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Body Heat (1981)
Body Heat exists in it's own world...
a world where certain modernities have gotten stuck in time.
Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, this film stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, a mediocre attorney in a small southern town who is more famous for one particular legal screw-up - one that figures prominently into the plot - than his small time victories. He gets passionately involved with Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), beautiful classy wife of rather absentee (always off on business) and somewhat shady businessman Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna) who has implied mob ties. The thing is, what to do about it? They could just run away together, but Matty signed a pre-nup and gets nothing in any divorce, plus she does not want to be poor. This pushes Ned toward a more final solution, a solution that might be made easier considering Walker's mob ties as a smokescreen for any vanishing act Edmund might appear to make.
Ned is friends with the local sheriff, Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston) with Ted Danson thrown in before he was the world's most famous Boston bartender in "Cheers". Grace is the voice of the law, Danson's character is the voice of pragmatism.
This is an anachronistic southern noir that is supposedly taking place in the time the movie was made - 1981 - but doesn't realize thirty years have passed. All of that sweating, the premium placed on a night breeze, all of that ice on sexy necks and down blouses. 90% of the sex appeal - and atmosphere - would disappear if somebody would just turn on the A.C!
Mickey Rourke plays a firebug and one of Ned's clients who - without being told EXACTLY what his attorney is up to, throws Ned's advice back at him - "Any time you try a decent crime you got 50 ways you can mess up. You think of 25 of them and you're a genius. And you ain't no genius". Rourke's character says this because he genuinely likes Ned. Gosh Rourke was a handsome guy just dipped in masculine mojo back in the day.
Matty's past is quite mysterious. She talks about being heavy into drugs when she was young and how a lawyer helped her get clean and gave her a job in his office. And then she met Edmund Walker. Too bad the internet and google didn't exist in 1981, because it could have saved old Ned some tragedy. The lack of google is more tragic than the existence of air conditioning that goes unused.
The jazzy/bluesy score is by John Barry, the stylistic cinematography by Richard H. Kline (The Boston Strangler (1968)) . I highly recommend this timeless noir.
Big Trouble (1986)
Big trouble in front of and behind the cameras
Writer-director Andrew Bergman and stars Peter Falk and Alan Arkin re-teamed after the success of their earlier collaboration The In-Laws with this misfire crime comedy.
Arkin plays an insurance agent who has triplet sons who are about to leave for Yale. He's struggling to find the money to pay for it when along comes seductress Beverly D'Angelo, who wishes to take out a large life insurance policy on her dying husband (Peter Falk). She convinces Arkin to help push through the policy in exchange for a cut of the pay-off. Charles Durning plays a wily insurance investigator who knows something fishy is afoot.
If this plot sounds familiar, this was meant as a take-off on Double Indemnity, although the second half goes off in a completely different direction. Columbia Pictures, which released this, ran into copyright trouble with Universal over the Indemnity similarities. Nice bet that Universal wouldn't notice the similarities, since they seem clueless about most of their classic catalog, but not Indemnity - so famous that even the suits at Universal knew the plot.
This was the beginning of this film's troubles, as the title proved to be all too prophetic. Tensions on the set became unbearable, and Andrew Bergman quit the movie about halfway through filming, as well as his producing partner, resulting in this film having no credited producers. Falk contacted his old friend John Cassavetes, who reluctantly came onboard and directed the remainder of the film. In fact, this ended up being Cassavetes' final directing credit. This isn't very funny or very interesting, and the script problems are obvious fairly early on. The performers try, but they don't have much to work with. This was barely released to theaters.
And what did Universal pictures get in return for the Columbia rehash of Double Indemnity? Columbia gave Universal an unused script they found inane and unworkable - a script titled "Back To the Future".
For once Matt doesn't think things through
Matt and Chester head to the town of Elkader to arrest a man for murder, a man who shot Matt in the shoulder in a drunken fog.
But they have a problem. There is a marshal there, Joe Phy, who has the reputation of being a gunslinger, and he runs a tight ship. It is so tight that their wanted guy would never actually come into town.
Matt notices some "tells" that make him believe that the marshal is a phony, so he gets one of the town drunks - who isn't drunk at the time - to call Phy out, to make him draw. As suspected, he is a fake and backs down. Once Phy is exposed though, the saloon turns into one of those drunken brawls in which people could get shot or at least bludgeoned. Matt can't expose himself as a marshal and stop the brawl or else the wanted murderer will not stop at Elkader.
Matt has a talk with Phy and it turns out he just always wanted to be a lawman, so he went west from Ohio and claimed he was one and people believed him. He turns out to have the best of intentions and a childlike demeanor.
In the end, Matt gets his man, and as he leaves Elkader with his one lawless prisoner, he wonders "What exactly have I done here?", as Phy's absence as lawman will mean that Elkader will have many more crimes and many more criminals than if he had just left things be. This is a rare case of Marshal Matt Dillon not thinking things completely through.
Paul Richards is great as the brave "lawman" called out and turning yellow as a result. Nobody could sweat and go pale like he did. Morey Amsterdam as the drunk put up to calling out Phy as a fraud is unrecognizable as his makeup has him looking quite scruffy. I didn't know who he was at all until I saw the credits.
And three days after this episode first aired I was born. Happy almost birthday to me.
High Noon (1952)
"A person is smart but people are dumb panicky animals and you know it"...
...a quote from Men in Black that applies here if it ever applied anywhere.
Gary Cooper plays marshal Will Kaine, who turns in his star immediately after he marries Amy, a Quaker girl (Grace Kelly). Upsetting the celebration is the news that killer Frank Miller is due on the noon train and his first order of business is to kill Kaine, a man who Kaine helped send to prison five years ago and swore blood vengeance at the time. The three members of his gang are waiting at the depot. Miller escaped hanging, got a long sentence, and some knuckleheads on the parole board have turned him loose. At first Kaine is with the popular sentiment - Run!. But then he realizes that Miller will lay waste to the town if he isn't there - the new marshal isn't due in until the next day - plus Miller will hunt him down wherever he is - Kaine will always be looking over his shoulder.
He goes around looking for deputies to help him make his stand. Oh, everybody talks about what a good job Kaine did, but nobody stands up for him. They have all kinds of excuses. That a shootout will cause investors from the east and north to think their town is just another shoot em up town, that if Will isn't there Miller will just leave etc. In the end the result is NOBODY stood by him in his hour of need, in spite of the fact that many in the town owed their lives and fortunes to Kaine cleaning up the town.
The best device in this movie - added after a preview called the film dull - is the constant showing of the clock, ticking away the precious minutes Kaine has. And he is a human hero - because you can tell dying is on his mind, running is on his mind, but in the end he stays to face his enemies. The scene towards the end, with him standing in the middle of a dusty abandoned main street as the camera pulls back just to show how alone Kaine is in this battle is iconic.
Where is his wife you might ask? With a ticket in hand to get on the next train out. At least Grace Kelly's character has a reason for her pacifism - her newly found Quaker faith. What she fails to realize is that unless you are willing to be a slave you have to be strong enough that you can afford pacifism.
There are some great performances here. There is Lon Chaney as the old sheriff who Will goes to for help. The old sheriff has the best excuse of all - he is just too old for this. Will would be looking after him instead of himself. Then there is Lloyd Bridges as one of the most unlikeable characters in film history. He's Kane's ex-deputy Harvey Pell and he is a weasel without the cuteness factor. He is tired of living in Kaine's shadow, just a little jealous that Kaine had Harvey's girl before he had her, very resentful that Kaine would not recommend him to be the new marshal. But here is his chance - if Kaine runs, Kaine is no better than he is. That is why he beats Will up trying to put him on a horse towards the end of the film. He doesn't want Will to live, he wants him to run, to somehow prove he is a coward.
And you have to love the townspeople thinking that this will just "all go away" if everybody hides. The first act of the foursome of gunslingers when they hit town is not to kill Kaine, but to smash a store window and take a woman's bonnet that one of the killers fancies - an act of theft. They'll be stealing more than stuff by nightfall if nobody stops them.
No moriré sola (2008)
This film is refreshing within its genre...
because I am so tired of rape victims, at least in the USA, being brainwashed by therapists to forgive and forget because their rapists were "sick" and could not help themselves. Hogwash. They are cruel brute beasts who deserve the same fate that the rapists got in this film.
This film takes an entirely different approach from most of this genre. First, its hardly a travel brochure for Argentina as the police are shown as completely in league with the rapists who seem to be hunting women as well as animals.
Four female college students are traveling through rural Argentina back to their middle class homes when they find a woman who has been severely injured and sexually assaulted. They also saw "the hunters". They pick up the woman, who dies, and go to the local police. Bad idea. The police seem completely indifferent. As they leave town the women are sideswiped, kidnapped, taken out into the brush and brutally raped. One dies from internal injuries when she is severely beaten prior to the rape.
Afterwards, two of the women find one of the rapists' guns and decide to track them down and "do unto others". To me the deaths of the rapists were not violent enough. Maybe we Americans just do violence better because of our frontier roots and wildness that is still in us, but I was so hoping the girls could round up the rapists, cut their hands and feet off and then bury each of them alive in a mass grave. As it is the violence done to each is not nearly worthy of their past actions. Only the last killed gets a really horrible death, and you don't even get to see it.
We probably won't have the death penalty in the US much longer, but films like this should remind people that sometimes to beat them you have to join them - in technique at least.
The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
It seems for all of the slams it gets, lots of films borrowed from it
You could say that "Dragonwyck", "Secret Beyond the Door", and even Stanwyck's own "Sorry Wrong Number" all had elements of this film in them. Yes, I know Dragonwyck and Conflict were released before this film, but "Two Mrs Carrolls" was actually filmed in 1945 and just sat on the shelf at WB for two years.
Stanwyck plays Sally Morton, a woman who has a whirlwind courtship with artist Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart), until she finds a letter from Mrs. Carroll. Geoffrey then tells her that though he and his wife have been married ten years that his wife has been an invalid since the birth of their daughter. But Sally will have nothing to do with busting up a home.
One great device of this film is that you never see the first Mrs. Carroll. You just see Bogey and the daughter coming in and out of her room. Geoffrey's mind turns to murder, and he is even painting his wife as "The Angel of Death". He signs for some dangerous chemicals at the pharmacist's and you see him going into his wife's room holding her milk, but looking like he is carrying a hand grenade.
Next thing you know it is two years later plus some time, because it is mentioned that the first Mrs. Carroll has been dead that long. Sally is now married to Geoffrey, who is complaining that he can no longer paint, that he is mentally blocked. And then he meets the wealthy Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith) who wants her portrait painted. She shamelessly flirts with Geoffrey, stealing him right out from under Sally's clueless nose. Geoffrey wants to leave Sally for Cecily - and her money - plus that chemist he bought the poison from years ago? He's hanging around and blackmailing Geoffrey, who is hardly wealthy.
The next thing you know, Sally isn't feeling too well, being told by her doctor to stay in bed. Then through casual conversation with Geoffrey's daughter - with whom she has a good relationship - some interesting facts about the first Mrs. Carroll come to light. When Sally convinces the daughter to let her into the locked room where Geoffrey is painting, what they find shocks them both.
Although the idea of Bogart playing an artist seems silly at first, you don't see him that much as an artist - although Jack Warner wanted him to wear a beret and a smock which Bogart had the power by that time to veto. Stanwyck is great as a woman who finds out her dream marriage is a nightmare and Bogart's slide into insanity is artfully done. I do have to ask Cecily - and all homewreckers for that matter - if you can get him to leave his wife this time, won't it be all the easier for some other woman to do it down the line? The bloom won't stay on your rose forever! And now I turn to the daughter. She really is a necessary character. Her interaction with Bogart all through the movie and their good relationship brings out the humanity in Bogart's character, and she innocently relays information to Stanwyck's character that she could not have easily gotten any other way. The only weird part is how she seems to be eternally eight. She does not age over the three year period that this film takes place.
In summary you have a great cast in a moody film set in a dark creepy English mansion. The housekeeper is a smart mouth from the word go, Nigel Bruce plays a doctor who is also a lush, and Patrick Moore as Stanwyck's old boyfriend has the patience of a saint. Unfortunately he has the sex appeal of one too. I'd recommend this one.
Oscar Wilde (1960)
Great acting but somewhat sanitized
I don't know much about Oscar Wilde the man. Instead, I just know him through his works. This film was on Turner Classic Movie's "Summer Under the Stars" honoring Ralph Richardson recently, even though Ralph Richardson was a supporting player. Instead this is the only film I can remember in which Robert Morley stars, and in the title role, and he did an excellent job.
The film starts out as rather a love story between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, with them meeting at an opening of "Lady Windemere's Fan", having what could be considered a romantic exchange of words, and then would not have likely seen each other again save the fact that Lord Douglas was being blackmailed by an unsavory character over some letters that he wrote to another man. Not knowing what to do he contacts Wilde. Wilde comes to Douglas' rooms and tells Douglas to say nothing. When the blackmailer arrives, Wilde humorously impersonates a member of Scotland Yard and threatens the blackmailer with prison. The blackmailer scurries off, scared to death. And from that point the Wilde/Douglas friendship/romance begins.
England did not have a production code in the strict sense that America did at the time, which dealt with all kinds of things besides sex. However, the film has Wilde claiming - and even seeming to believe - that he is just the dearest friend of Douglas. During his friendship with Douglas he makes the acquaintance of other young men, with the film insinuating that they are gay. They meet in groups, often in public places, and the rumors begin to fly. These rumors get back to the Marquis of Queensberry, Douglas' father, who is a brute beast and is determined to get Wilde away from his son one way or another.
What starts out as the trial of Queensberry for libel against Wilde turns into a trial of Wilde for the vague charge of indecency, which, from what I could gather, was not for a particular act, but for an overall lifestyle. How strange that in Victorian England you could be sent to jail for either libel (a civil crime in America) or just overall indecency - what you were, not a specific act.
Morley gives a very sensitive portrayal of a man who apparently is surprised that he might be gay, and it takes going to trial to make him really think about it. John Neville as Douglas can be sensitive and tender to Wilde, reckless in word and deed, and vindictive when it comes to dear old dad. Morley's Wilde seems blind to the "angry son" side of Douglas until it is too late. Phyllis Calvert does not get much screen time, but as Wilde's wife she comes across as a sweet woman who loves Oscar come what may. Ralph Richardson as the prosecuting attorney brings the trial scenes to life, although his constant opining in open court, trying to prejudice the jury, would never be allowed in courts today.
Dennis Price plays Robert Ross, the stalwart friend of Wilde who offers both advice and encouragement. How surprised I was to see Gregory Ratoff, a Russian immigrant who often played buffoonish executives and agents in American films, was the director of this sensitive character study and drama.
I'd really recommend this one. The acting is excellent and it is a rare chance to see Robert Morley in a starring role that required a great deal of range.
Street of Missing Men (1939)
Another misnamed Universal flick post Laemmle...
... because this film is not about a thoroughfare or men who are supposed to be living there, and yet I liked it! It has some familiar themes, and some that are not so familiar.
The film opens with Cash Darwin (Charles Bickford) getting out of prison and swearing vengeance against Charles Putnam (Harry Carey) of the Clarion newspaper whose articles put him behind bars. He walks right into Putnam's office with a gun and says he is taking him on a ride, the kind you don't come back from. Putnam has a last request - a last meal at a fancy restaurant? And Darwin agrees? It is a bit of a hoot to see these two sipping wine and Darwin talking about how much he is going to enjoy killing Putnam. Meanwhile, Putnam's wife has figured out what is going on and bursts in on the two with the police in tow. The gun that the police find when they frisk Darwin means it's back to the slammer for him. However, Putnam claims that Cash is working for him and he just hadn't had time to get the gun permit yet.
Why did Putnam do this? He wants to hire Cash to stop the gangland warfare against his paper and the people who sell and distribute it. You see, Putnam has been gathering evidence and publishing articles about gangster Mike Reardon, hoping to stir up support for his arrest and the smashing of his syndicate. Reardon is not taking this lying down. Strangely Cash agrees to Putnam's job offer, or does he?
Cash is a "nobody is on the level, why should I be" type, and it is awhile whether you know if he is really planning to help Putnam, who indeed saved him from the slammer a second time, or if he is double crossing him and working for Reardon to avenge his original prison sentence. Bickford, always great, never gives anything away with his great poker face. However, he does have one soft spot. That spot would be a homeless newsboy selling the Clarion on street corners. He buys the kid a dog and has him move into his apartment. Maybe Cash sees himself as a boy in the kid, and wants to be there for him so he doesn't go down the wrong path.
How does this end up? I'll let you watch and find out, though good luck finding a copy. Just one hint. At one point Cash does something so despicable that you just know that the production code is going to demand he be punished in some way. This one is short but good.
Law & Order: Happily Ever After (1990)
Good detective work in this one
A man and woman who are well off are returning to their building talking about trying for another baby soon as they pull into their parking garage. As they exit their car, shots ring out. The man is killed, his wife is wounded but survives. It looks like another case of "dead people are easier to rob" that was so rampant in the Big Apple pre mayor Giuliani performed by some common street criminal who has been paroled 23 times.
However, detectives Max Greevey (George Dzundza as the seasoned cop) and Mike Logan (Chris Noth as the young cop) think something is strange here, starting with the fact that the wounded widow tells the same story each time she is questioned - not so odd - but uses the exact same words each time. No just finding the shortest path between two points for these two. They run down leads, figure out what does not make sense, and do some poking around. They get their suspects.
Now it is prosecutor Ben Stone's turn to try to either get a satisfactory deal or a conviction, and he too is a masterful judge of character here.
This is not so much a "ripped from the headlines" issue episode here, although it is similar to another murder case from the year before. There are just no big social issues like there were in later episodes. It is just a good example of the cast of Law and Order solving and prosecuting a crime as old as the human race.
And then there is District Attorney Adam Schiff played by Steven Hill getting the last word as he did so well - "either that or she is two and she wants what she wants when she wants it."
It really is not true that all things work out for the best...
... and this odd episode of Gunsmoke shows that was particularly true for one guy.
John Larch plays Jim Cobbett, a pretty well liked 40ish homesteader with a nice spread living outside of Dodge. However, Hank Luz is spreading rumors that Cobbett killed his first wife - she disappeared without a trace - and now he is getting ready to marry a second time. Luz has a grudge against Cobbett because Cobbett legally claimed a piece of land with water on it before Luz could. Matt doesn't believe the rumors, and he and Chester attend the nuptials for Cobbett and the bride, who knew Jim back east and has, up to now, always lived back east.
Shortly thereafter, Luz appears in Matt's office again, this time saying that the second Mrs. Cobbett has disappeared too. Matt does the wise thing - he tells Luz to stay away from Cobbett's place and mind his own business AND he decides to ride out to Jim's place and see exactly what is going on. When he gets there he finds a distraught and somewhat traumatized Cobbett with quite a tale to tell. What is that tale? Is it even true? Watch and find out.
This episode deals in a very 50s sanitized TV kind of way with rape, how women often feel it is a fate worse than death, how men often feel responsible for the outcome of their marriages and the protection of their wives regardless of circumstances, and how Matt has to make a decision on Cobbett's character with absolutely nothing to go on but his own past observations and the reputation of the man's character. Definitely worth your time.