's 1995 remake of SABRINA, I did not realize that it was a remake. Therefore, I was dazzled by the originality behind the love triangle story by the man who had impressed me to no end with previous work like TOOTSIE (1982) and THE FIRM (1993). Of course, once I found out what the real deal really was, I rushed to my local Blockbuster Video store (remember them?) to rent the original version with Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. When it was over, Pollack's remake was suddenly a lackluster attempts at an older and finer piece of work. Though I have to admit that if anyone is going to remake Humphrey Bogart, then Harrison Ford is very likely as good as you're going to get.
SABRINA is one of those rare films where I get to hear Long Island (where I grew up and where I live) glorified in any way in the movies (DEATHTRAP being another that immediately comes to mind). Specifically, the story takes place in the town of Glen Cove (where my wife grew up). The Larrabee family is (disgustingly) rich, their many material possessions and toys joyfully narrated by Audrey Hepburn at the beginning of the film. Hepburn plays Sabrina Fairchild, daughter of the family's loyal chauffeur, and a foolish girl who's been in love with younger son, David Larrabee (Holden), the family's irresponsible and embarrassing playboy. His older brother, Linus Larrabbe, is the responsible Yale graduate who's in charge of the family business and riches. Unlike his younger brother, he has no zest for life, no spirit and no woman in his life. His office and the business he runs can best be described as his faithful mistress. After a failed suicide attempt, Sabrina is sent to cooking school in Paris, France to not only get a chef's education, but to forget all about David, as well. She not only forgets, but comes back to Long Island two years later a totally transformed woman of grace, style and elegance. Leave it, of course, to Audrey Hepburn to bring such perfect adjectives to life on the screen, particularly her fashion wears, as designed by Edith Head, to take her beyond the fame she'd already achieved with ROMAN HOLIDAY (normally I don't mention fashion when I blog my films, but somehow, it seems correct and appropriate for SABRINA).
Okay, so Sabrina's back in town and David may finally be falling for her, as well. Trouble is, his new infatuation with the chauffeur's daughter will ruin a big business venture with another rich family in which David is expected to marry the daughter of said family in order to smooth out the deal.
(you getting all this, people??)
So Linus charges himself to distract and deal with Sabrina so she won't fuck things up. Well, predictability and cliché suggest what shall happen next (come on, take a guess!) Yes, Linus finally comes out of his stiff inner shell and falls for Sabrina herself (because Hepburn is so easy to fall for!), as does she for him. The love triangle between brothers and two families manages to work itself out, the rich get richer and the new lovers (literally) sail away to Paris. That's just a great big, "Awwwwww!" for everybody!
If there's anything director Billy Wilder was, it was versatile. The man could do love like SABRINA, outrageous comedy like SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), dark drama like SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) and dark film noir with DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). He seems justifiably determined not to take himself or the contents of SABRINA too seriously. The three principal performers are lighthearted and take a good degree of fun with their roles, even Bogart who is surely cast against type in this one. Watch Hepburn closely in passenger's seat of David's car as he's driving her home from the Glen Cove train station; newly arrived home and clearly unrecognizable to David. When she laughs and tells David she's having too much fun with his confusion over her identity, she's clearly genuine. Hepburn, for all her beauty and grace, was a believable person in everything she did, even up to her final cameo performance in Steven Spielberg's ALWAYS (1989). She died in 1993 at the age of sixty-three. Too young!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Linus Larrabee (speaking into a dictaphone): "Interoffice memo, Linus Larrabee to David Larrabee. Dear David, this is to remind you that you are a junior partner of Larrabee Industries. Our building is located at 30 Broad Street, New York City. Your office is on the 22nd floor. Our normal week is Monday through Friday. Our working day is 9:00 to 5:00. Should you find this inconvenient, you are free to retire under the Larrabee pension plan. Having been with us one year, this will entitle you to sixty-five cents a month for the rest of your life."
Sunday, October 2, 2016
(December 1936, U.S.)
It's sad to say that today, we live in the tragic post 9/11 world of terrorism and the fear of terrorism, in which our only current hopes of resolve lie within two incompetent idiots named Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton (Heaven help us all!). Eighty-years later, Alfred Hitchcock's British film SABOTAGE remains perfectly relevant today. Back in 1936, the words terrrorism or terrorist attack were hardly common language. As the film begins, we're shown a dictionary meaning of the word "sa-botage" as the "willful destruction of buildings or machinery with the object of alarming a group of persons or inspiring public uneasiness". By today's standards of violence, it's a rather lame interpretation, I must say. Nowhere is the prospect of human casualty mentioned in such a definition. Even as England was nearly on the brink of its involvement in World War II, the idea of sabotage and the saboteur(s) who committed them was seemingly intended to be the act of disruption and inconvenience, at best.
In an interesting sequence of shots, Hitchcock sets up the opening moments with shots of London suddenly losing its electric power. Immediate investigation (Immediate? Really? Con-Edison and PSEG Long Island never worked that fast!) discover that the use of sand was the cause of this act of sabotage. The man behind the malicious act is not meant to be a secret from us; this is, after all, not a whodunit. We're immediately shown the rather sinister face of the saboteur, Karl Verloc (played by Homolka) as he steps out of the dark shadows into our light of vision...
Any attempt of "alarming a group of persons" or "inspiring public uneasiness" is unexpectedly squashed because, as it turns out, the people affected by the blackout throughout the city find the entire event amusing and laughable, clearly not what the saboteurs intended. Verloc soon meets with his contact at the local Aquarium where he's told, the next time, people will not laugh. He’s instructed to meet with a bomb maker whose front, a pet store, sells birds (Hitchcock's prerequisite to THE BIRDS?). Although insisting he wants no part of the loss of life, Verloc agrees to the task, nonetheless, in order to get paid. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard suspects Verloc's involvement in the plot and assigns Detective Ted Spencer (played John Loder) to investigate him. Spencer poses undercover as a grocer next to the cinema owned by Verloc and his wife (played by Sylvia Sidney), and also befriends her dimwitted younger brother, Stevie (played by Desmond Tester). While Ted is unsure of Mrs. Verloc's involvement with her husband's activities (she's not), he's still falling in love with the married woman, just the same. Before Ted can have the chance to question his man, Verloc instructs little Stevie to deliver a film canister to a place at Piccadilly Circus no later than 1:30 pm. However, Stevie is unknowingly carrying the bomb Verloc received and it's set to explode at exactly 1:45 pm. These two periods of time are important set-ups for Hitchcock's plan of maintaining suspense with his audience. Although Stevie knows he has a deadline to meet, his mindlessness doesn't stop him from getting distracted and sidetracked by several situations in the city, delaying him. Finally, Stevie manages to talk himself aboard a bus, even though it's against the law to transport flammable nitrocellulose film on public vehicles. Hitchcock repeatedly shows us the clocks of the city and the bus moves along, clearly telling us that we're running out of time and that the bomb is going to explode on the bus. When it does, at 1:45 pm on the button, little, innocent and helpless Stevie is one of the many victims of this collateral damage.
Confessing his crime to his wife, Verloc hardly seems remorseful, citing others to blame for the crime, including Scotland Yard itself. Once again, Hitchcock sets up the suspense of wondering whether or not Mrs. Verloc will take action against her husband as she hold the carving knife against the meat that sits on the table for dinner. When Verloc is killed with the knife, it seems more an accident than anything else because it would appear that in the end, Mrs. Verloc would not have had the courage to commit murder, even as an act of vengeance for her brother, whom she clearly loved above all others. Still, was it murder, or was it, perhaps, an unconscious decision of Mr. Verloc's to conveniently fall into her knife in order to redeem his guilt or simply evade capture? Regardless, in the end, the act of falling in love serves its (perhaps unrealistic) purpose of saving the frightened damsel in distress even as she's committed possible murder because Ted is determined to protect and shield her from the police.
Throughout the film, we're clearly meant to like the boy Stevie, despite his simple-mindedness, which makes his death by act of sabotage (terrorism today!) all the more tragic and uncomfortable to process. Hitchcock's film remains a very strong and very relevant tale of destruction because of the powerful and suspenseful scenes he sets up for us. One can't help but wonder what Hitchcock would have thought of the world of terror we live in today. Even more, how would he have expressed his art form in such a world? Considering the relevance and meaning of SABOTAGE even in a modern (and sick!) world as ours, perhaps he wouldn't have changed a thing.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Detective Ted Spencer (trying to calm crowd down demanding their money back after a power outage): "It's an act of God, I tell you!"
Member of Cinema Crowd: "And what do you call an act of God?"
Ted Spencer: "I call your face one, and you won't get your money back on that!"