Saturday, November 18, 2017

Giving them the Bird

This is my second entry in the It Takes a Thief Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

Way back in 2016, I covered the Humphrey Bogart classic version of The Maltese Falcon.  I mentioned in passing that that version was actually the third time to film the classic Dashiell Hammett story.  At the time I didn't have access to the first two versions.  True story, however.  Just a day or two after I posted that review,  I was browsing through a stack of previously viewed DVDs in a discount bin and found what was labeled as "Disc 2" which had the first two movies on one disc.  (Obviously it was part of a two disc set, and I would have snagged the other one had it been available, since my only access to the original was and still is my local library's copy.)

The original version was made in 1931, before the Production Code era, and thus was not limited to only suggestive implications and covert hints when dealing with the characters.  Thus the scene in which Spade forces Miss Wonderley to strip to prove she is not hiding some stolen money -part of the original Hammett novel- could be put into the movie (although no nudity was allowed),  as well as a titillating scene of Miss Wonderley in a bubble bath scene, and an affair between Spade and Archer's wife,  that could only be hinted at in the 1941 version.

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

The character of Sam Spade in this outing is a far cry from the rough and cynical portrayal you most remember from Humphrey Bogart's portrayal.  For one thing, Ricardo Cortez plays Spade as a womanizer, flitting from one lady client to another, as well as having his partner's wife Iva (Thelma Todd) on the side.  He probably hasn't been entirely pure with his secretary, Effie (Una Merkel), either.  I will inject one thing, he grates on me, as he is nothing like what I expect from Sam Spade, based on both the aforementioned Bogart personification, but also based on how Spade is portrayed in the novel (which is much more like the Bogart version.)

This was the first version of the classic Hammett novel, and was done in the "pre-Code"  era.  The movie opens with Spade kissing yet another client goodbye, and you are left with the impression that more than kissing had been going on behind doors.  (This Spade has genuinely different ideas about the client/detective relationship than your average film noir detective, that's for sure).  He is quietly relaxing in his office when Effie escorts in Miss Wonderley (Bebe Daniels).  (BTW, this part is still true to the novel as that was the initial name used by the femme fatale, but in this movie she is apparently using her real name from the beginning, as opposed to being exposed by another name in the novel and the Bogart movie later.)

The basic plot, in case you are not familiar with either the Hammett novel or the Bogart movie is that Wonderley and an unseen Floyd Thursby are in cahoots to retrieve a valuable statuette from an owner in Instanbul (read: steal it).  There are others interested in it's retreival, too, including the man who hired the pair, the "Fat Man", also known as Caspar Gutman (Dudley Digges) and his associate, Joel Cairo (Otto Matieson).  You might recognize Wilmer, if you are a fan of old Universal horror movies.  That's Dwight Frye, who appeared as the dimwitted helper of Dr. Frankenstein, as well as the insane dupe of Dracula, two Universal horror classics that came out about the same time as this movie.

The twists and turns of the classic story are here.  There is the familiar backbiting and double crossing that is familiar to fans of the remake/novel.  But the quality of the production over all is rather disappointing.  Maybe because I am so familiar with the classic that I have a higher expectation for he others, but then no one can say I wasn't warned.  Everybody who already knew claimed that the 1941 version was superior to the previous two.  I will say I wasn't disappointed that Gutman and Cairo met the fate that the novel tells us happened after they left Spade's apartment.  Both characters were really annoying, and a lot had to do with the way the actors portrayed them.

Matieson, as Cairo, in particular was a bust, in my opinion.  It didn't surprise me that he got his start in silents, and I think that's probably where he should have stayed.  Of course, he didn't really get to have a career in "talkies" since he was killed in an automobile accident shortly after this movie was completed.  Digges had a more prolific career, but the only thing on his resume that I have seen is an appearance as a police chief in The Invisible Man.

Still, all in all, it isn't really a bad movie, per se.  It certainly is better than the first remake, Satan Met A Lady, which I review below.

Satan Met a Lady (1936)

What could be worse than a poorly acted version of a great detective story?  How about turning it into a comedy?  And one that only had the bare pieces of the story to hold it together at that.  This one was a true comedy, as opposed to the first one which was just funny in unintentional ways.  And it was a sub-par comedy at that.  Bette Davis did just about everything she could to get out of being involved with the movie, but since she was still a contract player at the time, she was forced to give in to the studio's demands.

As stated above, there is only a slim connection with the actual story in the original novel.  For one thing, Warren William (who plays "Ted Shane") is not established as a going concern in the detective business, but arrives on a train after being run out of town from his previous residence.  Shane is somebody who is a cad and a bounder and an entirely disreputable business man who finagles his way into his friend's detective agency when he arrives to his new digs.  Milton Ames (Porter Hall) is reluctant to take Shane on.  But since Ames' business is struggling, and within a few minutes in the office, Shane manages to bring in two new clients, Ames really has no choice.

One of the new clients is Valerie Purvis (Bette Davis) who hires the detective agency to shadow a man  (and here is one of the most consistent parallels with the novel).  Ames takes the job and is, of course killed, just like in the novel.  There is a punk kid named Kenneth (Maynard Holmes), who, if this wasn't intended to be a comedy, would be absolutely the least threatening gunsel ever portrayed on film (and that includes any character from the kid cast gangster spoof,  Bugsy Malone).

Sidney Greenstreet's marvelous fat man here is portrayed by a woman, Madame Barrabas (Alison Skipworth).  She too doesn't really inspire much to make the movie a winner (or even a not last-place loser, for that matter).  Arthur Treacher shines somewhat in the role that is supposed to parallel the Joel Cairo character, although if you've seen some of Treacher's other roles, I imagine you won't find him too impressive here.

The only real highlight is a squeaky, flighty secretary to the Ames-Shane agency, Miss Murgatroyd (Marie Wilson).  She almost literally carries this movie on her back.  You may find yourself wishing she would come back on screen and improve it one hundred fold.  I enjoyed every scene she was in, and it is she that keeps this "comedy" from being a true clunker in my vocabulary.

There is no "MacGuffin" called a Maltese Falcon in the movie, even though the picture claims the novel as the basis for it.  Instead there is a horn of Roland, filled with fabulous jewels.  Of course, as with the other two versions of the movie, the characters are doomed to disappointment when the "horn" actually shows up.  (At least they got that part right.)  The movie was critically panned by many of the critics of the day, including Bosley Crowther, who called it a "cynical farce of elaborate and sustained cheapness".

Unless you are a completist and just want to see all three versions of the film (or want to watch every movie that Davis or one of the other actors made), I highly suggest you avoid this one.  It's hardly worth the time, even for a comedy.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Iceman Cometh

This is my first entry in the It Takes A Thief Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

Only one villain on the Batman TV series (1966-68) was played by different actors in every episode. (Note:  I count each two-part episode as one episode...) Not The Riddler.  The Riddler WAS played by two different actors, but Frank Gorshin played him in nearly every episode except one, in which he was replaced by John Astin.  Not Catwoman.  Yes she was played by three different actresses, but she appeared in more than a dozen episodes and most of them were portrayed by Julie Newmar, with a trailing second by Eartha Kitt.  And Lee Meriweather only appeared in the movie adaptation.

No, the only villain to appear in three separate episodes and be played by a different actor in each was Mr. Freeze.  In season one, Mr. Freeze was played by George Sanders.  Mr. Freeze also made two appearances in season 2, once portrayed by Otto Preminger and once by Eli Wallach.  Mr. Freeze in the comic book origin was a doctor, Victor Fries, who had an accident in a laboratory while trying to discover a cure for his dying wife.  The origin, as played out in the theatrical movie Batman and Robin. with Arnold Schwarzenegger, shows this origin pretty accurately.

However, for the Batman  TV series, for some reason, the origin was changed.  As stated early on in the first episode, Batman had accidentally spilled some cryogenic fluid on Dr. Art Schimmel  (no idea why they changed his name), prior to the events that began the TV series.  In every one of the episodes in the TV series, Mr. Freeze holds a grudge that inspires him to find ways to get revenge on Batman for his predicament.  (An interesting side note:  In the comic book origin, Mr. Freeze was originally known as "Mr. Zero", but after the first appearance on the TV series, the comic books renamed him to "Mr. Freeze".)

Batman (1966-1967)
Season 1:   "Instant Freeze"
                   "Rats Like Cheese"

 At a skating rink, a mysterious figure in a hazmat suit runs from the scene.  It turns out the mystery man as melted the ice in the rink.  While being chased by a policeman on a motorcycle, the figure pops out of the back of the van in which he is escaping, and using a ray gun, ices the road.

Word reaches police headquarters where, Police Commissioner Gordon deduces that Mr. Freeze (George Sanders) is back in town.  As usual, the commissioner and his police force are at odds with how to deal with criminals who have an IQ rating over 50, so they call in Batman and Robin to help.

The Dynamic Duo deduce that Mr. Freeze is going to rob the Gotham City Diamond Exchange and go to try and stop him.  But Freeze has commandeered 5 duplicate Batmans and Robins, and during the confusion and melee Freeze escapes.  F reeze's next endeavor is to steal the fabulous Circle of Ice diamond from a visiting princess.  But in attempting to stop Freeze they are frozen stiff by Freeze's ray gun.

For one of the few times during the course of the series, Batman has to rely on outside help to thaw him and his pal.  Meanwhile Mr. Freeze kidnaps a baseball player, named Paul Diamante (Spanish for "diamond"... the writers never missed a trick for campy humor).  Freeze offers to trade Diamante for Batman.  Batman goes with Freeze, but tells Robin not to follow.  Of course, Robin does anyway and both are captured.  Freeze tries to slowly freeze them, but Batman and Robin have been wearing their "super" thermal underwear and Freeze's plot is foiled.  Freeze is taken off to prison.

Season 2:   "Green Ice"
                   "Deep Freeze"

Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger) has escaped from prison in an ice cream truck and is bound to Gotham to attempt to get his revenge on Batman for his predicament.  His first evil deed is to kidnap Miss Iceland (!!!) from the Miss Galaxy Beauty Pageant.  Miss Iceland (Dee Hartford) is to be mr. Freeze's bride just as soon as he can lower her body temperature to where she can exist in the same atmosphere as Freeze.

Mr. Freeze's plan this time in his revenge is to discredit Batman, by making it seem as if he is bribing the commissioner.  He shows up and freezes the entire police force and leaves behind a wad of cash that leads the press, fickle that they are, to believe the bribery ruse.  (Not much different from today where the media will excoriate anyone for the press dollars).

After an appearance at Wayne Manor where Freeze stages a fake fight with a fake Batman and Robin, who run off instead of fighting, the real Batman traces Mr. Freeze to his hideout, a factory that makes "Frosty Freezies" (popsicles).  Mr. Freeze traps Batman and Robin and proceeds to turn them into human frosty freezies.

A convenient heat exhaust valve which they operate with their feet helps the Dynamic Duo escape.   They then return to police headquarters where they find the press is still falling for Freeze's ruse.  A picture of Batman wearing Commissioner Gordon's gold watch is plastered over the front page.  They also find out that Freeze plans to cover Gotham in a glacier unless they pay him one billion dollars.

The duo trace Freeze to another hideout, where Freeze attempts to freeze them again, but they have covered themselves with antifreeze solution, and once again the villain is foiled, and once again he is off to prison.

Season 3:   "Ice Spy"
                   "The Duo Defy"  

Mr Freeze  (Eli Wallach) has escaped from prison (again.. Boy the security systems at Gotham State Prison are really shabby...)  He kidnaps an Icelandic scientist (Elisha Cook, Jr.) who has a secret formula for instant ice.  While investigating the background, which happened on a cruise ship, Batman finds one of the names on the passenger list was Emma Strunk, better knowh as the ice skating champion Glacia Glaze (Leslie Parrish).

Batman is convinced she was an accomplice to freeze and goes to her performance, disguised as Bruce Wayne.  Through an inadvertent use of her secret transmitter to freeze, which was disguised as a lady's compact, he deduces that she was indeed Freeze's helper.  Meanwhile back at the hideout, (which just happens to below the ice skating rink), Freeze continues with his attempt to get the scientist to reveal his secret.  But his attempts are fruitless because the scientist is immune to his cold treatment due to his being from Iceland and being used to cold temperatures.

Batman and Robin show up to deliver the ransom (which is in phony money) and are captured by Freeze.  He puts them in  the Sub Zero Temperature Vaporizing Cabinet, planning to reduce them to molecules and make them part of the ice skating rink.  But the cabinet has an emergency exit (seems like the villain would have built one without it, but...)

Using Glacia's pet seal, the Dynamic duo trace Freeze to his new hideout, a fake iceberg flating among the real icebergs  in Gotham Harbor.  (Why are there icebergs in Gotham Harbor, endangering potential ships?  Who knows...)  Mr. Freeze is captured once again.  Maybe this time Gotham Prison will put him in serious deep freeze so they can hold him.

My personal ranking of the portrayals is as follows:

#1 George Sanders
#2 Eli Wallach
#3 Otto Preminger
Is it time to go turn on the heater now?  Are you starting to feel chilly?  Personally I'm going to go fill up on a few cups of extremely hot chocolate.  Until next time, folks.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Grease-y Relationships

This is my entry in the Eve Arden Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

Eve Arden played Principal McGee in the two Grease movies.  Imagine if Connie Brooks (from the Arden radio and TV series Our Miss Brooks) had been stood up and jilted by Mr. Boynton, her love unrequited, rejected.  As a result she became jaded and somewhat humorless.  You would get Principal McGee.

Eve Arden was born Eunice Mary Quedens in 1908. She had a career that spanned from  1929 when  when she first appeared in film, and went on to playing both in film and on radio.  Her most famous character, of course, was as put-upon Miss Brooks, a teacher at a high school, where she was constantly in collision with the principal, Mr. Conklin (Gale Gordon for most of it's run) and was subjected to an unrequited love for Mr. Boynton (Jeff Chandler on radio and Robert Rockwell on the TV version).  Her last appearance was on an episode of the TV series Falcon Crest.  Arden passed away in 1990 at the age of 82.

Grease (1978): 

The opening of the movie features Danny Zukko (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) cavorting on the beach, where they have spent the entire summer.  Sandy is from Australia and expresses regret that she has to return there and they will never see each other.  "Is this the end?" she asks Danny.  "No," he tells her, "It's only the beginning."

Eve Arden makes her first appearance as Principal McGee, a somewhat humorless and put upon principal at Rydell High School, where she is not only flustered by the students but also has to put up with her ditzy Vice Principal, Blanche (Dody Goodman).   She puts on a good face in spite of her disapproval of the things that occur around her.   

Sandy turns out to be a cousin of "Frenchy" (Didi Conn), and ends up staying in the States instead of going back to Australia for her senior year.  Good news for Danny?  Not so much.  He still loves Sandy, but he is more concerned with his image, especially among his greaser pals, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway), Doody (Barry Pearl), Sonny (Michael Tucci) and Putzie (Kelly Ward). He is the leader of the T-Birds, a biker gang, and as such must be a role model to the social mores of the gang (which include not treating women as being an important part of the picture.

Sandy tries to fit in with Frenchy's group, the Pink Ladies, who are the paramours of the T-Birds.  Each of the Pink Ladies is dedicated to the code of honor that they only date T-Birds.  Socially this is a concept that may be outdated (and maybe it wasn't even a concept in the 50's, but I wasn't born then, so I can't say).  The Pink Ladies, besides Frenchy, include the leader, Rizzo (Stockard Channing),  Jan (Jamie Donnelly) and Marty (Dinah Manoff).
When Sandy shows up, and the girls discover her secret lover, Rizzo manages to introduce her to the Danny she knows.  At some point prior to the events in the movie, Danny and Rizzo had been dating, but they broke up, and Rizzo still harbors some resentment towards Danny, so her intent is to cause him discomfort. Danny initially expresses happiness at seeing Sandy but immediately realizes he is not acting the way his fellow T-Birds expect and regresses into a blase attitude towards her, to which Sandy reacts with shock.

This is a theme that runs through the entire movie as Danny tries several ways to be the kind of boy Sandy wants him to be, but also trying to retain his image as a T-Bird.  This typically results in Sandy and Danny being together for a while, but Danny does something that does not set well with Sandy and they break up.

The best song from the movie, in my opinion, is "Greased Lightning".  The song revolves around plans by the T-Birds to fix up a clunker that Kenickie bought and turn it into a bonafide street rod.  Of course, their fantasy rod is not the one that eventually gets made, but it still is a rousing scene.  The car that gets made later figures into the penultimate scene in which Danny ends up taking over in a race with the local hoodlum, Balmudo (Dennis C. Stewart), with the ownership of their respective cars in the deal of winning said race ("pinks" or pink slips).

Eventually Sandy realizes that if she really loves Danny,  and she can't change him, she has to become an ideal girl that he can appreciate. Which of course means she has to become the ultimate biker chick, complete with skin tight leather clothes and brazen flirty attitude.

The songs in Grease were nearly all radio hits. "Grease" (the title song), "You're the One That I Want", "Summer Nights" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" were all top ten hits.  Additionally "Sandy" was a top ten hit in the UK.  My favorite, mentioned above ("Greased Lightning") only made it to #47 in the US, but made it to #11 in the UK.  The only real clunker, again in my opinion, is a Stockard Channing solo, "There are Worse Things That I Could Do", a song she sings as she laments that she thinks she is pregnant and has been rejected by Kenickie, the guy who is responsible. 


Grease 2 (1982): 

 Four years after the first movie, and two years after a re-release of it, some executives noticed how popular it still was.  Dollar signs flashed before their eyes.  "Yes!  A sequel!  It'll make millions!"

Well, it would have, except that the sequel had only six of the original actors that starred in the first film, and none of them were John Travolta or Olivia Newton-John.  Along with Eve Arden as Principal  McGee, we got Dody Goodman, Sid Caesar, Eddie Deezen, Dennis C. Stewart and Didi Conn (as "Frenchy" again, who must be the oldest high school student in history, since the movie takes place 2 years after the first one...)

The songs alter between halfway decent and laughable.  Much of the "laughable" designation, for me, stems from the way they are staged.  Pamela Birch, who directed the movie, was the choreographer in the original, and with one exception, that movie had much better dance sequences during the songs.  Much of the dancing in Grease 2 seems contrived and out of place.  Yes, I know it's a musical and the dancing is a part of the show, but even I, who am probably one of the least likely candidates for the Musical Appreciation Society, can see that this movie just doesn't have the cachet that other musicals have when it comes to dancing.

Point #1: The opening sequence.  The whole school arrives for he first day, with the song "Back to School Again".  I couldn't help cracking up during this sequence. It serves to introduce the major players during the song, Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer),  Michael (Maxwell Caufield) and Johnny (Adrian Zmed), but otherwise, I could have done without this sequence.  Point #2: The other laughable sequence is the song "Score Tonight".  At a bowling alley the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies are in their weekly rivalry of bowling and break into the song.  Of course, the first part of "we're gonna score tonight" ostensibly is about bowling scores, but just in case you miss the double entendre there, the movie makes sure you CAN"T miss is because every time the line "we're gonna score tonight" comes up in the song the camera focuses on a male-female pair looking at each other lovingly...  I don't include the song "Cool Rider" because only the final scene, with Stephanie skipping across the school lawn during the fade out, is really laughable.

The movie sets up with Michael, who is yet another cousin of Frenchy's, this time from England.  An eager and somewhat naive person (in other words a male version of Newton-John's "Sandy"), he arrives for the 1961 school year at Rydell.  At the same time, a bit of conflict is going on between Stephanie and Johnny.  It seems they used to be a couple, but something happened over the summer and now they are no longer today's hot topic.  Johnny still has the hots for Stephanie, but her ardor has grown cold.  A good portion of the repartee between the two indicates that Johnny is reluctant to call it quits, but his male ego refuses to let him admit he had any fault in the decline of the relationship.  But that doesn't stop him from taking up with another of the Pink Ladies, Paulette (Lorna Luft).

In the scene referenced above, the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies are at their weekly bowling date.  A conflict erupts between Johnny and Stephanie and she ends up kissing Michael who has just walked into the bowling alley.  Although Stephanie had done this just to piss off Johnny, Michael, who was already infatuated with Stephanie thinks it was because she liked him and becomes even more enamored of her.  Unfortunately, as Frenchy warns him, he is not a T-Bird so Stephanie is off limits.

Michael finds out that the only way to be able to get Stephanie is to become a T-Bird, and that means he has to acquire and learn to ride a motorcycle.  Of course, he does this (or we would have a VERY short movie), but if he watch the transformation, you have to suspend your disbelief, because he goes from being a novice to a stunt man level cyclist in just a few short weeks.  (Practice makes perfect, my ass...)

Michael appears on the scene after becoming this whiz bang cyclist, decked out with a helmet to disguise his identity and shows up the rival cyclist gang in town, led by Balmudo (Dennis C. Stewart).  Stephanie becomes infatuated with the mystery cyclist, whose identity remains unknown to her for most of the rest of the movie.  Which leads, of course, to the conflicting relationship that Michael has with Stephanie.  She still considers him a bookish dweeb, not knowing that right next to her is her incognito hero.

This movie is watchable, although even the stars expressed some regret for having been involved in it.  Truly its not the classic that the original was, however, and it probably would have made a better movie if it was just a straightforward romantic comedy/drama rather than a musical.

That's it for today's entry folks.  Drive home safely.




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Pt. XI)

2017 marks 55 years of James Bond on the movie screen.  To celebrate this momentous year, I am undertaking to review the entire oeuvre of Bond films, all 24 of them (at this juncture in history), two at a time.  These will appear on the 7th day of each month  (Bond's agent number being "007").  At the beginning of each entry I will give my personal ranking of each movie and of each movie's theme song.  (These are subjective rankings and do not necessarily agree with the view of the average Bond fan, so take it as you will).  I hope you enjoy them, nay, even look forward to the next installment.  As an added note, I am deeply indebted to Tom DeMichael, and his book James Bond FAQ,  for tidbits of information with which I am peppering these entries.                                                                                                                                                                                                  -Quiggy

It had to happen, sooner or later.  By 2006, any available actor who could play the James Bond character, and had been alive when the first Bond movie came out, would have been 55.  Pretty old for Bond.  Yes Roger Moore played Bond when he was almost 60, but he had already been established in the Bond role for years.  If you are going to start a new franchise Bond, though, you want to at least start out with him being a bit younger.

There was a legal snafu once again that delayed production of the next Bond film.  In the interim Pierce Brosnan had been ousted from the potential fifth portrayal of the superspy, and producers began to look for a new face for Bond.  I personally remember the discussion when it was announced that a new actor would play Bond.  Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Colin Farrel and Jason Statham were among the ones the producers considered.  Personally, I thought Jason Isaacs would have made a good Bond.  But the producers chose Daniel Craig, only the second Bond actor to have been born in England.

Of course, Bond women, being what they are, had been being played by actresses not old enough to have been around when Dr. No came out for years.  Bond women are always young and alluring and who wants to see a 50 year old grandmother make out with James Bond anyway?  (For the record, the first Bond woman who was not yet born when the first Bond movie was released was Talisa Soto (as Lupe in License to Kill)

Another younger addition to the Bond saga was in the position of director.  Of course, directors can be of any age, youth is not a requirement there.  Martin Scorcese could conceivably be tagged to be a Bond director and no one would bat an eye.  (At least not because of his age, anyway)  The first James Bond movie in the Daniel Craig era to be directed by a youngster to the scene was Quantum of Solace. It was directed by Marc Forster, who was born in 1969.

The reboot of Bond harkens to an earlier style of Bond in the way of gadgets, too.  In the first two Bond's of the Daniel Craig era there was no character of "Q", and thus there were no especially intricate weapons and gadgets, just your basic car and gun.  (Thus I dispensed with the Best Bond Weapon category for this entry)

The final note is, I should point out that with the new Bond there is a running theme of a secret organization behind all the bad guys throughout the four (so far) Daniel Craig movies.  While each one is separate in it's story, some of the action refers to the running theme, and while each one could conceivably be watched out of order, you will find some of it a little confusing if you do so.

Casino Royale (2006):

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: # 15

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: # 9

Best Bond Quote: Bond: (to Le Chiffre as he is torturing Bond) "I've got an itch down there... Do you mind?"

Best Bond Villain Quote: Le Chiffre: (during the same torture scene as above) "Wow.  You've taken good care of your body... such a waste"

The movie starts in Prague where Bond has tracked down a double crossing agent of MI6, and executes him.  One point made is that at this point Bond has still not achieved his 007 status because he has not had two confirmed kills.  (Seems a little contrived to me, and I would have thought Bond would have been much younger before he was given his 007 status. )

The movie opens with a song by Chris Cornell, the singer for  Soundgarden, and one which has more of a feel for the style that I think works better for a Bond movie.

In Uganda, a terrorist named Obanno meets with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who arranges to take possession of , and launder, the ill gotten gains of the terrorist.  Le Chiffre is a less than scrupulous banker.  He gambles with the money and also is shotselling stock in an airplane company, one which goes against the prevailing norm because the company's stock is only expected to increase.  But Le Chiffre knows something the stock analysts don't.  (His plan is to blow up an experimental plane that the airplane company is about to introduce).

While Bond is trying to track down a terrorist bomber, he and another agent find him at a street match between a mongoose and a cobra.  THe other agent inadvertently  gives himself away and the bomber takes off with Bond in pursuit.  It ends with Bond shooting the terrorist and escaping the local army.  M is not happy with Bond's penchant for killing potential prisoners who might give information to MI6  (a theme that runs constantly throughout the Daniel Craig series).

A major portion of the movie involves a high stakes poker game (in the novel it was baccarat, but the producers felt that most of the audience would have no idea how baccarat was played so went this route instead).  The goal being to make Le Chiffre lose his money (which you already know is not his anway: it belongs to the terrorists). Initially Bond loses his entire stake, and his money supplier from the government, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), declines to supply the money for the "buy back in".  Fortunately a Cia agent, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), lets Bond take over his position in the game, with the caveat that the Americans get Le Chiffre after Bond is through with him.

It should come as no surprise that Bond beats Le Chiffre and takes all his money, and it should also come as no surprise that this doesn't set well with Le Chiffre.  Leading to the torture scene referenced above.

Double crosses and intrigue still reign supreme as always.  There is more to this movie than just the poker game, of course, and you will not see some of the surprises coming.  The movie is fairly good, and Le Chiffre makes one hell of a good villain, even if his goal is not the typical world domination scheme one comes to expect from a Bond Villain.

Quantum of Solace (2008): 

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: # 16

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: # 16

Best Bond Quote:(after leaving the villain stranded in the desert, with just a can of motor oil)  Bond: "I'll bet you make it 20 miles before you consider drinking that".

Best Bond Villain Quote:   (to Camille, referring to Bond) Greene: "MI6 says he's difficult to control.  That's a nice way of saying everything he touches seems to wither and die."

Stepping off from the end of Casino Royale, Bond arrives at an MI6 field location with a captive, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), for interrogation.  Mr White claims that MI6  knows nothing about his organization, despite the fact that they have people everywhere.  Whereupon one of the agents present reveals himself as a rogue and shoots up the place killing everyone except Bond, and fortunately, M.  During the ensuing chase of the rogue agent, Bond ends up killing him.  Of course, M is displeased because they still know nothing about this "secret" organization.

For the first time in a Bond film, the opening theme song is a duet.  Alicia Keys and Jack White (of the White Stripes) do the honors.  It's not entirely a bad song (although, to the consternation of White it was later used in a diet soda commercial.  Which I think is prescient since the title of the song is "Another Way to Die"...)

Money found on the agent leads Bond to a man named Slate, and Bond ends up killing him too.  (Things just aren't going well for MI6 to find out information, it seems.) It turns out that Slate was supposed to be an assassin to kill Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko, yes a Russian actress playing a Hispanic, but she pulls it off).  Bond meets up with Camille, but they depart and Bond follows her to a dock where she meets with Dominic Greene (Matthieu Amalric).

It turns out that Greene was the one who tried to have her killed.  Instead he gives her to General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), wh will kill her after he's finished having fun with her.  Bond gives chase to the boat that Medrano is on and rescues her, which doesn't really please her.  See, Medrano had killed her family, and she was out for revenge, planning to kill Medrano.

The secret villainous plot revolves around Greene, who is acting as an environmental entrepreneur, supposedly trying to help the world.  But what he is secretly doing is diverting water and buying up land, intentionally trying to corner the market on water by creating a drought.  He plans to make big money by selling back the water to the thirsty country.  (Yes, another somewhat ridiculous evil plot, but the action and intrigue work in its favor this time.)

Because Bond seems to be out of control, MI6 sends an agent, Strawberry Fields (really!) (Gemma Arterton) to arrest him.  Bond uses his charm to convince her to hold off, and continues on his mission.  This was probably Fields' biggest mistake because, reminiscent of Goldfinger, Fields is later killed by having been drenched in oil and left to die on a hotel bed.

After resolving the current case, Bond traces down Lynd's (from Casino Royale) former lover and finds out another piece to the puzzle of the secret organization that seems to have worldwide fingers in every pie.

That wraps up this foray into the spy world, folks.  See you next month with the final installment.



Saturday, November 4, 2017

Food for Thought

This is my entry in the Food in Film Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.

I often wonder what people think of me and how stable my mind must be... not that it would change anything if I did know... I just wonder...

I told Kristina and Ruth that I wanted to go a different and quirkier route with this topic, as is my wont on occasion.  Think of all the movies that have mouth-watering meals, excellent haute cuisine cooking and wonderful cooks standing over beaming patrons.  Is there anything more comforting than a well cooked and well served meal? Well... maybe if it's not too outrĂ©...

"OutrĂ©" is putting it mildly for the two movies discussed today.  You might want to think twice when you try that new restaurant down the street after hearing about these joints.  If you think twice about the turnover rate of stray cats near the Chinese place down the street, prepare to get really wary about the neighborhood mom and pop place next door.

I really enjoy black comedy.  Note:  if by "black" comedy your first thought is Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, you are in the wrong universe.  Black comedy, also dark comedy,  is a term used to describe a medium (films, but also plays and the like) that take very serious subjects and turn them into a darkly humorous form.  Also called "gallows humor", it was first coined in the 30's by a French writer to describe some of Johnathan Swift's writings.  Swift once wrote that poor Irish people ought to sell their children to the rich to be used as food.   But the term has also been applied to writings even as early as ancient Greek writer Aristophanes.

Eating Raoul (1982):

Paul (Paul Bartel) and Mary Bland (Mary Woronov) are a straight-laced couple living in abject denial of the sexual mores of their apartment.  The two are married, but other than a little hugging and kissing, they are not really sexually active.  (They sleep in separate beds...just like the old 50's sitcom married couples did).

Their neighbors , in fact seemingly the whole apartment building however, are really into the swinger scene, with all the different sexual styles and appetites that entails.  Paul works in a liquor store, but is the ultimate wine snob, and gets fired because he refuses to sell some cheap wine that the owner has in stock and also because he bought a case of $400 a bottle wine, but the clientele who frequent the shop haven't got that kind of spendable income.

Meanwhile on the home front, Paul and Mary want to buy a house in the country and open up their own home-style kitchen, but they haven't got the money that the realtor is asking, and to make matters worse, someone else keeps offering more money, causing them to have to keep upping their own offer for the place.

Paul comes home one day to find Mary being molested by a swinger who strayed from the party being held in their building and kills him with a frying pan.  Finding him with a large sum of money, they decide to ditch the body in the trash compactor and pocket the money.  After killing a second straying swinger, the two decide there is some decent money to be had doing this.

They decide to advertise in a swinger's magazine, with the help of Doris (Susan Saiger), a stay-at-home mom who makes money on the side as a dominatrix.

While out one day, Paul finds an ad for a locksmith who does cheap work.  Because wine snob Paul has a pretty decent collection of vintage wines they call Raoul Mendoza (Robert Beltran).  Raoul, it turns out, has ulterior motives for installing burglar systems...he also robs his clientele after installing their security systems.

As such, he happens to break into the Bland's place after they have just killed another swinger but have not yet disposed of the body.  The three come up with a plan that benefits all three.  The Blands will keep the money and Raoul takes the bodies away, where he sells them to a dog food company and shares the profits with the Blands.

All seemingly goes well until one day Paul is out when a "client" shows up, and tries to rape Mary.  Raoul happens to come in and strangles the would-be rapist.  He then proceeds to woo Mary who is charmed by his demeanor (and his Thai Stick cigarette...).  Although Paul does not know what went on, he begins to suspect, and with Doris, tries to scare Raoul into leaving the country.  None of these ruses works, and Raoul makes plans to get rid of Paul instead and take Mary for his wife.

Be sure to stay for the finale of this movie.  You'll get to see why it was titled "Eating Raoul"...

Delicatessen (1991):

It never really is clear what happened to society in this movie, but from the appearance of the landscape, there must have been a nuclear war.  In this post apocalyptic world in France, food is in short supply.  They use bags of lentils and corn in lieu of money.  In one apartment building, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), a butcher, runs a shop on the bottom floor to cater to his clientele.  He sells them meat which, it becomes clear, is not your typical meat.

Clapet runs ads in the newspaper advertising for a handyman.  Once the unaware handymen have been fattened up, Clapet kills them and sells their "meat" as meat.  It seems most of the residents are in on the ruse.  For sure, his daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) knows.  She falls in love with the new hire, Louison (Dominique Pinon) and alternately tries to help him escape or convince her father to let him go.

The apartment building is filled with other equally bizarre characters.  The best is Aurore (Silvie Laguna), a woman who is haunted by voices she thinks are in her head and tries various Rube Goldbergesque ways of committing suicide.

Also funny are a guerilla group of outcasts who live below the city in the sewers and whom Julie entreats to help her get Louison out of her father's hands.  Of course, they botch the job and kidnap the wrong person.

A warning to the potential viewer, both of these movies are obviously not family friendly (unless you are very liberal about what you let your kids watch...)  Also the second film is entirely in French, so unless you are fluent in French, you'll have to deal with subtitles (always a potential problem with some viewers.)

Whew.  I'm getting hungry now.  There's a new place that just opened up across town that advertises the "best baby back ribs"... (or maybe it says "baby ribs"...I'm not sure.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Art of the Hustle

 The Also Rans (Post #1)

This post is part of an ongoing series that will cover movies that were nominated for Oscars in all five of what is affectionately known as the "Big Five" (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay), but failed to win any of those awards.

Years ago, there were thousands of pool halls across America.  These weren't the glitzy, yuppie-infused hangouts of today, where college students go to drink and pick up potential sexual liaisons, with pool being just a side attraction.   These were low-lit halls where working men went to play pool and relax.  As one of the proprietors says to Eddie Felson early in The Hustler, there's "no bar, no pinball machines, no bowling alley.  Just pool."

The aura of The Hustler is one that will either attract you or repulse you.  The grittiness of the movie and the seedier sections of the towns where these pool halls are located seems to have an effect on the viewer.  Personally, I would find such an atmosphere intimidating at first, but once I got adjusted to it, I think I would start to appreciate the lack of pretense.  It's too bad I was a little late coming into the world because I would dearly love to find such places.  You however, may feel like you want to go wash your hands after seeing this movie, and that's OK.

One of the things that makes this movie work so well was the decision to film it in black and white.  Of course, Robert Rossen, the director of the film, preferred to work in black and white anyway, but the darkness of the story works much better in this medium.  I refer you to the sequel, The Color of Money, which was made some 25 years later, and was filmed in color.   Although that movie, directed by Martin Scorcese, is very good, it just doesn't have the zing of the original.

Paul Newman was not the first choice of Rossen.  He wanted Frank Sinatra, whom he expected would have made an extension in portrayal jumping off from his character in The Man with the Golden Arm (a movie about a heroin addict).  But Sinatra was not available.  Other actors were sought after and auditioned, including Jack Lemmon and Cliff Robertson, but Newman got the nod for the role and history was made.

Piper Laurie was a relative newcomer when this movie was made.  She had been in a few movies, but nothing really substantial until The Hustler.  Her performance as an alcoholic and part-time college student was a bravura portrayal.  Unfortunately, nothing came her way after her Oscar nominated performance and she decided to marry and retire from acting.  Her next role didn't come for 15 years when she was again nominated for an Oscar for her role as the evil mom in Carrie.

Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott were also nominated for Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor category.  Gleason, in particular, stands out because he manages to essay the role of Minnesota Fats with a minimum of dialogue but a maximum of body language.  The cool pool wizard (Gleason was a prety good pool player in his own right, BTW) manages to be a presence in the movie just by being on camera.  Scott also puts forth a grand performance, as described by one writer I read, "a devil in sunglasses".

The fantastic part of this movie is it never drags, not even once.  The scenes in which the action primarily involves playing the game of pool are especially entrancing.  The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies by Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow rank this movie as #8, and the website digitaldreamdoor ranks it as #2.  While you may wonder how pool is considered a sport, ranked with football, basketball and baseball and the like, I remind you that quite often ESPN has broadcast pool tournaments, and I personally think pool is more exciting to watch than tennis.  I won't even discuss how uninteresting it is to watch people play poker.

The Hustler (1961)

"Fast Eddie" Felson (Paul Newman) and is partner Charlie (Myron McCormick) arrive in a town, claiming to be on their way to a convention.  Felson hustles some money from the locals and they continue on their way.  Eddie has plans to meet with the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) and challenge him to play pool for big money. Eddie is the up and coming wizard and already has a legend following him.  But he is a victim of his own making because he is an alcoholic and sometimes lets his drinking get in the way of his playing.

When he finally meets up with Fats he manages to beat the pool legend for a total of  $18,000, but his ego and his drinking get in the way and he loses all but $200 of it right back to the fat man.  He is hampered by the fact that Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) has insulted his ego by calling him a "loser" and encouraging Fats to keep playing him.  A falling out occurs between Eddie and Charlie and Eddie leaves the hotel room in which he and Charlie are staying, leaving half of the $200 with him.

 At a bus terminal Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie).  They chat for a while and Eddie tries to put the make on her, but she becomes nervous and dismisses him.  Eddie meets up again with Bert who again calls him a "born loser", saying that he has talent but that he lacks character.  Bert tells him he will stake Eddie to play Fats again, but he wants a 75-25 split of the winnings, with bert getting the lion's share.  Eddie scoffs at this prospect.

Eddie and Sarah meet up again, and the relationship begins to blossom.  He moves in with her.  He wonders where she gets her money, since she seems to have no job, and she is not very forthright in revealing her situation, but these are two people who know where they stand in society and he accepts her ruse.

Eddie hustles a local shark and in revenge the shark and his buddies break Eddie's thumbs.  Unable to play pool for the time being he becomes entirely dependent on Sarah.  After he heals from his injuries, Bert reappears with his offer and Eddie decides that "25% of something is better than 100% of nothing" and agrees to the deal.  Bert takes Eddie to Louisville here Bert has a prospect for Eddie, a rich man who loves to play and gamble.  But the game turns out to be carom billiards instead of pocket pool, which Eddie had never played, and he promptly loses.

Telling Bert that he knows he can win, he continues to play and manages to win a substantial amount which nets Eddie the $3000 stake he needs to play Fats again.  Bert  and Eddie have a falling out after Sarah commits suicide, a result of her humiliation from having a sexual encounter with the evil Bert. 

The final encounter, between Eddie and Fats is one to see.  Once again Eddie is on his game.  It plays out just as you would probably expect from a 60's movie, but it is well worth seeing.

As stated in the prologue, The Hustler was nominated for all five categories of the "Big Five".  In case you were wondering, here are the winners who actually got to go home with those statuettes:

Best Picture:  West Side Story
Best Director: Robert Wise for West Side Story
Best Actor: Maximillian  Schell for Judgement at Nuremberg
Best Actress: Sophia Loren for Two Women
Best Screenplay: Abby Mann for Judgement at Nuremberg

As an added note, The Hustler did take home two Oscars, on for Best Art Direction and one for Best Cinematography, both in the "Black and White category.

That's it for this first entry.  Hope you enjoyed it.