Saturday, May 22, 2010

Going Native

I will aspire to do as Mr. Kleiser and friends did, while I'm there. See you again in a couple weeks...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

No Beast So Fierce

Long one of my favorite films of the '70s ever since I saw the big clamshell box, with a picture of Dustin Hoffman's hairy mug, sitting on my video store shelf, Straight Time remains criminally under exposed. This was remedied somewhat by the DVD that was released a few years back, before Warner Bros. abandoned the idea of pressed catalog DVD releases. Based upon on criminal-turned-author Eddie Bunker's semi-autobiographical first novel, No Beast So Fierce, the property is one of the few that I think was actually better served by the film than the book.

Originally slated to direct and star in Straight Time, Hoffman eventually ceded directorial reins to old friend Ulu Grosbard (who directed Hoffman in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?) after determining that the twin stresses of starring in and mounting a production were too much for him to handle on his own. Later, Hoffman sued production company First Artists and distributor Warner Bros. for illegally taking the right of final cut from him. As it stands, Straight Time is pretty damn riveting cinema and it seems that Hoffman has finally come around to this fact, as he participated in an audio commentary on the DVD and, several years earlier, appeared at a screening held by the phantom-like "Movie Club." At that time, Hoffman revealed that a famous scene involving a very public de-pantsing of co-star M. Emmet Walsh was based upon one of Hoffman's painful childhood memories.

I wonder if the below picture pre-dates star Dustin Hoffman's abandonment of directing duties on Straight Time. Great still regardless. Looks like bigger crowds showed up for the shooting of the film than to actually see the film.

I can't find any evidence of the still online, but, IIRC, in John Willis' Screen World from 1979 (each volume featured the previous year's films), there was an image of a fully dressed Max Dembo (Hoffman) laying on the sand with a bikini-clad Jenny Mercer (Theresa Russell). I imagine it's one of many Hoffman-shot scenes that did not end up in the final picture. If they still existed in some form, I would have loved to have seen these on the DVD.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fleischer x 2

Just watched two Richard Fleischer films this week, The Narrow Margin and The Don is Dead. The former is a model of efficiency, a taut, tough noir. The latter is an interesting, if somewhat by the numbers, mafia film made to capitalize on the success of The Godfather.

I love this promo artwork for The Last Run and would like to track the film down. It's never been released on home video, but has apparently appeared letterboxed on TCM. The script is by Alan Sharp who wrote 3 of the era's best scripts: The Hired Hand, Ulzana's Raid, and Night Moves before trying his hand at directing once with 1985's Little Treasure, remembered mostly for the ugly episode in which Burt Lancaster and co-star Margot Kidder got into a dust-up on set.

The Last Run has its own messy production history in that original director John Huston left the project in a huff after repeated fights with star Scott. Gun-for-hire Fleischer was quickly called upon to finish the deed. In the meantime, French star Tina Aumont also left the film after a row with Scott and was replaced with the actress who would become his third wife, Trish Van Devere. Also, in the film was Scott's second wife Colleen Dewhurst. Making lots of friends, this Scott...
Mandingo is finally easy to track down on home video after Legend Films licensed it from Paramount and released it on DVD a couple years back. I still haven't caught up with this one-time cause celebre, but where the film was mostly critically reviled upon release, the DVD release brought out some staunch defenders including Dave Kehr who called it "Fleischer's last great crime film."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Let us Entertain you."

I love the Columbia Pictures logo in all its permutations even the "Lady-less" mid-70s - early-'80s one pictured above. Interestingly, the Lady-less design didn't last long, in spite of the quote in the caption about the difficulties the marketing department apparently encountered with the lady.

Incidentally, the Philly soul band First Choice had a hit album on the R & B charts in 1976 entitled "So Let Us Entertain You." The album opened with the marvelous "First Choice Theme," with a chorus of "Let us entertain you," which hit #5 on the Disco Charts and #4 on the Dance Charts and which went through my head when I saw this clipping.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Thanks, Ward."

The gorgeous poster pictured above of 1931's Sob Sister can be had here for $1100 and that's on the lower end of the price scale...

Sometimes the cranky old-timers at Film Forum really get on my nerves with their loud shhssing of other moviegoers that tends to draw more attention than the initial chatter that prompted said outburst. That said, it's only at a theater like Film Forum, with its uber-knowledgeable constituency, that the biggest laugh in a comic film comes when an unbilled, very young Ward Bond, playing a cop, is referred to as "Ward" by the actor playing the police dispatcher. I guffawed like an idiot for a good 40 seconds after that line.

Apart from that, the film, Sob Sister, was a very enjoyable pre-Coder that straddles that interesting line between drama and comedy in the way that it seems only pre-Code films do. Stars Linda Watkins--where has she been all my life?--and James Dunn, an alcoholism casualty who won a late-career Academy Award, are a wonderful as dueling reporters, he, for a high-end rag, and she, the "sob sister" of the title, for a tabloid. She wants to get out of the racket and settle down with Dunn while he believes her to be an unrepentant sob sister who is only out to get a good story and who would quickly become bored with marriage.

One of my favorite parts of watching these early talkies is being introduced to the many fine and, often, gorgeous actresses who populated so many of them and then disappeared, for the most part, by the dawn of the '40s. Watkins was one who wasn't in too many films even in this "prime" period--she was a stage actress first. But, here she is delightful and shares one of those, "only in a pre-Code" moments with co-star Dunn, when they very matter-of-factly discuss their intimate time together the night before. Dunn accuses Watkins of sleeping with him only so should could get her hands on a diary, that Dunn has procured, which holds the key to a breaking front page story. In the past Dunn probably would have been right, but in this case Watkins gave herself to him out of love.

The print shown at Film Forum was advertised as a new 35mm print...sure would be nice if it became available on some home format, even a DVD-R program, if Fox ever develops its own Warner Archive-type enterprise.

One of the other films on the same bill was Columbia's Final Edition starring two of my favorites of the era, Pat O'Brien and Mae Clarke. Many in the audience were chattering after the show about the film's use of two drug references no one else seemed to remember in another pre-Code: "Heroin" and "coked-up." I heard one audience member theorize that things like this were more likely to fly at a lower-end studio such as Columbia than at an MGM.

"The fright begins..."

Rupert, aka Brian, tells me that Joe Dante at one time worked for Film Bulletin, the magazine from which these clippings come. He's got a great interview he conducted with Dante from a few months back, which you can read in the latest issue of Paracinema.