Archive for Lee H Katzin

A Small Town in Austria

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2019 by dcairns

Having gotten some interest out of LE MANS, I was interested to see more of director Lee H. Katzin’s work — Peter Nellhaus, via Facebook, commented “Katzin followed up with the reportedly incomprehensible spy movie, THE SALZBURG CONNECTION, killing any aspirations Anna Karina may have had of being an international movie star.”

Well, say the words “incomprehensible spy movie” and I am ON IT. In fact, I’d call this one merely garbled and narratively inefficient — you can work out easily what the MacGuffin is — they explain it, thereby destroying everybody’s chance of sympathy — and you can more or less tell who the goodies and baddies are. As usual with this kind of thing, a few surprises are attempted there.

Barry Newman is a lawyer gently press-ganged into undercover work for the CIA. Anna Karina is another innocent mixed up in the caper.

The MacGuffin, I guess I have to explain now, is a box full of details of Nazi collaborators’ IDs. It could be used by Israel for revenge or by other nations for blackmail — the Americans have employed and protected many war criminals, and they don’t want to wind up with the Russians, for example, pulling their strings. This is what our man in Salzburg, Barry Newman, is fighting for. I couldn’t exactly get worked up about whether he succeeded in protecting all those poor Nazis.

The film also suffers from a setting that seems uncinematic — Salzburg is undoubtedly beautiful, but the skies are grey and the place is small — it’d do for a visit in some globe-trotting Bondian romp, but to be stuck there for a whole film seems claustrophobic and limiting. And, shorn of exotic glamour, the film probably needed more edginess, a bit of sex and violence. The latter is all red paint, the former comes not from Anna Karina in a rather dowdy, downbeat role, but from Karen Jensen as a duplicitous honeytrap, brazenly coming on to Newman throughout, to lure him to a sticky demise. Unlike Eva Marie Saint’s fey faux-casual pick-up routine in NORTH BY NORTHWEST (comparably suspicious), Jensen plays it HORNY. DIRTY, even. The film threatens to come to life.

Among the action highlights are a slow car chase through orderly Austrian traffic and a punch-up between Karl Maria Brandauer and Udo Kier, which should give you some idea of the low octane character of the whole venture. On the other hand, a sequence with Karen Jensen trapped in a stairway is highly tense and cinematic, with a bit of Katzin’s extreme slomo on display when Jensen drops the cardboard tube full of evidence she’s carrying and it bounces downstairs, end over end, huge echoing CLUNKS on the soundtrack, revealing her position to her pursuer.

Hitchcock, of course, would have realized (after his British period, anyway), that such a sequence should never be assigned to a minor character. It has to be the hero or heroine in jeopardy.

Another bit of nifty technique, though: Katzin, perhaps alone of the feckless freezeframers of the seventies, is able to use stop-start motion PSYCHOLOGICALLY: the film pauses for a moment of shock, an adrenalin-surge felt by a character and transmitted, showily, to the audience. It’s pretty OK. But somehow the movie still feels like TV, perhaps because most of Katzin’s direction is fancy, decorative, rather than dramatic and emotional. And his tricks, the lens flare and the crash zooms and the freeze frames, had all found a home in telly. As had Barry Newman, or he was about to.

THE SALZBURG CONNECTION stars Anthony J. Petrocelli; Natacha Von Braun; Alfred Redl; Dr. Mabuse; Dr. Frank Mandel; Floyd Evenright; Professor Teenage Frankenstein and the Wiener Spatzen Boys’ Choir as itself.


Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2019 by dcairns

FACT: Steve McQueen liked to have his middle name written on the walls of his sets.

This is from LE MANS, directed by Lee H. Katzin, the man who brought you THE PHYNX, for which you were not sufficiently grateful in my view.

Part of the reason I hate all sporting activity is that it’s noisy, horribly noisy. If the sound of the activity itself isn’t upsetting, the audience steps in and screams its collective nut off to make up for it. Name me a sport that’s pleasant to listen to. I have misophonia, so bear that in mind when you make your terrible suggestions.So you might imagine I’m not keen on racing car action, but in fact I can tolerate it well enough in a fim because films have sound design. They’re not just random awfulness, despite everything Michael Bay can prove to the contrary. So I could put up with the roaring in LE MANS — about seven-eighths of the film is VVVVVVVRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!! — and I even kind of appreciated the lack of plot, subplot, character development, sympathy, philosophy and sex. After all, John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX, which is equally impressive visually — all those low angles of tarmac skudding by millimetres from our eyes — attempted to have all those elements, and they were boring. LE MANS would probably like you to call it existentialist, since McQueen barely speaks and it’s all about his life-and-death struggle with his gears and the road, but what it is, really, is underdeveloped. But it does offer an array of very good documentary footage into which the meagre story has been inserted with some skill.

The main speechifying bit is when Elga Andersen suggests to McQ that when men risk their lives, they ought to have a very important reason, an unanswerably good argument to which he responds with pure screenwriter bullshit. Move on quickly. There’s some fine visual direction and cutting. Two spectacular crashes at what we could jestingly call the second act curtain illustrate this well. In one, a minor “character” comes a cropper, his car buckling like so much wet cardboard, settling into a tattered heap from which he emerges, jerkily. Katzin and one or more of his five editors have started snipping frames, so that the inevitable slomo jolts back and forth to normal speed, giving the staggering motorist a broken, spasmodic gait — at all makes his progress away from the wreck, which we expect to explode at any instant — seem painfully protracted, and indeed just plain painful.

Moments later, McQueen also crashes, slamming into the barriers, which warp fantastically as the car crumples and splits, finally coming to rest, a twitching McQueen visible through the shattered windscreen (big ugly zoom). And then the action replays — in McQueen’s mind, we assume — and we get the whole thing again from new angles and with more slomo, step-printing until the persistence of vision almost breaks down. Fiona was MOST impressed here — clearly, the action is a traumatic flashback, and she interpreted the exterior views as representing the kind of dissociation, distancing, that some have reported experiencing during accidents.The end credits worried me by thanking one of the drivers for his “sacrifice” — I assumed the poor bastard had died, and thought this was a rather tactless way of describing something that wasn’t, one presumes, voluntary. In fact he “only” lost part of his leg. The lower part, I hope. If it’s the upper part there’s usually not much they can do.

I still wouldn’t call it a sacrifice. “We would like to thank XXX for his horrible mishap” would seem more accurate.

Motor racing, you see, is a very bad thing. Don’t do it. You only have a limited number of legs to sacrifice.