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The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by ghemrats on 7/28/2020, 4:55 pm

Post #457: According to the old Queen song, fat-bottomed girls make the rockin' world go round, and we won't dignify Sir Mix-A-Lot's predilection for a similar phenomenon about which he cannot lie. But Larry Blamire (*Lost Skeleton* films and more madness) has literally flipped the fetish with today's feature, *Trail Of The Screaming Forehead* (2007). Filmed in that miracle marvel of moviedom CraniaScope, with an title song performed by The Manhattan Transfer, *Trail* leads us into a heady sci-fi mixture of science-making and alien invading, and it's all we can do to stop our noggins from knocking like a high performance engine struggling to run on Sinclair Oil gasoline that's been stored since 1967.

Once again written, produced, starring (in a bit part as conman Vince Vassidine) and directed by Larry Blamire, *Trail Of The Screaming Forehead* sends up those wonderfully creaky low-budget B's celebrating scientists who can't stop themselves from interfering with the natural order and aliens from decaying planets who congregate on Earth because it's evidently the only planet in the vastness of space that makes movies about them. Blamire's oeuvre stands intact with this entry, as its goofiness is leavened with deadpan seriousness and howling outrageous dialogue.

Back on the trail are all our favorites from *The Lost Skeleton* crew: Fay Masterson is head and shoulders the leader of the science-doing part of the story as Dr. Sheila Bexter, the sexy researcher who is on the cusp of proving the brain is not the epicenter of consciousness but the forehead is. Aiding her is Dr. Philip Latham (Andrew Parks in one of his best performances), ingesting the heretofore untested Foreheadazine to increase man's ability to think stuff up with more lobe-bility. At the same time, in simultaneity, B&B proprietors Sarah and Amos have become hosts to alien foreheads who squiggle and scoop their way into Longhead Bay and launch themselves to attach to their resident human heads, taking control in the first phase of their invasion.

Only landlocked but effusive sailors Big Dan Frater (Brian Howe, who's a cross between Popeye and Gilligan's Skipper), his smaller sidekick Dutch “the Swede” Annacrombie (Dan Conroy), and local librarian Millie Healey (Alison Martin in fine Olive Oyl form) have escaped the growing number of townfolk walking around with Silly Putty accessories on their brows. But lurking in the shadows of the bar run by Eddie (Dick Miller) cooking up get-rich-quick schemes involving shopping carts is Vince Vassidine (Blamire) badgered by his pneumatic gum smacking moll Droxy Chappelle (the delicious Jennifer Blaine, Blamire's wife off screen). With his total lack of scruples he's the perfect candidate to help supply Dr. Bexter with all the dead body cadaver foreheads she needs for her continuing research and supply of Foreheadazine, and she's not above flaunting her womanly wiles to get what she needs, since the Institute For Brain Studying is ready to cut her funding.

And so it's a race against time and a fight for survival as Big Dan, Dutch and Millie suspect there's something strange in the neighborhood, something weird, and it don't look good. Meanwhile, housewife Mary Latham (Trish Geiger in gingham) notices some changes in her husband Philip's hat size, growing from a 7 to a more imposing 42. Can our intrepid trio set Earth's balance right? Is this the only way Philip can get ahead in the world of science? Where can you get a good supply of bells when you need them? And will guest cameo Kevin McCarthy (*Invasion of the Body Snatchers* 1956) be able to unfurrow his brow? All these and more questions will be revealed in the 88 minutes of the theatrical release, or if you're more inclined, the 100 minutes of the Director's Cut (which I own but haven't been able to see yet as it's on Blu-Ray and our only Blu-Ray player is in the main room, where my wife catches up on her steady stream of Aurora Teagarden, Christmas In July retreads, and Good Witch Hallmark marathons).

Filmed in beautiful Day-Glo sixties color, *Trail of the Screaming Foreheads* offers some laugh out loud moments and such a wonderfully gonzo performance from Andy Parks that it raises itself above guilty pleasure into just flat-out wacky fun. The fearless resolve of Big Dan powers through ("We need a plan that will work, and make things better than they are now," he says sagely) while his cohorts face the foreheads squarely ("This is really fun! I hope we don't get killed..." cries the dauntless Millie). It's creepy and it's kooky, mysterious and spooky, it's altogether ooky, but I loved every minute of its inspired lunacy, right down to the name-checking credit to the great Ray Harryhausen (It's actually the Chiodo Brothers who make the foreheads scamper like living bologna slices).

Those of you who are keeping track of the Blamire chronology, this is how they fan out: First came *The Lost Skeleton Of Cadvra* (2001), followed by *Meet The Mobsters* (2005) which will be commented on tomorrow, the second sci-fi excursion *Trail Of The Screaming Forehead* came in 2007, then leaping out of the shadows was *Dark And Stormy Night* (2009) and released the same year was *The Lost Skeleton Returns Again*. Assorted shorts and a 16-episode TV series *Tales From The Pub* in 2007 have followed. For me, it's an inspired run of weird successes.

Like olives, Larry Blamire might be an acquired taste, but for me he's never the pits.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 7/28/2020, 8:53 pm

I rate this one Cheetos. It's the cheesiest.
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Post by Seamus on 7/29/2020, 10:42 am

I have this movie. You either love or hate them. I lent these movies to a friend he did not like them at all. He could not understand why I was laughing my ass off to them. Some people are allergic to cheese.
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Post by ghemrats on 7/29/2020, 7:41 pm

Post #458: In tribute to Larry Blamire and his warped sense of humor, I propose being The Man Of Two Minds about today's feature, *Meet The Mobsters (aka Johnny Slade's Greatest Hits*) (2005), the latter title being eons better than the first, which seems to have been copped from Ben Stiller's *Meet The Fockers* the year before. Not having been an avid viewer of *The Sopranos*, I found this film, which employs many of the original cast of that HBO series, sat less well with me than Blamire's other works. . . largely because of the constant F-bomb barrage, since his parodies up to this time have been very linguistically friendly. Now keep in mind, unlike the standard Scorsese fare, *Meet The Mobsters* has no gore or blood or highly creative violent outbursts; it just assaults our ears while it hammers away at its comedy, which is considerable.

So One of my two minds says to me, it says, Hey, whaddaya expect? You want you should hear mobsters reciting singy songy nursery roims? Get da fuggouttahe-ya, Mary Quite fricking con-freakin-trary. Dat ain't the way big boy fellas tawk. Capisce? And its constancy, while being overkill, reflects their subset of cultural norms, even becoming fodder for satire, "like a freakin' monkey." So there's that.

On the other of my Two minds, this movie hits all the wonderful cliches while offering some of the worst lounge singing available, with lyrics of such nonsensical nuttiness that many bits hold up as well as Blamire's other features. It's just not for kids, as I found some of the jokes crude, distasteful and definitely un-funny--which again somehow fits in a gang or No-Such-Thing-as-The Mafia send-up. So my minds war with each other like two sides of a desirable slap of territory.

Johnny Slade (John Fiore) is the pinnacle of just plain bad, egotistical, smarmy lizard singers, self-promoting his self-produced vanity albums, his biggest hit "Soda Fountain Of Love" replete with non sequitur double entendres. Since somebody heard of him from someone somewhere at some time in Boston, Johnny is hired to be the headlining opener for The Club, a club dazzling at night but owned in the shadows by Mr. Samantha (Vincent Curatola), head of one of the friendly neighborhood mobs. Under the deep cover of his closet office in an abandoned Jersey factory, Mr. Samantha feeds Johnny fresh lyrics every night, informing him to sing them at The Club before the "audience." Johnny must supply the music and e-nin-ci-ate the lyrics very clearly (because unknown to the singer, they convey instructions for the next hit to be executed, and not as a record).

About the time Johnny catches on to being the transmitter, his popularity at The Club starts to soar. "Legitimate" patrons think his screwy songs are nothing more than novelty tunes bursting with humor, while his regular thick-necked pals of Samantha furiously jot down the veiled allusions and pop off rival mobsters as per the songs' command performances. At the same time Johnny starts making eyes at The Club "owner" Charlie Payne (Dolores Sirianni), who's also Samantha's moll. And sensing a strange synchronicity between Johnny's hits and the loss of his own mob members, rival Irish arm of the mob Lloyd Dunnigan (Larry Blamire, who directed and co-wrote the film with star John Fiore) sends his own hitwoman Angela (Jennifer Blaire) with her own set of lyrics (and motives), to be sung at the business end of a gun from the bar.

This is all told around a restaurant dinner between *Sopranos* stars Frank Santorelli, Joseph R. Gannascoli, Vincent Pastore, Gianni Russo (from *The Godfather*, 1972 and 1974), and others to bring the air of authenticity to Blamire's special brand of fun. Of course the principals are obnoxious at first, but over the 88 minutes they grow on us, Johnny actually turning out to be a nearly likable schlub who earnestly and honestly believes he has talent, and Mr. Samantha has some very sharp, funny lines echoing his own dreams for poetic understanding while he casually orders the killing of his enemies. Blamire keeps scenes moving rapidly, the violence played for laughs while staying true to the old crime chronicles through the years. So as ominous as these thugs might be, they are straight-faced dumb in the final pinch, friggin' rich with some freakin' comic dialogue for which Blamire is best known.

This is not a recreation of the gangster genre--it's not trotting out Spot-The Stereotype references from *Gangs Of New York* (2001), *Scarface* (1983), *Goodfellas* (1990) and the like; it's a straight comic offshooting, operating in that universe but not riffing familiar plot lines "like a friggin' monkey," which is a tagline one of the boys wants to add at the end of every sentence in an effort to start a trend. Though it's a little more "adult" and "modern" in its sensibilities--that is, some of the opening act comedian's salvos are in really bad taste, but it's okay because he's beaten senseless later anyway--*Meet The Mobsters* still offers a fairly campy big serving of pasta, marinara and cheese. Sixty-seven percent of Amazon viewers rate it four- or five-stars, with only one viewer giving it one star. So many folks found it worth their investment of time and cheese.

Look, I ain't here to push a gun to your big forehead, whether it's screamin' or not; you're big enough, smart enough and doggone it people like you enough for you to make up your own freakin' mind. You like it--fine. It doesn't float for you but sinks like Luca Brazzi off the wharf, so friggin' be it, you know what I'm sayin'? See it for y'self and slap your sides, or don't and don't come soakin' my loafers like a freakin' monkey, I got troubles of my own.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 7/29/2020, 9:48 pm

Hey Jeff. A movie related question. Have Ya ever bought a bluray of a movie Ya love and regretted it? Specifically, the high definition brought out the makeup on the actors, to the point that they looked like poorly prepared corpses? The same thing can happen to the background. Props and set dressings can suddenly look completely out of place or downright shabby.

Or am I the only one who allows himself to be distracted by such things?
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Post by ghemrats on 7/30/2020, 5:47 pm

I don't know, Space. I have less opportunity to watch Blu-Rays since She Who Must Be Obeyed has to go along with my choice (the Blu Ray is now in the main room, an issue soon to be corrected as I have to hitch up the new one in the bedroom). But I'll defer to your greter wisdom as always. . . . until I can see for myself.

Post #459 (4+5=9): It's about time, following the feasting we've been doing on comedies lately, good and bad, that we cleanse the palate with a look back at the buffet with a loving eye. Today's feature is a classic, a wonderful, newly restored print of the classic Laurel and Hardy film *Way Out West* (1937), suggested from an idea posed by Stan's wife of the time Lois. It's always been hard for me to isolate my favorite Stan and Ollie outing, but this one is far up the list, and it's the first to use Stan's "White Magic" (such as using his thumb to light a pipe) and the first crediting Stan as producer (even though it was the only task he never truly executed as he wrote, directed and starred in many of their shorts) as an allowance by Hal Roach after a squabble.

This is pure Laurel and Hardy, as the boys embark on the secret delivery of the deed to a gold mine to the late prospector's daughter Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence, a blonde who wore a dark wig for her part). Set in the old west, Stan and Oliver travel to Brushwood Gulch by donkey and sledge bearing Ollie until fording a river urges them to hitchhike on a stagecoach. They arrive unscathed and improvise an incredibly well rehearsed and much-loved soft-shoe dance outside Mickey Finn's Saloon to the comfortable song stylings of Chill Wills (the voice of Francis the Talking Mule in years to come) and the Avalon Boys, "At The Ball, That's All." Certifiably one of the great moments in 1930s film.

Stan and Ollie historians John Brennan and John Larrabee count this scene as one of the finest of all movies, silent and sound. "Randy Skretvedt likewise states that the dance 'manages to be funny and poignant at the same time.' Why is it that this scene evokes such a mix of emotions? Part of the answer may be that few scenes in movie history come so close to capturing pure innocence and unbridled joy. This is how we would all act if we didn't know (or care) that others were watching us. There is also the added delight of seeing the Boys do something different (yet wholly in character), and we can sense Laurel and Hardy's pleasure in performing it. The steps in the dance routine are not particularly difficult, but they are endlessly inventive and surprising, and performed with pinpoint precision. It may be the one film scene I could watch on a daily basis and never tire of it."

Duped into revealing their purpose in town, the Boys fall prey to Mickey Finn (long-time antagonist Jimmy Finlayson) and his crooked wife Lola Marcel (Sharon Lynn) who pretends to Mary, whom the Boys have never met. "Tell me, tell me about my dear, dear daddy," she gushes in mock sadness. "Is it true that he's dead?" And Stan replies innocently, "Well, we hope he is, they buried him." Jimmy Finlayson's reactions are priceless. "Ah, it can't be," she swoons uber-dramatically, "What did he die of?" Stan again clarifies, "I think he died of a Tuesday. Or was it Wednesday." Their duty duly delivered, they retire to the bar for a free drink and a song, "Trail Of The Lonesome Pines," another classic moment in an endless procession of priceless passages.

Accidentally they meet the real Mary and realize Finn's plot on their way out of the saloon, leading to some marvelous slapstick as we are treated to a hilarious romp of Deed, Deed Who's Got The Deed? The lasting influence of Laurel and Hardy is firmly established when we know that Homer Simposon's famous epithet "Doh!" was inspired by Finlayson's comic reaction to disaster, on full display here. And it's an inspired bit of havoc when Lola traps Stan in her bedroom when he's stashed the deed in his clothes. What ensues is a tickling match in which Stan's infectious laughter is so powerful Sharon Lynn as Lola has a tough time keeping a straight face during filming.

*Way Out West* is pure comedy gold, milking situations easily for maximum effect. Even small moments like Stan eating Ollie's hat (the actual fat fashioned out of licorice) after losing a bet are played with ingenious seriousness. Of *Way Out West*, which in part is a parody of D.W. Griffiths' *Way Down East* (1920) with Lillian Gish, "Our characters are dumber than usual and Hardy dominates to the point that every time I start to speak he stops me with one of those, 'That's all right, I know' sallies." Believing cinema-goers would react better in a long film to "less talk and more action," Stan concentrated on non-stop fun in the three months he took preparing the script.

The film, still regarded as one of the finest comedies ever made in terms of pacing, pure joy and laughs, *Way Out West* grossed $362,828, principal filming taking 2.5 months. Triviologists will rejoice in recognizing the opening shot for TV's *Gunsmoke* as the same town used in this film. The sinkhole into which Stan wanted Ollie to fall was actually a Hal Roach-commissioned steam-shoveled riverbed in Sherwood Forest, forty miles from LA, filled with 25,000 gallons of water. And according to Laurel and Hardy enthusiast Steve Bailey, "When Ollie ties Finn to the chandelier, Finn is heard uttering something awfully close to, 'You son-of-a-b*tch!' (although some claim that he's really saying, 'You'll suffer for this!'). Listen for yourself and draw your own conclusion. (It wouldn't be the first instance of cursing in an L&H movie. Generations of movie and TV censors have overlooked Edgar Kennedy quickly but clearly uttering the word 'Sh*t!' in the L&H short *The Perfect Day* (1929).)

If you're one of those select few people who haven't yet exposed your progeny (or in some rare cases yourself) to the marvel of Stan and Ollie, by all means do yourself a favor and sit down with this one. Even if you're L&H mavens from way back, *Way Out West* never ceases to entertain and bring a smile. As Van Morrison says in his gorgeous song *Coney Island*, "Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?"
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 7/30/2020, 6:20 pm

It's days like these when we need a button a step or two above "like". How can Ya go wrong with Stan and Ollie? Babes in Toyland is an absolute must for me during the Christmas season. In fact, I may celebrate a bit of Christmas in July and watch it later tonight.

I'd love to add the Criterion streaming service. But if I try to add another streaming service, "She Who Must Not Be Angered" will be very angered. And I can't risk that when I'm still priming the pump for my next "toy".
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Post by Seamus on 7/30/2020, 8:07 pm

Big fan of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd how those two did not get killed doing stunts is a miracle. Stan and Ollie always a treat. My Dad loved those old movies.
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Post by ghemrats on 7/31/2020, 5:25 pm

Post #460: You know what you're getting into, kind of, when one of the key characters of today's feature, *The Fountainhead* (1949), says to another with a completely straight face, "Gayle, what wrong? You look happy." Yes, today's film offers a rich catalogue of weird interchanges between particulars, and that is one of the joys it bestows on audiences. These characters do not talk to one another--they give grandiloquent oratorical dicta laden with heavy philosophical thrumming. Howard Roark's final impassioned chest beating in the finale is the longest monologue ever filmed up to that time. So roll up your sleeves, folks, Ayn Rand is in town and she's not taking prisoners.

Contractually obligated to change not one word of the script, Warner Brothers bought the rights to turn Rand's behemoth novel into a vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck, who persuaded Jack Warner to scarf up Rand's screenplay with Mervyn LeRoy slated to direct. For better or worse, following production delays King Vidor replaced LeRoy as director and Patricia Neal took over the reins to play Dominique Francon from Stanwyck, who learned of the substitution through trade magazines, rather than the Warners directly, prompting her to leave the studio. In accordance with Rand's wishes Gary Cooper was recruited to play Howard Roark, though Vidor had hoped Humphrey Bogart would play opposite Lauren Bacall. (Other stars associated with early plans were Alan Ladd, Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Greta Garbo). The resulting picture lost money at the box office netting $2.1 million against a $2,375,000 budget. Some blame Gary Cooper for being too old to play Rand's lead, while others, like Virginia Mayo at the film's premiere, remarked to Patricia Neal, "My, weren't you bad!" Rand was also incensed that a few of her words in Roark's final speech were excised for time and refused to work with Warners ever again.

Say what you will about *The Fountainhead*, its whiplash-inducing dialogue (Dominique Francon, giving an up-and-down look at Roark after bedding him, pausing breathlessly at the word "building," hisses, "I wish I had never seen your building. It's the things that we admire or want that enslave us, I'm not easy to bring into submission. Marry me, Roark. I'll cook, I'll clean, I'll set up your house. . ."), and its over the top dramatics (Howard standing atop the Wynand Building with his shirt whipping in the high wind, filmed from below, causes Superman to blush)--this is one entertaining film. Celebrate King Vidor's expressionism and deep shadows, curious camera angles and blocking as his actors thunder stentoriously at one another, hurling verbal hand grenades with casual but determined didacticism. It's all glorious excess.

For the uninitiated, Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) is in Rand's words "the projection of an ideal man. The portrayal of a moral ideal, as my ultimate literary goal, as an end in itself--to which any didactic, intellectual or philosophical values contained in a novel are only the means." Thrown out of universities for being "too individualistic" and unyielding to compromise, Howard is an architect who lives by the motto that "a building has integrity just as a man, and just as seldom!" He's been told by his dean, " “You want to stand alone against the whole world? there’s no place for originality in architecture. Nobody can improve on the buildings of the past. One can only learn to copy them. We’ve tried to teach you the accepted historical style. You refuse to learn. You won’t consider anybody’s judgment but your own." He would rather work as a day laborer than hedge his unique vision or subjugate it to the whims of the masses--and so he does, mining limestone in the quarry of millionaire architect and designer Guy Francon (Jonathan Hale), whose wildcat daughter Dominique (Patricia Neal) holds herself above just about everyone but is merely a poseur of wealth.

And so their conflicted romance begins (just as an affair between Neal and Cooper flourishes during filming), tempestuously in the crucible of the Individual versus the Collective, represented nobly enough by media magnate Gayle Wynand (Raymond Massey) whose disreputable newspaper *The Banner* panders to the lowest of man's base instincts. Wynand himself has no illusions about his venture: " “There is no honest way to deal with people. You have no choice except to submit or to rule them. I chose to rule. . . There are no men of integrity. I have many years behind me to prove it. I was born in Hell’s Kitchen. I rose out of the gutter by creating *The Banner*. It’s a contemptible paper, isn’t it? But it has achieved my purpose. Power."

Not coincidentally Dominique works for Wynand, who seeing the challenge in her, falls madly in love with her, engineers the dissolution of her engagement to weak-willed, opportunistic Peter Keating (Kent Smith) who stands as the carbon negative of Roark, and proposes marriage, to which Dominique responds, "“If I ever decide to punish myself for some terrible guilt, I’ll marry you.” Meanwhile, Roark takes on small building projects, stamping his individualistic brand on each, gaining notoriety for his quality and uniqueness of design. *The Fountainhead* therefore drops conflict in our laps like an Acme Anvil--Roark fights the established norms (the evils of conformity), Wynand fights for Dominique's attentions totally unaware of her feelings for Roark, Ellsworth Toohey (the perfectly effete slimy columnist and full time collectivist anarchist Robert Douglas) wages a secret war against Wynand and Roark to gain absolute power over the media and mass society in general, Peter Keating persists with no success in making everybody happy with a spine composed of lemon Jell-O, and the Very Fate Of Civilized Man hangs in the balance.

Full epic scholarship in weighty tomes have discussed the merits of Rand's ideology and *The Fountainhead* specifically, but that's not my purpose here; we're sticking to the film and its various missions. As a free will free enterprise manifesto, the movie pounds away at the evils of collectivism. Roark's first "employer" Henry Cameron (Henry Hull) surrenders to poverty, a nearly broken man with bad teeth, after years of fighting the establishment, leaving his heir Howard with pleas of giving up the fight, the clean white cross of his death ambulance blazing above him (though Rand despised religion) as he intones, "Then God have mercy on your soul, Howard. You're on your way into hell." Hull sputters theatrically, all but rending his clothes before collapsing into a heap accompanied by a doom chord from composer Max Steiner, pushing the drama into the stratosphere. If you want subtlety, go watch an Adam Sandler movie, for you'll find none here.

Gary Cooper mumbles and scowls, his own spine bolstered by white marble as he moves stoically through his every scene, underlining gravitas with every small movement. The lit-from-under menace he exhibits following Dominique's swift swack across his granite-boned cheeck with her riding crop (heavens to S&M, implicit in her name) must have been riveting in 1949 while Patricia Neal, having tripped over her bedspread and now lying prone and panting on the carpeted floor of her luxury accommodations, her tousled hair seductively hiding one eye, breathes heavily as he looms toward her. Of course, it isn't rape that transpires when we fade to black, but a mutually assured destruction when Roark returns to his tarpaper shack with savage gashes on his arm, which he acknowledges with a slight smirk of satisfaction. It's Big Time Wrestling, gang, scored with a fantastic bombastic orchestral accompaniment.

Raymond Massey is superb as a puppy-dog who's chased a Cadillac (Dominique) and caught it, not fully knowing what to do with it now, lording over his domain with indifference as long as it makes money, and forging a like-minded friendship with Roark, totally in the dark about his wife's feelings for the Rock. And Robert Douglas nearly steals the show as the insidious intellectual Toohey, who with Hitlerian accuracy stirs up the moblike instincts of his readership and whiny boards of directors to gain control over all he surveys, steering a massive campaign against Roark who stands alone as a man of principles ("I don’t want to kill him. I want him in jail, behind bars. Locked, strapped, beaten. He’ll move as he’s told. He’ll work as he’s told. He’ll obey. He’ll take orders.”), the last individual.

Sure, the film holds all the delicacy of a two-ton ballpeen hammer applied directly to the skull in seven-minute intervals, but it's gorgeous to watch with Robert Burks' swooping and soaring light in glorious black, white and greyscale tones. His use of depth of field allows intriguing juxtapositions (goldfish languishing in a glass lamp base in the foreground as we see Dominique trapped in her own fishbowl of a Roark-commissioned home, two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year), extending metaphors with three-pronged natural tree trunks and floating staircases requisitioned from Frank Lloyd Wright, who demurred working on the film when asked (but his fee of $250,000 was not approved by Jack L. Warner), even though Rand saw it as an homage to his work and life. The resultant sets designed by Edward Carrere were scorned by the architectural press. Interiors critic George Nelson, as quoted in a modern source reprint, called the sets the "silliest travesty of modern architecture that has yet hit the film," and "a total perversion of formal and structural elements." Heck. Have an opinion, George.

*The Fountainhead* has been bandied about Hollywood since its 1949 debut, plans once considered for a reboot from Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Oliver Stone and others. But now--and I mention this with as much trepidation as I would approach standing on my head in a bucket of piranha fish--it appears director Zack Snyder (*Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn [more like YAWN] Of Justice* (2016) and the execrable DC movies he's directed) has said it's the follow-up to his *Justice League* (2017) film: "I have been working on *The Fountainhead*. I’ve always felt like *The Fountainhead* was such a thesis on the creative process and what it is to create something. Warner Bros. owns [Ayn Rand’s] script and I’ve just been working on that a little bit."

According to *Irish Times* columnist Donald Clarke, registers his woe of the pairing of Snyder and Rand this way: "The phrase 'Zack Snyder’s *The Fountainhead* reads like the answer to a question involving the words 'worst ever…' on *Mock the Week*. Think *Dan Brown’s Mein Kampf*." Though Snyder has earned the label "reviled," Ayn Rand has a sizable crowd of detractors as well. Clarke opined, "She belongs with broad comedy such as *Saturday Night Live*. She belongs with grape soda, jello salad, grits, corn dogs and sweet potato with marshmallows. An endlessly grand woman, Rand would have hated that last comparison. Which is why we make it." How can someone say that about a writer and such a driving influence on such high brows as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump whom she counts among her biggest fans? Scratch that question; I answered it myself.

Whatever the outcome, the heft of Rand's tome has moved *Deja Reviewer* Robert Lockard (https://dejareviewer.com/2019/07/30/6-movies-contained-within-the-fountainhead/ ) to find it a mix of six stories in one, borrowing elements from *Amadeus* (1984), *Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House* (1948), *The Princess Bride* (1987), *Indecent Proposal* (1993), *The Producers* (1967) and *Tucker: The Man And His Dream* (1988). To that list I'd add television shows such as *Perry Mason*, *Peyton Place* and *Alf*. So if it's this richly embossed in American consciousness, you might find it worth your while. I routinely used the 1949 film in my Ethics course as an introduction to Objectivism and Ethical Egoism, but don't let that deter you from seeing the wondrously chewable scenery before Zack Snyder casts Jesse Eisenberg in the key role with a guest stint from Jared Leto as The Beaver (NOTE: He hasn't done that, but it would rank high on my Sign Of The Apocalypse Fear List).

So we can't say "They don't make them like this anymore," because clearly people are still trying to do so, even if, in the woids of Bugs Bunny, they're going to "mush ya up" in the attempt. Stick with this version for some unintended fun and some well intentioned storytelling. If you want to get Randy, don't miss this one, but waltz (or run or trample under foot along with Led Zeppelin) with weighted boots over the 2011-2014 three-pronged trilogy of *Atlas Shrugged* which was so bad each movie had different casts in the key roles with each successive part. Intaking helium then popping your head would be preferable to withstanding the combined running time of 313 minutes. At 114 minutes of pure entertainment, *The Fountainhead* will give you all the foaming you can take in one sitting.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 7/31/2020, 6:09 pm

While writing that novel. Rand stayed at Taliesin with Frank LLoyd Wright and even used FFLW's mentor Sullivans "Form follows Function" the old man in the ambulance saying this (eye roll) Wright later coined "Form and Function are one" Wright is said to have hated that movie. And he had the ego to carry that opinion. I have always found Rand a simplistic hack. Its always easy to say the individual against society when you have wealth. Its a lot harder for the common unwashed to say... damn them all I will go my way and be an individual my needs outweigh the needs of the many. We see a macroscope of that view now with the disparity in wealth. It leads to absolute chaos like jack booted thugs rolling through cities rounding up citizens exercising their right to protest at the behest of a corrupt government.

So wrapping that philosophy into Roark's clear vision of his mile high skyscraper where the rich look down on the poor is tripe at its best. I am the architect I know better let me exercise my singular vision as if no external influences matter... Like say code or structural engineering...

And I have always thought a nice block of oak would have been a better Roark than Cooper his acting was so wooden in this movie the whole movie was so contrived that the building falls down as the foundation was rotten from the start.

Steps down off soap box. Slips away to watch S2 of Umbrella Academy.
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Post by ghemrats on 8/1/2020, 4:04 pm

Post #461:  Silents are golden, and they don't get more precious and wonderful than when Buster Keaton is involved. Today's feature, *The Cameraman* (1928), is Buster's first film for MGM, a move that he later called "the worst mistake of his life," requiring him to make two films a year for two years for $3,000 per week (more than $42,500), making him the third-highest paid actor at MGM.  But with that contract he lost creative control over his films, relegated to "star" status only.  Over the years Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer reduced Keaton's input, seriously denting his fame and influence, though he said, "When I went over to MGM I was again assured that every effort would be made to let me continue working with my team whenever possible. It turned out to be possible very seldom. I do not think that this was anyone's fault. Usually, when I needed the old gang, one of them would be busy on a Norma Shearer picture, another on a Lon Chaney picture, and so on."

Despite that stripping of his comic genius, Keaton did everything he could to retain some modicum of a creative spark, improvising scenes and gradually retaking directorial influence from director Edward Sedgwick when Sedgwick failed to get the shots he desired.  

And what a joy *The Cameraman* is.  Filled with Keaton's signature scope and inspired comic bits, it's largely recognized by MGM as its perfect comedy.  Interesting to note is how this film places Buster in a lovelorn lead; whereas many of his films used women more as props for larger gags, the lovely and endearing Marceline Day as Sally actually pulls a couple brief errant smiles and terrific expressiveness from Buster's eyes.  In fact, in the film she becomes his entire raison d'etre and the driving motivation for his photographic career for MGM's newsreel division.  Scraping by as a tintype still photographer with ancient equipment, Buster catches Marceline's image on the street one day, and sets out to win her over when he discovers she works for the newsreels.  

Rare footage of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, is interpolated into Buster's early attempts to gain customers for his tintype.  Equally notable is a particularly rude joke tossed out as Buster tries to identify Sally by showing her picture to passersby.  When Buster shows a hotel doorman, her responds, "Maybe it's Lydia Pinkham," a reference that flies past us today, when at the time Lydia Pinkham's tonic was a well known remedy for easing the pain of menstrual cramping.

Trading in his tintype machine for an outmoded, rickety hand-crank camera consuming all his savings, he battles with the professionals for memorable footage.  Unfortunately, his inexperience with the moving picture recorder belies his ambition and he's laughed out of the offices with double exposure footage and overexposed film. (Wonderful irony here as Keaton was a master of the camera and highly innovative in its use, so this self parody only emphasizes his terrific acting abilities.)  But Sally still believe in him and agrees to an afternoon walk and visit to the pool and beach.  As Buster anticipates a call from Sally to arrange a time, he uses a multi-storied stairway set, employing vertical tracking with an elevator crane, the first comedy to use this technique.  It's a stunning sequence, once again proving Buster Keaton was the funniest running man in cinema.

Once at the pool, Buster totally improvised a scene with unit manager Edward Brophy in the claustrophobic confines of a dressing room.  The result, of two men struggling to change clothes in a closet-sized space, is comedy magic, filmed in one take, that launched the thirty-plus-year career of screen comedy.  (Another completely ad-libbed sequence follows Buster to a baseball diamond, looking for something noteworthy to film to impress the newsreel staff, but finding the game moved to another city.  Buster engagingly recreates his love for the game all by his lonesome.)  Though arrogant ace photographer Harold Stagg (Harold Goodwin) becomes Buster's main competition for Sally's affection, he refuses to give up, graciously accepting a tip from Sally to cover a Chinese celebration, not realizing it's masking a gang war.

This set piece is a grand centerpiece for Keaton's expansive canvas, bursting with small accents, like the antics of Josephine (aka Chicago) an organ grinder's monkey who shares a fine affection for Buster, amid the organized chaos, the dutiful novice film newsreeler chronicling everything in his sight.  But when his victory is short-lived and Sally nearly loses her job for handing over the assignment to a rank amateur, Buster dejectedly loses hope for a bit.  A second wonderful sequence offers redemption as he films a speed boat race featuring Stagg and Sally.  Once again we can marvel at the incredible physical endurance Keaton possessed in these scenes as we near the conclusion--a marvelous ticker tape parade honoring Charles Lindbergh (woven in archival footage) though Buster believes it's for him.

Long believed lost forever when in 1965 an fire strafed through the MGM studio vaults, *The Cameraman* has been newly restored (sans three minutes of footage lost forever) in 4K digital form undertaken by the Cineteca di Bologna, the Criterion Collection, and Warner Bros. and preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  The film was a box office hit, grossing $797,000, and has been used as in MGM's writing department as a training film for new writers as a "perfectly constructed comedy."

Here's another opportunity to mine good times for all.  Since it's available on Youtube (as you can see in this post, where I've included the full film), we can rest assured that Buster Keaton will continue to entertain audiences of all ages with his special brand of charisma and brilliance.  Share this one with as many friends as you can, for this is one romantic, hilarious slice of silent history.  And if you look fast enough, you'll get to see The Great Stone Face cracking a fleeting smile on the way.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 8/2/2020, 1:12 pm

I usually only throw around the term genius when referring to myself Laughing but Keaton was a genius some of his stunts are still the industry standard... The front of house falling over and him perfectly placed to have the opening land over him. An inch off and we would be saying remember when Keaton died doing that stunt.

Timeless lads....timeless....
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Post by ghemrats on 8/2/2020, 5:23 pm

Post #462: And now for something completely different: An Ealing Studios horror film, its only venture into the genre, released just as World War II ended, and for me stands as one of the most elegant, effective, truly satisfying scary films I've ever seen. This film is one for the Vaults, my friends, played out with deliciously reserved British resolve with a narrative thread that inspired *The Twilight Zone*'s gift for spooking the crickets out of the hearth. For today's feature, *Dead Of Night* (1945), is a recurring dream to which I gladly submit.

An anthology of five tales of the supernatural directed by four fine directors of renown, *Dead Of Night* sneaks up on the audience as architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at the comfortable country home of his host Elliot Foley (Roland Culver) to discuss renovation plans. Quizzically surveying the cottage, Craig enters confused and just a bit coiled with trepidation as he's introduced to Foley's assembled friends--young Sally O'Hara (Sally Ann Howes), Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird), Mrs. Foley (Mary Merrall), psychologist Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) and Joan Cortland (Googie Withers). Inexplicably Walter claims to have known them all, despite the fact they have never crossed paths, for he has repeatedly dreamed of this assemblage.

Thus established, the guests set off to set Walter's mind at ease, each describing an other worldly event they too have encountered, all greeted with German Dr. Van Straaten's attempts to debunk the unsettling tales with rational explanations. But what a wonderful group of stories they are. bite-sized little narratives that shake the shivers out of Foley's guests.

Grainger is up first with "The Hearse Driver," directed by Basil Dearden: A racing enthusiast, Grainger suffers a massive spin out, landing him in the hospital where at exactly 4:15 in the morning he's roused from his bed to find a hearse waiting for him in the streets below. Sally O'Hara is next with her eerie encounter at "The Christmas Party," directed by Alberto Cavalcanti: Playing hide and seek at a gaily rambunctious, spirited celebration, young Sally discovers a hidden passage leading to the cozy scene of an ignominious past. Joan Cortland's tortured marriage is up next in "The Haunted Mirror," directed by Robert Hamer: Surprising her husband Peter (Ralph Michael) with an ornate triptych mirror, Joan soon sees a growing change in Peter's demeanor as he becomes obsessed with the gothic gift. Just in time to break the tension is H. G. Wells' "The Golfer's Story, starring Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, directed by Charles Crichton: Golfing buddies George Parratt and Larry Potter wager a bet over mutual love for the lovely Mary Lee (Peggy Bryan), causing ghostly complications. And in "The Ventriloquist's Dummy," again directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, inspiration for several television and film adaptations, Maxwell Frere (Sir Michael Redgrave) finds his sanity unspooling as Hugo, his wooden buddy, gradually exercises more control over his life. Its chilling final coup d'etat preminisces Hitchock's *Psycho* (1960) and its lingering end shot.

The creeping dread, leavened only by the superb comedy of "The Golfer's Story," reaches a fever pitch in the film's closing moments, where all mysteries converge into nightmarish clarity. Contrary to the flashy violence inherent in the well documented Hammer films in the years to come, the heavy shadows, sharp black and white contrasts, and sculpting of atmospheric spaces expertly filmed by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe conspire with threat of what *might* happen, increasing the anxiety slowly rather than resorting to flash shocks and jump cuts. For me, THIS is the way to make a horror movie that sticks with you.

Also rather mind-bending is the structure of the film in reflection. Flashbacks whirl within flashback of flashbacks--shades of *Inception* (2010), more than a half century before Christopher Nolan experimented with such time trickery--and yet we are not fully aware of its sophistication until after the last reel, making it an enduring classic. Within the scientific community, its influence is palpable--After a screening of the film, cosmologists Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, and Hermann Bondi developed the Steady State theory of the universe, an alternative to the Big Bang, a term Hoyle coined but disparaged as a cohesive universal genesis. If that's not enough to entice your interest in the film, then the acting and direction should. Wholly unbelievable circumstances become frightening possibilities thanks to the sterling performances of all involved.

*Dead Of Night* continues to head my list of Ealing Studio favorites, along with the more comedic *Kind Hearts And Coronets* (1949), *The Man In The White Suit* (1951), *The Ladykillers* (1955) and *The Lavender Hill Mob* (1951). Martin Scorsese ranks it #11 in his list of scariest horror films of all time, and writer/director Christopher Smith cites it as a pivotal influence on his film *Triangle* (2009), commented on last year (October 4, Post #159). But be careful to see the full 102 minute version, as when it was released in America, stupid American distributors thought it was too long and excised two of the stories ("The Christmas Party" and "The Golfer's Story") trimming the piece to 77 minutes, and making the denouement completely senseless by omitting those characters from the audience's view.

You may be able to guess some plot twists, but that's only due to more contemporary riffs drawn from their inception here. But for great fun, turn out the lights, keep things quiet in the house and luxuriate in the moody darkness before you.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/3/2020, 5:45 pm

Post #463: With the world being as it is today, one would think today's feature, *A Thousand Clowns* (1965), would be about Washington and its wacky, nutty ways. But no--it's actually one of the first films I saw in college as part of an assignment, and it so moved me that I watched it three times in 1970 at various screenings on campus, bought the VHS copy and finally the DVD. Now, in all its fine black and white glory, straight from Broadway and the movie houses, you can watch it here uncut on Youtube. For me it still stands as a wonderfully warm and offbeat comedy that fueled the youthful belief that nonconformity and individuality were sacred treasures to be guarded against the encroaching madness of going with the flow of life like a dead fish without any conscious thought whatsoever, being little more than one in a row of educated cabbages.

Lovingly unemployed children's TV show writer Murray Burns (Jason Robards) has lived in a cluttered New York City apartment with his nephew 12-year-old Nick (Barry Gordon) for seven years, ever since Murray's sister left Nick on his doorstep to disappear into her own adventures, communicating with Murray "largely by rumor." Together, unfettered by conventional wisdom and social contract, they live a carefree existence until Nick's school essay on the glories of unemployment insurance causes the Child Welfare Board to investigate his living conditions.

Nick is wise beyond his years, precocious and approachable with impeccable manners, due to Murray's freewheeling treatment of him as an adult, and clearly the two are as compatible as water and air. But it is Murray's staunch refusal to take a meaningless job pandering to mediocrity that has authorities concerned for Nick's own good. And so it is that the shy Sandra Markowitz (Barbara Harris) and her superior and boyfriend, the humorless Albert Amundson (William Daniels) investigate Nick's background and living situation on behalf of the state. Preferring to dismiss the investigators' probing questions with casual disregard and infectious glee at living a free life, Murray successfully wins over Sandra and alienates the staid Albert who, in the words of Sheryl Crow, doesn't look like he's ever had a day of fun in his whole life.

Following a vehement disagreement over Nick's environmental forces, partially driven by Albert's condescension toward Murray and Sandra's empathy, Albert leaves Sandra in tears and the apartment in a huff of moral superiority. Comforting the sensitive social worker, Murray takes her on a scenic tour of NYC, revitalizing her love of the simple pleasures to which she's grown blind. At the same time she impresses upon Murray the very real responsibility of providing a more stable home life for Nick, lest the state take him away to live a more "structured" life. Validated by his brother and agent Arnold (Martin Balsam, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal), Murray must confront some serious soul searching if he's to keep Nick with him.

In one of his most moving arguments, he unfurls his philosophy to a sympathetic Arnie:
"I just want him to stay with me until I can be sure he won't turn into Norman Nothing. I want to be sure he'll know when he's chickening out on himself. I want him to get to know exactly the special thing he is or else he won't notice it when it starts to go. I want him to stay awake and know who the phonies are, I want him to know how to holler and put up an argument, I want a little guts to show before I can let him go. I want to be sure he sees all the wild possibilities. I want him to know it's worth all the trouble just to give the world a little goosing when you get the chance. And I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair."

It's playwright and author Herb Gardner's wonder dialogue like that which still runs a shiver down my spine, making *A Thousand Clowns* such a moving comedy about Things That Matter. Produced and directed by Fred Coe, the film employs on-location montage sequences and familiar scenes of New York to create both the individualistic spirit and the crowded lemming conformity which move Murray into action. When his former kids' show host Leo "Chuckles The Chipmunk" Herman (the fabulously creepy Gene Saks) implores Murray to return to his show, we see the desperation Thoreau wrote about a century before. "I have to keep touching myself to see if I'm still here," Leo cries. His is a horrible existence of self-loathing and a bottomless need for approval, the very carbon negative of what Murray believes, and the execrable representation that he fears may be Nick's fate if he's taken away.

Nominated for eleven awards and winner of four (including National Board of Review's Top Ten Films and Best Writer honors for Herb Gardner by Writers Guild of America), this film, while a little dated by footage of hordes of men in gray flannel suits and briefcases, still pack a wallop. Jason Robards is just terrific as one of the city's last remaining renegade free thinkers, delivering heart and soul in his thinking out loud. Barry Gordon, whether dead panning hysterical understatement (receiving a Chuckles the Chipmunk statue clearly years beneath him, he straight faces, "Thank you, Mr. Herman. Imagine how pleased I am to receive it") or breaking down at the prospect of being handed over to a life of demonstrative ordinariness, powers his Nick with ease and strength.

In her film debut Barbara Harris is just vulnerable enough to wreak sympathy out of her character, while maintaining the cold voice of reason when backs are against the brick wall of bureaucracy. She blossoms in her role with doe-eyed innocence that masks a stern resolve when it's called for. As older brother Arnie Martin Balsam earns every accolade he is bestowed, as the caring interloper who moves Murray toward gradual acceptance of his growing up and learning responsibility is not necessarily a buzz kill. These are wonderful people to get to know; their company is welcome while educating us that life is more than a nine-to-five drill, and happiness can coexist with responsibility, indeed helps plane down the rougher edges.

I feel as though I've been lucking out lately when it comes to the commentary fodder--a nice run of good old memories rediscovered and loosed on an unsuspecting reader or two (Thanks for the support, folks. Screaming into a vacuum doesn't offer much of an echo.) Listen carefully to the opening theme by jazz great Gerry Mulligan and his baritone sax accompanying Judy Holliday singing her own lyrics to *A Thousand Clowns* as a metaphorical and real kite soars over the city, and you'll realize how eccentricity and iconoclasts can enrich mundane lives. As Murray says to an uptight Sandra, "It's just that there are all these Sandras running around who you've never met before, and it's confusing at first, fantastic. But damn it, isn't it great to find out how many Sandras there are? It's like those little cars in the circus, you know? This tiny red car comes out, hardly big enough for a midget, and it putters around, and suddenly its doors open and out come a thousand clowns, whooping and hollering and raising hell." Hell was never this much fun.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/4/2020, 7:21 pm

Post #464 (A regular feature of Palindrome Theater): Back in 1973, Bay City had a little old movie theater on the west side of town, aptly called the Westown. In its heyday it was probably a beautiful theater in the tradition of grand movie houses, and though its lobby and seating capacity were small, they still boasted red faux velvet and the cloying scent of heavily buttered popcorn. I saw today's feature, *Scarecrow* (1973), there and knew the manager who kindly threw out a pile of original movie posters in my general direction, including a somewhat marred but historical first run Beatles 22"x28" poster for *Help!* (1965), on whose reverse side he had blindly hand printed with magic marker a promotion for some inane B-film whose budget could not afford promotional stills. Something like *The She Beast* (1966) with Barbara Steele. (I still have that poster, though I don't show the side with *The She Beast*.)

I mention all this for two reasons: Today's feature stars two Academy Award winning actors *before* their careers jolted into the stratosphere, and it's likely that you've not seen it; and I didn't have a snappy opener to introduce it, but nostalgia is always nice.

*Scarecrow* disappeared after its original release, only to resurface on DVD, was a box office failure that caused Gene Hackman to concentrate on more commercial releases afterward, and has been cited separately by stars Hackman and Al Pacino as their favorite movie, Pacino calling the script "the greatest he'd ever read." So how did this quirky comedy-drama about two drifters on the road escape notice for so long, when I recall my reaction (and that of my girlfriend of the time) as stunned silence with a lump in our throats, zooming to the top of our blooming film experiences? It stands as the first movie I ever saw with a "dangling" ending, that is, a somewhat unresolved fate which begged for conversation and discussion in the same way *No Country For Old Men* would thirty-four years later. And I fell in love with that narrative device as messy and open-ended as it was.

Today, *Scarecrow* still manages to entertain and provoke, once the initial reaction of "Man, Hackman and Pacino are so *young*" dissipates into our enjoyment of what the sweetly meandering plot offers. It tied at the Cannes Film Festival for the highest honor, Palme D'Or, or as it was known at the time the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, and it won Best Non-European Film at Denmark's 1974 Bodil Awards. It explores the rather volatile relationship between two vagabonds, the sour tempered and perpetually angry ex-con Max Millan (Gene Hackman) and the waif-like ex-sailor Francis Lionel "Lion" Delbuchi (Al Pacino) who dreams of reuniting with his girlfriend Annie Gleason (Penelope Allen) whom he left for the sea while Annie was pregnant; it is five years later now, and Lion is overflowing with joy to reconnect and meet his child in Detroit. The unlikely pair meet in California, hitch their way to Pittsburgh to retrieve Max's seed money and decide to open a car wash together, to cash in on The American Dream.

The perfectly balanced script by Garry Michael White and the gorgeous cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond capture all the pathos and extreme humor of these two mismatched men of the road. Pacino steals scenes with a golden comic talent that immediately endears him to the audience, as a fitting counterpart to Hackman's curmudgeonly misanthrope. Indeed the first half of the film leads us to believe that this is a light-hearted journey across America in the company of a realist or nihilist and a dreamer who buys a lamp for his progeny he's never met, because a lamp works well for boys and girls. Lion's constant coaxing of Max out of himself is done with a caring and extravagance that in the words of one reviewer "makes you want to hug him," and Max slowly comes around when at a bar he orders "a beer and a chocolate donut."

On the way they visit Max's sister Coley (Dorothy Tristan) and her friend, Frenchy (Ann Wedgeworth) who takes an immediate shine to Max. They train-hop, attempt to commit petty larceny, get into bar fights and land in a prison farm in Denver, where Max, livid that Lion has landed them behind bars again, refuses all contact with him. Wide eyed and innocent, believing the best in everyone, Lion finds himself under the protection of an influential yet apparently likable con Riley (Richard Lynch) while Max grouses at a distance. When the story turns dark and begins a painful spiral, we see Max and Lion shift positions--Max becomes more gregarious and light footed, and our comedic free spirit Lion descends to solemnity and brokenness. Comedy and tragedy face one another head on with a denouement at Detroit's Belle Isle fountain as Francis surrenders himself to an almost literal physical scarecrow, earning *Scarecrow* its cult status today.

The Yin and Yang of this picture is so skillfully released the audience doesn't initially see the intricacies of the actors' performances: Hackman's Max is embittered, angry, blaming everyone for his lot in life. He is wary of the world's machinations, street smart, ready for action and violent outbursts when he warrants their use. But Pacino's naivete, openness to trust, refusal to see the darkness that lingers and prone to bypass conflict mirror the actor's approach to filmmaking as well as Lion's life philosophy alluded to in the title--he is the defuser of Max's bomb when explosions are imminent. Pacino would grow restless and pace before a scene while Hackman imposed solitude and stand-off-ishness; director Jerry Schatzberg, who had worked with Pacino in *Panic In Needle Park* two years earlier, said Hackman was more than difficult to work with, having little patience with anyone, including his brother Richard Hackman, a stand-in whom Schatzberg gave the role of Mickey just to aggravate Hackman.

In another way *Scarecrow* functions as the unity of opposites, with its distinctly American travelogue (the opening shot by Vilmos Zsigmond is an immediate attention getter, secured anchored in the American landscape), while its sensibilities firmly place it in the European theater: character studies of displaced dreamers, issues affecting humanism, social and interpersonal truths, and more than a passing acquaintance to *The Wizard Of Oz* (1939). The film also functions as a perfect metaphor for the 1970s as well--where dreams met reality, the sixties' optimism was getting harder to sustain, betrayal became a way of life, and mobility (upward and otherwise) did not always promise fulfillment.

At the same time relationships mattered and in the words of Francis, "Scarecrows are beautiful." Just like this film.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/5/2020, 7:15 pm

Post #465: In celebration of the titanic influence my wife has had on the quality of my life, and in celebration of our anniversary of 42 years today (42! That's a special number if you've spent more than five minutes in my company!), I'm trotting out my all time favorite Gorgonzola The Cheese Monster Masterpiece, today's feature, *Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman* (1958) with the so-bad-they're-fantastic special effects and double exposures ever committed to film. (I save the unleashing of such classics only for the most august of times, I'll have you know.)

Seldom had such a B-film drive-in filler transcended its inspiration, another horribly lovely B-flick penned by the same man, Mark Hanna, whose *The Amazing Colossal Man* loosed on the public the year before. So celebrate, Ladies, equal time reigns supreme, and surpasses the male of the big-body species. And how appropriate it is that today's family favorite was funded by the small empire of producer Bernard Woolner and his brothers Lawrence and David who made movies after investing in a chain of drive-in movie theaters. Only in America, Folks, only in America.

Slapping together a budget of $99,500 from distributors Allied Artists, Bernard Woolner forged an alliance with co-producer Jacques Marquette whose previous production of *The Brain from Planet Arous* (1957) nearly did him in when the shady distributors Howco International stiffed Marquette Productions out of their share of the profits. Steeled in his resolve, however, Marquette enlisted Arous-Brained director Nathan Juran to helm the new project under the proviso that he be billed as Nathan Hertz, his middle name. Filmed in an expeditious eight days under the knowing eye of Hertz who knew how to get the most from his acting staff, *Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman* came in under budget as $89,000 and in its initial run grossed $480,000. Cheese lovers, unite!

Our heroine, such that she is, Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes), suffers the indignities of a wayward opportunistic husband Harry Archer (William Hudson) who has married Nancy only for her considerable wealth, a moderately destructive drinking habit, a conflicted love-hate neediness for Harry, and--oh yes--a late night encounter in the California desert with a glowing red (so we're told; the film is in luscious black and white) ball in the sky holding a gigantic gap-toothed and low-budget-constrained semi-transparent alien who nearly scoops up Nancy in his hairy runaway Macy's balloon hand. But Nancy is no town-pump floozy to be trifled with--no, that's Harry's girlfriend Honey Parker (splendid Yvette Vickers) with whom Harry plots to do away with his wife--and she staggers back into town with a wild story of wired-suspended satellites and a goofy giant who might be a celestial sailor out for a good time.

Naturally, due to her history of drinking and institutionalization for a short time, she's not to be believed, but Sheriff Dubbitt (George Douglas) and Deputy Charlie (Frank Chase, brother to dancer Barrie Chase) walk around in the wilderness anyway, finding nothing. Later, hysterical and imploring, Nancy goads Harry to drive her out to the desert again so he can validate her craziness rather than spend most of his time crawling all over Honey in the local jukebox joint. Imagine Harry's surprise when they find the Giant, plug him with useless bullets, and scream in horror, scaring Harry enough to peel out of the desert to leave Nancy and Gigantor to their own devices, only to find Nancy neatly deposited on the roof of her pool house hours later.

As the caring and considerate husband he is, Harry lets the doctors fill up her tank with morphine while he returns to the road house where Honey and Deputy Charlie improvise a dance to Ronald Stein's jazzy score (According to Yvette Vickers, Nathan Hertz let them ad lib their moves, at Frank Chase's suggestion, and at one point as Honey she channeled Rita Hayworth's moves in *Gilda* (1946)). Following Harry's intervention, Honey plots with him to inject poison into Nancy's prone figure, whacked out from the morphine family Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon) has administered, speculating scratches on Nancy's neck suggest some exposure to radiation. And there's nothing like morphine to quell the effects of atomic energy, friends.

Unfortunately, that lethal concoction (or maybe just the unspecified encounter of the weird kind with a cosmic thyroid condition) has left Nancy with a bad case of elephantiasis of the hand, eliciting much screaming and temple holding from the nurse (Eileen Stevens) and attending Dr. Heinrich Von Loeb (Otto Waldis). And she wants Harry! So it's time to rip the roof off and take a nocturnal stroll down town, leaving a trail of wreckage behind her sexy midriffed self yelling, "HARRRRY!" like a pissed off lighthouse with breasts and terrifically bad overexposed double exposure film. But you'll love the Ken doll standing in for Harry when she gets to the roadhouse.

Yvette Vickers, known for completing her scenes in one take, juiced up her Honey into the consummate bad girl, injecting notes into her copy of the script to make her worse than the screenplay allowed. But filming the confrontation with her fifty-foot co-star (with whom she got along famously off camera) was freighted with peril in reality. "There's that scene where all the lumber from the cafe roof falls down," she recalled, "and one of the wooden beams crushes the table I'm supposed to be hiding under. And afterwards, there's a shot where I'm lying there with all the debris around me. Well, after we filmed that scene, I looked up and noticed there was a nail on a board that was about two inches from my head. It could have gone right into my skull! But who thinks things like that are going to happen?" The cautious eye of a stage hand warned her not to move until they could assist, and the filming of the movie ended with no casualties whatsoever, even though the Bucktoothed Pal of an Alien (Michael Ross) doubles as Jack the bartender in the road house as well.

This was Yvette's first foray into sci-fi, following it up quickly with another "Attack" feature, *Attack Of The Giant Leeches* (1959) when she was "going steady" with Ralph Meeker and then becoming Miss July 1959, a *Playboy* centerfold photographed by Russ Meyer. Sadly, when years later, in 2011, she was found dead of heart failure in her Beverly Hills home in Benedict Canyon, presumed by the coroner to have died up to one year earlier but left undiscovered, rumor has it that Hugh Hefner, so decimated by her circumstance, paid for her funeral and cremation. Of her appearance in *Playboy* showing her bare bottom, Hefner said, "“Our lawyer thought that photo was going to get us into trouble. He literally wanted to stop the presses and change the Playmate. I said, ‘Forget it.’” Susan Savage who found Yvette's mummified body said at the time, ""She kept to herself, had friends and seemed like a very independent spirit. To the end, she still got cards and letters from all over the world requesting photos and still wanting to be her friend."

Oh, I could go on into a quasi-psychological treatise on how *Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman* deals with the 1950s suppression of the "liberated female," and the eventual unleashing of Nancy's aggression toward a woman's history of abuse by the hands of patriarchal society--"My husband!... My gigolo! That's what you are. You're a miserable parasite! You're just after my money! I was rid of you once. Why did I take you back? Why? Why?"--the subjugation of "the weaker sex" and the ultimate feminist retribution against women who have gleefully surrendered to sex kitten stereotypes with the promise of a $50 million purse. But. . . naaaaah. Just crank back the barcalounger and feast on the cheesefest of the finest vintage.

*Premiere* magazine voted the promotional poster for *Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman* number 8 of the 25 greatest movie posters of all time. No small wonder--it's the brainchild of schlockmeister Roger Corman and it resides in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. No matter how you slice it, this is the best dairy products on the market. Dig in, folks. (And yes, my wife did get flowers and a present for sticking with me for all these years and indulging my choices for camping out before the TV with crackers and cheese like this.)
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 8/5/2020, 9:11 pm

What a fine pot o' fondue I found waiting for me today. Cholesterolorama!

Hey Jeff, did you notice the Roger Corman playlist on that page I linked?
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Post by ghemrats on 8/5/2020, 9:39 pm

You betchum, Red Ryder. Now my wife can truly be a Computer Widow. . . What a cool guy you are, Dennis.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 8/5/2020, 11:21 pm

Hmm... most people call me the instigator.

And HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! Please pass that along to that wonderful lady who puts up with you. I hope she's doing well.

Dennis
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Post by ghemrats on 8/6/2020, 3:57 pm

Post #466:  I walked into today's feature, *The Whistler* (1944), with a mixture of anticipation and low expectations, and it fulfilled one of those elements.  For you folks who never got into old radio (the cabinet style, which really didn't afford you much room to stretch out but remain coiled into a tight ball, what with all those tubes and things), *The Whistler* was a superior mystery show narrated by Otto Forrest with a sinewy voice of dread, its theme written by Wilbur Hatch accompanying a sinister tune whistled by Dorothy Roberts.  Tying *The Shadow* for first place on my Old Radio List, *The Whistler* told "many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak."  Oh, so cool.

Running on CBS from May 16, 1942 until September 22, 1955, for a long time sponsored by Signal Oil, the show amped up the tension every week with the ominiscient Whistler digging into the psyche of some do-badder, almost always culminating in a trick ending.  So the film version, the first of eight cinematic entries into the franchise, didn't really utilize the unseen Whistler who played such an integral part of the series.  Horrormeister William Castle took on four of the eight movies, struggling valiantly to edge up the anxiety.  
In his memoir *Step Right Up! : ... I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America*, he wrote, "I tried every effect I could dream of to create a mood of terror: low key lighting, wide angle lenses to give an eerie feeling and a handheld camera in many of the important scenes to give a sense of reality to the horror."  Also knowing star Richard Dix was a heavy drinker prone to hiccups, Castle went the extra mile to put him on edge for his character by making him give up smoking and drinking, then making him wait extended periods between scenes to reshoot--all in an effort to "increase the sense that he was haunted. . . . (Dix) was constantly off-center, restless, fidgety, and nervous as a cat. When I finally used him in a scene, I’d make him do it over and over again until he was ready to explode. It achieved the desired effect - that of a man haunted by fear and trying to keep from being murdered."

The result works.  Dix plays Earl Conrad (Dix), co-owner of a small manufacturing firm, steeped in guilt for not having been able to save his wife from drowning when their cruise ship sank. Meeting with contact man Lefty Vigran (Don Costello) in a seedy bar, Conrad arranges to have himself killed for $10,000, half of which will go to the unknown killer, (J. Carroll Naish).  Closing out all his accounts, dismissing his butler with a hefty severance package, and preparing to quit his job, Conrad awaits his final moments. . . until his secretary Alice Walker (Gloria Stuart) receives a cable that his wife is actually alive, captured by the Japanese in territorial waters, giving Conrad a new will to live.  But Vigran has been killed in a police stakeout, leaving the Killer to fulfill his mission with no chance to cancel the contract.

The premise is okay, Castle's direction offers a couple good diversions, including a tense sequence of Conrad accepting a ride from Vigran's suicidal wife as she careens up a curvy mountain roadway, and strangely The Whistler himself interrupts a couple murder attempts by whistling in the shadows.  But we are firmly in B-movie territory here as the film barely fills the one hour mark and its budget is all of a whopping $75,000.

J. Carroll Naish invests some dread in his character as he nonchalantly studies a monograph on necrophobia and decides he will try to scare Conrad to death rather than just off him with a gun.  And as that task becomes increasingly challenging as he trails the desperate quarry through shadowy night bound streets, flop houses and bars, with the police believing Conrad is wandering around with amnesia, our Killer becomes obsessed with the execution, sneaking out his gun in his own desperation.

The script is a little clunky in spots, working hard to get moving at first, and the hunter and hunted theme is a bit wooden, but overall it's a capable run for the money.  For me the biggest downfall comes in expecting a big twist--so typical of the radio program--that never really comes.   But, hey, it was the first in a series, so in some ways I suppose everyone was trying to get the rhythm right; they can't be blamed because their shoes are on the wrong feet.  So for what it is, it's just fine.  Not something to whistle over, but not an egregious time waster either.  I've got some of the other *Whistler* films, most of which star Richard Dix in some self-sustaining plots, so we'll have to see if Castle's expertise is more finely honed in those to come.

For me, I may have to content myself with the radio show.  It had a solid run of 698 shows, and I've got 520 of them, missing only a small handful of available episodes, and more surface as time moves inexorably onward. Since The Whistler knows many things for he walks by night, I'll just stand by with my ears and eyes open for more from his penetrating talent for rooting out suspense.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/7/2020, 4:15 pm

Post #467: My jaw is aching from trying to mimic the theme song to *The Whistler*. How on God's green earth did Dorothy Roberts hit those dang high notes at the end and still retain the ability to ingest solid food. As the Tootsie Roll Pop advertisement suggests, the world may never know. But today's feature, *The Mark Of The Whistler* (1944), the second in the series again directed by William Castle and starring mopey Richard Dix, has Dorothy whistling her head off. Again, it's an economical 60 minutes with Dix twitching and shifting and acting as paranoid as a long tailed cat in room of rocking chairs, but it's on a par with yesterday's offering.

This one is distinguished by its author, Cornell Woolrich, who is always good for a twist. Published a scant two years earlier than the film adaptation, Woolrich's "Dormant Account" appeared in *Black Mask* (May 1942), the quinitessential pulp for crime masters, including Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. In this one, derelict drifter Lee Selfridge Nugent turns into an opportunistic grifter when he discovers a newspaper blip seeking inheritors of undisclosed amounts of money left unclaimed in the bank. One of those being sought is also Lee Nugent, though he has no middle name, like Selfridge. Seizing the day, Lee starts sniffing around, gathering information about the original inheritor to ensure his plans to masquerade as the original Lee Nugent aren't impeded or upset. Needing a new suit our "hero" contracts with an equally untrustworthy clothier Joe Sorsby (Porter Hall) to give him a suit, board and a few bucks, promising a one hundred percent return on Sorsby's meager investment.

The con pays off as Lee's research helps establish his assumed identity, and pays off royally to the tune of over $29,000. News of his windfall captures the attention of reporter Patricia Henley (Janis Carter) who photographs Lee exiting the bank and bumping into a street vendor, "Limpy" Smith (Paul Guilfoyle). Now he's front page news. But that's perhaps not good news as Eddie Donnelly (John Calvert) takes a special interest in Lee with deadly intentions.

To explore more intricacies of the plot here would provide massive spoilers, since this entry into *The Whistler* series is more in keeping with the twist ending tradition of the radio show. Let's just say a couple good twists help this one to be on a par with the first film, though tomorrow's entry *The Power Of The Whistler* (1945) is yards ahead of these first two. Tomorrow's is also the first *Whistler* film not to be directed by William Castle, to superb effect by Lew Landers. But that's for another day. . . the one after today, specifically.

Castle's direction here is brisk, the plot clips along, though the mark of coincidence stretches credibility just a bit, and you might see one plot twist fairly early on. Dix works well with Janis Carter, whose wide eyed acting style pulls the suspense along pretty well. John Calvert's pencil-thin mustache and looming seriousness generates enough malice and mystery to keep audiences guessing, though his statement that he's going to kill Nugent rather tips us off that he's not an altogether on-the-level guy. The Whistler himself is well played in shadows here, offering some good psychological insight and understanding into what's going on inside Dix, who acts so suspiciously a four year old would question why he wants to jump out of his skin. He reminded me of a kid who'd just stolen a candy bar from the local drug store, eaten it in one guilty chaw, and then screamed at his mother who asked how his day went, "I didn't steal a candy bar, and stop looking at me that way!"

So, if you liked the last Whistler film, you'll enjoy this one more. For only an hour, what have you got to lose? And for those who wonder how the film reflects its title, don't sweat it--it doesn't. But it may be helpful to know the original screenplay for a time was earmarked as "The Marked Man." That makes sense. But you'll find no Magic Marker skid marks forming a "W" on anyone's head in this little B-film.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats Yesterday at 4:06 pm

Post #468 (What happened to starting with "2"? Now we can't do a proper cheer): Lest we wear out our welcome, we'll take a *Whistler* break after today's feature, *The Power Of The Whistler* (1945), the third in the series (Yes, I have the other five). In my mind this is the best of our trio, directed by Lew Landers, who directed dozens of B-films and a slew of TV episodes including *Highway Patrol*, *Terry And The Pirates*, and *Bat Masterson*. In this *Whistler* entry, he really knows how to create mystery by showing the shadow of our narrator stalking our main character, once again played (much better) by Richard Dix and teamed again with Janis Carter of The Big Eyes. This one is really worth all of its 66 minutes, available here at your local computer or tablet.

The screws start tightening almost immediately as William Everest (Dix) steps off the curb before a speeding car, knocks his head and staggers away dazed. Entering a night club, he captures the attention of Jean Lang (Janis Carter), her sister Francie (Jeff Donnell, who had a huge career in episodic television) and Francie's fiance Charlie Kent (Loren Tindall) as Jean plies her hobby of fortune telling with cards. Haunted by his looming at the bar, Jean checks and double checks his fortune from afar, both times revealing he will die within a day's time. Impulsively she follows him out of the club, introduces herself and discovers he has amnesia, his only memory being he was going to meet someone. But who? And why? What about that fate Jean's cards have preminisced? And will the police arrest her for skipping out of the club without paying her bill?

First of all, The Whistler implies that William, now called "George" for convenience since he can't recall his name, is not a nice dude, even though Jean finds him charming and intriguing in a lost puppy kind of way. And the clues add up to The Whistler's assessment with fair regularity. "George"'s only possessions include an order for a birthday cake, a Canadian dollar with a license plate number penciled on it, a railroad schedule to Woodville, a doctor's prescription, a skeleton key, a cigarette lighter inscribed "EC to JC" and a receipt for two dozen roses to be sent to Constantina Ivanska (Tala Birell), a dancer performing at the Civic Theater. And so we're off to the theater to meet a dancer who claims not to know "George" from a can of Farmer Peet's rendered lard.

If you don't look too hard at the plot and just put your brain on waivers for an hour, you might thoroughly enjoy this flick (it's a very real B-picture, hence my usage of that term "flick"), but if you're watching with kids, you should know that there is implied violence toward cute and cuddly animals--a cat, a bird and a squirrel--that is unnerving for the young but builds suspense nonetheless. Yes, Jean may be bubbly and kind, but her sense of logic is so small you could fit it in a flea's navel and still have room for a boarding house. And some of the people "George" and Jean encounter on their weird scavenger hunt behave not a whit close to life (Finding them canoodling in the backseat of his car, a bystander thinks nothing of it and offers to drive them to their destination. Really? I want to live in that alternative reality). And outside of the movies, how many people declare their steadfast love for one another within hours of their meeting? I know, I'm a creaky old cynic on matters such as these. . .

But as the story winds to its closing, the stakes grow higher and genuine tension grows with them. Dix, I hate to admit, is versatile enough in this film to mix haplessness with sincerity and menace, while Carter and her onscreen sister Tindall exhibit a nice sibling closeness that both endears us and engenders the shaking of the head that Jean could be so bloody trusting and fallible. As the two giggle and josh before lights out while "George" sleeps on the couch in the other room, casting furtive angry glances at Francie's joyful canary, we feel those chills of trepidation prodding us to yell at the screen, "How freaking desperate are you! You're looking for love in all the wrong places! Looking for love in all the wrong faces! And have you actually *looked* into this guy's eyes? They're set so far back in his skull he's staring at his own hairline!"

Again, *The Power of The Whistler*'s title has nothing to do with the story that I can ascertain, but that's of small consequence when you've got a fairly gripping story and a skillful use of the the titular character. This one may keep you guessing, and for a B-picture, that ain't bad. Let the Whistler's power wash over you and don't take it too seriously. It's quick, economical and well played. Just don't try to emulate Dorothy Roberts' breath control on the theme.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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