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Who Dares Wins (1982)
Who Dares, Loses.
A flick about the SAS rescuing a handful of high-echelon American and Brit statesmen and military people who are being kept hostage by the People's Liberation Army or the Kill For Peace Movement or the SLA or the Wobblies or some other radical leftists.
It's always interesting to see which organization is saddled with the role of villain in these movies. This was released in 1982, when Reagan was president, and America was still carrying baggage left over from the Vietnam War. However, the groups depicted, led by a breathless, determined, and sexy Judy Davis with an American accent, is merely using a legitimate anti-nuclear group as a cover for their violent agenda.
This is a common ploy to avoid assigning blame to any member of any political group that might buy tickets to the movie. In Tom Clancy's "Patriot Games," the evil doers are a splinter group of the Irish Revolutionary Army -- not the IRA itself. In "The Enforcer," Clint Eastwood's enemies are a fake revolutionary group only in it for the money. In "Three Days of the Condor", Robert Redford must deal with a secret cabal within the CIA. In "Magnum Force" it's a clandestine death squad within the San Francisco Police Department. It's a radical splinter of Russian terrorists in "Air Force One," not the Russians.
The ethnic and racial make up of the heavies are interesting as well. For the longest while they had German accents. We were unable to forgive them for World War II. Ingrid Pitt has the role of the German dominatrix in this film. And one English diplomat tells another, who is anti-war, "Peace in our time?" This is a slur against Neville Chamberlain. He returned from Munich in 1939 with a treaty signed by "Herr Hitler", promising not to invade any more countries, which he promptly did. Chamberlaine has been in disgrace ever since 1939 because everyone now knows that if he had declared war on Hitler in 1939, war could have been averted.
I'd like to get down off this platform because I'm not a historian, just a sanitation engineer, which is what we garbage men call ourselves, but it seems my steel-toed boot is caught under the lectern.
This movie, like Gaul, is divided into three parts. The first third has a lot of suspense, although the dynamics of the plot are familiar enough. Lewis Collins shams a resignation from the SAS in order to insinuate himself into the enemy's camp. He begins by visiting The Marlboro Club where they hang out, and he stays to watch the show. It's all anti-American, with a deformed Statue of Liberty, and so forth. The principal performer has had dance training. One by one, he lifts his leg and sweeps it in an arc in front of his face. Terpsichoreans call this a "fan" and it's a demanding move. If you tried it, you'd bust your acetabula.
The sexual collision of the bland, handsome, inexpressive Collins with Judy Davis is de rigueur. Lucky Lew. Judy Davis, even with that frizzly radical hair, looks like Susan Hayward if Susan Hayward were more predatory. And Davis' American accent is impeccable. "Hand me that gun, will ya?" Lots of mystery and intrigue in Part One.
In Part Two, the People's United Front and Car Wash invade the domain of the high muckamucks and there's a lot of suspense. When will the SAS attack? What will happen to the hostages? Will any of the Okefenokee Glee and Perloo Society survive? The last twenty minutes shows us the flawless SAS attack. I kind of like "Black September" better.
The Front Page (1931)
It's easy to see why there have been so many versions of the play by Hecht and MacArthur. It's risqué, cynical, fast paced, and it sweeps you up in the characters and the story.
This one was directed by Lewis Milestone. It's not the funniest or the fastest version but it has a few gags the others lack, and Milestone does some inexplicable tricks with the camera. If the half dozen men in the press room are laughing, Milestone gives us a second-long shot of the first. The camera tilts upward to the ceiling, then down to the second reporter for another moment, then the ceiling, then the third reporter. Cuts would have been quicker but I suppose, given the nature of the early sound equipment, when the cameras were enclosed in dirigibles the size of the Hindenburg, it must have seemed like a novel idea. In another shot, a reporter is speaking (or yelling) into the phone in medium shot. From the side of the screen, somebody's crossed legs intrude, with one shod foot bouncing up and down.
I don't want to get too technical here because, after all, I don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm assuming a certain familiarity with the plot. There are a few unobtrusive gags that I haven't noticed in the other versions. The scene shows the press room interior. A door opens in the far right and a reporter dashes in, handing his coat to Pat O'Brien, who immediately tosses it on the floor behind him. It's not as marked as it is in the Marx Brothers' movie, but for that reason it's just as funny. Another example. O'Brien needs to pass through a crowded knot of reporters. Instead of roughly pushing his way through, he turns sideways and does a little ballet leap a la seconde. It just takes a moment, but then everything in the movie just takes a moment.
Well, one more. Dr. Egglehoffer is brought in to examine the prisoner and in the course of "reenacting dzah crime", the prisoner shoots Egglehoffer in the belly. The doctor wavers back and forth a bit before pointing an accusing finger at his patient and shouting, "Dementia PRAECOX!", then falls forward like a mannequin.
There's a lot of social commentary lurking behind the gags. These were pre politically correct days. It's not a polemic though. Only enough material to twit your conscience about self-righteousness, corruption, racism, and violence.
As editor Walter Burns, we see less of Adolph Menjou than I'd expected. The focal point is Pat O'Brien's Hildebrand Johnson. The press room is full of the usual colorful characters. Of the three versions I'm familiar with, I'd put Howard Hawks' first and Billy Wilder's second. However, I'd give this version a bonus point because it was the first.
Grand Prix (1966)
Cars Go FAST.
What a spectacle -- these bullet-shaped racing cars shooting ballistically along the straightaways in Monaco and elsewhere, engines buzzing like a swarm of enormous bees, popping from one frequency to another in quantum leaps as the drivers manipulate the clutch in their bowling shoes.
Bowling shoes? Well, that's what they look like. We get to see a lot of them, and the driving gloves and helmets and wrenches and nuts that director Frankenheimer made sure to include in order to stage authenticity.
The cast is impressive, from James Garner through Yves Montand to Toshiro Mifune. And the LADIES! Elegant blond Eva Marie Saint, stony and sluttish Jessica Walters, and a few glimpses of a stunning young Genevieve Page. Page is being flirted with by a happy-go-lucky young Italian driver. "Drink?" "I don't drink." "Smoke?" "I don't smoke." "Well -- what DO you do?" (She silently looks him up and down.) When you're that lucky, happiness follows as the night the day.
Not all the dialog is clever. It has an elliptical quality, as if somebody had gotten Hemingway mixed up with Sartre. The non sequiturs emerge from the script clipped. "The truth is that I don't get lonely." "I don't follow you." "Don't you?" "Do you?" "What is existence?" "Only a pageant of illusions." Well, I made that last part up but you get the flavor.
The personal lives of the drivers impinge on their professional activities to varying extents, but so what? If you're into racing, this is your kind of movie. The director steps wrong only a few times, mostly at the beginning, when the screen is filled with multiple images, sometimes of the same shot. It's dizzying, like looking in a store window filled with a hundred TV sets, all tuned to the same channel. But the location shooting is fine. There are no crummy special effects and of course no CGI's. Maurice Jarre has written a pleasant melody for the score.
If I were more of an internal adrenalin addict I'd have given it an extra point. It's not at all a stupid movie. We don't have somebody shouting into Tony Curtis' ear, "Take him on the straightaway, Johnny!"
The Housekeeper, She Has A Bushy Beard.
Kind of interesting. Identifiably Christie -- although early -- and fine location shooting in some place with rolling hills, patches of snow, a brisk wind, and a low sun. Just the place for a holiday if you're a penguin or a grouse hunter.
The dozen or so guests into which we are dropped immediately are hunters. I had no idea it was such a highly organized business with several bunkers filled with shotgun-toting carnivores.
The wealthy owner of the estate is a nasty fellow who treats his guests almost with indifference and his three or four relatives with distaste. I suppose they keep pandering to him because he's promised them his legacy or whatever it's called. Anyway, money is at the root of his murder. He's shot through the head by a mysterious bearded stranger.
And then it gets complicated. I mean, you, the discerning viewer, don't believe for a moment that that beard was real, do you? Poireau catches cold from the hunting trip and spends some time recovering but his wits are as sharp as ever and he solves the mystery with a dramatic gesture and the help of a dog. Hastings is Hastings. The others come and go, and there is one performance that stands out. Diana Kent is an attractive woman whose beauty is idiosyncratic. She has large, appealing blue-green eyes, and features that could easily suggest either pain or vulnerability. There's something quite wild about her.
I've come to admire Inspector Japp too. He carries around a determined, almost gloomy demeanor that grows on one, like a fungus. You get used to Japp because he's reliable.
There are several characters and the plot involves a couple of sharp turns, so it's a little confusing, but I got a kick out of it.
This Is Not a Test (1962)
The Big Bang.
One by one, a sheriff of Del Oro County pulls over three or four vehicles and their diverse occupants. There's a yellow alert in effect and the S sheriff (Glass) has been ordered to stop travelers in either direction. Missiles are on the way.
Someone earlier mentioned that it resembles an episode of "The Twilight Zone". It was an accurate observation, except that "The Twilight Zone" was generally better than this. Still, the same format is used as in, say, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" or the one about the Martian in the diner, only here the danger is not from outer space.
I realize the budget was low but the viewer's sympathy doesn't serve to improve the movie any. The dozen or so stranded motorists are familiar types. There's a half-drunken woman whose facial contortions behind the wheel equal Jim Carrey's. Her boyfriend lives in North Beach, in San Francisco. You can tell he's a Beatnik because he wears an open collar with his suit and uses expressions like "Dig it?" There's a chicken farmer who is a folksy grandpa, and his innocent young granddaughter. That would be Aubrey Martin. She's not only about the best performer in the cast but a knockout as well, in a thoroughly conventional but thoroughly satisfying way.
The sheriff orders everyone around as they prepare for the coming blast. We all look to authority in times of emergencies, I guess, but this guy is tall, bulky, has a chin like Dick Tracey, and has the acting talent of Mickey Spillane, whom he resembles.
There are the expectable events. The cowardly rich guy shoots himself. The well-groomed Beatnik refuses to take anything seriously.
There are also some quirky goings on. There is a supernumerary, a hitch-hiker, a murderer who covets his suitcase. We never find out what's the deal on the suitcase. He disappears from the story after destroying several crates of live chickens. There is no appendage to the credits claiming that "no chickens were harmed in the making of this film". Well, what the hell. They'd have all been broiled anyway.
Two elements of character development stand out. One is that the sheriff becomes more authoritarian and far less likable as his power seems to possess him. He and some passengers have sealed themselves in the trailer of an eighteen-wheeler, hoping it will protect them from the bomb. The rich wife has an ugly little poodle. The sheriff and the poodle stare at one another for a long moment, and then the sheriff grabs the little dog and strangles it because it's breathing too much air. But we're permitted to doubt that any poodles were harmed in the making of this film.
Another unexpected touch is the friendship that develops between the rich man's blond wife and an ordinary, working-class truck driver. She visits him on his lookout post and the friendship becomes intimate. I don't know how rich blonds react physically to impending death, but I can't imagine how the driver, knowing he's likely to be dead in fifteen minutes, is able to perform the duties associated with a spontaneous coupling in the bushes. The friendship, though, is rather nicely handled.
But it's a mediocre film. The dialog has little going for it. The editing leaves out some important events. How did the chicken farmer and his two companions get away from the truck, and why? And did any of them survive? And what on earth is inside that psychotic's suitcase? Does ANYONE live through the attack? There are some things man was never meant to know.
That Hagen Girl (1947)
Something About Mary.
Let's see. The name of the small town is Jordan. The elderly Hagen family return to Fremont Street from Chicago carrying a baby they claim to have had. The problem is that the little girl doesn't look anything like either of the "parents" because she's black. Just kidding. She has the wrong color hair or something. So the gossips go to work. The director shows a certain sense of irony by cutting from a handful of whispering elderly ladies to a pen full of clucking chickens. The rumor is that the father is young Ronald Reagan and the mother was his girl friend, who passed on to her reward in Purgatory. A fed-up Reagan leaves town and spends the war years building the atomic bomb.
When he returns to Jordan, the baby has grown into Shirley Temple, a student at the local community college. When Reagan is told that she's suspected of being his daughter, he takes an interest in her, offering to pay her way through the university and commenting on her social life. Meanwhile, Reagan has met the elegant Lois Maxwell. She loves Ron but advises him to see more of Temple because he's so obviously in love with her. There is the frisson of incest, which is kind of nice.
It gets practically labyrinthine, as soap operas tend to do. Rory Calhoun, all black eyebrows, black hair, black pupils, and snow white principles is in love with Mary Hagen and proposes to her, but she thinks he's really interested in the hoity-toity blond Christine Delaney but he's actually not. It's just that Delaney is from the upper class, like Calhoun's family and -- well, if it were set in 1812 it would be a Russian novel.
Shirley Temple is surprisingly cute but can't handle a dramatic role. She sounds as cute as she looks. She was better in light-hearted roles, like the ones in "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer." Reagan is professional. The dialog has a couple of fancy turns of phrase but the story itself is buried in sentiment and frustration. Twice, someone is going to spill the beans about what really happened seventeen years ago. The first time, it's Temple's dying mother. "There's something I want to tell you --", and she dies. The second time, Reagan says, "Look, there's something you ought to know --", and he's interrupted by Lois Maxwell with a tray of tea.
Some viewers found it more interesting than I did.
Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey (2014)
Fly Me To The Moon.
You can't help comparing "Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey" to the original "Cosmos" from thirty years ago, hosted by Carl Sagan. Among the first things you notice about the new show is that the graphics are, well, light years ahead of "Cosmos". The set of the "space craft" -- what there is of it -- looks less like a 2050 suite in a Las Vegas hotel. The music is more dramatic. And Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the host because Sagan is no longer with us.
Tyson is not Sagan. He's pleasant, looks good, sounds convincing, but there are times when his narration acquires a sing-song quality that turns the explanation into an address to a group of kids on a field trip from some nearby middle school. He's not Sagan, but then who is? I liked Sagan a great deal. He was of the moment -- longish hair, cool looking, bell bottom trousers, and he smoked grass once in a while. I also liked him because he was on the faculty when I was in graduate school and he could have chosen to drop in on my comprehensive oral exams and ask me what life would look like on a planet identical to earth except for a complete absence of calcium.
But that doesn't matter. As host, Tyson may not be as familiar a figure as Sagan was -- God, he was all over the telly -- but he's likable in his own right. And there is no question of his knowing his subject, beginning at the Bronx High School of Science and reaching dazzling heights thereafter.
There is an expectable amount of continuity between this program, which is a sort of up-dated sequel, and the original. One writer, Ann Druyan, had a hand in both. So we have the cosmic calendar which reduces the chronology of the universe to a single year. And even some expressions are carried over -- "star stuff." I can't wait until Tyson gets to Sagan's awesome "holy of holies." I thrilled the first time around.
I do have a problem though, regarding chronology. "Cosmos" appeared in 1980. This show is appearing in 2014. Let's see. Sums were never my forte, but my pocket calculator tells me that 2014 minus 1980 is equal to 34. That means I'm 34 years older than I was when I watched the original. I hope Tyson is all finished dealing with the dimension of time. Let's move on to something else in the next episode -- pronto.
Anyway, if he's so smart I'd have some questions for him. If the universe or universes are expanding, what are they expanding INTO? And if everything that exists started with the Big Bang of 13 billion years ago, what caused that Big Bang in the first place? And where did all those original hydrogen atoms COME from? Who's pulling the wool over whose eyes around here? Of course that gets us into metaphysics and he has nothing to say about it in this introductory episode, the only one I've seen. Judging from his Wikipedia entry, he'll have something to say about it later, and it won't make everyone happy. But, man, we need his messages now more than ever.
The Bachelor Party (1957)
Muddling Through On Love.
Paddy Chayevsky had an impeccable ear for the content and rhythm of working-class New York lingo. Not everybody has it. Chayevsky and a handful of others, like Budd Schulberg in "On The Waterfront." This film and "Marty" were made before Chayevsky took on bigger issues like hospitals and TV networks. And if the epiphany at the end results in a cop out, well -- that doesn't change the previous footage.
The milieu is one that was thoroughly familiar to me as a kid. All the white collar workers wore suits and ties; they rattled to their jobs on the subway; you could wander around the night-time streets without getting your throat cut; Tony Pastor's night club was still there; the "kookie bars" were there too, except that not ALL the bars had become "kookie" yet.
Don Murray is the audience proxy. He's a hard-working, ambitious office worker who attends night school at his own expense in order to become a CPA. He lives with his loving blond wife in one of those sterile high rises where the hallways probably smell of disinfectant. The problem is that his wife is now pregnant. It means additional expenses. She'll have to quit her job and he'll have to handle the hospital bills. Helen is excited at the prospect of motherhood. Well -- as excited as Helen ever gets. The actress, Patricia Smith, is not a volcano of emotion. Poor Don is gloomy. They're already living at the edge.
A friend at work, Philip Abbott, is to be married and Jack Warden, on the hedonistic treadmill, has organized a bachelor party for Abbott. A handful of Abbott's office mates gather at a bar to celebrate. There is a good deal of boozing and laughter. The oldest of the group, E. G. Marshall, stand up at the table and shouts that "the finest outfit in the U. S. Army is the 316th Infantry Division!" The band of miserable brothers wander the streets looking for action or -- something.
They gradually grow more miserable as they get drunker. On a jolting subway car, E. G. Marshall, in what may be the best performance of his career, bemoans the fact that he's forty-eight years old and his doctor just told him that he'll die of asthma if he doesn't move to Arizona. But how can he possibly move to Arizona? He has a kid in college and he's determined to pay his way through medical school. And what's he going to do in Arizona? Who wants a forty-eight year old book keeper? He quotes clumsily from MacBeth. "I read a book. I was a bright kid. I read a book. I was going to be the first Catholic president." It's a fine monologue, expertly done by Marshall. But then Chayevsky more or less ruins it by adding dumb and unnecessary lines. "Where did it all go? Where did it all go?" He stumbles drunkenly out onto a deserted subway platform to head home, leaving his jacket behind.
Paddy Chayevsky, an endearingly big, booming man, had had a tendency to spell things out at length. Here's Robert Duvall commenting on a TV program he'd just seen. "A disaster. The program was a disaster. An unmitigated disaster. The death knell." Later he describes his boss's attitude as "inflexible." "You say his attitude is inflexible?" another character asks. "Inflexible -- intractable -- and ADAMANTINE," Duvall replies.
I don't have time to go on with this. In the course of the night, the emotional problems of all of these white-collar cogs in the Kafkaesque office machine are explored. And they're explored convincingly and with sympathy. Except for the protagonist. Don Murray has been plagued by doubt. At one point, Helen asks him, as a kind of test, if they should get rid of the baby. She's expected something like, "Don't be silly." Instead, Murray pauses before replaying, "Isn't that dangerous?" She then does a good job of looking stricken. It's believable. What's not believable is the climactic scene in which Murray suddenly grabs his face, shouts, "If I don't see my wife right now I'll bust with love," or something like that, and runs off down the stairs to go home.
We assume he'll muddle through. They'll all muddle through. We all muddle through.
The Rats of Tobruk (1944)
It Has Its Moments.
A young Peter Finch is an English reporter studying the customs and language of the Australian outback. He becomes pals with two drovers, Grant Taylor and Chips Rafferty. About half an hour is spent on Taylor's on-and-off romance with Pauline Garrick as Kate Carmody. It's rather interesting. Taylor is reluctant to be involved with Garrick because she's "old school", meaning she represents the old colonial English. Moreover, he's given to moving around and painting the town red, while she wants to build a home. Some of these social fractures were to show up in Cleary's novel, "The Sundowners," roving drover vs. wife who wants to settle down, irresponsible males, resentment of the English. Even some of the names reappear: Bluey and Carmody.
In any case, they find themselves shipped off to war and wind up at Tobruk, which is under siege by the Nazis. They manage to hold on, though they're exhausted and lose some of their mates. (None of this is sentamentalized in the least.) Scenes of battle are few but reasonably convincing. A comic barber, George Wallace, has a prominent part but isn't very funny. Example: An Arab says something to Wallace and adds a term of respectful address, "Effendi." "No, no, you don't offend me!" I like it better when William Bendix did it in "Guadalcanal Diary." Three Japanese captives kneel on the ground before the Marines, chanting "Aragato" ("thank you"). Comments Bendix: "We ain't got no avocados." The acting is adequate. Chips Rafferty went on to become Hollywood's Australian, and of course Peter Finch won an Oscar for his role in "Network." Withall, it's not really a gripping movie. It's not "Gallipoli" or "Anzacs," but it gets the job done. It's a flag-waver about some heroic men who held on under the most adverse circumstances. The Germans finally took Tobruk but the Allies got it back.
Five Loose Women (1974)
After watching this cheap flick, there was one thing I was sure of. The protagonist's name -- Jabie Abercrombie -- is her real birth name. No doubt about it. I savor each syllable. It rings along my veins. And anyway, if you could make up a stage name, would you choose "Jabie Abercrombie"? As for any question about her figure, the mystery is solved in the first five seconds.
Innocent Abercrombie finds herself in the slams and four of her fellow inmates force her to accompany them when they escape. The cops are looking for them everywhere. A long segment follow them as they hustle through the brush of the scenic milieu of the California coast range. Aside from Abercrombie there are -- let me see -- a tough Negro, a Southern racist, a hard-as-nails lesbian, and a rather tall nonentity.
As they wobble through the bushes they first run into what seems like a Hippie love-in, in the middle of nowhere. They change their clothes and wobble on. Next, they reach a back road and flag down a Cadillac. They disable the driver, rape the half-conscious man, and steal his car. They gas up at an abandoned air strip tended by Ed Wood, who they knock unconscious. Then they run into five tough bikers. There is a brief fracas and the male Rat Pack is unconscious. Then they break into a farmhouse and take two hostages, and at that point they all seem to become lesbians and begin to molest the crippled farmer's wife. But why go on?
The direction is clumsy. If a pan happens to cross the camera's shadow, so what? The editor was on mushrooms. A conversation ("If we're going to get through this we'll have to bury the hatchet") is shown twice. As for the performances, nobody can act. You can act better than anyone in this film. I can act better -- HAVE acted better. My performance as a drunken gambler in the superb "Traxx" was lauded by at least one perceptive critic -- my mother.
Has anyone who claims that a movie is "so bad it's good" ever actually thought about that buzz phrase? A small budget is bound to be a hindrance to the story but the story itself doesn't need to be so eminently disposable. I doubt that a respectable movie like "Carnival of Souls" had much of a budget, or "The Little Fugitive." But they held a certain appeal for mature viewers whereas this seems designed for an audience of teen-aged kids at a drive-in, anxious to see bobbing bosoms before they get down to fogging up the windows.