The Shop Around the Corner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“The Shop Around the Corner” is an MGM movie starring Jimmy Stewart that combines elements of comedy, drama and romance to tell the story of a retail store in Budapest, Hungary called Matuschek and Company.  Mr. Matuschek, played by Frank Morgan is the owner of a leather goods store that is struggling to survive at the end of the Great Depression.  Matuschek is enthusiastic, self-important and comically hot-headed.

His lead salesman is Alfred Kralik, played by Stewart.  Kralik is intelligent, earnest and falling in love with a woman he’s never met.  He’s in an anonymous pen-pal relationship with a woman that he knows simply as “dear friend.”  As it turns out dear friend also happens to be his co-worker Klara Novak, played by Margaret Sullavan.  But in their real life Kralik and Klara detest each other.  In addition to this comedy of errors love/hate relationship, there are other characters and other sub-plots.  Kralik’s closest friend at the shop is Mr. Pirovitch played in a wonderfully comic turn by Felix Bressart.  Pirovitch is Mr. Matuschek’s favorite whipping boy.  His favorite statement is “Pirovitch you’re an idiot.”  To which the meek Pirovitch replies, “Yes, Mr. Matuschek, I’m an idiot.”

There is Ferencz Vadas, another of the sales clerks, played with enormous pomposity and self-regard by Joseph Schildkraut.  And finally, there is the errand boy Pepi Katona who snipes sarcastically at all his superiors and ends up as the hero of the second plot line.  For along with the romance there is a drama.  Mr. Matuschek has become aware of the fact that his wife is having an affair and he believes it is with one of his employees.  And since Kralik has had the most opportunity to meet Mrs. Matuschek he is the prime suspect.  So, whereas formerly Matuschek treated Kralik almost as a son now he hates and distrusts him.  After goading Kralik into anger, Matuschek discharges him.  But when the private detectives finish their investigation, they name Mr. Vadas as Matuschek’s rival.  With his life in shambles Matuschek attempts to end it all with a pistol.  But in the nick of time Pepi breaks in on his suicide and hands Matuschek over to the hospital for psychiatric observation.

Meanwhile Kralik discovers that on top of being fired his “dear friend” is Klara Novak.  He finds this out when he is supposed to be meeting her at a café with each of them wearing a carnation.  Spying Klara’s carnation from outside he throws away his carnation and pretends that he was just stopping at the café to meet Pirovitch.  Klara accuses him of trying to spoil her prospective date, insults him and finishes by calling him an insignificant clerk.  After this he leaves in complete dejection and misery.

But in the next act Matuschek calls Kralik to his hospital bed to apologize for his terrible treatment and to beg him to come back and manage the store while Matuschek recuperates from his nervous breakdown.  Even Pepi is rewarded for saving Mr. Matuschek by becoming a salesman.  Now with roles reversed Klara is dejected because her date never showed up and on top of that she finds that the man she insulted is now her boss.  But all ends well.  Kralik fires the despicable Vadas in royal fashion.  The store has a stellar Christmas sales total and Mr. Matuschek returns in time to give everyone a wonderful bonus.  And finally, the lovers are re-united.  But first Kralik has some fun with Klara by pretending that he had met her “dear friend” and he was fat, bald, old, and a greedy fraud.  When Klara finally discovers that Kralik is her “dear friend” she is relieved and happy.

This is a relatively silly story.  But the dialogue and the acting are remarkably good.  Even the minor parts are played skillfully and with great comic verve.  There is great heart here.  And the humanity of all the characters, even the villainous Vadas feels very real.  You believe the story.  There is a Dickensian feel to the production.  I highly recommend this story to everyone.  It’s a gem.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) – A Movie Review

“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a crime drama that takes place in and around Boston.  Robert Mitchum is Eddie Coyle, a small-time member of an Irish gang who is about to be sentenced for a truck hijacking that he did for another gangster named Dillon who is played by Peter Boyle.  Because Eddie doesn’t want to do anymore time he agrees to act as an informant to ATF agent Dave Foley.  He informs on the gun runner Jackie Brown who has been providing Eddie with pistols for use by a bank robbing gang being run by Eddie’s friend Jimmy Scalise.

At the same time, we discover that Eddie’s associate Dillon is also providing information to Foley too.  Eventually Dillon provides information on Scalise’s operation and the gang gets busted.  When both Jackie Brown and Scalise both get taken down by ATF the head of the gang decides that Eddie is responsible for the leaks and sends his hitman to kill Eddie.  And ironically the hitman is Dillon.

The movie consists of the various crimes, the gun-running and the bank robberies along with Eddie’s and Dillon’s meetings with Dave Foley.  The movie’s strengths are the dialog and the portrayal of these characters.  Listening to them justify the various and contradictory actions they take rings true.  Even Eddie’s relationship with his wife and family demonstrates what a hopeless mess his life is.  And the ending where Dillon takes Eddie to a Bruins hockey game and gets him black out drunk before executing him in a car ride into the suburbs is completely believable and emblematic of the faithless fraternity that these men inhabit.

Living in New England I asked a friend of mine what he thought about the somewhat recent Boston mob movie, “The Departed.”  He said that the legitimate quintessential New England mob movie was the “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  And I agree with him completely.  This movie feels about right as a representation of Boston corruption.  Whether it’s gangsters or crooked politicians this is what that world looks and feels like.  It’s petty and disloyal and penny-ante and very, very local.  There’s nothing grandiose and nothing heroic.  It’s gritty and believable.

If you like crime movies that reek of small-timer sweat, this is it.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) – A Movie Review

“The Bad and the Beautiful” is a film about Hollywood.  Kirk Douglas plays Jonathan Shields, the son of a famous Hollywood producer who has his sights set on following in his father’s footsteps.  Starting out as the producer of B movies for a friend of his father’s, Harry Pebbel (played by Walter Pidgeon), Jonathan finds, befriends and ultimately betrays the best director, actress and author that fate sends his way.  The movie is about this destructive mode of living that Jonathan inhabits.  Along the way we see that Jonathan is both tremendously talented and possessed of enormous personal magnetism.  But these positive traits are set against his staggering disregard for the welfare of the people around him.  Basically, he’s a narcissist.  He also suffers from bouts of clinical depression when he finishes each of his film projects.

The set up for the plot is the actress (Lana Turner playing Georgia Lorrison), the director (Barry Sullivan as Fred Amiel) and the author (Dick Powell as James Lee Bartlow) arriving at the office of Harry Pebbel who is trying to get the three of them to agree to star, direct and write Jonathan’s next project.  His last film was a financial disaster and the only way he can get funding is to have a team of celebrated professionals like them involved.

Harry is the narrator introducing the three vignettes that chronicle Jonathan’s disastrous relationships with Georgia, Fred and James Lee.  Each of the stories features Jonathan catalyzing the creative success that each is capable of but also betraying each of them in a way that is unforgivable.

Fred hands Jonathan the script of a great movie with the understanding that Fred will direct it.  Jonathan manages successfully to get the studio to provide a lavish million-dollar budget for the project but then decides to hand the direction to a more experienced man.  This ends Fred’s friendship and partnership with Jonathan but allows Fred to pursue his own career which ends in him becoming a highly successful director for other studios.

Georgia’s story features Jonathan saving this fragile young daughter of a famous actor who has fallen into a self-destructive cycle of drunkenness and loveless affairs.  He realizes that in order to give Georgia the confidence she needs to succeed he will have to pretend to be her great love.  With Jonathan’s help she finds her acting skills and makes the part and the movie a great success.  But after the film wrap Jonathan goes into his typical depression and when Jonathan isn’t at the opening party Georgia returns to Jonathan’s home to cheer him up.  Instead, she finds him entertaining a starlet in a negligee.  But instead of being embarrassed he becomes enraged that she thinks she can own his affections.  She flees into the night in a torrential rainstorm and we see her driving wildly and almost crashing into the oncoming traffic.  This is the weakest scene in the movie.  Her hysterical screaming while braking the car into a spin strikes me as absurdly comical.  The next day she quits her job and even though she was bound by contract Jonathan lets her out of it.  She goes on to become the most acclaimed, in demand and highest paid actress of her time.

James Lee’s story finds him recruited by Jonathan to write the script for a movie being made from his own best-selling book.  It’s actually James Lee’s wife Rosemary (played by Gloria Grahame with an awful Southern accent) who wants him to stay in Hollywood for the movie work.  But at the same time Rosemary is the greatest impediment to James Lee accomplishing much writing.  She interrupted him at every turn and distracts him with chaperoning her to Hollywood parties.

Jonathan is frustrated by this lack of progress so he arranges for James Lee to accompany him to a cabin in the woods where they can work undisturbed.  But to make sure that Rosemary doesn’t intrude Jonathan arranges for his handsome friend “Gaucho” to keep Rosemary company.  Of course, Jonathan knows Gaucho will make a pass at Rosemary and he also believes she will welcome it.

Sure enough, James Lee and Jonathan make enormous progress and finish the script.  But in the meantime, Gaucho and Rosemary take the opportunity to fly to Acapulco for a love tryst.  They are both killed in a plane crash and James Lee is devastated by his wife’s death and by the knowledge of her infidelity.  Jonathan convinces him to stay on in Hollywood to assist in the production of the movie and this lifts James Lee out of his despair.  But Jonathan inadvertently says something that reveals that he knew about Gaucho’s affair with Rosemary.  But instead of apologizing Jonathan goes on the attack and tells James Lee that Rosemary’s death was her own fault and that she was a hindrance to James Lee’s career.  And the outraged widower punches Jonathan in the face and walks out.  Afterward James Lee writes a book about a woman like Rosemary and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize.  We are led to understand by Harry’s remarks that James Lee’s new understanding of his wife’s hidden desires was what made the book the success it became.

After finishing the reminiscences Harry is going to call Jonathan in Paris and tell him whether Fred, Georgia and James Lee will be willing to work with him on his new project.  As the call is connected the three of them tell Harry they refuse and begin to leave the office.  As they walk into the anteroom, we hear Harry talking on his phone to Jonathan as he begins to hear the details of the new movie.

In the last scene Georgia carefully picks up the receiver of an extension phone in the anteroom and starts listening very interestedly in what Jonathan is saying.  Quickly Fred and James Lee huddle around her eavesdropping with her.  Obviously as much as they despise Jonathan for his selfishness they are fascinated by his talent.

This movie is a narcissist’s love letter to itself.  Hollywood almost prided itself on destroying the people it used up to make its products.  Vincent Minelli was the director and his wife Judy Garland could have been the model for the character Georgia.  And any number of other Hollywood actors, producers, directors and writers could probably have been templates for the characters in this movie.  The only difference would be that the betrayals were worse in real life and the talent of the producer would have been much less impressive.

I’m of two minds about this movie.  It is very well made.  It captures the spirit of the industry it portrays.  But the shabbiness of the people on display revolts me.  Jonathan is never apologetic.  He always attacks his victims.  He always justifies his betrayal.  He is a sociopath.  I guess taken as a cautionary tale it would have value.  Maybe it speaks to the selfishness in all of us.

The Four Feathers (1939) – A Classic Movie Review

This 1939 British version of the story stars John Clements as Harry Faversham a young Englishman whose family has a centuries old tradition of military service but who himself fears the reality of war.  He is engaged to Ethne Burroughs daughter of retired General Burroughs and sister to Peter Burroughs his best friend and comrade in the Royal North Surrey Regiment of the British Army.  Ralph Richardson plays Captain John Durrance, Faversham’s rival for Ethne’s love and the main cast is rounded out by Jack Allen as Lieutenant Willoughby.

As the marriage approaches the British Army is about to send an expedition from Egypt to Sudan to reconquer Khartoum ten years after the Mahdi had captured it from General Gordon.  The Royal North Surrey Regiment is called up for service but Faversham resigns his commission to avoid fighting.  His three friends send him a package that consists of a box with three white feathers attached to cards with each of their names.  When he arrives at Ethne’s home her father will not even speak to him and because of Ethne’s sorrowful reaction to his actions he takes a white feather from her fan and tells her he will add it as her contribution to his collection of white feathers.

Now feeling himself to be the coward that his friends have declared him he visits his father’s old friend Dr Sutton and works through his feelings with this mentor and decides that he must restore his honor by going to Sudan and proving himself.  But of course, he’s no longer in the British Army so he goes to Egypt and recruits the help of an Egyptian friend of Dr. Sutton who disguises him as a native.  But to hide his lack of knowledge of Arabic he is branded on the forehead to appear as one of the mute Sangali tribe.  In this guise he travels to Sudan and joins the work gang that is helping to transport the British Army under Kitchener to Khartoum.  And he is just in time to save Captain John Durrance from death when his company is surrounded by the Mahdi’s army during a diversionary action that the British planned to allow the bulk of their army to escape a battle at the enemy’s stronghold.

Durrance has suffered a heat stroke and is now blind.  When his position is being overrun Faversham is able to save his life although both of them are wounded and left for dead by the Mahdi’s men.  Burroughs and Willoughby are captured and taken back to Khartoum for imprisonment or worse.

Faversham continues the impersonation of a mute while he transports Durrance across the desert back to the British territory and medical help.  Before escaping from the British Faversham manages to place the feather that Durrance gave him back in Durrance’s wallet.

Now Faversham travels to Khartoum and manages to give his two friends a file that they can use to saw through their shackles in prison.  He ends up being discovered as an Englishman by the Mahdi and tortured for information.  He is thrown into the prison with his friends.  He reveals himself to his friends and tells them his plan.  If the Mahdi is beaten by Kitchener in battle, he is likely to retreat back to Khartoum and kill his prisoners before the British can take the town and free them.  So, Faversham’s plan is to use the file to free as many of the prisoners as possible and wait until the Mahdi’s army sets out for battle then overwhelm the few guards and take possession of the arsenal building that will provide them with the weapons and walls they need to survive until the British take the town.

Things work as Faversham expects until the British army follows the Mahdi’s army and begins bombarding the arsenal.  To save themselves from being blown to bits they manage to find an old British flag from the former regime and raise it over the arsenal just in time to save their lives.

Returning to England with his comrades Faversham finds himself forgiven his former cowardice and indeed a hero.  But most importantly his fiancée revives her plan to marry him.

The movie has several things going for it.  It was filmed on location in the places depicted in the story.  The cinematography is impressive and the production was able to enlist British soldiers in period costumes to film the battle scenes.  Large forces of men on camels and horses also adds drama to these scenes.  The story is highly improbable but the action is enjoyable and the characters are interesting.  One standout is C. Aubrey Smith’s portrayal of General Burroughs.  In several scenes Burrough’s laments the present-day army’s lack of toughness.  In each case he uses food found on a banquet table to reenact the Crimean War, Battle of Balaclava.  By the end of the movie, to the relief of the audience, Faversham is in a position to finally shut up his prospective father-in-law by correcting his mistaken narrative of how Burroughs’s actually began the famous charge.  I like these old tales from the British Empire.  They are filled with adventure and the ethos of the time.  Highly recommended for fans of high adventure.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) – A Movie Review

Here’s a movie that I can’t decide if I love or hate.  Steve McQueen is the too cool to have any facial expression Cincinnati Kid.  He’s a stud poker player in in New Orleans.  His girlfriend is too cute for words farm girl Christian (played by Tuesday Weld) and his mentor is Shooter played by Karl Malden.  Shooter is the man who arranges all the high-end poker matches and acts as the professional dealer.  He’s married to Melba, played way over the top by Ann Margaret as she slinks around in her underwear waiting for the Kid to betray his girlfriend and her husband and join her in bed.

The climax of the movie is a high stakes poker match between the Kid and Lancey Howard played by Edward G. Robinson.  Lancey is “The Man.”  If the Kid can beat him, he becomes the foremost stud poker player in his world and his future becomes assured.  But a rich New Orleans gambler named Slade (played by Rip Torn) is stinging from a poker beating he took from Lancey and he extorts Shooter to throw the game to the Kid.  Halfway through Cincinnati figures out he’s being fed cards and because he wants to win the game himself, he forces Shooter out of the deal.  And for good measure, during one of the breaks from poker, he beds Melba.  Unfortunately, Christian picks exactly that moment to return from a visit to her parents and discovers Melba even less dressed than usual in Cincinnati’s room.

The end of the game comes in a hand that includes an ace high full house and a straight flush.  Oh, come on!  I’ll let you watch the movie to see who ends up on top but I’ll add that the Kid ends up getting the girl back (at least in one version of the movie).

So why can’t I figure out how I feel about the movie?  Well, it’s a construct.  It’s like they put it together by recipe.  Ultra-cool young gambler, Steve McQueen, check.  Impossibly sweet, pretty blonde girl, Tuesday Weld, check.  Cast of familiar, stereotyped character actors, check, check, check.  Voluptuous, half naked girl throwing herself at star, Ann Margaret, check.  Classy, golden age actor to lend some gravitas, Edward G. Robinson, checkmate.  It’s all by the numbers.  They even lay on the New Orleans atmosphere with old time jazz players and even throw Cab Calloway in as one of the gamblers.  It’s just too much.

But for whatever reason if I’m in the mood to watch a spectacle I end up enjoying the movie.  Edward G. Robinson is just too much fun to watch and listen to.  He doesn’t have that much to work with but he fills out the roll with style.  We feel the aches and pains of the old man sitting hour after hour at the table playing against the younger man.  His banter with Joan Blondell as the alternate dealer “Lady Fingers” is amusing.  Even the scene where the Kid meets Christian’s back country family and shows them some card tricks is charming.  What can I say?  I like it.  I know it’s a set up and I’m the mark but it works.  The critics said this was a copycat movie of Paul Newman’s pool room film, “The Hustler.”  They’re probably right.  But this is the less serious, less fraught version and I think it’s more enjoyable.  I’ll recommend it with my remarks above as the qualifier.  It’s a contrived spectacle but that’s what Hollywood makes.

Libel (1959) – A Movie Review

Libel is a British courtroom drama. The legal case is a libel charge against a man, Jeffrey Buckenham, who claims that an imposter stole the identity of an English baronet.  Buckenham claims that during WWII in a German POW camp, a fellow POW who looked remarkably similar to Sir Mark Loddon stole his identity during an escape from the camp.  Buckenham claims that during their escape the imposter, Frank Welney, escaped but Lodden perished.  Dirk Bogarde plays both Loddon and Welney.  Olivia de Havilland plays Lodden’s wife, Lady Margaret Loddon.  Paul Massie plays Buckenham.  And finally, familiar character actors Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White play, respectively, the prosecuting and defense attorneys.

The story develops with us seeing that the man assumed to be Mark Lodden suffers from extreme amnesia of his pre-war life and is also haunted by recurring nightmares that include a snatch of song and an image of a face in a mirror.  His wife provides patient support during all his agony but as the trial progresses the story told by Buckenham begins to eat away at her belief in her husband and his identity.  Buckenham relates details about Welney’s behavior that makes it plausible that he might have pulled off the impersonation.  He was a professional actor.  He had pumped Lodden for details of his private life.  Welney had a missing finger that the present Sir Lodden also claimed to have lost to a bullet wound during his escape.  Buckenham even testified that he overheard Welney talking to himself about impersonating Lodden if he ever returned but Lodden didn’t.  Before the end of the trial Lady Margaret Loddon becomes convinced that she’s married to an imposter that did away with her actual fiancé.

The testimony by Buckenham and Lodden are portrayed with flashbacks of the wartime interaction of the protagonists in the POW camp.  The acting is good.  The script is relatively taut for such a convoluted story and the tension is well maintained.  The finale is a bit of a twist and is as plausible or implausible as the rest of this slightly unlikely story.  I recommend it.

Hang ‘Em High (1968) – A Movie Review

Clint Eastwood stars as Jed Cooper, a former law man who is mistaken for a rustler and murderer by a posse and is hanged.  A U.S. Marshall comes upon him and cuts him down in time to save his life.  The Marshall brings Cooper in and his story is corroborated.  And the local judge Adam Fenton offers him a job as a Marshall with warrants for the arrest of the men who hanged him.

The rest of the movie revolves around Cooper’s attempts to bring the eleven men who hanged him to justice.  In the interim there is a love story between Cooper and Inger Stevens who plays a store owner named Rachel Warren who was also the victim of violence.  Ed Begley, Bruce Dern, Alan Hale, Jr and Dennis Hopper appear as members of the posse in supporting roles.  But this is Eastwood’s movie.

I found some parts of the story were overly drawn out and dragged.  The action scenes were good.  In addition to Eastwood, I would say Pat Hingle who played the judge was the most interesting character.  Overall, I enjoyed the movie.  But I am a western fan.

So, what’s the verdict?  As a specimen of the “new western” this is a good representative.  If you’re a western fan I think you’ll like this film.  If you’ve never seen a western it might seem stilted and slow.  I enjoyed it within the limitations I mentioned.

Time After Time (1979) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Malcolm McDowell is H.G. Wells.  He has invented a time machine and is about to use it to explore the past and future from his home in 1890, London.  But at a dinner party where he is announcing his project one of his friends John Leslie Stevenson steals it to escape from the police who have discovered that he is Jack the Ripper.  Stevenson is played by David Warner that I only know from his turn as Bob Cratchit in the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol.

After the time machine returns empty from the Ripper’s escape Wells follows him back to 1979 San Francisco.  No explanation is given as to how the time machine can also move through space but since this movie isn’t very good, we won’t quibble about unimportant gaps.

In San Francisco Wells meets up with a currency exchange bank clerk named Amy Robbins played abysmally by Mary Steenburgen and naturally they fall in love and we’re trapped into listening to their various thoughts on women’s liberation and casual sex.  It’s pretty awful.  Amy thinks her “career” at the bank is her whole life.  She left her husband because he wanted her to raise a family.  The monster.

Wells finds Stevenson and he tells Wells that 1979 is the greatest place in the world for Jack the Ripper with casual sex and easy access to women and sharp knives.  Then there is this ridiculous chase scene where the two Englishmen are running around on the streets of San Francisco.  It looks ludicrous and they’re not really running very fast.  Then supposedly Stevenson is killed in a minor car accident.  Wells takes this opportunity to see the Redwoods outside of San Francisco and talk to Amy about women’s lib again.

Then we find out that Jack the Ripper must not have been killed because women start turning up butchered.  Wells tells Amy that he’s from 1890.  She tells him he’s nuts and to prove to her that he is telling the truth he uses the time machine to bring her forward a week and she finds a newspaper that shows that Jack the Ripper has killed her the day before.

So, they go back to the week before and try to catch the Ripper and save Amy’s life.  Cars get flat tires; Wells is arrested by the police as the Ripper and it appears that Amy is murdered and hacked to pieces by the Ripper.  The police let Wells go because he couldn’t have killed Amy while he was in custody.  But, big mistake, it was Amy’s friend who was butchered and now Stevenson has her hostage and wants to trade her life for the key to the time machine.

Stevenson tricks Wells and after getting the key takes Amy with him as he heads to the time machine.  Wells takes a car and somehow figures out how to drive at night in a crowded city and follows them to the machine.  There he begs for Amy’s life but Stevenson decides to take her with him but somehow in a way that doesn’t make any sense she escapes him.  As Stevenson enters into the machine and begins setting it for the future Wells removes another key from the outside of the machine and this sends Stevenson to “infinity,” whatever that means.  Hoorah for Wells and Amy.  Now Amy decides that her bank job isn’t as important as marrying Wells back in 1890.  And they live happily ever after.

This movie is so bad that it both sucks and blows.  The special effects are laughably bad and cheap looking.  They remind me of some effects that they used on Gilligan’s Island.  The dialog is awful and the 1970s disco hedonism is embarrassing.  Mary Steenburgen is an awful actress but this part is even below her talents.  The quality of this film is at the level of a made for television movie.  McDowell and Warner are decent actors but they aren’t given anything to work with here.  It’s all too silly and badly done.

Not recommended.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – A Movie Review

This is a caper movie.  Four men armed with machine guns hijack a New York City subway train and hold the passengers for a million-dollar ransom.  Walter Matthau plays Lt. Garber of the NYC Transit Authority Police who negotiates with the kidnappers.  Robert Shaw is “Mr. Blue,” the criminal mastermind of the gang.  With supporting cast members Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone, a cop working for Garber, Martin Balsam as “Mr. Green,” the man in the gang who knows how to run a subway train and Lee Wallace as the despised and cowardly Mayor of New York the movie is a taut drama with humor and suspense mixing perfectly to suspend disbelief.  And with gobs of local color from a supporting cast that acts and talks remarkably like actual New Yorkers of the period (as I can personally attest) the movie bumps along from the initial capture of the train to the first dead body to the mad dash to get the ransom money to the stone-cold killers who enforce a deadline with the lives of the hostages at gunpoint.

Matthau and Stiller provide the comic relief and Shaw provides the menace with bloodless calm.  The hostages are a tapestry of the ethnicities and callings of that time and the other parts, cops, the mayor’s cronies and the transit workers all add texture to the story.  And the swearing!  Except for Robert Shaw almost every character including the women curse a blue streak.  Some of it is actually quite amusing but it should be mentioned in case there are any folks who would take offense.  And the most important character of the whole drama is the New York City subway system of that era.  The movie was made in and on the subway trains and tunnels and it is unmistakably authentic.  It brings back the thousands of hours of my life I spent travelling around Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx on subway cars.

Here we are almost fifty years since this movie was made and it stands up very well although only the old remember the New York City being represented.  I must confess it did my heart good to see the people of that era being represented.  The city back then probably had a higher crime rate than even now in these post George Floyd riots times.  And racial tensions were high and neighborhoods treated outsiders with suspicion.  But at least back then people still considered the police as part of the solution.  Nowadays the police are so disrespected that they probably wouldn’t even bother to save the hostages’ lives.  They’d wait until the hostages were shot and then write up the reports and look for some surveillance footage for the six o’clock news report.

I highly recommend this movie with just a warning about the swearing for the genteel.

Color Out of Space (2019) – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

Tyler Cook of the Portly Politico and I have decided to cross link on our reviews for this movie.  We both thought this movie was awful but we thought that readers should see nuanced differences.  Actually what you’ll see is our two styles.  Tyler is a witty and intelligent writer and I like to rant.  So here’s the link to his review and below is mine.

This is a cinematic version of Lovecraft’s story about a meteor that lands in a rural Massachusetts farmyard and infects the soil and the water with an entity that subtly alters the plants and animals and then sucks the vitality and finally the life out of every living thing around it before shooting back into space leaving a dead landscape behind.  But let us say the movie takes liberties with this plot.

How do I hate this movie?  Let me count the ways.

First off, I despised all the characters in this story.  I even despised the seven-year-old who was the youngest kid in the family.  They are stereotypical yuppie transplants to the countryside and all of them have extremely annoying personalities.  The father is Nicholas Cage and he spends his time milking alpacas and raising heirloom tomatoes.  The mother is a financial advisor who has neglected her kids to the point that older son is a useless pothead, the daughter is a bitter Wiccan wannabe and the younger son appears to be a doofus.  Tommy Chong is the forest dwelling pot grower who supplies the son with his weed and also seems to be acquainted with alien invasions.  Then there is the hydrologist who is taking water samples for a new reservoir that will be covering the property that Nick Cage’s family currently inhabits.  He walks around warning everyone about the dangers of meteorites and contaminated water but achieves nothing other than somehow surviving the apocalypse.

Next is the plot.  In the original Lovecraft story, the baleful influence of the entity slightly modifies the appearance of plants and animals but its most powerful effect is the sapping of the life force and eventually even the structural integrity of organic materials.  By the end of the book the whole farm where the meteor lands, the house, the trees, the animals and people, the wagons and the fences crumble to dust.  Only stone and metal remain.

In this version of the story the entity is able to fuse groups of animals together into hideous many-headed monsters.  It can disable all communication devices and even alter time, making days and nights shorter as needed.  So, they’ve revved up the monster’s power quite a bit.  But the use they put this to is horrendous.  In one scene the mother and the seven-year-old kid are walking in the dark near the barn when the creature zaps the both of them with its potent “light.”  Next, we see that the mother and the little boy have been fused together.  His head is attached to her shoulder, their torsos are fused and both of them are writhing in agony.  And the older son characterizes what’s happening to them as the younger son being re-absorbed into the mother’s body.  Even the thought is horrifying to consider.  And later on, the fused creature starts taking on a preying mantis like shape and Nick Cage’s character shoots both of them in the head to end this nightmare.  Okay sure, this is a horror movie and it’s no more disgusting than the scenes in John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” but he didn’t use a mother and a little boy as the victims of this abomination.  To my mind this is awful.

Finally, the acting.  The only cast members I’ve heard of are Nick Cage and Tommy Chong.  I’m guessing the rest of the cast is unknown and they should stay that way.  They were awful and so were the two better known actors.  The script was awful.  The plot was tedious and the resolution seemed pointless and annoying.  I will say some of the special effects were interesting looking and well done.  But not the fused animals and people.  Those were hideous and depressing.

I would avoid this movie.  Nick Cage has descended indeed from the time when he was a pretty good actor.  He should be ashamed that he was in this crap.   Seeing this movie has ruined a perfectly good day out of my life.  Not recommended.