Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Big Confusion

This is my entry in the Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood.

The Big Sleep, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, is an important entry in the canon of film noir, not the least of which is it enhanced the mystique of the relationship on screen between its two stars, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  It is in the top 5 of most lists of the greatest film noir movies.

It also has one of the most convoluted plots in movie history.  You almost need a copy of Cliff Notes on the film on hand to keep up with who is killing who and who is doing other dastardly things.

And reading the novel on which it was based is not much help.  Even Chandler himself didn't know certain intricate mysteries in the novel.  When asked who killed the chauffeur, or if he had committed  suicide, Chandler responded with a basic "damned if I know."

But most people can ignore the twists and turns and just watch the dynamic chemistry of Bacall and Bogart.  And if you really want to know what happens, I guess you could just read the wikipedia article on the film.  Maybe it will clear up your questions.  And maybe not.

That's not to say that The Big Sleep isn't a fantastic movie.  It is.

There were some things that had to be removed (or at least subdued) when the film was made.  For one thing, the novel has Carmen Sternwood involved in a pornography scandal.  In fact, when Marlowe first discovers her in Geiger's house, she was completely nude.  Can't get away with that in the Hays Code era... so she is in a Chinese dress.  Also there is a hinted homosexual relationship that was completely omitted.  (You have to understand that writers could get away with being more prurient, but the Hays Code held an iron fist over what could be translated to the screen.)

One thing of important note.  The film was made in 1945, but with the impending end of WWII, the studio withheld the movie until 1946 so it could release war related movies already made to cash in on the war oriented crowd.  AS a result, even though the movie is supposedly taking place in 1946, there are still some war related "anachronisms", like the B sticker on Marlowe's car, signifying that he was significant enough to the war effort to be allowed to buy more gasoline than the average Joe.  And the fact that a woman is driving the cab, a job that would have been reclaimed by a man when soldiers returned.

The Big Sleep (1946):

Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) appears on the doorstep of the Sternwood house to an appointment with General Sternwood (Charles Waldron).  The general wants to hire Marlowe to clear up an attempt at blackmail.  It seems young Carmen (Martha Vickers), his daughter, has run up some gambling debts, but the General is suspicious.

Marlowe w/ Carmen
Marlowe w/ The General

The General's other daughter, Vivian (Lauren Bacall) attempts to extract from Marlowe what his duties are in the case but Marlowe refuses to divulge.  Which annoys Vivian.

Marlowe w/ Vivian

When Marlowe appears at the door of A. G. Geiger's bookstore (the holder of the supposed gambling debts), he has an encounter with Agnes (Sonia Darrin) and pretty much exposes the bookstore as a front for something else, by asking for two "rare" books which in reality don't exist.

Marlowe w/ Agnes

Following Geiger as he leaves the store, he finds himself at a rundown house where Carmen appears.  Some minutes after Carmen goes in to Geiger's house there is a shot and Marlowe rushes in to find Geiger dead and Carmen stoned out of her skull.  He takes Carmen home, but when he returns to Geiger's house the body is gone.

Thus begins the convoluted plot.  Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey), a contact and friend of Marlowe's on the police force, appears on Marlowe's doorstep to inform him that they found the Sternwood chauffeur's body in the Sternwood car in the water off a pier.  

Marlowe continues his investigation finding out that small time gangster Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) has a connection.  Carmen has insisted that it was Brody who shot Geiger.  But Joe insists he is innocent.  He just has a plan to blackmail the Sternwood's with some inappropriate photos he found in the Geiger house.  (The only hint that there is a pornography connection).

Marlowe w/ Brody

After Brody is shot by Carol Lundgren, Geiger's bodyguard, who thinks it was Brody who killed his boss, Vivian tries to pay off Marlowe, insisting that his job for the Sternwood's is finished.  But there are too many details that aren't clear and Marlowe suspects that Vivian is being pressured by big-time gangster Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) to lay off the case.

Marlow w/ Mars

If that isn't a twisted enough plot for you, let me tell you, you ain't seen nuthin' yet folks.

What with Mars putting even more pressure on Marlowe to lay off, and with the obviously nymphomaniac Carmen trying to put the moves on him, there's more to this film than meets the eye.  We even get the generally good guy Western actor Bob Steele as a very sinister gunman who is trying to get Marlowe off the case permanently.  You may just need an aspirin by the end to stop your head from spinning.

Well, time to fire up the old Plymouth.  Drive home safely, folks.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Witty Outlaws

This is my entry in the William Goldman Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room

I have stated before that I am a director groupie.  My favorite directors include John Carpenter, Marin Scorcese, Stanley Kubrick, Ron Howard and Rob Reiner.  But directors would just be nobodies without a good script to with which to work.  I admit I never paid much attention to the scriptwriter's credit in movies however, until I saw The Princess Bride.

I loved the movie, and the dialogue just zinged.  So I began to check out past credits for the screenwriter, William Goldman.  I found out that he was a two-time Oscar winner, for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men, both of which I had seen, but well before I recognized that scripts made a movie better.

Goldman started out as a novelist and migrated to Hollywood as some novelists do to be a fixture on the movie set.  While not all of the movies he wrote the screenplay play for were fantastic (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, anyone?), it wasn't entirely the fault of Goldman.  (Even Invisible Man has some good dialogue).

Goldman's best work was when he was adapting his own novels.  Magic, Heat, and the aforementioned The Princess Bride among them.  The Princess Bride novel reads kind of like a movie adaptation until you realize he wrote the novel some 15 years earlier.

I like All the President's Men, even though he didn't really have much to work with as far as dialogue went.  But Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has about as much quotable dialogue as the Princess Bride.  And you'll be remembering it long after you have finished watching the movie.

And it could've been pulled off with any number of leads, but the movie scored big time when it landed Paul Newman and Robert Redford for the leads.  Along with guest appearances by great character actors, the highlight of which is Strother Martin, the movie made a big splash.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):

In the late 1890's Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) is scoping out a bank for potential robbery.  Meanwhile The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) is playing blackjack in a saloon (and if you have quick eyes or good ears you will notice one of the players is Sam Elliott in possibly his first big screen role).  After a brief tense confrontation with one of the players accusing Sundance of cheating, the two take off for their hideout.

Back at the hideout there is a confrontation in store.  Butch is ostensibly the leader of the gang, but Harvey Logan (Ted "Lurch" Cassidy) has eyes on taking over.  He challenges Butch to a fight.

It turns out that Harvey had an idea to rob the Flyer, a train both on the going and coming routes, which Butch thinks is a pretty good idea.  They rob the train on the going with an exchange with a young dedicated guardsman named Woodcock (George Furth).  They hideout in a nearby town where an industrious sheriff tries to marshal a posse to go after them, unaware that the culprits are in the building above him.

While Butch fools around with the whores in the whorehouse Sundance goes off looking for a woman of his own.  He finds her, but as it turns out Etta Place (Katherine Ross) is already involved with the two.

Later, the gang pulls it's second attempt on the Flyer.  Finding an extremely difficult safe, Butch calls for more dynamite to blow it.  He ends up blowing the entire railroad car to smithereens, scattering the money everywhere.

The fly in the ointment, however, is the arrival of a second train which has what is called a "Super Posse".  As Butch an Sundance and the remaining gang take it on the lam, they split up, with Butch and Sundance going one direction and the rest going another.

Butch: "How many of them are following us?"
Sundance: "All of them."
Butch "ALL of them?" (turning and pointing to the rest of the gang) " What's the matter with those guys?"

The pair determine that the "Super Posse" consists of several well known lawmen.  They run but are ended up cornered on a mountain overlooking a river.  Their only options are to fight it out or surrender.  Until Butch comes up with a better idea...

After their narrow escape, the pair head to New York with Etta, and eventually to Bolivia.  Where they revert to their old ways of robbing banks.  With some rather inept first attempts since neither of them speak Spanish.  They have to be taught rudimentary Spanish by Etta.

Well, eventually the law in Bolivia is on the trail of the pair, known as "Los Bandidos Yanquis", so they come to the conclusion that they need to go straight and get legitimate jobs.  They take on jobs as guards for Percy Garris (Strother Martin), a mine owner who is consistently getting robbed of his payroll.

But on the trip Percy is killed and the bandits corner Butch and Sundance.  They give up the payroll, but later get the drop on the bandits and take the money back.  Deciding that the legal life is not much fun, they decide to go back to robbing.  But Etta has had enough and leaves them.  A final scene occurs as, after they have robbed another bank they are cornered in an abandoned building.

The great thing about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is that the script makes it all worthwhile (not to mention two actors who could pull off the repartee with such panache).  Goldman has such an ear for dialogue the movie is a treat to listen to, even if you aren't actually watching it.

Well folks, time to saddle up and head home.  Drive safely.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Momma's Girl

This is my entry in the Luso World Blogathon hosted by Critica Retro and Spellbound by Movies.

This is one bizarre movie to say the least.  Its sort of "art house horror".  In fact one reviewer I read describes it as if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had been directed by Ingmar Bergman.  (Digest that image if you can...)

The movie stars Kika Magalhães (no relation to our co-host, according to her) as a pretty disturbed woman.  It was directed and written by a first timer, Nicholas Pesce.  If you aren't prepared for it, the movie may disturb you.  The interesting thing about it is most of the violence is either hidden or happens off screen.  But it is the unseen parts that feel a little chilling.

The Eyes of My Mother (2016):

On a remote farm little Francesca (played by Olivia Bond) lives with her parents (Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak).  Her mom was a surgeon in a previous life before marriage and teachers her daughter some of the surgery techniques using cattle from the farmas their subjects.

One day while Dad is gone, a visitor shows up.  Charlie (Will Brill) claims he just wants to use their bathroom.  Against her better judgement, Mom allows Charlie into the house, where Charlie reveals his true nature.

Dad comes home to find Charlie killing Mom.  He attacks Charlie, but rather than killing him, chains him up in the barn.  Little Francesca visits him and promises he will not be killed, but she uses the surgery techniques Mom taught her to remove his eyes and vocal cords.

 Years later, as a grown woman, Francesca (Kika Magalhães) still lives with her father and Charlie who is still chained up in the barn.  After Dad dies, Francesca cuts up his body and stores it in the refrigerator.  She begins a life of a serial killer.  At one point she brings home a woman, Kimiko (Clara Wong) she meets in a bar.  After telling her that she, Francesca, killed her father, she ends up killing Kimiko too, and storing her body parts in the fridge.  (What she intends to do with all these parts is anybody's guess).

Francesca ends up freeing Charlie from the barn and bringing him into the house to sleep with her in her bed.  But when Charlie tries to escape she kills  him.  Now, being truly alone, she wanders in the woods where she meets up with Lucy (Flora Diaz) and her son, Antonio (Joey Curtis-Green).  She brings them back to the farm where she ends up doing much the same thing she did to Charlie, chaining Lucy up in the barn.  She doesn't tell Antonio what she has done.  Instead she just tells him to stay out of the barn and proceeds to raise him as her own son.  But eventually Antonio's curiosity is going to get the best of him.

This movie was very bizarre, even for me.  But unlike some of the more outre stuff I've seen, this one lingers on long after viewing.  It got pretty good reviews upon it's release.  It doesn't try to glorify violence like, say, Blood Feast, but the haunting images of the rather sedate Francesca mirrored against her homicidal tendencies is definitely a stark contrast.  I do not, repeat do not, recommend it to anyone with children.

Time to go.  Drive safely, folks.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Announcing the Beyond Star Trek Blogathon

Star Trek had it's fingers in many pies.  Not only did it make a name for itself as a viable science fiction icon, it kick-started, or sometimes enhanced the careers of many icons in film today (and some that will be).

Thus comes this blogathon.  It is called Beyond Star Trek because we are looking for those actors or actresses who, although they may have become famous due to their "discovery" on Star Trek, impacted the movie and TV world both before, during and after their brief shining moment in the nebula of the Star Trek Universe.

Rachel (Hamlette's Soliloquy) and I are teaming up for the Beyond Star Trek Blogathon.  For this blogathon, we ask that you pick one (or more) of the stars who appeared in a Star Trek series or movie and focus on some accomplishment they made either before or after (or maybe even during) their rising star status as a character in their respective series.  Note:  This is the BEYOND Star Trek Blogathon, NOT a Star Trek Blogathon.  Your entry will be denied if you try to choose anything from the Star Trek Universe of movies, TV or books.  A special allowance will be made for autobiographies of celebrities who were in Star Trek, but please focus more on their accomplishments away from Star Trek.

Major characters in the Star Trek series are preferred but we are not adverse to having actors and actresses who played minor characters, but if you choose one, we insist that the same actor or actress played the exact same character in a minimum of 2 appearances on the series.  Also allowable are any of the many directors and behind the scenes personnel (like Gene Roddenberry).

The list of rules as always:

1. Pick your celebrity and on what you want to focus.  Only one specific movie per person.  No one wants to see a hundred views of William Shatner's "White Comanche".  (Not even sure if anybody wants to see even one...)  But they could all, conceivably, be William Shatner appearances, as long as each person chooses a separate appearance (And God help us if it does turn out that way...)

2. Write your entry and post it on or before the date of the blogathon.

3. Let one of us know your choice so we can add it to the roster.

4.  Use one of the banners below for your post.

5.  Have fun.



The Roster: (so far)

The Midnite Drive-InZombies of the Stratosphere (1952;  feat. Leonard Nimoy)
The Midnite Drive-inFear in the Night (1947; feat. DeForest Kelley)
Hamlette's SoliloquyBig Valley episode "A Time to Kill" (1966, feat. William Shatner)

Along the Brandywine: Little Women (1978; feat. William Shatner)
Angelman's PlaceInvasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, feat. Leonard Nimoy)
Caftan WomanZane Grey Theater episodes (feat. DeForest Kelley)
Coffee, Classics & CrazinessMission: Impossible TV series (feat. Leonard Nimoy)
I'm Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read): Reading Rainbow (feat. LeVar Burton)
Movies Meet Their MatchEating Raoul (1982; feat. Robert Beltran)
Taking Up Room: X-Men (2000; feat. Patrick Stewart)
Wide Screen World: Miss Congeneality (2000; feat. William Shatner)

More to come.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Tell it to the Marines

This is my entry in the Send in the Marines Blogathon hosted by Dubsism

On April 30, 1975 the unpopular war in Vietnam ended with the final withdrawal of American troops.  By 1978, the plight of soldiers in the war had become less taboo to address, especially with the new wave of politically motivated directors adding their spin on the experiences, some of which had actually served in Vietnam during the war.

Beginning with the 1978 movie The Boys in Company C, there was an onslaught of great (and not so great) films that depicted the average soldier coping with the war and its devastation.   Everyone knows the movies now regarded as classics; Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, all of which won Oscars in one category or another.

Most of the movies that focused on the war involved Army personnel, but a few featured Marines.  The most outstanding of these, in my opinion, was the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.  Incredibly, as great as this movie was, it was virtually snubbed by the Oscars committee.  It only garnered one (ONE) nomination, and that was for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It should easily have been in the running for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and the most egregious snub, I think, a nom for R. Lee Ermey as Best Supporting Actor.  Maybe it wouldn't have won any, but surely it should have been recognized more.

OK, basically Ermey was playing himself, I grant.  Interesting fact:  Ermey was only on hand as a consultant, because in a former life he was a DI in the Marines.  The story goes he was asked to show the actor how a DI intimidated and reprimanded recruits and he did such a good job, spending 10-15 minutes cursing at the recruits without repeating a single phrase, that Kubrick decided that Ermey was the real ideal actor for the role.  At least the Golden Globes made up for the faux pas by nominating him...

Full Metal Jacket (1987):

The movie begins in late 1967.  On Parris Island a group of new recruits begin their training.  The opening scene shows the recruits getting their heads shaved, to the strains of "Hello, Vietnam" by Johnny Wright.  (Note:  As far as I know this is the only film that ever had its actors in true regulation haircuts for the roles.  Kudos to the actors who agreed to it.  I get my hair cut that way now for comfort, but in 1987 I was proud of my shaggy do...)

I said just a "little" off the top...

At recruit training they are introduced to their DI, Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey).  Hartman declares his role from the outset, belittling each and every recruit, but in particular he has a special dislike for comedians, and gives Private Davis (Matthew Modine) the name "Joker".  He also has a dislike for the obviously mentally deficient Private Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) whom he designates as "Gomer Pyle".

Hartman w/ Pyle

Hartman w/ Joker

During training it becomes clear that the focal characters are Joker and Pyle.  Pyle, for his part, is a classic "f*** up".  He can't seem to do the physical training and he also can't seem to abide by the diet that his superior enforces on him.  Eventually Hartman decides to punish the rest of the platoon for Pyle's screwups, which leads to a memorable scene where they beat him with mallets made of soap bars wrapped in towels.  Which pretty much sends Pyle over the edge.  In peace time he would have been washed out, but apparently the Marines needed every warm body they could get for the war effort so his gradual decline is ignored.

Pyle not quite right

Leading up to a climatic scene in the recruit training portion in which Pyle snaps completely.  This is one of the more memorable scenes in the movie.

Pyle completely out

The second half of the movie transfers to Vietnam, where Joker is a reporter for the Stars and Stripes.  And he is still the comedian.  (He wears a helmet that has "Born to Kill" stenciled on it, but also wears a non-regulation peace symbol on his uniform).  But he desperately wants to get to where the action is.

Joker in full gear

He gets his wish when his superior sends him on a mission to go see what is happening with the troops in Phu Bai.  On his way he joins up with a squad which has a buddy from his training crew, "Cowboy" (Arliss Howard) [so named by Sgt Hartman because he hails from Texas].

Joker and Cowboy

The squad is put into action, and along with "Animal Mother" (Adam Baldwin), a gung-ho kill-em-all type and several others they get caught in a situation where there is a deadly sniper, who kills a couple of the Marines, including Cowboy.

Animal Mother

The gritty battle scenes in this film are pretty graphic, but then anyone who is familiar with Kubrick's work can expect nothing less.

A personal reminiscence.  When I came to San Marcos to attend Southwest Texas State University (now called Texas State University), Dr. Rebecca Bell-Metereau taught a class "Film and Prose Fiction".  The class would read books then watch films that had been based on the books.  The first semester I was here, she had a Kubrick focus, and the movies were Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, Lolita and maybe a couple of others.  I still kick myself over not having heard in advance of the class.  I would have loved the experience.  I was a history major, but I would have taken it just for the Kubrick focus.

Well, folks time to get your butts in gear and drive home.  Drive safely.