Archive for Broderick Crawford

Another fine messiah

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by dcairns

GOD TOLD ME TO — a great title, and a film that actually stands behind that title! Which I hadn’t expected, to be honest, since it’s a Larry Cohen picture, and experience has taught me that Cohen’s films generally fall down on craft, even as they struggle to put over interesting story ideas. THE STUFF is such a nice high-concept, political sci-fi horror movie in principle, that it’s a shock to see how badly made it is. THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER is so ahead of its time in the way it portrays its subject, you can almost overlook the fact that they’ve got sixty-six-year-old Broderick Crawford playing Hoover in his twenties. But still, I don’t suppose he’s any less convincing than Leonardo DiCaprio playing Hoover in his sixties.

Cohen works cheap, and shoots on location without permits — this kind of guerrilla film-making has aesthetic consequences, which is fine. A certain necessary roughness in some way suits Cohen’s authorial personality. But he’s never worked out a way to create a consistent feel out of the practical constraints he operates under. So he shoots with a tripod when he can, then goes handheld when circumstances dictate it, resulting in a patchy look, where a wholly vérité style might have worked.

BUT — Cohen has great taste in subjects (who else would plant a Mexican winged serpent god in Manhattan, swooping down to decapitate window cleaners?) and in actors — here he scoops Sylvia Sidney, waiting in a nursing home from whence she would eventually defeat the invading Martians in MARS ATTACKS! His leading man, Tony LoBianco (from THE HONEYMOON KILLERS) makes a convincing cop, which I guess is why he plays one so often, he also gets one of the most chilling final looks I’ve ever seen.

And this is a very scary room.

Cohen still has his camera placement set on random, so visually things are a bit frustrating at times, but the few effects shots are satisfactory, the location shooting (with accompanying sound problems) does add grit, and the searing orange glow in certain key scenes anticipates CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Gaspar Noe wants to remake this… I sort of doubt he could improve it.

So, people are going on killing sprees, announcing “God told me to,” with their dying breaths. Andy Kaufman plays a cop at the St Patrick Day’s Parade who starts plugging bystanders with his revolver. This is not only startling to see, it also seems like the kind of thing Andy might do, if pressed. He could always claim afterwards he was extending the bounds of comedy.

Just like in JAWS, the hero tries to stop the disaster, but is told he can’t interfere with the celebrations: “The Irish have been looking forward to this all year!” Because that’s all they have to do, seemingly.

This intriguing set-up is exactly the kind of ball I’d expect Cohen to drop, but instead he passes it — the killers are connected to some hippy messiah kid, who may have been a virgin birth, may have been born intersex, and may be the child of an alien abductee — Cohen gets into the kind of alien abduction scenario, complete with tractor beams, lost time, and intrusive medical procedures, that have been widely reported but hadn’t made it into movies yet (did the movie cause a spike in UFO reports?). And it keeps getting weirder — there are enough crazy plot twists for three conventional films. And it doesn’t wrap up into a neat little bundle, it sprawls out, spreading tendrils all over the place. Don’t get any on you!

Richard Lynch plays the space messiah. “I know who that is!” said Fiona. “It’s that guy! He’s in lots of stuff!” Don’t you just hate that? But then she was able to be more specific: “He’s that guy with the I’ve-been-in-a-fire face.”

He is!

The other strange thing about this film (well, one of them) is the space Jesus’s vagina. We first see this, in big latex close-up, during Sylvia Sidney’s alien encounter flashback (a younger actress plays the naked twenty-something Sylvia, which seems inconsistent with the sensibility that gave us Broderick Crawford as a boy detective, but let’s not carp). He just cuts to it. It’s impossible to tell where it is or why Cohen is showing it to us at this point. It’s a bit like the closeups of Marilyn Chambers’ armpit penis in RABID (which this predates) — no context, just an ECU of a rubbery thing quietly doing stuff.

“It’s a c- It’s a FANNY!” declared Fiona, strangely impressed.

In another scene, space Jesus lifts his robe and shows off the mangina, so we know it’s his. But we don’t know where it is. I thought maybe it was on his side, like Christ’s spear-wound. “That makes sense,” said Fiona, tolerantly. But maybe I was just resisting the idea that it was exactly what it appeared to be. How did Cohen get this image into a commercial release? By arguing that, since it’s an alien genital, it can’t be obscene? It’s like Rin Tin Tin’s penis. And nobody would dream of censoring that. On the other hand, nobody would ever think of shooting a giant ECU of it, either.

No one but Larry Cohen.

Go a go-go

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by dcairns

Felicitations to Guy Budziak for supplying me with a copy of THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR GO which refused to play, breaking up into mosaic pixillations of Francis Bacon flesh-smear, sound stuttering in digital orgasm — a vastly improved experience from the actual film, which I subsequently watched.

I’m now ready to draw two conclusions from comparing this with Burgess Meredith’s previous outing as director, THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER — firstly, that a top-notch cinematographer like Stanley Cortez can work wonders for a no-talent director; secondly, that the classical Hollywood style covers a multitude of sins. Freed of its conventions, BM lets it all hang out with this would-be-sixties super-spy farrago, and the results are audio-visual atrocity. Shonky hand-held lurching, unmotivated angle-changes, jagged transitions and incoherent storytelling, and that’s before we get to the dialogue scenes rendered inaudible by “background” music.

If the film were at least professionally made, there would be more pleasure derived from its random casting and insulting stereotypes. The first scene features Meredith himself as oriental herbalist “Dolphin” practicing acupuncture on James Mason, cast against type as a Mexican-Chinese gangster. The dialogue has a certain fey wit, which barely registers through Mason’s grotesque false teeth and the sloppy shooting, but some degree of freakshow promise is conjured up. The fact that the screenplay, seemingly written in vanishing ink, such is the perplexity of its cast, is narrated by Buddha, who has the plummy English tones of Valentine Dyall, also endeared it to me.

Soon, however, it becomes clear that this movie has the power to nullify everything in its orbit: an athletically built young newcomer named Jeffrey Bridges is cast as a James Joyce wannabe living off his girlfriend in Hong Kong (where better to write the next Dubliners?). Bridges’ natural charm is utterly negated by the character’s total prickishness, as he betrays his country, patronizes his girlfriend and hits Jack MacGowran in the face with a kettle. He can just fuck off.

MacGowran’s physical body tries hard to inhabit the role of an FBI agent pretending to be a publisher, but his mind is clearly elsewhere, as evidenced by his dead-eyed stare, boring into our souls in a manner not entirely conducive to the traditional goals of wacky comedy. As his boss, Broderick Crawford is dropped into the film like a collapsing pudding, his scenes entirely shot in one fussily-wallpapered boardroom, as the rhinocerosian thesp numbly reprises his J. Edgar Hoover turn.

Even more uncomfortable is Peter Lind Hayes, cast against type as a closeted gay military scientist (Mr Zabladowski, what are you doing?), queer-bashed by Bridges and blackmailed by Mason before vanishing from the movie in a cloud of shame and bewilderment. The film’s unsympathetic approach to same-sex love is heightened by a performance by Mason’s real-life wife, as a butch villainess named Zelda, who tries to rape Bridges’ girlfriend, Irene Tsu.

But why stop there? The film has so much more to offend us with, beginning with the casting of pasty white thespians in yellowface — somehow much worse because it’s 1970, not 1940, and because it’s so badly done! Mason’s hair is brown. The actual orientals do well to play their scenes without resorting to mutinous violence: Tsu is joined by famed martial arts filmmaker King Hu, playing Japanese about as convincingly as Mason plays Chinese, as a banker named Suzuki (and the film is sufficiently dumb we can assume he’s named after the motorbike, not the filmmaker).

My suspicion is Meredith probably drew “inspiration” from THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST, another seeming free-for-all of wackiness, but actually a tightly-controlled, slyly acted and beautifully shot and scored movie, to which MR GO cannot hold a scented candle. Theodore J Flicker’s pop-art meisterwerk is actually tightly controlled, drawing nearly all its zany tropes from the combination of psychoanalysis and spycraft — had Burgess M used Chinese mysticism and industrial espionage as his lynchpins and tethered the plot tightly to both, having fun with the collisions, he might have had something — but lazily, the moviemakers assume that just throwing a bunch of random shit at the screen will in some way hold our interest. It sort of does, because the choices are so erratic and obnoxious, but all respect is forfeited.

Fans of skin-crawling embarrassment should check this out.

What the movie does have is an arresting title — in fact, two, since it alternately goes by the name of THE THIRD EYE. That’s SUCH a good title — it draws in psychic and mystical elements, as well as suggesting private eyes and THE THIRD MAN, working as a multi-layered evocation of genre-mixing ingenuity… none of which is to be found in this dog’s breakfast.

Screenplay is co-credited to Meredith and a few other guys, including soft-porn/exploitation producer Dick Randall, described in his IMDb entry as “jolly and colorful” — I haven’t a doubt it’s true, but he sure kept it off the screen. His credits include the intriguingly titled EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, which I like to imagine consisting of ninety minutes of solo masturbation by a man in a progressively lengthening fake beard. Don’t disillusion me.

Quote of the Day: Monsignor Ratbastard

Posted in FILM with tags , , on February 12, 2008 by dcairns

broad Broderick 

Fellini had a fondness for untranslatable titles, it seems to me. I VITELLONI has defeated subtitlers for decades now, so that everybody just calls it I VITELLONI and says “Dunno what it means.” AMARCORD means “I remember,” in some kind of babytalk version of a Rimini dialect, and nobody felt comfortable losing those nuances so they call it AMARCORD.

Just ran IL BIDONE, which is subtitled as “The Swindle,” but which really means something offensive but not too meaningful in Italian. When Broderick Crawford’s prosperous pal calls him “Monsignor Bidone,” (referring to the scam he habitually pulls disguised as a priest), I like to think it means Monsignor Ratbastard, and I like to think Fellini would have used that as his title if he could have gotten away with it. The film, like so much of Fellini’s ’50s work, makes a lot of little feints and thrusts at the Catholic Church, without ever quite going for the kill (which could not be allowed).

Anyhow, I ran the film for students and one of them gave me what I think is the perfect sound-byte reaction to the tragic conclusion:

“I felt quite sorry for him at the end, though I couldn’t think of any good reason why I should.”

I think it’s rather great when a film can do that. For all the talk about “sympathetic” characters we can “relate” to, the feat that really increases our involvement in humanity is when a character who ISN’T sympathetic, whom we wouldn’t WANT to relate to, engages our emotions regardless. It isn’t an easy thing to achieve, but it’s surely worthwhile.

Broderick the frauderick

A little side-note: some students thought that Broderick was double-crossing his colleagues at the end to get money for his daughter, as he’d promised her. And it’s true, the sum involved would allow him to cover the deposit she needs. But I’d always felt that when he offered to get her that money, while he may have meant it at the time, he probably forgot it moments later. The pressure building on him throughout the film is to escape from this way of life that affords him no self-respect. It’s not that he has any noble instincts, he just can’t live like this any more. But I think maybe I’m wrong…

Anyone else who’s seen it, what was your sense of the ending?

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