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Badlands

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I’d never envisioned Martin Sheen playing a morally bankrupt adolescent so watching Badlands (1973) was something of a shock. In Badlands Sheen plays Kit an outsider with just enough smarts to be dangerous. I can’t quite make out his percentage of psychosis, but Kit sure has plenty. Evidently the film was based on an actual couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

As the film begins, Kit’s bored with his garbage collecting job, which he soon loses by telling off the boss. He finds an odd kind of love when he meets Holly, played by Sissy Spacek. Holly’s an even keel (or flat line?) teen whose mother died a while back. She’s never had a boyfriend or lots of friends at school so hey, Kit’s interested in her so why not stick with him. Her father’s rather taciturn and aloof so she’s morally empty and will go along with anything since nothing in life seems like a big deal to her. She attaches herself to Kit since he’s there and he’s good looking and she doesn’t seem to have the depth to make moral judgments of any sort. Life’s rather boring in her South Dakota town and she’s got no social circle, no village is raising this girl so she goes with whatever comes along.

So we see this ho hum relationship, and both Holly and Kit are more inclined to the ho hum than to passion, flow along until Holly’s father gets wind of it. He forbids Holly to see Kit. Now Kit’s wild with love and can’t live without Holly. He breaks into Holly’s home and confronts the father, who wants him out. Dad won’t listen to Kit. He certainly doesn’t want his only child to settle for an uneducated loser who can’t keep a job. When the father turns his back to Kit to go call the police to get the trespasser out, Kit shoots him in the back. Kit and Holly burn the house down to thwart the authorities who’ll soon want evidence and they take to the road. It is odd, yet compelling to see Holly blithely go off with Kit after he’s murdered her father in cold blood.

Just like Kit, Badlands goes in directions viewers won’t expect. There’s never a police officer who’s determined to catch the pair. This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, though the bodies start piling up as the story progresses. It’s more of a look at a lost, bored adolescent couple who make some odd and wrong choices, shrug them off and keep going in their way. Because the plot employs few Hollywood conventions and because the leads are compellingly low key and lost, the film works.

Who’d thunk that Jeb Bartlett could play a low key, psychopathic James Dean?

 

 

 

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Brooklyn

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Based on a novel, Brooklyn tells the story of an Irish woman, Eilis, who leaves the Emerald Isle where there are no jobs or eligible young men, to make a life in Brooklyn. While fitting in isn’t easy, she does find a boyfriend and succeed in bookkeeping at night school so that she puts down roots. She soon marries her Italian boyfriend in secret.

Life takes a turn when her sister suddenly dies. Eilis returns to Ireland to help her mother who’s all alone. It’s intended to be a short trip, but then Eilis decides to stay for her good friend’s wedding and then someone finds her a temporary accounting job that she excels at and then she meets terrific young man. It seems that Eilis has found the life she always wanted in Ireland.

SPOILER ALERT

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On the Waterfront

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Yippee! I can reach my blog today! How long will this last?

Not very, I’m afraid, so on to a movie review.

Though I’ve heard parodies of the “I coulda been a contender” dialogue, I’d never seen Marlon Brando as Terry Malloyin the famed On the Waterfront. It wasn’t what I expected, though I’m not sure what I expected.

On the Waterfront opens with Brando’s character unwittingly luring a union activist to his death. The mob that controls the union want’s no trouble. They don’t want fair wages or fair play. They blindly follow their corrupt boss Johnny, content to get whatever scraps he throws their way. Terry’s brother is a lawyer for the mob and his link to Johnny pulled Terry in evidently. Years ago Terry was a promising boxer, but at Johnny’s insistence threw a fight. Terry’s rough around the edges to say the least. From what I’ve read, this natural, raw acting style was quite a departure from most films of its day. Now it’s the norm so while the film pulled me in, I wasn’t sure why it’s a classic.

Terry soon meets the dead man’s sister Edie Doyle, a gorgeous, principled young woman. He becomes smitten and she’s been sheltered at a woman’s college so she’s interested in him. Presented with Edie’s view of justice, which is exemplified in the neighborhood priest who organizes and stands up for workers’ rights, in spite of the older priest’s advice to mind his own business, Terry starts to change. He sees the injustice and personal cost of letting Johnny rule the waterfront.

I liked the film until the scene where after a quarrel, Terry runs after Edie, who’s lost hope that Terry will change. She’s fled to her apartment and Terry breaks down her door after she yells out that he should go away. She’s terrified, and yes, probably attracted, but if someone broke down my door I’d call the police no matter how charming or handsome he might be. Eventually, they embrace. Right. After he breaks down the door and struggle. This may have passed for love in the 1950s, but now it’s most unappealing. I felt that Upton Sinclair’s books like The Jungle or King Coal are better ways to learn about the workers’ movement.

Is this Presidential?

I’m thoroughly enjoying my Government Documents class. Last week we looked at Presidents and I found out about a fight between Harry Truman and a music critic, Paul Hume. Hume wrote a very negative review about Truman’s daughter’s singing saying, Margaret Truman was “extremely attractive on the stage… [but] cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time. And still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish.”

Her protective presidential father fired back with this letter which was on White House stationery:

Truman to Hume

Hobson’s Choice

hobson's Staring Charles Laughton and directed by David Lean, Hobson’s Choice (1954) takes viewers back to Victorian England, to Henry Hobson’s home and boot shop. Hobson has three daughters, sensible Mary who at 30 is considered an old maid no man will marry and two sillier, more marriageable daughters, Alice and Vicky. Hobson’s a drinker and though successful, very much a cheapskate. From the start we see that Hobson drinks way too much and bickers constantly with his daughters. He admits he’s not good with females. Alice and Vicky plead with Hobson to provide dowries as their beau’s, like any self-respecting men, wouldn’t marry without one. Maggie, the brains of the shop, is put off when Hobson assumes his eldest daughter will never marry. She takes action and informs the mind-mannered Will Mossop, the best book maker in town, that he must marry her. She gives him no choice and even takes him to inform his overbearing landlady that Will will not be marrying her daughter.

Hobson, Maggie & Will

Hobson, Maggie & Will

The movie delights from start to finish and provides a look more realistic look at the era than we usually get. It’s an interesting contrast to The Paradise or Mr Selfridge as it shows the world of a small shop in a small town. In his way Hobson’s as weak as Harry Selfridge, but thankfully he has a strong daughter who reins him in.

Sepia Saturday

sepia baking

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt serves to inspire bloggers to find photos of baking. What a great subject!

I found several on Flickr Commons. If you want to see other blogger’s offerings, click here.

I can't resist old packaging

I can’t resist old packaging

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In Wales (n.d.)

Source: Mennonite Church, USA, 1951

Source: Mennonite Church, USA, 1951

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3:10 to Yuma

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I’m normally not a fan of Westerns, but if the Criterion Collection saw fit to offer Delmar Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (1957), maybe this Western was worth a look. It sure was. Starring Glen Ford, whom I associate with TV sitcoms if anything, 3:10 to Yuma is a psychologically compelling game of cat and mouse. Ford plays Ben Wade, a slick, charming head of a gang of stagecoach robbers. After his gang kills a stagecoach driver while robbing the coach, his gang disperses to hide out. Ford miscalculates and allows a little romance to detain him and so he gets nabbed.

He’s in hick country and doubts the locals can keep his gang from him from breaking loose or getting rescued. Surely, he can outsmart these poor yokels. The central yokel, is a small rancher Dan Evans, who agrees to escort Wade to a town where a train to Yuma will take Wade to the nearest judge. Evans needs the $200 reward to save his cattle. Just as desperately Evans heeds his wife and sons’ esteem. That they seem to see him as a man who always plays it safe is getting to him.

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Some of the tensest moments are in a hotel room where these two character kill time till the train’s about to leave. The film’s strength is the psychology of the characters, that and the remarkable cinematography of the desolate Western landscape.

Good quote:

Bisbee Marshal: Do I have two volunteers? First Posse Member: We gotta know what we’re gettin’ ourselves into.

Second Posse Member: Sure… might not be safe.

Bisbee Marshal: Safe! Who knows what’s safe? I knew a man dropped dead from lookin’ at his wife. My own grandmother fought the Indians for sixty years… then choked to death on lemon pie. Do I have two volunteers?

As with all the Criterion films I’ve seen, the extras were well worth my time. One was an interview with Glen Ford’s son, who’s written his father’s biography. The other was an interview with Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story the film’s based on. I’ve heard Leonard’s name and associated him with short stories, but the interview was inspiring and insightful for writers. The power of this spare film, stuck with me for days. I’d definitely check out more of Daves’ films. [categorie film, review, New Years’ Resolution Film Challenge]

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi

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Directed by Jacques Becker, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi! (Hands Off the Loot!) is an unusual gangster film. Released in 1954, the film chronicles a genteel, older gangster, Max, who’d like to cash in his gold bars and retire. Max is very debonair and respected in his circle. We never see how he got 50,000,000 Francs in gold, which is usually what the main focus of a gangster film would be.

The first hour of the movie we see his life, his friendship with Riton, who’s a sidekick, rather than an equal, his girlfriends, his evenings at a little restaurant and night clubs. He’s involved with a platinum blonde showgirl, while Riton’s showgirl Josy is brunette — and is getting some action on the side with another younger, gangster. Max stumbles on Josy and her other lover, which leads to a good scene when Max takes his friend home, presents him with the facts about Josy and shows us how good friends should care for each other in troubled times.

The movie’s pace picks up in the last thirty minutes. Angelo, Josy’s real love interest, abducts Riton using him as leverage to get Max’s gold. Loyalty forces Max to get Riton back and in doing so there’s the sort of a pursuits and shoot outs you’d expect in a gangster movie.

I thought the acting was good, but the first hour of the movie should have more plotting, just a little more. Show us Max getting the gold. I can be patient with a film that wants to go off the beaten path, but I almost gave up on this one. Finally, the very end of the film is abrupt and left important points about Max’s future up in the air so I can’t give this a thumbs up, unless someone knows more about Jacques Becker or French noir films.

The Sweet Smell of Success

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When I made my 2014 New Year’s Resolution to watch one old movie (i.e. before 1960) I had no idea where it would take me. I’ve discovered so many terrific films due to this challenge and the limited, but good selection at my local DVD store.

A prime example is the 1957 The Sweet Smell of Success  starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a struggling, opportunistic press agent who’s both manipulating and manipulated as he tries to get the powerful J.J. Hunsecher played by Burt Lancaster to write about his clients. It’s a career based on lies, begging and creating an icy cool image. J.J. is based on Walter Winchell, a columnist who pioneered the celebrity beat. Here J.J. gets Sidney to break up a romance between his sister and a jazz musician. No one would be good enough for J.J.’s sister Susie. There’s definitely a weird one way vibe between J.J. and Susie, who’s in love with clean cut Dallas.

Sidney has few scruples about setting up Dallas. The one time he objects to J.J.’s plan, he capitulates. Anything to further his career. Sidney lives on the edge in a corrupt world with edgy, witty dialog and high stakes. The few times his maneuvers don’t work, like when he tries to blackmail one of J.J.’s rivals, it backfires. Sidney never thought that someone in his field might prefer to come clean to his wife than to do his bidding. Sidney’s doomed as he’s neither as powerful as J.J. or honest like Dallas or the clean-when-forced-to-be columnist.

The Sweet Smell of Success is set in a kind of hell, a hell with witty reparteés, stylish women and men in sharp suits sipping martini’s. It’s fun to watch, but I wouldn’t want to come within a mile of any of the characters.

I’m now re-watching with the Criterion Collection commentary to eke all I can from the film.

A few quotes:

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A Man Called Peter

man called peterI didn’t know what to expect when I started watching A Man Called Peter (1955). It turns out it’s a biopic about Peter Marshall showing his life from the seminary. Of Scotch descent, Marshall (played by Richard Todd, whom I’ve never seen before) comes to America for seminary and by dint of his riveting oratory, becomes a popular preacher in Atlanta, New York and then Washington, DC. He preaches real deal Christianity, which is hard to take, especially for some a rich society lady who donates a lot of money Marshall’s unapologetic about his bold ministry but the main theme isn’t rebellion so eventually the movie doesn’t dwell on that conflict.

We see a minister who’s a whirlwind, so energetic it’s exhausting to watch. His wife was captivated by his charisma but soon he wears her out. It’s not that they divorce, but she does get ill and I don’t know how I’d deal with someone who’s constantly in motion. She does manage though.

In Washington, DC Marshall is named chaplain of the U.S. Senate and I loved watching him challenge the powerful. It was a shame that his life was cut short. That came as a complete surprise, but you can’t rewrite biography to suit your wishes.

The film would mainly interest Christians as Marshall’s pretty earnest. He’s very dynamic, but doesn’t go through any periods of doubt or dark night of the soul, which I think many modern viewers expect in their cinematic (or televised) clergy.

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