Sunday, July 20, 2008

Taking Inventory as of July 20

The Wild Bunch directed by Sam Peckinpah; starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan; (1969)
The Shanghai Gesture directed by Josef von Sternberg; starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature and Ona Munson; (1941)
Violent Saturday with Victor Mature, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine; (1955)
Point Blank directed by John Boorman; starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson; (1967)
Day of the Animals with Leslie Nielsen; (1977)
Miss Grant Take Richmond starring Lucille Ball and William Holden; (1949)
The Fuller Brush Girl starring Lucille Ball and Eddie Albert; (1950)

The Wild Bunch was part of the Castro's 70 MM festival.

The Shanghai Gesture was part of the United Artists 90th Anniversary Retrospective at BAM/PFA.

Violent Saturday and Point Blank were part of a Widescreen program at BAM/PFA.

Day of the Animals was one-fifth of a Midnites for Maniacs marathon. The theme was of the ~12 hour, quintuple bill was Animals Attacking Humans and included Phase IV, Alligator, Jaws, and Piranha 2: The Spawning. With the exception of Jaws, these were some cheesey 1970's films. I recall Alligator from my childhood. It was based on the urban legend that New Yorkers were taking baby alligators home from their Florida vacations. When the gators grew too large, the were flushed down the toilet and that there was an alligator infestation in NYC.
Piranha 2: The Spawning was notable for being James Cameron's directorial debut. I may have seen this film. It's the one where the piranhas fly.

Miss Grant Take Richmond and The Fuller Brush Girl were part of a Lucille Ball triple feature at the Castro.

A few quick notes:

I'm becoming a diehard Josef von Sternberg fan. Having seen The Scarlet Empress (1934) and Shanghai Express (1932), I was curious how much I would enjoy a von Sternberg film without Marlene Dietrich. There are a lot of problems with The Shanghai Gesture. The plot is contrived and requires incredible suspension of belief, Gene Tierney is strangely wooden and Ona Munson chews up the scenery in yellowface. Still, the visuals, Walter Huston's mellifluous voice and Mike Mazurki's movie stealing supporting role make for a fun film.

Point Blank is a neo-noir film that seems to have higher aspirations. Remade by Mel Gibson as Payback, this simple revenge tale was skillfully directed by John Boorman, who went on to make the equally stylish Excalibur 15 years later. Point Blank has surrealistic moments such as Marvin alternating between a furnished and empty apartment after his wife commits suicide and a love scene where Marvin and Dickinson embrace and as they turn over in each other's arm, a new partner is revealed. The cinematographer also took care to coordinate the actors' wardrobe and set designs in vibrant earth tones - mustard yellow and blood red. There was also a memorable sequence where Marvin is walking down a long corridor and his leather soled shoes tap out a rhythmic beat. The scene never shows where he is going. Another big plus was that the beginning and end were filmed at Alcatraz and Fort Point.

It was also interesting to note the difference between the two films. Point Blank was similar to French New Wave as Marvin's nihilist works his way up the food chain of The Syndicate. Marvin starts the film trying to get ~$90,000 that is owed him (a considerable amount in 1967). By end of the film, the money is secondary and he ultimately leaves the money behind. In Payback, Gibson goes after a rather miniscule sum with dogged and comic determination. Another interesting difference is that the Dickinson character is Marvin's sister-in-law. In Payback, Dickinson's character (Maria Bello), is a prostitute. Although I enjoyed Payback, it is clear that Point Blank is a much better film. Marvin was perfectly cast as the lead; I can't think of any of his contemporaries that could have played the role.

Violent Saturday is a cross between Gun Crazy and East of Eden set in a small Arizona mining town of Bisbee. I've been to Bisbee as my father grew up in that part of Arizona. The film has not aged well but it serves as an interesting time capsule. One stilted and cliched line sticks in my mind. A wealthy woman is having an affair with the town lothario. She is conflicted about what she is doing. She says to him "You are everything and nothing." If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right...

The Fuller Brush Girl was notable for the gorgeous Gale Robbins in two scenes - one where is wearing horn rimmed glasses as the femme fatale (quite possibly inspired by Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven) and another where she sings the "Put the Blame on Mame" at a burlesque house. That is the song that Rita Hayworth made famous in Gilda. Actually, at 39 years of age, Lucy admirably and impressively wears some skimpy outfits that shows off her gams and engages in spirited physical comedy that presaged I Love Lucy by a few years.

Considering that Miss Grant Take Richmond stars Ball and Holden, I expected more. It was a rather formulaic comedy and Lucy seemed miscast as the eponymous Miss Grant. In fact, I fell asleep for the last few minutes after Ball catches Holden red-handed. It doesn't matter, I'm sure Holden does the right thing & somehow avoids punishment.

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