A Well Executed Blast From The Past: The Prime Gig (2000)

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having just completed a move from Suburban Maryland to more tax friendly, though a bit jumbled and busy, Falls Church, Virginia. I’ve allowed myself a few evenings of vegging out and catching up on the notable offerings from IFC (Independent Film Channel). In lieu of multiple series winding down to their last few episodes of their respective seasons.

Now, I enjoy cliffhangers as well as the next guy. Though given the opportunity to indulge in a little, highly polished glistening nugget featuring the Grand Master of Character Actors, Ed Harris. Then up and coming actor, Vince Vaughn. Creating two angles in a film full of angles, lies, distortions, half truths. And the allure of boundless wealth through telephone sales and the intrigue of The Long Con creating the third. With the aid of fetching, knowing Julia Ormond.

To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to slowly peel back the layers of one of the more intricately executed explorations into the world of trust, varying degrees of intimidation. And even more subtle alterations of perception with.

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The Prime Gig (2000)

Which begins in the rather decrepit expanded low rent apartment and Man Cave of Pendleton “Penny” Wise. An up and comer in the realm of grand dreams and intermittent talent regarding conning, cajoling and occasionally brow beating money from hapless names on printed lists. To sell questionable goods and services while slowly advancing up the always present Sales Board.

In a nutshell. All the props, bells and whistles reliant upon and present in a mid rage “Boiler Room’ operation.

And make no mistake about it. Mr. Wise, as presented and envisioned by Vince Vaughn is a go getter. Though sometimes indulging in slowly receding inner turmoil about such oddities as morals. And feeling bad at the end of the day after fleecing future college tuition and “Vegas” or “Vacation Money” totaling in the tens of thousands. Much better at it than his two low scale colleagues. Older, wiser, Gene (Wallace Shawn) and charismatic Joel (Rory Cochrane).

And at this moment in time, “Penny” unwittingly presents himself as an intriguing and vulnerable target for a much wiser and covertly admired and adored Master Telemarketer, and Guru, Kelly Grant. Magnificently played with equal amounts of bravura and “Aw, shucks!” congeniality by Master Craftsman, Ed Harris.

PrimeGig_Harris_OrmondIt seems that Kelly is slowly bouncing back from being taken to the cleaners by the Feds and the SEC. Meticulously doling out and gathering funds for another “clean and legitimate” operation. Involving the sales of parcels of land on and surrounding a gold mine in the whip sawn outback of Bisbee, Arizona.

Kelly’s approach is a thing of subtle beauty. Performed by Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond. Radiating just the right amount of business smarts and sexuality. Who catches Penny’s attention and reels him comfortably in. Before introductions are made with Mr. Grant.

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Who has all his shiny brochures, spread sheets, graphs and pie charts ready for perusal after a sumptuous dinner. Laying his soul and his plan bare. While being glowingly, honestly forthright in his plans to make other people rich.

Though a veteran of the trenches and an outright cynic, Penny obliquely asks for some time to digest it all. Penny is given a day. And the availability of Caitlin as a Point of Contact. The day arrives and Penny agrees. Only to be one of a dozen different prospects and hungry Young Turks. With nationalities divergent as the rainbow. And names ranging from Archie (George Wendt), Cheryl (Jeannetta Arnette), Sujat (Shishir Kurup), Zeke (Romany Malko) and Batgirl (Amber Benson).

All are assembled pursuing the scent of large money. And the chance to get out from under college tuition and loan debt. Or the chance to make “crazy bank”. And spend it frivolously. Each has an agenda. And a scheme. Though, in order to harness and utilize maximum potential. They’ve got to believe!

Which entails a chartered plane flight and road trip west. To see first hand the expansive excavation, digging and tunneling surrounding several hundred acres of isolated Arizona Outback. And, yes. It is a busy little and noisy microcosm regaled in hard hats, reflective vests and large earth moving equipment. Wizened, if not refreshed. Penny and company return for marathon telephone sessions under the watchful eye of Kelly Grant up his elevated Sky Box Seat. Listening and ready to cut in with advice. As Penny, Zeke and Batgirl do battle. As those who lack sterner stuff eke out the day. And week. With the victors pitched banded rolls of fresh bills as incentive for the coming day.

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A crude motivational tool, to be sure. Though it does light a fire under the bottoms of those ignored. To become bolder and progressively more brutal during their telephonic tete a tetes. Through it all, Penny is quite content and comfortable with his techniques, Especially when part of his reward is the lush Caitlin.

And it is the intrigue of their romance that adds well deserved meat to this tale of blatant and perhaps, covert duplicity. Since Caitlin is Kelly Grant’s woman. Even if there is some slack in her leash to allow outside diversions. As Penny makes more and more money, Much of which is put in a checking account. Gathering the wherewithal to possibly steal Caitlin away. Though, that will be on her terms. Not Penny’s.

Life is good. Life goes on. The coffers of Mr. Grant’s are full of other people’s money. Some of which is used to pay for the machinery and workers in Bisbee, Other monies are used to pay for lawyers, scientists and masses of their office staff.

Penny awakes and heads off the”office” for a another day of verbal battle and Blitzkrieg. Opening the door to find…..

I’ll leave it right there for spoiler’s sake.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

A well constructed and often deliberately vague screenplay, story and script. That allows glimpses and some memorable longing gazes into what you don’t see behind a far flung, major con. Centered around the day to day machinations of the long lived and reliable Ponzi scheme. Demanding major investments from the naïve and monied middle class. Who are well off, or better. Just to keep what’s happening in Arizona solvent and perhaps, productive day after day.

Though, it is on the front lines where the depths of greed and avarice are dangled like bait. And Penny and his rogues gallery are allowed to shine. Most notably in the competitions between Penny and Zeke. Who sometimes seethes with racial angst and animus, That results in many closed deals.

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Julia Ormond, in a very early role is a natural seductress. With class, poise, etiquette, a lovely Surrey accent. As well as being very easy on the eyes, Who may or may not know all of Kelly Grant’s grand scheme. But is not about to divulge any more than necessary. While Wallace Shawn, George Wendt and Rory Cochrane offer moral support to Penny. With hints of trepidation later on.

Cinematography by John A. Alonzo is often Sun hazed during outside daylight hours. And razor sharp and sparkled with far off lights at night. And wondrously, intimately tight in the Boiler Room’s Bullpens. Allowing time and space for the actors’ bodies and faces to swell with humor, anger or rage while achieving their goals.

Yet, offering a flat plain of space for discussions between Penny and Kelly Wise. An empty arena or battleground between two predators. Except Mr. Harris’ Kelly Grant has been doing this sort of things for decades. Dresses, acts and becomes the Master of Obfuscation, Misdirection and Distraction. Knows all the ins and outs and how to tap dance and patch over their flaws. While holding all the cards. The dialogue between the Sensei and gifted amateur is well worth the price of discovery and admission.

What Makes This Film Great?

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Ed Harris in charge of a scam of his own making. Staying in the background. While wisely revealing enough to keep those around him interested and at his beck and call. Keeping the lion’s share of the nuts and bolts hidden under veils of distraction. And jovially warning Penny and others that “You can’t trust a con man!”.

Pulling those around him close in their desire for more. Money. Recognition. Defining, expensive wardrobes and wheels, Because in L.A. You are what you drive. Creating a multi act play in personal greed and self destruction. Well aided by an original soundtrack by David Robbins. Art Direction by Michael Atwell. And Set Decoration by Alice Baker. Who have a knack for making spacious office space and expansive Bull Pens appear much smaller and compact and low ceilinged than at first glance. Creating possibly the best definition of the phrase “Boiler Room” in film!


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Agree. Disagree, Other Choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion.

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.

RapidFireMoviePosterRapid Fire (1992)

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