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The Debt Collector (1999)
A Quare Film But Pretty Good
Billy Connolly is an enforcer who is "tired of bein' the headbangers' William Wallace" (great quote), who can't beat a vendetta from a cop who convicted him, who is nevertheless off his nut (or some other expression, better from Scotland). This gives you some clue that this is another loopy New=Britain type crime film with mentally deficient mosh pit types and Bob Hoskins wannabe grownups. But it stays coherent enough not to be overly self satirical or cynically detached with a breath that can't fog a mirror. There are plot twists and tragic elements that hold attention, although it's not too hard to see what happens next. If you're not thrown off by the Scottish slang -- and some of these 90's films from Scotland are incomprehensible -- It's good to see a familiar cast do their thing. The point of this film is that Scotland is a politically correct society that tends to whitewash bad morality with respectable dudgeon for 'what's good for humanity'. And behind it is a pent up rage that must make the UK one of the most passive aggressive societies on earth. You saw this in "Clockwork Orange" and even Gordon Brown's release of Adel Al-Meghrahi to Libya. What became of HIM? Time to send in Connolly to find out.
The Lady Gambles (1949)
A Hidden Masterpiece!
Despite some of the reviews here that characterize TLG as trite and dated, I only thought this film was a directorial surprise, way ahead of its time for 1949.
First you start with a flashback by Preston's character that isn't quite a flashback, because we are more interested in who this man is and what the circumstances of his plight are, than the past per se. Virtually all Hollywood flashbacks seem to involve some grand police confession or some need to explain the confessor (such as "D.O.A.")but the flashback here seems to add to the convolutedness of the characters, and the surrealism of the situation. Does Preston really understand his wife? If so when? The flashback reminds us that there is more to explain than the "what",but also the "why" which neither Preston nor the audience yet understand (gambling is a disease, but the matter of guilt and personal responsibility for misdeeds remain open).
More convolutedness in the photography. Carefully cropped chest-up body shots, with swirling camera movements amid authentic but claustrophobic interiors. Remember, only Max Ophuls was supposed to have done this sort of thing at the time! I remember "Leaving Las Vegas" attempted the same themes in slightly different ways (misery and anomie in a spectacular setting) but that was a miserable film.
Finally you have a not so sweet resolution to depict insanity, but in a much subtler way than "The Snake Pit" and other entries in the growing body of 'social consciousness' films. Stanwyck was a tough-soft actress, and the scenes where she rolls before a throng a gamblers rarely came tougher in her films. A work to just watch.
A Force of Evil Comes to 7th Ave.
This is an Abraham Polonsky film and a rare social documentary of the kind that was essentially out of business by the early 60's. The original novel had a male protagonist but was changed to suit 'women's picture' zeitgeist. But if you look carefully, the script is a very strong echo of "Force of Evil" by Polonsky.
In addition to some crucial taxicab courtship banter common to both films, designed to 'disarm' both John Garfield and Dan Dailey before their love interests (the car was even picked up in "On the Waterfront" to show actual desperation between the Brando and Steiger characters)you have tough males depicted as ambitious but morally uneducated instrumentalities; a background of "law of the jungle" capitalism governed by arcane insider rules (respectively bookmaking and garment manufacturing); industrial consolidation as an ominous force (neighborhood bookmaking subsumed under a legalized crime syndicate,dressmaking bought out by a big name)and industrialists with independent capitalist streaks (Thomas Gomez, Sam Jaffe).
It is amazing how Susan Hayward found films to echo some aspect of her life. She really was skilled in visual art, modeling, and had a family of Irish vaudeville types (echoed by Dailey).We were confused by the handling of the love interest. Could such an ambitious dame have found real love with anyone? And Teddy is not a lothario == just a penniless farceur who needed education and some control over his temper (a point almost entirely missed, but in real life such fisticuffs were a way to win Hayward's respect). Anyway, a rather juicy film to savor.
Jack London (1943)
This is a dog and I don't mean "White Fang". What could have been a low budget, puckish travel adventure is hijacked and turned into a strange yellow peril piece. After enduring an hour of unadventurous travelling and business details about journalist London (we don't get much of him as a novelist other than an opening montage of a shelfful of books) we are introduced to a little costume piece about his travails in Japan, and internment under what seems to be a pseudo concentration camp for Russian soldiers. We are informed that what makes London such a patriot is the apparent revelation by a Japanese host that Japan has a master plan of conquest because they do not have an empire and cannot survive on trade.
Truth told, especially during the depicted Russo-Japanese War, is that all the great powers had the same attitude. And London probably owes his survival to Teddy Roosevelt's negotiation of the peace (only TR's anger over London is shown).
London was also a white supremacist and anti semite,whose obsession with adventure sounds like misanthropy. If analogized to his similar contemporary Rudyard Kipling, we might have seen the characterization of a dashing poet, ironist, and visionary of human nature, and not a Bowery Boy. Some poetry does seem evident in the script at the very end.
O'Shea struggles mightily as the lead, but he is no Spencer Tracy and has none of the Irish charm or humorous physicality. And how about Hayward as his beau? 'Oh yes! I already know you are going to leave me for nine months to cover the war because I love you that much!' After scripts like that, you'd be known as the foulest mouth in Hollywood too, and get the inclination to tear the eyes out of every studio exec you meet.
Where Love Has Gone (1964)
Why do we love this etch-a-sketch film?
This is a film so campy bad that Hayward and Davis were bound to fight. I haven't read the book, but apparently Davis' character was supposed to die. She held up filming because she thought it would be out of character. The two actresses had a row in which Davis tore off her wig and threw it at Hayward (Sound familiar? As if Jacqueline Suzanne were looking on?) Hayward called Davis a "bitch,bitch,bitch!" They supposedly had a coin toss where Hayward won the right to die.
The irony and entire subtext, what little there is, is that Valerie was naturally the wild child and would have done more to wreck her marriage and daughter's life than Luke could have done with his rather unviolent, unrevealing alcoholism (no Lillian Roth is he). When Valerie asks whether Luke thinks it was harder for her than him to ask for reconciliation, Luke says it was harder for him not to make it happen. But that's not to say Luke is trying to protect her from his failings -- we don't feel it. Rather I feel that Valerie is essentially a bad artist who throws clay together (that is made rather clear) from whom the entire world must be protected.
It is said that when Hitchcock filmed "Rope", everyone but Jimmy Stewart was informed that this film was about a gay crime in which all the characters were gay. Someone forgot to inform Hayward that she was playing a spoiled insouciant egotist who could make the first move to ruin both career and marriage. And that is the real point of the Johnny Stompanato case -- this is a man who committed statutory rape against Lana Turner's daughter, and whom Lana Turner should have been wary of. But she was so sex addicted and manipulative that she essentially allowed it to happen - and made an entertaining soap opera of it at trial. So Hayward, who was a strong actress, was clueless.
It is also said by professional writers that "BUtterfield 8" has the single worst opening sentence of any novel in English. Likewise, WLHG might have benefited from some really bad dialogue added to some of the genuinely witty lines (mostly coming from Joey Heatherton) the more you punch a punchy boxer and hurl wet clay on behalf of the United Nations (Whose Valerieesque style of art still can be found in globalist institutions) the better it looks.
I see a remake here where Luke is the hapless comptroller of bankrupt California and Valerie is a Hayward impression of Nancy Pelosi. The wa-wa pedals of doom!
Hayward's NeoRealist Cold War Triumph !
This film appealed to me for reasons most of us would never suspect. This is as splendid a herald of America's Cold War period as you can get, as well as a harbinger of Hollywood's social realist tendencies which were usually suppressed, but seem to blossom here.
The scenario comes from Dorothy Parker, who in the 30's became an expert on the subject of unfaithful and failing marriages,a la pre-code. But the script comes from John Howard Lawson, whom Ronald Radosh in "Red Star over Hollywood" describes as a high priest of communism. He was of a devoutly religious upbringing and took a hard line in encouraging his fellow writers to address social issues the progressive way. Here, the issue is the isolation of a woman by an apparently success oriented husband, who fails to preserve what his is socially obliged to protect -- the purpose of marriage, which is to love cherish, and mutually support the spouse in her thoughts, actions and feelings.
In the manner of Italian neorealism which was actually appearing at the time, there are few demonstrated acts to move the plot or psychology along. Ie no gunshots kisses or deaths to move the plot along. Rather we see a series of dramatic framings and positionings in space. Angie does not claim success or failure in her career -- she merely signs off to her man. Her jealousy is without factual basis -- merely the result of a lack of confidence. Even the big powder room fight is perfunctory and unclimactic. In fact, like everything else, she forgets about it in her alcoholic haze.
The last scene (I wont give it away is a masterpiece of visual ambiguity of the type DeSica, Bardem and Rosselini would approve? Who is this woman we see or do not see? Throw in the Rococco and Noirish photography of Stanley Cortez and you have a nightmare world of unconfident confidence and horrific happiness -- which would describe how America actually looked "ahead" to the post war period.
Woman Obsessed (1959)
A Lyrical Hathaway Film
When Henry Hathaway put his mind to it, he could endow a film with lyrical naturalism -- "Niagara" and "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" come to mind. This qualifies as such a film, although it has a 50's feel that reminds one of Disney, with an aura of respectable hominess and contemporality. (Apparently it is set no sooner than 1945 because we see a jeep in the film, although the surroundings seem to be more primitive than that) This is a pretty good story about the failure of a man and a woman to communicate their feelings, or to master nature, both inner and in the natural world. Mama Bear Susan Hayward needs to nurture and protect her son, but master the controlled nature of a farm (the boy must even master the realities of cleaning a rabbit hutch, and she, shodding a Clydesdale!) Steven Boyd gives up the controlled life of a woodmill to care for her. Love is incidental, but he has a law of the jungle mentality which puts them in direct conflict over the boy.
Reviewers think it incredible that Hayward would ever live happily ever after with such a brute, but this is a story of archetypes and natural impulses, such as the desire for love and kinship that transcends rationality. I find the performances ultimately gentle and believable in conveying this fact.