July 2014 Blind Spot Film: Purple Noon / Plein Soleil (1960)

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It’s been over three years since I saw an Alain Delon film, that was  Le Samouraï  where he played a silent-but-deadly assassin. Well as Tom Ripley, he isn’t quite as taciturn but he’s just as deadly. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was familiar with the story from the 1996 film version. I can’t remember much of the details of that one thankfully, so when I watched it, the story still felt fresh to me. Though it’s based on the same novel, the two films were pretty different. There’s a homo-erotic undertones in the 1996 version that wasn’t present in this one, and the ending is also very different.

SPOILER ALERT!
Just like other Blindspot entries, this review may contain some plot discussions.

Right away I thought Delon was a far more appealing and at the same time more sinister version of Tom Ripley than Matt Damon was. With his razor-sharp cheekbones and steely gaze, Delon possesses a certain coldness, that dangerous undercurrent lurking beneath his impossible good looks. Sent to Italy by a wealthy Mr. Greenleaf to retrieve his playboy son Philipe and bring him back to San Francisco. Though Delon essentially plays an American, he barely spoke a word of English as this is a French film.

Tom is to be paid $5000 for his services but later the offer is retracted when Mr Greenfield realizes Tom fails to do his mission. By the time we see him hanging out with Philipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), the two are like inseparable friends. Even as Philipe’s longtime friend Freddie (Billy Kearns) resents Tom for being a moocher, Philipe enjoys spending time with him … for a little while at least.

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Philipe’s fiancee Marge (Marie Laforêt) feels sorry for Tom but at the same time she’s not comfortable having him around. Well, can’t say I blame him, especially when it’s someone who obviously doesn’t mind spending other people’s money and wears her fiance’s clothes. There’s a really disturbing scene where Ripley is mimicking Philipe in front of the mirror whilst wearing his clothes and shoes. What’s more disturbing is that Philipe is well aware that Tom is lusting after his lavish lifestyle, yet he still lets him hang around with him. They even go on a yacht trip together, the three of them. Whilst Philipe is making out with the beautiful Marge under the scorching Mediterranean sun, Tom’s lustful eye follows every inch of them.

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Director René Clément filmed the psychological thriller in an expertly manner. The tension isn’t overt but it’s always lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike. The dialog at the yacht between Philipe and Tom is particularly fascinating as Tom jokingly tells him about his whole plan about killing him and taking his identity. At first Philipe seems nonchalant about the joke, even pointing out the weak points about Tom’s plan and all that. He gradually begins to suspect it wasn’t a joke after all, but by then it was too late. This is the most action-packed scene in the whole film, and Clement doesn’t overwhelm us with ominous score, instead he lets the natural elements like the choppy waters and high winds build  tension. Delon’s shirtless tanned body as he vigorously grabs the yacht steering wheel in this scene definitely sticks with you. An iconic combination of sex appeal and disquieting menace set in a panoramic vista.

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The cinematography by Henri Decaë is absolutely striking, whether it’s the narrow, cobblestone streets or the vast blue ocean, every frame is postcard-worthy. This movie could practically double as a Italian tourism video, especially mixed with Nino Rota‘s jazzy score. Best scenery of all is in Delon himself, what with cheekbones you could cut yourself on and those chilling, penetrating blue eyes that Decaë often frame in extreme close-ups. The devil comes in attractive packages and there are few men more attractive than the French actor. All the beautiful people and striking scenery gives a staggering contrast to the ugly-ness and darkness of the human soul. Even Philipe who’s the victim in the story is not a sympathetic character as he’s a hedonist and a bully. In a strange way, as wicked as Tom was, there’s a bit part of me that’s curious if he would get away with it. I’m not saying I sympathize with him, but like any great cinematic villain, he remains magnetic and captivating despite his vice.

Delon practically outshines everyone in the film as you can’t take your eyes off him. Obviously he’s devastatingly beautiful, but looks alone isn’t enough to carry a role like this. Peter Bradshaw’s review at the Guardian says it best “… his almost unearthly perfection is creepy itself, as if he is imitating a human being.”

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Now, about that ending. I found out after watching the film that in the book, Ripley did get away with his crime, but he becomes haunted with paranoia that he would be caught. But the ending in the film implies that Ripley was arrested when the policemen discovered Philipe’s decomposed body still tied to the anchor cable that’s tangled around its propeller. I do think the book’s ending is far more intriguing and audacious, it seems that the censorship code is to blame for the more tame finale. But still, it was a memorable ending with the sun-drenched Ripley sipping cocktails on the beach… the tranquil sight of the beautiful Riviera contrasted with a stomach-churning shot of a decomposed hand peeking out from a body bag.

If you have seen The Talented Mr. Ripley, I highly recommend you to check out this one. I’ve never seen Mr. Clément’s work before but I definitely should check out more. I’m also curious to see other roles by Delon as the two I’ve seen so far depict him as this cool and calculated persona, which he obviously excels at. He’s the perfect Tom Ripley here, far more effective than Damon and even John Malkovich in Ripley’s Game. Clément’s been called the French Hitchcock and it’s definitely fitting, yet his direction is still unique in that somehow the suspense is more subtle and there’s even a laid-back approach, keeping us mesmerized and on edge at the same time.

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  Purple Noon? I’d love to hear what you think!

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June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

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As with a lot of the BlindSpot viewings this year, there are a lot of firsts in regards to REBECCA. No, it’s not the first Hitchcock film I saw, but it’s the first Laurence Olivier AND Joan Fontaine film I ever saw. I didn’t know David O. Selznick produced this, which was interesting given that I first saw Fontaine’s sister Olivia deHavilland in Selznick’s epic drama Gone With The Wind just the year before.

This was billed as a dramatic thriller, as well as a gothic romance, which immediately made me think of Jane Eyre. Interestingly enough, I noticed a few similarities with Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale (and not only because Fontaine did play Jane Eyre in 1943 with Orson Welles). Both of the protagonists in Jane Eyre and Rebecca are still haunted by his first wife. A wealthy man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier) meets a young, naive girl who accompanies her employer on a trip to Monte Carlo. Their first meeting wasn’t exactly a ‘meet cute,’ in fact he was rather rude towards her [yet another similarity to Jane Eyre's Rochester] but after a whirlwind romance, the two got married and he took her to his estate, Manderley.

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Now by the time the film starts, Rebecca is no longer in the picture, but no doubt her presence is felt throughout the film. Rebecca is definitely an overwhelming force despite the character never being shown on screen, not even in flashback. And that’s definitely what the filmmaker wanted Fontaine’s character to feel throughout the movie, that she’s overwhelmed by this unseen force who clearly still has a strange hold on everyone in Manderley.

The real suspense starts to build as soon as the couple get to Manderley. The big, expansive mansion looks and feel eerie, not unlike the ominous Thornfield Hall with a strange woman locked in the attic. The house is almost a character in itself, and it definitely plays a big role in the story. Manderley’s domineering, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) definitely gives me the hibijibis. I really feel for Fontaine’s character and what she had to go through, not only did she have to endure her husband’s coldness, she also has to deal with a deranged, obsessive housekeeper who wanted to be rid of her. I kept wondering though why they couldn’t just fire Mrs. Danvers, I mean she is after all an employee at the estate. Right from the very moment she’s introduced in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is one of the most spine-chilling characters that really gets under my skin. I think the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when she gives Fontaine’s character a tour to Rebecca’s room, reminiscing on her former master and her obsession with her.

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Mrs. Danvers: [just as the second Mrs. de Winter reaches for the door] You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.

Mrs. Danvers: Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

The Second Mrs. de Winter: [sobbing] N-no, I don’t believe it.

Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it.

[turning away towards the window as the second Mrs. de Winter slips out the door]
Mrs. Danvers: Listen. Listen to the sea.

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You could say Judith was quite the scene-stealer in this film as you simply can’t shake her for some time after you’ve seen this film. She’s THAT creepy. The rest of the cast is equally excellent in their Oscar-nominated performances. I’m quite impressed by the luminous Joan Fontaine who’s the heart of the film whomI sympathize with right away. She went from being this frail, nervous and self-conscious young bride in the beginning, to a woman who’s able to hold her own by the end. Her character definitely *grew up* as the film progressed and her transformation is very believable. Sir Olivier is perfectly suited as the wealthy tortured soul type, hardened and enigmatic. The British thespian has played another Bronte’s dark hero, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights just the year before, sounds like the type of roles he could play in his sleep. There’s not much chemistry between him and Fontaine but given the plot of the story it sort of make sense. Based on the documentary included in the disc, apparently Olivier was keen on having his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play Fontaine’s role, but I personally don’t think Leigh would suit the role as well.  George Sanders plays this weasel character who’s trying to frame Maxim, I’ve seen him play a similar character in All About Eve not too long ago. His character seems too lively to be really sinister or threatening however, I think out of all the characters, I feel that his performance is the least convincing to me.

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As to be expected from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock truly delivered the goods with this one. This is his second feature adaptation from Daphne Du Maurier novel and clearly the material suits his style. The gothic story lends itself to the eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere, and Hitchcock is the master at building up the suspense and that dreaded sense of impending doom. Every frame, sound, ambiance is carefully crafted, coupled with Franz Waxman‘s ominous score for a total immersive experience. I didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. Yet Rebecca isn’t reliant on that twist for you to truly appreciate the film because it’s more than just a gimmick. The story is rich, with a deep, layered symbolism that stays with you long after the credits. It’s also a beautifully-shot film with the lush setting, gorgeous costumes, and evocative lighting that brings out its supernatural quality.

This is definitely one of those films that lives up to the hype. The heightened suspense and tension is what I expect from Hitchcock — he brought Du Marier’s story alive and kept me engrossed from start to finish. Just like the literary work it’s based on, this film has that timeless quality that would stand the test of time. I am surprised that this is the only Hitchcock film that ever won Best Picture Oscar. I definitely think it’s Oscar-worthy but I haven’t seen his later works such as Vertigo and Rear Window that’s far more popular than this one. I definitely have a lot of Hitchcock to catch up on and I’m looking forward to it!

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  REBECCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

Character Actor Spotlight: Powers Boothe Part II – Meeting and Exceeding Expectations

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Greetings and all sundry!

Having covered the early career (read Part I on Mr. Boothe) of this exceptional character actor. Allow me to proffer a bit more than a glimpse at this tradesman’s ascent from better than standard fare. To the comfortable position of being a rising “Go To Guy” when a solid character. Either charmingly charismatic and varying shades of evil demanded exposition.

To that end. I ask a few moments of your time for elucidation and exploration of.

Powers Boothe: Meeting and Exceeding Expectations

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I’ll begin this segment with a film that reintroduced to the spotlight. After a surprising Emmy nomination for his giving creepy life to charlatan turned Reverend and New Age Messiah, Jim Jones in the CBS mini-series, Guyana Tragedy: The Jim Jones Story.

Returning once again to safe harbor and rising master’s talents of Walter Hill. And his little known, though richly rewarding drugs across the border, “Guy Flick.

PowersBootheExtremePrejudiceExtreme Prejudice (1987)

Having reviewed and critiqued this character and Testosterone driven middle budget masterpiece earlier.

And predominantly from Nick Nolte‘s second generation Texas Ranger, Jack Benteen’s perspective. It’s time to give equal, if not greater credit to the film’s white suited and Stetsoned nemesis, Cash Bailey.

Mr. Boothe has the presence. The voice and connections and wherewithal to send large amounts of cocaine and even larger amounts of money to be laundered in the small bank of Benteen’s one streetlight town and those beyond in major cities.

Which raises Benteen’s eyebrow. And those of a team if infinitely “deniable” and “deceased” Special Operators led by Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown. Who may want Bailey either arrested and brought back across the border from Mexico. Dead. Or waylaid enough for Ironside to possibly take over.

That’s the cool thing about this gem. Far more questions are proffered than answered.
Is Mr. Boothe’s Cash Bailey a real, honest to God, bad guy. Or is he an undercover operator? Not enough information or actions are presented to give credence to either. Though, no matter the answer. Mr. Boothe’s Cash Bailey is in way over his head. And in this finite, claustrophobic arena. The actor excels!

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Feeling the walls closing in and options evaporating under a sheen of anxious sweat.Drinking too much and talking too loud before a showdown. Or possible “Suicide By Cop” with Nolte’s Benteen before an epic “Shoot ‘em Up!” that would do Sam Peckinpah proud!

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Boothe opens his tool box and adds silk and honey to his voice early on when trying to find out how much Nick Nolte’s Benteen knows and how far he will go. Slowly letting that fall apart while adding facial expression and harsh bravura as his empire begins to crumble and fall apart towards the film’s violent finale. Creating an enigmatic heavy who is afraid to say too much and accidentally speed his demise by the law. Or though under his command.

Creating a breather for some stage work before signing on as Navy Chief Petty Officer, John A. Walker. Who had been selling high grade military secrets regarding electronic communication, cryptology and high precision screw designs for various types of submarines to the Russians for more than a decade. In the Stephen Gyllenhaal directed, two part television movie for CBS:


Family of Spies (1990)

FamilyOfSpiesCBSPosterIn this offering, Mr. Boothe plays a rather complicated, turmoiled and kind of unlikeable John Walker. Career NCO and communications and cryptology specialist assigned to the Pacific Fleet’s “Boomers” (Mobile, Submerged Missile Silos”). Married, lecherous, with young son and daughter. Unable to hold onto a dollar while constantly looking for a “Get Rich Quick” scheme.

The failure of his recently purchased bar in Charleston, NC sends Walker to the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC for an obliging ear for his proposition. Selling the Navy’s most coveted secrets for “A thousand dollars a week”. Seriously major money in the mid 1960s.

Emboldened by the Navy’s lax security, Boothe’s Walker delivers code making and breaking documents. That pay off nicely. Though hit a snag moths later when North Korea captures the intelligence gathering ship, USS Pueblo. An internal FBI and NIS investigation starts moving towards Walker, who is unaware. Teaching Crypto and Comm classes at San Diego. And recruits a bright student, Jerry Withworth (Graham Beckel) to pick up slack and widen horizons. Telling the new addition that all that he finds, acquires or steals will be going to the Israelis. Not Moscow.

PowersBoothe_FamilyOfSpiesWalker starts to stray, maritally. As his handlers apply pressure to find newer, better and more Classified material. Walker’s wife, Barbara (Leslie Ann Warren) finds out. Hires a private investigator and lawyer. And extorts the highest amounts in payment. Lest she call the Navy NIS. Or FBI. Things start falling apart even more as Mr. Boothe’s Walker tries to get his son, Michael, a Navy technician (Andrew Lowery). His daughter, Cynthia, an Army Specialist (Elena Stiteler) and brother, Arthur (Michael J. Jackson) to join his motley crew.

So, no one is really surprised, except Mr. Boothe; when his John Walker is caught in a Bethesda, MD. motel in a classic “Sting”. While awaiting the arrival of “the other woman”.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Boothe seems to have dipped back into the well of psychopathy and slow destruction that earned his Emmy Award years earlier as Jim Jones. All the signs are there. Though, a bit less pronounced. Arrogance at pulling the wool over the eyes of his superiors and security personnel. Tinged with annoyance that he is being underpaid by his Russian handlers. The slow creep of paranoia post Pueblo. As his actions start being questioned. Innocently at first. Then more directly after Walker’s retirement and loss of Security Clearance.

Debt is added as a factor. Increasing as Walker spends beyond his means. Bringing in the trembles of desperation as creditors start calling. Then knocking. Whatever family life there had been has long since gone, As Mr. Boothe’s Walker employs decades of tried and true Russian trade craft. While blaming everyone other than himself.

Which creates time for a rather unique, low budget palate cleanser. In the form of an early, not so cleverly disguised attempt to thrust Brandon Lee into the high pantheon of his of his deceased father, Bruce.

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With all the attendant low budget bells and cinematic whistles one would expect with a Bruce Lee martial arts film. Good looking, though breakaway balsa wood sets dressed as expensive restaurants. Rather spartan marble, leather and stainless steel lairs for international and domestic crime lords.Quickly glimpsed stock footage of Thailand city scape, both day and night. Sweetened with some great looking on location, urban cinematography under the elevated trains, alley ways and grimy city streets of Chicago later in this forgotten gem.

The film begins in Thailand. Where veteran of Tiananmen Square, Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) witnesses the murder of a lower tier enforcer, Carl Chung (Michael Paul Chan) for local Thai crime lord, Kinman Tau (Tzi Me) by Chicago thug, Antionio Serrano (Nick Mancuso) in an elegant restaurant.

Jake is noticed, of course. Fights his out and away. And into the arms of the local police. Take his eyewitness statement and whisk Jack into Protective Custody. Courtesy of the Chicago PD.

Once safely ensconced in The Windy City. Jake is visited by grizzled, Detective Lieutenant Mace Ryan. Given wondrous “Been there. Done that” rumpled life by Mr. Powers Boothe. Who has a ten year old hard for the elusive crime lord, Kinman Tau. And is amenable to any way to get at him.

If that way is through Lo and hanging a murder rap on Serrano. So much the better! As Lo is released to Ryan’s care and protection. And young martial arts assassins, amongst them, Dustin Nguyen (“21 Jump Street”). To fight Serrano’s local talent. Kill Lo. Or preferably, both.

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Add an aspiring female Detective, Karla Withers (Kate Hodge) to offer a romantic interest. As Jake and Ryan start finding some of Serrano’s thugs to question and acquire leads. In regards to the arrival of a shipment of heroin to a local laundry. That will draw out the Big Man, tau, himself. Of course, an ambush and fight ensues to a near standstill as Tau and Serrano escapes. A new location is deduced as an expansive mansion among rolling hills. A new strategy is devised. As the film closes. Set up perfectly for a sequel.

Overall Consensus:

It’s nice to see Mr. Booth exercise his ensemble chops. Bringing a weary with The System, stubbled, “Getting Too Old For This Stuff”. Kind of Philip Marlowe on the skids attitude. That lifts the film from the typical “Chop Socky” genre. Mixing action, gunfire and fisticuffs with well choreographed and good looking fights by Brandon Lee.

Is it a perfect film?.. No. But is is a lot of fun!

Which opens up the film that put Mr. Boothe back to the spolight for the fifth or sixth time. As “Curly Bill” Brocius. One of the founding fathers of the red sashed “Cowboys” in a not quite historically correct, but near iconic film of the Old West.


Tombstone (1993)

TombstonePosterArguably, one of the best, if not the best big budgeted ensemble westerns of the 1990s.

Centered around the Earps. Retired lawmen, Wyatt (Kurt Russell), Virgil (Sam Eliott) and homesteader, Morgan (Bill Paxton). Their arrival in next to nowhere, Tombstone, Arizona, And the infiltration of across the border, wedding crashing, pillaging and village burning, Cowboys. Curly Bill Brocius (Mr. Powers), Johnny Ringo (Mostly quiet, near psychotic, Michael Biehn), many lower tier followers. And the land owning through illegal means, Clantons.Ike (Rarely creepier or scuzzier, Stephen Lange) and son, Bill (Thomas Hayden Church).The Earps see opportunities in the small, slowly burgeoning community. Taking and buying an interest in less than prosperous saloon. After an annoying, obnoxious Billy Bob Thorton is marched out through its swinging door.

Life improves with imported fashions and talents. And “Doc” Holliday reintroduces himself to Wyatt before the Cowboys make their presence known. Applying presurre here and there with covert aid from the Clantons. While trying to stake out their claim of the town. An attempt that embarrassingly fails when Ringo disrupts an evening’s entertainment and gambling an exemplar show of quick drawn and trick pistol twirling. That a smiling, drunken and unimpressed Doc Holliday lampoons with a silver cup.

Upping the ante as the Cowboys later “shoot up the town”. And citizens start screaming about the first insidious, incremental steps of Gun Control. Wanting to tamp down, if not defuse an escalating situation. The Earps and Doc respond to the armed and quietly threatening Clantons, assorted Cowboys and Ringo and Bill Brocius at the O.K. Corral.

The volatile situation quickly goes beyond words and lead flies. In a noisy stalemate that sends Ike Clanton cowardly skittering away as the tide and citizens turn against the Earps.Leaving Morgan open for ambush by the later that night. And Virgil luring Ike Clanton and others out for a final tete a tete just outside an outbound train.

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The gauntlet has been thrown down. And Wyatt, Doc and others turn a stream side ambush against Curly Bill. And Doc takes it upon himself to finally remove Johnny Ringo from his mortal coils. Wyatt arrives late and the two decide to clean up the last of the Cowboys.

Overall Consensus:

In a film that sweats and is perfumed with dust and Testosterone. With a raw, talented cast that most directors today would sell their wife and kids for. Mr. Boothe is content to take a back seat. A step or two away from the limelight. Confident and relaxed.in time on screen. Finding the mystique of being an utterly ruthless bad guy refreshing. Yet always ready to grab and reel in a not afraid to go over the top Michael Biehn to maintain order within the ranks.


Stay tuned for the final entry on Powers Boothe!
Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


What do you think of these films and Powers Boothe’s performances?

May 2014 Blind Spot Film: The Apartment (1960)

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The Apartment was supposed to be my April Blindspot movie, but I mistakenly thought I had Some Like It Hot on my list instead. Surely it wasn’t at all a waste that I got to watch another Billy Wilder movie, but I have to admit I was not as enamored with that one as most do. The Apartment however, lives up to all the praises and then some. It’s definitely my favorite out of the three Wilder movies I’ve seen so far (Sabrina 1954 was the first one).

I’ve always wondered why the movie was called The Apartment, but within a few minutes I found out why. I like the opening sequence with Jack Lemmon’s narration. He played the protagonist, C.C. Baxter, who works as an insurance agent for Consolidated Life, one of the top five companies in the country with 31,259 employees. He works on the 19th floor in this giant office with rows upon rows of desks. By the end of the day, Baxter is the only one left. No, not because he’s a workaholic or anything, but he can’t come home to his apartment whenever he likes because he lets the executives of the company use his apartment for trysts. I seriously don’t know how he gets ANY work done as every day he’s so busy booking up his executives’ dates at his apartment and make sure they dates don’t get mixed up. At first I feel bad for him, especially when he gets a call in the middle of the night and have to clear out for one of the execs’ booty call. But you know what, Baxter brought this upon himself, he’s doing this favors to the execs to move up quickly to the top.

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Though it’s obviously a major inconvenience for Baxter, he tolerates this whole charade because of his ambition. That is until he met this cute elevator girl Fran Kubelik. Shirley MacClaine is so cute here with her pixie haircut, this is the first time I saw her in her earlier films as the first movie I saw her in was Guarding Tess (1994) with Nic Cage. This is also the first time I saw Fred McMurray. He’s quite memorable here as the top exec who makes life complicated for Baxter. I’m not going to spoil it for you in case you have not seen the film, though the plot is not entirely unpredictable. What did surprise me was how dark the film got, especially in regards to MacClaine’s character. I think those who’ve seen this know what I’m talking about. Even the whole cheating execs thing is not exactly a wholesome subject matter. But of course, given this is set in the 60s, it’s still a very demure film nary of any risque scene.

At times the storyline reminds me a bit of Roman Holiday in that the protagonist was initially an ambitious go-getter, someone ruthless enough to get ahead in their career. But when they fall in love, their perspective completely changes. I love how Baxter becomes the sweetest, most caring man even after he realizes his chances to be with the girl he loves is slim to none. Jack Lemmon is absolutely endearing in the way he dotes on Fran, taking care of her when she needs it most.

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This film won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. Both Lemmon and MacClaine were nominated in the acting categories, too. I’d have been ok if Lemmon had won Best Actor but then again I don’t know who else was nominated that year. Baxter is the heart and soul of this film, and the transformation of his character as the film progresses is very believable.

I love so many things about this movie. The sharp script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, lovely music by Adolph Deutsch, and the perfect balance of drama and comedy. I love the hilarious way Baxter made spaghetti, straining the pasta through the grid of a tennis racket. It’s quite an iconic scene that’s cute and heartwarming.

Fran Kubelik: What’s a tennis racket doing in the kitchen?
C.C. Baxter: Tennis racket? Oh, I remember, I was cooking myself an Italian dinner.
[Fran looks confused]
C.C. Baxter: I use it to strain the spaghetti.

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Of course the performances are great all around, I quite like the chemistry between Lemmon and MacClaine, and it’s the kind of romance that’s rarely seen today as their love develops with barely any physical contact! There’s not even a single kissing scene between the two actors, but you definitely felt the connection between the them.

The ending is one of those that made me go up and cheer… especially when Baxter finally stands up for himself and decides to become a *human being* (or a mensch as his doctor neighbor told him to be it just the night before). It turns out having the career he’s always wanted is not all that’s cracked up to be, meanwhile Fran too has an epiphany moment of her own. The finale is definitely one of the most memorable New Year’s Eve moments in movies. I feel that this ending is pretty typical for rom-coms, complete with the girl running to catch the guy she *finally* realizes to be the love of her life + a bit of panic happening that she could be too late. Yet, it doesn’t feel clichéd or hackneyed here, and that’s the beauty of this movie.

I’m glad I finally caught The Apartment, it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Now that I’ve seen two Billy Wilder movies, I definitely see why people love his work so much. I look forward to catching up on more of his films in the future, especially Sunset Blvd. that’s been recommended to me ages ago.

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4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fourth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

As I missed April’s BlindSpot, there’ll be a Double Entry next month.


What do you think of  The Apartment? I’d love to hear what you think!

Character Actor Spotlight: Powers Boothe – Setting a Foundation

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Greetings and all sundry!

Having taken advantage of a welcome break in the weather and adjusting to more than a few days of temperature above 45 degrees. I’ve allowed my mind to roam and return to the idea of multi guest posts “arcs”. Regarding the well established career of a possibly second tier actor, who started small. As every other tradesman does. Yet has constantly managed to acquire bigger and better roles. And deliver in surprising ways with each opportunity.

With that said. Allow me to introduce the early days of one of the unsung masters of the craft.

Powers Boothe: Setting a Foundation

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Who garnered my attention, along with countless others back in 1980. With CBS’s Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. Portraying the charismatic con artist, charlatan, and later cult leader, Jim Jones. In what begins as a rather standard tale of deceit that takes an intriguing and well detailed journey into the sirens’ song of popularity. Then adoration and carte blanche absolute powers of life. liberty, whom to marry and when. Before establishing a religion and declaring himself its Reverend. Becoming too noticed and notorious for his own hood and fleeing to Central America ahead of the feds. And convincing his followers to commit mass suicide

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The cast of the made for television film was young, starting out for its time. Though are more than up for the task. Including Veronica Cartwright, Ned Beatty, Brad Dourif. Meg Foster, Rosalind Cash, Ron O’Neal, Diane Ladd, Dennis Quaid, LeVar Burton and James Earl Jones. Regardless of the size of their roles. Their station or economic class. Or their time in front of the camera. All deliver and make the story larger than expected. Yet, it is Mr. Boothe who grabs the reins and runs for the goal posts. Slowly revealing the seductive at first. Then physically and mentally ravaging allure of power. In this creepy Horatio Alger, rags to riches to rags, again piece of history most would rather forget!

Creating a void filled months later under the direction of Walter Hill in his National Guard, Deliverance tinged, Louisiana bayou thriller, Southern Comfort. Where Mr. Boothe plays Hardin. An NCO amongst several during a weekend land navigation and familiarization exercise that starts out bad. And slowly grows worse as weather sets in. and the others in his mostly Alpha Male squad (Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Alan Autry, Peter Coyote, Franklin Seales and T.K. Carter) just want to pack it in and return to base.
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That doesn’t happen as the squad wanders deeper into the fog shrouded, rainy swaps and discover that they’re knee then neck deep in Cajun Country. And very spooked after a loud, noisy and blank round firing run in with some back water hunters may or may not have left one of the latter injured, wounded. Or dead.

In a slowly building, claustrophobic masterpiece of squad and individual disintegration under miserable, less than hospitable conditions.With Mr. Boothe’s Sgt. Harkin trying to hold the squad together as Fred Ward’s Reece slowly goes native and off the reservation. Reaching a glimpse of festivities and redemption just before an ending no one sees coming!

One of the first of a genre of film I’ve described as a “Guy Flick”. Under the deft touch of then, just starting out director, Walter Hill.

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With credibility and bona fides richly enhanced. Mr. Boothe returns for John Milius’ memorably executed, medium budget rural and urban warfare icon, Red Dawn from 1984. Taking on the small though meaty role of ejected “Eagle Driver”, Col. Andy Tanner. Who quickly becomes the Tactical Officer and erstwhile father figure to Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howe and Charley Sheen’s hit and run, “Wolverines”.

It is in this film where Mr. Boothe starts to recognize and utilize the power of his voice. Projecting when necessary. Though rarely raising it as he fills in the teenagers about what’s been happening east of the Rockies since the Russians and Cubans invaded months earlier. Delivering more than asked or required for his time on film.

And a change of venue, size of cast and location for John Boorman’s wondrously lush, on location gem, The Emerald Forest from 1985. Mr. Boothe brings life to engineer, Bill Markham. Whose son, Timmy (Charley Boorman) is taken by indigenous Indians along the Amazon in the depths of Brazil.

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With Bill and his wife, Jean (Meg Foster) returning each year for ten years in a search to find and recover his son. With not a lot of dialogue to propel the tale. Mr. Booth makes maximum use of each line. While allowing his eyes, face and body to add punctuation and emphasis.

Which opened the floodgates admirably to allow Mr. Boothe the opportunity to occasionally don a dinner jacket, bow tie and cummerbund and rub elbows with the elite, legal and illegal of Los Angeles in the 1930s. When not attired in a more comfortable brown or blue suit while shadowing suspects, talking it up with touts, grifters, con men and pimps. As Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.

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One of HBO’s earliest, notable and well executed period mini series. Comprising two seasons (1983 and 84) and eleven episodes.With more than adept attention to detail. And a better than good writing stable adapting the works of Raymond Chandler.

I’ve writen about “Film Quality Television” and this series has it in Spades. With moody lighting and atmosphere to burn amongst assorted vamps, tramps and femmes fatale. And Mr. Boothe’s set the stage with dry, sarcastic class warfare wit. His ability to play in Noir shadows and take punches as well as deliver them. Creating a body of work equal to the novelist and his iconic anti hero.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Boothe began with obvious talent. And its gratifying to see his successes progress so consistently. As new tools to enhance his characters and move the stories forward are discovered. Played with and slowly mastered.

Roughly, ruggedly handsome. With an initially gruff voice that softens and mellows like wine. To become an integral part of his demand, favorability and popularity in later ventures.


Stay tuned for Part 2 & 3 on Powers Boothe
Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Well, do add your thoughts on Mr. Boothe. And what’s your favorite film of his?

March 2014 Blind Spot: All The President’s Men (1976)

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This month’s Blind Spot is a ‘hit two birds with one stone’ type of a thing in that it’s part of the conspiracy movies I’ve been bingeing on in anticipation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s something I’ve been wanting to see for ages, glad I finally got around to it.

I wasn’t even born yet when the scandal happened in 1972, starting with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in D.C. I’ve seen Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on TV over the years and I think I may have known they’re the journalists who first uncovered the scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation, but I never realized just how they got there.

It’s a testament to Alan J. Pakula‘s shrewd direction and Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman‘s excellent performances that this film remains as gripping as ever, even watched for the first time 38 years after its release. It’s the quintessential political conspiracy drama that earns its ‘true classic’ label, it currently sits at #77 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list. I actually watched this film just a day after Pakula’s other conspiracy movie made just two years earlier, The Parallax View, but I enjoyed this one a whole lot more. Obviously I already know that Woodward and Bernstein survived the whole ordeal, but that fact in no way lessens the suspense of the film. It’s perhaps the best film about investigative journalism, and no doubt it’s the film shown in every journalism class in America. Believe it or not, I actually wanted to be a journalist when I first came to the States, so I might’ve seen some clips of this in my Broadcast Journalism class in college.

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Woodward & Bernstein: In the movie & in a real life photo

I was completely engrossed in the story, but not only in terms of the scandal itself, but in the realistic depiction of how the journalists work on their story, as a lot of the film take place within The Washington Post. There’s a scene where the veteran Bernstein started making revisions of Woodward’s drafts without first consulting him. “I don’t mind that you did it,” Woodward said, “I just mind how you did it.” Clearly they didn’t get off on the right foot, but they soon bonded over their tenacity to get to the bottom of this story. There’s a nice rapport between the two actors that worked well here. Clearly the two reporters are such workaholics and became so consumed with the story. I’d think that real journalists have a bit of that obsessive streak in them when they’re following the trail of a story, especially something as important as this one. Little did they know where the story would lead, as the trail just kept getting higher up the chain of the Republican Party and eventually all the way to the White House!

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All the dialog between Woodward & Bernstein and the editors, played by Jack Warden and Jason Robards are quite fascinating, as it shows how risky it was to break a story like this. Amongst the supporting cast, Robards was particularly memorable as Benjamin Bradlee, the then executive editor at the Post. He’s very convincing as a seasoned journalist and has the gravitas required for the role. The scenes in a parking garage where Woodward held his secret meet-up with Deep Throat (a pseudonym the journalists give to the secret informant) is rife with tension, handled brilliantly in an eerie, atmospheric way. Hal Holbrook is perfectly effective in his brief appearance, adding so much to his character and making it practically iconic. “Follow the money,” he says, in one of the most memorable quotes in William Goldman‘s Oscar-winning screenplay.



The scenes where Bernstein coerced his sources to talk are particularly intriguing, especially the one with the book keeper of Committee to Re-elect the President (with an appropriate acronym of CREEP). Jane Alexander was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and I agree that’s quite a fantastic performance. She only had about 8-minute screen time in the entire film, about the same number of minutes Dame Judi Dench appeared in her Oscar-nominated turn in Shakespeare in Love. Truly, there’s really not a boring moment here even during the most seemingly mundane stuff like typing or people talking on the phone. There’s a six-minute continuous tracking shot of Redford being on the phone, according to IMDb trivia, DP Gordon Willis did that in one take!

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I’m surprised Willis was not nominated for an Oscar for his work here, though later on he received an Honorary Academy Award in 2010. I love how he used a variety of creative shots, such as the one where the two reporters were doing meticulous research at the Library of Congress. The camera shot them from above, starting with a close up of their hands sifting through a mountain of library slips and it slowly pulls away, accompanied by the sound of rustling paper and very subtle background music. No words are spoken but it’s a powerful scene. I found this wonderful Mise-en-scène article on this exact scene where the author astutely observed that … “The scene symbolically represents the story of the film, that of two men against an entire administration. It expresses the immensity of the task that lay ahead for the reporters, not just in searching through library cards, but in revealing the truth behind the misdeeds of the administration.”


I love the attention to details of this film, the clothes, the sets, and all the details within The Post headquarter. Apparently the design department of the film even made a replica of the out of date phone books to make it even more authentic! I’m sure there are countless details that I failed to catch. This is definitely the kind of film that warrants subsequent viewings in order to get the details I’ve missed on initial viewing.

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I’ll end this review with one last observation. I like how the story stays focused on the journalism aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life.

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of All The President’s Men? I’d love to hear what you think!

February 2014 Blind Spot: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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I didn’t realize that I’m doing another Frank Capra film back to back in the BlindSpot series! Well, I had initially wanted to do a James Stewart marathon after the Gregory Peck one, but I never got around to it. Well, I finally got to see it on President’s Day last weekend, what a fitting time it was and this film certainly lived up to its classic icon status. According to IMDb trivia, it’s ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006), and #26 Greatest Movie of All Time (2007) also by AFI.

It’s always wonderful to see when ‘the actor and the role meets,’ that is when a role seems to be tailor-made for an actor that it’s as he disappears into that character. I felt that was the case with Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and here, Stewart seemed to have become Jefferson Smith despite not being the first choice for the role. The role was for Gary Cooper who’s supposed to reprise a similar one he did in Mr Deeds Goes To Town (also by Capra), but he was unavailable. Having seen this film, I can’t picture anybody else but Stewart in the role.

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What’s interesting about this film is that even though the subject matter is about American politics, it doesn’t concern a specific party, we’re never told if Jefferson Smith was a Republican or Democrat. The state that he and Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) come from was never mentioned, either. It’s a classic David vs Goliath story as Smith was a nobody in the grand political scheme when a governor of the unnamed western state picked him to replace a deceased senator. He’s picked because of his wholesome Boy Scout (or Boy Rangers in the film) image, the corrupt political boss Jim Taylor and his minions think Smith’s lack of experience think he’d be easy to manipulate. Of course things don’t go exactly to their plan.

The word ‘filibuster’ seems to have become a dirty word in Capitol Hill. Frankly I don’t know much about the intricate and twisted world of politics, so it was fascinating to see Smith getting lectured from his own secretary Clarissa Saunders on how to get a bill passed. It’s certainly one of my fave scenes from the entire film:


This is the first time I saw Jean Arthur in anything and her portrayal of Saunders is brilliant. Nice to see a smart and sassy female character, not unlike another heroine in another famous 1939 film, which took the Best Picture that year, Gone With The Wind. Now, Saunders is nowhere near as manipulative as Scarlett O’Hara of course, but she’s also beautiful and knows her way around a man’s world.

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The whole conflict revolves around building of a dam by the Willett Creek, which is the same area of land where Smith wants to build his national boys camp. Naturally Smith is no match for the Taylor Machine in terms of money and clout, and the political Goliath is determined to crush David by any means possible. Having been *crucified* (that’s the exact word used by Rains’ character) by the Taylor Machine, Smith was ready to give it all up when Saunders persuaded him not to. That propels him to launch a filibuster to clear his name just before he’s kicked out of the Senate.

I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish, and the third act is certainly the most rousing part. It’s certainly an inspiring story told with an unapologetic sense of virtue. A dissenting voice against this film is perhaps that it lacks subtlety. At times perhaps the audience, especially those on the cynical side might feel they’re being hit over the head with the morality lesson. But you know what, I happen to think it’s great to see a film that celebrates goodness and everything we should aspire to as a human being. I wrote in this post that people may find a hero that stands for truth, justice and the American way so darn boring. I beg to differ on that front. Smith is no superhero, he has no superpower of any kind, but he certainly has the power to inspire others to stand up for what’s right no matter what the cost. In essence, that’s what a true hero is all about.

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As I mentioned before, Stewart is perfectly cast as Smith and he certainly makes for a protagonist worth rooting for. The supporting cast is superb all around. Speaking of GWTW earlier, well, it’s fun to see Pa O’Hara here, aka Thomas Mitchell as journalist Diz Moore who’s in love with Saunders. My favorite is Claude Rains as the Senator whom Smith looks up to but ends up betraying him. His emotional struggle throughout the film is palpable and fascinating to behold and Rains has the charisma and gravitas to own a scene. I’ve only seen him in Casablanca before this, so I’m hoping to catch more of his films.

This film is full of rousing scenes as well as humorous moments. Smith’s obvious naivete is amusing and endearing but never ludicrous. There’s a hint of romance between Saunders and Smith, but yet it never took over the story which I thought was refreshing.

The ending doesn’t end with a neat little bow as our protagonist collapsed in exhaustion after talking non-stop for 24 hours, but he remains defiant and even hopeful to the end.

Jefferson Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Paine and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes you’d even die for them. Like a man we both knew Mr. Paine. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

The change of heart of the antagonist may seem abrupt here but I think Mr. Paine have been convicted that what he did was wrong long before he finally had the courage to confess it.

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Cap·ra·esque

[kap-ruh-esk] relating to or in the style of the movies of Frank Capra, focusing on courage and its positive effects and the triumph of the underdog.


Well, this is the third film from Frank Capra and I definitely see a definite pattern in his films. There’s a timeless quality about it, as his film seems to be relatable for any era because its message and its ideals are not confined by a specific time frame. No matter what year it is, greed, oppression and exploitation are never a good thing, and we’ll always root for someone who perseveres to rise above improbably odds.

I’m so glad I finally caught Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s definitely enjoyable and thought-provoking. A true classic that I certainly don’t mind watching again.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? I’d love to hear what you think!

January 2014 Blind Spot: It Happened One Night (1934)

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Ok, it’s my first Blind Spot Film of the year. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see this one, as it came highly recommended by so many people. The main draw for me here is to see Clark Gable in something other than Gone With the Wind as that’s the only film I’ve seen him in. It’s also the second Frank Capra film since It’s A Wonderful Life.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I noticed how similar the storyline is to Roman Holiday, but instead of a princess, the female protagonist is a spoiled heiress who’s running away from her father (Walter Connolly) who disapproves  her nuptial to a society aviator. Claudette Colbert has quite a spunk as Ellie Andrews, though I have to admit it took me a while to warm up to her as her character is such a brat. At one point her dad slaps her and she certainly had it coming. Ellie promptly jumps off her dad’s yacht and later catches a bus to New York City to return to her husband. And that’s where the ‘meet cute’ happens.

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Gable’s Peter Warne is an out-of-work newspaper reporter. He’s made quite an effort to secure the last seat on the bus, only to have it ‘stolen’ by Ellie. The bantering between these two are pretty amusing, though it’s obvious they’re attracted to one another. When Warne recognizes who she is, he offers her two choices, one of which is that he’d blow the whistle on her whereabouts to her father. Needless to say, Ellie is stuck with Peter until he can help her get to NYC. Seriously, there are worse things than being stuck with Clark Gable!

One of the main highlights is when Peter rents a small motel for the two of them. It’s quite risque for those days to show a man being shirtless, which apparently happens because Gable kept having trouble removing his undershirt whilst keeping the dialog going, so Capra decided to forgo it. Apparently the undergarment industry was largely affected by this when people stopped buying undershirt as it was deemed cool to not to wear one. That’s mind-boggling how much power Hollywood had back in the day.

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With a set of clothesline and a blanket, Peter builds the ‘walls of Jericho’ between the two beds, which was also Capra’s idea because Colbert refused to undress in front of the camera. The two also puts on quite a show in the morning when two detectives knocked on their door looking for Ellie. Pretending to be a bickering married couple, it was the perfect bonding experience as their adventure is just beginning. Though it’s a completely different role from Rhett Butler, Gable’s certainly got the swagger and charm intact.

Interesting how this film’s success undoubtedly brings about the rom-com trend. We’ve become tired of that genre these days, as most of them are neither romantic nor comedic. I think You’ve Got Mail is a wonderful contemporary rom-com that adhere to a similar pattern, with the characters start out disliking each other. The key I think is in the chemistry of the two actors, and the wit in the dialog. So even if everything else about the film seems out of date, the story still holds up and the dialog still brings a smile to one’s face.

[after Ellie stops a car by showing her leg]
Ellie: Aren’t you going to give me a little credit?
Peter: What for?
Ellie: I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.
Peter: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie: Well, ooo, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.

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The story itself is pretty predictable. I knew at the end Ellie and Peter are going to be together, but I was still surprised by how they finally got reunited. Ellie’s father played a huge role in bringing them together, which is interesting in and of itself to see a parental figure having such a big part in the love story. In the finale, ‘walls of Jericho’ shows up again but only from the outside of the motel where presumably Ellie and Peter are now married. The sound of trumpet is heard as the walls is coming down. There are plenty of innuendos throughout, some are less subtle than others, but in this day and age where borderline pornographic content becomes ‘normal’ at the movies, it’s nice to see something THIS wholesome for a change.

ItHappenedOneNight_GableColbertWhat strikes me about this movie is the lack of any kissing scene between the two leads. I’d think the Hayes Code allowed kissing scene at the time, as Colbert did kiss Jameson Thomas who played her husband King Westley, so it made me wonder if it’s because Gable and Colbert didn’t get along during filming. All of the promos like the image on the right that suggest any kind of kissing scenes between these two are so misleading, there’s an almost kiss when the were at a barn, but that’s about it. According to IMDb Trivia, seems that neither of them were fond of making the film and didn’t think much about it. So I guess its massive success (both artistically and financially) was as huge a surprise to them as to everyone else.

So did I love this movie? Yes I did, and I’m glad I finally watched it. At the same time, I’m not as enamored with it as I did with say, Roman Holiday and Casablanca. It’s interesting that both of those films didn’t quite have a happy ending, which actually makes it even more romantic. There is something so beguiling and heart-wrenching to see unrequited love played out on screen. Another thing for me is the character Ellie itself, which is not entirely sympathetic. I mean, her rich dad worships her and she pretty much gets everything she wants. Even Roman Holiday‘s Princess Ann is far less spoiled than Ellie. Yes, Colbert makes her character fun to watch, but she’s not exactly my favorite classic characters.

Overall though, this one deserves the ‘essential classic’ status. It’s the first screwball romantic comedy that no doubt becomes the template for ‘opposites attract’ types of storyline. Of course, very few have such staying power like this one.

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This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of It Happened One Night? I’d love to hear what you think!

Forgotten Christmas-themed Movie: Fitzwilly (1967)

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Merry Christmas, all and sundry!

Taking a brief respite from the strategy of “What?”s and “When?”s in regards to baking family Christmas gifts. I’ve fallen back upon a request from our Hostess regarding favorite holiday-hemed films. While A Christmas Story and It’s A Wonderful Life hold their proper place high in the firmament. And have been critiqued to death. I’ve opted for a later film directed by Delbert Mann.

Whose sublime detail in its many sets firmly ensconce this work in the still glamorous world of 1960s Old Family wealth. And the continuous, often humorous sub rosa and covert scams and grifts employed to maintain it. All under the subtle of of the unassuming family butler.

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Imagine if you will a cabal of Old School and generational full liveried staff and servants attached to Old Family Money all along the East Coast. Loyal to a fault and quite content their positions, lifestyles and standing. Yet, also often willing to bend the rules of social propriety (The Law) to maintain that standing. And the rather relaxed and elegant lifestyles of their respective “families”.

Put that concept in the more than competent hands of director, Mann. Allow him access to a stellar cast of then up and coming character actor and television talent. Back that up with an exceptionally harpsichord and brass heavy orchestra under the touch of an equally up and coming Johnny (John) Wiliams’ Ladle on opulent oaken and maple home estate and high end department store sets. To reinforce the carefree confidence of more the than financial stability of a half century ago.

Then put it all in the hands of Claude Fitzwilliam. (Dick Van Dyke. Rarely better!) A generational manservant and honors graduate of Williams College and completely devoted to the welfare and care of Miss Victoria Woodworth (A very spry and sharp, Edith Evans). Who enjoys the life of elegant luxury. While indulging in esoteric hobbies. Like a dictionary of phonetically misspelled words. Or dabbling in her and her family’s rather racy memoirs. Completely oblivious to (Or is she?) the goings on of her staff of footman, Albert (John McGiver). A bevy of maids and attendants. Chauffeur, Oliver (A very young Sam Waterson) and Fitzwilly. As Oliver guides a rather posh Rolls Royce Silver Cloud into Manhattan. On a walking and rather slick plundering tour of Bergdorf’s, Neiman’s and other high end establishments.

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Checking off items on Fitzwilly’s shopping list: Silver cutlery, forks, spoons, sugar tongs on one level of Altman’s. Antique mirrors and leaded crystal one floor up. Television consoles on the ground floor. Vintage wine at another location. With Fitzwilly affecting a different voice, accent, infliction and body language for each purchase. Billing each to a fictitious family. Then calling the Shipping Department for a cohort (Noam Pitlick) to send on their way to St. Dismas Charitable Fund and its many thrift shops.

While Miss Vickie is otherwise occupied and in need of an assistant. In the shape of initially bookish, smart and bespectacled, Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon in her first and best film role!). Graduate of Business and Literature from Smith college. Expanding her repertoire with Post graduate work at Columbia and wanting to branch out on her own.

Fitzwilly and Ms. Nowell do not hit it off right away. As her evening arrival and interview had been arranged by Ms. Vickie and against his wishes. Creating an possible unwanted intrusion into the butler, staff and other familiar monied families’ staff operating under Fitzwilly’s umbrella. A solution is sought. And found in the holiday remodeling of a Palm Beach manse. Whose $15,000 budget (What roughly a half million would be today! Remember, this is 1967.) is placed into the hands of Byron Casey (Stephen Strimpell). Who wishes to spend as little as possible. And pocket the rest. A quick meeting with Fitzwilly and staff reveals all sorts of possibilities in keeping hold of Casey’s proposed half of the total budget. While procuring a Steinway Grand Piano, Crystal, Silver, Entertainment systems and other accoutrements of the idle rich.

Plans are discussed and set. Along with contingencies to keep Miss Vickie occupied along with Ms. Nowell. Who, besides being terribly efficient. Is also blessed or cursed with the curiosity of a cat. And finds Fitwilly’s and staff’s basement “work shop”. Full of paper stocks, printing presses, inks, pens, labeling machines, letterheads, mimeograph machines. All of the recently used tools of the illegal arts had been used to begin shipping items from north to south.

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A confrontation is to be had as Ms. Nowell kind of misreads what she’s seen. And kind of doesn’t. After quickly executed biblical bar grifts (Sampsom and Delilah) are executed across upper and mid town establishments to cover unexpected shipping costs. Made worse by Ms. Nowell accidentally mailing out Casey’s $7,500 “retainer” check to a charity Fitzwilly has no control over. And can not intercept or stop its payment.

Others would see this as a irredeemable catastrophe, but not Fitzwilly. Who enjoys a challenge and come up with “one last caper” to cover the loss. And perhaps, turn a profit. With Altman’s being an optimum target. Along with a few other reputable firms.

All these plans, schemes, times and places of execution are known by far too repentant Albert (John McGiver). Who is snatched up in the middle of the Christmas Eve rush. And is more than willing to bare his soul as Miss Vickie politely crashes the interrogation between Albert, store manager, Oberlatz (Norman Fell) and Assistant District Attorney Eliot Adams (Dennis Cooney). Who want to nail Albert and company’s hide to the closest wall. As Miss Vickie; who knows Eliot and his family. Begins very polite, yet scandalous negotiations which focus on poster boy, Adam’s less than stellar past in boarding, prep schools and colleges. Watching and listening to the grand old dame effortlessly knocks back proposed felony charges to misdemeanors is a singularly memorable thing of insinuating and groveling beauty.

Clearing the decks for a Happy Ending. Whose details I’ll avoid while avoiding Spoiler Territory.

Now. What Makes This Film A Notable Favorite?

One of the last, most meticulously detailed and executed examples of being rich in the 1960s. And how the rich behave, though little of that has changed over the decades. Used to a certain level of comfort and discretion few may attain. And never apologizing for it.

Part of the film’s humor is in seeing how dropping the right name. Or having the right looking work orders. The right clothes. Behaving in certain cultured, mannered effete ways. Opens doors that most thoFitzwillySoundtrackrough background could never accomplish. Especially when Fitzwilly and his crew in brand name logo coveralls allows them to wrap up and walk out with a full blown African Safari floor display from a top line department store for Miss Vickie’s “Platypuses”. Her version of a rich kids’ Boy Scouts.

This film also possesses one of the best and most helpful soundtracks I’ve enjoyed in a while. Gently enhancing the austerity of Miss Vickie’s posh estate one moment. Then lightheartedly advancing suspense the next. Kudos to young Mr. Williams for so cleverly making an early mark before being “the go to guy” with the creation of later blockbusters.

Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc is lush and opulent. Everything one could ask for. Indoors and out. Sets have already gotten their due. Costume design and execution by Donfeld are flawless. From Mr. Van Dyke. To Ms. Evans and Ms. Feldon’s early penchant for knit scarves and turtlenecks on down.

Overall Consensus:

This is a film for Mr. Van Dyke to carry, if not take the lead on. Setting well inside the template started with Bye Bye, Birdie and Mary Poppins. Having fun with playing different characters, no matter how briefly. While Ms. Evans delicately manages to steal every scene she is in.

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The chemistry between Mr. Van Dyke’s Fitzwilly and Ms. Feldon’s Juliet is fun to watch from the start. Equals in more way than one. Matching talents and wiles in a film that features the buyers’ insanity of the last minute Christmas season. Though is not centrally themed around it.

Note: This film has finally been getting some proper air time on Turner Classic Movies and is available to be viewed Full Length on YouTube.


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Have you seen Fitzwilly? We’d love to hear what you think!

Classic Actor Spotlight: Sterling Hayden – Variations On A Theme

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Greeting, all and sundry!

After taking a step back as the latest addition to The Hunger Games sweeps through theaters near and far, I’ve decided to tidy up some loose ends. With a pinch of Paula’s What A Character Blog-A-Thon. And a subtly expressed desire to learn more of the machinations of director, Stanley Kubrick.

To that end. Allow me to introduce a superb character actor. Who was born poor. Lived large and rich. Was something of a swashbuckler during World War II. And brought that vast experience to countless roles. This offering will cover four of his most popular and memorable characters. Under the assured touch of three historic directors:

Sterling Hayden: Variations On A Theme.

Who first grabbed my attention at a very tender age. Playing the towering, gruff, often dissatisfied thug, Dix Handley in John Houston’s The Asphalt Jungle. A 1950 film that is notable for its time in revealing crime being anywhere. And everywhere!

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

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From the corner diner and soda shop run by a hunchbacked ex convict, James Whitmore. To insurance companies with policies on diamonds and other precious stones. To monied families led by Louis Calhern as Alonzo Emmerich. Who pads his family coffers through bank rolling high end heists. When not spending obnoxious sums to his his pampered girlfriend, Angela Phinlay (Marilyn Monroe).


To keep afloat, Emmerich moves on a diamond heist that requires a master “Yegg”. (Safe cracker). A small crew. And an expendable hooligan in the form of Dix Handley. Who walks into the conspiracy with eyes wide open. Seeing a chance for some quick money and a one way ticket back to Tennessee and his Quarter Horses.
Dix uses his height, voice, bulk and ominous shadows to diversions to a minimum. While taking on the role of just paroled, “Doc” Erwin Reidenscheider (Sam Jaffe’s) personal protector. The prep for the heist in the basement of a jewelry exchange is well detailed. With diagrams, maps and layouts. Lookouts are set. The vault is drilled for Nitroglycerine. An alarm goes off. Police arrive as the thieves are making their escape. shots are fired. One criminal goes down. So does a cop. And Emmerich is none to pleased to see “Doc”, Dix and two others with a satchel full of stones. And wanting their cut. NOW!

Emmerich stalls. One of Emmerich’s associates draws a pistol. Dix drops him, but catches a shot to the gut. Emmerich gives up what cash he has. Dix goes to see his girlfriend, “Doll” Conovan (Jean Hagen) for a cross country trip home. As “Doc” sedately takes the slow route home in a taxi. With a side stop to a diner and a comely young lady who catches “Doc”‘s eye. Before being recognized and pursued by police.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role?

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A solid Rock Of Gibraltar upon which to build a wondrously devious tale on the intricacies of high end crime. With Dix bullying his way when necessary. Yet unaware that his benefactor, Emmerich is spending money he doesn’t have for maps, tools and expertise required. And hoping to buy the stones cheap and sell them dearly. To remain solvent for another year.

All this is Greek to Dix. Who is willing to take the risk. For an immediate payoff. And is not really surprised when angers rise and things head south after the heist.

***

The Killing (1956)

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Which lays a decent foundation for a very early Stanley Kubrick ode to a “sure thing” race track heist, The Killing from 1956. Put together and overseen by Mr. Hayden as Johnny Clay. Who is much smarter than he seems and plans for every contingency as his crew comes together. Hot headed, womanizing Val Cannon (Vince Edwards). Over the hill, former race track cop, Marvin Unger (Jay C. Fliippen). Nebbishy numbers guy, who knows a reasonable fence, George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.). And creepy as Hell looking, budding sociopath, Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey).
The men gather. Talk about non specific specifics regarding the heist amongst smoke laced, still air and naked, shadow casting light bulbs above a poker table. Each has a task. either inside the race tracks terminus and betting windows. Or beyond in the parking lot that skirts the backyard stretch. Everything depends on the day’s last race. Plus time for the losing bettor’s money to be gathered and put in the Counting Room. And afterwards the vault. The trick is for Clay and his crew to intercede after the count and before the vault. To the tune of two million dollars. Serious money, indeed!

Secrecy is essential. But men will be men. Egos will be egos. And Clay and Peatty have girlfriends. Clay’s girlfriend, Fay (Colleen Gray) is frightened of her man. While Peatty’s wife, Sherry (Acid tongued and cheating, Marie Windsor) has other plans. Courtesy of Val Cannon in a classic double cross.
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The day arrives. The races are run. Money is gathered. The last race comes up. Nikki waits with a rifle in his red convertible as the gates opens and the race starts. The diversion occurs at Nikki’s hand. Everything goes as planned. Though a guard does manage to get shot and Johnny is wounded. Double crosses happen. Members of the crew are killed. Clay and fay seek any of numbers of ways out of the city ahead of news reports. Airline tickets are purchased and their suitcase full of money is weighed, tagged and sent on its way to the waiting, idling airliner…

I’ll leave it right there. Lest I move into spoiler territory.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role as Johnny Clay?

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An iron fist inside a somewhat clumsy glove. There are members of Clay’s crew whom he knows. And others he does not. Using greed and the allure of big money, he does get them to work together. When a few aren’t busy working their own angles. To claim their prize at the end of the rainbow. Those whom Clay cannot intimidate. He sometimes brow beats as dents and small problems are worked out.

Refreshingly, the ladies, or dames in attendance are often just as greedy and clever as the men. With Marie Windsor’s setting the standard for ruthless molls to come.

In a straightforward, B&W shadow filled and close to Noir heist film. That looks and feels like a procedural. Completely from the criminals’ point of view.

***

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1965)

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Which brings in a later, 1964 Kubrick film. A Doomsday, Black Comedy filled with superb, deadpan comedic talent. And a heavt hitting supporting cast much more recognizable for drama. Yet excelling at comedy. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

Mr. Hayden’s role is mostly dramatic. As the commander of a Strategic Air Command Base, General Jack D. Ripper. Who has sent his wing of B-52s off their “Fail Safe Points” to bomb Moscow and cities beyond. Encompassing all the physical attributes, gestures, pauses and enunciation of Four Star General Curtis E. LeMay (The Grandfather of SAC). As he explains in his own warped logic, his reason for eradicating Russia from the map. To a befuddled, prim and proper RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers in one of three diverse roles).

Mr. Hayden’s General Ripper is one of the few straight dramatic roles. And gets the ball rolling to an at first nervous, then frightened and near Panicked Pentagon. Its War Room, Big Board. Russian diplomats and dryly funny use of “The Red Phone” as solutions (Outside of the Army overrunning and taking back the SAC base and arresting Ripper) are sought. Cutting between the Pentagon and the lead B-52 piloted by Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) as it dodges missiles and gets ever closer. Then back to the War Room and the besieged Burpleson Air Force Base. And Ripper supplying offensive fire with a .30 caliber Browning Machine Gun pulled from a Golf Bag (Don’t ask!)With cuts getting shorter, tighter and more suspenseful as new courses and targets are selected by Kong for his bomber.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role as Gen. Ripper?

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One the most accurate physical portrayal of an American Military icon in cinema. Shot from low set cameras angled high to bring forth the full measure of a man feared and respected more than the Presidents of two administrations in the early 1960s.

Mr. Hayden’s and Ripper’s soliloquy to Peter Sellers’ Mandrake regarding Clemenseau. The Military Generals, Politicians and war could easily have been uttered at any time during Kennedy’s embarrassing “Bay of Pigs” invasion and fiasco. Or his later mediocre redemption during The Cuban Missile Crisis. Which, I believe is one of the reason the film works and has aged so well. The possibility of “What if?” taken to first, dramatic and later, comedic extremes.

***

The Godfather (1972)

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Which created an eight year sojourn into smaller films and larger plays. Creating the opportunity to fulfill a small, but essential role as corrupt, bought and paid for Captain McCluskey in Francis Coppola’s landmark, The Godfather.

Though Mr. Hayden isn’t on the screen very long. He makes more than the most of each scene. Radiating intolerance, arrogance and bullying legal brute force. From the moment McCluskey pushes through the clutch of uniformed cops to confront an equally arrogant and sarcastic Michael Corleone. (Al Pacino). Before breaking a sinus and jaw while clocking him into the next time zone.

Throwing down the gauntlet for all to see. Before inching back as Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall) rolls up and disgorges an equally large group of plain clothed, licensed and armed “investigators” to protected the hospitalized and moved Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). In that fleeting moment there is a palpable hate between the two. Enough to tinge Michael’s later compound strategy with Tom and Sonny. To a bit more “personal” than “business” regarding the expedient demise of Sollozzo and McCluskey.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role in The Godfather?

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A thoroughly unlikeable character in Captain McCluskey. Who seems to tower over most with rigid posture. A thrust out chest and chin. And enough experience intimidating others to be openly snide with his comments. Especially his “punks like him” comment after frisking Michael on the way to the restaurant summit and double homicide.
Was I pleased with Mr. Hayden’s performance? Absolutely! I couldn’t come up with a comparable actor for the role while reading Mario Puzo’s novel. And I felt more shock than surprise or sadness when McCluskey met his fate.
***

Overall Consensus:

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Sterling Hayden epitomized the Hollywood “Tough Guy” through the 1950s and 60s. Often down and out and with few options. Who could deliver and take punches on the same level as Robert Mitchum. And handled firearms with respect and familiarity. And full knowledge of what they could do.

Overbearing? Sure. When the character required it. Though there were smarts in abundance behind that steely gaze. Either from experience or the school of hard knocks. Very much like Burt Lancaster. Though not nearly as physical. Willing to play unlikeable characters. And never apologizing for it.


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Thoughts on Sterling Hayden and/or any of his roles mentioned above?