Andy Hardy Goes To Hell, Or: Speaking of Full Circles…

A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

The fun 1937 musical comedy Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry popped up today on TCM and while I usually don’t go out of my way to watch many Mickey Rooney films, this one was quite interesting because it nicely bookends with a certain later TV show. Some of you know where this is going, so just smile and nod, please.

Anyway, I got to laughing at one point for a few key reasons. One being the scene below where after teaching a kid the ropes of riding a race horse, Mickey’s character Timmie Donovan later takes the kid back to his room and attempts to give him a vigorous rubdown, which is unintentionally and hilariously suggestive, as is the previous horse scene.

While this is happening, a young Judy Garland pops up to interrupt things by playing the guitar and singing a catchy song about her new shoes. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, ahem (and just what the heck is going on here?):

“I got my horse right here, his name is Paul Revere…”

Th other funny thing was I immediately thought of The Twilight Zone episode” Last Night of A Jockey”, which was a total solo showcase for Rooney written by Rod Serling. He plays an angry disgraced jockey named Michael Grady who’s accused of horse doping and banned from racing. While in his shabby room, he talks to himself until his alter ego appears and grants him one wish which amusingly enough, goes exactly as planned after he’s reinstated and can start racing again:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

Anyway, you can pick up the film though Warner Archive here and it’s worth a watch, as it’s the first of eight films Rooney made with Garland, so that’s also important in cinematic as well as historical terms. See, folks- movies like this can also be quite educational when they need to.

-GW

Review: Scandal (1950)

Yes, it’s a Christmas movie.

All Ichiro Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) wanted was to get his latest painting done while up in the mountains. But a chance encounter with famous singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) leads to an innocent motorbike ride past a bus with a pair of nosy magazine photographers looking for an exclusive interview with her. They don’t get it, but manage to snap the two seemingly sharing a room (they’re not). Once the photo arrives back at Amour Magazine, a salacious story gets written and both Ichiro and Miyako deal with the resulting fallout, even though they both temporarily benefit from career boosts due to the resulting gossip.

Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, which manages to poke a finger in the eye of celebrity worship and the often lousy and slanderous “journalism” that comes with it. The film is also has bits of comedy, does double jury duty as a decent courtroom drama and you’ll also find the old heart string tugboat towing the SS Kleenex for good measure. There’s a big slice of mundane, but honest sentimentality here that still resonates more with age and for me, it’s Kurosawa’s most “American” film, despite the Japanese setting.

in Japan, extreme painting is a spectator sport.

Ayoe goes to the magazine’s office, slugs the article’s writer and tells them he plans to sue. Later, he’s approached at his home by a somewhat disheveled lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) who gives him his business card and asks to represent him at the upcoming trial. Ayoe says he’ll give it some thought, but his friend Sumie (Noiriko Sengoku) comments on Hirata’s smelly feet and warns Ichiro about his choice. The next day, Ichiro visits Hirata’s rundown home to accept but meets his bedridden young daughter, Masako (Yōko Katsuragi), who’s had tuberculosis for five years, but still greets him with a joyful smile and shows Ichiro what’s currently keeping her happy: an intricate wedding outfit her mother has made that’s to be delivered the next day to a future bride. That old tugboat is puffing out gently scented tissue smoke right about now.

I am the law?

Inoue also stops by Hinata’s cluttered “office”, a tiny shack on the roof of a building that looks as it it was built by the lawyer himself where he finds some bike racing forms and a photo of Hinata’s daughter tacked up near the door where she’s standing up and still bearing that warm smile. Ichiro leaves a chalkboard note saying he wants to retain the lawyer and leaves. The film gets busy touching on that period between Christmas and New Year’s Day where there are some laughs to be found and you realize that drunken revelers are the same almost everywhere. Hinata’s plans to one-up the magazine by secretly revealing his trial plans to its shady publisher backfires badly and he eventually takes money to gamble on the races, where he seems to keep losing.

See, I told you this was a Christmas movie!

Everything culminates in quite the ending that’s guaranteed to get that tugboat huffing out more tissue smoke of course, but with Kurosawa, it’s in for a penny, in for a few pounds. there are a few ways to watch this from poorly subtitled versions posted online to the far superior Criterion Collection box set you can get here that gets you five of the director’s post World War II films. Whichever way you choose, you’re in for quite a holiday.

-GW

Review: Once Upon A Time In The West

They don’t shoot horses, do they?

An intentionally slow moving, deliberately paced epic “western opera”, Sergio Leone’s now classic Once Upon A Time In The West wasn’t exactly a huge hit back during its 1969 North American release. The film, which was edited for some content (since restored) was probably still somewhat lengthy for audiences of the era and the film’s somewhat glacial pace will be a bit much for some new and impatient viewers.

Interestingly enough, the film is a sweeping and meticulous love letter to the western genre, featuring major and minor visual and aural tips of the hat to many previous westerns. It’s also Leone doing remarkable work with his camera using carefully crafted sets and locations in Spain and some prime locations in Monument Valley to grand effect. There’s also spring loaded tension throughout, such as the brilliant opening sequence where three duster-clad gunmen wait impatiently for a late train to arrive just so they can kill a man (Charles Bronson). Leone uses some humor here to break that tension, having a common fly and dripping water torment two of the men as they wait.

No, he doesn’t do requests…

The would-be assassins fail, save for wounding their target and the film cuts to a man named Brett McBain and his young son hunting birds before taking their catch back home to a ranch named Sweetwater, where the entire McBain family is in turn brutally dispatched by a man named Frank (Henry Fonda!), Then we move to Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arriving via train to the town of Flagstone, where no one is there to meet her (thank to Frank and his men). After the buggy she’s hired to take her to her new home makes an unscheduled stop, we then meet Cheyenne (Jason Robards), an outlaw who’s just escaped from jail and ends up at that spot where he meets his gang. Cheyenne meets a recuperating Bronson, who he dubs “Harmonica” upon seeing and hearing him play while wondering if he can shoot as well. Harmonica initially thinks Cheyenne sent his three of his men to kill him earlier because of the dusters they wear, but he’s soon convinced otherwise. Jill eventually makes it to her new home where we see the bodies of the family laid out and a small group of neighbors waiting to give her the sad news. Before the funeral, evidence of Cheyenne’s involvement in the murders is revealed, but Frank is actually responsible.

The next time he rode a train, he made sure no one would shoot him.

It turns out Frank is working for a very wealthy man named Morton, who’s got a disability and travels in a specially customized train. Morton admonishes Frank for killing the family instead of scaring them off, to which Frank coldly replies: “People are only scared when they’re dying”(ouch). Morton wants Sweetwater for its proximity to the railroad and its water source, both of which will add to his wealth, but he doesn’t realize Frank also has his own plans for the property. Meanwhile, Jill is the sole owner of Sweetwater now that her family has been killed and yes, Frank has plans for her as well. Both Cheyenne and Harmonica figure out what Frank is up to, but both men have their own plans for dealing with him and fate also drops into the picture. The theme of water plays so heavily here that I thought of Chinatown for a moment once the overall story was finally revealed. This is a film that takes its sweet time to fully display its plot, using Bronson’s character as the near-silent observer/detective and his reason for being a bit vengeance minded is finally revealed after a trio of initially hazy flashback sequences are spread throughout the film that eventually tell a tragic tale.

John Ford was here…

There’s a lot more, but we’ll talk instead about how Leone’s superb attention to detail in everything from the sets to costumes to his work with composer Ennio Morricone that make this a film worth watching. The scope of the film is constantly amazing down the finest details to the dozens of extras in full costume for a single scenes. Jill’s arrival in Flagstone goes from crowd shot to crane shot to show of the dusty non-splendor of the growing railroad town and as expected, Leone gets in some truly outstanding closeup shots. Morricone has a theme for each of the four main characters and there’s a few uses of sound design in lieu of score, like how the film opens using a mix of insects, a constantly squeaky windmill and other amplified bits. The film stretches scenes and can be deliberately confusing in spots, but that’s Leone wanting viewers to figure out things out as Harmonica does.

Oh don’t you know, that’s the sound of the men working on the train gang?

In other words, take the time to watch this and you’ll be surprised at how well this film works not only as western, but also as a homage to other past westerns. Hey, if you sat through a three hour Batman film, this will be a cakewalk, right? Cheyenne says make a fresh pot of coffee and have it handy (you’ll get the reference from watching the film). by the way, this post is part of The Foreign Western Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. Pop on by and take a peek at the other submissions for other genre faves!

-GW

Accent Grave, Over the “E”, Or: How Not To Watch Some Films, Sometimes

Well, in short, I caught The French Dispatch on cable before I finally saw the Dune remake and yep, as both films demand multiple views to catch every bit of detail one fine film kind of unintentionally and amusingly ruined the other fine film within seconds. Almost as soon as Timothée Chalamet appeared onscreen as Paul Atredies, I started chuckling, not because there’s anything resembling a poor performance in either film, but I actually wondered at one point how much more visually out there Dune would have been in Wes Anderson had directed it. Not to throw any hint of shade in Denis Villeneuve’s direction at all here as both directors’ work feature meticulous attention to detail along with strong performances. However, I kept thinking while watching both films how Anderson’s use of numerous film techniques would work within Frank Herbert’s worlds.

That or hell, the title to this article partially references one of my favorite comedies, 1940’s The Bank Dick, and part of me wants to see a Wes Anderson version of that at some point, But I’m a bit nuts these days, so file this thought under really wishful thinking, I guess.

-GW

Review: Nightmare at Noon (1988)

Home, James

So, if good guys wear black, I guess, uh…

NAN.BR.Cover.72dpiWhile it’s absolutely packed to the hilt with stunts, thrills, and explosions galore (and how!), Nico Mastorakis’ 1988 flick Nightmare at Noon isn’t exactly the brain food of action movies. In fact, if you go in expecting even a decent plot to speak of, your brain may beat you somewhat senseless about two minutes in and turn itself off so it can enjoy the wild ride without you gargling on about what small amount of plot there is. Basically, if you miss the opening credits, there goes the story, and there’s not much there to begin with (and even less if you’re looking).

All you need to know is a secret scientific agency (or not so secret, as they roll around in two black custom vans with their agency’s name on them!) has chosen a small US town to experiment with some nefarious goings-on and it’s up to a handful of gun-totin’ tourists and local heroes to make things right.  So you get Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, and Kimberly Beck starring with George Kennedy and Kimberly Ross versus that town full of newly green-blooded raging townspeople and a bunch of well-armed bad guys. A strangely silent Brion James kicks the flick off as the mysterious Albino, but despite all his evil machinations, his total lack of dialog actually hurts the film despite the nearly non-stop action that follows. I gather he was paid enough for bleaching his hair and wearing some contact lenses to make him look albino and decided to charge by the word for dialog or something?

(Thanks, ScreamFactoryTV!)

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Trouble (Living With It)

(Thanks, Thomas Barnett!)

So, the latest advice from the government is more or less let your abuser move right on it and sure, too many of you will possibly suffer the negative consequences. But hey, we’ll tell you you’re 99% safe and the economy is more important than staying alive because you can’t live without a little sacrifice. Or a lot of little sacrifices that add up to be a lot more. Maybe. My head hurts at all this sheer negligence going on, especially when a more urgent and actually powerful federal response would have worked better from the outset, but nope. It’s been hands off and putting people who have no scientific knowledge or care to grasp it “in charge” of not keeping millions of others safe. plus muzzling or talking over the science-minded folks when they speak out publicly, along with promoting the brick-headed, stubborn ones who are afraid of rocking a slowly sinking boat and its erratic Captain Queeg.

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Random Film of the Week: Shin Godzilla

shin gojira 6

They’re going to have a meeting about having a meeting, most likely.

shin gojira

Sometimes, a kick to the Shin works.

Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla is, for all intents and purposes, more of a grand live action anime because it translates much of its visual style and energy rather successfully from some of both of its creators’ previous well-known animated works. It’s also a sly poke at Japanese government bureaucracy where every decision has to go up a few ladders and lengthy meetings are constantly being held even as a horrific, mutating monster makes its radioactive presence known.

As a reboot of the classic franchise it works excellently in delivering a new and more terrifying Godzilla that mutates from a googly-eyed giant, arm-less gilled beast that flops and slides along because its body can’t hold it up, to a 400-foot tall nuclear blasting fiend that requires a lengthy cooldown after it uses its powers. This isn’t a Godzilla who’s a kid-friendly lizard who punches other monsters in the face and goofs around. Nope, the film takes it back to the more horror-laced 1954 original in terms of tone, laying on a modern plot where every decision made needs discussion and division heads and other leaders change into fancy jumpsuit ensembles just to look official while executive orders are issued.

(Thanks, Funimation!)

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: The Omen (1977)

“Never work with children or animals.” – W.C. Fields

omen_ver4_xlg

Hell is other people, indeed…

Now, I’m quite sure Gregory Peck very likely wasn’t thinking of this well-aged quote while shooting The Omen, but I get a chuckle out of maybe thinking he was because he surely goes through all nine circles of Hollywood hell in dealing with his demon-bred son with the quirky birthmark (Harvey Spencer Stephens) and a couple of dogs that get to attack him (and his stunt double) with relish (or whatever it is dogs use as a condiment. Maybe… Chow Chow Picalilli?).

If his character had lived to be in the inevitable and somewhat silly (but still kind of scary) sequel, Damien: Omen II, I’m sure he would have also wanted to kill a few mockingbirds (a murder of crows, if you will) if one of them had ever decided to give him the old “good luck” airdrop plop, but (uh, spoiler alert?). he doesn’t live to see that happen (end spoiler). I’d make an Atticus F(l)nch joke here. but I don’t want to push my luck.

The Omen 02

“Isn’t he a little angel?” Uh, not really. You’ll see…

Then again, there’s an air of bleak inevitability in Richard Donner’s film that pervades every frame and it’s not hard to see from the opening titles onward that Jerry Goldsmith’s sole Oscar winning score (more on that later) was predicting some very bad things to come. I was too young to see this back in 1976, but I recall a schoolmate telling me his parents took their four kids to see it and they were all traumatized to some extent, but it was all they talked about for weeks.  As the family was pretty religious, my guess now is that was one surefire (heh) way of keeping them in church.

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: No Blade of Grass

no blade of grassSo, I lost a coin toss with myself a few days ago and ended up watching a pretty dark film from the lower end of the bucket list. Reasons, I guess. I also guess I should put a trigger warning here, as this one’s something else.

Grim meets garish (plus tax where applicable) in Cornel Wilde’s 1970 apocalyptic survival shocker No Blade of Grass, which is very likely not a film you want to see if you’re holed up in quarantine for a spell. Then again, it’s a film that’s brutal to watch under any circumstances, with its kind of timely by today’s calendar plot and Wilde’s decision to linger on some scenes that are a bit too exploitative and counteract whatever strong ecological message he was trying to send.

Then again, the source material wasn’t exactly a pleasant story either. Still, Wilde (who co-wrote, directed, and produced the film) gets his powerful message across from the opening moments, using a sledgehammer of assorted mostly stock imagery of polluted water, air and land, plus what seems to be clips of a dying emaciated child to let you know business is meant in all that intensity of the opening moments. I think there was a nuclear explosion in there somewhere as well, but I might have been busy trying to find my jaw, which was under the sofa when it fell off and rolled under it. I need to vacuum more, it seems, as my chin was a bit dusty when I located it. Uh, so mind-blowing and downbeat opening, plus a reach for a finger pistol depressing tune (sung by Roger Whittaker!) as a main title? Check.

(Thanks, The Film Archives!)

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Life is Sweet (Trick or Treat 2)

Okay, things are back to normal… well, the internet works much better today, I mean. I need to catch up on a few too many reviews, but first, some brain draining to take care of. It helps me in these crazy times. This will be another TO BE CONTINUED entry, thanks to a bit of stream of consciousness working itself into this post, but I think we’ll be done by the third one.

Maybe.

(Thanks. Cuerva!)

I don’t swim at all not because I’m lazy or never had the opportunity to learn. When I was about 7 or 8, the parents sent us to summer camp and maybe ten minutes into the very first day there, one of the counselors decided to grab some frightened kid from the back of a group of kids who’d never seen a lake up close before and toss him into it. There’s nothing like taking in the sights while airborne and screaming, then the shock of cold water hitting your body (or your body hitting the water at speed) and seeing fish swim away along with a few water snakes. And man, those assorted pebbles and rocks on the bottom of the lake? I was getting a geology lesson and learning about a small selection of sea life while sinking like a proverbial stone. Ah, memories!

To be fair, I didn’t even know snakes could live in water until that point and I would have been surprised at that if I wasn’t busy drowning. At some point, I was fished out by a bunch of councilors after they saw I didn’t surface (my bad! I didn’t read the instructions on swimming before I got on the non-air conditioned hot as hell yellow school bus, and by the way, there were NO instructions). But it also seemed that no one was stepping up to get me to a hospital or medically treated for swallowing all that lake water. I know I was out for a bit, as I woke up with a crowd of worried camp counselors staring down at me and all that water I guess was coughed up and I can recall a bunch of kids with big wide eyes gathered nearby. We hadn’t even been assigned cabins when this happened, so they all had nowhere to go.

I was a pre-Jason Vorehees victim of kid-neglecting teens, I guess. I think I need revenge, or an appropriate trailer:

(Thanks, YouTube Movies!)

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