Thursday, June 30, 2016

Funny Business in the Old West

This is my entry in the Mel Brooks Blogathon sponsored by Cinematic Frontier.

Blazing Saddles  is an hilarious comedy featuring Richard Pryor as a black sheriff and John Wayne as his sidekick, a drunken former gunfighter....

Wait a minute!  What? Who?

OK, I caught you off guard.  But originally that was to be the lineup.  Except the studio execs balked at letting Pryor have the role, and John Wayne, though Brooks wanted him for the part, turned it down.

Written by Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor (un-credited) and Brooks, this is a romp and a half through the stereotypical tropes of cinematic westerns, turning them all on their ears.  The main theme of the movie was to use the western as a form to satire racism in general.  Hence the use of the  "N-word" in many places in the movie. (note: It is not my intention with this entry to intentionally try to offend you.  In the context of discussing certain aspects of the movie I will used the less offensive "N-word".  But if I am quoting directly from the movie, which I will do on occasion, I will use the word as it is presented in the movie.  That was the whole point of the movie, after all, to show how ridiculous racism and the racists  were.)

It is beyond a doubt, in my opinion, that this movie could not have been made in the present day.

From the interview with Brooks on my DVD I learned several fascinating  facts.  Brooks took on this project because he needed the money, though his habit had been to do his own ideas.  The project was initially the idea of Andrew Bergman who was incorporated into the writing team for the script.  The movie had several working titles.  The original was Tex-X, but it was also going to be called Black Bart (the sheriff's name in the movie was Bart), and The Purple Sage (a rather highbrow title referring to the wise man embodied by the sheriff, but also a sort of homage to a classic Zane Grey western novel, "The Riders of the Purple Sage").  Eventually the title that was used came to Brooks in a moment of inspiration in the shower.  (And isn't that where we all get our inspiration?  Maybe inspiration is in the water...)

Brooks has been quoted as saying he wanted an older man, preferably a real alcoholic actor, to play the part of "the Waco Kid".  He approached John Wayne, but Wayne claimed it was too dirty for his image.  He is quoted by Brooks as saying "but I'll be the first in line to see it!"  Gig Young, who was an alcoholic in real life, was hired, but disaster struck during the first day of filming, as it turned out he was in the advanced stages of the disease.   Gene Wilder, who had been helping write the script and really wanted the role, volunteered to step in.  Cleavon Little was hired to play the sheriff, and various other roles were filled by stock Brooks cohorts (Harvey Korman, Madeleine Kahn) and some character actors like Slim Pickens.

Hedy Lamarr famously sued the production because she thought the name of the villain, Hedley Lamarr, was too close to her own name and smehow was an infringement on her personal property rights to her name.  A running joke throughout the film is people mistakenly calling Hedley "Hedy" and him having to correct them.

Another interesting tidbit:  This was only Burton Gilliam's (Lyle) second movie.  He expressed some reservations about having to say the "N-word", but the most interesting thing about him that I found was he was embarrassed to be in the farting scene.  He told Brooks he'd never be able to show his face back at work (he was still working as a fireman at the time).  Brooks told him if he did that scene he'd be so famous he'd never have to go back to his old job.

An interesting note:  several of the actors had worked together previously on Paper Moon, (the aforementioned Kahn, as well as Burton Gilliam and John Hillerman).  The movie was released despite several objections by the brass (the frequent use of the "n-word", the farting scene, the punching out of a horse).  Fortunately Brooks stood his ground and we have the funny classic we have today. 

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Note:  In order to keep this blog somewhat family-friendly, I have decided to put any lines with offensive words as captions to the pictures.  If you wish to avoid any epithets you can read the blog and bypass the captions.  

Opening with a rousing song (lyrics by Mel Brooks and sung by Frankie Laine) the camera zooms in on a crew of African-Americans and Chinese-Americans working on a railroad.  Up comes a group of cowboys led by Lyle (Burton Gilliam).  Lyle taunts the workers, asking them why they aren't singing.

"How 'bout a good ol' nigger work song?"

Bart and the gang try out their harmonies on the Cole Porter song "I Get a Kick Out of You".  Lyle and company respond with a rendition of "Camptown Ladies".  While they are doing this,

"dancing around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots""

Mr. Taggart (Slim Pickens) rides up and tells them to get back to work.  He instructs Lyle to send a couple of workers to look up the way for quicksand.  Bart (Cleavon Little) and Charlie (Charles MacGregor) are the chosen suckers who do encounter quicksand.  When Lyle and Taggart show up, they rescue the handcart but ignore the two workers who are stuck.  Bart and Charlie escape and Bart conks Taggart in the head with a shovel.


The scene shifts to the offices of Hedy (that's HEDLEY!) Lamarr (Harvey Korman), assistant to the governor, William Lepetomaine (Mel Brooks).  Taggart informs Lamarr of the quicksand and that the train will have to go thjrough Rock Ridge.  The diabolical assistant governor makes plans to drive the rightful citizens from the town and buy up all the land.  To do so he sends rowdies to rough up the town.

Rock Ridge is peopled by good citizens, like Gabby Johnson, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Howard Johnson, Van Johnson, Harriet Johnson etc.  (I think its just a coincidence...)  They all gather to decide to wire the governor to send them a new sheriff.  Lamarr gets wind of it and decides to send Bart (who had been arrested after coshing Taggart.

Proudly(?)  welcoming "our new nigger".

The citizens are enthused about the arrival of the new governor, that is until the sheriff arrives and they find out he is black.  Bart escapes to the jail to hole up, and finds Jim (Gene Wilder), the town drunk.  When Taggart and Lyle decide on their own to get rid of the sheriff, they get Mongo (Alex Karras), a barely coherent imbecile, but a behemoth of a man.  Mongo terrorizes the town until Bart outwits him and arrests him.

"Mongo only pawn in game of life"

Meanwhile Lamarr still has his own plans to outwit the sheriff and hires Lilli von Shtupp (Madeliene Kahn) a German siren with an abominable lisp to seduce him.  This backfires as she falls for him instead of the other way around.

The "Teutonic twat" in the flesh

At last, Lamarr gets his dander up.  He hires a plethora of villains, including

"rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes,  mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists!"

When Bart and Jim get wind of this they convince the townspeople to pitch in with the blacks and the Chinese workers to deceive the marauders.  The spectacle at the end has to be seen to be believed.  Brooks pull out all stops to finish the movie in a way no one had ever dared to try to finish a Western before.

At the end, even the racist town becomes friends with the new black populace.  It's refreshing to see that only the unrepentant suffer their just due by the end.    Brooks managed to film a social satire that some people get and some people don't.  The movie is still criticized even to this day for what some people see as an over abundance of the use of the N-word, but it is an educational point to observe that most of those critics are white.  Black people at the time, and even today mostly approve of what Brooks was trying to do.  It is up to you to decide whether he was successful in his own small part .

Hope you enjoyed the foray, kiddies.  Time to ride off into the sunset.  Drive safely.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Road Trips Can Be Such a Drag

Earlier this week, a guy went into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fl and shot up the place, killing 50 people.   This post is in homage to those who lost their lives in that attack.  Please note:  Everything I write from this point on is from my own personal viewpoint as a heterosexual man.  Any observations, any phrasings or any incidentals are not intended to offend any of my LGBT readers and friends (of which I have, to my knowledge, at least one.  This one is for you, my friend.)

In the course of film history, most gay men have been either the villain (Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon  or John Dall and Farley Granger in Rope) or the subject of ridicule (many examples in comedies of the era, but the best example is John Ritter's Jack Tripper on the TV show Three's Company.  Tripper isn't actually gay, but the fact that he is pretending to be gay and how his "gayness" is treated by society is a good illustration).

Society itself could be blamed, but a major factor was the Hays Code which ruled with an iron truncheon over what could and could not be presented on film.  Because homosexuality was considered a disease by the prevailing authorities, even so far as to being a cause to be arrested for being a homosexual in the real world of the time, the Hays Code established that a gay person on film had to be presented in a negative light.

This gradually began to change in the 1970's.   According to my research for this post, the turning point was considered to be the Stonewall riots, an event that occurred in 1969 in New York City in response to police raids on a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village.  The resulting exposure and outcry of the LGBT community caused the rest of the world to begin change in its view of the homosexual.  This also made its way to Hollywood, where always with its eye on the bottom line, the studios began to see possibilities of the LGBT dollar in the theater.

Before this gets to be a tedious history lesson (or is it already too late?) I will end this ramble, but the fact is that homosexuality is not viewed in such a negative light these days.  In the mid 1990's alone, there were two movies that presented an entertaining look at the world as viewed by "drag queens".  A drag queen, to quote Wesley Snipes' character in To Wong Foo, is "a gay man [who] has way too much fashion sense for one gender".

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

The ostensible star of this movie (aside from the titular bus, anyway...) is Hugo Weaving, an Australian actor who came to prominence in the United States from such high exposure roles as Elrond in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or if you like your films dense and confusing, as Agent Smith in The Matrix movies.  Weaving plays Tick, a gay man who performs a drag queen show under the name "Mitzi".

The true star, in my opinion, however, is the legendary Terence Stamp, who won the Golden Globes for Best New Actor in his very first role as the titular character in Billy Budd (1962), and has been dozens of movies since, including a few of my favorites (Superman II, Wall Street, Alien Nation, The Limey).  Stamp plays a transgender woman, Bernadette, who has recently lost a lover.

Rounding out the cast is Guy Pearce.  Pearce is also a native Australian, who came to attention outside Australia when he appeared in L. A. Confidential.  I did not see that one until much later.  My personal introduction to Pearce was as the scientist who invented The Time Machine in the early 2000's remake of the classic film of the same name, and the following year in  with Jim Caviezel in The Count of Monte Cristo.  Pearce plays a rather flamboyant and exuberant gay man named Adam, who does his drag queen show under the name of "Felicia".

Bernadette, Felicia and Mitzi

In the beginning of the movie, Tick gets a call and is invited to come to Alice Springs to perform his cabaret.  The cabaret, it turns out, is that he and his entourage dress up in drag and perform by lip-synching to various "hit" songs.   Tick calls up his friend Bernadette, who has recently lost her lover, and invites her to come with him, conveniently neglecting to tell her that Adam will also be accompanying them until it's too late for her to back out.  Neither knows, as yet, that Tick is going because the person that requested his performing troupe is his wife.

Adam, for his part, manages to acquire a run-down tour bus for the trip, which he promptly dubs "Priscilla" (the titular "Queen of the Desert").  The three take off for their trip from Sydney to Alice Springs.  They stop over on their first night, but are not received very well with the populace of the town.  This is repeated several times during the course of the movie, in which due to the prevailing fears, prejudices, or just seething hatred for their homosexual-ness, are alternately threatened or abused.  After awakening from their overnight stay the first night they find their bus vandalized with the words "Aids F***ers Go Home".

Unfortunately this is the best picture I can find of the bus
without the offending graffitti.  Take my word for it,
however, it is impressively dilapidated.  

At one point, probably due to the hostility they are experiencing on the main road, the three decide to take off across the Outback via a dusty secondary road.  Due to the less than reliable transport, they break down in the middle of the desert.  That night an Aboriginal Australian takes them back to his encampment where the trio perform their act for them.

Bernadette goes off hiking looking for help.  Meanwhile, Adam decides to redo the bus in a bright lavender paint job.

Eventually Bernadette returns with Bob, a local mechanic who tows the lame bus back to his shop.  Bob is married to a mail-order bride, a very brash and brassy Filipino woman, who before the movie is over tells Bob to shove it where the sun don't shine and takes off.  This leaves Bob free, and he follows along with the trio on their trip.  He also gradually falls in love with Bernadette.  (Bernadette, you will remember, is a transgender woman.)

The bus arrives in Alice Springs where, surprise surprise, Tick also has a son he hasn't told the group about.
This movie, as with all road trip movies eventually, is all about transitions.  Each character learns something about his or herself.  Tick ends up taking his son (who has no problem with his father's sexual identity, as Tick feared he would) back with him to Sydney while Bernadette stays with Bob in Alice Springs.  (Apparently she is starting to have feelings for Bob in return.)

Australian movies had been getting attention in the states before now (Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max, The Man from Snowy River just to name a few).  This movie helped to spur the ongoing craze for the quirky tpe of movies for which the movies from Oz became known.  At some point in the future I intend to do my own Oz-fest posting, as there are about 4 or 6 on my future post schedule from Down Under.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!  Julie Newmar (1995) 

If you haven't seen this movie, you are indeed missing out.  Two he-man studs of the action-adventure genre, Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes, stepped out of their cushy comfort zones to take on the roles of drag queens.  Accompanied by John Leguizamo as a third drag queen, this movie is the second road trip movie, somewhat inspired by the previous movie, although, as we will see, entirely different in how it plays out.

Swayze is Vida Bohemme, and Snipes is Noxeema Jackson.  The two are co-winners of  a New York City drag queen contest and given two air fare tickets to Los Angeles to compete in the national Drag Queen pageant.  (I should note, in my opinion, that Swayze looks pretty decent, and convincing, as a woman in this flick but I thought Snipes looked exactly like what he was in real life {as opposed to his character}, a man dressed up as a woman.)

Leguizamo plays Chi Chi Rodriguez, a runner-up who is devastated by not winning the contest.   (Here, again, I interject my opinion.  I kept having to remind myself that "Chi Chi" was indeed a man in drag.  He, of the three, pulled off the role of a drag queen the best.)  Vida convinces Noxeema to trade in their air tickets to buy a car and take Chi Chi with them on their trip.  To achieve this they go to a restaurant run by a friend, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (really!) , played by Robin Williams.  With Williams help they are given access to a car dealer who lets them have a land yacht of a Cadillac convertible.

Noxeema, Chi Chi and Vida

Somewhere in the midwest (it's never actually said which state they are in, but a lot of the outdoors portion of the movie was shot in Nebraska) they are pulled over by a sexist, racist and homophobic Sheriff Dollard (Chris Penn).  Initially Dollard thinks they are really all women and tries to molest Vida who knocks him out.  They think, however, he is dead, and race for their lives to get away from the scene.

The rickety old Cadillac breaks down however, and the three find themselves at the mercies of the elements.  Fortunately they are rescued by Bobby Ray (Jason London) who takes them into his hometown of Snydersville.  Their car is towed in by Virgil (Arliss Howard), and they are given a room in the town's hotel, also owned by Virgil and his wife, Carol Ann (Stockard Channing).

Almost everyone in the town is totally oblivious to the fact that the three are not what they seem to be  (although it is revealed later in the movie that Carol Ann was clued in from the very start.)  The three have an incredible influence on this small town America, each in their own various ways.  Vida tries to be the typical busybody, although in her defense, Virgil is a scumbag wife-beater, and her interventions is well needed.

 Noxeema meets an older woman who was once the proprietor of the town's movie house, whom she gets to come out of her shell.

 Chi Chi has a crush on their rescuer, who has a crush himself, although he does not know Chi Chi's true nature.

Vida and Noxeema chide Chi Chi for leading on poor Bobby Ray, especially because Chi Chi is a man, but also because Bobby Ray has a lovelorn admirer there in Snydersville himself, Bobbie Lee (Jennifer Millmoe).  All's well that ends well, in this story though because Chi Chi relents and lets Bobby Lee have her beau.   When Sherriff Dollard, who was only unconscious and not dead, shows up, all hell breaks loose, comedically.  The homophobic sheriff calls out for the drag queens to show themselves, and everyone in town identifies themselves as the drag queens for which he is looking.

Folks, this entry is one for the books.   If you have been a frequent reader of this blog, you will realize these were not the typical "man cave" movies I am wont to usually reviewing.  But let it not be said I can't come out from under a rock and watch a couple of good movies that would not usually fit that niche.  Hope you enjoyed this entry.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Lizard King

This is my entry in the Nature's Fury Blogathon sponsored by Cinematic Catharsis.

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound
He pulls the spitting high tension wires down.
Helpless people on a subway train
Scream bug-eyed as he looks in on them.
He picks up a bus and he throws it back down
As he wades through the buildings towards the center of town.

Oh, no! They say he's got to go!
Go, go, Godzilla!
Oh, no!  There's goes Tokyo!
Go, go, Godzilla!

History shows again and again
How nature points up the folly of men.

"Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult

Author's Note:  Any misspelling of Japanese names in this piece is entirely my fault.  

How many Godzilla movies have been made?  About 10 billion at last count...  Ok, so that's overstating it.  But what with the original Gojira (and it's Americanized version of Godzilla), the two or three reboots, plus the numerous Godzilla vs.... ie: Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, Godzilla vs. King Kong, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, Godzilla vs. the Mexican Mafia... (OK I made that last one up) the number is around 30.  That puts Godzilla probably second to only Sherlock Holmes in sheer numbers of appearances on film.

The original movie was inspired by the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the then current nuclear bomb testings that were being performed.  When the United States detonated the Bikini island bomb, a Japanese fishing trawler was. by various reports, either fishing inside the danger zone, or too close to the danger zone.  The original movie paralleled that event early on.  If you are interested in an account of the history of that event you can go here.

The original Japanese film, titled Gojira, was a composite of two Japanese words; gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale).  In point of fact, the name was coined before the design on the monster.  At one point there was a consideration to have either a large ape-like creature, a la King Kong, or a very large whale like creature.  Eventually the dinosaur design we've all come to know and love was the accepted design.  Unlike the stop-motion graphics used to create King Kong, Godzilla was actually a man in a dinosaur suit.  The monster was played alternately throughout the movie (and the early series of movies) by  Haruo Nakajimi or Katsumi Tezuka.

Gojira (1954) 
Gojira, a kaiju (monster) film, directed by Ishiro Honda, roared onto the screen in 1954.  The original, made in Japan for about  62 million yen (about $175,000) was a huge hit in Japan.  The film begins rather sedately.  A fishing boat is calmly resting in the waters.  There is a loud explosion and and bright light and the ship disappears.  A rescue ship is sent out and it too disappears.

The families of the sailors on the two ships are in a panic.  The government assures that everything is being done that can be done to rescue any survivors.  Meanwhile another ship goes down.  One survivor is found who claims a monster did the deed.  Dr. Yemane (Takashi Shimura) goes to investigate.  Dr Yemane is a paleontologist,  and is convinced he knows what the creature is, a left over remnant of a long extinct dinosaur.

It turns out that there have long been rumors and superstitions about and existing monster-god of the sea the locals refer to as Gojira.  They used to sacrifice virgins to it long ago.  These same superstious natives thing the god has returned because it is angry.  During the night a typhoon hits the island, but in the morning there is evidence that more than just a run-of-the-mill typhoon hit the island.  There are giant footprints!  And the footprints are radioactive!  And a dead trilobyte is found in one of the footprints.

The sub plot of the movie involves Dr, Yemane's daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi), who is in love with Hideto Ogata ( Akira Takarada).  But she is engaged to marry her father's colleague Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata).  Serizawa is a recluse, preferring to work in private.  She goes to him to break off the engagement, but while she is with him, he shows her what he is working on and it totally shocks her.  He makes her promise to keep his secret.

Meanwhile Godzilla has come ashore and is wreaking havoc across the country on it's way to Tokyo.  The army tries to kill it, but their weapons only serve to annoy it.  Godzilla has a really bad case of bad breath, too.  (A blast of nuclear furnace style breath it exhales from its mouth).  Dr. Yemane implores with the authorities not to actually kill it, because he, as a scientist wants to study it.  But his is the only voice calling for this compassionate course; everybody else wants Godzilla dead.

Emiko finally tells Ogata what Serizawa showed her.  It is something called an oxygen destroyer, which, when detonated, will evaporate all the oxygen in the vicinity of the explosion and kill all oxygen breathing organisms in its wake.  Ogata and Emiko go back to Serizawa to try to convince him to use this weapon to destroy Godzilla.

Besides the ongoing action, there is also a subtle political statement in which the Diet, the ruling government in Japan, calls for a ceasing of nuclear testing because it is thought that this was the instigation of the revival of Godzilla from his sleep.  Of course, as I stated in the beginning of this entry, the whole movie is a metaphor for nuclear weapons and the dangers therein.

Godzilla (1956) 

While Godzilla is essentially an Americanized version of the Japanese movie, there are several changes, none of which endears me to the American version after having seen the original Japanese version.

For the first thing, the American movie begins in the aftermath of Godzilla's wake, having already caused much of the destruction the original didn't show until midway through the movie.  We are then treated to a recap of the events in the form of a narrative as told by Steve Martin (Raymond Burr), rehashing what has happened up to that point in the form of a flashback.  The suspense we had watching the original is no longer there, and effectively, the appearance of Godzilla in the American version is almost like an after-thought.

The second, and this is the most annoying part of the movie, is that Steve apparently is fluent in Japanese, but only at convenient times.  At others he has to have what is being said translated for him by his companion, Tomo Iwanaga (Frank Iwanaga).  Additionally, at various times, the original movie's characters lines are dubbed in English, giving you the feeling that the director made a last minute decision to make it easier on his American audiences, while at other times he wanted to keep the audience confused.

Any time that characters in the original interact directly with Steve, these are played by look-alike doubles and filmed from the side and behind to keep the audiences from realizing it is not the same actor or actress.  This, of course, was probably prudent, rather than trying to fly the original actors to the locations to interact with Burr directly.  But it is still distracting.

An additional note:  The scenes involving the debate in the Diet were eliminated completely.  It was thought that veterans from WWII might not appreciate hearing Japanese government figures disparage the United States' use of nuclear bomb testings.

Understand, there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept, nor is the movie itself sub-par as a result of the fiddling, but I wholly recommend you watch the original version.  It is far superior.

Well. that roar you hear in the distance might be an approaching supersonic jet.  Then again it might not.  Maybe you folks should head for shelters about now...


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Chaos in the Courtroom

This is my entry in Second Sight Cinema and CineMaven's Essays From The Couch's Order in the Court Blogathon

This is not your usual high drama murder court case.  Nor is this the Three Stooges.  But somewhere in between is this "fish out of water" comedy about a New Yorker in the agrarian South.  Instead of the clueless southern yokel in the big city (a la Ma and Pa Kettle), this fish out of water is reversed, with a pair of Brooklynites trying to cope with southern mores and attitudes in Alabama.  This is the one, BTW, that garnered Marisa Tomei her Academy Award (although people debate endlessly whether he performance was the most deserving that year).

Although the courtroom proceeding are the main focus of this movie, you can't miss the absolutely hilarious confrontations and encounters the two main characters have with the townspeople.  The clash of cultures is part of what makes the movie so endearing.

My Cousin Vinny (1993)

Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield), two New Yorkers,  are going to UCLA for school.  (Don't ask why two college students are going to LA from NY via Alabama, or it will warp your brain...  It's also best to not ask why Macchio keeps getting roles that are WAY younger than his actual age.  He was over 30, and yet he is a college student, probably only 18 or 19...)  They stop off at a convenience store, the Sac-O-Suds,  to buy a mound of groceries.  Bill, whose arms are full, puts a can of tuna in his pocket, and accidentally leaves without paying for it.

Tuna thieves (and murderers?)

Sometime later, shortly after discovering the stolen can of tuna, the two are pulled over.  They think the problem is the shoplifted tuna, but they are arrested and accused of having robbed the Sac-O-Suds and shot the clerk.  But, unaware of these circumstances, both confess, thinking they are only confessing to a shoplifting charge.  The sheriff, Sheriff Farley (Bruce McGill; famous for playing D-Day in Animal House) is convinced that he has a confession to the murder and thus we have the setting for this comedy of miscommunication.

D-Day (with a badge)

Bill and Stan, when they find out it is a murder charge call home and the folks send up Bill's cousin, Vinny (Joe Pesci), a lawyer, but one who has not yet had any trial experience, along with his fiancee, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei).  The two show up in town, looking like aliens from another planet among the local yokels.  (BTW, Pesci is in actuality 20 years older than Tomei, but the camera manages to pull it off that they are close to the same age.)

Getting her act together

From this point on, the "fish out of water" sequences take front and center of the scenes outside of the courtroom.  There are various scenes that just cause you to roll up in ball laughing hysterically.  At one point (off screen), Lisa tries to hustle a local in a game of pool, but the local stiffs her on the bet.  Vinny confronts the yokel and a fantastically funny argument ensues with Vinny using his lawyer's lingo and expertise to argue the case of whether they should get the money or Vinny should just beat the local up and then get the money.

Also a great source of humor is the various sleeping arrangements that the two have to make because they find themselves in hotels which are, variously, located next to a) a plant that sounds a loud whistle to call the workers to work, b) a pig farm, or c) a railroad track that blows its horn and rattles dishes off the nightstand.  Even if it is hard to believe that any of the hotels would be located in such inopportune locations, it is still funny to watch.

Vinny's main nemesis in the courtroom is Judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne in his last role).  Judge Haller does not like Vinny's comportment or his oafish manner, and is constantly trying to find out who Vinny really his and what his courtroom experience really is.  Vinny, for his part, tries to keep ther judge at bay by pretending that he is somebody he is not.  On equal levels of humor are the various attempts by Vinny to conform to the judge's opinions on how to dress for his courtroom appearances.

Here come de judge!

On the opposite side of the courtroom is the defense attorney, Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith).  Trotter is not the hard ass that his job would seem to make him out to be, nor is he the Dan Fielding type (the smarmy DA from Night Court).  In fact, for the most part, he is a likable fellow, friendly and genial.  In fact everyone on the side of the law in this movie are not really out to get Bill and Stan: they are just every day people just going about their jobs in the search for justice.

Prosecute this

At one point, Stan thinks Vinny is incompetent and decides to opt for the public defender.  This proves to be disastrous when it turns out that the man is nervous in front of people and has a st-st-stuttering problem.  The lawyer (Austin Pendleton) also proves to be less on the ball than Vinny actually turns out to be, so Stan fires him and goes back with Vinny.

St-st-stuttering L-la-law-lawyer

The last 40 minutes of the movie include the scenes where Vinny, one by one, dismantles the prosecutors case by undoing each of the eyewitnesses testimonies.  The three eyewitnesses (played by Maury Chaykin, Pauiline Myers and Raynor Scheine) have holes in their testimony that Vinny proceeds to expose.

Eyewitness 1
Eyewitness 2

Eyewitness 3

The really impressive ending in which Vinny has to call his fiancee to the stand for her expertise in automotive knowledge (trust me, you gotta watch to see this part) is one of the best parts of the movie.  You don't need a college degree in law to know how this turns out.  Of course Vinny gets his cousin and his friend off.  But the trip is really worth it.

This movie has been praised by lawyers all over for its accuracy and presentation.  According to Wikipedia, the director, Johnathan Lynn, has a law degree from Cambridge University, which, if true, shows how even in the midst of a comedy, how much of a feeling for accuracy in the courtroom proceedings the director had.

Well, that wraps up this show, kids.  Just a word of warning.  If you get pulled over by the police on the way home, ask questions...


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Celebrating Sobriety

Today, June 8, 2016, I am celebrating 7 years, clean and sober.  Through the help of God, and a group of friends of Bill W., I have been able to lead a successful life, happy with my life in whatever direction it leads.

In celebration of that recovery I present a movie which I never saw when I was still drinking.  Whether this movie might have deterred me earlier from my path if I had seen it at an earlier age, is impossible to say. But in retrospect it is a rather profound example of the lengths I personally went to in order to maintain my previous lifestyle.

The lovable drunk, as portrayed in countless movies (including the previously reviewed Harvey), is nowhere to be seen in The Lost Weekend.  This is a harsh look at the effects that the last stages of alcoholism can have on a man.  Billy Wilder's look at five days (it's a really long weekend...) in the life of Don Birnam is startling and eye-opening.  Up until this point, most alcoholics were the subject of comic relief in movies, or as comical aspects of serious matters.  (See The Thin Man. which depicted a virtually always inebriated couple who solved crimes as a side adventure).  Such was the stark seriousness of the subject of this movie, however, that, according to historical notes I found, the alcohol industry wanted to buy up all the prints and prevent it's release.

Wilder originally wanted Jose Ferrer for the role, but he turned it down.  Ray Milland stepped into the role, playing against type from previous roles, and put on an Oscar winning performance.  It also took home statuettes for Wilder for Best Director, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The realistic view of alcoholism opened up new avenues to approach the harshness of drug and alcohol addiction in movies to come.  In particular were Days of Wine and Roses and The Man with the Golden Arm, both of which dealt realistically with the problem of addiction without sugar-coating it.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

As the movie starts, we are looking in on Don Birnam (Ray Milland) and his brother Wick (Phillip Terry) are packing for a weekend trip.  Unbeknownst to Wick and Don's girlfriend, Helen (JaneWyman), Don's ruse of having gone "on the wagon" for 10 days at this point is just that... a ruse.  He actually has a bottle hidden, hanging outside his bedroom window.  He tries to convince Wick and Helen to go to a concert, saying they can take a later train for the trip.

Wick, Don and Helen

Wick discovers Don's hidden bottle and pours it out.  Don indignantly swears he had forgotten it was there, and threatens to back out of the weekend trip if Wick doesn't trust him.  Wick and Helen reluctantly go to the concert leaving Don alone.  Don desperately searches the apartment for any hidden bottles (the true sign of an alcoholic), but apparently Wick has found them all.  While searching, the cleaning lady comes by.  Don won't let her in, and she unknowingly reveals a hidden $10 in the sugar bowl, that was to be used to pay for her services.  He dismisses her and steals the money.

Money stashed

Don takes the money and buys two quart bottles at the liquor store [he buys the cheap stuff, all the more so he can have more to drink] and on the way home stops of at Nat's bar to drink a few shots.  (Imagine that... he has a stash of bottles and still goes to the bar.)  There he converses with Nat (Howard da Silva),  the bartender.  Gloria (Doris Dowling), a barfly and probably a call girl, flirts with him, but he has more important things on his table (the shots of whiskey).

Don, Gloria and Nat
Don eventually stumbles back to his apartment where, waiting for him, are Wick and Helen.  Wick is finally disgusted with his brother and leaves for the weekend alone.  Helen has to stay in town because she has to go to work over the weekend. Wick urges Helen to leave Don to his own devices and move on, but Helen really loves Don.  Meanwhile, Don locks himself in his apartment, hides one of the bottles in the light fixture and sits down to enjoy the second bottle.

The next day Don finds a desperate note from Helen on his door, but ignores it.  He goes down to Nat's for a drink.  Nat tries to discourage him, but Don really has the itch for a drink. "I can't cut it short," he tells Nat. "I'm on that merry-go-round.  You gotta ride it all the way.  Round and round until that blasted music wears itself out and the thing dies down and comes to a stop,"

On the merry-go-round

Don makes a date with Gloria to go out on the town, but Nat berates him because he knows Don is just talking and is leading her on.  Don counters with a pipe dream that he has an idea for a novel.  (Don is a struggling writer who is suffering from writer's block, which he uses to justify his drinking).  We are then led into a story which is part autobiographical about how Don met Helen and tried to cover up his drinking for a while.

As the weekend passes on, alternately Don discovers he has no more booze (he forgot where he hid the other bottle and thinks he drank it and then forgot about having drank it.)  As a last ditch effort he decides to try to pawn his typewriter.  But unable to find a pawn shop open, he becomes desperate and goes to Nat to try to get some booze on the house.  He also goes to Gloria's place to mooch money from her.  He falls down the stairs as he is leaving and wakes up in an alcoholic ward, where he was sent to dry out.  He sees a couple of patients going through some extremely horrific D.T.s.

Bed rest?  I don't think so.

Don meets a male nurse, Bim (Frank Faylen) who basically gives him no hope of a future, that he will eventually die a sad alcoholic death.  Don escapes from the ward while the nurses are distracted.  He makes it back to his apartment, and after a desperate search, eventually finds the bottle he had hidden a few days before.  He sits down to drink the bottle and passes out.  When he comes to he has a horrific D.T. of his own in which he sees a struggle between a mouse and a bat.  Warning:  if you have made it this far, this scene is NOT for the squeamish, but it does illustrate and important change in Don's life.

D.T.s from Hell

The movie ends on a positive note.  We are left with the impression that Don has reached his bottom and is determined to leave the alcohol behind.  He has discovered his muse again, in the persona of Helen.  The love of a good woman, as only 1940's Hollywood could have told it.  But it does give hope for us all.  If Don can kick the habit, surely there is hope for the rest of us.

Hope you enjoyed this tour down this dark alley.  Here's to another year! *raises a piping hot cup of coffee in salute*.