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The Raiders (1963)
Let's Take 'em to Missouri, again
The Raiders was one of the last films you will see made taking what was standard historical interpretation at the time point of view that the Reconstruction period was when the sadistic and moneygrubbing carpetbag governments squeezed the last ounce of pride from the fallen Confederacy. The Civil Rights revolution put an end to all of that.
The Raiders starts out as a cut down version of The Texans or Red River with Brian Keith trying with his fellow cattlemen to get that big herd to Missouri. Only they have far less success than Randolph Scott or John Wayne in those other classics. Beaten and beat Keith and his comrades go to Fort Hays and see temporary commander Alfred Ryder and railroad man Addison Richard. They veto a southern route and Keith says no southern route, no railroad at all.
At this point the film switches to something like Cecil B. DeMille's The Plainsman where Robert Culp, James McMullan, and Judi Meredith play Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Calamity Jane Canary respectively. Culp takes the lead in trying to avoid some big trouble, but Keith is proud and angry and Ryder is a tin soldier martinet who carries a Texas Minie Ball in his leg from the late Civil War. In fact Ryder has the juiciest role in the film.
I'm guessing this was a pilot for a possible TV series that Culp, McMullan and Meredith would have starred in. The Civil Rights Revolution and changing attitudes would make this kind of film unacceptable. You rarely saw southern heroes after The Raiders came out.
As it is it's no different than a lot of what was on television because it was meant for television. It might worked in 1953 even, but not in the Sixties.
Harry and Tonto (1974)
Their place in the sun
It took me 41 years to truly appreciate Harry And Tonto. As 55 year old Art Carney was made up and grew into the role of 72 year old Harry Coombs, I had to wait until now when I'm 67 to appreciate the life of Harry Coombs and the way Art Carney portrayed him. I too live with an orange cat named Ginger, present from a dear friend who passed on. I had to grow with life into the role.
Meet Harry Coombs, a 72 year old widower who lives in Manhattan in a building ready for demolition with his cat Tonto. I know how much pets can comfort you and I felt his part more than I do others. When what some might call progress is made and his building goes to the wrecking ball, Carney goes to live with one son in the suburbs Philip Bruns.
But that proves unsatisfactory so Harry And Tonto go on an extended trip to find their right place in the sun. Along the way they meet all kinds of people and have a lot of adventures and a bit of fun.
I have to say this none of my cats ever would have taken to the leash as Tonto did. They also would not have traveled. When I went away on trips most of the time they were not of long duration and I could leave them with enough food, water, and a fresh litter. I would not have traveled with O'Malley, Simba, Socks, or Ginger. I did make one trip with Simba when I moved from Brooklyn to Buffalo in 1997. Not an odyssey I'd care to repeat.
A lot of wonderful players were assembled by director Paul Mazursky in support of Carney. Among them are Ellyn Burstyn, Arthur Hunnicutt, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Larry Hagman, Josh Mostel, Chief Dan George, et al. My favorite is Herbert Berghof the old leftist from Poland who meets with Carney in the park and they talk of the old days. When he dies the most touching scenes in the film are Carney trying to get Berghof decently buried and not being a blood relative. Whatever family Berghof might have is behind that Iron Curtain of 1974. At least Carney got to say goodbye.
That got to me too because during the Eighties and Nineties I lost a lot of friends and acquaintances due to the AIDS plague. It is not easy when old and while I was still young and middle aged many a gay person had that happen to them way before the allotted time we're supposed to have on earth.
Art Carney got the Best Actor Oscar for 1974 and the only other nomination received was for Best Original Screenplay for director Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfield. It's sad that Mazursky and Greenfield didn't win for creating the character that served Art Carney so well.
Harry And Tonto should be seen by audiences of all ages who can appreciate life and health while you have it, to value your animal companions, and for the young to see what could be in store for them. Previous to this Oscar, Carney was known as Jackie Gleason's second banana on The Honeymooners playing Ed Norton the sewer worker. When one wins a Best Actor Oscar, one is never a second banana after that.
And this review is dedicated to the cats I've had and to the late Jesse Lukasik who gave me Ginger when she needed a home after Socks died and who never lived to visit both me and Ginger in our happy environment.
The Naked Dawn (1955)
A romantic life style
King of the cheapies Edgar Ullmer directed this modern west saga set in Mexico with something he normally didn't have at his disposal, technicolor. Even with that it's certainly one parsimonious production, but not bad.
Although why he cast Arthur Kennedy replete with dyed black hair and a greasy beard as a Mexican bandit who knows. This was a role so right for Gilbert Roland. I guess he wasn't available.
Nevertheless Kennedy gives it his best as the charismatic bandit who after losing one partner doing a job is ready for another. He takes refuge in the house of farmer Eugene Iglesias and wife Betta St.John. In one way or another he seduces both of them with what they see as a romantic life style. Both want to go off with him and leave the other.
The Naked Dawn is a curious little film, deep in character rather than plot. But I think it would have been a classic with a Gilbert Roland or a Fernando Lamas in the lead.
Law & Order: Paradigm (2004)
Having it both ways
Dennis Farina joins Law And Order for two seasons as Jesse Martin's new partner and they get the case of a recently returned female army reservist from Iraq who is killed with her body carefully laid out with a cross painted in pig's blood across her chest. The victim was a member of a military police unit and as it turned out had done duty at the now infamous Abu Ghiraib prison. Which we learn was also a place that Saddam Hussein used for his prisoners, political and otherwise.
The perpetrator using an advertising gimmick lured the victim to the crime scene and did the deed. It turns out that she is the Arab wife of an American businessman and is a naturalized citizen herself. In fact Sarita Choudhury claims herself as a prisoner of war.
Sorry lady, you can't be an enemy combatant and an American citizen. Can't have it both ways.
Not the best Law And Order episode, still Dennis Farina was an interesting contrast with Jerry Orbach.
Law & Order: C.O.D. (2004)
Something out of Alfred Hitchcock
Is how Fred Dalton Thompson characterizes this double homicide that Briscoe and Green are investigating. It actually starts out as a single homicide that of express messenger driver and husband of Elizabeth Connors on his route. Incidentally this is Jerry Orbach's farewell to Law And Order as Lennie Briscoe puts in his papers and calls it a career.
The detectives link her through her credit card charges and the fact that by sheer luck they arrest her at a restaurant that Victoria Dillard owns. As it turns out Dillard is also a recent widow, not too recent mind you, of a man who also died as did Connors' husband die of gunshot wounds. Dillard inherits a big fortune for her as a result. That means she hires high priced defense attorney John Benjamin Hickey.
The judge allows simultaneous but separate trials of each defendant with Sam Waterston trying Dillard and Elizabeth Rohm trying Connors. One wins, one loses, but no one is down and out.
This one is quite Hitchcock like and a nice farewell for Jerry Orbach who to me was the face and voice of New York City.
Where we make our stand?
In any campaign good intelligence is always invaluable. My favorite scene in Selma is when Martin Luther King played by David Oyelowo is talking to the local activists in Selma. He tells a story of an action tried at a Georgia town where the sheriff might have been a redneck, but he was a smart redneck. He took the peaceful protesters away by stretcher without a single nightstick raised. No footage of brutality for the media to expose. So King asks the question, is Sheriff Jim Clark of Lowndes County, Alabama that much of an ignorant cracker that he won't control or want to control his deputies and 'volunteers' when push come to shove? The answer he gets is an unequivocal yes. And so it's decided that Selma is where we make our stand.
I was all of 18 when the real events of Selma occurred. In the wake of the Kennedy assassination the Civil Rights Act was finally passed. Now in the wake of Lyndon Johnson's election in his own right as president part of the Selma story is how Martin Luther King and many others made sure Johnson didn't forget his commitment. Civil rights laws forbidding discrimination is one thing, but without political power because black people are ruthlessly and systematically kept from voting it means very little when no redress can be had at the polls.
Tom Wilkinson plays the harassed and beleaguered LBJ who truthfully did have a lot on his plate in 1965. He was about to start a war on poverty with campaigns on many levels. He also was about to escalate a war in Vietnam and that part of the story is judiciously left out, probably rightly for the purposes of this picture and its narrative flow. But it was there nonetheless. Lest Johnson be distracted by the good and bad things he wanted to do it was up to the Civil Rights activists to keep his feet to the fire and the flames well stoked.
So it was in 1965 and the events dramatized here I remember the media sending these images around the world to see. A dark side of America was exposed, an evil that had to be dealt with forthwith. What we get in Selma is both the public and private stories.
David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo play Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King and do a good enough job that we see their private lives. Tim Roth plays Governor George Wallace and interesting seeing two British players Wilkins and Roth in the confrontation scene between the president and the governor. Dylan Baker plays the serpentine and evil J.Edgar Hoover the closest thing we've had to permanent government. He fed spicy bits to 8 presidents and no one liked that better than LBJ. It appealed to the more prurient aspects of his nature.
Wallace to had his own Hoover and it was in the form of Al Lingo the head of the Alabama State Troopers. Lingo is a truly sinister figure and he's played here by Stephen Root and he has one scene with Roth as they decide what to do about the civil rights marchers. Lingo had his own intelligence service to report about Communists and his definition was those agitated for black people to not know their place. Later on he was active in Wallace's national campaigns and other ultra right wing causes.
Selma got one Oscar for Best Song entitled Glory which was a blend of both gospel and rap styles. Not that I'm a big fan of the latter, still it was a deserved winner. Selma was also nominated for Best Picture. It should have won in my book.
This film is about one of the defining moments in American history, one which many like myself saw unfold and one where many participants of the march from Selma to Montgomery are still with us. Their story needs to be seen by generations to come.
Endure the unendurable
By any stretch of the imagination Louis Zamperini was a hero and role model in any number of ways. In getting to see a rough cut of Angelina Jolie's film before he died, he got to see how millions and millions unborn will get to see his life. I think that's something you can't ask for more.
If it wasn't for what Jesse Owens did in the 1936 Olympics Zamperini's story would be more well known even before Unbroken came out. A kid who had a lot of trouble with the law as a juvenile delinquent and a kid whose family was the only one of Italian origin from his small town of Torrance, California he felt the pangs of discrimination. A wise older brother told him to find an outlet and channel his energies into more constructive ways. Track and field became his outlet and in his time he became a legend, sad to say for posterity eclipsed by that other legend of Jesse Owens and the gold he won at Hitler's show palace in Berlin.
He was training for the upcoming Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 1940 when the World War broke out putting a lot of things in the world on hold. In the Armed Services Zamperini became a gunner in the Army Air Corps and got shot down and with two others one of whom died he was on a life raft for over a month.
Rescue comes in the form of the Japanese and he and his fellow survivor spend a couple of years as Japanese prisoners and their treatment of captives was legendarily sadistic. His own strength of character permitted him to endure the unendurable. And he got to see Tokyo from an interesting point of view.
I have to say that I did not recognize most of the players in Unbroken, but probably that was better because it became more authentic. Jack O'Connell plays Zamperini and Garrett Hedlund plays his fellow survivor from the plane and the prison. Takamasha Ishihara plays one of the prison camp officers who singles out Zamperini for some special treatment. He is chillingly evil.
O'Connell and Hedlund are effective in their portrayals as well. Without star baggage which he will now have O'Connell makes you think you really are looking into the most triumphant and despairing moments of the life of Louis Zamperini. Angelina Jolie triumphs as a director as well. I have a feeling that she wanted to make an inspirational movie for the family she and Brad Pitt have to see.
The vistas of Australia and the blue Pacific Ocean surrounding it was a great location and responsible for the Oscar nomination Unbroken got for cinematography. Unbroken also was given recognition by the Academy with two other nominations in the Sound department.
Add a Coen brothers inspirational script and story and you have the makings of a fine film tribute for a real hero.
Rookie Blue (2010)
Forget the Academy
On the first day on the job the five police rookies who are the focus of Rookie Blue are told that forget what you learned in the Police Academy. The Academy is about rules, the street is where rules are twisted and bent for the sake of justice.
Rookie Blue in terms of structure is most like Hill Street Blues from the other side of the 49th parallel. That was also about a precinct, but its perspective comes from the commanding officer or top down. Here it is from the bottom up as we see the precinct in Rookie Blue from the freshest faces in the place.
The five rookies are Missy Peregrym, Gregory Smith, Enuka Okuma, Travis Milne, and Charlotte Sullivan. The main focus is Peregrym who is carrying the police legacy of a father who was once a prominent homicide detective, but has gone to seed.
This is a nice Canadian police series. Wonder why it wasn't picked up south of the border?
Joe Dakota (1957)
Justice for 'the Old Indian'
TV's Range Rider tried his hand at big screen westerns and this one, Joe Dakota is one of them. Sad to say though that Jock Mahoney came along a bit too late to be a big screen cowboy hero. And the film while good is not anything you wouldn't see as a Gunsmoke episode.
The plot is considerably borrowed from MGM's Bad Day At Black Rock, but its hero is a soft spoken Tom Destry like character. Jock Mahoney is in the title role and he comes to town looking for someone the locals only knew as 'The Old Indian'. He's disappeared now and a bunch of the locals under the supervision of town tough Charles McGraw are drilling an oil well on the Old Indian's land.
Only it's not his land, it's Mahoney's land which 'the old Indian' was squatting on for Mahoney. Mahoney starts investigating, start asking questions and pretty soon the town is riled. Something McGraw hopes to use when the time comes.
Mahoney does make a good cowboy hero, born a little too late to have made a career on the big screen. I remember him well as the Range Rider during my childhood years. As for 'the Old Indian' and McGraw if you've seen Bad Day At Black Rock you know how this one comes out.
Such fine folks as Luana Patten, Barbara Lawrence, Paul Birch, Claude Akins and Lee Van Cleef fill out the cast. Sad Jock Mahoney came along too late to be a big screen cowboy hero.
On the principles of blackjack
I should have been in bed at the age of 9 when Twenty-One came on. But I would try to listen on the stairs as this quiz show got all of America buzzing as to who would make 21 and win.
The show operated on the principles of blackjack. Instead of drawing cards you drew questions with a difficulty level from to 11. The first to reach 21 won the prize. If you drew number one the question might be something on the order of Who's buried in Grant's Tomb? But no one drew those.
Reportedly Jack Barry and Dan Enright tried to make it legitimate at first but the ratings almost sank the show. After that it was trying to get contestants like you would search today for a reality series.
The high water mark of the show and by this time there were any number of other quiz shows doing the same, some under the Barry-Enright banner, some not was when Charles Van Doren, the Columbia professor with the distinguished family name became the reigning champion defeating geeky Herbert Stempel from Queens. In his own way Stempel became the Howard Beale of quiz shows, eliminated for bad ratings.
But Herbie wouldn't stay down. He blew the lid and Van Doren who was something of an intellectual matinée idol was ruined. As the probe from Congress extended to the rest of quiz shows they went during the late Fifties in a massacre. The only ones left were the harmless parlor game type shows with small pay outs.
I remember Jack Barry was a good host who never let his own personality intrude into the contestants and their mission. Which was apparently to put on a good show rather than really show off their knowledge.
I remember to this day a line from the Ed Sullivan Show by I believe Alan King who said, "who would have thought the most honest thing on television was wrestling?"