I Saw That Coming

Fred Zinnemann had a long and varied career (including the classic From Here to Eternity, airing today on TCM, on the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor) but it was near the end of his career, with his third to last film, The Day of the Jackal, that he had one of his biggest box office hits ever.   He wasn’t sure he wanted to do it when he first got the offer but the more he thought about it, the more he was intrigued.  Here was a suspense thriller in which the entire plot revolves around a mission that the audience, or at least the historically/culturally aware audience, knows will ultimately fail.   After all, the mission is to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.  Three years before the movie was made, de Gaulle died from a ruptured blood vessel in his home.  He was not assassinated.  So anyone going into the movie would know that the Jackal (Edward Fox), the assassin followed by the movie as he moves closer and closer to de Gaulle, doesn’t succeed.  That leaves the question, where’s the suspense?  To create suspense from a situation with a known outcome was something Zinnemann couldn’t resist and unlike the Jackal, he succeeded completely.  The Day of the Jackal is a great suspense thriller, even though we know how it ends.



And Now Let’s All Agree to Never Discuss This Movie Again

Janet Leigh is TCM’s Star of the Month and that is, to say the least, kind of fitting.  After all, Janet Leigh is the most famous cinematic slasher victim of all time in one of the most famous and influential horror films of all time, Psycho, and this is October, the month most movie writers celebrate the horror film.  Psycho is also the only film for which Leigh was nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress, by the way, but she lost to Shirley Jones for Elmer Gantry) and practically the only film in which she was ever asked about in interviews.  Boy, I bet she got sick of talking about Psycho.  Frankly, I’m kind of sick of talking about it, too.

Smooth Cement


Update the Classics? Sure, Why Not?

As I was scrolling through TCM’s schedule this week, I noticed the 1946 Sherlock Holmes movie, Dressed to Kill, which aired yesterday morning.  Years ago, when I first saw the Basil Rathbone series, I was dismayed by the later films in the series that updated the story to the present day.  There was something about seeing modern vehicles and appliances in a Sherlock Holmes story.  Now, of course, the story has been done in the time period it was written, in the present day of the 21st century and with both genders in the lead role.  And it no longer bothers me one bit.



These foolish things… remind me of… me.

Old Red Eyes is Back

The other day a friend posted on his Facebook page a very unflattering picture of sports broadcaster and Olympic Winter Games commentator Bob Costas, who was/is suffering from an inconvenient case of pink eye, and then added some kindred spirits from the genres of horror and science fiction: Ronny Cox (or his prosthetic simulacrum) buggin’ out to the point of bursting from TOTAL RECALL (1990), gore-orbed Ray Milland at the end of X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES (1963), and Ronald Lacey in full ooey-gooey rich-and-chewy meltdown at the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). To which I added the above. Hardly remarkable in this day and age of Internet japery and it’s not that I posted it which strikes me now in retrospect as being so… it’s just that I thought of this image so quickly. I think, instantly. The opportunity arose and I had this image in my head, all loaded up, like that spring-action gun Travis Bickle has up his sleeve in TAXI DRIVER (1976), available to me in the way histamines and collagen are at my physiological disposal in the event of injury. These kinds of associations tell you a lot about yourself.  [...MORE]

The Viewer’s Cut

There’s an unwritten rule that I stick to, and I hope and believe most other critics do as well, that basically says “Review the movie that’s in front of you, not the one you wanted to see.”   In other words, even if you really wanted this movie or that movie to go in this or that direction, stick to where the movie went and discuss whether it worked or not.  Now, it’s perfectly valid when doing so to say, “Well, it may have worked better if” or “I think the better choice would have been” and so on.  After all, offering a counterpoint to the film is a part of the process.  What the rule is all about is not saying, “This film didn’t do what I wanted it to do, therefore it’s bad.”  It may not have done what you wanted it to do but still be excellent and that’s kind of the point.  But today, for one day only, I’m throwing that rule out the window and presenting my Viewer’s Cut guide to a wishlist of movie changes throughout the decades.



I’m in a fightin’ mood!


Oooh, I’m spoiling for a fight today… a real knock-down, dust-up, take-no-prisoners, no-quarter-given, apocalyptic barney. My knuckles are itching to bite into a set of teeth and my teeth are itching to lay into a row of knuckles. I won’t be satisfied until I dissolve in a flurry of biffery, until I drink blood — mine or yours — and if you want to be the one to set me off here’s all you have to do…  [...MORE]

The American Actor

There are a few classic actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood who came to represent America in the larger sense, and the average American man, in the smaller sense, to the rest of the world.  John Wayne was and still is used to represent America to the rest of the world, usually in a way that depicts Americans as shoot from the hip types, blustering about and making their presence known.  Gary Cooper, on the other hand, came to represent the “aw shucks” America, homespun and filled with folksy wisdom.  And Jimmy Stewart was the upstanding American, folksy too but a fighter, and an honest man who stood by what was right.  And then, well, just go down the list:  Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, Charlton Heston, Spencer Tracy and others also came to represent some type of American or another, with Bogart probably doing the best job at representing the cynical post-war American man.  But for my money, no one beats one actor for representing the average American man, kind of naive, filled with hope for the future, who keeps trying to understand the world but never quite gets it.  That actor is Joseph Cotten and no one plays “America” better than him.

Cotten 0001


The Other Great Scene in the Movie

A few months back I wrote a post on The Other Great Performance in the Movie, about great performances (usually by supporting actors) in movies with famously great lead performances.  I’d like to further that theme now, only with great scenes.   Last night, my wife, daughter and I took in Black Narcissus at the AFI Silver and enjoyed it as much as we always have (only more so because it was in the gorgeous main theater projected on a huge screen) and afterwards I started thinking about movies with very famous scenes, so famous that most casual film goers might know it (or have a vague sense of familiarity with it) even if they don’t know the movie.  But for every great scene in a great movie, there is often another scene just as powerful but perhaps not as famous, or revered.

Black Narcissus 01


The Cold (vs Warm) War

The other day I was having a conversation with Lou Lumenick on Twitter (I use the term “conversation” loosely for Twitter as it is really just 140 character bursts that go back and forth between several people and I often get confused as to who’s replying to what after only a couple of minutes) and he mentioned that he enjoyed How Green was My Valley very much upon viewing it again and felt much more emotional power from it than Citizen Kane which infamously lost out to Valley in that year’s Oscar race for Best Picture.   It’s a sentiment that’s been expressed before, that Kane is more cerebral and Valley is more emotional.  I would concede that basic assumption and further concede it is far more likely for the Oscars to go with emotional over cerebral.  But beyond the bets lost on Oscar pools, why should we care one way or another if something like How Green was My Valley wins?  It’s a great film and while it may not have the endless inventiveness with lighting, sound and photography, it more than makes up for it with warmth and a real emotional connection.  And what’s wrong with that?



The Beginning or the End?

No, not the movie with Hume Cronyn, but an actual question about the beginnings and endings of movies.   Probably the majority of all movies ever made could be accurately described as having serviceable beginnings and serviceable endings.   The movies might be great but the beginning or the ending or both are just, you know, serviceable.  Like Casablanca.  It has a great ending, one of the best ever.  The beginning, however, is simply good, sturdy and, well, serviceable.  There’s the narration, the fish-out-of-water couple being taken for a ride and our introduction to Rick’s Cafe Americain.  It’s all quite good and necessary but not particularly over the moon.  Other movies open with a bold stroke and sometimes even end with one too at which point you have to ask, which is better, the beginning or the end?  To be clear, I’m not talking about grand finales, that’s a completely different animal (and one I’d like to post on soon).  I’m not talking about the endings to big epics with special effects and explosions and the whole budget up their on the screen.  I’m talking about comedies and dramas, horror and sci-fi and westerns and maybe a musical or two that really do a great job starting and finishing their stories.

beginning end Godfather 01


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