Guest Post | Classic Actor Spotlight: Richard Widmark – Consummate Utility Infielder

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Greetings all and sundry!

And allow me this opportunity to state that those rumors of my being deodar mysteriously abducted by aliens have been grossly exaggerated. Though, I have endured two side trips to Northern Virginia’s massive, expansive Mother Ship of Specialized Medicines, INOVA (A sub state unto itself. With superior doctors and eerily always smiling staff) for problems related to age. Leaving me with a surfeit of time to root around, excavate and shine some light on a stalwart of the thespian trade. Whose talent and trade craft, those not always “A-List” or Top Notch through the 1950s, 60s and beyond. Did manage to easily bring many memorable characters. Sometimes heroic. Sometimes creepily slimy, to life under the guidance of some of the best directors Hollywood had to offer.

So, allow me but a few moments of your time while I wax nostalgic and meticulous about one of the near forgotten greats of the trade with:

Richard Widmark.
Consummate Utility Infielder!

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First crossed my path as a wide eyed eight year old kid indulging in the forbidden fruit of “Late night” (9:00pm) television movies. And WTTG’s “Movie Greats” presentation of Kiss Of Death. A more than medium budgeted 1947 treasure that, unbeknownst to me at the time; was shot all over key locations throughout Manhattan and its five boroughs. Which added enormously to the film’s strength and tense, gripping story line. And would lock this tile away as a long time favorite.

Focusing around down on his luck Nick Bianco (Victor Mature). Who decides with three others to rob a jewelry store in the upper levels of a skyscraper to improve the lives of himself, his wife and two daughters. The heist goes off well enough. But the proprietor sets off the alarm. A cop intervenes and shoots Nick in the leg. Nick is caught. Held at the Tombs prior to arraignment. Keeps his mouth shut throughout the trial and catches a 20 year sentence at Sing Sing for his efforts. Unaware until three years later that his wife committed suicide after being raped by one of his accomplices, And that his daughters have been sent to orphanages.

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Bianco is anxious to cut a deal. But all that he knows and can do has been made useless by the passage o time. So the District Attorney, D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) arranges an early parole and points Bianco towards another case. Putting the word out from Sing Sing that Rizzo squealed and sold out not only Bianco years ago. But is leaking to the cops information on the third member of the robbery crew, Tommy Udo (Mr. Widmark in his debut film role.). Well, but not richly dressed. With an upturned sneering smile that barely hides his close to the surface inner Psychopath. And his paranoid aversion to “squealers”.

Tommy finds Rizzo’s paraplegic mother (Mildred Dunnock) in her apartment and questions her about her son. Mrs. Rizzo says that he is out and will be back later. Udo thinks she’s lying. Ties her into her wheelchair and pushes her down a long and lethal flight of stairs, killing her,

Bianco is finally released and has a “chance encounter” with Udo. Who shows Nick around. Takes him to clubs where there are about twenty parole violations within arm’s reach before calling it a night. Bianco goes running to D’Angelo with a boast or two of Udo’s referring to recent murders.D’Angelo tells the local cops to scoop up Udo for murder.

Bianco gets cold feet. Udo is let go. Udo and Bianco meet at a restaurant. Udo makes threats against Bianco brand new family. A showdown looms on the cobbled, rain reflected streets. Bianco calls D’Angelo. Warns him about what is about to happen. Then exits the restaurant without a gun. A henchman of Udo’s draws on Bianco, but Udo shoots the henchman. Aims at Biance. Fires and hits Bianco as uniformed cops unload on Udo. Killing him in the street, And leaving Nick Bianco with a bright and pleasant future!

Overall Consensus:

Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Henry Hathaway in charge of one of the earliest and best “Organic” New York films. Filming on several different locations and lighting each and their surroundings in ways to intimate and hint at danger or lascivious delight hidden within. And making me a decades long sucker for most any film or television series shot in and around New York City

Add Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden and Coleen Gray to the mix. Give them intelligent dialogue from Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer that moves the plot along without deliberately telegraphing what is to come. And you have the makings of smart entertainment. Enhances by Cinematography by Norbert Brodine. Music by David Buttolph. Art Direction by Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler, Plus Editing by J.W. Webb, Jr. help to place this near forgotten early Noir classic high in the genre’s pecking order.

Now. What Makes This Film Great?

The adversarial pairing of veteran, Mature opposite a just starting out Mr. Widmark. Whose film time and scenes are dwarfed by others. Though, in those minutes Mr. Widmark can call his own. He does make the most of and makes them his own. Violence and his scary. creepy laugh not withstanding. Had a lot to do in earning this ingenue a Golden Globe win. And an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Along with a nomination for Best Original Story by Eleazar Lipsky.


With Mr. Widmark firmly locked into my “Actor To Watch” category. Pursuit and finding him in other films was part and parcel of the WTTG’s ‘Movie Greats” and “NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies” to find Mr. Widmark playing a similar, more powerful and lucrative role in The Street With No Name a year later.

Then a shift in gears and character into “Jealous Sap Territory” in 1948. For a B&W, Noirish trifle directed by Jean Negulesco titled Road House. Where Mr. Widmark’s Jefferson T. “Jefty” Robbins owns and runs a road house out in the sticks, Hires and falls hard for Ida Lupino’s tough talking Torch Singer, Lily Stevens. Who starts playing Jeffty’s restaurant owner and partner, Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) against him. So, Jeffty starts to frame Pete for embezzlement. And worse once Pete proposes to Lily.

Making time through 1949 for a whaling tale. With Mr. Widmark going upscale, cast wise. Taking on the First Mate’s role, Dan Lunceford. But also the tutor of the Captain Bering Joy’s (Lionel Barrymore) grandson, Jed (Dean Stockwell) in Down To The Sea In Ships. Under the direction of Henry Hathaway. In a surprisingly good maritime drama as young Jed learns about honesty, courage, teamwork and responsibility.

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And an upgrade in directors the next year and Panic In The Streets. For the first of its kind police and medical procedural directed by Elia Kazan. And his take of tracking down the carrier of pneumonic plague in the port city of New Orleans. The unwitting carrier and future “Patient Zero” is Jack Palance. And the hero is Navy Lt. Commander Clint Reed, Aided by Police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) as they canvass, interview and slowly eliminate others and narrow the suspect pool as Palance’s slimy ‘Blackie’ slinks around the piers and seeks a way out after a failed robbery.

Then a ground breaking racial drama and thriller. No Way Out (1950) under the direction of Joseph L. Mankwicz with Sidney Poitier and Harry Bellaver, Where Mr. Poitier plays Dr. Luther Brooks. Who works on wounded low rent racist thief, Ray Biddle and his brother, George. Who dies on the table. And sends Ray on a deep and very personal mission of revenge

Followed by the Marine service drama, Halls Of Montezuma with Jack Palance and Richard Boone. The Frogmen. A personal favorite. With Dana Andres, Gary Merrill, Robert Wagner and Harvey Lembeck. Dircetor Lloyd Bacon renders a pretty fair exposition about what Underwater Demolition and the removal of barriers and obstructions is all about before a sea borne invasion. Then onto parachuting “Smoke Jumpers” in Red Skies Of Montana. And the drama involved when two of Mr. Widmark’s Park Rangers and firefighters die after a tragic wildfire. Not a bad film, actually. Under the direction of Joseph M. Newman. And all four films being early top choices for ‘NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies’.

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Another contender from 1953 is an odd WWII film from Robert Wise. Destination Gobi. Where Navy meteorologists are dispatched to the Gobi desert to set up shop and record and transmit weather data to a picket ship to aid the air war against Japan. When not bartering with Mongols for assistance and protection in the form of saddles for their horses. Another ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ offering. And Robert Wise’s first color film. With Mr. Widmark as a lowly chief Petty Officer (NCO) in charge of Don Taylor, Martin Milner, Darryl Hickman, Alvy Moore and Earl Holliman. In a surprisingly good film which has a pronounced hardscrabble, no frills “You’ve Got To Start Somewhere” vibe, cast wise. While using several parts of the Mojave Desert, Fallon, Nixon and Yuma, Arizona to fill in for Mongolia and southern China..

General Concensus

To this point, Mr. Widmark seems to have spent far more time in military uniforms than civilian finery. Becoming on of the “Go To Guys” along with Martin Miler, Richard Jaeckel. Ty Hardin, Marshall Thompson, Robert Ryan, Van Johnson, James Whitmore and Dana Andrews to play G.I.s, sailors and Marines in immediate post war Hollywood. And to Mr. Widmark’s credit, he did pull those roles and characters off quite well. Usually in the lead. Though often as a small part of a larger objective or story.

And Mr. Widmark’s luck was about to change in a very noticeable way. By signing onto low budget, independent maverick director, Sam Fuller. And the director’s embellished screenplay about pick pockets flourishing around 1950s Manhattan. To include Russian agents,hollow coins and microfilm regarding atomic bomb secrets and blueprints in the minor 1953 “Red Scare” classic, Pickup On South Street.

Where Mr. Widmark plays Skip McCoy. Two time loser and somewhat gifted “dip” or “cannon” (pick pocket) making his living on the city’s crowded subway trains. Who runs afoul of a cell of Russian agents by snatching the wallet of an unassuming courier, Candy (Jean Peters). And later rifling through an envelope and discovering highly classified documents and microfilm. While still unaware that Candy was being watched by US Federal agents hoping to discover the higher up on the receiving end.

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Creating an equally compact and intriguing, noir-ish B&W film that clocks in at 75 minutes. Excels in cramped, neglected and dirty sets and sound stages of 20 Century Fox’s many back lots. Yet looks like thr film was shot on many locations throughout New York City. As the cops stick their noses in. Interviews are logged. Deals are made. Specifically between local soft crime maven, Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) and Detective Dan Tyger (Murvyn Vye) to narrow the number of suspects down to Skip McCoy. Who has no problem dealing with the highest bidder. Even if it isn’t the US government.As Candy’s boyfriend, Joey (Richard Kiley and a silenced pistol) tidy up loose ends.

In a film that threw critics, select politicians and J. Edgar Hoover for a loop. The critics loved the film’s low budget, Mickey Spillane grittiness. While politicians and the FBI had conniptions over Widmark’s and Skip McCoy’s arrogant, “You’re gonna wave the flag at me?!” line and its inherent “Anti-Americanism”. Especially in the backwash of the House Un American Activities Committee Hearings and The Cold War. Though, for a skint 780.000 dollars. Sam Fuller put together a cramped, claustrophobic and shadowy masterpiece that rises up into the firmament of “Required Viewing’. With an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Thelma Ritter. And a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion win for director, Sam Fuller. Reaffirming his position as a Master of cinematic”Bang For The Buck!”

Which Mr. Widmark would return the following year. After a brief detour to the Army’s anwer to Hell On Earth, Fort Bliss and the city of El Paso, Texas for a Richard Brooks directed Basic Training drama, Take The High Ground!. With Karl Malden training draftees, Steve Forrest, James MacArthur, Russ Tamblyn and others for crucible that is the Korean War. Before returning to Sam Fuller’s next project.

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A neat, compact little Cold war thriller titled, Hell And High Water. Where Mr. Widmark takes on the role of former Navy Sub Commander, Adam Jones.Who is mysteriously approached by a group of nuclear scientists in Japan. Who want Jones to take over a retired Japanese sub and check around a string of islands north of Japan. The scientists suspect that China may have had something to do with a recently exploded nuclear device outside the continental US.. And may have designs to join “The Nuclear Country Club” and intimidate their neighbors to the west.

The sub goes out with Jones and a small crew of Jones’ shipmates. Following a Chinese freighter into the North Pacific. Though, due to events. the Japanese sub left in pursuit. Without time to inspect its torpedo tubes. Leaving the boat nearly weaponless. A cat and mouse game with the Chinese navy ensues. A Chinese sub is rammed as the specific island is found. With either a restored American B-29. Or Russian TU-4 in a US paint job on the island’s bare base taxi way (A superb glass matte painting!). One of the scientists sneaks ashore of Capt. Jones. Signals the bomber’s take off… And I’ll leave it right there!


Surely in the simplistic realm of kid and schoolboy fantasy. But superb, well thought out and executed low budget kid and schoolboy fantasy. Director Fuller again raises the tale with deft sleight of hand, excellent model and pool work for the Japanese sub and its Chinese protagonist. And some well spent money (1,870,000 dollar budget) on artists and matte paintings. Since outside of some lush on location shots at Orly Airport, The Arc de Triomph and sights around Paris to establish the plot. Mr. Fuller and company never left 20 Century Studios. Its sets, sound stages and properties.


Setting the stage for three years of training and yeomanry work in post war thrillers and westerns( The Prize of Gold, Broken Lance, Garden of Evil, Backlash, Run Fro the Sun, Saint Joan, The Cobweb). Before joining up again with Karl Malden in the director’s chair for a neat and compelling 1957 post Korean War procedural titled Time Limit. Where Mr. Widmark plays Colonel William Edwards. A JAG officer trying to determine the limits of The Military Code of Conduct for POWs experiencing near Arctic cold, starvation and torture at the hands of the North Koreans. When one can snap. And the end results of possibly finding a traitor among their ranks. With Richard Basehart and Rip Torn under suspicion, Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s aid and conscience, Dolores Michaels as Corporal Jean Evans. And Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s Top Sergeant and conscience.

Then three more years of westerns before an upgrade in cast members with John Wayne directing and starring in The Alamo. Along with Richard Boone and Laurence Harvey. And major stage piece whose parts would be used again in The Green Berets. Giving Mr. Widmark a chance to add to an exceptional ensemble cast as Colonel Jim Bowie. In a fairly accurate depiction of those historic thirteen days. Plus an upgrade in directors to John Ford for his project.

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Two Rode Together
. With James Stewart, Shirley Jones and a swath of Mr. Ford’s cinematic regulars re-indoctrinating those captured by Indians back into the world and society. And continuing his high end ensemble streak with Stanley Kramer’s Judgement At Nuremberg, With Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich and a “Who’s Who” of Next Generation talent filling any and all remaining roles. Followed quickly by larger than life, generational family Magnum Opus, Covering the Gold Rush and Comstock Lode. To the Civil War. Manifest Destiny. Captains of Industry and the Railroad in How The West Was Won. With not just one director, but four! Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall and Richard Trope. Each with their own tale or area of expertise to heighten and tell. And enough old and new talent signed on and assigned characters to fill a medium sized high rise apartment complex.

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And making the mid 1960s the time when Mr. Widmark seem to come into his own. With small films which made large impressions. With Stanley Kubrick alum, James B. Harris’ The Bedford Incident with Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam and James MacArthur on a navy destroyer trying to surface a Russian sub inside Territorial Waters. And what can go wrong. Alvarez Kelly. With William Holden and Mr. Widmark as an eye patched Confederate officer wanting to follow the tenets of William Quantrill and John S. Mosby in rustling and hijacking cattle and horses. As long as Mr. Holden’s Alvarez Kelly teaches them how.

It has often been said that I am a sucker for any film shot in Manhattan and its boroughs. And one of the better ones of the 1960s is a near forgotten police procedural with Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore, Sheree North, Michael Dunn, Don Stroud, Steve Ihnat, Susan Clark. Raymond St. Jacques and Harry Guardino in the Don Siegel directed, Madigan.

Where Mr. Widmark plays Detective Daniel Madigan assigned to a precinct in Spanish Harlem and partnered with Detective Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino). Who lose their guns after a third rate low life, (Steve Ihnat) gets the drop on them, And now have 72 hours to catch the creep and get their guns back. In one of the better made for TV “Partner Movies” to be generated by NBC and clocking in at 110 minutes full of dirty, cramped and un glamorous places, sights and sounds rarely seen in 1968. Which adds to the film’s grittiness and no apologies attitude. Ane was so well received as a pilot. That NBC created a six 90 minute episodes package for their Sunday night ‘NBC Mystery Movie’ series in 1972.

Returning to ensemble work for Sidney Lumet’s Murder On The Orient Express with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bissett and John Gielgud two years later.

The Doomsday thriller, Twilight’s Last Gleaming with Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Aldrich. Stanley Kramer’s 1977 political thriller, The Domino Principle with Gene Hackman as an expendable Presidential assassin.

And Mr. Widmark preparing to go out on his own terms with Michael Creighton’s Coma the following year. Then playing a high ranking US hostage in Ian Sharp’s well detailed and executed gritty, sweaty, no frills British Special Air Service (SAS) against an IRA splinter cell gem. The Final Option. And a final return to “Bad Guy Territory” in Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds. A film that tries very hard to be an updated remake of Jacques Tournier’s Out Of The Past, but doesn’t quite make it!

Overall Concensus

Like so many actors while I was growing up. I cannot remember a time when Mr. Widmark was not working. Consistently supplying grist for the imagination with often more than one film a year. And on the whole, very good films at that. Good guy. Bad Buy. In uniform and out. Mr. Widmark offered something unique in most of his characters. The possibility that there may be a double cross at worse. Or that proposed events would not occur in their correct order.

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Slowly covering the spectrum of character types. For his initial “Creep” with Tommy Udo in Kiss Of Death. To “Rebel” in Pickup On South Street and Panic In The Streets. To racist “Thug” in No Way Out. A side trip to Rugged Individualist in The Alamo and How The West Was Won. And “Hero” in War Films, Don Siegel’s Madigan and its later mini-series!


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Check out Kevin G’s other posts and reviews


What are your thoughts on Richard Widmark? Differing Opinions are welcome. The floor is now open to discussion!

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Guest Post: Spotlight on Darren McGavin – Master Character Actor!

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Greetings all and sundry!

After a few weeks of laying low and perusing vicariously the wares of various film festivals supplied by our Hostess, Ruth. I decided to embrace a wave of nostalgia. Break open a fresh set of digging clothes. Brain bucket, miner’s light, tools. And a few carafes of coffee. To plumb a vein of rich material and grist for conversation.

A memorable chunk of time. From the mid 1950s and the just starting to fade glimmers of the Hollywood System in film. And that young upstart and seat stealing entity known as Television. Whose talented and charismatic legions were but cogs in a slightly less than smoothly operating machine. To this new century. Where decades old procedures are firmly ensconced for generating “product”. And the final visualization of countless writers, cinematographers and directors dreams.

To that end, allow me but a few moments of your time to wax nostalgic. As I excavate, investigate and lay bare a few prime examples of honed and polished talent. Presented by a familiar face for anyone born around 1954. And a sizable number beyond:

Darren McGavin: Master Character Actor!

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I’ll allow you a requisite few seconds to scratch your head and allow the “Who”s and “What?”s to die down, Before noting the first time the actor and I crossed paths was while watching Otto Preminger’s then ground breaking The Man With The Golden Arm from 1955.

A neat little back lot drama awash in Skid Row shabbiness and tackling the then, taboo subject of heroin addiction as experienced through Frankie Machine. Two time loser, card sharp known for dealing “seconds”. And would be, wannabe drummer just returned from prison. And brought to life by Frank Sinatra in his return to the big screen after From Here To Eternity.

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The Man With The Golden Arm

Now. Anyone of Mr. Sinatra’s popularity requires a nemesis of equal or greater lousiness and slimy evil. And Mr. McGavin’s drug dealer and low rent pimp with an elegant “Boston Blackie” mustache more than fills the bill. Patient to a fault and quietly mobile. Seeing all sorts of opportunities along filthy streets and dark allies. Nearly invisible and incredibly confident that Mr. Sinatra’s Frankie Machine will screw up sometime soon. And come knocking at his door for a fix.

Though only having about twenty minutes of the film’s 119. Mr. McGavin makes those scenes, secrets, spoilers, revelations (And this film has more than its share!) and moments his own. While allowing his character to thoroughly despised by any and all!

Now, one may ask from whence does such self deprecating talent arise?… Ten solid years of summer stock, stage and traveling Road Shows, Intermixed with just starting out and unnoticed apprenticeship in small, forgotten films. And being one of thousands standing in line to ply their craft and trade in this just burgeoning thing called “Television”.

At the time and more often than not. Stage plays performed before three cameras, And privy to all of the accidents and mishaps that come with the territory of that form of art. While being lucky enough to catch the lead in a two season series, Crime Photographer. Holding court in a New York greasy spoon diner. While regaling reporters of that paper’s Bulldog (Late Night) edition with tales of past adventurous cases. A format that would be returned to decades later in ABC’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And latching onto notable performances with Goodyear Television Playhouse offerings of The Witness, Better Than Walking and The Rainmaker.

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Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Then returning to television for two more years of honing and polishing with many of the heavy hitters of the day. Including Alfred Hitchcock, Armstrong Circle Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents and The Alcoa Hour.

Creating a brief margin in time in 1956 and 57 for Mr. McGavin to show off his stoic “Straight Man” abilities opposite Jerry Lewis in The Delicate Delinquent. A Don McGuire directed, Paramount black lot comedy. Notable in its being the first film for Mr. Lewis after breaking up his full spectrum slapstick comedy teamwork with Dean Martin.

Mr. McGavin plays veteran uniform beat cop, Mike Damon. Who comes across klutzy, bumbling janitor, Sidney L. Pythias (Jerry Lewis). Whose building and home in its basement is in the middle of a “No Man’s Land” between warring street gangs. And being conned, cajoled and other wise persuaded to choose a side. Sight gags and pratfall humor abounds in many scenes. Especially in Sidney’s one room efficiency apartment. As Damon befriends Sidney. Tries to get him away and into the Police academy.

Does the film have a script?… Sort of. By director Don McGuire. More of extended set up foresight and other gags. All footed by producer, Mr. Lewis. When not delving into dramatic encounters with Social Worker, Martha Hyer. A decent enough outing. With huge Kudos to Set Decorators Sam Comer and Ray Moyer arranging and executing eye catching time saving Rube Goldberg gimmicks inside Sidney’s digs. And many comedic blackouts and scenes lifted, updated and reused by Woody Allen and his later film, Take The Money And Run.

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The Delicate Delinquent

Then returning to television for several roles in drama in Studio One in Hollywood. And creating a serviceable episodic Mike Hammer for two seasons and 79 episodes in 1958 and 59. Most tales written by Mickey Spillane. Delivering his character in ways Ralph Meeker, Stacy Keach. Spillane himself and Kevin Dobson ( Sgt. Crocker of’ ‘Kojak’) would approve. Though not so much Armand Assante.

Gaining more and more of the spotlight an Mississippi gambler and later Captain Grey Holden in Riverboat. Offset by former stunt man turned actor, Burt Reynolds for 42 hour long episodes in 1959 and 1960.

When not making the rounds of “Bread & Butter”, B&W and color Westerns. Guest stars and recurring television characters during the 1960s in Route 66, Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock, The Defenders, Ben Casey, The Rogues. Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible.

And during this time. Some brilliant minds at NBC (Grant Tinker. Mr. Mary Tyler Moore.) and ABC (Aaron Spelling front and center) were kicking around ideas on how to streamline budget, stories and filming times. To make initial and introductory television tales in an Anthology vein more acceptable for future series. And thus the “Pilot” Concept was created.

Where a topic or story with the potential for a series is decided upon. Scripted and cast while locations and back lots are sought out and reserved. To create a ninety minute or two hour introduction while attention is paid to audience feedback. And Voila!. The basis for a future group of tales is in the works for future consumption!

NBC moved first and bet heavily upon a magazine conglomerate. Its rarely seen CEO and Managing Editor and slick investigative reporter (Tony Franciosa) delving into the private diary of a high end Call Girl and escort with Fame Is The Name Of The Game in November of 1966. The very first “Made For Television Movie”. And oil was struck. A boon created. And a niche created for the talents of many, many actors and actresses. In the form of ABC “Movie(s) Of The Week” and “NBC Mystery Movies”.

Darren_TVGuideMr. McGavin among the first front line shock troops. Signing onto veteran ABC and NBC writer and creator, Roy Huggins’ idea for an orphaned released convict delving into Private Investigation (Mr. McGavin as David Ross). Without a gun due to his criminal record. Trying to make ends meet while avoiding cops and friends of friends he might have angered in prison, alike. In the sunny expanses of Los Angeles and its cities, towns, adult playgrounds and “Cultural Retreats” of Venice Beach and Big Sur of the later 1960s in The Outsider. Which returned as an hour long weekly series less than a year later for 26 episodes…. Sounds familiar? It shouldn’t. Mr. Huggins brought back and reinvigorated the same plot line and lateraled the idea to James Garner and hid Cherokee Television Productions. And The Rockford Filers were born. For a six year, 122 episode run. Along with six later television films.

Dipping his Dramatic Tongs back into the Furnace and Billows as disgraced and soon to be facing Court Martial disgraced for alleged “War Crimes” (Dispatching his own enemy “Kill List” of NVA and VC Officers and collecting their sandals for verification on both sides of the DMZ and Laos in ABC’s The Challenge (1970). With Lt. William Calley and “the My Lai Massacre” still thick in the air. Special Operator. Jacob Gallery is given the opportunity to wage a “Surrogate”. Or “One on One” war on a remote Pacific island. Against an equally well trained and talented Peoples Republic Chinese number. Yuro (Mako).

Photo courtesy of Modcinema.com
The Challenge – screencaps courtesy of Modcinema.com

High Stakes and Winner Takes All. With a fallen out of orbit spy satellite deep beneath the ocean being the Grand Prize! Gallery accepts. Gears up with an overloaded rucksack, jungle fatigues, sundry items and a very cool weapons system. Two 9mm Madsen M-50 Sub machine Guns bracketed side by side. Half of it last seen in ‘The Godfather’. And I had originally mistaken for S&W M-76 at first glance (H/T to Michael and IMFDb.org.)


Both soldiers infiltrate by submarine and rubber raft. Are well trained in Pioneering and living off the land. Stalking and ambushes ensue. With small gains made outside their own perimeters. A battle of wits and guile. That stays dormant. Until Yuro finds Gallery’s tree borne base camp and slips a straight edge razor low into the tree’s massive trunk. Just enough for a quick, not felt medium deep wound to become infected and fester below the knee.

As is expected. Both sides watching away from the island cheats. Another Chinese soldier is killed by a very young and fresh faced Sam Elliot. Who, is in turn shot and killed by a suddenly betrayed, Gallery. Setting the stage for a final showdown!

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sake.

And move the clock forward only slightly. To a time just after the failed Tet Offensive and siege of Khe Sahn. When the Marine Corp broke long standing tradition through Presidential fiat and began accepting draftees instead of those who volunteer. Not a great time for the Corp. With tales of drug use, race riots and even desertion filtering back eastward across the Pacific. And adding extra impetus for those Masters of Intimidation, Peer Pressure and Fear to inculcate log haired, lackadaisical young men into the Mythos, Mystique and History of the Corps. Before being sent out to fight a war.

That task falls on the shoulders of Drill Instructors Gunnery Sergeant Drake (Mr. McGavin in splendid form!). Aided by a brash and bullying “Good Ol’ Boy”, Staff Sergeant DePayster. (Earl Holliman. Who seems made for the role.) And waste no time belittling and harassing the latest busload of unwary cannon fodder to darken the entrance of the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, circa early 1968. In Tribes.


A very well written effort from just starting out Tracy Keenan Wynn. Under deft direction from Joseph Sargent. And shot mostly on location. A rather clean cut tale unfolds. With blonde haired, Zen friendly, Hippie, Adrian (Jan Michael Vincent) slowly singles himself out as an outsider. Who doesn’t balk. back or break down in tears. Earning the ire. And later admiration for a very Zen “Mind Over Matter” mindset. If you don’t mind. It don’t matter! Enduring long sessions of PT (Physical Training) which helps break down individuality. And creates the initial building blocks of uniformity, like mindset and instant obedience to the word of God. The D.I..

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Tribes

Drake tries every trick in the book. From seeing how far he can push the brim of his Instructor’s Campaign (Smoky The Bear. For those uninitiated.) Hat just above the bridge of Adrian’s and other slacker’s noses during extended periods of verbal abuse. To standing at Attention. Arms out to the sides at shoulder height to either side. While seeing how long aluminum buckets of sand can be kept aloft before “Boots” (Recruits) collapse. Some tactics work. Some don’t as Drake’s platoon begin to excel in strenuous training, drills and tactics. But remain individuals. With Adrian as their sub rosa leader.

An impasse is sure to happen. Which I’ll keep in my hip pocket.As Mr. McGavin excels in presenting all of the scary elements of a Drill Instructor. With Jack Webb”s rapid fire delivery from his earlier, The D.I. down pat. Offset by far less imaginative, intimidating, vulgar and profane qualities (Television Censors) honed to perfection by R. Lee Ermey in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. While winning a Prime Time Emmy Awards for neophyte Tracy Keenan Wynn and director Joseph Sargent for Outstanding Achievement in Drama-Original Teleplay. And Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama. A Single Program among others.

An elusive film nowadays. And well worth the effort of discovery and watching. If you can get past its God Awful theme song!

Garnering Mr. McGavin a bit more credibility and wherewithal to be one of the “Go To Guys” in this new cinematic realm for the next two years. Dropping by NBC’s Hollywood Studio based Bracken’s World. ABC’s “Mobile Shrink”. Matt Lincoln. A return to his earlier Outsider, David Ross character for The Forty Eight Hour Mile and Quinn Martin’s 1930s Los Angeles Private Eye, Banyon United Artists Mrs. Pollifax-Spy. With Rosalind Russell. And NBC/Universal’s The Bold Ones: The Lawyers. Before touching The Holy Grail of episodic television roles in January, 1972 The Night Stalker.

Where Mr. McGavin is given the role on veteran. perpetually down on his luck Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak. Resplendently scruffy in a much used white Seersucker suit. Narrow, uneven tie and woven bamboo Panama Hat. Perpetually on the move. Tracing down leads to offbeat and “Man On The Street” stories. Until stumbling across a secluded Crime Scene. Whose victim seems to have drained of blood!

Weird, right?… Ridiculous?… Absolutely! Yet taken with a grain of salt. With words, mood and setting derived from a screenplay by Richard Matheson. A distinct, eerie, shadowy, vibe courtesy of Producer, Dan Curtis of ABC’s afternoon Gothic Soap Opera, Dark Shadows fame. And under the deft touch of John Llewellyn Moxie. A New Sheriff has just rode into town. As Kolchak follows leads and missed evidence. And starts whittling down rumors between arguments with his boss, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland, Bullitt). On and Off again girlfriend, Gail Foster (Carol Lynley). And a Rogues Gallery of secondary talent. Including Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins and Elisha Cook. Jr. Kolchak get closer to his mysterious nemesis, Janos Skorzeny (Barry Attwater).

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A Nielsen Ratings Slam Dunk overnight, by 1972 standards. With more than enough creepy and eerie to offset the occasional humor. And keep an audience coming back for more. Specifically, another 74 minute jaunt a year later. After a shift in locales to Seattle. Where an ancient Alchemist (John Carradine) striving to remain young through the blood of young women in The Night Strangler. And then getting the full blown treatment in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Moved to Chicago and an independent newspaper. Kolchak uncovers all sorts of explainable, though eerie close to supernatural happenings. Each episode introduced by Kolchak’s voice dictating possibilities and questions into his trademarked portable tape recorder. Pens and notebooks being so passe though useful. Subtly setting up the plot before the actions begins. Then returning for a quick epilogue. In lieu of today’s more cliche “Hugs and Happy Endings”.

The series is also unique in providing an early test bed for mysterious and paranormal activities which would be plunged into more deeply in FOX’s The X Files just shy of two decades later. With Mr. McGavin portraying veteran FBI Agent Arthur Dales. One of the first agents assigned to the files. And impromptu guide and mentor to Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) for two adventures in 1998 and 1999.

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In the interim. Mr. McGavin indulged in a tale of three generations of Irish American NYC cops for NBC. Law & Order (1976). Based on the novel by former detective Dorothy Uhnak. The story is meticulous in 1940s to 1970s flash back details. Where small incidents may grow into major career destroying scandals later on. And what goes on in the day to day workings of police officers. From uniformed beat cop. To plain clothes detectives. To the higher strata where Mr. McGavin’s Deputy Chief Brian O’Malley resides and rides herd. Clocking in at just under two and a half hours. Shot almost entirely on back lots. Directed by Marvin Chomsky. And shown in two parts. The film is a grittier, more virulent version of today’s ‘Blue Bloods’. Though both casts are equally rich and up to the task!


Allowing more time to check in with characters for Mr. McGavin to fill in Airport ’77. Three different heroic characters during the last gasps of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Ike: The War Years. With Mr. McGavin delivering a fairly decent General George S. Patton opposite Robert Duvall’s General Eisenhower, The Martian Chronicles. The far inferior, 1981 William Conrad and Lee Horsley Nero Wolf and Tom Sellick’s Magnum, P.I. Before catching lightning in a bottle again. As Ralphie Parker’s (Peter Billingsley) “Old Man” in Bob Clark’s 1983 multi award winning 1947 centered, A Christmas Story.

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Trailer:


Though Mr. McGavin is not on the screen a lot. And in the majority of those scenes, he’s a secondary character. When he is there. He is GOLD! With just enough back story through young Ralphie’s older voice overs “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.” and “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” filling in the gaps. Several have squabbled that Mr. McGavin may have been too old to play the part. While I believe it adds to the wear and tear of Old Man Parker. Whose facial expressions, timing with a gift wrapped bowling ball dropped in his lap. And refusal to verbalize often mentioned profanities is a cool, piquant move. That places this film in the sometimes Marathons of “Holiday Heavy Hitters”. It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and most recently, Elf.

Not a bad collection of work. 183 roles. With time and money to spare to as Executive Producer for four episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Producer of film, Happy Mother’s day. Love George in the early 1970s. Cranking out the screen play for Zero To Sixty and the Documentary, American Reunion a few years later. And arranging the soundtrack for the TV movie, The Night Stalker.


Overall Consensus:

Yes, I may have gone a bit long in this dissertation. Though considering the talents, consistent availability and superb luck and timing through the progression of cinematic and trail blazing and cost cutting improvements. Consistently working and turning in memorable performance in roles small to large. Contentedly staying in the realm of television. Though always available for the larger screen and delivering more than asked for required.

All in all. The definition of A Character Actor!


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Check out Kevin’s other posts and reviews


Agree?…. Disagree?…. Like And Differing Opinions and Comments Are More Than Welcome… The Floor is now open!

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

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?

Sidney Pollack Blogathon: Castle Keep (1969)

This post is part of the Sydney Pollack Blogathon spearheaded by Ratnakar of Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover Blog. Check out his blog for more posts on the acclaimed director.


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Greetings, all and sundry!

After a brief, enjoyable respite between guest posts. I’ve been asked by our hostess, Ruth to add my unique perspective to the collected works and Mythos of one of the more memorable directors of the last half of the 20th century. One of the great triad of distinctly American cinema that includes John Frankenheimer and William Friedkin. Who first displayed their skill in live television and with the aid of solid reputations, moved seamlessly into film.

A director who gave equal credence and importance to words, comedic and otherwise. As to costumes, sets, locations and action. And more importantly, reaction.

With that said. Allow me a few moments of your time to wax poetic and lyric about the director and one of his early efforts.

Sydney Pollack: Castle Keep (1969) – “Something Memorable out of Nothing”

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A film that was received with mixed reviews when first released. Also one the later dearth of WWII films shot in Yugoslavia. Kelly’s Heroes among them. Pollack’s film centers around the chaotic effect of The Battle of the Bulge had on American troops involved. And a ragtag, polyglot assembly of soldiers recovering from and staying ahead of its icy chilled and ill wind.

Led by a stoic and eye patched Burt Lancaster as Infantry Major Abraham Falconer. In charge of officers who run the gamut of by the book, art historian, Patrick O’Neal as Captain Lionel Beckman. To extremely flaky Lt. Billy Byron Bix. Offset by religious, wide eyed dreamer, Tony Bill’s Lt. Amberjack. And a mix of veteran NCOs From old time tough Sgt. DeVaca (Michael Conrad) to Peter Falk‘s survivor and perpetual baker, Sgt. Rossi and Scott Wilson’s laid back, good old boy, Corporal Clearboy riding herd over a clutch of enlisted men from across the Army’s spectrum of specialties. Chief among them, Private Alistair Piersall Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr.). An engineer and narrator of the tale.

Some had retreated from the initial German assault and regrouped under Falconer. Other are fresh from far off “Repple Depples” or Replacement Depots. With orders to find, occupy, defend and keep a secluded 10th century castle and village of Maldorais. Which sits on the cross point of several roads leading to Bastogne.

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Prime real estate for Allies and Germans alike. Though the Germans have tanks and infantry to help stake their claim. And the American G.I.s have whatever they carry or can get their hands on. The land is pristine, layered in snow. Forested and hilly before becoming mountainous miles away. Possessing a foggy, fairy tale look and feel. Untouched by the ravages of war as Falconer leads his ragtag brigade. While the castle itself is sturdy, shrouded in mist. With tall battlements, thick stone walls, a deep moat and ancient drawbridge. A huge courtyard, stables, well and accoutrements of a bygone age.

The interior of the castle is resplendent in every degree. Full of art treasures and antiquities. And an infertile Count of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont) who wants nothing more than a son from his wife, Therese, the Countess (voluptuous Astrid Heeren) to continue the family lineage. And for the Americans leave as soon (kind of) as possible.

Falconer sends his underlings to scout out possible defensive positions. And in the process discover the village’s brothel run by the Red Queen (Catarina Borrato) and her clowder of fetishy women. Sgt. Rossi finds a bakery run by an attractive widow and begins to fall in love with both. Lt. Bixby and Lt. Amberjack begin to gather a following of pacifists. Corporal Clearboy discovers the wonders of Greman Volkswagen engineering, And the Major comes under the attentions of the Countess.

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In other words. Unit cohesion and integrity are going to Hell. While Captain Beckman wants to gather up as many art treasures a possible and beat feet elsewhere as the German get ever closer. Sending out white caped and snow camouflaged patrols and an occasional spotter aircraft.

It is then that Major Falconer devises a strategy of hit and run. With the village being the battle field in winnowing down German troops and tanks, Fighting a strategic withdrawal with Castle Maladorais being its last stand. The troops aren’t thrilled to hear this, but know there’s no other choice.

The Red Queen’s girls are brought into the action as tanks roll down the village’s curved, narrow cobbled streets. The girls occupy various balconies in varying stages of undress. Smiling, waving and flaunting their wares to the Germans below. Before tossing flaming wicked cognac bottles of gasoline downward upon the would be occupiers and their armored machines…

I’ll leave the tale right here for Spoilers sake.

Now. What Makes This Movie Good?

Sydney Pollack at the reins of an often visually beautiful, sometimes dream like and cohesive piece of film. Clocking in at 105 minutes with very few to waste. Especially when stacked against other bigger named and budgeted, (Catch-22 leaps to mind!) yet smaller, more garbled messaged films of that time.

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Working within a very rarified and refined winter world created by William Westlake in his novel of the same name. And tweaked just a bit here and there with a screenplay by Daniel Taradash and David Rayfiel. Mr. Pollack and company tread a fine line between one of the better late 1960s War Films while weaving an attractively seductive, yet surreal Anti-War Film. Mr. Pollack proves that he can stage, arrange and choreograph action sequences with the best of them. And his cast of stage, television and film stars from both sides of the ocean deliver.

What Makes This Film Great?

Mr. Pollack’s deft touch at allowing plenty of time and exposition to let the castle and village work its fairy tale magic on his cast through off beat and kind of quirky dialogue that would later become one of his trademarks. There hasn’t been a G.I. born who hasn’t thought of the possibility of “sitting out’ a war”. And the enclosed world of Maladorais offers those opportunities and distractions in abundance. Whether it is sex, a simple task like baking, which can easily become a life’s work. Or tinkering with the wonders of a first production VW. Each character is slowly seduced while Major Falconer watches from a safe distance with his diversions. Until it’s time to put childish things aside and get serious when the need arises.

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Cinematography from Henri Decae is more than one could ask for. Sharp and defined inside Castle Maladorais. Then offering extremely wide span and often misted exterior shots in the village and surrounding woods. Tailor made for Major Falconer sit astride a white stallion which becomes his personal form of conveyance.

Original music by Michel Legrand shows early signs of greatness. As it buttresses the visual and enhances emotion from lighthearted to treacherous. Art Direction by Jacque Douy and Mort Rabinowitz is lush and plush in the extreme inside the castle. And spartan and rustic inside and around the village. While Malcolm Cooke’s masterful editing saves momets and increases intensity when the Germans finally arrive.


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Classic Double Feature: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) & Compulsion (1959)

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Greetings, all and sundry!

Allow me a few moments of your time in indulge the nostalgia of my youth. And broach a topic very close to my some may say, misspent early years.

The Classic Double Feature.

Usually reserved for Saturday matinees in the more austere theaters of the day. More often than not, theme or actor based. And superior quality. Genres of films selected was seasonal. With westerns and action popular in the summer. While offerings in Film Noir, horror, mystery and science fiction slated for fall through spring.

There is a method to the madness in the films I’ve selected. Both are films worthy of note and curiosities to our hostess, Ruth. Who desires to learn more of the works of master craftsman, Alfred Hitchcock and perpetual actor, Dean Stockwell. While the choice of which film leads is one which has plagued theater managers since the invention of celluloid. To that end. Allow me to introduce an early work from the British master. With equal parts drama and suspense layered over idyllic, quaint, rural life in a small west coast town.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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A film that begins in sunny, always fair weather Santa Rosa, California. Home to many families who keep the banks, shops and stores busy. One family in particular, the Newtons; father, Joseph (Henry Travers). Mother, Emma (Patricia Coolidge). Youngest son, Roger (Charles Bates). Middle daughter, Ann (Edna Mae Wonacott). And eldest, approaching awkward teen daughter, Charlotte (Teresa Wright) or “Charlie”. Go through their daily routine of work, school, keeping house, while Charlie eloquently wishes that something, anything would happen.

That occurs when a telegram arrives announcing that Mother’s younger brother, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten). All calm, placid charm and deeply buried malevolence. Will be arriving on the Thursday evening train. Uncle Charles arrives. Dinner is had. Gifts are given and the first inklings of psychological thriller starts making itself known. Where most of the family see Charles as a welcome guest. Young Charlie sees her uncle as something more. Someone worldly and romantic  A man of mystery who says little about and is trying to stay ahead of his past. For good reason.

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Life continues near serenely. Until two detectives drop by to talk to the family. One detective, Jack Graham, (Macdonald Carey) tells Charlie that her uncle may be one of two men known suspected of being “The Merry Widow Murderer”. Who court older women, marries them. Then collects their insurance money and any other expensive things after their untimely, often strange, questionable deaths.

Charlie doesn’t want to believe, at first. But Uncle Charles makes a few awkward, almost embarrassing mistakes that turn heads and focuses attention in public places. And Charlie, being female and just slightly less curious than a cat. Finds small clues and evidence that lends credence to Jack Graham’s cautionary words. Topped off when Uncle Charles, perhaps a bit drunk and full of himself goes on tear about the rich in general, Rich widows in particular. And his contempt for them.

The cat is let out of the bag later, when Charles confronts his niece. Accusations are tossed around and Charles admits that he is the man the police are after. And then begs Charlie for her help. She concedes, but only on the condition that Uncle Charles
leave as soon as possible. Ironically, Uncle Charles is cut a break and some breathing room to pursue his latest mark. When the other suspect is killed in a running gunfight in Portland, Maine.

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Young Charlie becomes a loose end that needs attention. In the form of a few odd “accidents” involving stair cases and the faulty lock on a garage door. Keeping young Charlie inside while the sheltered car is left with its engine running. The laws of probability are catching up to Uncle Charles. Who announces that he is leaving by train to San Francisco. In the company of a young widow. Uncle Charles schemes to have a final showdown with young Charlie between cars. As the train starts to move and begin its journey.

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sakes….

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Alfred Hitchcock just getting familiar with the idea of playing with new, near perfect settings. Then playfully tweaking and twisting the American small town ideas, dreams and families. By infusing an often charming dose of “Something wicked this way comes!” in the shape of Charles Oakley. A cypher upon which any story can be painted. Until he becomes too comfortable. And projects his disdain for others upon his brother in law, Joseph. Hinting that Joseph could not possibly be averse to embezzling funds from the bank where he works. Inside the bank and within earshot of others!

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Just one of many soliloquies. Delivered with the same wide eyed, calm innocence Mr. Cotten tapped into earlier as best friend and conscience, Jedidiah Leland, in “Citizen Kane”. Only this time it works to his character’s benefit and is a little creepy to take in. Verbal wedged planted between friends that misdirect and distract and create slack for Uncle Charlie to play with.

While Teresa Wright is the personification of budding teenage womanhood. Too smart by half. Driven by emotions that run deep and wild beneath the surface. Who lets her words pull her into the intrigue. While not knowing what is on the other end. Her
younger siblings, Roger and Ann form a sort of Greek Chorus when the family is gathered together. Though Ann is also far too smart for her young age. Young Charlie’s mother and father are content to get by and preserve the American Dream. Even as Emma starts to see her beloved younger brother as someone she doesn’t really know.

What Makes This Film Great?

The town of Santa Rosa, California. That is just big enough and prosperous enough to illustrate small town America. With its tree-lined streets. large houses, well cared for lawns. Slightly out of era cars and tracks and smiling traffic cops. Which would be used again in “Pollyanna” and “Some Came Running”.

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Here. it represents the perfect summer weather Petri Dish to reveal cracks in its characters and secrets revealed with the addition of Mr. Cotten’s often too arrogant Charles Oakley. Given more emphasis through Thornton Wilder’s written words and Joseph A. Valentine’s often shadowy indoor and tight, razor sharp B&W outdoor cinematography. Aided by Dimitri Tiomkin‘s suspenseful score and music direction by Charles Previn. Set and art direction by Russell Gausman and John B. Goodman. Plus gowns and ensembles that are neither too frumpy or too elegant by Vera West and Adrian add to both story telling and an almost time capsule feel and effect.

Then there is Hitchcock. Gently tugging at the edges. Keeping the canvas of the tale and town taut. While slyly nicking there and slicing there. Letting nature do its thing and follow the path of least resistance. As the myth of rural solitude and serenity bares its all too human weaknesses. Perhaps, not a date film. But certainly one to indulge in to see the first confident steps of a sly, masterful director hinting at greater things to come!

Notes: Nominated and accepted into the National Film Registry in 1991.
Available for viewing on You Tube


Compulsion (1959)

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As is traditional with film distribution. The second film of a Double Bill or Feature should be of lesser stature and lower budget. Hence the phrase “B-Movie”. And this offering from 20th Century has that writ large. Though wisely and frugally spent in telling the tale of the infamous Loeb & Leopold “Perfect Crime’ kidnap and murder case of 1924. With the help of Meyer Levin, who had written the best selling novel of the same name the film is based on. And aided by Richard Murphy‘s faithful screenplay.

Centered around two Chicago law students with off the scale IQs and a completely less than healthy reverence for the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and his “Man and Superman” hypothesis. The Alpha of the pair is Arthur Strauss. Played with snide, very spoiled, well connected arrogance by Bradford Dillman. Who doesn’t have any friends. And not much use for people in general as he constantly looks for ways to show his elite superiority to others. Their perceived inferiority and uselessness of their laws that are beneath his contempt.

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Artie’s partner in crime is Judd Steiner. Masterfully under and occasionally overplayed by a young Dean Stockwell. A self-imposed outcast who enjoys Ornithology, Taxidermy and deep down inside wants badly to be part of something. Oddly gravitating towards Dillman’s Strauss with near gleeful, sometimes clumsy subservient abandon.

Their first “perfect crime” which begins the sharply rendered film sets the stage for future events. With the breaking into a campus Fraternity house and taking sixty seven dollars, odd jewelry and a second hand manual Underwood typewriter with a
broken letter key. Fleeing in Judd’s Stutz Bearcat convertible, Judd starts hitting his flask while Artie drives off and nearly sideswipes a drunken pedestrian on a lonely stretch of road. Artie chides Judd for drinking and continues to needle Judd. Very
much like a married couple with an abusive husband. Until Judd nearly breaks down into tears. Swearing that he would do any thing to make things right. Artie smiles and tells Judd to turn around, drive and hit the drunk. Artie tries, but swerves at the last
second. Giving Artie an ever bigger, subtle psychological weapon with which to bludgeon Judd. As the two continue into the night.

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Comes the morning and Judd is in class arguing Nietzsche with his law professor as another player enters the fray, Sid Brooks. (Young, fresh faced and freckled, Martin Milner) A middle class student who pays his freight as a reporter on the Bulldog (late) edition of the local Chicago paper. Who stumbles across Artie and Judd as they set up an alibi with a group of other students and girlfriends to cover the next step in their “cold, dispassionate experiment”. The alibi is a get together at a speak easy that Artie found earlier. The time, nine o’clock.

Sid begs off, due to his job. And several unique and tragic events fall into place between that afternoon and night. Sid clocks in and finds that’s there is a drowned boy in the city morgue. And that a ransom note has arrives at the Kessler home. Demanding ten thousand dollars in old fifty and twenty dollar bills. Sid’s boss, Tom Daley (Edward Binns) sends Sid to the morgue. Where the child, later identified as Paul Kessler had been beaten and mutilated before being stuffed in a drainage culvert. Sid also finds a pair of round lenses reading glasses with the body. The glasses fit neither Sid or the boy. So Sid calls his boss and the wheels start coming off the “dispassionate experiment”.

The body is identified by the boy’s father. Sid’s boss, Mr. Daley shows up at the morgue and is brought up to speed by Sid. The glasses are put in safe keeping before being turned over to the police. All the makings of a wonderful night of celebration for Sid. Even if his girlfriend, Ruth Evan (Diane Varsi) is in Judd’s company. Sid mentions the glasses and Judd’s hand immediately goes to his suit coat’s empty breast pocket. Artie asks for more details and nearly explodes when Sid mentions the ransom note’s broken, offset letter.

Made even worse as Artie discovers that Judd still has the typewriter! After three days of trying to misdirect the Chicago cops assigned to the case. Which causes a cascade of accusations and weak counter arguments from Judd. Another experiment is agreed upon to prove Judd’s dispassion for others. And Sid in particular. Artie would get rid of the typewriter and clean up Judd’s mess. If Judd sets up a date with Ruth and sexually assaults her at a secluded aviary. Artie holds up his end of the bargain, but Judd doesn’t know what to do with Ruth. Or how. And falls miserably.

The local District Attorney, Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall in fine form!) under pressure from above tells the local cops to bring Judd in for some questioning the next afternoon. And the real came of Cat & Mouse begins. With many questions as to Judd’s whereabouts on April 17th, the day of young Kessler’s disappearance, kidnap and murder. Judd starts out arrogantly and obliquely. Believing he has the upper hand until Horn brings out the reading glasses. A style of which over four thousand were sold in Chicago alone. But only a few with a new type of hinge. And one of those was sold to Judd months ago.

Judd talks into the evening as Artie is brought in to corroborate Judd’s story. Artie is well prepared. A much better liar. And mentions a family dinner and a guest who is a Federal judge an hour hence. Yet, Horn is not impressed. Politely, sometimes slyly asking questions about a rented black sedan and more details about the two women he and Judd supposedly picked up the night in question. Artie counters well and Horn is about to let them go when Judd’s chauffeur shows up. With toiletries and a change of clothes for Judd. Offhandedly mentioning that Judd’s Stutz Bearcat never left the estate’s garage that day, April 17th. Since he has changed the car’s worn brake shoes.

Round Two arrives without preamble as Horn goes after Judd with a vengeance! Shredding Judd’s many innocuous points of interest (Hot dog stand, park, chance meetings) before going after Artie. Unaware that Judd’s father has called famed attorney, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles doing his best Clarence Darrow) in the interim. Horn and his assistant, Mr. Padua (Gavin McLeod) go over each detail as Artie rebuts. Then decides to roll over on Judd in a classic “He said… He said” conundrum. Which only makes Judd’s loud and sometimes pitiful meltdown all the sweeter when informed of Artie’s cowardly treachery.

Judd and Artie are charged, arraigned and kept separate in County Lock Up as family retained psychologists and psychiatrists are called in. As Wilks prepares to go up against a city who wants to see his clients swinging beneath a gallows…

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Watching a fresh on again, off again young talent in Mr. Stockwell mix so well with solidly ensconced contemporaries, Dillman, Milner and Varsi. Being confident and comfortable enough in their own skins to portray two spoiled and coddled, seriously sick puppies (Regarding Dillman and Stockwell) who would be right at home commanding a company of Hitler Youth in 1939 Germany. Both are near childishly juvenile in their assured arrogance that they are above the law and are righteous in their beliefs. Until they realize that the law does not give Brownie Points for genius.

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While Martin Milner stoically, reliably delivers the goods as Sid Brooks. With all the makings of a great reporter and newshound. Whose world is upended when someone he admires and envies a bit in Artie and his “odd duck” friend, Judd are revealed for
what they are. Offset by his girlfriend, Ruth’s perhaps tainted innocence. Ms. Varsi’s take on Ruth is odd to behold. In her moments with Judd, Sid. And later on the witness stand. Held far too tightly by her emotional naivete. In a very pivotal role for a
veteran of  “Peyton Place” and  “Ten North Frederick”.

High marks over all for director Richard Fleischer and his nearly standardized method of scenes averaging 11 to 14 seconds. Long enough to introduce a character, record an argument, move the plot along by planting a seed. Then watching it grow and expand to fruition later in the film.

What Makes This Film Great?

With just over an hour’s worth of build up through Judd’s sloppy performances in these “experiment”. Arguments and kind of creepy cat fights with his “superior”, Artie. The first glimmers of the paired serial killers of today (The Green River Killer(s), Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, Aileen Wuormos, etc) start making themselves known. With one Alpha (Artie) controlling the discussion and later situations. And a subservient (Judd) doing his best to please and be part of something bigger. A dynamic writ large while less than subtly hinting at a homosexual relationship. Heightened by Lionel Newman‘s horn heavy soundtrack.

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The film’s remaining thirty plus minutes belong to Orson Welles and his soft spoken, mumbled take on Clarence Darrow. His size and near Waltz gait command every shot as he fights small skirmishes with D.A Horn. Resists or ignores intimidation and a random cross burning by the Klan. Never ceding an inch as the drab, oddly homogenous and uniform looking jury hold Artie and Judd’s fate in the balance. Thanks to Mark-Lee Kirk’s moody lighting and William C. Mellor’s superb B&W cinematography.

The usual loud chest thumping one would expect from a Lee J. Cobb is deftly, emotionally eschewed. For up close and personal words when needed to cajole the jury. Or whisper close, perhaps veiled threats are directed Horn’s way. Mr. Welles’ Wilk is perhaps the most un-Darrow like performance on film. But it works quite well in baring Darrow’s zeal in fighting the death penalty. Kudos for Mr. Welles’ bravery and for his offered and agreed upon, deft direction of the courtroom scenes.

Note: Available to view on You Tube.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Thoughts on either one of these films? Let it be known in the comments.

Classic Actor Spotlight: Walter Matthau – Finding What Works

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Greeting once again!

Given the positive response to the early works of one of great ensemble character and lead actors of the latter part of the 20th century. I’ve decided to expound a bit upon the arena and offerings in which he is so fondly recognized, empathized with and remembered. Putting those roles and films in the forefront. Then adding the flip side of those curmudgeon, set in their own way characters in perhaps, a trio or quartet of films that emphasize range and his popularity during the 1960s and 70s.

With that preamble set aside. Allow me to continue at a comfortable saunter with.

Walter Matthau: Finding What Works

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Check out PART I of Walter Matthau Spotlight


After Mr. Matthau’s deft, often off putting, emotionless take on Dr. Groeteschele, in Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe. Then being taken under the wing of Vincente Minnelli for the role of lecherous con man, Sir Leopold Satori in the switched sex romp, Goodbye Charlie. Opposite Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. It was Mr. Matthau’s superb fortune to be cast by Billy Wilder as fast talking, conniving ambulance chaser, Willie “Whiplash” Gingrich in.

The Fortune Cookie (1966)

Where Mr. Matthau is given every opportunity to tread on the just budding rapid fire delivery of his client and co-star, Jack Lemmon. And his slightly injured sports photographer, Harry Hinkle. Who had been knocked dramatically backward during a professional football game at Cleavland’s Municipal Stadium.

Where Harry sees a plain and simple “Dust himself off and carry on” accident. Mr. Matthau’s Gingrich, urged by his sister and Harry’s greedy ex wife, Sandi (Judi West) sees the chance of a lifetime. A lawsuit to dwarf all others as Harry is put on a gurney and sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Where Willie takes control of everything. A private room. Specialist surgeons. Every test and exam imaginable. As he nearly bullies Harry into faking vertigo, sporadic amnesia, itches, twitches, tics and spasms.

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The interplay between Matthau and Lemmon is wonderful to behold. As Lemmon’s Harry struggles in fits and starts to make it all go away. Harry is literally going nowhere fast as Sandi is sent in to keep the pressure on. While Willie enters “negotiations” with the stadium and team owners. Holding just a small piece of folded paper with a number on it. The number Willie is ready to settle for. Between many drawn out glances and the snapping of fingers. And haggard, disappointed “Sorry. That’s not it.”s.

The farce continues as the team’s private insurance investigator, Purkey has his minions plant bugs and sets up a camera parallel to the room and across the street. Paranoia only make Willie more manic as Harry has finally had enough!!!

I’ll leave it here. Lest I possibly spoil things.

Overall Consensus:

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This is the film. Under the guidance of a Master who created that “beautiful friendship” Bogart only hinted at in Casablanca. Planting a seed that would take root and flourish in five later films. A teaming of equally matched talents. With the torch being passed to Neil Simon two years later in.


The Odd Couple (1968)

No one should answer an unexpected knock on the door after midnight. Mr. Matthau’s Oscar Madison learns that lesson all too well after the pleadings of just divorced Felix Ungar seeking a place to stay. Conceding to only a short “trial period” as Felix shuffles in. With all of his quirks, phobias and what looks like the first stages of yet to be diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder close behind.

In a classic “Oil and Water” combination born of small confrontations. Oscar and Felix begin to slowly mesh. Despite Felix’s finicky neatness and cleanliness butting heads with Oscar’s laconic slovenliness. The mixture hits simmer quickly. As Mr. Matthau’s silently endures Felix’s noisy clearing of his sinuses at a restaurant. Every one of Oscar’s facial muscles contort, twist and flex. While his eyes roll upward seeking solace.

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Things improve only slightly as both share an interest in the Pigeon sisters who live in the same building. A date, of sorts is set. Felix prepares the dinner. The Pigeon sisters arrives. And Felix, who is still hopelessly in love with his ex. Drinks too much and begins to blubber nostalgically….

I’ll stop right here for Spoilers’ sake.

Overall Consensus:

Though the magic is in Neil Simon’s dialogue. There is still enough for Mr. Matthau to create some splendid moments. Letting his facial expressions speak more loudly and eloquently than any written words in scene after scene. Though he has plenty of those as well. With his platter thrown argument closer “Now it’s garbage!”. The perfect punctuation closing Felix’s insistence of calling pasta prepared for dinner, “Linguini”.

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One of the reasons Mr. Matthau may have been so comfortable in his own skin playing Oscar. Is that he played the character for months on stage opposite Art Carney’s Felix. Though Mr. Simon wisely latched onto Mr. Lemmon for the role when his calendar could handle it. Adds heft and weight to an iconic pairing. Giving Billy Wilder six years to watch from the balcony. And tell the original tale Howard Hawks initially had in mind with His Girl Friday.

The Front Page (1974)

With Mr. Matthau’s conniving, scheming, fast talking Chicago tabloid editor, Walter Burns. Chief ramrod for ‘The Examiner’. One of many yellow journalism’s low rent rags that covers the police beat. When not luridly bending, buckling and distorting the crux of the story to increase sales.

And Walter has a story to tell. A Death Row inmate awaiting execution has escaped! His whereabouts unknown. What Walter needs is a Newshound! To sniff about. Ask questions and find clues. And one just happens to cross his path. In the form of an equally fast talking and focused reporter, Hildy Johnson. Delightfully underplayed by Jack Lemmon. Who is on his way to marry Susan Sarandon’s Peggy Grant. Though Walter proffers an intriguing detour.

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Hildy listens and takes the bait. Goes to the Cook County Jail and the Warden’s office. Where other reporters pepper the Sheriff (Vincent Gardenia) and the Mayor (Harold Gould). Where pandemonium ensues amongst a monsoon of ridiculous questions before the rabble is pushed back out. The office empties and Death Row inmate, Earl Williams (Austin Pendleton) is revealed hiding inside the warden’s roll top desk.

Hildy sneaks back into the office. Finds Earl and does what he does best. While Walter sends some reporters to find Earl’s girlfriend. A hooker with a heart of gold wondrously brought to life by Carol Burnett. Hildy digs and discovers the Sheriff and Mayor are conspiring to make the execution their tickets to reelection. As the story shifts slightly and ‘The Examiner’ is made to do what a paper is supposed to do.

I’ll close right here. Lest I tip my hand.

Overall Consensus:

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Though Mr. Lemmon is given many opportunities to shine. It is Mr. Matthau’s Walter Burns running this rodeo from afar. And up close. Rapidly rattling off demands one moment. Only to comment on a passing secretary’s gams the next to the crowded Bull Pen. Waiting for the earlier magic to bloom as Walter dictates by lines and stories beside a rapidly typing Hildy. Listening to their mingled expositions of events is well worth the price of finding out what a fluidly meshing team are capable of. In a film that Mr. Wilder may have unwisely written off after completion.

I am going to shift gears now. And hopefully not grind the clutch. To focus some attention to Mr. Matthau’s understated talent for drama, tension and suspense on either side of the law.

Starting with a tight little caper film under the direction of Don Siegel. Working from a screenplay by Howard Rodman based on John Reese’s novel The Looters. We find Mr. Matthau playing.


Charley Varrick (1973)

His business card reads, “Last of the Independents”. Charley is a non-conformist. Set in his ways. Makes a decent enough living as a crop duster pilot for his trailer park life. In, around and sweeping far beyond Reno, Nevada. But, Charley has ambitions too. One is to make a large amount of money. Quickly. The other is to survive long enough to spend it.

This comes about with the daring daylight robbery of small bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico. With a disguised Charley, his wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and friend, Harmon Sullivan (Andrew Robinson, still damp from Dirty Harry) taking the place down quickly with pistols, shotguns and explosives.

A guard become heroic. A shoot out occurs. Two cops are killed and Nadine is badly wounded and dies shortly thereafter. The haul is counted. And it is a lot more than expected. About $700,000 more. And most of it is to be laundered Mob Money!

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The Mob’s front man, Maynard Boyle (John Vernon. Rarely nastier!) is righteously upset and calls in collection agent, Molly (Joe Don Baker in smiling, full Good Old Boy, Psycho Mode) to get the money back. Using whatever means necessary. Charley’s friend, Harmon is the first to fall. And Charley starts connecting dots quickly as friends meet vicious beating or untimely ends.

Flying back to Reno, Charley finds the whereabouts of Boyle. And through a recently seduced secretary, Sybil Fort, (Felicia Farr. Easy sultriness, personified) sends a message for a meet. Knowing Boyle is clever and ruthless. And that Molly may be there to bird dog and tidy up loose ends. Charley slyly preps the site for the exchange. A large, middle of nowhere junk yard. Which Charley flies down to. Lands his aged, modified Stearman bi plane. And rolls the dice.

Spoilers are flashing. So, I’ll pull over right here.

Overall Consensus:

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In one of the few roles as a not so amiable bad guy. Mr. Matthau excels! Bringing out out the clever and the sly as his back is pressed against the wall by Boyle and Molly. With Don Siegel fully entrenched in his element of compact, frill free suspense. That starts out with a little bit of comfortable slack. That disappears and stretches as the story is wound tighter and tighter. Definitely one of Mr. Matthau’s best, though little known roles!

Which may have caused a script to be delivered to Mr. Matthau a few months later. An adaptation of the popular Stockholm novelist, Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Transplanted from their home turf and set in the Mission and Castro districts of early 1970s San Francisco.

The Laughing Policeman (1973)

Mr. Matthau is in full world weary, hang dog, long jowled mode as Homicide Sgt. Jake Martin. Who catches a late night, machine gun murder of twenty plus passengers aboard a Mission district bus. A sensational crime, to say the least. Which would be world wide, non stop and completely misdiagnosed by the media today.

Given the task of solving this “Whodunit?” without warning, head’s up or Task Force. Mr. Matthau’s Sgt. Martin and his new assigned partner, Inspector Leo Larsen, (Wondrously underplayed Bruce Dern at his sarcastically wise cracking best!) plow through interviews and try to come up with a common denominator. From a pool of victims that covers every race, religion, ethnicity and sexual predilection.

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An off duty detective and former partner of Martin’s. Dave Evans ranks high on the slowly pared down list. Having worked with Martin on a case where shady, possibly mob connected Henry Camarero (Albert Paulsen, ego-driven slime in expensive tailoring) murdered his wife, Teresa two years earlier. Deeper investigation reveals that Evans was gathering fresh evidence and testimony from business associate, Gus Niles. Who provided Camarero with an alibi and is also a victim of the massacre.

The journey from Point A to B is a driving and walking tour of San Francisco. From corporate steel and chrome. To low income, just above the jammed together, urban poverty line. Well known and often revered landmarks trade places with neon lit Discotheques and shadowy Castro rough trade. As Martin and Larsen close the noose around Camarero.

Overall Consensus:

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Mr. Matthau is finally getting comfortable finding his element. As a man given a monumental task while doggedly whittling it down. Relieving the weight on his shoulders as retirement seductively beckons. With and sometimes without the aid of Mr. Dern’s Larsen. Who’s stuck in the middle. Wants nothing more than to work the case without getting hurt. And catch the next one. The interplay between the two. In a car, on foot, following leads or questioning suspects and snitches is well worth the price of discovery and admission.

Aided greatly by a “Who’s Who” of solid character actors (Anthony Zerbe, Louis Gossett Jr., Joanna Cassidy, Gregory Sierra). And Stuart Rosenberg’s post Cool Hand Luke deft touch for capturing less than polished to a high luster parts of San Francisco in daylight. And making them seamy and downright scary at night.

Which may have raised the eyebrow of director, Joseph Sargent. To proffer the role of New York Police Lieutenant, Zack Garber to Mr. Matthau for his superb on-location hijack epic.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Which takes on a crime never contemplated or attempted before. The hijack and ransom of a subway car with 17 passengers under the streets of Manhattan. Something so off the wall, that it is first met with skeptical derision by the Transit Authority’s Lt. Garber. Who ditches his present tour of Japanese Public Transit officials as Robert Shaw (Never so properly calm, sociopath, and dryly British) lays down the ground rules. One million (Around 6.5 million, today) dollars to be delivered in one hour just beyond the 28th Street terminal. Or one hostage will be killed each minute past the time limit.

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Together with Police Lieutenant, Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller. Surprisingly good in a dramatic role!). Scant leads are followed as the demand goes to the Mayor (Lee Wallace), sick in bed with the flu. Trains are rerouted or delayed as Garber tries his hand at negotiation, stalling and discreet interrogation.

It seems that Shaw (Mr, Blue) may be a British mercenary with a muddy past. Who put together this “Get rich quick!” scheme with the aid of two gun thugs ( Slimy Hector Elizondo, Mr. Gray. Earl Hindman, Mr. Brown) and slowly deduced, retired Transit worker, Mr. Green. (Martin Balsam, rock solid despite a cold).

The ransom is gathered, but the police car delivering it crashes as the moments tick down. Garber goes into full stall mode as a motorcycle cop passes on the heavy gym bag full of cash. The money is distributed amongst as bad guys as the “McGuffin” kicks in. A shiny, stainless steel device that over rides the train’s Dead Man Switch. The train starts moving with its hostages still aboard. A plainclothes, undercover undercover cop jumps out and a gun fight ensues as Blue and his team disperse to various exits.

I’ll leave it here. Lest I ruin some of the most suspenseful, well edited and scored minutes in film!

Overall Consensus:

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This is the film and character that most clearly defines Mr. Matthau at his curmudgeonly. Seen it all. “Been there. Done that.” best! Seasoned and cynical as his rumpled, shapeless trench coat as he moves from the Transit Control Center to blocked off intersections and subway entrances. Trying his best to stay a step or two ahead during a city wide media blackout. As dots are connected during and after. And Garber starts to think like the emotionless Mr. Blue.

Offset by a sterling group of villains. Wonderfully defined on location cinematography by Owen Roizman under the guidance of television and film veteran, Joseph Sargent. Working from and staying notably faithful to John Godey’s superior novel and screenplay by Peter Stone.

Very high marks for David Shire’s rather simplistic, though moving soundtrack. And editing by Gerald B. Greenberg and Robert Lovett. Who cut so smoothly, you don’t notice the tension building and exploding until the final reel!.

Aided greatly by a “Who’s Who” of solid character actors (Anthony Zerbe, Louis Gossett Jr., Joanna Cassidy, Gregory Sierra). And Stuart Rosenberg’s post Cool Hand Luke deft touch for capturing less than polished to a high luster parts of San Francisco in daylight. And making them seamy and downright scary at night.

Which may have raised the eyebrow of director, Joseph Sargent. To proffer the role of New York Police Lieutenant, Zack Garber to Mr. Matthau for his superb on-location hijack epic.


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Well, that concludes Part II of Mr. Matthau’s spotlight. Thoughts on any of his roles mentioned above?

Classic Actor Spotlight: Walter Matthau – Showing his Chops

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Greetings and all sundry!

Given the success of my earlier three article arc on the career of Jack Lemmon. And to steal a suggestion from Nostra. Allow me a few moments of your time to focus some attention and love towards a consummate character actor. Utilized and cozily comfortable as part of an ensemble or team. Who earned his stripes and reputation in the fledgling years of television. Gathering attention and notoriety. While honing his talents for the better part of a decade before his stars finally aligned. To that end. Allow me to introduce.

Walter Matthau: Finding What Works.

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Not many actors can claim esteemed director, Nicholas Ray on their early Curriculum Vitae. Though Mr. Matthau can. Given a small but important role as Wally Gibbs. Concerned co-worker, teacher, friend and neighbor of Manic-Depressive, Bi-Polar and soon to be self medicating Cortizone addict, Ed Avery (James Mason). In a little 1950s, suburban ‘Fathers Knows Best’ from Hell masterpiece:

#1: The Fortune Cookie: (1966)

Mr. Matthau’s Wally is content early on to sit on the sidelines and watch as Mason’s Ed Avery grows ever more distant, manic and eventually dangerous to himself, his family and the “Ain’t life swell!” facade of the white picket fences, manicured lawns of the perfect suburban ‘Atomic family’.

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Granted, the film is Ray’s and Mason’s to build a slowly frightening, often shadowy foundation upon. And some may argue that Matthau’s Wally responds with too little and too late. Especially with an undercurrent of an evening dinner scene with Ed, his wife, Lou (Barbara Rush) and son, Richie (Christopher Olsen) that leaves the same seen used in American Beauty forty plus years later far in the dust. The Olsen family is afraid to breathe. Lest delusional daddy, Ed goes into an Old Testament shouting, dinner and silverware throwing and smashing tirade.

But that is what makes Bigger Than Life near essential viewing in the small, yet frightening  realm of ‘Suburban Horror’. All the parts mesh together. Humanly and with errors. Through confrontations, denials and lies stacked upon lies from Ed. Which makes you not believe for a second the triumphant, dried out and rehabilitated Ed’s joyous, tearful, family hugging, “Happily ever after” return to family, hearth and home before the film’s final credits!

Overall Consensus:

To be given even a small part in a memorable and ground breaking film that dared to mess with the well marketed and maintained myth of opulent “perfection” of Post War America would be any actor’s dream. Especially if that film’s director had just delivered Rebel Without a Cause a year earlier. A very heady task. To be a small cog inside a much larger machine.And Mr. Matthau delivers! Quietly and with reserve. Letting his concern and emotions show through his face and gestures. Until it is almost too late.

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Which may piqued director Elia Kazan to contact Mr. Matthau for another slightly larger supporting role. As Mel Miller. The quiet, smitten, unassuming assistant to roving radio radio reporter, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) in Kazan’s Magnum Opus to the power of charisma and media in culture and politics.

#2: A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Which begins back in the Ouachita hills of Arkansas. Where roving reporter and hostess, Marcia Jeffries records her human interest stories for A Face in the Crowd. And finds smooth talking, itinerant hobo and spinner of yarns, Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith. Never better!) behind bars and sweating out a hangover from a night of carousing. “Lonesome” is also full of down home humor and charm. When not belting out Gospel tunes with the aid of his guitar. Which gets him out of jail and into popularity amongst the locals. And the hosting radio station. Where “Lonesome” starts to come under the scrutiny of Mel. Who knows bad news when he sees it. And tries to warn Marcia as Rhodes starts growing in popularity and starts believing his own hype. Marcia is swept away as events start controlling events and actions.

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A local Senator up for re-election, Worthington Fuller needs a bump in the polls and used “Lonesome”, radio and television to fill that void on stump speeches. Where Rhodes shows a proclivity for a naive, teen aged baton twirling Majorette, Betty Lou Fleckum (Lee Remick in her first film role). Things start going bad as “Lonesome” pursues Betty Lou. Indulges in too much booze and letting his mouth rum while his brain is not engaged. Marcia catches him after a fundraising soiree. Stupid drunk and showing contempt for all the hicks, hayseeds and rednecks that make up his audience. Marcia’s tide starts to change and takes a decision to ambush her creation after an episode of “The Lonesome Rhodes Show” featuring the Senator.

Mel watches from the wings as Marcia opens a microphone and catches Larry in the middle of a particular nasty vent aimed at his unseen, but listening audience. Who are flabbergasted and angered that their media idol would think so lowly of them. Massive numbers of complaining phone calls flood both the radio and television stations as Larry and his entourage head towards a victory dinner where the Senator is supposed to announce his candidacy.

Or not. While Larry is en route. The radio and television stations start calling Senator Fuller’s campaign workers. As contributors and backers turn their backs and abandon ship on Fuller and Rhodes. Who arrives at a spectacularly decorated, nearly empty and opulent penthouse suite. Crestfallen, rambling and confused. Larry lashes out at everyone and everything. Until Marcia arrive and tells him that she opened the off stage microphone and helped Larry commit Celebrity Seppuku.

Marcia leaves and Mel lays into Larry most prophetically. Giving him a heads up to his immediate future with an appropriate cool down period and anonymity. A change of name and venue. And the long lingering aftermath of fallen, faded glory.

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Overall Consensus:

In another role of quiet fortitude, Mr. Matthau wisely saves his best lines (And he has many quickly, dryly delivered lines in this film!) until the final reel. And the moment “Lonesome” Rhodes realizes that the curtain is quickly, finally raining down on his present career. Mr. Matthau delivers the soliloquy matter of factly. Yet devastatingly. Without well deserved malice. Just a prediction on how the media system works, Often fails. And quickly repairs and re-imagines itself for continued contented consumer consumption.

Under the masterful, sometimes creepy touch of Elia Kazan. In a far ahead of its time film that prophetically, scathingly screams to the rafters about the dangers of charisma, charm, celebrity and mass, instant exposure. A roughly sketched and filled in canvas portraying sweetly played out seduction and love between “Lonesome” and Marcia (Essential for it all to work). Egos, power, back room deals for more of the same. And the foretelling of insidious mass marketed “Info-Tainment” as news we all either enjoy. Or tolerate and endure today!

Giving Mr. Matthau a few years’ respite to hone his skills in television and lesser known films. Before signing on to what many (myself included) believe is the favorite, most personal film of Kirk Douglas.

#3: Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

With a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. From the novel “The Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey. Directed by veteran, David Miller and set in the rough country and mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mr. Matthau finds himself as Sheriff Morey Johnson. The over seer and protector of many, many miles of sun bleached desert, scrub and terrain better left avoided. And slowly drawn into the manhunt for John W. “Jack” Burns. One of the last great non conformists Cowboys (Who doesn’t even have a Drivers License!) rebelling against the onset of changing times. Flawlessly brought to life by Kirk Douglas.

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It seems that Burns got himself arrested in a bar fight. So he could be put in the Duke City lock up to help his long time friend, Paul Bondi (Michael Kane) break out before being shipped to the penitentiary. The break out worked well enough. For Burns. With the aid of two hacksaw blades hidden inside his boots. After getting some payback for abuses delivered by Deputy Sheriff Guitierrez (George Kennedy) and discovering Bondi wants to just do his time. Burns slips through the weakened and pulled apart bars. Mounts his horse, “Whiskey” and starts riding towards the mountains and the Mexican border.

Sheriff Johnson is called to intervene. In a Jeep and with the help of his annoying, repetitive radio operator, Harry (William Schallert). A course is plotted. As far away, a semi tractor trailer full of toilets is driven by ‘Hinton” (Carroll O’Connor in full Archie Bunker mode) for an oblique date with destiny.

Burns uses every trick he knows to stay ahead of the law as he rides and walks Whiskey through soft soil, slick rocks and an ever increasing incline. To be glimpsed through binoculars by Sheriff Johnson. Who has Harry call the nearby Air Base (Kirkland, AFB) and ask to have a helicopter help out. Morey and Harry argument about everything and nothing as the glass bubble canopied Bell helicopter arrives on station, piloted by an uncredited, debuting Bill Bixby (‘My Favorite Martian’, ‘The Courtship of Eddie’s Father’). Who is too anxious by half. Flies too close and hovers too long dropping a rope ladder. And allows Burns to shoot at the helicopter’s tail rotor with his lever action Winchester rifle. Sending it screaming off to crash in the boonies.

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The sun starts to meet the rugged horizon as Burns crests one range and walks Whiskey down towards the wide and imposing super highway. Knowing that freedom lay just a short distance beyond. He mounts Whiskey for the hesitant trip across. As Hinton and his semi full of toilets makes up for lost time and Morey and Harry and many unseen police units head towards the same location.

I’ll end it here. Lest I venture too far into Spoiler Territory.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Matthau is given more free rein and lines to expound upon his character. A career law man, who kind of empathizes with his quarry, Burns. Half understanding what motivates him. And using that knowledge to help track and estimate Burns’ responses and actions. Slowly getting used to his hang dog, long jawed visage. And letting it become part of his persona.

Again, not a large, singular role. More a part of an ensemble. In a film that would a lot of future talent if not on the map. Then certainly under some serious scrutiny.

More than enough to be considered for a kind of out of line of sight referee for the many juggling balls and plot twists under Stanley Donen’s whimsical touch in a splashy, location filled Parisian romantic variant of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

#4: Charade (1963)

An elegant, sophisticated and very cleverly written Cary Grant romance with Audrey Hepbuen filling in for Eva Marie Saint in and around The City of Lights. Where no one beside Ms. Hepburn’s recently widowed Reggie Lampert is who or what they proclaim to be. In a game of multiple easily forgettable names, low level treachery. And one goal in common. $250,000 in gold that had been bagged, tagged and slated to be delivered courtesy of the O.S.S.to the French Resistance in WWII. And never arrived!

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The surviving members of the O.S.S. team (James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass) whose leader was the recently murdered Charles Lampert show up at the funeral and go through ways fair and foul to verify the death. And smart guys that they are, determine Reggie must know where the swag is stashed!

Add to this mix suave, smooth, debonair Cary Grant in full Irresistible mode and a delightful full court press is on! As Reggie flightily accompanies Cary to one new hotel and another. Names and characters change at the drop of a hat. More and more of Mr. Matthau’s master puppeteer, CIA station chief, Hamilton Bartholomew is more than a Federal Super Grade looking for ancient loose change to bring back to its rightful Treasury coffers. Suspense is heightened as threats overt and covert are made and Cary Grant gets to play the knight in shining armor between shard flirtations with Reggie. While distrust and impatience seems to boil up within the survivors of the O.S.S. Jedburgh team as its members start showing up dead. Suspects and clues are winnowed down as romance fills the air. The topic of stamps is broached. Rare stamps that may be hiding in plain sight. Purchased by Charles and the $250,000 before being shot and dumped from a train leaving Paris.

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With the final piece of the puzzle in place (Or is it?). Reggie calls Bartholomew for a meeting on the Paris subway. I’ll leave it here, so as to not reveal and last minute spoilers.

Overall Consensus:

Director Donen may have out clevered and outdone himself in an attempt to tops Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Coming very close with sublimely romantic locations. A light, often moody Henry Mancini soundtrack. And Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn at the tops of their games. In a story that may become a bit convoluted if not not paid attention to early on. A little too egg crated with a few too many names to keep track of. Though Mr. Mathau delivers quite well as the man in the shadows. Never really fully fleshed out until well into the tale. In a pivotal role that moves him as far away from his previous “Nice Guy” category as possible.

A trait master director, Sidney Lumet may have noticed when giving Mr. Matthau the chance to expand on break a bit. As Presidential Adviser Groeteschele. An eerie, close to emotionless mix of Henry Kissinger and Professor Edmund Teller, the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb. In the 1964 Nuclear Doomsday thriller.

#5: Fail Safe (1964)

Where Mr. Matthau’s Groeteschele holds court at Washington, DC cocktail parties that run into the morning. Tossing around “Throw Weights” and the destructive power of Soviet warheads that can destroy a major city in a millionth of a second. As easily as the young, monied socialites in attendance ask for their drinks to be freshened. A man who has the President’s ear and is completely attuned and comfortable with the inside the Beltway idea of “Power as an Aphrodisiac”.

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While over at SAC (Strategic Air Command) Headquarters at Offutt AFB in Omaha Nebraska. A group of VIPs are visiting as a wing of B-58 supersonic bombers at put on alert. It seems that radar stations have picked up a UFO entering American airspace and the “Hustler” bombers are on their way to their “Fail Safe” points to orbit and waiting until the orders come to obliterate Moscow.

The UFO is revealed to be a non air breathing, reciprocating engine, propeller airliner strayed off course. The Recall Order is sent to the waiting bombers, but signal is scramble by either solar flares or something. And the bombers starts proceeding north towards Alaska. With every intent of turning west and doing what they’ve been trained to do.

The extended “Oops! Form” is sent to the Pentagon. The President (Henry Fonda) is called down to the Bunker. Three and four star generals start pondering the imponderable as fighters are dispatched to intercept. Communications are opened between the President and the errant wing commander. Even though SAC training and tenets demand radio silence once the bombers go beyond their “Fail Safe” points. Groeteschele shows up. Takes everything in. Starts discussing the numerical advantages of a First Strike and states the obvious. “Let the bombers to proceed their targets. And let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Which goes over as well as a lead balloon. Since US Nuclear Doctrine dictates that our weapons are only to be used defensively (Which is Iffy at best.) As a line of communication is established between the White House and the Kremlin. Where a young State Department translator named “Buck” (Larry Hagman) is on hand. While the intercepting US fighters are ordered to Afterburner. Only to fall from the sky and nowhere near missile range as their fuel expires.

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The Soviet Chairman is wary at first as The President explains to the Kremlin’s translator. SAM batteries pick up the encroaching B-58s and MiGs are sent to intercept, but as always. Some bombers get through. And Moscow is the target.

I’ll leave it right here. So as to not unsettle one of the great Freeze Frame endings in film.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Matthau excels in playing a cold blooded, inhumane SOB. So enthralled with his expertise, numbers and statistics that he does not see beyond his own massive ego. While Henry Fonda’s President is much more like Solomon when dealing the horrors and ramifications of Mutual Assured Destruction. In a much more dramatic and humane way that Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb only gives a humorous wink and a nod to. Courtesy of George C. Scott and his General “Buck” Turgidson.

Kudos to director Lumet in staying faithful to Eugene Burdick’s novel and staying in the realms of suspense and drama. Which his film seethes with. Even if the B-58 “Hustler” bomber was incredibly fast. It had short range and could not have hit its targets without at least one more mid air refueling. The fact is glossed over nicely by lighting, shadow and a taut sound score. High marks also to Mr. Matthau for his character’s ramrod straight posture. Slow gestures, measured speech patterns and inflection that heighten the tension. Holds the camera and gives Groeteschelle a less than human aura.


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Well, do add your thoughts on Mr. Matthau. And what’s your favorite film from his illustrious career?

Classic Flix Spotlight: Steve McQueen – Acting vs Reacting

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Greeting all and sundry! After the wonderful comments and responses to my previous ‘First Impressions from Second Stringers‘. I’ve decided to take a few moments to delve into the allure and mystique of an actor who for years applied his talent and trade into the consistent definition and refinement of his several characters on television. Before branching into films. To meticulously evolve into the absolute embodiment of rebellious cool during the 1960s and early 1970s.

To that end. Allow me to introduce a retrospective and hypothesis into the inner workings and machinations of the guy every kid and young man wanted to grow to be. And every contemporary girl and young woman wanted to be with.

Steve McQueen: Acting vs. Reacting.

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I first noticed Mr. McQueen as bounty hunter, Josh Randall in a repeated episode of the Sam Peckinpah written western series, ‘Trackdown’ from the late 1950s. In it, Randall helps Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman (Robert Culp) track down a philandering husband. The two don’t hit it off at first, since Randall seems to enjoy his job and its reward money a bit too much. Though there seemed to be an ease about this young unknown rookie as he traded lines and shared action with the more established Culp. A surety and lack of fear that was both refreshing and intriguing.

McQueen in The Magnificent SevenOthers must have thought so as well. Remembering Mr. McQueen as he slogged through an entirely forgettable take on Harold Robbins’ potboiler novel, ‘Never Love A Stranger’. And his B-Movie introduction in the Sci-Fi classic, ‘The Blob’. Before given the chance to romp and play with Frank Sinatra and assorted other heavy hitters in the John Surges directed, Burma/Thailand, OSS WWII film, ‘Never So Few’ in 1959. Only to return under Sturges’ protective wing for another classic that launched many careers, ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

It is this film where I believe Mr. McQueen began to find the benefit of being miserly with his words. Keeping his face placid or with a hint of annoyance should the need occur. Then responding to whatever actor with which he was sharing a scene. Using as few words as possible His moments as Vin with Yul Brynner’s Chris early on in the film is an homage to subtle up staging. With Mr. Queen using deft, remembered tricks. Like shaking the shotgun shells before chambering them in his borrowed 12 Gauge scatter gun . And taking off and angling his beaten, sweat stained hat to supply some needed shade on their caisson ride up to Boot Hill. Vin’s quick, quiet loss at the saloon’s roulette wheel. And his silent counting of their desired number of gunslingers on his fingers as it grows. These small gestures and glances would quietly outnumber Mr. McQueen numbers of spoken lines. Yet seemed to carry close to equal weight, Recurring again and again his later films.

SteveMcQueen2Which brings us back to Mr. McQueen getting his own television series, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’. That ran for three full seasons of 94 episodes from 1958 to 1961. And propelled Mr. McQueen’s bounty hunter, Josh Randall and his cut down Winchester lever action ‘Mare’s leg’ into house hold familiarity. Opening an opportunity for Mr. McQueen to try his hand at service comedy in ‘The Honeymoon Machine’. A 1961 compact minor gem where Mr. McQueen plays a Navy Lieutenant who uses his assigned ship’s computer to figure the odds and how to beat the many gaming tables of a Venetian casino. Sharing some great lines with civilian computer scientist, Jim Hutton and his fiance, Paula Prentiss.

Then being given the lead role and top billing amongst a plethora of proven character actors in a great, though oddly little known WWII drama, ‘Hell Is for Heroes’ from 1961. Directed by Don Siegel and written by Richard Carr and Robert Pirosh. Who would later achieve critical and audience acclaim for his long running WWII series, ‘Combat!’ for ABC television. In the film, it seems that all Mr. McQueen’s character does is react.

His Pvt. Reese has been under stress and combat for so long. It seems the only time he is relaxed is when he is on the front lines. Where he soon finds himself with the stalwart Sergent, Fess Parker. Veteran squad leader, Harry Guardino. Street wise hustler, Bobby Darin. Brainy southern Fix It guy, James Coburn. Always reliable Mike Kellin. And late arrivals Bob Newhart and Nick Adams.

Together, these soldiers have to keep a massively larger number of Germans occupied on the Siegfried Line prior to a major attack. The problem is that no one really cares for their situation or fellow man. And for Mr. McQueen’s Reese even less. They all just want to be somewhere else and go home. Those that are stopping them are the Germans. And if Germans need to be killed, that’s fine with Pvt. Reese. To facilitate this, Reese is equipped with the most phallic looking of sub-machine guns. An M-3 Grease Gun with flanking magazines taped upside down around the weapon’s main feed. Used propitiously through patrols and an aborted night attack on a bunker-ed German machine gun nest. As this gritty, character driven minor masterpiece concludes in a way that no one sees coming!

The Cooler King

Leaving Mr. McQueen in the WWII vein for an aerial stock footage laden quickie titled ‘The War Lover’. Where Mr. McQueen plays an Air Corp Captain and B-17 pilot with a near death wish. Opposite a very young Robert Wagner as his protege and co-pilot. Setting the stage for one Mr. McQueen’s most memorable roles. As Hilts, ‘The Cooler King’. Again under John Sturges’ direction and backed up by a ‘Who’s Who’ of young and established talent from both sides of the Atlantic. Amongst such company and with a propensity to be given some of the production’s best lines and scenes. Plus Mr McQueen’s ability and willingness to set up a near show stopping, groundbreaking motorcycle stunt cemented him firmly in the firmament of untouchable ‘Cool’.

Something he would easily maintain through three rather formulaic films. ‘Soldier in the Rain’ opposite Jackie Gleason in 1963. ‘Love with the Proper Stranger’ with Natalie Wood and Edie Adams. And ‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’ with Lee Remick. Aided by a theme song more popular than the film. Before given the chance to stretch his talents and romp and play with the then veteran big boys.

Eric Stoner in The Cincinnati Kid

As Eric Stoner. ‘The Cincinnati Kid’. A young and enormously talented player of stud poker. Who holds makers for half the players in Depression Era New Orleans and is very much a local legend. Until a player with an ever larger reputation, Lancey Howard; wondrously, confidently and resplendently played by Edward G. Robinson steps off the train. A showdown is to be had and the Kid starts gathering up markers for his buy in and stake. Getting sound advice from his mentor, Karl Malden as ‘Shooter’. While being used as a pawn by Rip Torn’s ‘Slade’. An arrogant and sleazy southern gentleman who wants payback for losing to Howard in previous games. Trying to stay true to Tuesday Weld’s ‘Christian’. And avoiding the sensuous clutches of Shooter’s far too young and beguiling wife, Melba. Wickedly played by Anne-Margaret. More than enough distraction to throw any mere mortal off his game, but this is Steve McQueen at the near top of his game. In a showdown that many have likened to the one between Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in ‘The Hustler‘, but with a much higher cool factor. The stare downs between Mr. McQueen’s confidence and Edward G. Robinson’s placid poker face quickly builds palpable tension until the last card is played.

Mr. McQueen’s cool and penchant to react return in 1966’s ‘Nevada Smith’. Playing a half breed Indian looking to kill the three men who killed his parents. With the aid of Karl Malden as a traveling gun salesman, Mr. McQueen is taught how to shoot, read and learns enough tricks to keep him alive through a stretch in prison to find one of the killers during their escape. And the other two in cow towns across the West. In a fair adaptation of the Harold Robbins novel. Then onto one of his most under rated roles as Machinist Mate Jake Holman in Robert Wise’s ‘The Sand Pebbles’. Assigned to the USS San Pablo as it operates along China’s Yangtze River during the 1926 era of ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’. Butting heads with the ship’s captain, Richard Crenna. Holman breaks a lot of small, traditional rules around the ship’s engines which irritates the crew and the locals. While falling in love with a Missionary’s stunning daughter, Shirley Eckert. Played by Candice Bergen in a well thought out and executed period piece, history lesson and anti-war film.

McQueen & Faye Dunaway - The Thomas Crown Affair

Which brings the cool back to the fore in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’. Where Mr. McQueen plays a handsome, rich, influential bank executive who decides to hire a crew of four specialists who do not know each other to rob Crown’s own Boston bank. The heist goes off smoothly and four bags are dumped in trash cans and picked by Crown in his Rolls Royce. Which brings in Paul Burke, a federal investigator who is out of his league. And takes umbrage when Faye Dunaway shows up as insurance investigator, Vicki Anderson. Who is much more than she appears to be. The game is afoot as she politely question Crown over a game of chess. That makes a splendid introduction. Shared in flirtatious silence before more adult entertainment is hinted at under Norman Jewison’s deft touch. The game of high end Cat and Mouse continues through resplendent Massachusetts locales. Until Crown comes up with another plan that no one would expect. In a wondrously opulent ode to conspicuous consumption and elegantly dressed ’60s cool!

SteveMcQueen BullittThat’s knocked down a few notches status wise for Mr. McQueen’s next venture into reaction in Peter Yates’ ‘Bullitt’ . As blue collar San Francisco Detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. Given the task of protecting an organized crime witness for an up and coming, politically cunning District Attorney, Walter Chalmers. Played with arrogant, near sneering glee by Robert Vaughn. Whose future and career depends on the informant, Johnny Ross testifying in court after the weekend. Creating a large enough burden on the shoulders of Bullitt. His boss, Captain Sam Bennett (Simon Oakland). And Bulltt’s partner, Delgetti (Don Gordon. Never better) as well as assorted underlings assigned to the flea bag hotel protection detail.

A weight that shifts precipitously when the informant, Johnny Ross (Pat Renella) unlocks the door for his and the detail’s demise via a team of shot gun assassins. A description is given by one of slowly dying detail detectives as Bullitt arranges for the deceased Johnny Ross to be listed in the morgue as a John Doe. Which doesn’t seem to slow the team of killers down as they try to find Ross and finish the job. Giving Bullitt a quickly glimpse at them. Annoying the heck out of Chalmers as Bullitt tries to put the pieces together and asks Bennett to be put in charge of the murder investigation. Bennett gives Bullitt close to carte blache and leads are followed the next morning. After waking with a hangover in the goofiest pajamas on earth. Waiting for his immursion unit to heat water for instant coffee. Giving Don Gordon’s Delgetti some of films better lines as motel managers are questioned and Ident-I-Kit drawings are put together. While Bullitt seeks out a cab and its driver (Robert Duvall) and dots are connected and snitches contacted. To determine Ross’s foot steps around San Francisco after fleeing Chicago with two million dollars stolen from his older, mob connected brother.

The pressure increases as Bennett is subpoenaed outside Sunday services by Chalmers and his milquetoast associate and Bennett’s boss, Captain Baker (Norman Fell). Something is not adding up as Ross’s trail ends at a middle of nowhere motel. On his way home, Bullitt sees the two shooters in their Dodge Charger and the great grand daddy of all car chases begins in amongst and over the many tight turns, narrow streets and hills of San Francisco. Then out on the highways. Weaving in and out of traffic at well over seventy miles per hour. Dodging shotgun blasts as Bullitt finally manages to nudge the killers’ Charger into the gas pumps of an off road gas station and a huge explosive fireball.

With Jacqueline Bisset in Bullitt

Shaken and stirred, Bullitt invites his girlfriend, Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset, never sexier!) to spend what is left of the weekend with him. Which includes a trip back to the motel. Where Bullitt discovers a murdered woman, Dorothy Simmons (Brandy Carroll). Along with two passports, travelers checks and two tickets from San Francisco International to Rome. Before the room becomes a taped off crime scene, Cathy stumbles in and is shocked to see what Frank deals with. And what he could become.

The passport numbers are faxed to both Customs and State as a pow wow of all the heavy hitters is brought together. As the question of who the John Doe in the morgue really is? And who leaked the information to Chicago about John Doe’s fleabag motel while under protective custody? Leaving Chalmers little else to do once the John Doe is identified as Albert Lee Rennick. Except try to smoothly lie and go into a defensive diatribe aimed at Bullitt. Who tolerates the rhetoric and replies, “You work your side of the street. And I’ll work mine.”

Unburdened of Chalmers, Bullitt and Delgetti go to SFX and open up Ross’s luggage and find that Ross exchanged his tickets for Rome for a same time flight to London. Calls are made and the 707 returns to the departure gate. Delgetti stays in the terminal and Bullitt gets on board. Sees Ross, who escapes through the rear exit door and runs for it. Bullitt gives chase. Finds Ross inside the crowded terminal. Catching Ross just feet away from freedom. Catching rounds from Bullitt’s .38 Colt Diamondback between the terminal’s sliding glass double doors.

McQueen and Ali MacGraw - The Getaway

Capping off a pinnacle of macho coolness that would run long after his death in 1980. Mr. McQueen would continue ti ride high as Formula race car driver, Mike Delaney in the near documentary style, ‘Le Mans’ two years later. Coming under Sam Peckinpah’s masterful touch as rodeo rider, Junior ‘JR’ Bonner in ‘Junior Bonner’ and as just released heist man Doc McCoy. In the ahead of its time, Walter Hill and Jim Thompson scripted heist gone bad film, ‘The Getaway’ with Ali MacGraw. Then turn in a very understated performance as petty thief, Henri Charriere who befriends a near unrecognizable Dustin Hoffman, Louis Dega in ‘Papillon’ on their way to a French Guyana penal colony (Devil’s Island) and their escape attempts from there.

Overall Consensus:

SteveMcQueen9I think Mr. McQueen may have struck onto something by remaining quiet and giving some more memorable lines away to others. Creating a sense of drama while letting his facial expressions do the talking. A trait I’ve noticed by other actors, particularly Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, Joe Mantegna, and the late Jack Lemmon and James Coburn. Actors confident enough in their talent and abilities to let silence speak volumes.

Kudos also to Mr. McQueen for having the savvy to use credibility and cool as a commodity and bargaining chip in ‘Bullitt’. Especially his and Peter Yates’ behind the scenes negotiations to get Warner Brothers out of their studio and back lot confines. Venture down to San Francisco and shoot on location for how ever long a scene or the completed project required.


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


What do you think of Steve McQueen and what’s your favorite McQueen movie(s)? Do share ’em in the comments.

Classic List: The Women of Howard Hawks

Greetings, all and sundry. After finishing my three post ‘arc’ highlighting the career of Jack Lemmon, I’ve decided to delve and poke around a bit in the arena of Classics. And cast some light upon the easily known and often unsung heroines. Who plied their beauty, moxie and craft to make their often secondary roles in films more memorable. Almost always opposite a strong leading man. And under the deft and knowing touch of a director who knew how to get the best and more from his leads and entire casts.

The director in question is Howard Hawks. To whom action and comedy were second nature. And often front and center. Tools to used to misdirect, while weaving a slow smoldering romance in the bargain. With the women in question being just as strong, witty and clever as their leading men.

To that end, allow me to introduce:

The Women of Howard Hawks


Katharine Hepburn: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

This is the film where I like to think that Mr. Hawks began developing his ear for rapid fire dialogue from both ends of the spectrum. With Cary Grant as a harried, engaged Paleontologist, David. Who wants nothing more than to assemble the skeleton of his Brontosaurus with the aid of the Inter-Costal Clavicle. Secure a huge donation to his museum. Marry the monied, not so girl of his dreams and live happily ever after.

That is, until David happens across Katharine Hepburn‘s Susan. Who’s a bit scatter-brained and irresponsible and rarely explains anything directly. Preferring to go the long way around while trading tee shots at a local golf course. Leaving David completely flummoxed and unprepared for another chance meeting later that night. At a very glamorous party. Where Susan accrues a tear in her gown and a hasty escape to madcap, screwball situations. A pet leopard named ‘Baby’. A wily fox terrier named George, (Asta from ‘The Thin Man‘ series) who steals and buries the Inter-Costal Clavicle. Chance encounters with Susan’s eccentric relations and friends. And a late run in with the local constabulary, while a second leopard escapes from a traveling carnival and makes itself known.

Overall Consensus:

Yes, there is a lot going on in this comedic gem. A given, as the film clocks in at just 102 minutes. The trick is to just sit back and let the magic happen under the deft touch of a proven master. Playing in the sandboxes of visual and aural humor. Using Ms. Hepburn’s elegant delivery and speeding things up, just a skosh, in a verbal game of Ping Pong. Where the serve, meter of the near musical volley and the out of left field slammed finish is under Ms. Hepburn’s control. With an unusually flustered Mr. Grant trying to keep up. It may take a while to find the rhythm between pratfalls and flawlessly timed sight gags. But it is definitely worth the effort!

Jean Arthur: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Here’s a great plot idea. Take a half dozen men flying for a fledgling, just scraping to get by mail service that flies over and around the Andes across Bolivia. In sometimes less than airworthy craft. Plying their craft from a close to inaccessible base called Barranca to other shanty towns just as desperate and desolate. Have the motley crew led by self assured, sometimes scruffy, leather flying jacketed and hip holstered Cary Grant and feel the Testosterone swirl and flow.

Into this boys’ club insert not one, but two women. The first, Bonnie Lee. A stranded cabaret singer. Magnificently and wisely brought to life by Jean Arthur. Who is first intrigued by Grant’s mysterious Geoff Carter and his daredevil band of merry men. Then slowly grows to understand who Grant is. What he does and why he does it. And more importantly, how Geoff gets his subordinates to do what they do. Like taking a Ford Tri-Motor up beyond 20,000 feet to test a new Oxygen system while finding a less dangerous path through mountain peaks.

In other word, business as usual. Maintaining an even strain in less that spartan conditions that would send other lesser mortals screaming back home to mother. Yet, Bonnie toughs it out. Trading quips and barbs with Geoff as more is revealed. Even when Barnstorming pilot, Bat Mac Phearson shows up. Evading a checkered past that involved the death of Geoff’s best friend. Seeking a job and acceptance with his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth) in tow. A bad omen if there ever was one. Since Judy was once an old flame of Geoff’s. All the pilots refuse to fly with Bat. So Judy begs Geoff for a chance. Geoff cedes that Bat can fly, but only the most dangerous flights.

Bat starts to make good. Building some cred until fate intervenes. On a flight in the Tri~Motor, Bat tries to clear the Andes but needs to find another route. Right into a flock of birds that flies through the forward propeller and windshield and paralyzes the Co~pilot. The brother of the man that Bat had abandoned and killed. Bat hangs tough and brings the crippled plane back. At the cost of his co~pilot’s life, but redeeming himself in the eyes of his peers.

Overall Consensus:

One of the earliest and best of the type of film I like to describe as ‘Guy Flicks’. Focusing on the male cast members.Their abilities, faults and foibles. What makes them tick. Usually presented with a Herculean task where a woman may be either a help or a hindrance. In this film, the former is writ large. With Jean Arthur remaining completely feminine and beguiling while never coming close to taking on the ‘Mother’ or ‘Big Sister’ roles so predominant in films of this kind today. Also notable for a distinct lack of a cat fight between Bonnie and Judy. When more than a few key scenes could easily facilitate it.

Rosalind Russell: His Girl Friday (1940)

Hawks shifts gears upwards again in a fast paced, tatta-tat-tat of typewriter keys delivered ‘Battle of the Sexes’ comedy That pits its master of rapid patter, Cary Grant as editor, Walter Burns. Trying to keep up with events of the day amidst many inter office squabbles of The Morning Post. When freshly chapeaued Rosalind Russell shows up as his recently-divorced wife and best reporter, Hildy Johnson. Ready to turn in her resignation. Generally rub Walter’s face in her new found freedom and status with fiance and insurance man Bruce Baldwin. Steadfastly played by Ralph Bellamy.

A natural born schemer and conniver, Walter sees a situation that is tailor made for Hildy’s talents and nose for news. After weathering several machine gun delivered volleys. Walter dangles the bait ever so subtly. Convicted murderer, Earl Williams is due for execution and Walter wants Hildy to cover one last story. Hildy hesitates and Walter slyly slips away to have Bruce arrested over and over again. Keeping him out of the picture as he gives up and goes back to Albany and Hildy does what she does best. Asks rapid fire questions that leave many men flustered and stumbling and well in her dust.

Soon it is discovered that the Governor has issued a reprieve for Williams. But the local Mayor and Sheriff covet this execution for re-election and bribe the delivery man to go away until after the deed is done. Hildy and Walter follow leads and find the reprieve and an escaped Williams inside a roll-top desk in the press room of a local police precinct. Just in time to bring the curtain down on the crooked Mayor and Sheriff. And avoid a kidnapping charge for Walter.

All wrapped up in a Happy Ending. Almost. Walter asks Hildy to remarry him and spend their Honeymoon at Niagara Falls. On the way, they can cover a story about a strike in Albany.

Overall Consensus:

Not exactly a screwball comedy. More of a ‘What can possibly go wrong?’ comedy. Delivered by proven master, Grant. With the aid and assistance of Ms. Russell. Who had read the lines of Hildy Johnson for Mr. Hawks. Who liked her meter and quick delivery. Which created a re-write and made Hildy female, instead of male. Thus, a Classic was born.

This is another instance of Hawks heightening femininity. Near a wasted effort in Ms. Russell’s more than competent hands. Delivered in an opening salvo within seconds of her entrance in the Post’s City Desk and her first interdiction with Walter. Ms. Russell’s lines are lilting at first. Evolving quickly into a stepped on, verbal firefight. That ends with Walter easily ducking Hildy’s angrily thrown purse as his back is turned. A splendid bit of cinema well worth the price of admission.

The story just gets better once Hildy takes the bait and pursues the story. Looking like a million dollars in a different ensemble and hat as she quickly asks a second and third follow up question. When those she asks are stumbling with the first. Not only great examples of writing, timing and delivery, but superb glimpses into determined, yet subtle feminine wiles. Of a class and with style not seen in decades.

Barbara Stanwyck: Ball of Fire (1941)

Mr. Hawks takes a turn for the whimsical with an egg headed adaptation of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. Led by tall, stiff and often stoic Gary Cooper as Professor Bertram Potts. Who, with the aid of his seven learned colleagues desires to assemble an Encyclopedia of Human Knowledge. With a special addendum to contemporary slang to be penned by Potts.

At a loss for where to begin, Potts ventured off to a local Burlesque and becomes enamored of Miss ‘Sugarpuss O’Shea, a dancer of notable talent brought saucily to life by Ms. Stanwyck. On again, off again girlfriend of crime boss, Joe Lilac. Played with an inflated ego and a touch of slime by Dana Andrews. Who uses the Burlesque as a front for his various nefarious enterprises.

It seems that Sugarpuss is just as intrigued by Professor Potts as he is smitten with her. As events quickly unfold, there is a falling out between Sugarpuss and Joe. And she winds up on the Professor’s doorstep looking for a place to lay low. Potts objects at first. Slightly less than Kathleen Howard’s very set in her ways, Miss Bragg, the Housekeeper. But sees what a breath of fresh air and wonderment she is for his mainly bachelor, content to be cloistered colleagues. Teaching them the latest colloquialisms between impromptu Conga lines. While Potts starts to fall in love and soon proposes to Sugarpuss.

Sugarpuss says yes. But as luck would have it. Joe finds out about Sugarpuss being AWOL and sends some of his boys to find her and bring her home. Seems that Joe has marriage on his mind as well, but more to keep his activities quiet than marital bliss. With Sugarpuss on her way. A few of Joes’ hired help keep the Professor and his merry men in check and at gunpoint until the nuptials are over.

Determined to find a solution, Professor Potts begins a roundabout lecture with his colleagues to distract their keepers. That involves scientific theory, a bit of double talk, a reflecting magnifying glass and the slender cord holding a large painting above the head of pistol wielding, Duke Pastrami (Dan Duryea). Science wins the day and the Professor and his gang is off to save the day. Kind of, but yes.

Overall Consensus:

Ms. Stanwyck rules the day and the roost once she becomes the focus of attention. Easily taking Pott’s and his clowder of collegiate professors’ breath away with her insouciance and bold for its day, sexuality. Sugarpuss wows from a distance and close up. Turning a gaggle of aged egg heads into if not wide eyed boys, then not so clumsy teenagers.

A rare treat to watch, considering the treasure trove supporting Seven Dwarves. Familiar faces, shapes and sizes. With distinct, unique dictions and deliveries. From Oskar Homolka and S.Z. Sakall. To Richard Haydn and Aubrey Mather. All add something innocent and memorable. And Ms. Stanwyck has them all. Including Potts, wrapped around her little finger without even knowing it.

Joanne Dru: Red River (1948)

Take an iconic John Wayne Chisholm Trail Western. Add a quick on the trigger youngster who’s anxious to prove himself and put him under the Duke’s wing. Teach him everything there is to know about cattle, riding, horses and shooting. Send him off to college to return as Montgomery Clift. Just in time for the first major cattle drive from Texas to Kansas.

Fill out the hired hands for the drive with Walter Brennan, Noah Beery Jr., John Ireland and Harry Carey and his son. Add a thousand head of cattle, give or take. A few roving bands of Indians. A hand who has more than a sweet tooth for sugar. A cattle stampede. A cause for a flogging and a break up between John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Who takes what cattle has been rounded up and head towards Abilene.

En route, a wagon train full of settlers in ambushed by Indians and Clift rides to the rescue. Staving off a second wave attack and then aiding Tess Millay (Joanne Dru). Gorgeous, worldly, with a spine of steel. Who doesn’t scream or panic when an arrow pierces her shoulder. Instantly intrigued by this handsome hero who removes the arrow and patches her up as the Indians retreat. Then using her discreet wiles, finds out more about Clift’s troubled Matt Garth. His life, dreams and tenuous relationship with his adoptive father, John Wayne’s Thomas Dunson.

Not even raising an eyebrow as Matt and the drive leaves and Dunson crosses her path a short time later. Going out her way to feed Dunson and pour some drinks. While secreting a derringer in the sling supporting her left arm. Dunson sees it and remains unimpressed as the ice is broken and Tess learns so much more.

Overall Consensus:

Red River is one of the rare films by Howard Hawks whose ending I thought was rather weak and could have stood some re-write and several more takes. That said, everything else is an expansive and wondrously executed example of what one should expect from a master.

The men are men. Sins, secrets, shortcomings and all. The few women in attendance are tough, because the environment demands it, but much more so in Tess Millay. Who can see through the rough exteriors of men and read them within moments of first meeting them. Where Tess is calm, curious and a bit demure with Matt Garth. As she looks through and weighs Matt’s unseen baggage and finds him worth her time.

Then turns the coin to cold, succinct and somewhat callous for her tete a tete with Wayne’s Tom Dunson. With a demeanor better suited for a saloon or brothel as she deals Black Jack single handed for Dunson as she decides whether or not to shoot him. Though it is there for only a few brief moments. It is great talent rising to the moment and pulling it off flawlessly!

Which leaves room for Dessert and….

Honorable Mention:

Margaret Sheridan: The Thing from Another World (1951)

In order to create a round half dozen in chronological order. I’ve tacked on this actress and film. Even if Mr. Hawks is noted as its producers. There’s too much of his trade craft and trademark fingerprints all over this offering to think that was all he added.

The story circles around a group of Quonset Hut bound scientists who discover something has crashed to Earth near their station at the North Pole. A cargo plane and its crew arrive to explore further and bring back another something frozen in a long block of ice. That thaws and releases the Thing inside. Who has a taste for human blood and sprouts seed pods that can create more Things.

Nearly invisible in this pond of Testosterone and superior gray matter is Ms. Sheridan‘s Science Assistant and stenographer, Nikki. For whom there are few secrets. An extremely good listener who occasionally offers off-hand comments and advice that are bankable. As well as taking note of details that others quickly miss.

Easily holding her own amongst the Brainiacs and Poindexters of Polar Expedition-6. While never dallying in the realm of panic and ‘Scream Queen’.


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



Well, what do you think of the women of Howark Hawks? Do share your thoughts about this list in the comments.