Archive for Point Blank

The Man Without Bogart’s Face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2016 by dcairns

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Welcome to Shadowplay, the daily blog about DARK PASSAGE.

Looking at part two of DARK PASSAGE, where it all kind of goes to shit. And where Bogart actually HAS Bogart’s face, having acquired it via plastic surgery performed by seedy rhinoplasterer Housely Stevens. Would you buy a used face from this man?

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“Change it back, doc, change it back!”

Spoilers from the start.

The more the movie deals with who killed Bogie’s wife, the less compelling it becomes, and not just because his real wife, Lauren Bacall, is standing right in front of us, very much alive. It’s because this is all backstory, dealing with someone we never met, and it’s of interest to us only if it can solve the true plot problem, Bogie’s being wanted by the law for a crime which, it so happens, he didn’t commit. The movie seems to totally misunderstand our requirements of it: it thinks that as long as we find out whodunnit and the guilty party is somehow punished, we’ll be satisfied. But while that kind of closure + justice is important, what the movie has set up as its dramatic problem is Bogart being a wanted man. And at the end of the movie he HASN’T cleared his name, he never will, but he gets to retire to Peru with Betty Bacall. It feels somehow unsatisfying. Maybe also because the film’s version of San Francisco was maybe one-fifth actual location footage, and Peru is a special effects and studio fantasia. It’s like ending the film in a dream sequence.

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But this floundering second half is kind of fascinating in the abstract, even if it’s not dramatically engaging. One weird thing is the way Bogart keeps presiding over fatal accidents. He basically shoves Clifton Young off a cliff — very good, grim shot of Young lying crumpled at the bottom. It suits him. At this point it’s going to be impossible for him to clear his name, and he IS somewhat guilty and so the movie’s prospects are derailed. And then Agnes Moorehead somehow auto-defenestrates, without meaning to, though given her dialogue before the fact and the typically frenzied manner she brings to her confrontation with Bogie, it would have made more sense as a strategic suicide. Instead, it feels like Bogie WILLED her through the skyscraper window, even though he needs her alive. It reminds me a bit of the abrupt climax of AMERICAN GIGOLO, where at least Richard Gere gets to grab the plummeting man’s legs and TRY to stop his death-plunge (again, he needs the defenestratee to clear his name).

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But a bigger similarity is with THE WALKING DEAD, in which Boris Karloff plays a Bogie-like gangster raised from the beyond who goes seeking revenge on his killers. Strangely, Karloff never lays a finger on his enemies, he just slow-walks them to their doom, backing off the edge of railway platforms and under approaching trains, etc. It’s as if he’s come back from the dead but he’s brought death with him, as an ally or as a sort of miasma that surrounds him, focussing in on those whom he directs his malevolent glare towards.

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It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote: “Karloff does it with a look, Lee Marvin with a towel.”

It’s been pointed out that John Boorman’s POINT BLANK plays like a hip remake of TWD, with Lee Marvin as the gangster who may have died (John Boorman has spoken of a possible Owl Creek Bridge reading of both his Lee Marvin movies) and who wreaks revenge on his foes without actually inflicting bodily harm on them himself. Its slick visuals, rat-a-tat cutting and Donald Westlake plot ingenuity make this the most engaging of the films under discussion, and by burying Lee Marvin’s revenant status deep in subtext, it makes it more fun to unpeel. THE WALKING DEAD is a little too somnolent for me, though you can certainly argue that’s appropriate.

POINT BLANK, of course, also plays out in San Francisco and features a spectacular sidewalk dive, this one from old Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon.

“Someone has to put his foot down, and that foot is me.”

And I guess GHOST STORY has a place in here too.

Anyhow, Bogart’s affinity with sudden death in DARK PASSAGE suggests both the shifty narrator of DETOUR (people just keep dying around me, honest!) and the fatal pro/antagonists of WALKING DEAD and POINT BLANK. Maybe Boorman would suggest that Bogie dies when the San Quentin barrel crashes downhill in scene 1, and the rest of the plot is just his dying fantasy. It would certainly give a meaning to the otherwise obscure title (there’s no significant literal passageway in the plot). And it would kind of explain how Bogart becomes a helpless passenger in his own movie. The “first person shooter” opening robs him of identity, and then his every action seems to be dictated by chance meetings, with a cabbie, a detective in a diner, the guy who picks him up who turns blackmailer. And all the deaths in the film just happen, Bogart doesn’t plan them or really want them. He’s the passive recipient of a narrative.

Stockyard Churning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2015 by dcairns

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PRIME CUT, an atypical Michael Ritchie film, keeps throwing up WTF moments that keep you watching, alright. The opening slaughterhouse sequence makes you quite anxious that you’re going to see real cows get killed onscreen, but instead shows you something far more peculiar.

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The next cow in line for slaughter has a naked person draped over it. Said person is then rendered down into sausage-meat and mailed to Chicago. The film’s theme is this established in quite a visceral way: Is man no more than this?

Then Lee Marvin is brought in by the mobbed-up Chicago meat industry to take care of some dissident criminals in the Kansas meat industry, who turn out to be led by Gene Hackman. Marvin in this flick is a lot like Richard Stark/Donald Westlake’s Parker character, who he sort-of played already in POINT BLANK, only Parker was always an independent operator and Marvin here is strictly for-hire.

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Anyhow, with a group of associates, Marvin drives to Kansas and starts teasing the sleeping tiger that is Gene Hackman, until things eventually get bloody. And then bloodier.

The next moment when you have to collect your astonished eyeballs off the rug, run them under a tap and reinsert them, is when Marvin walks into a barn where Hackman and cronies are socialising around pens full of doped-up naked girls. Herein lies the problem with Robert Dillon’s script, at least as it reached the screen. The plotline involving an orphanage furnishing its barely legal inmates to the sex trade would seem to be trying to make a point about the exploitation of women, but the film is interested in naked females’ bodies at the expense of their characters. Sissy Spacek, as Lead Naked Girl, is portrayed as having basically no mind at all, kind of a cringeworthy male fantasy of the uneducated sexpot. Her friend Janit Baldwin gets horribly gang raped offscreen, is rescued, but then totally disappears, as if she could be of no further interest to us once soiled. Spacek never displays any curiosity about her fate.

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But Dillon does admittedly keep serving up odd and memorable bits, as in the Frankenheimer mob comedy 99 & 44/100% DEAD, which he also scripted. Ritchie is right there along with him, driving into a prairie storm and lingering lovingly on a prolonged sequence in which a combine harvester eats a car, presented as a kind of automotive cannibalism. The clincher is when a great bale of grassy machinery drops out of the back of the harvester, like a vehicular stool. Half-wheat, half car, it reminded Fiona of Brundlefly’s mashed-up remains at the end of THE FLY.

Truly great Lalo Schiffrin score, archetypally beautiful/ugly 1970s lensing by Gene Polito.

Ritchie’s documentarist eye is also active, singling out grotesque bits of business, strange faces and quirks of behaviour or scenery at every turn.

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The reason for all the disgustingness is apparently an investigation, by the film, into man’s claims to being a higher organism, despite being made of meat and prone to the same base appetites as the supposedly lower animals. When a wounded thug begs Marvin to finish him off, saying, “You’d do it for a beast,” Marvin points out, “You’re a man.”

“There’s no difference.”

“Yes there is.”

Marvin walks away, leaving him to bleed out in agony — so there’s a difference between men and beasts, but it isn’t necessarily in favour of the men.

Stark Truths

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2014 by dcairns

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I’m nearly finished reading Donald Westlake’s Richard Stark Parker books (that’s the books written by Westlake using the name Stark about a heister named Parker). When I’m done I may celebrate by rewatching POINT BLANK (the best film adaptation) or THE GRIFTERS (scripted by Westlake) or by watching THE STEPFATHER, which I’ve never seen. At present, since I’ve been reading the books in the order I could get them, I have The Seventh and Butcher’s Moon left to go. The last-named was the climax of the first phase of Stark’s work, after which he disappeared for twenty-three years, unbidden, leaving Westlake to subsist on the less lucrative novels published under his own name.

So this was a near-perfect time for The Getaway Car to turn up. This is a collection of Westlake’s non-fiction work — interviews, introduction, essays and letters — collated by my online friend, regular Shadowplayer Levi Stahl, who blogs at I’ve Been Reading Lately. Despite having never met face to face, we’re perhaps chummy enough to make this not so much a review as just an appreciation. I was never comfortable with the consumer guide aspect of criticism anyway, so please just regard this as an enumeration of some of the things in this tome, and make your own decisions.

Westlake had a brilliant criminal mind (after reading some of his stuff, the problem-solving part of his skillset becomes very noticeable in John Boorman’s adaptation, POINT BLANK), and if there’s any disappointment to be had from the collection it’s that he isn’t able to pass the gift on to the rest of us. He writes about writing a bit, but it’s not a book of tips — except you will get some good hints about other crime writers worth checking out. You learn about Westlake’s influences and who he rated, and it’s a surprise to find a passing swipe at PG Wodehouse since Westlake from Plum the notion of characters being referred to by beverage (from Wodehouse’s Mulliner stories —> Westlake’s Dortmunder novels). But there are great appreciations of Hammett and Poe and Willeford and someone I didn’t know called Peter Rabe, and some fascinating insights into Westlake’s screenwriting career. He credits Stephen Frears’ persuading him to adapt Jim Thompson for THE GRIFTERS as triggering the reemergence of hardboiled Stark, for which we can all be grateful.

And we can be grateful for Westlake’s perfect summation of Dortmunder as “a capable and workmanlike professional criminal who lives under a black cloud (me).”

We also learn the complicated and amusing circumstances under which Jean-Luc Godard’s MADE IN USA, an adaptation of Stark’s The Jugger (which he dismisses as his worst book — I liked it fine) wound up with its US rights owned by Westlake. A story which might be salutary and helpful to movie producers, somehow.

My copy of the book is an uncorrected proof. My favourite typo = a reference to something called “Cayenne paper.” The kind of hot, strongly flavoured, spicy paper Westlake/Stark typed on, no doubt.

The typo will be corrected by the time you go here and buy: The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany