Support Your Local Sheriff and/or Gunfighter

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Movies watched:  Support Your Local Sheriff, Support Your Local Gunfighter

Where watched:  Home

Time:  92 minutes, 91 minutes

Total elapsed time:  15 hours, 59 minutes

When I saw that Twilight Time was releasing these two titles on one blu-ray, I was pretty excited.  These two Western parodies were mainstays of my youth, shown frequently on television.  I hadn’t seen them in many years.  I wondered how they would hold up.

Of course any conversation about western parodies begins and ends with Blazing Saddles, and rightly so.  There have been other good western comedies, such as Bob Hope’s The Paleface.  Then there is The Apple Dumpling Gang, which seemed very funny when I was little, but doesn’t really work.

The first thing I noticed about Support Your Local Sheriff on blu-ray is how great it looks.  The transfer is absolutely superb, and I was blown away by the detail.  Director Burt Kennedy was essentially a B-movie western director, but he had a good reputation for making movies on a small budget that usually turned a profit.  This movie stars James Garner as a man who is just passing through a mining town, on his way to Australia of all places.  There is plenty of broad physical comedy, which just seems corny today.  But Garner makes the movie watchable, with every glance, every line of dialogue just right.

Garner befriends the town mayor,played by Harry Morgan, and he eventually falls for the mayor’s daughter Prudy, played by the charming and short-lived Joan Hackett.  Garner defends the town from the Danbys, the local cattle baron family that makes life hard on its citizens.  Walter Brennan plays the leader of the Danby clan, and a young Bruce Dern plays his young, dim-witted son.

Despite some of the jokes falling flat today, the movie does hold up, primarily because the performances are all quite good, especially those of Garner and the unforgettable Jack Elam, who steals every scene he is in.

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Here, Garner tries to pass of Jack Elam as the fastest gun in the West.

The movie was so successful that a follow-up was made just a couple of years later, titled Support Your Local Gunfighter.  It is not a sequel, but does feature many of the same actors, playing different characters.  It was also directed by Burt Kennedy, and also stars Garner, Elam and Morgan.  Morgan’s daughter  in this movie is played by Suzanne Pleshette.  This movie involves to feuding mining families, and has a similar comedic tone to the earlier film.

Unlike the first movie, in which Garner was an accomplished gunman, in this one he eschews gunfighting, using his wits to get out of some sticky situations.  This movie is not as strong as the original, but is definitely a suitable companion piece.  Jack Elam is just as funny in this one as he was in the earlier film.  If you are a fan of James Garner, or Western comedies,  they make a good double feature.  Twilight Time has done a great job once again with this blu-ray release.

In both of these movies, Jack Elam breaks the fourth wall at the end, giving the audience a closing narration, describing what happened to the characters.  It is nice to see Elam close out the movies, and have his starring moment.support5

 

 

 

 

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The Palm Beach Story, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

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Movies watched:  The Palm Beach Story, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Safeguarding Military Information

Where watched:  home

Elapsed time:  88 minutes, 122 minutes, 9 minutes

Total cumulative time:  12 hours, 56 minutes

If you watch a lot of movies, then you have felt the influence of Preston Sturges, even if you’ve never seen one of his movies.  Many directors and writers over the last 75 years mention him as a major influence.  Are you a fan of the Coen brothers?  Preston Sturges’ fingerprints can be seen on several of their films, especially Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, and Hail, Caesar!  The Coen brothers “borrowed” the title O Brother, Where Art Thou? from the Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels.  Sturges was the first Hollywood writer to transition to director;  he paved the way for John Huston and Billy Wilder.   His films have elements of screwball comedy, but often mix tone, and don’t necessarily have a conventional plot structure.  Preston Sturges seems self-indulgent;   he wrote and directed what amused him.

     The Palm Beach Story is about a woman (played by Claudette Colbert) who leaves her husband (Joel McCrea)that can’t provide for her, because he can’t find investors for his crazy inventions.  She meets a millionaire (played by Rudy Vallee) named John D. Hackensacker (clearly  based on Rockefeller) and seduces him.  At the same time,  Hackensacker’s sister (played by Mary Astor) falls for Joel McCrea’s character.   The set-up sounds like it could be a Shakespeare comedy.  There are sections of this film that are laugh-out-loud hilarious, even by today’s standards, particularly when the members of an “Ale and Quail” hunting club shoot up a moving train that they are traveling in.   If you watch enough Sturges movies you will start to see the same faces over and over;  he had a stock company of actors that he used repeatedly.

I’ve never found Claudette Colbert particularly attractive, but she certainly is charming in this movie.   By this time she had already won an Oscar in Capra’s It Happened One Night.  The more I see of Joel McCrea, the more I like.him.  The entire cast is exceptional really, making the most of Sturges’ screenplay.  The beginning and ending of this movie are a bit bizarre, something that could only come from Preston Sturges (or the Coen brothers), but it works.  While this is not my personal favorite of his movies, I would recommend it highly to anyone who likes classic Hollywood comedies, or the offbeat comedies of the Coens.

Sidenote:  This movie was released by Paramount in 1942.  I already wrote about a movie I watched called I Married A Witch,  which was also made at Paramount in ’42.  But Paramount had an excess of films that year, so they sold the Witch movie to United Artists, who were in need of titles to distribute.  Can you imagine a studio today having a glut of movies in the can, and selling off titles?  It would never happen.

Safeguarding Military Information is a short film that was originally made for the military, but was shown in theaters during World War II, so I will include it in my movie watching time.  It was written by Preston Sturges, and features Sturges regular Eddie Bracken in one scene.

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There was another director named Sturges. I’m talking about John Surges of course (no relation to Preston).  John Surges was a manly man;  most of his films focused on men in situations where their resolve is tested.  The women in John Sturges movies are usually window dressing, there just to comfort the men.

So just a few quick observations about this film:

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were both big stars by this point, and they both provide effortless and powerful performances.  Lancaster may be the best Wyatt Earp to ever grace the screen.  As far as Doc Holliday goes, I would put Kirk Douglas somewhere in between Val Kilmer and Victor Mature.

This movie was shot in VistaVistion, Paramount’s widescreen process.   VistaVistion movies look amazing on HD televisions, especially in blu-ray.  The colors and depth of focus are breathtaking.

DeForest Kelley  (who will forever be remembered as “Bones” McCoy on Star Trek) plays Morgan Earp.  That’s him in that famous shot at the end, walking with Lancaster and Douglas to the O.K. Corral.  That’s Bones!  DeForest was under contract to Paramount at the time.

Three of the people in this 60-year-old movie are still with us:  Kirk Douglas,  the awesome character actor Earl Holliman, and the beautiful Rhonda Fleming.

There are a ton of other great character actors in this, including:  Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Whit Bissell, and John Ireland.  Also look for a young Dennis Hopper.

Charles Lang Jr.’s cinematography is breathtaking, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is one of the classic western scores of all time.

 

 

 

Quick stop at 10 Cloverfield Lane, then I’ll take you down to Chinatown

Movies watched:  10 Cloverfield Lane, Chinatown

Where watched:  AMC Southcenter 16, home

Elapsed time:  103 minutes, 131 minutes

Total cumulative time:  9 hours, 17 minutes

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When my friend Reggie asked if I wanted to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, I was hesitant.  I never saw Cloverfield, and I knew they were at least obliquely related.  (Cloverfield is one of those movies that sat in my Netflix queue for years.  It would slowly move up, then down again as more interesting things supplanted its position.  I realized at some point that there was always going to be something I wanted to watch more).  But the trailer looked intriguing, and at least it wasn’t that handheld, found footage crap which was another turn off for me with Cloverfield.  Plus, John Goodman.  Then I saw it was 90% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, and that was enough.

This movie does have a lot of things going for it, most of which I can’t discuss without ruining plot points.  It does involve three people holed up in a survivalist’s bunker, from what may or may not be some kind of attack.  An attack from whom, or what, I won’t mention.  The set-up is excellent; the viewer knows only what Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) knows.  On a visceral level, the movie works.  There are some great suspenseful moments, and some twists you probably won’t see coming.  John Goodman is solidly creepy, and John Gallagher is entertaining, although his dialogue has some inconsistencies (which is the screenwriter’s fault, not his).

There are certain parts of the story that don’t really hold up to close scrutiny, but i won’t fault the movie too much for that, because it really doesn’t give you time to stop and ponder.  If you saw Cloverfield,  then you know it involved aliens, and I’m sure you’re wondering if this film goes there.  I’m not going to give anything away.  If you like a good thriller, that might make you jump in your seat a couple of times, then give it a try.

Side note:  we were at the theater early, and this couple came and sat to my immediate left, with one empty seat between.  At the time, there was nobody else in our row, and the row in front was empty.  I was a little surprised they chose to sit so close, and even more surprised when the dude began spitting his chew into a little cup.  I’m sure guys must chew tobacco at the movies, I’ve just never witnessed it before.  He had his own little supply of Dixie cups in his pocket which he proceeded to spit in for the duration of the film.  Charming.

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Speaking of charming, here is an image from Chinatown.  One of Jack Nicholson’s great monologues, where he tells Faye Dunaway “I damn near lost my nose.  And I like it.  I like breathing through it.”  I’m not sure if screenwriter Robert Towne was writing specifically for Nicholson, but I can’t imagine any other actor in 1974 delivering Jake Gittes’ dialogue as well as Jack does.  Townes’ screenplay is exceptionally well written.  Did you ever ask yourself why the movie is called Chinatown?  The movie does not take place in Chinatown, except for the last scene.  The movie is not about Chinatown at all, at least not on the surface.  This is a movie of layers.  It is about a murder mystery, and infidelity.  It is about water and power, and the making of Los Angeles, and it is about Chinatown.  Chinatown is mentioned three times, in three different conversations that Nicholson’s character has with others, and each give us a little information about what happened there in the past.  Robert Towne said that Chinatown is a metaphor for the futility of good intentions.   I assume he was talking about the place and the movie.

Roman Polanski’s direction is fantastic, and his technical team great too.  He had to replace both the cinematographer and the composer during production.  Normally making changes midstream spells disaster, but the cinematography in this movie is exquisite, even more so on blu-ray. And Jerry Goldsmith’s score is the stuff of legend;  brought in at the last minute, he wrote and composed the score in nine days, and the result is astonishing.  Once you hear that opening cue for trumpet, you’ll never forget it.

Jack Nicholson was at his peak here, so effortless its kinda scary.  I was never a big fan of Faye Dunaway, and I’m not quite sure why.  She is a good actress, but there is an emotional distance that keeps me from connecting.  Of course this role requires a distance, and she has that gut wrenching scene (you know the one) which levels both Nicholson and the audience.  The supporting actors are great in this movie too, especially Burt Young, best known for the Rocky movies, and John Hillerman, best known for “Magnum, P.I.”  And John Huston, best known for being John Huston.  Who could ever forget that gravelly voice, and the way he continually mis-pronounces Nicholson’s name as “Mr. Gits” is a great touch.

This movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, with Towne being the only winner, for best original screenplay.  That was the year Godfather II cleaned up at the Oscars, although would you believe The Towering Inferno won best cinematography and editing over this film?   Chinatown is one of the greatest examples of American film noir, and one of the best movies of the 70’s.   The ending is brutal and unforgiving, but it couldn’t end any other way.  After all, its Chinatown.

(Footnote:  I watched this movie on Saturday 3/12/16.   After watching, I was doing some research, and discovered that the St. Francis Dam in California broke on this same day, in 1928.  That dam’s failure, which resulted in the deaths of over 600 people, is referenced briefly in Chinatown.  The character of Hollis Mulwray is modeled after William Mulholland, who lost his job and much of his good reputation after that dam’s failure.  It also is no understatement to say that Mulholland’s aqueduct built Los Angeles.  He just had to steal a little water to make it happen),

 

 

I Married A Witch, and The Departed

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Movies watched:  I Married A Witch, The Departed

Where watched:  home

Elapsed time:  77 minutes, 151 minutes

Total cumulative time:  5 hours, 23 minutes

Let’s open the file on Veronica Lake.   First we’ll have to blow the dust off.  Now let’s look at the facts:   Born in Brooklyn, family moved to Hollywood when she was sixteen.  Got a walk-on part the following year.   Signed to a contract at Paramount at the age of nineteen.  She was only 4’11”.  She originated the “peek-a-boo” hairstyle that became all the rage in the war years of the early 40’s.  She was paired frequently with Alan Ladd, which makes sense:  he was short, she was shorter.   She was a star throughout the 40’s, but developed a bad reputation, and by the early 50’s she couldn’t get work in Hollywood.  She was married and divorced four times.  Her first child died shortly after birth. After moving to New York, she worked waiting tables.  She was arrested multiple times for public drunkenness.  She drank herself to death at the young age of 50.

My first introduction to Veronica Lake was L.A. Confidential.  I suppose I had heard the name before, but I wasn’t aware of her as a real person.  Shortly thereafter I saw Sullivan’s Travels, and I was blown away at her poise and presence, especially considering she was still a teenager.  She and Joel McCrea seem to have a genuine rapport on screen, but apparently McCrea  disliked working with her, and refused to work with her again.  Frederic March would have the same experience on this movie, which he began to refer to on set as “I Married a Bitch.”

I Married A Witch is a light, fresh, enjoyable comedy that breezes through a short 77-minute running time.   More than 20 years after this movie’s release, it would be one of the main inspirations for the the TV show “Bewitched”, and it has the same level of charm, wit and warmth.  Veronica Lake and Frederic March are great, as are Susan Hayward and Robert Benchley in supporting roles.  The movie was directed by Rene Clair, who is virtually unknown today. Many of his films are avant-garde French works, but he spent a few years in Hollywood, making movies that are all forgotten today.   This is one that deserves to be remembered.

Dalton Trumbo did some uncredited script-doctoring on this movie.  I forgot to mention when I wrote about Where the Sidewalk Ends that it was written by Ben Hecht.   Between the two  of them, Trumbo and Hecht did uncredited writing on literally hundreds of Hollywood screenplays (if you don’t believe me, look them up on IMDb).

This is one of many films that would be completely unknown today if not for the Criterion Collection.  Their blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic.  If you enjoy comedies from the golden age of Hollywood, it’s well worth a viewing.  And now we can close the file on Veronica Lake.  File it in row H for Hollywood; section B, for Broken Dreams.

 

And what possessed me to re-watch The Departed?  It seems like it just came out a couple of years ago, but I actually hadn’t watched it in about 8 years.  I liked it when I saw it in the theater;  I like it even more now.    Setting this movie in Boston was a brilliant move.  And even though it is based much more on the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs than it is on Whitey Bulger, this movie feels more authentic than Black Mass,  in which Johnny Depp hid behind (a little too much) makeup to play the real-life Whitey Bulger.  Black Mass had some decent performances, but ultimately left me cold, whereas The Departed is full of life from the first frame.

Later-life Jack Nicholson has kind of assumed the mantle previously worn by later-life Marlon Brando.  Early in his career, Nicholson balanced masculinity with an easy-going charm and a devil-may-care attitude..  Now, having won all the awards, with nothing to prove, he lets his crazy show even more, and the don’t-give-a-shit attitude works wonders for his character.  He has aged better than many of his peers (are you listening DeNiro and Hoffman), by choosing his material carefully and not becoming a caricature of his former self.

The Departed has an amazing assemblage of talent for one movie, and everyone makes the most of their parts.  Robbie Robertson was the soundtrack producer, and as in most Scorsese movies the music is a very important element of the film.  I’m not sure whether it was Robbie or Scorsese who chose to use the live version of “Comfortably Numb” with Van Morrison on vocals, but it is a brilliant choice.

Watching this movie makes me want to see some more Nicholson, from earlier in his career, when he was at the top of his game.  How about 1974’s Chinatown?    To paraphrase Steven Soderbergh,  it was good to be Jack Nicholson in 1974. (Hell, I think its good to be Jack anytime.)

 

 

Where The Sidewalk Ends, and farewell George Kennedy

 

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Movie watched:  Where the Sidewalk Ends

Elapsed time:  95 minutes

Where watched:  Home

I was excited to start my year of movie watching with this 1950 Otto Preminger classic, then my friend Tom shared the news about George Kennedy’s passing on his FB feed.  While not surprising (the guy was 91) it still bummed me out.  Later Tom shared the clip of George Kennedy’s Oscar acceptance speech, from his win for Cool Hand Luke.   The clip starts with Bob Hope making a couple of jokes that land poorly as he introduces Patty Duke, who names Kennedy the winner.  His speech was just a few seconds long, a mix of warmth, humility and genuine gratitude.  Having just watched 24 Oscar acceptance speeches the night before, it certainly was refreshing.

In honor of George’s passing, I will soon do an Airport film festival.  I will watch all 4 of the disaster movies (yes, George Kennedy was in all four).   God help me.

In the meantime, just where does the sidewalk end?  This most delicious of film noir titles is a euphemism for the gutter, which the opening scene of the movie makes clear is exactly where the sidewalk ends.   The movie stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews.  If  you’re not familiar with those names, Gene is the lady and Dana is the man.   I know.   And this particular lady and man had already starred together in the classic film Laura, also directed by Otto Preminger.   Laura is a film noir focused on New York’s high society;  this movie stays a lot closer to the ground.

Dana Andrews plays a cop with a temper who accidentally kills a guy, then foolishly tries to cover up the accidental crime.  Why not just confess, since it was an accident?  Because in film noir, characters make foolish choices, for which they will (almost always) ultimately pay.  Gene Tierney is the estranged wife of the dead man, and of course she falls for Dana Andrews.  Complicating things even further, Gene Tierney’s father (played by the great character actor Tom Tully) is arrested for the murder!  If you are a fan of film noir, then you know that the guilty always receive justice in the end, in one form or another.  This film actually has a slightly ambiguous ending, allowing the audience to wonder whether Dana Andrews’ last redemptive act will lead to a happy ending.

I’ve always dug Dana Andrews. He is great in this, and half a dozen other film noir as well.  I also rememer him from a good episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  He had a world weariness about him that was only partly an act, I’m sure.  He battled alcoholism for many years, ultimately remaining sober for much of his later life.  He also had a photographic memory;  he could read a script once and remember it verbatim, for the rest of his life.

Gene Tierney’s popularity was always a bit of a head-scratcher to me.  She was undeniably pretty;  Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck swore she was the most beautiful woman ever to appear on screen.   While that is a bit of hyperbole from a man promoting one of his own properties, he was definitely enamored of her.  But her range seems very limited to me.   She had a rough go of it in her personal life.  She struggled with raising her special needs child, and began to have mental health problems herself.  She was institutionalized more than once, and had at least one suicide attempt.  Her work was sporadic from the mid 50’s on.

Karl Malden also appears in this movie, as a smug police detective who pretty quickly jumps to conclusions.  He is not as concerned with finding the guilty party as he is with proving his own theories correct.   A year after making this movie Malden would have a life-changing role in Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire, winning an Oscar in the process.

Otto Preminger is a very underrated director.  Far from a household name today, he made at least a dozen solid movies, and a couple of classics.  He had a reputation for being a martinet on the set, but he produced quality.

Over the years this movie has come to be regarded as Laura lite, an attempt to recapture the glory of that film.  And it does feature the same director, leading actors, cinematographer, editor, etc.  But it deserves better than that.  While certainly formulaic, as most noir is, it is entertaining.  It is full of interesting faces, a lot of character actors that have vanished into obscurity.

Twilight Time did a fantastic job with their blu-ray release of Where the Sidewalk Ends.  The print is pristine.  If you want to spend 90 minutes in the gutter, you could do worse.