Sunday, April 28, 2019

My Favorite Sports Movie

I am a huge football fan.  (That's American Football to you readers in Europe.  We call your "football" soccer here.)  I will watch a game between two second tier college teams if I come across it on TV and there is no other football games more pressing to me.  The action is thrilling, the hits dynamic and the scores are well worth the time I spend watching them.

My second favorite sport is basketball.  I love the energy that those players have to run up and down the court, and the game can change at any moment.  Especially interesting is the playoffs, both in college (known as the "March Madness") and in professional basketball.  Like football, on any given day a team can have a streak going for them and defeat a much better team, so you never really can be sure who will win.

Third on my list is hockey.  The speed of hockey is what draws me more than anything, and a 1-0 final score is a really great defensive game.  Scoring can be higher, especially if the goalies are having an off day.

At a distant fourth is baseball.  At least with the other three sports you have a lot of action and there is some sense of when it is going to end.  Baseball never ends in a tie, however.  I saw one playoff game between my beloved Houston Astros against the rival Atlanta Braves which went 18 innings and lasted almost 6 hours.  (The longest game in Major League Baseball,  by the way, went 25 innings and lasted a whopping 8 hours.)

Baseball itself can be interesting, to a point, but there is waaaaaaaaaay too much down time between the action.  There's a reason why they call the break in the seventh inning "the Seventh Inning Stretch".  If you've been sitting down through that many innings you probably need the chance to get up or your legs might atrophy...

"So, Quiggy", you might ask, "why is your favorite sports movie about the sport of baseball?  Why didn't you pick The Longest Yard (which has some of the best football action in any football movie)? Why not Hoosiers (which is a damn good basketball film)?  Or even Slap Shot or Miracle (both of which give us some beautiful hockey action)? Or any others you might have come up with that don't involve baseball..."

Some of it has to do with my love of history. Eight Men Out beautifully captures the spirit of the times, even if it's focus is on one of the more disreputable events of the early 20th century.  (And if you want to delve into the scandal I highly recommend the book on which the movie was based Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof.)

But the second is that it has a collection of some of the greatest character actors of the time. Some of them may have escaped your notice, and in fact when I tell people about this movie, most who are not as avid movie watchers as I am will say "Who?" when I mention almost any other name besides John Cusack or Charlie Sheen.

But just look at the some of the names.  David Strathairn plays Eddie Cicotte.  I fist latched on to Strathairn when he appeared in the Robert Redford vehicle Sneakers where he played a blind computer hacker (and did it so well I actually thought the actor was blind until I saw him in this movie, which actually preceded Sneakers but I didn't watch until after that movie).

David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte

Clifton James plays the White Sox Owner Charles Comiskey.  James is memorable as one of only two characters played by the same actor in multiple James Bond movies.  (He plays Sgt J. W. Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun).

Clifton James as Charles Commiskey

 Michael Rooker plays Chick Gandil.  Rooker came to prominence as the titular character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and also appeared prominently in Mississippi Burning  and as Yondu in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy.

Michael Rooker as "Chick" Gandil

John Mahoney is familiar to many as the father on the TV show Frasier.  Kevin Tighe was one of the paramedics on the 70's TV show Emergency!  And Michael C. Lerner who plays gambling bigwig Arnold Rothstein was a runner-up for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Barton Fink.

John Mahoney (R) as "Kid" Gleason
Kevin Tighe as "Sport" Sullivan

 Other names you might or might not recognize include John Anderson, D. B. Sweeney and Studs Terkel (who was not known as an actor, but was a prominent writer in his day.)

Eight Men Out barely managed to crack the top 30 in  Digital Dream Door's Top 100 Sports Movies, beaten out by Bull Durham, Pride of the Yankees, and The Natural.  (as well, as Field of Dreams, but you can see my opinion on that particular movie here.  Other websites put up even more movies they consider better.  I'm not disparaging any of them.  But I think Eight Men Out deserves a better ranking than just a figurative "also ran".

Eight Men Out (1988):

The 1919 Chicago White Sox are at the top of their game.  Not only do they easily win the American League pennant (before 1969 only the team with the best record advanced, there were no playoffs) and were almost assured of beating the crap out the National League champion, the Cincinnati Reds in their 9 game World Series.  (Note: for several years the best of 7 games for the series was changed to 9, before reverting back to best of 7.)

Charles Commiskey (Clifton James), portrayed as a cheap penny-pinching miser has engendered a lot of hatred by the players.  He refuses to give bonuses, pays the players a pittance compared to their counterparts on other teams, and even at one point pays the players a bonus in champagne (which is flat...).  As such it easy to see how some players could fall victim to a plan to "fix" the Series.  Whether or not such players as "Chick" Gandil (Michael Rooker), "Swede" Risberg (Don Harvery) and Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) had any "legitimate" reasons for siding with the gamblers for what seemed better money, the fact of the matter was that the members of the team that conspired to throw the Series, something that although had not been done on such a grand level had been done in the past.  Albeit only for insignificant games during the season.

What happens is two separate coterie of gangsters try to convince a smattering of key players to throw the series.  Gandil is the mastermind of the fix on the players side, but he is at the whims of Bill Burns (Christopher Lloyd) and Billy Maharg (Richard Edson) in one corner and "Sport" Sullivan (Kevin Tighe) and Abe Attell (Michael Mantell) in the other.  Atell has close connections with bigwig Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner), but even Rothstein double crosses in this bait and switch atmosphere of big league gambling.

It should be no surprise that nobody can trust anybody else.  The players are promised one amount, but in the end they are only granted a pittance of the claimed payday.  The gamblers try to claim that much of the money is out on bets and that the players will eventually get paid after tey have performed their duties.  Needless to say there is some backbiting amongst the players and at one point several of them decide to say screw it, let's see if we can win.  But you know anything you know you can't double-cross the gambling syndicate.

Eventually the result is exactly the way the gamblers wanted it.  But several reporters with long-noses try to sniff out the truth behind the White Sox collapse in the series.  These include Hugh Fullerton (Studs Terkel) and the famed writer, then sports writer Ring Lardner (played by director John Sayles, who, by the way, actually looks a lot like Ring Lardner.  not sure if that's fancy make up magic or he actually does resemble the writer).

Ring Lardner
John Sayles as Ring Lardner

After uncovering enough evidence, eight former players are brought to trial.  Included are the aforementioned Cicotte, Gandil and Risberg, as well as "Shoeless Joe" Jackson (D. B. Sweeney), "Happy" Felsch (Charlie Sheen), "Lefty" Williams (James Read), Fred McMullin (Perry Lang) and "Buck" Weaver (John Cusack)  What follows is what was the trial of the century (or at least the trial of the early part of the century since it was only 20 years old at the time...)  ."Buck" Weaver for his part uses every opportunity to get himself separated from the rest since, although he knew about the fix, he refused to play anything but his best, as his record would show.  But he is denied that right.  As a result he stands trial with the rest of them.

The Eight Black Sox

Meanwhile the owners hire a commissioner to clean up baseball.  Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (John Anderson) establishes that he as commissioner must have absolute control over his position and that the position must be for life, in order to not have the position open to playing favorites.  His first act as the newly formed position of Baseball commissioner is to ban the eight "Black Sox" for life and establishing the ground rules about gambling that the same should happen to anyone else who has knowledge of illegal gambling activities.  (Thus setting the precedent that has thus far kept Pete rose out of the Baseball Hall of Fame).

The baseball action in the movie is top notch.  Sayles could be given great credit to not only finding great actors, but ones who could pull off convincing baseball moves.  D> B> Sweeney in particular looks good, mainly because he is by nature a right-hander, but practiced hard to convince people he was the left-handed Joe Jackson.

Watch it for the baseball.  Watch it for the history.  Hell, watch it for the music.  Sayles got that right too, with some pretty good jazz numbers that befit the era.

Well folks, I'm outta here.  Drive safely.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Something Rotten

This is my entry in the Michael Caine Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a remake of a movie called Bedtime Story.  That movie starred David Niven and Marlon Brando in virtually the same roles (although the ending of the first movie was more fitting for the era and the ending of this one shows a much more twisted and cynical ending that the public had become willing to accept.  There is a new remake on the horizon (coming out next month), which has Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in (apparently) female equivalents of the story's main characters.  The Hustle has not yet been released at press time for this blog piece however, but may appear as an addendum in the future (or may be good enough to merit one of my rare "current release" articles...)

A reminisce:  I went to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in the theater when it first came out.  After having watched most of it, the film broke.  By my estimation there was maybe 2 or 3 minutes left until the credits rolled.  The theater (graciously I think) gave all of the theater patrons passes to see the movie again, (or another movie), at a later date.  (I didn't actually see this one again until it was released on video.  As I recall,  I actually used the ticket to go see I'm Gonna Get You, Sucka.)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988):

Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a high class gigolo/scam artist.  He uses wit and charm to bilk rich women out of their money.  His main gig appears to be to convince them that he is an exiled prince from some foreign country who, along with some freedom fighters still in his former country, are fighting to free themselves of a dictatorial reign.  To this aid, he has the help of the local chief of police, Andre (Anton Rodgers) who helps convince the women Lawrence is whom he says he is.

Their are rumors of a competing confidence artist circulating the French Riviera. (Lawrence's stomping grounds of Beaumont-sur-mer is in the Riviera). The competing trickster is one whom is only known as "The Jackal".  Lawrence meets Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), a small-time grifter (one who preys on women, but thinks taking them for $20 is top hot stuff).  Lawrence is convinced that Freddy is "The Jackal" and tries to con him into traveling further down the coast instead of sicking around Beaumont-sur-mer.

But Freddy ends back in Beaumont-sur-mer.  So Lawrence, with the help of Andre,  gets one of Freddy's victims to file charges and has him jailed.  He then maneuvers Freddy to leave the Riveria and go back to America with the promise the charges will be dropped.

But on the plane Freddy finds out the true identity of Lawrence and manages to blackmail him into helping Freddy become a full-fledged raconteur.  Eventually Lawrence is able to groom Freddy into a respectable resemblance of a high-class person.  Then the two work together.  Lawrence does his usual shtick of manipulating the ladies, while Freddy becomes the backup in case marriage looms close.  See, Freddy is passed of as the nitwit brother of the prince that Lawrence portrays, thus causing the women to have second thoughts about a potential marriage.

When the going gets tough is when Lawrence refuses to cut Freddy in on the illicit gains.  It comes down to a battle to see who will win rightful domain over the territory.  Freddy bets Lawrence that the first one to extract a certain amount ($50,000 to be exact) from the same woman will win the territory and the other must leave./  The chosen victim is the newly arrived "Soap Queen",  Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly).

Freddy poses as a cripple soldier, but one whose "crippling" is purely, he admits, psychosomatic.  (It's all in his mind, even though he wants to walk, a fictional ditching by a true love being the cau, se.)  He claims there is a doctor who will "cure" him, but he needs $50,000 for him.  Step in Lawrence, who in his effort to be the one who will win the bet, claims to be said doctor.

But all is not what it seems.  It turns out that Janet is not a rich heiress, merely a young girl who won a soap company's contest and was named "Soap Queen" and given a free trip to Europe as part of the winnings.  Freddy, being more mercenary, says that he is willing to settle for whatever they can wrangle out of her, but Lawrence has a gentleman's heart and dismisses the bet.  Only to agree to "make her the bet".  See, Freddy, thinking below the neck as usual, decides that the one that gets her in bed first is the better man.  But Lawrence has different ideas about chivalry and manhood.

Stick around for the end.  I guarantee you won't see it coming.  According to director Frank Oz, he and Martin spent most of the movie production hashing out ideas on how to end it.  I will say it is a very satisfying ending.  Can't wait to see what they do with the upcoming remake of The Hustle.

Well folks, time to head back to the villa.  Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bridges of Destiny

This is my entry in the William Holden Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema, Love Letters to Old Hollywood and the Flapper Dame

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957):

Com. Shears (William Holden) has been a prisoner of the Japanese Army for quite some time.  As a result he has some small ability to manipulate the lesser officers of the internment camp.  After a burial detail  (there is a very high death rate in the camp, although not always due to the rigors of disease), Shears manages to get he and his companion put on the sick list.  It is from here that he witness the arrival of a cadre of British prisoners.

Led by Lt. Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the cadre of Brits arrive marching smartly in step while whistling "Colonel Bogey's March".  (Once you hear this, I feel certain it will stick with you forever...  I heard it once about 40 years ago, long before I ever saw the movie and still remembered it when I finally watched the movie.)

Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), the commander of the internment camp, informs the prisoners that they will be required to build a railroad  bridge to cross the River Kwai.  He insists that there will be no idleness, that even the officers will be required to work.  Nicholson informs Saito that the rules of the Geneva Convention specifically state that officers cannot be forced to do manual labor.  Thus begins a battle of wills.

Nicholson and his officers are punished and his men react with appropriate British tact and finesse by screwing up the building of the bridge  at every opportunity.  Eventually Saito has to break down and give in, because he is on a schedule from his higher-ups for a certain completion date, but he does it with typical Japanese "saving-face" style, by claiming he is doing it as a part of a celebration of an historical Japanese victory in a previous war.

Meanwhile, Shears and two others attempt to escape.  The two others are killed and Shears is assumed to have drowned.  He doesn't.  He gets away and eventually lands in Ceylon, where he is living a life of luxury.  Until the local British command virtually draft him into helping a squad of men go back into the jungle with the goal of blowing up the bridge Nicholson and his men are building.  Shears, as you might expect, is not too happy about it, and tries to get out of it, going so far as to reveal that he is not Com. Shears, but someone else, who had assumed the role of his dead commander to get better treatment by the Japanese.  But it turns out he wasn't fooling anyone.  The Americans had turned him over to the British to avoid any complications by having him court-martialed.

The film then swaps back and forth between Shears and his squad's attempts to reach and complete their objective and Nicholson and his men trying to do a good job on the bridge.  Nicholson becomes adamant that, despite the intent of the Japanese for use of the bridge, that he and his men will complete the bridge in good order and that it will be something that the British men working on it can be proud of.

What transpires towards the end is surprising,  Guinness won an Oscar for his role.  In fact The Bridge on the River Kwai won every award for which it was nominated except for Best Supporting Actor.  (Sessue Hayakawa lost to Red Buttons for his role in Sayonara)

Flash forward 10 years or so.  In yet another war, this time in Korea.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1951):

Fighting the Koreans in the conflict as a jet fighter, Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) runs out of fuel and is forced to ditch his plane in the sea.  He is rescued by a helicopter crew consisting of Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney) and Nestor Gamidge (Earl Holliman).

Forney is a bit of a problem with his superiors.  For one thing, when flying, he wears a non-regulation green top hat and scarf.  And for another he is a (stereo)typical Irishnan and gets in a lot of fights.  But he is a damn good pilot, and Brubaker develops a relationship with him as a result.

Brubaker's wife, Nancy (Grace Kelly) shows up in Japan and Brubaker is given a leave to visit with her and his two daughters.  He reluctantly tells her about the upcoming dangerous mission that he and his fellow pilots will be attempting, that of taking out the crucial bridges located at Toko-Ri.  While in Japan, he also has to bail out his new found friend, Forney, because the latter got in a fight over a Japanese woman whom he, Forney, has decided he is going to marry.  But said woman has left him for another sailor on another ship.

Back on his ship, Brubaker starts to get cold feet about the mission.  His commander, CDR Wayne Lee (Charles McGraw) tells him he won't look down on him if Brubaker decides to pull himself out of the fight, but that he will be very upset if Brubaker endangers the mission by following through with basd nerves and ends up scrubbing the mission.  Eventually Brubaker does get a renewed perspective and decides to stay with the mission.

After a successful mission, Brubaker's plane is hit by enemy fire and he attempts to return to the ship before his fuel runs out.  But he ends up having to crash land in enemy territory.  A rescue helicopter with Forney and Gamidge is sent out to retrieve him.   But will they rescue him before he is captured by enemy soldiers?

Although this movie has less dramatic acting than the previous film, it still has something going for it.  It blends a documentary feel for the action in the Korean conflict.  The air attack on the bridges  are fantastic.  And despite the relative low dramatic acting, Holden does hold his own.

Well, folks time to fire up the jets and head home.  Drive safely.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Love Over Gold

This is my entry in the Stewart Granger Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films.

The song North to Alaska by Johnny Horton was the theme to the movie.  The song came out before the movie was filmed by several months and turned out to be Johnny Horton's last big hit.  He died in an automobile accident shortly before the movie was released.

The story of the gold rush of Alaska may be overshadowed by the previous gold rush in California in 1849, but it still has some cache of interest to those of us interested in history.  The movie North to Alaska covers some of the feel.

It should be noted that the movie was filmed in California, which explains why the terrain doesn't exactly seem right.  But if you don't let that bother you, it has a great feel for the time of the movie.  (Whether or not the Nome of 1901 had such muddy streets or not...)

North to Alaska (1960):

Sam McCord (John Wayne) and George Pratt (Stewart Granger) and his brother Billy (Fabian) have been working a gold mine near Nome, in Alaska.  And they have been very successful at it.

Sam is on his way to Seattle to get some more mining supplies, and as an added bonus he is tagged to bring back with him Jenny, the love of George.  Jenny and George have been corresponding over the past three years and George is infatuated and plans to marry her.  He has even built a honeymoon cabin just off the way from the main cabin the three men share.

Sam arrives in Seattle, not knowing what to expect, but he finds more than he bargained for.  Jenny is a maid in a rich man's house.  Not only that, but she gave up on George some time before and is now married to the head butler of same rich man's house.  Sam, who doesn't have a high opinion on women in the first place, is disgusted.  As a result, he decides to get drunk over it.

While in Seattle, he goes to the Hen House, a local bordello.  There he meets "Angel" (Capucine), whose real name is Michelle Bonet, and is French.  It seems to Sam she would be the perfect substitute for George, since Jenny was also French. (They all look alike...?)  He convinces her to go with him to Alaska.  But Michelle gets the wrong impression.  She thinks she is going to be with Sam.

To make matters worse, during the trip, Sam is such a gallant gentleman, it causes Michelle to fall in love with Sam.  When the truth is revealed, Michelle is of course distraught, but by that time she is already in Nome.  She originally plans to return to Seattle, but changes her mind.

Back at the base camp, George of course is angry about the situation.  He wants Jenny and thinks Sam either got drunk and forgot her, or some equally malevolent act.  And Billy has a puppy dog love for Michelle, whom she rejects because, after all, she is in love with Sam.  Eventually, George, who realizes that Michelle is in love with Sam decides to try to manipulate Sam into admitting he loves Michelle in return.

Meanwhile, in Nome, Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs), a small-time hustler who has managed to finagle himself into being a bigwig has designs on Michelle, too.  It turns out they were an item way back when he was a gambler and she was a prostitute in New Orleans.  And he thinks she's back in town to be with him.  Plus he has lots of money, all acquired illegally, including managing to file false claims on several gold mines in the area.  One of which is Sam and George's.

A rare comedy from the Wayne oeuvre, this one has plenty of misunderstandings and double talk standards of the genre which, while maybe not as hilarious as, say, Arsenic and Old Lace  or Blazing Saddles in the sense of laugh out loud comedy, is still pretty funny.  Check it out.

Time to saddle up and ride home.  Drive safely, folks.


Friday, April 5, 2019

Big Trouble in the Bronx

 This is my entry in the Vic Morrow Blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy and Sidewalk Crossings

From The Cinematic Bartender by Winthrop J Quiggy:

Bronx Warrior (aka "Italian Ripoff")

Take one jigger of Escape from New York.  Add 2 shots of The Warriors. Sprinkle with a liberal dose of Mad Max.  Shake vigorously.  Serve over ice with a twist of Usagi Yojimbo.

Italian cinema, especially the kind that populated drive-in theaters, were not well known for originality.  Witness the plethora of spaghetti westerns that followed Sergio Leone's classic "Man with No Name" trilogy.  Or just about any sci-fi movie from that country (including this one.)

Not that that means they aren't entertaining.  In fact, if you can approach low-budget Italian movies with an open mind, they can be a nice way to spend the afternoon.  You hardly ever get the caliber of performance of, say, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, but the plots usually have a lot of action, which is why most drive-in movie lovers went to the drive-in in the first place.  (I heard that... I was referring to people who went to them with the express purpose of WATCHING the movies, you sick-minded freaks...)

Vic Morrow is the headline name of this flick and his talent as a bad guy is pretty much the same as most other bad guy roles he played.  This was the penultimate role he played before his unfortunate death on the set of the next movie he was in, The Twilight Zone:The Movie.

It also stars Fred Williamson as Ogre, one of the kingpins of the gang society in the Bronx, and a guy named Mark Gregory.  Gregory (whose real name was Marco di Gregorio) runs around this movie looking like a refugee from an 80's MTV hair band video. (And are those his real lips or was he hitting the Botox before it became available on the market...?)

Which brings me to a point about the music for the film.  The music pretty much distracts from the feel of the movie.  Ogre plays jazz music in his lair, for crying out loud... (Really?)  Personally I think a sprinkling of some heavy metal songs would have improved it.  Stuff like Accept's "Balls to the Wall", Krokus' "Long Stick Goes Boom" and Judas Priest's "Some Heads are Gonna Roll". (Although, truth be told, those songs came out post-production of this film, but surely there were some fitting heavy metal songs that could have improved the music...)

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982):

In the preface to the film, much like Escape from New York, the future of crime has had devastating effects on the city of New York.  (NYC seems to get the brunt of negative associations in futuristic sci-fi.  Must be one hell of a bad place to be in the future, don'tcha think?)  Anyway, by 1990, the police and government have basically just given up the city as a lost cause.

In the beginning, a woman, Anne (Stephania Girolami who was the director's daughter), is on the run.  She enters the No-Man's Land of the Bronx, where she is accosted by a gang called The Zombies.  To the rescue comes  "Trash" (Mark Gregory) and his gang, The Riders.  And of course, being the stud muffin that he is, Anne falls head over heels for him.

Meanwhile back in the real world, the VP of the Manhattan Corporation and his number one man (played by, in what must have been a budget move, director Enzo Castellari and his brother Ennio Girolami; It's All in the Family, Italian style...) are desperate for the return of Anne to the fold.  Why?  Because she is 17 and when she turns 18 she will be the de facto head of the Manhattan Corporation.  Which is a big arms dealership.  Which is why she ran away in the first place.  She didn't WANT to be the head of an arms dealership.  Which apparently she thinks will dissolve if she's not around to lead it, I guess... (Wishful thinking, there, babe.)

Anyway the VP  calls on his sure ticket for the return of Anne, in the person of The Hammer (Vic Morrow), a renegade policeman somewhat like a sick version of Dirty Harry.  Only Hammer is a loose cannon in the extreme sense of the word.  He's not just trying to get the girl back.  He ultimately wants to destroy the entire sick civilization in the Bronx.

To expedite matters he will do anything and everything, including getting Trash's second-hand man Ice (John Sinclair) to betray his leader.  He also has the help of Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly), a truck driver who seems to be able to come and go as he pleases within the confines of the Bronx.

When Anne is kidnapped by the Zombies, Trash has to get help, and he chooses to make a deal with the leader of the Tigers, a rival gang.  Ogre (Fred Williamson) agrees to help under certain conditions.  But the fly in the ointment is Hammer who is driven by a maniacal need for destruction.

Morrow is over the top in this film, but I have it on some word that his voice is dubbed.  Maybe someone who is familiar with his voice can tell, but I can't.  (Apparently by the time it came for studio overdubs, Morrow was already dead so they had to get some other guy to do the job.)  If that's the case, you could blame the dubber, but Hammer's actions speak louder than words.  He's still a sadistic S.O.B.  Hey he shoots a couple in a stairwell that are getting it on, for no apparent reason than just to see them die.

There were two sequels to this movie, neither of which I watched for this entry but will get to, if only for the fact that Fred Williamson is in the third one (albeit, I guess, a different character since it seems apparent Ogre dies in this one.)

Well folks, the screen has gone dark.  Drive safely.  Remember, you never know just how balanced that cop down the street might be.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Too Much Knowledge

This is my entry in the Doris Day Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

My earliest memories of Doris Day were when she had a TV show back in the 60's.  I don't really remember anything from those days except that she sang the song "Que Sera, Sera" in the opening credits. But I can still recall the song, which is significant since I probably haven't even heard it done since those days.  (Not including the watching of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much recently, which I found out is where the song originally appeared onscreen...)

An interesting side note about the song.  Hitchcock was not particularly agreeable to having a song in his film, but the production company, Paramount, insisted that there had to be one.  (Probably due to the fact that Doris Day had been cast for the film.)  Hitchcock approached the writing team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans stating that he needed a song, but he didn't know hat he wanted.  After hearing what the duo came up with he told them that that was exactly what he wanted.  So what may or may not be Doris Day's signature song was the result of a happy turn of events necessitated by a production company's insistence on having a song.

Hitchcock had wanted Doris Day for the role all along, but associate producer Herbert Coleman states in an interview on the commentary of my DVD that he had some misgivings.  He didn't think Day could pull off the dramatic scenes in the movie, especially the pivotal emotional breakdown after finding out about the fate of her son.  But Hitch, as always, got his way, and in retrospect Coleman admitted he was wrong and that she was perfect for the role.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956):

Married couple Ben and Jo McKenna  (James Stewart, Doris Day) are on vacation in north Africa with their son, Hank (Christopher Olsen).

  They encounter a Frenchman, Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) who is very inquisitive about them, arousing Jo's suspicions.

Upon arrival in Marrakesh, Bernard offers to take them to dinner, but cancels out after a mysterious man (Reggie Nalder) appears at their door. 

Instead the go to dinner alone, where they meet Edward and Lucy Drayton (Bernard Miles, Brenda de Banzie).  The four end up eating together and arranging to go sightseeing the next day.

While in the marketplace, a man in Arabian attire is murdered.  It turns out to be Bernard in disguise.  He whispers to Ben, just before he dies, that a foreign dignitary is going to be murdered in London and tells Ben to find "Ambrose Chapell".  When Ben and Jo are questioned by the authorities about the murder they discover that Bernard was an agent of the French secret service (a spy).

But before Ben can tell the authorities what happened he receives a mysterious call telling him that Hank has been kidnapped and will be killed if he, Ben, reveals what he knows.  Thus, Ben's driving force is to find out where his son is and save him.  To such measures he is even willing to let the events play out with the assassination if only he can retrieve his son safely.

Thus begins the frantic search which leads the two to London.  A fruitless attempt to track down Ambrose Chapell reveals that Ben and Jo are on the wrong track. 

And that people are not all whom they claim to be.  Of course, the fact that the Draytons obviously are involved because they were the last ones to be with Hank is not entirely surprising, but there is much more involved in the political intrigue.

Even after the assassination attempt is foiled, the two still have to track down and rescue Hank.  Which leads them to the embassy of the foreign dignitary.

The Man who Knew too Much was a remake of a 1934 film Hitchcock had mad with Peter Lorre, but much of the plot was changed so seeing both films together makes for an entertaining evening.  Hitchcock himself describes the first film as having been made by talented amateur and the second as having been made by a professional.

One should note a few recognizable faces in the film.  Reggie Nalder may look familiar.  He was the vampire in the 1979 TV version of Salem's Lot as well as Zoltan, The Hound of Dracula's master.  And Carolyn Jones, best known as Morticia Addams in the TV show The Addams Family is also recognizable, despite the fact that she is decked out in very short cropped red hair.  And look for Walter Gotell, a familiar Russian agent from James Bond movies in a brief role as a Scotland Yard policeman.

Time to fire up the Plymouth.  Drive safely, folks.