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Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder (1969)
Season 3, Episode 24
Extreme and subtle all at once
13 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my favourite episodes of Season Three. In fact, of the whole show, to be honest. I can understand the criticisms regarding the OTT acting and the perception of gender bias, but I couldn't disagree more. The major strength of this episode lies in its searing portrayal of a character's distaste for her own gender identity. Janice Lester is primarily concerned with achieving the perceived masculine glory of being a starship captain. The alien technology also allows her to revenge herself upon Kirk by condemning him to the "indignity" of being a woman. Kirk himself comments that "her intense hatred of her own womanhood made life with her impossible." Lester is not just railing against the sexism of Starfleet (although I accept that this is a valid criticism), she is permanently at war with herself. Her agony is palpable, as is Kirk's sad weariness: "We'd have killed each other."

As to Shatner's performance, I think it is terrific. For all of his blustering hysteria, he is also incredibly subtle. The way he runs his hand over the back of his head as he (as Lester) admits that he walked out on her when the relationship became serious. Not only does this appear shame-faced, but there is a tiny smirk on his face as Lester drops Kirk in it to an obviously uncomfortable McCoy. The business with the nail-file, especially as he wags it in McCoy's direction, the way he rather sensually touches Dr Coleman, his ludicrous girlish tutting at the hearing, his walk - it is all very telling, very clever.

The only (teensy) thing that I don't like about this episode is the scene between Chapel and Kirk (in Lester's body). Kirk is condescendingly saccharine in response to Christine's rather unbelievable loyalty to Coleman as her new boss. I just can't believe she would be so dense - although Kirk being so smarmy is no surprise, and was well portrayed by Sandra Smith.

Oh, it's all good stuff!
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Thought-provoking Suspenser
15 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I particularly enjoyed Delly's review of this film and agree that Howard is not the only "damaged" character. Howard is rather ruthlessly "set-up" by the script, but there is no evidence that his previous employer is actually dead or, if she is, that he murdered her. Howard doesn't know and neither do we. In terror and confusion at seeing the woman lying there, he bolts. However, he never actually harms Helen Gordon, no matter how enraged he is. Indeed, he reacts with horror at Helen's fainting spell and the fact that he is holding a pair of scissors...then he resumes his tidying up and greets the recovered Helen with the almost pathetic " I'm very tired now. I think I'll go home". Frankly, I don't think he's a psychopath. A sick puppy, certainly, but not a psychopath.

The problem with Howard is that he has no real male identity. He wanted to serve his country, but his mental condition denies him a place in the army. He is singularly rootless and isolated: no wife, no girl, no home (again, at least as far as we know). And, he does a woman's job - "Floor's are my speciality". Helen's niece ruthlessly strips away this pride in his thoroughness by exclaiming caustically that she would want a man with a real job. Also, although he finds himself strongly attracted to Helen, he is unable or unwilling to do more than scare her by making a strong sexual pass. He is remarkably powerless - can't fight, can't work, can't make love.

Helen is justifiably terrified, however. She tries to connect to him but, finding that he doesn't respond normally (i.e. way outside the comfort zone provided by her rose-tinted memories of husband Ned), unwittingly presses all Howard's buttons by lying to him in her attempt to escape.

Both characters, trapped in the house, trapped by fear, neuroses, rage and memory, deserve sympathy. I know the sudden ending has disappointed some reviewers, but I felt it fitted well, as it offered a kind of release to the characters. Helen is freed, I think, from the past. When Howard tries on her husband's army coat, Helen's disgusted reaction is highlighted. She no doubt feels that the "sacredness" of Ned's possessions has been violated but, hopefully, her need to keep everything "untouched" has been lost in the reality of her own struggle with danger. Perhaps she can move on.

Howard is also freed - from his endless cycle of anger, hurt and violence. Whether he moves on to treatment or to jail is debatable, but I hope it's the former.

Great performances from Ryan and Lupino. I prefer "On Dangerous Ground", but this is pretty good too.
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Ryan and Heflin in Top-Drawer Psychological Thriller
15 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Excellent, downbeat drama with powerful performances and wonderful cinematography. Whether sitting fishing on a sunny lake, steeped in drunken misery at a convention, or waiting for a train to smash him into nothingness, Van Heflin is relentlessly pursued by Robert Ryan, and the ghosts of ten betrayed soldiers.

What intrigues me most about this film is that the protagonists don't actually meet until the final scene, and one is never entirely sure that Joe (Ryan) will actually pull the trigger. Sure, there's plenty of talk with everybody else - the wife, the girlfriend, the bar-fly, the lawyer - but Frank and Joe never get to talk. We know that Johnny will kill whomever he needs to - that's what he does. But is Joe a killer?

I read somewhere that Zinnemann managed to get out of Nazi Germany, but his parents stayed behind, waiting for Visas. They were imprisoned (separately) in concentration camps and did not survive. One can only imagine how Frank's redemptive dive in front of that bullet echoed endlessly in Zinnemann's mind. The guilt of survival...what a terrible thing.
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Hilarious, cynical and yet life-affirming.
8 August 2006
"The Nutty Professor" never fails to amuse and touch me, no matter how may times I watch it. Kelp is an enormously sympathetic character whom nobody seems to like, while Buddy is an egotistical monster who dazzles students and staff alike. Lewis makes the point that it is not only Kelp who is unable to accept himself, but society is overly impressed by the flashy, the handsome, the glib and the shallow. Kelp's path to self-awareness isn't just a personal wake-up call, but an implied social critique.

Stella is the only protagonist apart from Kelp who processes on anything other than a superficial level. Her kindness to the professor hints at a deeper attraction, at least to the point where she acknowledges his attraction to her. Yet, the two bottles of formula in her jeans' pockets implies an incredibly cynical double-standard. Yes, she prefers Kelp's sincerity, his love, his kindheartedness, but she'd rather have Buddy Love in her bed. Edwina Kelp, similarly, has been tamed into girlish giggling submission by her newly confident and, one must assume, sexually dominant husband.

A couple of reviewers have mentioned that they don't find the film terribly funny. Have you had a fun-ectomy, people? Kelp's first visit to Dr Warfield's office (the seat, the watch, the fish, "your greens"); the business with his glasses having no home at the gym ("Actually, I'd appreciate it.."); the flashback to his parents early married life; Buddy ordering a cocktail; Buddy hijacking Stella's test ("Write nice!") goes on and on and on. Best bit, though, is Kelp's solo dance at the prom. Gets me every time, and I watch this flick at least twice a certainly is a toe-tapper. Well, zip and I'm gone.
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Downbeat But Fascinating Western
3 August 2006
This is a strange one: superb performances and realistic action set in a wonderfully harsh and beautiful setting, yet let down by plodding, uninspired direction. The sub-plot/romance concerning young Gene and the blonde girl reminded me of "3.10 to Yuma" for some reason, and then I felt a bit disappointed when I compared the two films.

The camera work is a bit dull, with only wide shots, and a variety of mid-shots. De Toth never really seems interested in his characters or his story. And, like one of the other reviewers, I was a bit worried about the horses. Still, the location sequences are great, and a wonderful juxtaposition with a more typically dusty Western setting. The gloomy tone of the film, combined with the setting, gives it an intriguingly noir edge.

Not bad, but this could have been so much more powerful.

But, hey - I could watch Robert Ryan in anything!
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Not a classic film noir. Not a classic at all.
2 August 2006
There seems to be a consensus, in all the books on films noir that I've come across, that "Out of the Past" is a pretty fine, not to say iconic, example of the genre. I bought it a few years ago and was not impressed. However, after having read some more stuff recently and been encouraged once again by a host of positive opinions, I watched it again. Well, still no dice. I'm not even convinced that it's a particularly good film, never mind a classic example of noir. The major problem is the script. While memorably snappy here and there ("Baby, I don't care"; "A dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle"; "Awfully cold around the heart"; and Bailey's voice-over in the flashback), it loses focus and momentum in the last third of the film, the San Francisco/Tahoe scenes. Here the film is complicated by needlessly tortuous plotting, and Kathie's villainy seems awkward and dull.

The San Francisco scenes are the most noir-ish in terms of style and setting. Set at night, in the rain, there are long moments of quiet as Bailey sidles in and out of bars and apartments. Yet the photography is unremarkable and adds nothing to the mood of the piece that the night-time does not bring on its own. This contrasts starkly with the opening of the film, set in daylight in mid-town America, by the fishing stream, and with the second third of the film, set in Acapulco, in the sunshine and brightness, and the romance of the beach. Yet there is a standard noir voice-over against the sunshine which, though it doesn't jibe with the intense romance that plays out there, is no doubt intended to underscore Bailey's fatalism and Kathie's projected betrayal. The tone is so uneven that the mood of the film, intentionally cynical and bleak, simply drains away into a dullness that is only reprieved by the out-and-out nihilism of the ending.

And yet there is some good stuff too. The flashback sequence is probably the best in the film, despite the asymmetry of its components. In fact, perhaps this very conflict of styles brings a complexity and depth that the rest of the film sadly lacks. Bailey's utter abandonment of his better self to Kathie, punctuated by his wonderfully poetic narrative, gives heart to a film that sorely lacks one. The pain and shock on Bailey's face when Kathie shoots Fisher dead, is mirrored in the viewer's. After this, nothing matters and no-one cares – it just slides away into tedium.

The performances are very varied. I am conflicted by Mitchum's. Much as I value him as an actor, his laconic, careless mannerisms are reduced to weariness in this film; his resignation approaches enervation. There is nothing at all convincing about his feelings for the character of Anne Miller, and though Bailey belongs entirely to the milieu of Kathie and her sociopathic impulses, one cannot feel any sympathy for him, as he feels nothing for himself. All is emptiness.

While there is at least a seamless effortlessness about Mitchum, the same cannot be said of Jane Greer. She is fundamentally without charm as a seductress and unconvincing as a femme fatale. When compared to Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, or even Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent, her shortcomings are glaring. As an actress she reacts to the role instead of making it her own.

The only real bright spot in the film was Kirk Douglas, to be honest. Whit Sterling really thrived. Whether venal, cool, angry, amused or simply smooth, he managed to evince a real passion for life and, alone of all the characters in the film, laughed. Whit suddenly slapping Kathie was the only time I felt anything as the film dragged to a close.

Noir cynicism and suffering are one thing ("In a Lonely Place", for example), but lifelessness is something else again. "Out of the Past" is mired in the sense of its own meaninglessness. It is beyond loneliness, beyond bitterness. This is not film noir. This is boredom.
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