75 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Incest Damage
27 October 2017
"The Fifth Mind" is a realistic fictional account of the destructive effects of incest on a son, daughter, and mother. The actual victim of incest here is a son, but since incest genders all of its victims female (as in prison rape when the raped is invariably viewed as female), it makes little difference, especially since the great majority of incest victims are in fact, girls.

Danny Puner has been alone in prison for fifteen years, serving a manslaughter sentence for murdering his father. He is visited by his sister, Kathrine McLane, who, at age four, was conjoined to her mother's rejection of, and exile from (to the point of a name change) the Puner family. Now 27 years later, she visits Danny to inform him that his mother is dying. Upon her mother's death, Katherine continues to visit her brother who is suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder, and has little or no memory of either Katherine or the father's murder. Since her mother has hidden everything about the father and the family from her, and because she too has blocked out scenes of her father's sexual assaults from her child's memory, their meetings serve as steps to re-membering their erased personal histories.

The narrative is convincing and moving, slow and poetic in pace, and honest and direct. Katherine (Juliet Seal, who could play Shakespeare's Juliet) is the active and healing force in the sometimes smooth and often rocky encounters between the long estranged siblings. Danny (Arvid Larsen) is the inarticulate, disarranged incest victim, who attempts speech on many levels, but who also uses the shelter of several identities to cover for his aggressive, and accusatory behavior toward his sister who to him is as much of an interloper as a liberator. At times even, his threatening gestures seem a shadow of his father. But, in the end Katherine's visits, her research into his and her past, allows her to arrive at the truths which will set them both free.

Despite Danny's storms, obviously traceable to his buried rage, the film is never excessive. Much of this restraint is based in the nature of the prison itself, which seems to express a mild disposition much in line with Katherine's own steady, calming manner. All of the employees and guards are as temperate and human as they are reasonable. This is never spelled out, but rather exists in all the exchanges they have with Katherine and Danny. Not to credit them in the siblings' reconciliation and just restitution would be a mistake.

But Katherine is the touchstone character. Everything works through her commitment and understanding both to her brother, her mother, and herself. All her movements are directed toward these lives. Her train visits to the prison begin and end the film; her visits to the cemetery provide a kind of mother-daughter pulse which gives the film its meditative depth; and her dauntless, creative searches into her own past surpass even her brother's inward probing. It's her self-direction that strengthens and broadens the film's close-up, microcosmic incest portrayal. Which, in turn, points to centuries of abominable secrecy enveloping a form of criminality which is as despicable as it is prevalent.
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Outrage (1950)
Outrage Absent Agency
5 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
"Outrage" (1950) certainly does express the personal anger associated with rape, but does it address the increased personal agency that often accompanies it?

Ann Walton (Mala Powers) is first subjected to stranger rape, and is then, in the person of her fiancé, pressured to succumb to an elopement which, in her distraught but furious state, she refuses. She then sets off on her own, but is soon met with more shades of her originals assault, as in leering, appraising men, and in one forced sexual encounter. Fortunately for her, she meets a man who is entirely outside of that degrading continuum.

The Rev. Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews) is a guardian to an agricultural community that is reminiscent of the more idealistic co-operative in "The Grapes of Wrath." Though you might say he rescues a lost, emotionally battered Ann, he does more than just take her under his wing. Their subsequent interactions create a kind of equality, mutual trust, and affection rarely scene on screen. Even their youthful, expressive faces seem to match, as they reverberate with warmth, sincerity, and honor. But their evolving relationship is stopped short of love and desire.

The interceding act is a brutish attempt on Ann at a ranch picnic. This creep sends an explicit message that the town is too narrow for Bruce, and too dangerous for Ann. But it also causes an investigation into Ann's past which in turn infringes directly on their present lives.

Bruce then, by force of circumstance, becomes the mediator of Ann's return not only to her family but to an unwanted marriage. So, Ann's new new found sense of identity and bodily integrity is once again on the rocks. Bruce's felt responsibility to her family and to her ex-fiancé's marriage plans take precedence over both a committed friendship and, most importantly, her own advancing sense of personal agency.

By having to return to her unloved fiancé, she must revert to a state of subjection, and this cannot be sugar-coated. She is now being instructed to want what she has already rejected. In a real way, Ann is being returned to the estranged state or void left in her by the violent rape. Her outrage which so enables her to reclaim her self must now be tamed for the sake a lifelong conventional arrangement which she had and has no part in.

This is the movie's weakness. A stronger ending would have Ann and Bruce set out for a new life, not necessarily as lovers, or partners, but as strong allies in a contemptible world that wants to deprive and dispossess both of them of a broader, and more compelling life and friendship.
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Suspicion: The Woman Turned to Salt (1958)
Season 1, Episode 36
Wow, Pamela Brown
24 July 2017
Superior acting performance by Pamela Brown... very steady, intelligible, personable, effectively controlled. She's a complex and sympathetic divorce lawyer with a nicely impressive capacity to be open to unfolding situations even when she personally needs to shut down outside inputs. She is moved especially by the pleas of injured and ill women, and is incredibly brave and competent in her dealings with criminal men.

Michael Rennie is low key considering his disturbing art work, his understood temper tantrums, and his criminal plottings, but somehow this works better, especially in his scenes with the Brown character.

If you're looking for a hidden gem, this fits the bill. This episode is as surprisingly unknown as it is successful.
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Harvey's Acting?
21 June 2017
The unusual depth and range in the love between Alice (Simone Signoret) and Joe (Laurence Harvey) are what takes "The Room at the Top," to another level. However, this almost classic film doesn't always rise above its flaws. The truth is that Signoret is consistently convincing in her role, and Harvey is not.

His biggest problem is his two-faced persona. He is the young, naive, rustic in one scene, and the older, authoritative, sophisticate in the next. He shifts between these two types more often than he switches accents. And his voice seems to follow the same pattern, so mellow when a yokel, so deep and masculine when a convincing dominant.

This convenient inconsistency seems most apparent in his scenes with Susan Brown, where one sometimes gets the impression he is reading lines from a children's play, and yet at other times, he's the worldly older lover who cannot be bothered with such a vapid and square youth. His age seems to veer from 21 to 33, and back again, in according to the scene's mode.

Unlike Signoret, Harvey doesn't adjust to the script's unevenness. He can be a faltering innocent with Alice or he can as likely be her suave superior. His juvenile jealous tirade over Alice's artist model experience is one of several examples of his character deviations. His venom here makes Mr Brown, the villainous capitalist, seem both relatively mild and complex.

However, it's true that when the love scenes with Alice move beyond the literary, Harvey does achieve remarkable acting heights. Whether Simone Signoret's ability to be more than a match for her scripted lines has been transferred to him, or because she, in her first-class artistry, has covered for him, is hard to tell but, in the end, he towers, and the movie soars, despite his and its letdowns.
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The Boy Problem
16 June 2017
No murders. No corpse. Just a well thought out jewel hoist which will allow its gang members to live a life a bit above their working class status. All the adult characters and actors are human, remarkably absorbing, and given quite a lot of stature or presence.

The trouble is the boy. He seems to fit nicely enough into the scheme of the plot until he feels spurned by a young woman he's childishly in love with. He recognizes this rejection in several steps, but from the first disillusionment, he strikes a sudden self-righteous pose which makes him a very poor foil to the sympathetic jewel thieves.

Do we want this kid, the son of a cop, to be more cop than his father? Do we appreciate his detective-like qualities, and all his not credible luck in bringing down his adult antagonists? No matter how many bad traits the plot throws at the thieves, none of them really stick. What does hold, unfortunately, is the boy's rather sniveling, boy-scout alignment with both the jewelers and the police.
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The Prowler (1951)
The Stalker
16 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
There's been a slew of bad cops in film noir, but none quite like Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) in "The Prowler." He's the cop no woman ever wants to call when she needs help. You might say he's a prowler cop, or better still a glorified stalker.

But alone at midnight in her big hacienda, and frightened by a possible peeping tom, it's Susan Gilvray's (Evelyn Keyes) fate to call for the police. This is Garwood's Entry. Cocky, smug, indifferent, intimidating, womanizing, his looming presence and prowess accentuated in the dead-of-night shadows by his tight-fitting black uniform, he comes on more like a sneaky Nazi than a law enforcer.

It's obvious that Garwood is not Frank Chambers (John Garfield) in "The Postman Always Rings Twice," whose single motive, despite the plot twists in the end, is to win over the beautiful wife of a much older, doddering, roadside burger joint owner. No Garwood here almost instantly sizes up the whole situation in a few minutes. His master plan is for the possession of a wife, the defeat of her rich, radio celeb husband, who he immediately names a wimp to his rescuing knight, and to seize from him the means of financing his dream Las Vegas motor court.

And unlike Frank Chambers, too, he gets no help at all from the young attractive wife. Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) here is the precise opposite of Lana Turner's femme fatale in "Postman." She is genuine inside and out and incapable of plotting her way out of her marriage. To boot, she is most powerfully herself whenever she sees through and stands strong against Garwood's wiles, intents, and lies. In fact, mostly her relationship with him is underwritten by varying degrees of resistance. If she's a pushover, a dupe, or ingratiating at times, it's either because her character mode has been switched over to plot mode., or because she's up against a man who is well-practiced in the arts of romantic deception, and masculine manipulation.

Garwood is not only in stark contrast to Susan, but to his police partner, Bud Crocker (John Maxwell), his wife Grace, Susan's in-laws, and almost all the characters he encounters. They're generous-spirited and almost saintly by comparison. But, ironically, it is he who lives in the Hotel Angela. Here he has a large muscle-builder poster on his wall (he drinks milk rather than booze), and a dominant black shooting target with a bullet-riveted torso from his champion sharp-shooter days. In this room, he lazes about in self-absorption, toys with his plots, as he does with things like shavers and phone receivers—and Susan herself, whose defeats he celebrates by tossing spitballs into the light globe above his bed, reminiscent of his heroic basketball days.

In short, he's a snark despite his expansive front. He peeps in Susan's windows, he repeatedly alarms her with his police search lights, and he pops into her life on the merest whim. She is nothing more to him than a conquest and a medium to defeat her prestigious husband. The murder he accomplishes and the one he attempts are both too vile for words. And when Susan utterly exposes him, this self-pitying bore can only answer: "I'm no worse than anyone else." In the end, unlike Frank Chamber's (Garfield) "dust you are" lover's death in the presence of a forgiving priest, Garwood gets buried ignominiously in dust. Susan, unlike Cora Smith (Turner), who dies along with her unborn baby, in a car accident, emerges from a traumatic childbirth with a new baby girl companion, the baby that Garwood assumed would be his son. Ha!
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Perry Mason (1957–1966)
3 February 2017
If there is such a thing as peaceful crime drama, "Perry Mason" fits the bill. Mark this up to a commitment to an indefinable human quality, and a non-divisive stance. Which equate to an appealing sensibility (that weakens in the final season).

"Perry Mason" is nearly as absorbing and comforting as "Sherlock Holmes." The viewer can't help but sense that she or he is in good hands. Each episode is like a favorite book by a familiar and trusted author.

And holding down the center of this remarkable draw is Mason himself (Raymond Burr) who bears his considerable authority with utmost grace. He insists on the honesty of his clients which he exacts through direct eye contact and his own sense of justice. He wins and wins, of course, but he never gloats. His very subtle, knowing smile is never offensive, never provocative, and not even that challenging--it's a smile of self-assurance, of being in touch with himself, the case, and the greater world. He even sympathizes with certain of the guilty whom he must expose to save his innocent client.

In a real sense, "Perry Mason," works so well because of what it refuses to do. It eschews hurtful stereotypes, cruelty, sarcasm, violence, tough cops, macho, sex exploitation, patriotism (as in "Dragnet"), hit men, and shoot outs. There's no pretension in this semi-noir world, nor is there any excess, posturing or harsh humor. In fact, there is something consistently adult in the whole scheme, some light but serious touch which might be akin to "The Honeymooners" on TV's comedy front.

I think the subsequent Burr crime series, "Ironsides," is not, as many say, a continuance of "PM" but rather a discontinuance. Most of what "PM" rejects, "Ironsides" readily accepts, as do almost all other TV crime dramas thenceforth. Which only serves to underscore the special achievement of "PM." Which is based on a subdued sense of drama, characterization over action, and fairly convincing and intricate plots.

Yes, each of its countless episodes requires a corpse; but, as far as the viewer is concerned, it might be some single stuffed dummy appropriately positioned and made-up to match the specific drama. For "Perry Mason" is non-violent in almost every sense of the word. Della Street(Barbara Hale)sees to that.
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Plot Cop-Out
3 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Can this failed, disjointed plot be saved? Is it is worth saving? I think so, but I am probably in the minority. I suggest that the pivotal relationship between Antoine Lavau (Depardieu) and Cecile (Deneuvre) be resuscitated. There's enough integrity in the film's early going to inspire a re-working of two protagonists. I think the trick is to avoid at all costs stereotyping, cynicism, canned emotions, and manipulative plot turns.

First, Antoine is singular (original) and he must stay in character. He is not some freak of nature who needs a Hollywood re-cast. There are shy and introverted men who, often in their twenties, will experience a break-up, maybe from their first real love. A male of this mode, may weather the storm, but gradually his conviction grows that the initial lover was both rarer than what he imagined and possibly even irreplaceable. He may soon become convinced that he blew his one true chance at love. So his affective love gradually shifts back in her direction, displacing thoughts of a new relationship. He may resurrect her photos, be more cognizant of her life, adopt her preferences, and more rarely, prefer to live in more physical proximity to her.

To one degree or another, such a man is under the influence of a romantic ideal. He needs to experience a sense of love, so he returns to the woman who compelled his passion. He realizes that while remarriage is a mere dream, her palpable presence gives pique to his life. He also understands that any obtrusion into her life would run counter to this new realization. It's not that she's an angel, but rather that love put on hold or bracketed never really stops.

In "Changing Times," (a trite title) Antoine initially appears to be this identical romantic lover. He's very singular and the not in the least unconvincing. His face is compelling, as is the complexity of his thoughts, the certainty of his emotions. He elicits interest--there is something of us in him, something in him we can learn from, something perhaps instructive in his loneliness. We sense that if he is to actually meet with this woman of his, it will have to be by accident. I mean like why after thirty years of steady love would he suddenly thrust himself on a married woman? As to Cecile, she too belongs here as the kind of woman who might inspire such memory and lasting love. Although in many ways typically middle class, she projects an independence, a world-weary sophistication, and a realistic sense of her position in life. She hosts a radio show, exercise authority over others, and is self-directed. She is no dreamer, no romantic; she grasps what a cad her younger husband is and deals with him as it suits her. When she meets Antoine she unhesitatingly sets her boundaries, defuses his interest, and projects him as a detail in a busy life.

The movie's premise works. But the unfolding fails. It's as if these grown-ups morph into adolescents. Antoine slithers out of character as if he's suddenly aware of maleness, and is amazed by it. He doesn't exactly stalk Cecile but his actions and words suggest that continuum. Now his mix of shy and bold seem like a sneaky maneuver, and he can't seem to get enough of himself. In a tete-a tete with Cecile's hunky husband, he admits to having many affairs, but of being only impersonally present in them. And as he takes on a more aggressive approach to this man's wife, his singular anonymous lover image is certainly tarnished. And thus it is that he resorts to direct confrontation, high drama, and on shy, naive guises to effectuate his tricks which serve both to ingratiate himself with Cecile and to insinuate himself into her life. And with the help of convenient plot accidents, his assumption of access to his ex-lover, is achieved in a manner hardly different than that of any other drippy dude.

If his role is abandoned by Techine, so too is Cecile's autonomy. She becomes the personification of access. (There is no comedy here, not initially and not now.) When interrupted by a hapless Antoine during a radio broadcast, her rage is over the top--which in turn sets her up for an equally over the top contriteness. Which shatters her independence. And seems to rob her of her volition. Thus she becomes for Antoine a sex therapy operative--one that requires no desire, will, or suggestion on his part. And, of course, after his mud accident, Cecile is then cast as a kind of madonna nurse, and is returned to familial motherhood.

So, thanks to Techine's cop out direction, and imagination breakdown, two original and interesting characters who promises much in the way of subtle drama, and character development, are sacrificed. The unknown becomes the known. Antoine becomes everyman, and Cecile is reduced to a mother and a mistress.
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La caja 507 (2002)
"Co-Stars" Personified
31 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Two superior, non-pretentious performances make "Box 507" striking and memorable. Rafael Mazas (Jose Coronado) and Modesto Pardos (Antonio Resines) represent two distinct lives, one is an ex-cop mobster, the other a bank officer. Their lives are parallel and determinedly related but they barely touch. This is no "High Noon" . What we have in "Box" is a corrupt, corporate masculine world in which violence spirals out of control, and a civil world where law can still be used to obtain justice.

Now the ex-cop's murderous rampage does pose a problem both for viewers and for the film itself. Some viewers may want to skip it, others may watch it reluctantly, and others will scoff at this. My own take is that if the director, Enrique Urbizu, had chosen to half the body count, this film would be a near classic. What makes this call harder is that it's an unusual combo of convincing characterization so typical in French films, and of a disturbing gratuitous violence so typical of Hollywood.

What we can say about Coronado's portrayal of a mob affiliate is that it bears no resemblance to Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris. His masculinity is not one-dimensional, nor bound to other men, nor polemical, nor is it aligned with patriotism. He's neither a man among men, nor a male imitator. If money and power are his driving force and if he's armed to the teeth, men and their games are far more dispensable to him than his love for his partner Monica Vega(Goya Toledo).

But what brings out the worst--and best, in this man is an inescapable life and death crisis which is suddenly thrust at him. Unimaginable, unforeseen, and unlucky forces combine not only to test his very fiber, but seem to collude to block and frustrate his most compelling and riveting moves. Given this, his convincing physicality, his unrattled nerve, and his severe determination, are no less than magnetic.

But perhaps it is this solitary heroism that seed his suicidal mission. Or perhaps it's the big heat taking its reckoning on his bad cop past, or the maddening quality of enduring severe frustrations. No matter the causes, we know that as his crisis deepens, his violence escalates into sadism and murder.

Yes, his execution blitz may take down only the guilty, but there's no doubt about his ruthlessness, or his lost control. Even the hoist gang tremble at his lacerating cruelty. Only when captured by mob goons does he regain himself, proclaiming his lover as a victim of injustice, and demanding that he himself be immediately shot.

The bank officer's motivation is not revenge, but rather justice--for a murdered daughter and a nearly murdered wife. He enacts his parallel commitment as a novice private investigator. Armed with nothing more than incriminating documents, and a determination that matches that of the ex-cop, he confronts equally dangerous situations and connections.

Beyond his courage, and his pedestrian heroism, what is most rare about him is his unswerving love for his wife and his daughter. In fact, for Modesto Pardos combined love and justice underwrite his incredible persistence. He visits his comatose wife daily, reporting to her his progress, encouraging her in healing words, and reminding her of both her certain recovery and his equally certain legal victory. (The unpretentiousness here and its lack of conventionality is quite remarkable.)

This reminds of one clear distinction between the Resines and Coronado characters. Pardos rejects his own interests and, in his risk ridden struggle, refuses to purge his feelings. That he never resorts to violence and rage, and instead relies on cunning, complex planning, and a kind of bold integrity, speaks of a control and competence informed as much by passion as on any fixation with scoring a victory.

And that emotion goes beyond the lives of his wife and daughter to all those affected by the fires and land seizures. These people also drive his urgent research, and his pressing need to outsmart and outmaneuver the powerful controlling forces that cause pain and suffering. He takes the criminality as deadly serious because he takes its victims in a deadly serious way.

When the two men are finally paired, they're the centrals stars of the mob's revenge, occupying their rooms of slaughter, with bleeding corpses strewn about them. The most dignified and loving thing for Razas to do, given his Monica's bloody corpse a few feet away, is to be shot down. The most dignified and loving thing for Pardos to do, given his wife is recovering, is to turn his back and walk out the door. Neither man deviates from his own script.

For the viewers, the connection between the two protagonists might seem closer than it does to them, and ditto for the two women in their lives, who stand in for the civic notion in a deranged male world.
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The Last Mile (1932)
23 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"The Last Mile" begins on a powerful and emotional note, and never ceases to come through. In a way, it belongs in the company of "12 Angry Men," but while less demanding, may have even more feeling and dignity--with its singular lack of cynicism and romance perhaps the key to its force.

It begins with an introductory quote from Sing Sing warden Lewis Lawes: "The Last Mile is... a story of those men with barred cells crushed mentally, physically and spiritually between unrelenting forces of man-made laws and man-fixed death.... Society must find its own solution. But murder on the heels of murder is *not* that solution." We follow his words to the tender strains of the passionate "Ave Maria."

Sentimental? No, and not even in the relationship between the innocent Richard Walters and his devout mother, which is both original and convincing. And decidedly not in Joe Berg's incredibly moving goodbye scene, in which he arrests his immense emotional distress to speak face to face, transparently, and very specifically to each of the other men on death row in his last steps of his last mile. Nor is there a trace of sentiment in Sonny Jackson's deep soothing voice as he sings and speaks from both a spiritual and racially knowing place as he awaits, with true poise, his own death..

Of course, the raw and moving break out attempt led by John "Killer" Mears bears no trace of sentiment either. Despite his excessive recklessness, and crime-ridden past, none of his mates--including the guiltless Richard Walters who, having experienced Death Row first hand, is unencumbered by scruples--fail to follow his energetic leadership. For they all know that the death penalty is worse than death, and that even the condemned can speak out in one voice and one action. That they can arise as subjects just as Joe Berg did in the waning moments of his life, determined to stand against human cruelty, speaks of the courage of collective protest.
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