Archive for Dirty Harry

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.

Bart of Darkness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2011 by dcairns

I actually read Peter Bart’s Infamous Players A Tale of Movies, The Mob (and Sex) thinking that he was Peter Biskind. Then I wrote a review on that basis, before I’d even finished the book. Then I realized that Peter Bart and Peter Biskind are two different men — they have different names, different faces, and one of them has a very different moustache. That should have tipped me off immediately.

Nevertheless, despite realizing my howling error before “going to press,” I am presenting the review unchanged, partly because “Rewriting is censorship” (the beat authors) and partly because  “Blogging isn’t writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation” (Elliott Gould in CONTAGION) — a description I embrace with enthusiasm though I’m far from certain about the punctuation part. And also, though I fully acknowledge that Peter Bart and Peter Biskind are not the same man, on a deeper, poetic level, they actually are.

Also also, taking Bart to task for faulty fact-checking in a review where I have confused him with another, different man, makes me look like an asshole, which is good for my ego.

Also also also, this review gives you an idea of what film history looks like without any fact-checking, thus saving you the effort of reading Bart’s book.

A DECADE UNDER THE WEATHER

There’s an aphorism I can’t quite recall about returning once too often to the well, and it hangs over Peter Bart’s memoir of his days at Paramount in the 70s, Infamous Players A Tale of Movies, The Mob (and Sex). The whole thing’s pretty tired, covering ground Bart went over more entertainingly in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (“The gossip culture’s revenge on the counter-culture,” as Paul Schrader put it.)

I enjoy gossip, and enjoy hearing that talented people have feet of clay, so I gobbled up Easy Riders shamelessly. Also, I feel a debt of gratitude to Bart because as I finished the book I came down with appendicitis. I was convinced I had food poisoning and believed I’d feel better if I threw up. His description of the murder of Dorothy Stratton at the end of his book helped me to achieve a successful vomiting, allowing me to realize that the problem was elsewhere.

Peter Bart.

The problem with Infamous Players isn’t that the subject is worn out, though there are numerous books about the period (Peter Cowie’s The Godfather Book is a fun one). It’s more like Bart is worn out. And his editor isn’t helping — the Introduction states “I played an integral role in both the success and the chaos,” and then over the page, just seventeen lines later, “I was lucky to be there at a time of great achievement and great confusion, and I managed to contribute to both.”

But then, the book’s title should have warned me: the word “sex” placed in prudish/prurient parenthesis speaks of a fundamentally lousy attitude to words.

Fact-checking is also not the book’s strong point, especially when it comes to plot synopses. Bart apparently thinks the original SCARFACE was about two brothers, one a gangster and one a cop, and he describes PLAY MISTY FOR ME as dealing with a disc jockey who turns violent when a one-night stand won’t date him again.

Peter Biskind.

This is worrying, but not as much as when Bart blithely narrates a series of events and imputes a cause-and-effect relationship that makes no sense. Noting that PLAY MISTY was a box office disappointment, he suggests that Clint Eastwood “wanted the assurance of having his alter ego, Don Siegel, serve as director” on DIRTY HARRY — but in the next sentence he observes that HARRY was released a mere two months after MISTY, which of course means that the earlier film’s box office performance could have played no possible role in Eastwood’s choice of Siegel as director on his next film. If I can catch Bart out like this, it makes me concerned that other stories he tells may be similarly inaccurate, and I won’t have any way of knowing.

Next to this, the disappointing lack of period ambience is a minor quibble. Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture struck me as probably a lattice of self-serving lies, but it reeked of the seventies, because Evans is kind of still in that zone, mentally. You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again likewise benefitted from a strong, albeit vindictive and paranoid, authorial voice. Easy Riders caught a lot of the flavour of the times too, since it was largely an oral history, but this book comes straight from Bart’s defective memories, and its language is pure 21st century journalese, apart from the entertaining moment when Bart gets a makeover to transform from tweedy reporter to hip movie exec: the black amazon saleslady who outfits him is pure Pam Grier. Which is fine: she probably was, and if she wasn’t, this is an improvement.

Frustratingly, Bart portrays himself as pretty square, pretty decent, distancing himself from all of the free love, commercial love, shady mob activity and most of the recreational drug use surrounding him. He’s like Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS, copping to being in the room when a lot of heinous shit went down, but never actually pulling the trigger himself. And of course that may well have been the case. By pointing out Paramount’s ties to the underworld, though, he does weaken his friend Robert Evans’ already unconvincing argument that he was unaware that two of his backers on THE COTTON CLUB were gangsters: it seems Evans has viewed gangsterism as a kind of aphrodisiac for as long as he’s been in business.

Of course, I’m devouring the book as shamelessly as I did its superior predecessors, on a break from Ulysses, which is going to take me a decade to finish at this rate.

***

Bart’s book took me two days. In your face, James Joyce!

Peter Bogdanovich.