This Week's Goods

Good enough to eat:

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) – Fritz Lang’s 4½ hour silent film that’s credited with inventing the modern supervillain. It was good while I was watching it but considering afterward how many great scenes are contained in just one movie leaves me a little thunderstruck. The story is deadly serious but the film plays with its medium and genre so much that it’s entertaining as hell; in one scene Mabuse mentally orders the prosecutor who’s been hounding him to drive his car into the Melior quarry, and so we see the D.A. in his roadster speeding through Berlin and then its outskirts as the word MELIOR appears in various fonts graphically on the screen, leading his car onwards. Mind control, assassinations, kidnappings, suicides, and card-cheating abound. (That last sin may sound trivial by comparison but it’s at the center of one of the most poignant subplots.) I’d love to see it on a real screen…

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian 1932) – Parts of this thing are just completely fucking intense. Frederic March was a stiff as Jekyll but he’s fantastic as Hyde (and a lot more athletic than I ever suspected him of being). Hyde’s scenes with Miriam Hopkins are a graduate course in misogyny and abuse; they’re just torture to watch.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Yates 1973) – It’s gonna be a long time before I shake the image of a doomed and drunked-up Robert Mitchum at the Bruins game out of my mind. The man also sports the sleepiest haircut I’ve ever seen on a human being.

Reruns:

The Wrong Man (Hitchcock 1956) – A lot better than I remember.

White Heat (Walsh 1949) – Jesus Fucking Christ, what a picture.

Mixed Bags:

Illegal (Lewis Allen 1955) – Edward G. Robinson as a principled but driven D.A. who accidentally sends an innocent man to the chair. The experience breaks him, and the only thing that saves him from an alcoholic tailspin (elucidated for some number of scenes) is his chance crossing of paths with a mobster–little by little he’s seduced into becoming a mouthpiece. An ugly case of melodrama breaks out like acne over the last five minutes of the picture, but until then it’s surprisingly absorbing, with a great turn by Nina Foch as Robinson’s one-time protege who’s thrown for a loss by what he’s become. Jayne Mansfield’s debut, and the only time I’ve seen her keep her dignity.

Rain (Milestone 1932) – And does it ever. Joan Crawford way overdoes it in the early going and Walter Huston never does find, let’s say, the most subtle handle on his evangelist character, and since it was based on a Maxwell Anderson play the players spend way too much time baldly discussing redemption. But I still haven’t shaken this one out of my bones: the confrontation between a religious nut and a prostitute whose latent sense of dishonor makes her easy prey is a potent one, and by the end Sadie Thompson was reminding me of women I haven’t thought about in decades.

The Landlord (Ashby 1970) – I’ve been wanting to see this for 35 years, and I think it was worth the wait. A multi-toned affair, as any comedy-drama about race relations should be. The one tone I didn’t like was a bit of over-the-top nonsense near the very end; so many writers can’t figure out how to bring a drama to a boil without breaking out the axe. Still, it’s perhaps the only Beau Bridges performance I’ve ever seen that I truly admired, and the movie is rich in so many unexpected places, and so often, that it was hard to get mad about the players who were forced into early exits for reasons of time. The movie also boasts a performance by Diana Sands that’s one-of-a-kind for its thoughtfulness and perceptiveness; Sands would be dead from cancer three years later. One of the bravest movies about race I’ve ever seen–it does to its actual audience what Hi, Mom! only did to its movie-within-the-movie audience. Brilliant ending, too: three words of snapped-off dialog give you a roadmap to the way an entire relationship is going to go.

House by the River (Lang 1949)

Dillinger (Max Nosseck 1945)

Bombs Away:

Little Big Horn (Charles Marquis Warren 1951) – A bum steer–one that’s been slaughtered and left to rot in the sun–from the usually reliable Manny Farber. Memorable only because it has the absolute worst stuntwork I’ve ever seen in a movie–it makes the cheapest chop-sockie or crappiest TV cop show look like The Wild Bunch. Painful acting by Lloyd Bridges, and for the second movie in a row (counting The Sniper) the producers use a nothing little role to give Marie Windsor a prominent place in the credits. Boo, I say. Boo.

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