Archive for Dirty Harry

The Sunday Intertitle: Fame

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2021 by dcairns

Amidst the general critical appreciation of Chaplin introducing and integrating sentiment SUCCESSFULLY for the first time, everyone tends to forget his other mode, which appears here absolutely for the first time, with barely a hint of its coming before: the sophisticated side. Chaplin obviously thought this was an important mode to master, and would make an entire feature film, A WOMAN OF PARIS, to showcase it. I’m looking forward to seeing that one again to see what I think of it. What I think right now is that it appealed to CC’s vanity to be seen as sophisticated, and I’m not too keen on this kind of showing off. I don’t think he was as sophisticated as he wanted to appear, I’m more in sympathy with his attempts to be DEEP, with THE GREAT DICTATOR and MONSIEUR VERDOUX (the latter being also a sophisticated comedy in parts). I think Chaplin was deep in the sense of feeling things deeply, and his work shows that from THE KID onwards, and he can sometimes transmute his intense emotion into intellectual ideas without tripping over his flap shoes, and when he does it’s worth the occasional stumble.

Anyhow, The man re-enters the picture, to no particular effect. This scene was one of Chaplin’s key deletions when he rereleased the movie. Consequently, Carl Miller, who plays The man, gets a ridiculously prominent credit for doing practically nothing, while actors who contribute invaluable comic bits go completely uncredited and the IMDb still doesn’t know who a bunch of them are.

Since Chaplin is no fool, he isn’t remotely interested in reuniting the former lovers, and he cuts Mr. Miller off in mid-intertitle, in order to get to the more important business of PANCAKES:

Jackie is preparing A GREAT QUANTITY OF FOOD.

Chaplin may be on e of the few filmmakers who can do more good work the less plot he has to work with. This scene has very little to do with the story, it’s just behaviour. Of course the more we see Charlie & Jackie interact in a sweet, quirky way, the more we care, but the trick is in making all this stuff entertaining. Jackie preparing pancakes is fascinating because it’s midway between acting and being. Impossible to tell how much of it Chaplin has acted out first, and how much is Jackie responding in the moment to the pancake mix and frying pan and the taste.

Charlie is in bed, smoking and reading the Police Gazette (looking for tips). Called to breakfast, he sticks his head through a tear in his blanket to turn it into a kind of djellaba or poncho.

Those pancakes look good. I probably can’t have pancakes on my low-carb diet because of the flour quotient, and the syrup might be an issue too.

We note that Jackie still has the toy dog Edna gave him, and getting Charlie to kiss it is an important family ritual.

Enter Raymond Lee, a bully. Lee was a busy actor into the twenties, and also appears in THE PILGRIM for Chaplin, and LONG LIVE THE KING opposite Coogan. He steals Jackie’s dog AND his ball and throws them away.

FIGHT! An audience immediately gathers. Henry Bergman puts on some stubble just to appear at a window. Nobody attempts to separate the lads, it’s all just a great spectator sport. I’m pleased that Charlie steps in — and then it’s funny when he steps back out as soon as he sees Jackie winning. I never understood the rules of this kind of thing, growing up. Boys are/aren’t supposed to fight? I was an OK shin-kicker, was OK at catching the opponent’s foot when they tried to kick me, but still lost every single fight (none of which I started) until I learned to pick on the smallest, dumbest kids. And then I got a pang of conscience and stopped that. So I went back to losing. It’s strange to me that we were basically allowed to spend playtime punching each other. Does that still happen?

Charlie starts to treat this as a boxing match, with himself as trainer, and right on cue a washing line serves as rope for Jackie to lean on in “his corner.” Charlie instructs Jackie in nose-punching, stomach-punching, and his signature move, the kick up the arse.

Enter Charles Reisner, curiously padded, as the bully’s big brother. Reisner had been a boxer, and has the face for it, though I suspect he’s using putty to push his ears forward in the approved movie “pug” manner. Actual cauliflower ears, which you don’t see much these days, tend to be flat. Reisner had been assistant direct for Chaplin since A DOG’S LIFE, and would go on to “direct” STEAMBOAT BILL JR (really Keaton’s work, chiefly), a couple of Sydney Chaplin features including THE BETTER ‘OLE, and, um, THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929. His son Dean Riesner (note the vowel swap in the surname) would act for Chaplin as a boy, and go on to co-write DIRTY HARRY and marry Vampira, AKA Maila Nurmi. So there’s that.

Once again, Chaplin turns Jackie into a threat, and manages to make Charlie’s ignoble behaviour sympathetic. Reisner insists on his kid brother continuing the fight, but warns Charlie —

This is enough to make Charlie look straight at the camera, enlisting our support in an Oliver Hardy manner.

Charlie now watches in horror as Jackie successfully enacts the tactics he’s schooled him in. With no chance of a confidential “Let the wookiee win” to Jackie, he’s reduced to helpless spectatorship until, on an inspiration, he steps on Jackie when he’s down and quickly counts him out. But Jackie isn’t in on the gag, and proceeds to beat up his foe some more even as Charlie is trying to declare the fight over. Reisner’s uncomprehending glower during all this is a great bit of dumb dumbshow.

The situation having deteriorated as far as it can, a kop shows up to intervene but is punched out by Reisner (a show of actual strength, rather than just a menacing appearance, is always best for an antagonist). Charlie is next in line. He dodges a bit, then mimes a weak heart (Withnail-fashion: “If you hit me, it’ll be murder.”) A missed punch takes a chunk out of one of designer Charles D. Hall’s brick walls, quite convincingly. The next one bends a lamppost, in tribute to the shade of Eric Campbell.

Enter Edna, to do what the kop kouldn’t. And there I’m going to leave it as I have editing to do, a class to prepare, a walk to take. But watch this space because I might post some more this evening.

Blood Capsule Review

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2020 by dcairns

When THE KILLER ELITE started, immediately after the snazzy and even witty title sequence by Burke Mattson, I thought for a while I wouldn’t even make it through the thing. James Caan and Robert Duvall’s early scenes have an improv, overlapping quality, not in itself a terrible thing, but they seem awfully self-satisfied about how wackily naturalistic they’re being (they seem high, in fact), plus Peckinpah’s shooting and Tony de Zarraga and Monte Hellman’s cutting seem designed to keep us at a distance from the characters, everything is far away and fragmented, and the characters we’re evidently meant to warm to just seem obnoxious.

Gradually bits of the film start to feel like they’ve received the attentions of a screenwriter or three, Peckinpah seems to get his heart started, and some trace of sympathy for Caan is generated. He has to get shot multiple times for this to happen, which may give you a sense of what a jerk he is to begin with.The montage-like sequences showing his surgery and physiotherapy after having elbow and knee shattered by bullets are really good — barely any dialogue, the mumbly throwaway improv style starts to work, and it’s nice to see Peckinpah applying his fragmented style to something other than killing.

Gig Young looks drunk, and probably was.

When, surprisingly late in the action, Caan gets a Dangerous Mission, he brings in a couple of buddies, and the acting side of the film becomes a lot more engaging, because his team is Burt Young — a weird actor, pop-eyed and bulbous, who always seems completely real even though it’s doubtful any of us has ever seen anything like him in reality — and Bo Hopkins, a Peckinpah favourite, playing “the patron saint of manic-depressives,” a self-medicating maverick killer inexplicably entrusted by Caan with key duties.  Since the third act moral message of THE WILD BUNCH is “You never leave a man behind” it always struck me as odd that in the first act, the Bunch leaves Bo Hopkins as Crazy Lee behind, guarding the hostages, without a backward glance. Maybe it’s a deliberate attempt to undercut the mythologising, or maybe Walon Green forgot. It is also strange that my dear mother finds Hopkins so adorable and hilarious in his one sequence of that film, as he forces the hostages to sing “Shall We Gather at the River.” But then, Richard Widmark is her favourite actor.

Funny bit, when Caan is looking for some way of taking out a nosy cop, and asks what kind of kit Hopkins has. He’s told plastique, pistols, garrotting wire. “No, no, non-lethal.”

“Everything’s lethal,” shrugs Hopkins. The feeling is that this man could kill you with a wafer biscuit or a pair of pop socks.

It’s a trashy film with a few grace notes — an anti-CIA post-Watergate thriller could be, as Burt Y says, “Nice and necessary,” but not when it’s an overblown bloodbath celebrating hand-to-hand mayhem. Even Hellman’s fancy cutting can’t make the tubby Burt hurling ninjas off a battleship look convincing. Don Siegel’s memoir describes the creation of DIRTY HARRY’s final draft: they spread all the previous drafts over the office floor and picked the bits they all liked. TKE feels exactly like that, but you have to factor in egotistic actors making up their own lines, and the director being an alcoholic and cocaine fiend, and the extreme likelihood of clashes with the producers playing a part in the “process.” Plus maybe Heller’s experimental approach to the mountains of footage, which gives us the best moments, doesn’t lean towards cohesion. I swear one scene fades out with Caan trying out different line readings.

Whoever cut the trailer thinks that Mako is a girl.THE KILLER ELITE stars Sonny Corleone; Tom Hagen; Dr. Jeremy Stone; Crazy Lee; Admiral Yamamoto; Bed Bug Eddie; Quill; Marc Antony; Jimmy Chan; and SuperSoul.

I ask you, is THIS the face of a killer?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2020 by dcairns

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LA MORTE RISALE A IERA SERA (DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT) is a strange and unsavory crime thriller that seems midway between the genres of gialli (sex, murder, mystery) and poliziotteschi (cops, detection, procedural).

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Raf Vallone is a lower-middle-class working stiff with a bum knee whose daughter is kidnapped. She’s a very tall girl (why does the script insist on this? No idea) with a mental age of three. Because she has an innocent tendency to promiscuity, Vallone keeps her shut in the apartment while he’s at work. One day she’s gone.

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Detectives Frank Wolff and Gabriele Tinti take the case — the girl has vanished into Milan’s brothels, where her passive, childlike nature would seem to make her an object of fantasy for the clientele. This is all very, very uncomfortable stuff, and the movie is not above regarding Gillian Bray’s character with a lecherous eye.

Things are already dark and they just get darker. Shadowplayer Andre Ferreira identifies a theme in director Duccio Tessari‘s giallo-type films, where the victims are unusually sympathetic. Most gialli make the murders easier to enjoy without guilt by making the victims fairly unappealing except sexually, and the detectives/investigators are often grumpy, low-charisma types (Cameron Mitchell’s Inspector Morlacchi in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is both prototype and paragon here).

So Vallone is treated with respect by the movie and by Wolff’s character, who gains our respect for his attitude. Then things unfold in an odd and gradual way. Wolff and Tinti plunge into the sexual underworld, visiting whorehouses undercover as johns with the state paying the bills. Lots of montages with the inexplicably jaunty pop soundtrack by Gianni Ferrio bouncing away as if this was all a big romp. Some of the cutting gets quite M-like.

Then the victim is found dead and half-burned, and then Vallone gets a clue which he keeps to himself so he can get revenge. It all bends genre norms out of shape, not always in the best of ways, but it’s interesting. I’d never seen a man killed with a washing machine, for instance.

Two things are typically poliziotteschi: (1) there’s widespread anomie with a bunch of people who know stuff about this unbelievably heinous crime who don’t share it with the cops because society is rotten and nobody cares and (2) there’s a somewhat fascistic DIRTY HARRY attitude that the cops will sometimes need to break rules and noses in order to get the job done, damnit.

As a procedural, the film is daft. We don’t see our heroes fucking their way through the sex industry, which seems to be threatened at first: they just use their undercover guises to open doors. But there’s a hilarious bit where a witness is made to draw a suspect, even though he can’t draw. He produces a smiley face with no upper head, and then this is passed on to a police artist to be transformed into a better drawing, with no contact whatsoever between witness and sketcher. The result is as you might predict, ludicrous, but all the later witnesses agree that it captures the essence of the guilty party.

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You have now.

There are some nice human touches, though: Wolff plays the whole thing with sinus trouble, sticking a decongestant stick up a nostril at inopportune moments. Donald Pleasence would surely nod his approval.