Explosive

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“What’s with the Frankenheimer kick?” asked Fiona. She’s a great fan of SECONDS, in particular, but even she was puzzled by some of the crap I was watching.

“I just think he brings a professionalism and a stylistic brio to anything he does,” I explained. “So I’m looking for the worst film he ever made.”

So far THE HOLCROFT COVENANT might be it, but even that was entertaining in a “was that meant to be funny?” way. I still have PROPHECY to enjoy. Given that it’s about a mutant grizzly bear, I have a suspicion it might be Frankenheimer’s most autobiographical work.

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99 AND 44/100% DEAD is such a terrible title, I’d always avoided watching the thing, but I think it was Glenn Kenny who mentioned its pop art credentials and that got me intrigued. It’s a queer thing, marrying said Lichtenstein visuals to an episodic, shambling narrative about warring gang lords, and throwing in lots of gratuitous grotesquerie along the way. Chuck Connors as a hitman with a steel claw that takes various attachments (bottle opener, cat o’nine tails) seems to have inspired a similar character in Joe Dante’s INNERSPACE.

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Irish people — please explain Richard Harris’s hair to me. I know the top part is a toupee. But that part’s practically normal compared to those weird flanges at the sides. He’s like a cross between an Elizabethan clown and a zombie Michael Caine.

Pointlessness hangs heavily over the thing, as with much of Frankenheimer’s expensive, explosive work, but much of it is amusing in a nihilistic sort of way — Bradford Dillman invents one of the screen’s most distinctive villainous laughs, sucking in air through pursed lips like a man whistling in reverse — Edmund O’Brien seems to be on hand to evoke THE KILLERS or D.O.A. but just makes me think THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT — Henry Mancini provides a great score, adding a lot of wit to the scenes that don’t feature sewer alligators, giant inflatable lady sculptures or crowds of bodies in concrete boots standing around the bottom of the East River.

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The cops and even the regular population seem indifferent to the mass slaughter being waged around them, and its strange to see the characters walking casually down the street one moment, just after being chased by machine-gun wielding assassins. Don’t they ever get nervous?

DEAD BANG seemed like it was going to be true shit, but it really wasn’t. Don Johnson is a cop on the edge, chasing neo-nazis… The story is rather televisual, especially how it ends (monologue from about-to-be-slain baddie, freeze-frame on shit-eating grin from Johnson), but the script adds surprising details and funny bits (a hungover Johnson throws up on a suspect) and Frankenheimer aggressively hurls production values at it. A car ride to investigate a white supremacist church rates a big crane shot AND a helicopter swoop.

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The Frankenheimlich manoeuvre.

Don Johnson may be a furious drunken maniac, but he gets results, damnit. Amusing to see his character intimidate, infuriate or repel virtually everyone he meets. In common with BLACK SUNDAY, the movie suggests that torture is really your best bet if you want to achieve anything good in this world. Odd that Kathryn Bigelow is picking up so much flak over ZERO DARK THIRTY when US cop movies have quite blatantly endorsed torture and the threat of torture for decades. DEAD BANG makes DIRTY HARRY look quite nuanced in this department.

Not, I have to say, a very good title. A friend suggests that having a title people are embarrassed to say is probably unhelpful. “You wanna go see DEAD BANG?” But I did like the idea of a drunkard cop who fights crime by puking on it. THE EMETIC DETECTIVE should have had a whole series of movies made about him. “Don Johnson is a cop on the edge… of nausea.” “Crime makes me sick!” It’s not too late for a sequel, in which Johnson (trailing glory from his DJANGO comedy turn) could come out of retirement/rehab to take on one last case and barf on it. “It takes guts to be a cop, and Don Johnson is going to empty them all over this city!”

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6 Responses to “Explosive”

  1. Jenny Eardley Says:

    There could be a sequel dealing with the thorny subject of “Women” in which Sicky Johnson is teamed up with a new recruit whom he discovers is a single mum-to-be suffering terrible morning sickness. At first he considers her a liability but soon discovers the value of teamwork. When they fall in love they’ll look into eachother’s eyes and realise that the other is trying to keep from throwing up, which will make them feel more bilious, but they keep looking even as their suffering increases.

  2. Daniel Reifferscheid Says:

    Great post, always nice to hear about obscure Frankenheimer.

    Surely though the reason these fascist cop movies don’t get the flack Bigelow does is because they are usually less-than-respectable genre fare, campy/not to be taken seriously even for a large segment of their own fans, and pure escapism, while “Zero Dark Thirty” positions itself as a prestige picture and as Serious Journalism. I do find it weird how everyone seems to suffer from amnesia about Bigelow’s pre-“Hurt Locker” career in exactly this kind of silly genre fare though.

  3. Well that’s where she started, but it’s not where she’s ended up. I don’t see a Point Break II in her future.

  4. And before her early genre movies, wasn’t she some kind of Serious Artist? I mean, doing art and stuff rather than movies.

    Zero Dark Thirty is a drama and is thereby disqualified from being any kind of journalism. But that’s not to say the filmmakers aren’t responsible for what they say, and the same thing is true with silly cop movies. Dead Bang is playing a crafty game by pitting a fascist cop against actual fascists, to make him look good.

    I like the idea of teaming Don J with a green rookie.

  5. Yes she was. She was deeply involved in the experimental art scene. Susan Sontag was one of her professors. Then she got into theater and film. She discovered Willem DaFoe, btw.

    I’ve known her for many years. She’s very complex, multi-faceted and above all skillful.

  6. Disgracefully, I’ve still to see Zero Dark Thirty, but mainly because I’m skint and Fiona’s not been well. Otherwise she’d have INSISTED we see it!

    Oliver Stone, entirely without apparent intended irony: “She seemed to have more balls than the other students.”

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