The Flix List: First Impression from Second Stringers

Greetings all and sundry. Allow me a few moments of your time to delve into an area first experienced as a child. That has reliably borne fruit for more than a few decades. The excitement of seeing a fresh face for the first time plying his or her craft and watching them swing for the fences. Or not. But leaving something worthwhile and memorable in that first meeting. To plant a seed and look for and sometimes anticipate a second or third meeting and follow their careers in cinematic story telling.

To that end, I’ve assembled ten then novitiates. Their initial roles that sparked my interest and where their talents and career have taken them since then.

First Impressions from Second Stringers.


10. Lee Marvin

First caught my attention in a brief, sometimes scary role as a sweaty greasy spoon fry cook with a secret life in a no budget, 1955 Red Scare film titled ‘Shack Out on 101’. Not surprising, Mr. Marvin’s character was named ‘Slob’ and he lived up to that name with disgustingly carefree glee. Going out of his way to provoke fights, when not trying to force himself on his boss’s wife as she sunbathes in a cove around Big Sur.

There was something shocking, vile and oddly intriguing and admirable in watching an actor be so free and comfortable in his own lean, leathery, sinewed skin while playing someone so intimidating and revolting. Traits that would rise again in ‘The Wild One’,  ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’, ‘The Big Heat’,’The Caine Mutiny’ and ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. Later toned it down for  ‘Point Blank’, ‘Hell in the Pacific’, ‘Emperor of the North’ and ‘The Professionals’. Then turned it inside out for his split roles as Kid Sheleen and Strawn in ‘Cat Ballou’.

9. Patricia Neal

First crossed my path as a roving radio show interviewer in ‘A Face in the Crowd’ from 1957. Where she crosses the path of drunken, itinerant hobo, Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes (Andy Griffith) and is quite taken by his talents, down home humor and prowess at spinning yarns (Story Telling). Soon sees him as her ticket out of the backwater sticks of Arkansas while slowly falling under his Svengali charms. Ms. Neal’s Marcia Jeffries shows vulnerability while trying to keep Rhodes in check from being an aspiring, corrupt Senator’s front man. Then steels herself to sabotage Rhodes after his appearance on a local television show. With an open microphone as Rhodes displays his contempt for others. In Elia Kazan’s scathing opus to the marketing of  modern politics.

With such a powerful introduction, it’s always been fun when Ms. Neal shows up in a film. Sometimes as a leading lady and holding her own opposite Paul Newman in ‘Hud’.  Or John Wayne in ‘Operation Pacific’ and ‘In Harm’s Way’. Though more often in a secondary player. As in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’.

8. James Coburn

I have low budget master of Randolph Scott westerns, Budd Boetticher to thank for having Mr. Coburn show up on Saturday afternoons after chores were done. Tall, lean with ropy arms and a watchful, quiet demeanor as Whit. The second or third Right Hand Man of black hatted and attired, Pernell Roberts’ bad guy, Sam Boone in ‘Ride Lonesome’ from 1959.

There was something about Mr. Coburn. Taller than Lee Marvin, though possessing the same cat~like fluidity of movement with just a bit of Steve McQueen cool and swagger. Easily holding the camera through countless television episodes and small, then larger roles in films. Before finding his niche as knife throwing Britt in ‘The Magnificent Seven’. A film that launched many careers. With Mr. Coburn backing up Mr. McQueen in ‘Hell Is for Heroes’ and ‘The Great Escape’. Then carrying along opposite James Garner in ‘The Americanization of Emily’ in 1964 and Charlton Heston in ‘Major Dundee’ a year later.

Deftly switching to comedy and expanding his coolness factor as Derek Flint in two films. When not playing high end thieves in ‘Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round’, ‘Duffy’ and ‘Waterhole #3’ and finally as ‘The President’s Analyst’. Before delivering what is quite possibly his best performance in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’. Then becoming the Actor Emeritus in far too many television show, made for TV and big screens movies to count.

7. Ellen Page

An actress who came completely out of left field as a red hooded 14 year old gamine with an agenda in 2005’s Hard Candy’. A small budgeted independent revenge film from 2005 that deals with Pedophilia and the death of Ms. Page’s Haley Stark’s best friend,  Donna Maurer. Who had come to a grisly end after meeting an older (32 years old) man at a local coffee shop.

What struck me about Ms. Page’s performance is the sophistication and maturity of thought brought to the fore from the film’s opening scene. Where Haley is chatting on the same site last used by Donna. Setting up the mark, Jeff (Patrick Wilson), who is a lot less clever and more vulnerable, due possibly to repetition  than he thinks he is. They meet. Seduction occurs with the aide of some doctored Screwdrivers. Jeff comes to and finds himself tied to a wheeled computer chair and the games begin!

Psychological for the most part. Humiliating and demeaning as Haley stays three moves ahead. Holds all the trump cards. And twists Jeff into all sorts of contortions before the inevitable happens and Haley walks away. Perhaps satisfied. Perhaps towardsher next victim.

A performance like that immediately put Ms. Page on my radar. Though she made a quite serviceable Kitty Pride and ‘Shadowcat’ in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’. It was her later performance in ‘Juno’ a year later that reinforced my belief that I was watching an exceptional talent. Holding her own in the world of Austin, Texas Roller Derby in ‘Whip It’ before finally coming to play with Chris Nolan and the big boys. As maze mistress, and architect, Ariadne in ‘Inception‘.

6. Joe Mantegna

If there ever was a guy made to add gravitas to the words of David Mamet. It’s this guy, right here! My first impasse with Mr. Mantegna was in 1987 in the film, ‘House of Games’. Mamet’s directorial debut into the sometimes seamy, sometimes glitzy world of mid range grifters and con men. Amongst the smoke hazed, grimy dives and pool halls and elegant hotels around Seattle. Where Mr. Mantegna’s ‘Mike’ is the smooth, suave, undisputed King of his crew. Who happens across an icy, though slowly thawing psychiatrist, Margaret Ford. Flawlessly played by Lindsay Crouse. Who seeks out Mike to intervene in a $25,000 gambling debt owed by one of her patients.

Knowing a mark when he sees one, Mike takes Margaret through a tentative tour and taste of his world. Which she seems to like. Aiding Mike in a relatively high stakes poker game by flirting and spotting the ‘tells’ of the other players. Then deflating the bravado of one player who tries to steal the huge pot with the aid of a leaking Luger squirt gun. The hook is sunken deep as Margaret forgets her patients and proves to be just as obsessive and compulsive as the people she writes about in her best selling books. Helping out in another larger con that doesn’t go to the script. The wheels come off and Mike and Margaret have a final fatal tête-à-tête in an airport luggage dock before Mike tries to flee.

Mr. Mantegna’s Mike put the actor high up on my ‘To Watch List’. Where his versatility shone through as a sympathetic Mafia gofer, Jerry. Opposite Don Ameche in another Mamet gem, Things Change’ a year later. Hitting a solid double as Joey Zasa in the less than great ‘Godfather: Part III’ in 1990. Then knocking it out of the park as Baltimore Homicide Detective Bobby Gold in the Mamet written and directed ‘Homicide’. Who has a moment of clarity and faith regarding his religion while taking down on the run street thug, drug dealer and cop killer, Randolph; wondrously played by Ving Rhames.

Then rising again like a Phoenix in ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ in 1993. As every day dad and sports writer, Fred Waitzkin. Whose very young son, Josh is an undiscovered Chess prodigy. Regularly winning against all comers. Either in Central Park or musty inner sanctum clubs. Dividing his time between hustler, Laurence Fishburne and Chess Master, Bruce Pandolfini. Played humorlessly by Ben Kingsley. Fred recognizes Josh’s talents as Quality Time is made during trips and tournaments in a surprisingly humane, family friendly film. Where the grown up behave as grown ups and Max Pomeranc’s Josh behaves exactly as a kid would. Showing great potential while nonchalantly stealing every scene he’s in!

Mr. Mantegna’s later work in television, mini series, made for TV movies and voice acting speaks for itself. Though he seems to have revisited and expounded upon his every dad, Fred. As Detective Will Girardi in CBS’s ‘Joan of Arcadia’ from 2003 to 2005.

5. Ellen Barkin

First caught my eye and attention as the hard as nails, cold as ice leader of a smash and grab diamond crew, Sunny Boyd, in Walter Hill’s 1989 Neo~Noir ‘Johnny Handsome’. Sashaying into a local merchant’s shop, distractingly resplendent in low cut, tight black leather. Before pistol whipping the owner and smashing display cases as Lance Henricksen, Scott Wilson and a grossly disfigured Mickey Rourke (Johnny) fleece the place clean. Before an alarm sounds, and Johnny is shot and left for dead.

Thus begins a very well and frugally executed tale of revenge. As Johnny is convicted and sent to a Louisiana penal farm. Where he is shanked and sent to the hospital to be patched up and eventually given a new face, courtesy of Forrest Whittaker. A liberal facial surgeon with a large grant in need of a Guinea Pig. Johnny is released with a new name and face and a job on the docks that allow him to split his time from nice girl, Donna McCarty (Elizabeth McGovern) and trying to connect with Sunny and Rafe (Henricksen).

Sunny is at first intrigued by Johnny. Even more so as Johnny slips and has trouble keeping his stories straight. Setting the stage for a moonlit and street lamp slashed showdown as Morgan Freeman’s Lt. A. Z. Drones knowingly looks on.

One heck of an introduction to an actress who would dominate the Bad Girl/Femme Fatale arena for five years with ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘Bad Company’. Then turning on a dime and delivering a klutzi-ly believable turn as lecherous Perry King stuck inside a stiletto heeled, gorgeous blonde’s body in Blake Edwards’ ‘Switch’ from 1991. Watching Ms. Barkin struggle in spikes and short or pencil skirts is well seeking out or worth the price of admission.

Which caused a search for Ms. Barkin’s earlier works. Where she established herself as the damaged relation in ‘Tender Mercies’ and Lumet’s take on the surviving son of the Rosenberg Trial in ‘Daniel’ from 1983. Where Ms. Barkin played Timothy Hutton’s radical wife, Phyllis. Then keeping busy as the smart woman reporter in ‘Eddie and the Crusiers’ and damsel in distress in ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Across the 8th Dimension’ the following year. Before switching up to be the determined District Attorney wanting to lock up possibly corrupt New Orleans  Detective, Dennis Quaid in ‘The Big Easy’ in 1986.

Creating a body of work that began with Barry Levinson’s ‘Diner’ in 1982 and has branched out into television and a return to the Bad Girl in ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ in 2007. And ‘Operation: Endgame’ in 2010.
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4. Michael Ironside

Arrived without preamble in the role of troubled psychic, Darryl Revock in David Cronenberg’s ‘Scanners’ way back in 1981. Looking about as anonymous and harmless as a career postman. Sitting in a small audience while listening to a lecturer. Until veins begin sticking out on Revock’s neck and forehead and one lecturer’s head explode!

That, friends and neighbors, is an Entrance! The opening act of an intriguing little gem by a budding master of the odd, weird and often creepy. That pits good people with extrasensory powers against Revock and his band of equally gifted evil doers. All quite possibly the victims of Thalidomide like mutations before birth. At the hands of chemical corporate head, Patrick McGoohan. With Mr.Ironside shining throughout as his megalomania begins controlling his actions. For a final showdown with his half brother and good Scanner, Stephen Lack.

More than enough to look for Mr. Ironside in a few low budget films and a guest spot on ‘Hill Street Blues’ before coming under the attention of US audiences as recurring bad guy, Ham Tyler in NBC’s sci-fi lizard series, ‘V’ in 1984. Which set the stage for his roles as humorless Aggressor Pilot, Jester in ‘Top Gun’ in 1986. And corrupt and sweaty Colonel Paul Hackett in Walter Hill’s modern western Guy Flick, ‘Extreme Prejudice’ the next year. Staying in medium budgeted film-dom before achieving near cult status as Lt. Jean Rasczak in Paul Verhoeven’s take on Robert Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers’ in 1987. And corporate henchman, Richter in ‘Total Recall’ in 1990. Keeping his hand in both film and television before finding a lucrative niche as a voice actor for Warner Brothers animation.

3. Frances McDormand

Allow me to posit a question to the ladies. If you were part owner in a kind of sleazy Texas road house, married to and sharing your bed with an even sleazier Dan Hadaya. Would you not want to find a lover, who’s clever, yet easily tempted and manipulated into murdering Dan?

That’s where Frances McDorman finds herself in this debut role as Abby in the Coen brothers’ first film ‘Blood Simple’. A gritty, sometimes sweaty Neo~Noir from 1984, where everyone is out to kill everyone. Abby wants to off Dan’s character, Julian Marty. Who has already hired the rarely slimier M. Emmett Walsh to get incriminating photos of Abby and her lover, Ray (John Getz). Who works as a bartender at the road house.

It soon becomes a question of which is cheaper for Marty, murder or divorce? Quickly answered when Ray quits and Marty calls Walsh’s Loren Visser to seal the deal while Marty is away fishing in Corpus Christi. Half of the payment is given. With the promise to pay the other half when Marty returns.

Visser breaks in while Abby and Ray are busy. Then waits until after the festivities to steal Abby’s shiny .32 revolver. Meets Marty the following night and shoots him twice. Setting up a double or triple cross while taking his payment, but leaving his lighter at the scene of the crime. Comes the morning and Ray finds Marty slumped in a chair and prepares to bury the slowest dying man in Texas and possibly, cinema history in a remote field. Ray returns to Abby to tell her that he’s ‘cleaned up her mess’ and the fireworks begin. Interrupted by a call from Visser that sets the groundwork for a great, shadowy game of extortion and cat and mouse.

What raised my eyebrow about Ms. McDormand was her unremarkable normality as Abby. Not stunningly beautiful or crafty or even beguiling at first sight. Abby’s just a wife in a possibly abusive, violent marriage who has had enough and has found a way out. Though the sly and crafty come out once Visser starts cleaning up loose ends.

Bits of Abby showed through in her six episode role as Officer Connie Chapman in the fifth season of ‘Hill Street Blues’. Where a lot of big named, contemporary talent got started and noticed. Before taking on the quirky, comedic role of Dot opposite an even quirkier, hard luck Nicholas Cage in ‘Raising Arizona’. Honing her talents in ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Chattahoochee’, Darkman’ and a cameo as the Mayor’s secretary in ‘Miller’s Crossing‘. Keeping busy on stage and television before given the plum role of pregnant local cop, Marge Gunderson in ‘Fargo’ and OCD, compulsive game stat freak, Bunny in John Sayle’s ‘Lone Star’ in 1996. Holding her own in other films and embracing her inner, no nonsense uber Mom, Elaine Miller in ‘Almost Famous’ in 2000. Then returning as Billy Bob Thornton’s wife, Doris in The Man Who Wasn’t There’. And Christian Bale’s super hot, record producing mom in ‘Laurel Canyon’ the following year.

Ms. McDormand seems to be blessed with talents and beauty that have become more pronounced and elegant with time, like fine wine. Whether in dramatic or comedic roles. Her subtlety and ease makes for great entertainment!

2. Gene Hackman

Crossed my path when I was in my early teens. On an episode of NBC’s ‘I Spy’. Where this kind of dumpy, thinning haired nobody wanted to blow up a mid tiered US diplomat in Mexico by planting a Nitroglycerine bomb in a Pinata for the diplomat’s son’s birthday party. There was something about this nobody’s voice, attitude and the confident, easy way he carried himself. That had me rooting for him. Even as he was being chased down by Robert Culp and Bill Cosby through some aged ruins before the final shoot out and explosion at the story’s end. Something to make me look for his name in the final credits and remember it for future reference.

Which didn’t take long. A double feature of ‘Bonnie and Clyde‘ and ‘Bullitt’ sealed the deal. Mr. Hackman’s older brother, Buck was a slob in the classic Eli Wallach mode. The kind of guy you could dress up in an expensive suit and tie and still come up far short. Yet easily comfortable in his own and character’s skin. A trait that would show up repeatedly in smaller ensemble films that made money, though many have forgotten. ‘Riot’, ‘The Gypsy Moths’, ‘Downhill Racer’ and ‘Marooned’ in 1969. With a side trip to period pieces, ‘I Never Sang for My Father’ and The Hunting Party’ filled time before the role of NY Detective Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle planted Mr. Hackman on the map with William Friedkin’s procedural masterpiece, ‘The French Connection‘ in 1971.

Though the plump, fat roles didn’t arrive right way, his quality of cast improved with ‘Cisco Pike’ (Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black). ‘Prime Cut’ (Lee Marvin). ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (Everyone), ‘Scarecrow’ (Al Pacino). Which led to his most understated role as surveillance demi-God, Harry Caul in Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’ in 1974 (The film was robbed at that year’s Oscars!). Which sent Mr. Hackman back to ensemble gems, ‘Young Frankenstein’, a much more personal. ‘French Connection II’. Plus a standout performance as a Chandler~esque private eye in Arthur Penn’s ‘Night Moves’ and ‘Bite the Bullet’ in 1975. Then taking a crack at recruited convict turned assassin, Roy Tucker in Stanley Kramer’s ‘The Domino Principle’ in 1977.

Comedy seems to have come late to Mr. Hackman as Suerman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor before turning up opposite Nick Nolte in Robert Spottiswoode’s Nicaraguan uprising, ‘Under Fire’ and as the bank roller of the Vietnam POW rescue film, ‘Uncommon Valor’ throughout 1983.

The roles continued to arrive at a pace where Mr. Hackman would seem to fade from the spotlight. Then find a role to put him back squarely in the spotlight. In either the lead or a supporting role. Very much like Sean Connery before him. Making films much more memorable with his presence. Specifically, ‘Hoosiers’, ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘Crimson Tide’, David Mamet’s ‘Heist’ and a fine comedic turn in ‘The Royal Tennebaums’.

A consummate character actor who worked his way through the system to achieve his rightful place high in the firmament!
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1. Helen Mirren

The woman who near silently beguiled me as Bob Hoskins’ love interest, Victoria. In the east End, London docks thriller. ‘The Long Good Friday’ from 1980. Mixing poise, polish. yet subtle and unadulterated sex appeal. Ms. Mirren held the camera’s attention no matter where she was placed in a scene. Rarely showing vulnerability and creating the perfect foil for Hoskins’ Harold Shand. Lifelong thug and survivor with grand dreams of criminal enterprise along the Thames.

That performance helped me understand why and how the Brits do some genres of films so much better than we in the states. Less is often more. And that was writ large in my next encounter. In a small, little known gem titled ‘Cal’ four years later. Where Ms. Mirren taps into vast wells of vulnerability as Marcella. A recent widow whose husband, a Protestant policeman was killed by the IRA. And who slowly falls in love with her husband’s killer. Young and on the run first timer, Cal. Then turning in a better than serviceable role as Russian Science Officer and Pilot Tanya Kirbuk opposite Roy Scheider and John Lithgow in Peter Hyams’ decent ‘2001’ sequel, ‘2010’ the same year.

From there it was as Georgina Spica, in Peter Greenway’s ‘The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover’ from 1989. And onto a role that would make her and her character, DCI Jane Tennyson in Grenada Televison’s series of ‘Prime Suspect’ films. When not busy playing Queen Charlotte in ‘The Madness of King George’ in 1994. And Mrs. Wilson in Robert Altman’s ‘Gosford Park’ in 2001. Soaring into the stratosphere of title and talent by becoming Dame Helen Mirren, while taking on the role of Chris in Nigel Cole’s ‘Calendar Girls’ in 2003. Then playing Elizabeth II in Stephen Frear’s epitome of sublime pomp and formality, ‘The Queen’ in 2005. Then turn in strong performances in ‘The Debt‘ and as Prospera in ‘The Tempest’ in 2010. Before taking on a dry, prim comedic tone as retired assassin, Victoria. The most alluring woman ever behind a Browning M-2 Heavy Barreled Machine Gun, Sniper’s Rifle, or an elegantly compact Uzi sub machine gun, in ‘Red‘.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Well, what do you think of  these actors? Feel free to share which film(s) you first saw them in.

Classic Flix Review: The French Connection (1971)

Greetings all and sundry! I am going to take a well deserved respite from Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck and take a few moments to wax poetic and nostalgic about a film that solidly grabbed my attention more than forty years ago. One that firmly anchored the concept of the ‘Partner Film’. Which is very different than a ‘Cop’ or ‘Buddy’ film. The basis for a delightfully suspenseful Procedural. Which also that puts front and center, superb on location shooting in and around Manhattan and its seven boroughs. To these ends, allow me to introduce or re-introduce you to:

The French Connection (1971)

A film that begins not in the city that never sleeps, but in the narrow, rain damped side streets of Marseilles and its many cubby hole hostels and boarding houses. We see a man amble down a cobbled sidewalk to enter a hostel. Check his mail and enter his room. Where someone in the shadows shoots him and walks off with a hunk of his target’s bagged Baguette.

Cut to the snowy, cold, pre Christmas streets of New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant. Where a team of undercover Narcotics cops; Gene Hackman’s ‘Popeye’ Doyle in Santa Claus mufti and Roy Scheider’s ‘Cloudy’ Russo, in dock worker drag watch a buy for heroin happen. Cloudy announces himself. The junkie runs and Popeye gives chase across streets and through alleys. To catch the buyer and shake him down hard after Cloudy has his coat and arm slashed by the junkie’s switch blade. Questions precede ignorance. The junk is booked as evidence and another drug arrest is made by the team that leads all boroughs in arrests, but very few convictions.

Paperwork follows. Also a talking to by Captain Simonson. Well played by Eddie Egan, the hero of Robin Moore’s original book. Who wants Popeye and Cloudy to bring in something that could go before a Grand Jury and get convictions. To that end Popeye and Cloudy decide to do some after hour bar-hopping. That leads to them spotting a relatively small time local thief sharing drinks with three of the biggest drug connections through the boroughs. Curious and curiouser, Popeye and Cloudy tail the local hood, Sal Boca, hungrily played by a loud and boorish Tony Lo Bianco. He and his wife, Angie run a Brooklyn luncheonette and really have no business rubbing elbows with such heavy hitters.

More information is needed. So Popeye and Cloudy show in great detail the proper way to take down an after hours Brooklyn bar. The undercover cop they seek is taken aside and relays that a large shipment of heroin is due in and a lot of people are going to get well. Warrants for wiretaps are sought. Popeye and Cloudy stake out Sal and Angie’s luncheonette and shake down their snitches for more to go on. While at a Staten Island junkyard cars are being auctioned. And a big, black Lincoln is bought by one of Sal’s cousins. Then sent off to Marseilles.

Enter Charnier. The smooth, suave, sophisticated Puppet Master and Mastermind who loads said Lincoln with sixty kilos of 89% pure heroin. To be trans-shipped to New York under the protective entourage of a french celebrity whose gambling markers Charnier has bought up. A pretty slick operation that starts to show signs of cracking as wire taps bring in the Feds. Who want nothing to do with Doyle or Russo as stake outs continue and a test is made of the incoming product. Sal’s higher ups are leery and want to take their time. Sal pushes on as Charnier and his crew arrive in Manhattan. Jacking up the overall pressure to get things done by about five fold. First Cloudy, then Popeye notice Charnier’s new face and start nosing around in earnest. Watching their new prey enjoy a sumptuous meal while Popeye noshes on pizza and lousy coffee in sub zero temperatures.

The game is afoot as Charnier leaves and Popeye and Cloudy try to give chase as ‘The Frog’ slips away on a subway car under Grand Central Station. But not before Popeye and Charnier get a good long look at each other. Pressure builds up as the Frog’s celebrity flunky starts to get cold feet. A contract is put out on Doyle and is not quite carried out the next day by one of Charnier’s henchmen. Who misses with a scoped rifle from just over 100 yards and starts what is considered to be the second greatest chase in cinematic history. With a commandeered Pontiac LeMans versus a speeding elevated train. And ends with the shooter being back shot on the train’s stairs by Popeye before he passes out.

What to do? What to do? Popeye, Cloudy and the Feds stake out Charnier’s Lincoln and scoop it up as it is about to be stripped on a Bed~Stuy side street. The Lincoln is impounded and stripped from bumper to bumper. Invoices are checked and weights compared and the Lincoln is heavier than it should be by over 150 pounds. The extra weight is found in its rocker panels below the sedan’s door. The car is quickly reassembled and fluids topped off before being returned to Charnier and company.’

The final act begins with Charnier and his minions traveling to Sal’s cousin’s junk yard. Where the deal is completed. Money is exchanged for heroin and all is well with the world. Until the Frog and company leave and run into a road block led by a waving Popeye. Who follows the Lincoln as it is funneled back to the yard surrounded by hidden cops and anxious Feds.

I’ll leave the story right here. So as not to tip my hand too much and violate Spoiler Territory.

Now, what Makes This Film Good?

William Friedkin at the controls of an at its time, history making and record breaking story focused in and all around Manhattan and filmed during one of coldest, most miserable winters on record. Which only adds to the atmosphere and slowly building tension and suspense as a less than fabulous looking city plays a supporting character. Backing up a cast of relative unknowns who were given large, meaty parts and pursued them with gusto and confidence.

Especially Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider who were allowed to hang out with Eddie Egan and his partner, Sonny Grosso to learns the ins and outs of police work. Taking down bars and criminals and understanding the bond between two people who may not like, but understand and will back each other up. Watching them on the screen is what makes the film more than the sum of its parts.

The same can be said of the ensemble of bad guys and girls. Tony Lo Bianco rocks out loud as the small timer with enormous dreams beyond his reach. Urged on somewhat annoyingly by Arlene Farber as Sal’s wife, Angie. And Sal’s faceless fat, quiet and content higher ups in organized crime. The tension between them is palpable. While Fernando Rey’s smugly arrogant and elegant Charnier moves blissfully along. Until things start going from annoying to bad to very near fatal.

Kudos to Owen Roizman for finding countless corners, both busy and deserted, alley ways and abandoned sites of construction and destruction that add authenticity to a time of the city’s faded splendor. Also camera man Enrique Bravo for coming up with a new and unique use of a wheelchair to use in place of a rolling dolly shot early on when the Christmas junkie is taken down.

Editing is superb throughout. Handled by Gerald B. Greenberg who took the extra time to cut the snippets of the elevated train chase and Hackman in pursuit to a heart stopping fare thee well. As is the bass and cello heavy soundtrack masterfully handled by Don Ellis.

What Makes This Film Great?

Friedkin, Hackman and Scheider swinging for the fences and connecting. The latter, completely comfortable in their own skins portraying cops with no outside friends or social lives. Following leads that appear thin at first, yet slowly bearing fruit later on. Working from a screenplay from Ernest Tidyman after Shaft and before Report To The Commissioner that rings true. Especially between Popeye, Cloudy and the Feds. And when Scheider takes his time to un-cuff Hackman’s ankle from the head board of an abandoned one night stand before  another day of work.

Bill Hickman has not gotten enough love for his hair raising chase with the elevated train. Even if it was done after weeks of timing a string of stop lights in Bensonhurst and having police with sirens chasing him. A flawless piece of action that still stands the test of time and comes in just under his stunt driven chase in Bullitt.

The Film’s Mystique:

Friedkin working with a relatively small budget and spending it well and frugally. Rejecting original ideas of using Paul Newman or Jackie Gleason for the lead. Which would have wreaked havoc financially and opting for young and hungry talent. Hackman wisely jumped on the role after Peter Boyle, much to later chagrin, turned it down.

The French Connection was nominated to the National Film Registry in 1971 and accepted in 2005.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


What do you think of The French Connection? Do share ’em in the comments.

Weekend Viewing Roundup – a mixed bag of 3 genres & 1 addictive TV series

Happy Monday everyone!

Did you have a great weekend? It was a good one for me as well as bittersweet as one of my good friends is going back to our home country for a year for personal reasons, so we had a farewell dinner on Saturday night. I skipped the cinema again and opted for home-cinema viewing and also working on my Avengers assignment for my pal Terrence of The Focused Filmographer as part of the countdown for the movie. The posts will be revealed next week, though I’m so jealous that folks in Europe will see this first as it opens about a week before we get to see it here in the US!

My blog friend Jaina was fortunate enough to be at the London premiere last Thursday when ALL of the cast members were there, right around the corner of her office!! She took a bunch of photos of the event which you can check out on her blog. She was kind enough to let me use one of them as you can see above. Oh man, I’m so jealous yet happy that she got to be a part of such a fun event!

Well, as part of the Avengers countdown, I re-watched the first Iron Man movie and it’s still as entertaining as ever. Can’t believe that it’s been four years ago since that one came out and now we’ve got Tony Stark as part of the assembly of superheroes on a mission. It’s amazing how the Stark Industries is so key in the whole Avengers universe which of course began with Tony’s dad Howard with Steve Rogers’ transformation into Captain America in the 40s.


Now, part of my goal this year is to catch up on some classic movies that’ve long eluded me for whatever reason. One of those movies are The French Connection, prompted by a review that my good friend Jack Deth gave me last week. I’ll publish that review at a later date, but let me just say that it’s one heck of an excellent thriller. It’s gritty, chock-full of suspense cop thriller by William Friedkin. Two of the major reasons I’m curious to see this movie is Gene Hackman’s performance, and that famous car chase that wasn’t really a car chase as the driver was chasing an elevated subway train above him. This film did NOT disappoint on both counts! People always remember the car chase and rightly so, but I think the foot chase scenes of Hackman & Fernando Rey through NYC streets and subways are just as thrilling!

I’m glad I finally got to see the film, it’s definitely a great thriller with great performances by Hackman and Roy Schneider, a sharp script, and great editing. That iconic car chase scene is really icing on the cake, I could see how it has inspired a bunch of other urban car chases in movies. Fogs is right in selecting it as one of those Movies Everyone Should See.


Another film I saw this weekend is a 1994 CBS miniseries Scarlett, which is a follow-up to the epic civil war saga Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is determined to win back Rhett. So did Rhett really mean it when he said “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn?”

Well, when Rhett is played by none other than Timothy Dalton, I certainly have to find that out. Interesting that both Scarlett and Rhett are played by Brits this time, Joanne Whalley is from Manchester and Dalton of course is Welsh, but I think both did a decent job with their Southern accent, though Dalton’s inimitable Welsh brogue did slip out every once in a while 🙂 I have only finished Disc 1 but I enjoyed it so far, especially with Sean Bean appearing later on. I’m loving the Bond connection here, one Bond actor and Bond villain together in a movie, the 007-fangirl in me is loving this!


Oh and I finally finished the first season of BBC’s Sherlock… and it ended with a titillating cliffhanger!! Darn, I wish season 2 is available on Netflix already. The wait until May is going to be torture!


Well, that’s my summary of my weekend roundup. What did YOU see this weekend?

Classic Flix Review: Bonnie & Clyde

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Greetings all and sundry! I am pleased to have the opportunity to approach and dissect in my own unique fashion one of  those films that arrives with not a lot of noise and hoopla. Takes the movie going audience by storm and creates a solid touchstone for actors and actresses no one has ever heard of before and plants them solidly in the cinematic firmament.
… 

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Directed masterfully with gusto and elan by Arthur Penn, wrapped tightly around the comely Faye Dunaway and roguishly handsome Warren Beatty. The film is an admirable blend of Depression era period piece. Clever doses of French New Wave Cinema. Grainy, washed out backdrops. Sweaty, humid bedroom scenes and good old fashioned Shoot ’em Ups.
The film begins with Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker waking from an afternoon nap due to noises outside her upstairs bedroom window. Only to spy a very nattily dressed Clyde Barrow trying to hot wire the car belonging to Bonnie mother. Bonnie confronts Clyde, who is a sly smooth talker of the highest order. And cajoles Bonnie into the idea that spending time with him beats the heck out of showing up for her shift as a waitress at a local restaurant.
The two head off for a future unknown as Clyde hints at his past and reveals a the butt of a pistol above his belt line. A scheme is hatched as the two roll into a close by town and Clyde enters the bank. Bonnie waits behind the wheel. Clyde returns in much more of a hurry than when he sauntered into the bank. Bonnie drives and the two are richer by just under one hundred dollars.
Bonnie teases and taunts Clyde, The two wind up in bed littered with bills of small denomination and Bonnie decides that she wants to get in on the fun too! A wheel man and mechanic is happened upon. C.W. Moss, by name.Well and dullardly played by Michael J. Pollard, of the perpetual baby face. C.W. may not know how to make or count change, but he does know engines and becomes the third member of the ‘Barrow Gang’. Quickly augmented by Clyde’s older brother, Buck and his wife, Blanche. Well and memorably played by Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons.
Clyde, Buck and Bonnie get along well enough. Though Blanche grates on the nerves. Not wanting to get in on the fun of being modern Robin Hoods. Then taking out her aggression on Bonnie and C.W. Buck has his work cut out for himself trying to keep Blanche in line as bigger banks are robbed. One ending with a pursuing bank manager jumping on the running board of the escaping getaway car and being shot in the face for his efforts.
The game has been changed and the ire of the law. Local, state and fledgling federal, has been stirred as the gang moves from Oklahoma to Texas between robberies and getaways to banjo picking Bluegrass. One step ahead of the law that relies upon telephone and telegraph lines to maintain pursuit. Bigger and better weapons are sought and acquired after a tete a tete with a Texas Ranger they’d gotten the drop on. Humiliated and photographed. And an impromptu, humorous taking of a car owned by Gene Wilder as a mortician.
Enter a dark, humid and quiet night. When every local lawman in the vicinity and beyond unloads on Bonnie, Clyde, Buck, Blanche and C.W. in their wooded cabin west of nowhere. Windows shatter and holes appear in walls. Fire is returned by Thompson Sub Machine Guns, shotguns, pistols and Browning Automatic Rifles. Bonnie reloads and Blanche panics and screams like a Banshee as she is shot. Buck is shot badly and dies shortly thereafter. Clyde is wounded, Blanche is blinded and captured as Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. get away.
Bonnie tends to Clyde’s through-and-through wound with a willow branch wrapped in gauze. C.W. steals a car and the three make off to the Oklahoma dust bowl. While the Texas Ranger who had been humiliated. Well played by Denver Pyle for his brief time on screen; is brought in to interrogate Blanche. Things head south as Clyde recuperates in a shanty town and the three head off to C.W.’s distant uncle somewhere in Louisiana. C.W is taken into custody without incident by local lawmen, who at first mistake C.W. for Pretty Boy Floyd. With the covert help of his uncle Ivan in a cameo by Dub Taylor.
Bonnie feels the walls starting to close in and pens a prophetic poem while laying low. The two decide to see what the town has to offer and roll up on a car with a flat tire being tended to. Clyde slows and stops. Gets out and notices a preponderance of rifle and shotgun muzzles peeking through a line of vines and shrubbery. Then becomes the recipient of many, many bullets and pieces of buck shot while Bonnie is trapped in the car doing an odd variation of the Funky Chicken in a prolonged, slow motion dance of death.

What Makes This Film Good?

Arthur Penn at the helm. Telling a decent, though highly romanticized story that did not fare well as B Movie with Dorothy Provine a decade earlier. Penn reaches deep into his bag of tricks and amps up the chemistry between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Who, one moment is a coquette and the next displays a sensual assertiveness that would come to fruition later in The Thomas Crown Affair, Chinatown and Network.
Many early interior scenes are back lit with diffused shadows. Several exterior scenes range from lush to stark and barren with shadows supplied by clouds. In ways reminiscent of John Ford and French New Wave as Clyde chases Bonnie through a fallow corn field.
Set direction and cinematography are far above average. Adding washed out blues, grays and greens to heighten the effects of a well researched and executed period piece. The banjo heavy Bluegrass tracts during assorted chase scenes works very well and started a minor resurgence for a few months afterward. Making the soundtrack something of an anomaly during the second term of LBJ. Which may have created the impetus to double bill Bonnie and Clyde with Bullitt during the summers of 1968 and 69.

What Makes This Film Great?

Watching a young and confident Warren Beatty transition from his television role as spoiled rich kid, Milton Armitage in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis to play a sly and conniving leading ladies’ man. Opposite another rising talent graduating from doing yeoman work in small television roles and Hurry Sundown and The Happening earlier that year. Backed up by a soon-to-be-noticed Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons, and veteran character actors Denver Pyle and Dub Taylor. In a film that jump started several careers, ala The Magnificent Seven.
Offered a plum opportunity for Beatty to produce and Penn to direct a character driven film very much of its time. That probably could not be made today without many more chase scenes and explosions!


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