Monday, September 26, 2011
THE BIRDS (1963), MARNIE (1964)
Today’s ‘Tippi’ Hedren double feature
If anyone is talking about watching a Tippi Hedren double feature, they are more than likely talking about the two Alfred Hitchcock films in which she starred, The Birds and Marnie. (I guess you could be talking about The Harrad Experiment or Countess From Hong Kong, but that doesn’t seem very likely.)
When I was a kid, I first knew about Alfred Hitchcock as the narrator of his weekly anthology series. Because of this series, he was the one director that even an eight-year-old kid could name. I thought he was primarily a horror director because I knew about Pscyho and the famous shower scene even before I was old enough to watch it. The other film I knew him for was The Birds. I believe this was the first Hitchcock movie I saw. I’m pretty sure I saw it on the late, late show. All you really need to know about the plot going in is that involves bird attacks on a small resort community outside of San Francisco.
Seeing it now, I still have a great affection for it. Some may scoff at the special effects today, but let’s see anyone else do what Hitchcock did with bird attacks without the benefit of modern day computer enhancement techniques. (You might end up with something like the infamous Night of the Lepus, which featured the terrorizing attack of killer bunny rabbits!)
One thing I like about the script by Evan “Ed McBain” Hunter is the slow build to the bird attacks. We get hints here and there of what is going on until escalated bird attacks begin to dominate the second half of the movie. I especially liked the scene at the café featuring octogenarian ornithologist Ethel Griffies where there is a heated debate over the reasoning behind the bird attacks.
There's also enough here for the audience to care about what happens to the characters. They feature the serious minded lawyer played by Rod Taylor, his possessive mother played by Jessica Tandy, the baby sister, played by Veronica Cartwright and the lovelorn school teacher played by a Suzanne Pleshette. All are all pretty good here.
But the lead role is undoubtedly the character of Melanie Daniels, played by former model Tippi Hedren. Hitchcock certainly cast beautiful blondes in his movies, but Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Kim Novak in Vertigo or Grace Kelly in Rear Window, are all films that focus largely on the point of view of the male lead. In The Birds, Tippi is definitely playing the main character. And she is more than adequate in the role and she gets pecked at by hundreds of birds quite nicely.
I also have the famous picture from Life magazine hanging in a frame on my office wall of Tippi Hedren being attacked by birds with Alfred Hitchcock enjoying a nice turkey dinner in the background. Well, doesn’t everyone have a picture of Tippi Hedren hanging somewhere in their home?
Though she never became a Grace Kelly or even an Eva Marie Saint-type star, Hitchcock obviously liked her enough to cast her in his next film, Marnie. I’ve never got around to watching Marnie before, mostly because its reputation was never that great. But it clearly is well thought enough by someone to make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, so I guess it’s time for me to enter Marnieland.
I found Marnie, the movie, a tough nut to crack initially, just like Marnie the character, is a tough nut to crack in the context of the movie. I actually liked Tippi quite a bit here. She has some very tough emotional scenes and pulls them off pretty well. I had more problems with Sean Connery’s character of Mark, the rich industrialist who discovers that Marnie is a thief yet falls in love with her despite the fact that she is so distant from him. According to original screenwriter Evan Hunter, the original book still has the Mark character, but also has a seperate character that is a psychiatrist who begins to unpeel the layers of Marnie’s psyche. In the movie, Mark the romantic interest and the psychologist (at least of the amateur variety) are the same person. It just seems too much coming from one character, even from the guy who played James Bond.
Eventually, I did become more emotionally involved in the plot and liked the way they handled some of the characters revelations at the end of the movie.
Well, I think I have about ten or so more Hitchcock movies to go on the 1001 list, but I’m afraid my time with Miss ‘Tippi’ is done. It took me thirty years, but I’m glad that I was finally able to complete the second half of the Tippi double feature.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
Friday, September 23, 2011
THE RED SHOES (1948, GREAT BRITAIN)
Since I viewed the classic Powell/Pressburger ballet film The Red Shoes with my niece Krista, who actually does ballet, I thought I would ask her to write the blog for this film. She refused.
I recount the conversation thusly.
Uncle Chris: Tell me again why don’t you want to write this blog for me? You do know more about ballet than I do.
Krista: (unenthusiasticly) I know. I did like the movie. But I’ll leave the blogging up to you.
Uncle Chris: You’ll have to do better than that. Let's see. Why don’t we play a little word association? What did you think of the dancing in the movie?
Krista: The dancing? The dancers were skilled. Everything was precise. Meticulous. Would that be the right word?
Uncle Chris: Yes, meticulous. What did you think of the color?
Krista: Vivid. Striking. Foreshadowing of doom. Part of the plotline in that the dance of the red shoes reflects the dancer’s own life.
Uncle Chris: Good. What did you think of the story?
Krista: Unique. Very sad. Ironic that all she ever wanted to do be this great dancer, but it ended up ruining her.
Uncle Chris: Do you think a dancer might enjoy this film more than a non-dancer?
Krista: Definitely. I’ve felt similar stress, though perhaps not to that degree. But dancing is invigorating. Dancing is rejuvenating. Dancing is life!
Uncle Chris: Excellent! Now, did you think the composer character in the film was right?
Krista: About what?
Uncle Chris: It’s the music that creates the scene. The dancer must keep up and follow the composer’s lead.
Krista: Are you trying to agitate me? It’s the dancing! It’s ballet! It’s about dancing!
Uncle Chris: There’s the passion I’m looking for! Let’s see you do a pirouette.
Krista: No. You do a pirouette!
Uncle Chris: I couldn't if I wanted to. How about you doing one of those breezy bowlees?
Krista: Do you mean brisè volè?
Uncle Chris: Right
Krista: The answer is still no. And for your information, I’m neither a little child or a performing monkey!
Uncle Chris: Fine. Back to the film. Anything else in The Red Shoes that made you mad?
Krista: Not really. Well, maybe the ballet company seemed a bit too happy. It’s really a lot more cutthroat than that.
Uncle Chris: Well, since we are on the subject of dancing, I think this would be a good time for you to state your complaint about the scene from the movie Far From Heaven that you didn’t like. I give you the floor.
Krista: Thank you. They’re trying to set this scene in Far From Heaven of a happy Christmas right? And the little girl, who is about eight, gets point shoes! She’s eight years old! That will mess up her feet at that age. And then she compounds the error by saying the other girls in the class already have them. Who is running this class? Cruella De Ville?
Uncle Chris: Thank you for showing us your intensity. That concludes…
Krista: (Now enthusiastic) Can I talk about Twilight now?
Uncle Chris: That’s really off topic. We were talking about movies with dance.
Krista: I need to vent about Twilight!
Uncle Chris: All right. What don’t you like about Twilight?
Krista: Everything! The actors can’t act. The makeup is terrible! The special effects are terrible! Spider-Monkey? What is a Spider-Monkey?
Uncle Chris: Thank you. That is the end of my-
Krista: I’m not done yet! The music in Twilight doesn’t even match up with the movie. It was just plain bad! They had to know how awful the first movie was, but unlike Eragon, they didn’t know when to stop making them! And the acting? Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart? Is that the best acting talent out there? Are you kidding me?
Uncle Chris: Are you done now?
Krista: (Wiping her brow) Uh, yeah I think I’m done…for the time being. I feel much better now.
Uncle Chris: Thank you. I knew you’d help me write my blog with a little prodding.
Krista: All right. Since you let me go on I’ll give you one dance move. How about a grande jetè?
Uncle Chris: My favorite. Knock yourself out.
(Krista postures for a moment before agilely leaping out of the room)
Friday, September 16, 2011
8 1/2 (1963, ITALY)
The final chapter of Claudia Cardinale week
Blog # 208 1/2
Cristoforo shook the snow off of his jacket as he entered the front door of his harem. The women all looked upon him with noticeable glee. Carlotta was the first to run up to him, placing a kiss on his left cheek as Venecia took his jacket.
Cristoforo, being a sensitive guy, hadn’t forgotten the women’s needs while he was away. He came bearing presents: A broken ear muff he found on the stoop for Carlotta, a plastic spider for Venecia, a nearly full box of Chiclets for Gabriela, a scratched forty-five of Tony Bennett for Francesca and some Comet toilet cleanser for his dear wife Daniela. He didn’t have presents for everyone, but the ones that didn’t get anything appeared happy just to be a part of the festivities. Isabella, the cook, had a large pot of pasta cooking for them all and clanged on it to indicate that dinner was prepared.
Before Cristoforo could get to the dinner table, he was stopped by Alessandra. She reminded him of his promise to put her in a future blog.
“Fine. How about Giulietta Degli Spiriti?” he asked her. Though Cristoforo had yet to see Giulietta Degli Spiriti, and didn’t know if there would be a part in it for her, she appeared satisfied with his answer.
Cristoforo then heard some harp music from behind him. He turned around to see Lucia, who broke free from her instrument and rushed to Cristoforo and gave him a hug.
“What about me?” she asked. “Could you use me when you do Amarcord, per favore?”
Cristoforo grasped her hands and kissed the tops of them. “But of course, my dolce studentessa di musica. Did I ever tell you that I too once had aspirations to be a great musician? When I was eight-years-old, I was the finest triangle player in my school. You should have heard me play Ave Maria…” Cristoforo noticed a couple of the ladies looking slightly embarrassed. He had obviously told this story before. Probably more than once.
Undaunted, Cristoforo went up to Isabella the cook, and presented his present to her: a wooden spoon. “Grazie, molto simpatico,” she said.
The lightheartedness of the mood was broken by Maria, a broken-down showgirl who at one time was Cristoforo’s number one mistress.
“ I don’t think you should eat yet!” Maria said this as she raced her way up to him, nearly in hysterics.
Most of the other women gasped at her impudence.
“I want to know why I’m being sent to the attic," she continued bordering on hysterics. "I’m still just twenty-six, no matter what my birth certificate says! I have a booty to die for.” She shook her posterior a couple of times in his face for emphasis but Cristoforo was more annoyed than impressed. He still tried to comfort her by putting a hand on her shoulder. Maria began to wail as she continued. “You said you were going to put me in your La Dolce Vita blog. You said I reminded you of Anita Ekberg!”
“My dear!” Cristoforo sternly interrupted her. “I have always tried to be honest with you. If you really reminded me of Anita Ekberg, I seriously doubt I would be sending you to the attic now. You know after you reach a particular age or your looks deteriorate to a certain degree, you have to move upstairs. It’s in the bylaws.”
“This is not fair,” she said, mascara tears running down her face. ”Look at the Saraghina. She is an ogre!”
They all looked at the frizzy-haired, six-foot-three, three-hundred pound Saranghina who in turn hissed in Maria’s direction.
“That is different,” he said sternly to Maria. “She was my first. I was just a boy. She performed the dance of he seven veils for me on the beach for a can of Starkist tuna. She gets a lifetime pass.”
“You monster.” Francesca said to Christoforo as she came over to comfort Maria. “Look how you’ve hurt this poor showgirl!”
“I will not put up with this kind of impertinence,” Cristoforo said. “Somebody run me a hot bubble bath while I listen to my music.” Cristoforo stripped off his clothes and wrapped a towel around himself before going over to his Victrola and putting on Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries. He began feeling relaxed again as the music played. He closed his eyes for a moment, but when he opened them, he noticed more of the women were looking at him with hostility.
His wife, Daniela, had come down from the upstairs attic and hurled the can of cleanser he had just given her at him. Others in the group began to follow suit by throwing their trinkets in his direction, and not in a loving way. The rebel women now began to surround him. Draped in nothing more than his towel, Cristoforo grabbed his trusty Indiana Jones bullwhip, which he luckily always kept close by and snapped it in front of them. The thwack made them all step back, which gave him time to head out the front door. He reopened the door, poking his head back in to give the ladies a final warning “I think all of you need to calm yourselves down. I’ll be back when you ladies learn how to beha..“ His final word was stifled by an earmuff that hit him squarely in the nose.
Cristoforo wanted to get as far away from his harem as he possibly could. He rubbed his nose where the earmuff hit it as he started down the road. He looked around him and noticed that the day was now sunny. A beautiful sixty-five degrees with no inclement weather in sight. It was then that a vision came upon him. She was dressed in white and had a noticeable glow to her. She handed him a glass of mineral water, which he took.
“My word. If it isn’t Claudia Cardinale! How nice to see you once again signorina,” he said before taking a drink from the glass.
As she continued to gaze in Cristoforo’s direction, it took him a minute to find his voice, “You’re so beautiful; I’m at a loss for words. You make my heart beat like a schoolboy’s…But why are you here?”
“I was about to ask you the same question,” Claudia said. “This isn’t the first time you’ve summoned me for one of your blogs.”
“Yes, Solyaris. Funny, you weren’t even in that movie. I was just trying to write about the perfect male fantasy woman.”
“Molto bene. But what is it you want this time?”
Cristoforo tightened the towel around him. “Very well,” he continued. “I just couldn’t come up with anything new to say about 8 ½. Many revere it. Some revile it. Entire forests have been chopped down to make books on interpretation of just this one film.”
Claudia touched his hand. “But how do you feel?”
“The first time I saw it, I was totally confused. The next time I saw it, I got a lot out of it, I think. This time, I began to get confused again. Then that harem scene. That’s one of my favorite scenes from any movie. And the finale! I love that part. Let’s just say that I’ve got some mixed opinions.”
Claudia leaned closer to Cristoforo. “Asa Nisi Masa,” she whispered.
“I always wondered what that meant,” he said. Is that anything like Hakunah Matata?”
Claudia grimaced as she shook her head.
“There’s an additional problem,” Cristoforo said. “I’m not sure how to end this blog.”
“You’ll think of something,” she said, coyly backing away just enough for him to see the Lamborghini parked behind her.
Cristoforo snapped his fingers before climbing to the top of the car and immediately stretched out his arms. He closed his eyes and began to sway.
After a couple of minutes Claudia cleared her throat. When he didn’t respond, she cleared her throat again. He finally opened his eyes and looked down at her. “What? I’m waiting to float away above the traffic, above everything, above-“
“No, no.” Claudia says. “That isn’t what I want you to do. Come with me.”
Claudia helped Cristoforo down from the car and they hopped in the Lamborghini. Claudia pointed to a suit hung up in the back of the car, which Cristofero put on. They drove for six minutes and forty-five seconds until they came upon an empty baseball park. They got out of the car and she took him by the hand and hurriedly took him to the center of the field. It was silent for a moment before he heard some music playing in the background that reminded him of the circus.
“I’ve come to stay forever I’ve come to create order. I’m here to cleanse. Do I make you happy? Claudia asked.
“Happy? Happiness is being able to tell the truth without anybody having to suffer. But I still don’t know what’s going on here.” Cristoforo replied.
It was then he noticed all the people. All the women of the harem had not only appeared in front of them, but had formed a chain and rushed past Cristoforo and Claudia in time with the music. Others began to join the group, most of whom Christoforo recognized. “Hey, that’s my third grade teacher. Hello, Mrs. Turner! And my Cousin who I haven’t seen in twenty years! And the Sri Lankan guy I used to buy hoagies from! And what is Eugene Walter doing here?”
The music got louder and the circle now formed completely around Cristoforo. Claudia grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the circle where they joined the procession. After a few minutes the music died away and everyone in the line stopped their march and applauded as a young man in white, about eight years old, came to the empty center of the gathering and played a flawless rendition of Ave Maria on the triangle.
Cristoforo shed a tear of joy as he pushed the publish button and posted successfully onto his blog.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
FITZCARROLDO (1982, WEST GERMANY)
Film #4 of Claudia Cardinale week: Firzcarroldo
Much has been written about Werner Herzog’s epic Fitzcarraldo.
1. Irishman Fitzcarroldo loves opera in general and the music of Enrique Caruso in particular.
2. His great desire is to build an opera house in Peru
3. In order to finance his project he has to get a steamboat to a remote section of the Amazon to harvest the rubber trees.
4. In order to do that, he must somehow get the steamship over a mountain.
The moving of the steamboat over the mountain took months to shoot, and Herzog all the while had to put up with lead actor Klaus Kinski, who for lack of a better term, who by all descriptions was pretty much a lunatic. Viewing the scenes of the boat going up the mountain is excruciating for the viewer (in a good way), but is also at times exhilarating when accompanied by a little Caruso. It also brought back memories of my favorite childhood story, The Little Engine That Could. Definitely a good choice for the 1001 book, but I might recommend a little Dramamine before viewing.
Claudia Cardinale in Fitzcarroldo
Once Upon a Time in the West reunion almost: Jason Robards (Cheyenne from Once Upon a Time…) reunited with Claudia Cardinale (Jill from Once Upon a Time…) until Robards had to drop out and be replaced by Klaus Kinski.
Claudia Cardinale’s entrance in Fitzcarroldo
Keep in mind that all the other Cardinale movies I’ve blogged this week were when Claudia was in her twenties. Claudia is past forty in Fitzcarroldo, so I guess that doesn’t warrant a dramatic entrance like in The Leopard or Once Upon a Time in the West. However, the opening scene where Claudia (as Molly) and Klaus Kinski (as Fitzcarroldo, her husband).hurry off their boat to go to the opera house to get a glimpse of Caruso is still a nice opening scene.
Films acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe: I don’t think the film itself acknowledges Claudia’s place in the universe by a quote. Apparently just being able to put up with Klaus Kinski for an entire movie has to just be its own reward.
DVD extra’s acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe: From director Werner Herzog: “Look how beautiful she is…I think God on my knees that she was in this film!”
Claudia on a 1-10 scale for Fitzcarroldo: This is no longer the sixties sexpot. This is a mature woman in her forties. Claudia really is only in about half of the film, and looks quite stunning in a series of early twentieth century outfits. No, this isn’t the 60’s Claudia, but the 80’s Claudia is quite nice, thank you. Claudia’s still a 10!
Tomorrow: Fellini's 8 1/2
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968, ITALY)
Film #3 of Claudia Cardinale week: Once Upon a Time in the West
I believe I would put Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West at the top of my list of favorite Westerns. I might even put it in my top ten favorites of any kind of film.
The opening scene with the three gunfighters waiting for someone to arrive by train is splendid. We wait with the gunfighters who are quite bored. They nod off, try to catch flies, notice the drip coming out of the station until the stranger arrives and a gunfight ensues which is over as quickly as Charles Bronson can say, "Looks like you brought two too many."
Then comes the next scene.
SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT EVEN THOUGH ITS ONLY SCENE TWO!
It’s horrifying. We see the McBain family at their home in the middle of what seems like nowhere preparing a celebration of some kind. We learn that Mr. McBain is about to go pick up his new wife at the train station. Then as McBain is going to the well we hear a shot in the distance and we see McBain’s daughter fall over. McBain calls her name and runs to her. The oldest boy is shot. Then we see a group of men ambling toward the house at the moment the youngest McBain boy comes out and stares at them incredulously. The camera pans around this dastardly group of ruffians until we see their leader who perpetrated this dastardly act…and when we see who it is, Leone wants the audience to say, “JESUS CHRIST! IT’S HENRY FONDA.” (which you do if you haven’t seen it before). One of Fonda’s men says, “What should we do with this one, Frank?” Fonda looks at him, spits and turns to the boy and says, “Well, since you called me by name…” Then he fires in the direction of the boy as we cut to the next scene. As I said it’s horrifying and one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen.
I love the music in this film by Ennio Morricone even more than his music for the Eastwood/Leone Dollars trilogy. The sound effects replacing the music in the opening scene is fine too. The performances by the leads are all fist-rate. Charles Bronson as Harmonica, Jason Robards as the wily outlaw Cheyenne and Henry Fonda as the dastardly Frank. But this is Sergio Leone’s film. He has really painted quite an American portrait (on his Italian canvas). Not everyone likes this film They find it too slow. But those of us that do like it tend to like it a lot.
Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West
Claudia’s entrance: Claudia, of course, is the new wife (Jill). She arrives at the station right after the family massacre scene about thirty minutes into the film. She alights from the train. She looks demure and unsure of herself. We know what has happened, but she doesn’t. Even though she looks lost and vulnerable as she stands outside the train, the mere sight of Claudia is quite a relief for the audience after the previous scene.
Films acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe
You know Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or a month-he must have been a happy man -Jason Robards as Cheyenne
If I was you I’d go down there and give those boys a drink…Can’t imagine how happy it makes a man to see a woman like you…Just to look at her…And if one of them should, uh, pat your behind…just make believe it’s nothing. They earned it.-Jason Robards as Cheyenne
DVD extra’s acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe: Director John Carpenter acknowledges the long line of men that fell in love with Claudia Cardinale after seeing Once Upon a Time in the West. All I can say is, “Line form behind me, Johnny!”
Claudia on a 1-10 scale for Once Upon a Time in the West: As McBain describes her, she’s “be wearing the black dress and the straw hat she wore when they met.” (I think at the New Orleans whorehouse where she was employed) in her opening scene. And she looks great in it (the clothes, not the whorehouse). She’s definitely a breath of fresh air after the unpleasantness of the previous scene. There’s also a scene where’s she’s taking a bubble bath…er, voting’s over…Claudia’s a 10!
Next up: Fitzcarroldo
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
THE PINK PANTHER (1964)
Film #2 for Claudia Cardinale week: The Pink Panther (Not on the 1001 movie list, but I needed something a little lighter after The Leopard.)
I grew up going to see all The Pink Panther movies during the 70’s. The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Revenge of the Pink Panther. The success of all of theses movies all hinge on Peter Sellers comedic portrayal of the bumbling but dedicated French Police Inspector Jacques Clouseau.
So it was quite a surprised the first time I viewed the original Pink Panther on television and saw that the biggest role in the film was David Niven’s as the Phantom. I kept hoping for more of Clouseau. I eventually got some, but I was largely disappointed. The second film in the series, A Shot in the Dark, which starred Sellers front and center, I liked better.
Viewing the original The Pink Panther today, it’s actually a pretty fun, if lightweight heist film with the charming Niven supported by the comedy of Sellers and the beautiful supporting ladies Claudia Cardinale and Capucine. The titles with the cartoon pink panther are lively and of course the Pink Panther theme by Henry Mancini has been drilled into my head for all time.
But is it good enough for the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list?
I would include it in my book, but with an asterisk. Next to the asterisk should read: “Viewer has the option of seeing A Shot in the Dark ,The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Return of the Pink Panther or The Revenge of the Pink Panther as substitutes. All feature Peter Sellers as Clouseau. The Trail of the Pink Panther or The Curse of the Pink Panther are not acceptable substitutes as these films were pieced together after Sellers’s death. Alan Arkin or Steve Martin portrayals as the character are also unacceptable substitutes for the purpose of inclusion on this film list.
The Pink Panther cartoon: Many of us have fond memories of The Pink Panther animated series that aired on Saturday morning, but how many of us remember the short lived cereal called Pink Panther Flakes? For the record, they tasted an awful lot like Frosted Flakes.
Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther
First of all don’t get Claudia Cardinale and Capucine confused: I do remember the first time I saw this, I couldn’t keep straight which was which, but for the record Claudia was the princess and Capucine was Mrs. Clouseau.
After all these years can’t you still keep it straight?: For the purpose of this week’s Claudia Cardinale blogs, I thought about watching another Peter Sellers/Cardinale film, What’s New Pussycat? The only problem is Peter’s co-star in this was Capucine.Oops.
Claudia Cardinale’s entrance: The first glimpse we have of Claudia has her smiling on the ski slopes where she has a 'cute meet' with David Niven. Most of her other entrances are in Yves St. Laurent gowns and are accompanied by romantic music, circa 1964.
Films acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe: In the opening credits we see the animated Pink Panther wolf whistle when Claudia’s name enters the credits. If the mere sight of Claudia’s name can get an animated character hot and bothered, who am I to argue?
Claudia on a 1-10 scale for The Pink Panther: Despite the elegant gowns, my main quibble is that I kept wishing Claudia had let down her hair a little more. I’m speaking literally, of course. Then we have the scene where she gets intoxicated on top of a tiger skin rug. Grrrrr! Claudia ranking: a 10!
Next up: Once Upon a Time in the West
Monday, September 12, 2011
THE LEOPARD (1962, ITALY)
This week’s blogs are all about the Tunisian actress Claudia Cardinale. Ms. Cardinale is best know for her work in Italian films such as The Leopard and 8½ as well as American Films, such as The Pink Panther and Circus World.
Now why would I choose a week of films for Claudia, beautiful as she obviously is, over her more famous counterpart Sophia Loren? Well, when I looked over the 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die Book, I found four films listed with Ms. Cardinale in prominent roles. Fellini’s 8 ½,Viscontti’s The Leopard, Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and Herzog’s Fitzacarldo. A pretty impressive lot. When I tried to find any listing of Loren films, I came up empty (Though I’m a little surprised her Oscar winning role in Two Women isn’t included.) So Ms. Cardinale it is.
Film #1 The Leopard
The Leopard, made by filmmaker Lucino Visconti is based on the popular Italian novel by Giuseppe Lampedusa, and is set during the time of Risorgimento and the unification of Italy in 1860 to 1862. It is a time of turmoil, war and a changing of the guard. Much of the personal story of the film involves the aristocratic Prince Fabrizio played by Burt Lancaster, his beloved nephew Tancredi and his love interest Angelica.
This is the kind of film that some love for its lushness, grandeur and epic storytelling. Others might just be bored with the whole thing and find it moves too slow and is just too long.
The film was made in three languages and dubbed where appropriate. The Italian version, which is over three hours in length, is generally acknowledged as the definitive version. Of course, it’s a little disconcerting at first to see an Italian voice coming out of Burt Lancaster that sounds nothing like Burt Lancaster. The American version is English dubbed, with Lancaster providing his own voice. There is also a French version, perhaps to accommodate French co-star Alain Delon. The Criterion DVD set I watched included the American and Italian version. I watched a bit of both. The only problem I had with the Italian version was getting used to the bombastic Italian voice coming out of Burt, but once I got used to it, I began to like the Italian version.
Claudia Cardinale in The Leopard
Claudia’s entrance in The Leopard: One of the best of Claudia’s entrances, which doesn’t even occur until about an hour into the film. She plays Angelica, the daughter of the rather buffoonish, upwardly mobile Don Calogero who has just entered the Prince’s palace for the first time. There is much clamoring going on as this scene unfolds. Nephew Tancredi is talking to Concetta, his potential future wife. Don Calogero introduces his daughter Angelica, who enters the room. Everyone’s jaw drops. Everyone stares. Concetta looks horrified. Angelica tucks in her lower lip and Tancredi looks into her brown eyes and it’s all over for him. Concetta knows in an instant she’s lost Tancredi forever. Prince Fabrizio’s wife then tells Angelica that “You’ve changed a lot and not for the worse,” which seems to be a bit of an understatement if you asked me.
Just saying: Unlike the Italian voice dubbed for Lancaster, I couldn’t get used to the English voice actress who dubbed Claudia.
One Kiss: There is a scene in The Leopard where Claudia gives a gentle kiss to Burt Lancaster that is sweet and respectful. It was a definite contrast to the kiss between the two in The Professionals where Claudia is just trying to seduce him to aide her in escaping.
Films acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe: “How fortunate we are, Miss Angelica, to gather so lovely a flower into our home.”-Burt Lancaster as Prince Fabrizio.
DVD extra’s acknowledgement of Claudia’s place in the universe: Even the usually straight-laced film commentator Peter Cowie can’t help but gush a little recalling his meeting Claudia at a 2003 Berlin film festival-“I think she looked just as sensual, just as naughty, just as she did in the far off 60’s.”
Claudia on a 1-10 scale for The Leopard-If you take a look a Claudia in the ballroom finale, she is donning a most flattering hair bob with ringlets in the back accentuated nicely by an elegant white dress, pearls, and is even wearing a tiara. I want to use a word other than elegant to describe her, but nothing else seems to fit. Her touching dance with Burt Lancaster adds even more to her allure.
Claudia rating for The Leopard: She’s a 10!
Next up: The Pink Panther
Saturday, September 10, 2011
ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955), ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (1974, WEST GERMANY), FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002)
The Blogger’s Wife
The 1001 blogger has a pencil dangling from his mouth as he thumbs through two movie books. He starts to edit some notes on the computer in front of him as the frozen image of Julianne Moore stares at him from his Magnavox to his right. He is so focused on what he is doing that he doesn’t hear his wife approach him.
Blogger’s Wife: So, what is it you’re doing now?
1001 Blogger: Oh, I didn’t see you there. I was working on this comparison for my blog. Do you want me to tell you about it?
The Blogger’s wife is unresponsive as he continues.
1001 Blogger: You see the Douglas Sirk films from the 50’s like All That Heaven Allows have apparently been very influential. I always thought that they were just fluff pieces. Guess I'm learning a few things. Continuing education is the key. We can learn through our movies.
Blogger’s Wife: Yes, dear. That’s all well and good, but you’ve been watching these movies for a long time now. Don’t you think you need to take a break from your 101 movies and go cut the grass?
1001 Blogger: (Laughing) First of all, it’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Oh, you knew the title, didn't you? You were just having sport with me. Anyway, the grass can wait another day because I’ve discovered a link between these films. (Raising his voice and pointing skyward) Triangulation! Triangulation, I say! You see, All That Heaven Allows, the Sirk film influenced both Far From Heaven, the Todd Hanes film and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the Fassbinder film. I would have never guessed that Sirk would have influenced Fassbinder!
Bloggers’ Wife: Fats Bender, sounds like a jazz musician. Anyway, as I said that’s all well and good, but I think you need to take a break and decide what kind of new televison we want. Not that I get a chance to look at it much these days, cause there’s usually a sixty-year old French movie playing on it. But I need some help with picking out some of these things. You know for our house!
1001 blogger: (Not seeming to notice her) What? Oh, my theory. Don’t you get it? Three films. Triangulation! Fassbinder took Sirk’s rather mundane dilemma of a woman who was a few years older than her lover and made a woman a lot older than her lover. He also threw in the outsider and racial component. She was German and he was a Moroccon emigrant…or was he a Malinese? I can’t remember, but it’s the same effect. It doesn’t effect the triangulation concept. And then we have the Haynes film, which has the racial relationship component and throws in the homosexual element! Don’t you see? Triangulation! In the original Sirk film, Rock Hudson certainly couldn’t have been gay.
Blogger’s Wife: But Rock Hudson was gay!
1001 Blogger: No. Rock Hudson, the screen component was not at all gay. What he did in his private lie is outside the realm of this evaluation.
Blogger’s Wife: You’re spending to much time on this! We have lives to lead, you know!
1001 Blogger: (Ignoring her comment) Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the triangulatory link between the three films and televison. Jane Wyman’s jerkwad children give her a television to compensate for the loss of her boyfriend in All That Heaven Allows. In Far From Heaven, Dennis Quaid is a bigshot in a company that manufactures televisions. In Fassbinder’s film, one of the sons of the lady dating the younger man kicks in her television screen when he first hears about the relationship. I’m trying to interpret this link now. Or if there even is a link or if it’s just a coincidental motif…What was I saying?
Blogger’s Wife: Would you listen to yourself! I’m sick of all this! You care more about what you put on that damn TV than you do about me!
The 1001 blogger leans back in his chair and begins to stroke the top of the television as if it were the family pet.
1001 blogger: Well, I didn’t know you felt so strongly about this. Let me ask you this. Have you ever considered seeking psychiatric help? You seem really irrational.
The blogger’s wife turns beet red and goes over to the blogger’s television and kicks in the screen. She pulls her leg out of the shards of glass and straightens herself up before silently leaving the room.
1001 blogger: (staring blankly at the guts of his television) Triangulation!
Monday, September 5, 2011
THE BIG RED ONE (1980)
Lee Marvin Week Day 9!
(The Big Red One, 1980 A 1001 film entry)
The Big Red One is the final film by eclectic director Samuel Fuller. This film is the autobiographical story of Fuller’s infantry regiment during World War II, where a fictional version of Fuller (played by future nerd vigilante Robert Carradine) and three other soldiers, including Corvette Summer star Mark Hamill, an Italian guy and the guy that looks a lot like Gary Busey, who all seem to fight everywhere during the years of World War II. Let’s see: France, Belgium, the beaches of Normandy during D-Day and Italy. I don’t think they made it to Japan, but I think I’m willing to cut them some slack. It’s not as mercilessly violent as something like Platoon or Saving Private Ryan, but it is pretty powerful at times.
But this blog isn’t supposed to be about Samuel Fuller, it’s all about Lee Marvin.
Like in The Dirty Dozen, Marvin is the leader of men going into battle. Except this time he is a sergeant, not a colonel. And instead of leading twelve criminals with no training, he’s leading four baby face soldiers (as well as their unlucky fill-ins). There’s even a Dirty Dozen reference when a soldier tells him where he is from and Lee responds with “Never heard of it,” a reprise of Donald Sutherland’s memorable line from The Dirty Dozen.
One of the film’s highlights is Lee delivering a baby in a tank He also has to be a psychologist at times, such as Mark Hamill about to go over the edge and Lee gently telling him “I think you got him,” after Mark keeps shooting an enemy after he’s already killed him.
Lee’s also got to be a gambler and an actor. The Germans have lulled his men into a trap and he has to artfully make the Krauts think he is going for reinforcements so they won’t all be slaughtered. But the scene I will remember from this film is his carrying a dying child on his shoulders. The child dies (according to the narration) and he, the sergeant feels such grief that he is unable to put the child down for half and hour.
“You don’t murder animals. You kill them!”
“It’s just one of your balls, Smitty. You can live without it. That’s why they gave you two.”
“You’re going to live you son of a bitch. You’re going to live if I have to blow your brains out!”
This is the final film entry with Lee Marvin in the 1001 movie book.
Sorry I didn’t have the time for Cat Ballou, Donavan’s Reef, Emperor of the North Pole, Ship of Fools and that one he made with Chuck Norris, whatever that was called. Maybe next time.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967)
Lee Marvin Week Day 8
(The Dirty Dozen, 1967)
(Surprisingly not a 1001 film entry)
Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen is the now famous story of a an American colonel during the Second World War who has the impossible task of taking a group of twelve criminals on a suicide (or close to it) mission behind German lines right before D-Day.
The dozen include:
Charles Bronson: One of the ultimate tough guys. Bronson also was the only actor who had the triple crown of being one of The Dirty Dozen, one of The Magnificent Seven and one of the POW’s of The Great Escape.
Jim Brown: Maybe the greatest running back of all-time. Tough guy? You bet! I think he does pretty well for his first screen role. When he’s tossing grenades on innocent German women-I believe his glee!
Donald Sutherland: The comedy relief. His scene posing as a general is the funniest in the movie. And he does represent anti-establishment rebel roles in later films such as MASH.
John Cassavetes: Loud-mouth, independent oriented, free-spirited filmmaker brings a loud-mouth, independent oriented, free-spirited edge to his role. He was the only one of the cast nominated for an academy award.
Clint Walker: The western star plays the most gentle natured of the dozen. Of course, he’s the size of a house. And don’t shove him or he’ll get really angry!
Telly Savalas: Tough guy-sure. It’s Kojack, after all. I wasn’t that found of his holier than thou, bible thumping, redneck character, however. But like I said-a tough guy.
Trini Lopez: Trini Lopez? The guy who strummed a guitar and sang “The Lovely Lemon Tree” with these tough guys? Takes all types I guess.
If you have a chance to get the DVD, I highly recommend listening to the commentary by film advisor Captain Dale Dye, who says he is a fan of The Dirty Dozen as entertainment. He then proceeds to rip the film a new one as he calls into question the accuracy of just about everything. “The American army would never hang anyone in that situation.” “What is that vehicle? Looks more like the Popemobile. “Nothing like that existed in Germany at that time.” “A ticking time bomb like the Savalas character would never be sent on a mission like this for fear of compromising the whole thing.” “They would never have wasted their limited time building barracks from scratch.” “There is no record on the American every sending convicted criminals into combat like this,” etc. etc.
But on today’s blog it’s is all about appreciating Lee Marvin. Only Lee, as Colonel Reisman, (John Wayne turned the part down so he could do The Green Berets!) could give credibility to the role of the man who has to put these misfits together, train them and lead them on their mission behind German lines. Only Lee could turn his back on John Cassavetes and flip him to the ground when he is attacked. Only Lee could give the gargantuan Clint Walker a knife and push him and dare him to cut him. Only Lee could tell Trini Lopez to knock off the guitar playing…Wait, I’ll take that one back-anybody could do that.
“I’m not very interested in embroidery, only results.”
“I don’t want to appear unduly cautious, but if my survival is going to be based on the performance of twelve deadheads, it might be helpful to know exactly what I’m training them for.”
(whispering) “Look you little bastard, either you march or I’ll beat your brains out.”
“Killing generals could get to be a habit with me.”*
*Actually said by Charles Bronson, but still a damn good quote.
Tomorrow: Day Nine of Lee Marvin week!
Why Nine Days when you are calling it Lee Marvin week?
Because I got one more to go! That’s why!
Saturday, September 3, 2011
POINT BLANK (1967)
Lee Marvin Week Day 7
(Point Blank, 1967) A 1001 Movie entry
Did it happen? A dream?
The plot: A thief named Walker is betrayed by his partner Reese on a heist of a weekly money shipment out of Alcatraz. Reese shoots Walker, leaves him for dead and takes his wife. Walker survives (unless the whole thing is imagined, which is a distinct possibility) and takes his revenge on Reese and the mysterious corporation that Reese buys his way into with Walker’s share of the loot.
I must have liked this one because I watched it three times! (Or maybe I just didn’t understand all of it.) I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to the questions Point Blank raises. I’ll say this; it improved with each viewing and is a worthwhile edition to the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die List.
But on today’s blog it’s is all about Lee Marvin and here are some Point Blank Leeisms..
1) He shoots the hell out of a mattress with such ferocity that I actually feel sorry for the mattress.
2) He gets information from a sleazy used-car salesman by going on a test drive with him and smashing up the car until he’ll talk! (Isn’t saying sleazy used-car salesman a little like saying fat sumo wrestler?)
3) He beats the crap out of two guys backstage at a nightclub while go-go dancing and a screaming soul singer perform in the foreground. (God, I love the 60’s!)
4) He tosses a naked man out off the top floor of an office building. (Dean Wormer did have it coming!)
5) He is set up by a corporation bigwig to be shot by a sniper only to force the corporation bigwig to take his place at the last second and get shot instead. (Did I phrase that right? Anyway, it’s pretty cool.)
6) He shoots the hell out of a phone with such ferocity that I actually feel sorry for the phone.
7) He stands like a statue while Angie Dickinson beats the crap out of him. (Revenge for Lee hanging Angie out of a window by her ankles in The Killers.
Angie later hits Lee squarely over the head with a pool cue. (This is apparently a form of foreplay if I’m following the movie plot correctly.)
Lee also gets the best of Dean Wormer from Animal House, Archie Bunker from All in the Family, the guy from the To Serve Man episode of The Twilight Zone and Bat Guano (If that is his real name) from Dr. Strangelove. The only guy who seems to understand him is the sniper, that gung-ho cop from Hill Street Blues.
“We Blew It.” (He blew it two years before Peter Fonda did.)
“I want my 93 Grand, Mal!”
There didn’t seem to be a lot of great quotes from Lee in this one if you just put it onto paper. Some of the memorable lines are said by others and we see Lee react to them. For example: His wife expresses her regrets in detail to her husband while he sits in an almost catatonic state with no reaction and no dialogue and mostly just stares blankly into space.
Keenan Wynn has my favorite line in the movie, “Take It Easy, You’ll Last Longer.” However, Lee can makes simple lines like, “Reese. I want Reese!” and “Don’t Get Lost,” more memorable than you might think.
A word about the remake of this movie- Payback with Mel Gibson. All I can say is, you put 1999 Mel Gibson against 1967 Lee Marvin…my money’s on Marvin.
Tomorrow: Day Eight of Lee Marvin week!
Why Eight days?
Because you can’t have Lee Marvin week without The Dirty Dozen!
Friday, September 2, 2011
THE PROFESSIONALS (1966)
Lee Marvin Week Day 6
(The Professionals, 1966) Not a 1001 entry, but would be on my list.
The plot: A rich railroad man hires four gun for hires to go into post-revolution Mexico to retrieve his kidnapped wife.
The rich guy, named J. W. Grant, is played by movie veteran Ralph Bellamy. Bellamy’s career spanned from Astaire/Rogers pictures in the thirties to his memorable role as one of the rich assholes in Trading Places.
His wife is played by Claudia Cardinale. 1001 entries for Ms. Cardinale include 8 ½, The Leopard, Once Upon a Time in the West and Fitzcarraldo. She may also be the sexiest woman in the history of film, so we can understand all the shootings, explosions, kidnappings and revolutions fought in her behalf. Or maybe you have to be a man to understand.
And Jack Palance as Mexican rebel Jesus Raza. I must say that Palance (who I know best from Shane and City Slickers) is playing essentially the Anthony Quinn bandit chief role. I think he does a pretty good job with the accent.
The hired guns:
Lee Marvin, the weapons expert-more on him in a minute.
Burt Lancaster, the explosives expert and top line star of the film. Burt seems very at home with action in the film, is given some good dialogue and one-liners, and even seems perfectly at home when he is hung upside by some banditos.
Robert Ryan, older, but still tough, though not as tough as the other guys. But I’m not going to criticize someone who loves horses that much.
Woody Strode, may have gotten more quality parts in the 60’s than any African-American actor not named Sidney Poitier. Formerly teamed with Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and later with Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West. He plays the bow and arrow expert here.
No l001 love for director Richard Brooks: Despite directing The Blackboard Jungle, Birdman of Alcatraz, In Cold Blood, Lord Jim, The Professionals and other films of note, Brooks has zero entries in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Book. Wow! And I thought Stanley Kramer got screwed!
But today’s blog is supposed to be about Lee Marvin:
Marvin’s character, Henry “Rico” Fardan, rode with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and was former weapons expert and tactician for Pancho Villa. He also speaks Spanish, so is an ideal man to send into Mexico. Rico is really the leader of the group. Even though Lancaster is the biggest star in the movie, it is really Marvin who calls the shots. And he does it in such a low-key way. I don’t think he raises his voice throughout the entire movie! Who can command respect doing that? I guess the answer would be Lee Marvin. Compare his performance here with his loud psychopath in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It’s a totally different performance and just as good. And Lancaster and Marvin make at least as good a team as Newman and Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Lee Marvin Quotes
J. W. Grant: Your hair was darker then.
Fardan: My heart was lighter then.
Fardan: Certain woman have a way of changing some boys into men and some men back into boys.
Fardan: What else is on your mind besides 100 proof women, 90 proof whiskey and 14 karat gold?
Fardan: We made a contract to save a lady from a nasty old kidnapper…who turns out to be you.
J. W. Grant:You bastard!
Fardan: Yes, sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you sir, you’re a self-made man.
Tomorrow: Day Seven of Lee Marvin week!
Thursday, September 1, 2011
THE KILLERS (1964)
Lee Marvin Week Day 5
(The Killers ,1964) Not a 1001 film entry, though the 1946 version is.
The hitmen in the 1946 version of The Killers have only bit parts. They knock off the main character at the beginning of the film and come back for a gun battle towards the end. In the updated and drastically altered 1964 version, the film is from the point of view of the killers, who eventually come after the man who put out the original hit. The cast includes John Cassavetes as the initial victim of the hitmen, Angie Dickinson and her beehive hairdo as the less than trustworthy romantic interest, future President Ronald Reagan in a rare role as a heavy, future Sheriff Lobo Claude Akins as Cassavetes’s loyal mechanic, and underrated tough guy hitman Clu Gulager, who I can’t help but refer to as Clugaler.
But on today’s blog it’s is all about Lee Marvin. Lee (with Clugaler) performs the hit on Cassavetes in the opening scene but can’t get over the fact that the victim seemed to not care that he was about to be knocked off. The killers eventually try to track down the one who put out the hit and extort money from him. Along the way, Lee lets Clugaler do much of his dirty work, like punching Akins in the stomach or turning up the steam of a sweatbox to unbearable levels on crook Norman Fell. While this is going on, Lee talks calmly to them, reasoning with them as if they really have any choice in the matter (Which they don’t!). Lee’s torturing highlight involves dangling Angie Dickinson out of an upper story window by her ankles.
THE FINALE SPOILER It turns out Angie and Ronnie are in cahoots the whole time. After Lee and Clugaler try to get some money out of him, Reagan shoots them both with a high-powered rifle (Damn NRA!). Reagan and Dickinson go to their house and pull some money out of their wall safe and plan to leave town. But do you really think Lee Marvin will go down so easily? Clugaler, maybe. But, Lee?
I don’t think so, Dutch!
Lee (bleeding severely from the future president’s bullet) follows the couple to their house where he catches them in their living room and SHOOTS Ronnie, then looks into the beautiful, sleepy eyes of Angie Dickinson and SHOOTS her too!
Then (the best part) Lee grabs the suitcase of money and stumbles to the front lawn. He sees a police car coming and shoots at it…with his finger. Then he collapses onto the lawn, money scattering everywhere and presumably dies as we see a great overhead shot of the scene before the end credits.
Lee Marvin, method actor: Some have attributed Lee’s realistic death scene to the fact that he was extremely intoxicated during the shooting of the scene and felt no pain on his final hard fall to the ground.
Quotable Lee Marvin
You see, the only man that's not afraid to die is the man that's dead already.
(To Angie Dickinson before he shoots her)Lady, I haven't got the time.
[In hushed tones] Sylvester, unless you want to renew your partnership with the late Johnny North, I suggest you tell us everything and anything we want to know.
Tomorrow: Day Six of Lee Marvin week!
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