12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:
Lo chiamavano Trinità = They Call Me Trinity / directed by E.B. Clucher [Enzo Barboni] (1970, VHS). Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Farley Granger, Ezio Marano. "This was a quiet town before you came-- disgusting town-- but quiet." This Hill/Spencer half-brother teamup differs a little from the earlier Colizzi directed Italian Westerns in that it is more conventional and comic, but no less entertaining. Although they have less than pure motives, the siblings find themselves coming to the aid of Mormon pioneers who are caught between slick land grabbing capitalists and a Mexican bandito gang. With the exception of Ezio Marano's rendition of Weasel, the supporting cast is very weak and filled with Western movie stereotypes that have been Italianized. One hired gunslinger even looks like Monty Python's Michael Palin in a black cowboy outfit and moustache. Oh, I'm sooooo scared. Hill is more playful than in his 1960s Colizzi versions of the Stranger in Town. As Trinity, Hill is fast on the draw, apparently with eyes in the back of his head. Except for Gene Wilder's Waco Kid, Trinity is the fastest ever. See, here's the rule. The more comic the cowboy, the faster the draw. The soundtrack, which I enjoyed very much, is something like Herb Alpert performing music from the old 1960s Prisoner TV series, or like what lounge songs would've sounded like ca. 1870. The humor of rationalization from all parties in this story, plus the Hill (right of the Devil)/Spencer (left hand of God) chemistry, is well worth watching for any Western aficionado.
"The Beast Within" (American Gothic) / directed by Michael Lange (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Jeff Perry, Lynda Clark. Deputy Ben's brother, Artie, shows up with a time bomb embedded in his body. The clock dramatically ticks as this soldier with various types of PTSD, holds Sheriff Buck and three others hostage. This reminds me of an old joke that was told to me many years ago by Olympia's old friend Lynda Barry, and remains one of my favorites. An employee of Safeway inadvertently insulted a mentally fragile customer. This customer went home fuming, and decided to have the employee killed. But the guy was also very cheap, and in the course of asking around discovered there was a hitman who lived in a cardboard box at the edge of town who would kill anyone for a the sum of one dollar. The hitman was named Artie. Taking his one buck payment in advance, Artie wasted no time getting to the store. Upon entering Safeway, he saw the intended victim and stalked him until he reached a deserted aisle and strangled him to death. But, oops, another employee saw the deed, so Artie chased him down and throttled him too. But, uh-oh, a third employee saw the second employee get killed, so Artie had to go and wring the neck of that one as well. Right after the third one breathed his last, the police closed in and nabbed the culprit. The next day the headlines read: "Artie Chokes Three For A Dollar At Safeway!" Anyway, this joke is more interesting to me than the above listed episode of the series.
Bonanno: a Godfather's Story / directed by Michel Poulette (1999, VHS). Martin Landau, Tony Nardi, Edward James Olmos, Zachary Bennett, Robert Loggia. "Power perceived is power achieved." One of the more interesting Mob movies out there due to the fact it is based on the autobiographies of Joe and Bill Bonanno and actually co-produced by the latter. It is not so much about personalities as it is the organizational history and evolution of the professional Code of Ethics of the Mafia as presented by insiders. As one would expect from a work where Mob guys offer their own view of themselves, this needs to be viewed with a very critical eye concerning the interpretation of events. But it is sad to see how cozy the man we knew as "Joe Bananas" in the 1960s and his pals became with government officials. The Feds are basically portrayed as just another Mob family, except much bigger. I must say the Bonanno version of the JFK assassination as a Mafia hit and the reasons behind it pretty much corresponds with my own theory of that event which marked our Boomer childhood. The narrative includes confusing flashbacks and the assumption the viewer is familiar with Mob minutiae in the same way we know traditional American history. Real news footage, particularly regarding the Kennedy family, is used at times. Whenever a scene begins with the camera focused on well polished shoes as they enter a room, the director is letting us know a hit is about to happen. The Sicilian scenes include some very nice camerawork. Olmos and Loggia have only brief roles, and Landau, the headliner, just sort of shows up as the old Bonanno now and then, not unlike Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space (which makes sense since Landau won an Oscar playing Lugosi in Burton's Ed Wood). The little known Tony Nardi must carry the picture as the idealized autobiographical Joe Bonanno, and given his restrictions he performed splendidly. This was originally made for Showtime TV and does have a small screen feel. A good film to use as a springboard for a MPA or political science thesis.
Poor Cinderella / directed by Dave Fleischer (1934, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). The Cinderella story as told through Betty Boop. Fleischer Studios must've spent a bundle on this one, opting for color (and giving Betty red hair!). The backgrounds are dimensional, but the action seems less busy. Looks like they used their real-life rotoscope (tracing over real live film figures) mashed in with conventional animation. The effect is jarring-- but that is the price of experimenting. The Rudy Vallée animated tribute was fun. The cartoon had an overall nice design and included lots of music, complete with singing mice, lizards and horses. The singing pumpkin, however, creeped me out.
Canicule = Dog Day / directed by Yves Boisset (1984, DVD). Lee Marvin, Tina Louise, Miou-Miou. O badly dubbed, o badly dubbed, how I love a film that's flubbed. Well, OK, I don't really love flubbed films. At least not in this case. This French bomb lost me right away when they let a child get shot and killed in the opening action scene. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of this sorry motion picture as the story, believe it or not, went downhill from there. An American bank robber escapes a botched robbery and hides out in the barn of the winners of the Worst Family in France Award. Prison for Marvin would've been better than dealing with these "psychopathes." Marvin, who was getting old and wonderfully weathered by this time in one of his final feature films, deserved a better vehicle for his talents. Hey, just today I discovered Lee and I are very distant cousins after I viewed this! This makes me extra disappointed to see him in this film with the appropriate English title of Dog Day. It has an out-of-place soundtrack as bad as any normal film from the 1970s. It has a child actor even worse than the kid in Shane, and that's saying a lot, folks. The only exciting part in this motion picture is the appearance of an Oldsmobile convertible in the final scenes. The car doesn't take part in action sequences, but just the fact it shows up is pretty exciting. That should give you a clue on the thermometer of suspense as the movie reaches a climax. Don't buy it, don't check it out of the library, don't rent it. If it somehow falls into your hands, throw it away. If you are a fan of Lee Marvin like I am, then turn around, walk in the opposite direction and pretend you never heard of this film.
The Fugitive / directed by Andrew Davis (1993, VHS). Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Jeroen Krabbé, Nick Searcy, Jane Lynch. A superbly crafted action-suspense picture in the tradition of Hitchcock's innocent-man-on-the-run-out-to-prove-he's-innocent, man. It has been four decades since I've seen the original television series starring David Janssen, but I have good memories of the 1960s series being a high quality production. Harrison Ford's fugitive seems less complex than Janssen's, where Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard the hunter was more dimensional than his TV counterpart-- so I guess it all equals out. It isn't surprising Jones won an Oscar for this performance. This almost plays as if the film was some kind of weird buddy film, as the hunter and the hunted who is also a hunter (got that?) develop a relationship of mutual respect. Katsulas was chillingly creepy as the enforcer protecting the real bad guys. American Gothic fans will enjoy seeing Nick Searcy playing the same law enforcement character here as he does in his series. From the amazing train wreck scene to the final shot, the story never flags. This well made motion picture is a fine tribute to a well made television series.
The St. Louis Bank Robbery / directed by Charles Guggenheim, John Stix (1959, DVD). Steve McQueen, Crahan Denton, David Clarke, James Dukas, Molly McCarthy. Cheapo, but worth watching. This motion picture was released under the title: The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, but there was nothing "great" or epic about this real-life heist gone wrong at all. Dramatized and filmed in hard edged black and white, using the actual location and even some of the people involved in the event, the work has an almost documentary feel to it. Although the story has a slow start, it becomes more riveting as we get to know the biographies of the four holdup men. Most interesting of all was the chief instigator and brains of the outfit, the fedora and bowtied Crahan Denton. We watch this misogynistic ex-con use a sort of world-weary casualness to mask a desperation and anger. His whole act starts to crumble as the story progresses, and Denton, who should be a familiar face to all Boomer TV children as one of those guys we all saw but could never name, was terrific in this transformation. Steve McQueen was practically a baby here. I love the cars in this movie, the automobiles of my childhood. Local trivia: Crahan Denton was born Arthur Crahan Denton in 1914 in Seattle. His father, Arthur Peebles Denton, was elected King County Engineer and served from 1913-1917. The Dentons left their home on E. Mercer St. for out-of-state in 1917. Crahan Denton died in 1966 of a sudden heart attack.
A Fireman's Life / directed by Vernon Stallings, Frank Tashlin (1933, DVD). Originally entitled: Hook & Ladder Hokum. A black and white cartoon starring the human Tom and Jerry as fireman battling a house fire. Simple and primitive even by 1933 standards, it has a cranked out feeling. Tashlin's directorial debut.
Unforgiven / directed by Clint Eastwood (1992, DVD). Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvert, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher. About as close to perfect as a Western can be. Eastwood takes the iconic characters of this genre and strips away their mythic gloss, leaving the viewer with a collection of morally ambiguous and very flawed players. Wyoming, 1880: An aging and reformed gunslinger (Eastwood) is persuaded out of a retired life of pig farming to collect a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes to kill a customer who cut up one of their number. Hackman is a sadistic sheriff who runs his town as his own little fiefdom and presents himself as the chief point of conflict in the story. The other individuals in this tale, although all of them interesting on their own, pretty much exist as foils for teaching us more about Eastwood and Hackman. As Karma and Destiny collide in the world of frontier and gender justice, Eastwood's relapse into his former "wicked ways" was beautifully subtle and seemed authentic. The violence and guns were not glorified, there was no heroic swelling of the soundtrack when a firearm was used to settle an issue. Freeman's disgust with himself for joining in the gunplay was a great moment. Richard Harris was his hammy self, but Eastwood as director knew how to make that pork enhance the story without derailing the narrative. Woolvert in the role of the trigger happy Schofield Kid, a punk who got way in over his head when it came to killing and violence, eerily looked and talked like George W. Bush. Eastwood's use of deep and rich color, and his classy composition with the camera gave this motion picture the look of a Remington painting. In the chronology of Westerns, this one built upon the attention to historical realism set by Lonesome Dove (1989), and helped lay the groundwork for the future Deadwood series.
"The Allergy" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1955, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Dick Elliott, Robert Foulk. Joan discovers she is allergic to her husband in the midst of his campaign for election to a judgeship. The situation gives Davis a chance to display her talent for comic facial contortions. One of the better choreographed episodes in the series. We also see Joan playing political hardball. The sad part of this story is that our expectations about political campaign spouses has not really evolved all that much since 1955.
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye / directed by Gordon Douglas (1950). James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond, Luther Adler, Barton MacLane, Steve Brodie, Rhys Williams, William Frawley, William Cagney (uncredited). "I always thought that when people carried guns they were afraid of something." And so they were. Of Cagney. Told through flashbacks in court testimony, seven defendants accused of conspiracy and murder testify on the events and singular personality (Cagney) that led them to this sorry fate. Produced right on the heels of White Heat (1949), it would be tempting to wonder if this film was trying to ride on the success of that earlier work. If so, it missed the mark. Oh, this one has plenty of the right Warner Brothers crime film ingredients: chain gangs, prison breakout, crooked cops, fedoras, heists, bad girl Barbara Payton throwing things at walls, cheap hideouts, Ward Bond (his tie was too short) and Barton MacLane, black and white sort of film noir look, etc., but the story goes all over the place. This includes a visit to a spiritual group of pre-New Age seekers, and a crazy rich girl. It was almost as if someone accidentally let some pages from another script slip into the narrative. As the Happy Sociopath, Cagney the coiled dancer prowls across the screen and appears to be ready to erupt into a destructive frenzy at any second-- and sometimes he does! Although the visuals here are not all that great, I was really impressed with the camerawork, the pans and zooms smoothly keeping up with Cagney. Apparently this motion picture was considered too violent in 1950 for some regions, it was banned in Ohio. Probably a career peak for the doomed Barbara Payton. Luther Adler was especially good in the role of the underworld attorney. Trivia, according to the IMDB: "The film that Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson were watching in Spector's chauffeured car on the way to his Alhambra mansion the night of her murder."
The Meanest Men in the West / directed by Charles S. Dubin, Samuel Fuller (1967, VHS). Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Lee J. Cobb, Charles Grodin, James Drury, Michael Conrad, Doug McClure (uncredited). Ah, Goodtimes Home Video, the mark of [and here stevenl widens his eyes and affects a tone of mock seriousness] "quality." Some twisted editor took episodes of the 1960s televisions series The Virginian (a fave of my Virginian raised father, by the way) and cobbled them together in a tale about two half-brothers. During my college years in the 1970s I had a fling with filmmaking. One time I went into the editing room, removed all the discarded film from the trash, and spliced it all together into an instant Dada mashup-- an hour long piece of junk I very rightly entitled Scum. It had several showings on campus, but given the number of splices I almost always had to stop and rethread the thing several times per viewing after the thin strips would snap over and over. Anyway, to get back to my point, these patched together scenes from different episodes of The Virginian have much the same feeling of disjointedness as Scum. Although Marvin and Bronson are the stars, they never appear together. Bronson has always had a weird and distant screen persona so perhaps he is in his element, but it pains me, once again in such a short time, to pan a Marvin movie. I will say there are two parts that are actually quite good. The opening wagon train shots during the title and credits were well done, and there is an oasis in the story where Marvin has a dialogue with the kidnapped Lee J. Cobb, the judge who sent Lee up the river in earlier years. But the soundtrack is TV bad, we are expected to accept Charles Grodin in the role as a hardened thug (Yeah. Right.), and we all know the real Meanest Man in the West was John Astin's Evil Roy Slade. There are themes of loss, abandonment and betrayal-- oh, wait-- I was attempting to describe the story but I guess I inadvertently outlined the feelings of those of us viewers who were suckered into watching this bowser.