Catch-up 22

It hasn’t been the greatest 10-12 days–nothing that blew my socks off–but still some pretty good stuff.

The best:

Colorado Territory – Raoul Walsh’s Western remake of High Sierra with Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo in the Bogie-Lupino parts. Slow to get going but the last 30 minutes are for goddam real, including a uniquely downbeat tone and a fucking unbelievable location for the surreal and haunting climax. Walsh did outlaw psychology as well as anyone, and that includes Sam Peckinpah.

Lifeboat – Seen it a million times and still don’t get why it’s considered second-tier or lower Hitchcock. For wartime propaganda it’s amazingly humanistic without being self-congratulatory about it; its questions and very tentative answers seem extremely honest, especially its final question, unanswerable by any of the characters, which fixes a hard, cold eye on the evil things men do.

Cantet’s The Class – Another slow-starter. Worth hanging in there for, but its complication reminded me of Mamet’s thing, I’m blanking on the name, about the professor and the student who accuses him of rape, i.e., it was a little too much of an imposed he-said-she-said, gee-don’t-both-sides-have-a-point-after-all kind of thing, as opposed to the more organic, less textbooky dilemmas of Human Resources.

The Silence of Lorna – Engrossing but didn’t hypnotize me like Rosetta or make me feel like I was fighting for my life the way L’Enfant did. I knew the major plot point that was coming in advance but the Dardennes outfoxed me–the way it came was still a body-blow. My mind wandered here for the first time in any of their movies but there’s still 2-3 incredible, transcendent moments.

God’s Little Acre – Anthony Mann’s adaptation of the Erskine Caldwell novel, and another contender for the second edition of Hick Flicks. Robert Ryan is “Ty Ty,” the patriarch of a Georgia dirt-farm family–Granddad told him on his deathbed that he’d buried a pot of gold somewhere on the farm but died before saying just where, so Ty Ty’s spent the intervening years digging hole after hole all over the north forty looking for it. Not no small holes either: his front yard looks like the aftermath of the Somme. Much of the story is given over to the troubles brought on by Idiot Son #1 (Jack Lord) and Idiot Son #2 (Vic Morrow), with Lord’s wife, an almost comically carnal Tina Louise, being the source of most of the misery. (She spends the early part of the movie in a thin dress that’s scooped down to her navel; Mann usually waits until she’s backlit by the sun before training the camera on her.) The other female presence, just a whit less distracting, is called Darlin’ Jill, and she’s played by Fay Spain, better known in these parts as Mrs. Hyman Roth. A key scene that got cut from many prints in ’58: Jill taking a bath in an outdoor tub and asking Buddy Hackett (playing sheriff’s candidate “Pluto Swint”) to pump some water into the tub while she’s already lying in it–with one of his arms pumping rythmically up and down, he peeks down at her and begins grunting “Well, darn my sox…darn my sox…” Despite some late-going dramaturgy it’s worth seeing for the, um, extremely folksy humor, especially the subplot involving a pre-Bonanza Michael Landon, unrecognizable as an albino, and even more unrecognizable for being genuinely funny. (He enters the picture after Hackett tells Ryan that albinos–who he describes as having white blood and white ear-wax–have dowsing powers, so Ryan kidnaps Landon from the local swamp to make him find the gold; when Darlin’ Jill drags Landon off into the woods, Ryan runs frantically around the farm roaring “Whar’s my ‘bino? Whar’s my ‘bino?”) Worth seeing if only because Anthony Mann was a genius who could make an ant-hill interesting.

Siegel’s The Killers – Boorman must’ve watched it a hundred times before making Point Blank. Great work by practically the whole cast–especially Lee Marvin, Dickinson, Cassavetes, and Claude Akins–but a certain Ronald Wilson Reagan stinks up the house like peanut-butter farts, and this is supposed to be Reagan’s good performance. Made for TV, it’s sodden with rear projection work that lacks the pizazz which gave surprising boosts to The Lineup and The Big Steal, the only movies I know of that turned the scroungiest of devices into lemonade.

Nobody Lives Forever – Fine grifter movie with John Garfield. Less good but still interesting: The Prowler, directed by Joseph Losey of all people. Van Heflin’s a L.A. cop who develops a fixation on hot, bored housewife Evelyn Keyes after she spots a prowler outside her window one night. It’s crude and cheap, like its subject, but it’s actually pretty hip about male narcissism and how much weight relationships can bear before catastrophic failure occurs. It kept me guessing.

Some good things in them but a rough ride overall:

Borderline – Another H’wood flirtation with Mexico, a mixed-tone comedy-crime drama about two undercover cops–Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor–chasing drug-runner Raymond Burr south of the border. MacMurray and Trevor fall in love, of course, but the twist is, neither of them knows they’re on the same side. Quite a twist, eh? Still, it’s decent, with MacMurray in his likable Remember the Night persona.

Splendor in the Grass – I watched this for a particular reason and was surprised–based on its pedigree (Inge/Kazan) I always thought I’d hate this movie, but that wasn’t the case at all. I can’t say I loved it, but it’s got a handful of fine moments, Beatty (in his debut) is the most natural I’ve ever seen him, and as a Freudian ’50s study of teen sexuality it beats Rebel Without a Cause with the Ugly Stick. It’s also the only movie I’ve ever seen that made me understand why Natalie Wood was a star–she’s fetching as hell and projects an actual personality here. Lots and lots of of good acting from the secondary players, especially Audrey Christie and Zohra Lampert. Beware, though, there’s plenty of inexplicable human behavior and Pat Hingle must’ve thought Gadge hired him to play Godzilla.

Take a pass:

Woman on the Run – Ann Sheridan in yet another thriller set in 1950s San Francisco. Ann shows her age, and it’s a heartbreaker.

Highway 301 – Steve Cochran thingy about the “Tri-State Gang” wreaking havoc on the East Coast. Negligible, but the group shots of the gang make them look like a gang of hard-core killers, so there’s that.

Slander – Cochran again, this time playing a J.J. Hunsecker-type tabloid publisher who zeroes in on child-idol Van Johnson as his next target. (Johnson plays a puppeteer whose singing cowboy routine is guaranteed to make you urpy.) The movie that explains why Steve Cochran never cracked the big time.

The Good Die Young – Brit heist movie, with Laurence Harvey, Stanley Baker, and Joan Collins, but also Richard Basehart, John Ireland, and Gloria Grahame. By-the-numbers stuff (right down to Gloria playing a slut), but there’s one astonishing closeup of psycho Harvey caught at his most psycho-y. If he could make that face at will, his children are still in therapy today.

Blood on the Moon – The week’s big disappointment: Robert Wise Western with Mitchum riding into a range-war and hooking up with old pal Robert Preston before realizing he’s joined the wrong side. Starts out fine but dribbles away to nothing.

Background to Danger – One of many Greenstreet-Lorre packages Warners threw together during the war when its A-list stars were gone. This is supposed to be one of the best ones; I don’t want to see the worst.

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