Friday, January 31, 2014

Trailer Not on the DVD: Star 80 (1983, Bob Fosse)

I posted a Star 80 TV spot a few years ago.  Now, from the Warner Archive VOD YouTube channel, we have what appears to be a theatrical trailer (sans billing block).  Hopefully, a widescreen Blu-ray (we can dream) or DVD of Fosse's final film is coming soon from Warner Archive.  There is an ancient, full-frame, feature-less DVD, which now seems to be OOP and quite pricey.

And, while we're on this topic, I must give a shout out to Ralph Burns for his highly effective, pop-inspired score.  The track on this trailer evokes "Tubular Bells" in a striking fashion; I can't recall if it appears in the film proper, but I assume it's a Burns composition.

More of Burns' awesome work--why was there no soundtrack LP for a BOB FOSSE film for crissakes?!--can be heard in the below scenes, to my ears, the music drawing inspiration from disco, Billy Joel, "I'm So Excited," and "On Broadway."  Love the American Gigolo vibe of the shopping scene.

These Roberts-centric scenes take on a fun, humorous quality, when taken out of the context of the larger narrative, which is, of course, quite tragic, disturbing, and unpleasant.  More than most other instances of actors essaying people who behave badly, that I can recall, Roberts plays this scumbag seemingly without any regard to how hate-able and pathetic the character and, by extension--he, comes off, resulting in a masterful performance.

This might have something to do with Roberts wanting to make his character (a statutory rapist) in the subsequent Runaway Train more sympathetic by changing him from a hardened New Yorker to a Southern country bumpkin.  And, it almost certainly impacted his future career in a negative way, as he became so associated with, and was so good at, playing a very bad guy.

At the start of the below video, Mickey Rourke preaches the gospel with regards to Roberts when he's supposed to be accepting his Spirit Award for The Wrestler.  Says Rourke, "Eric Roberts is the fuckin' man."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mandalay (1934, Michael Curtiz)

Released only a few months before the Hays Code began to be enforced, Michael Curtiz' Mandalay (available via the Warner Archive's invaluable Forbidden Hollywood series) contains one of the more stunning "some crimes go unpunished" finishes that I can recall in a pre-Code film.  It also confirms the talents and cool of Kay Francis, which were mostly under-appreciated in her lifetime and largely remain so today (outside of Trouble in Paradise and a few pairings with William Powell).

Property of Nick.
Made at a point when she was still a top box office draw at Warner Bros., Francis plays Tonya Borodoff, sold by her gun-running boyfriend Ricardo Cortez (aka Jacob Krantz) into an upscale brothel in Rangoon, where she is ever-so-subtly referred to as "Spot White" by proprietor Warner Oland and his customer base. Taught the tricks of the trade by an elder madame (Rafaela Ottiano), and thereby gaining the upper hand with her monied male customers, she is able to get away from Nick's place with a sizable savings in her pocket and travel by boat to a place where she will be unknown: Mandalay.  And, this is when Tony (Cortez) re-enters the picture...

While not an exceptional work in Curtiz or Francis' extensive oeuvres, it does offer the aforementioned delicious, proto-EC Comics ending, something out of a Tales From the Crypt story, but about 15 years ahead of the curve.

Pre-Code mainstay Lyle Talbot, here essaying "good man tormented by his past."
Knowing a little something about Francis' career and offscreen life--her diaries reveal she was gay, or at the very least bisexual, and that she had no desire to be remembered after her death--Tonya's quest to get paid and get away from her past becomes more resonant.

Property of Tony.
"My life?  Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I'm going to wear an evening dress on camera.  That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn't it?  But never mind, that's my life...As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I'll sweep the stage.  I don't give a damn.  I want the money...When I die, I want to be cremated so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth.  I can't wait to be forgotten." - Kay Francis, private diaries circa 1938.

One of those "up at a quarter to six" mornings.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

To Find a Man (1972, Buzz Kulik)

When she discovers she is pregnant, 16-year-old Rosalind (Pamela Sue Martin) returns home to New York from boarding school and asks her childhood friend Andy (Darren O'Connor) to help her obtain an abortion.  Made just prior to Roe v. Wade, Buzz Kulik's 1972 coming-of-age-film To Find a Man offers an illuminating look into the process of getting an abortion in New York City before the landmark Supreme Court decision, while also providing some nice showcases to Hollywood veterans Lloyd Bridges, Tom Bosley, and Tom Ewell. O'Connor, who who had only a couple more acting gigs before studying law, is excellent as Andy, the brainy kid next door, a little goofy, yes, but not lacking in confidence.  He hasn't put the moves on Rosalind, but it's not because he's an awkward nerd who's afraid of girls.  It seems that it's just not his major pre-occupation, as it is for his slovenly schoolmate Pete (a chubby, long-haired, pot-smoking Miles Chapin). Rosalind is beautiful, but spoiled and not very bright, or as her father (Lloyd Bridges) puts it so delicately after a few drinks, "She's got most of her brains in her tits."  Despite director Kulik's television pedigree, a tv movie this is not!  That said, as was so often the case in the early days of the ratings system, it received a GP (later PG) rating, in spite of its having a fair share of adult language and content. 

Martin matches O'Connor with her performance and in contrast to her character's aforementioned shortcomings, she is not mean-spirited and she remains a sweet and likable presence throughout; in short, she's more complex than my description makes her sound.  The young stars' fine work culminates with the film's pitch-perfect ending in a wintry Central Park.

For fans of Glynnis O'Connor, it's a trip to see some of the same mannerisms and vocal inflections in the person of Darren O'Connor. 
Until it showed up recently on streaming services such as iTunes and AmazonTo Find a Man was sadly lost for all intents and purposes. Part of an underrated wave of teen pictures of the 1970s, of which I'd also include Jeremy (starring Darren's younger sister Glynnis), To Find a Man is moving and affecting without being overly sentimental or cloying.  It has many of the best qualities of the films of this era--progressive in its ideas, shot and performed in a docu-realist fashion, and frank while also maintaining a layer of ambiguity.  It is not saddled with the irony and myriad pop culture references of so many of the teen films of the '80s nor does it wrap everything up in a shiny bow.

Working from a novel by S.J. Wilson, veteran scribe Arnold Schulman was an appropriate choice to write the film adaptation, as he had earlier written (and been Oscar-nominated for) the original screenplay for Love With the Proper Stranger, a film which had dared to take on much of the same material nearly ten years earlier. '70s stalwarts, David Shire and Andrew Laszlo were on hand for scoring and cinematography duties respectively.  Shire's score is appropriately melancholy, but also jaunty and hummable in parts. Laszlo covers some of the same "dirty old New York" turf that he would return to in The Warriors.

Chemistry of another kind.
While the "New Hollywood" was largely the domain of young men both in front of and behind the camera, To Find a Man is refreshing in that it offers audiences a chance to see old-timers like Bridges, rather than his boys Beau and Jeff, outside of the confines of the studio era.  The work of Bosley, Bridges, and Ewell opposite young O'Connor is the highlight of the film for me, with each moving the narrative in unexpected directions.  Bridges and Ewell are particularly moving and I found myself re-watching their scenes a second time, and shedding a tear or two, as they both perhaps see something of their younger selves, or something they wished they still had, in the boy verging on manhood.  

A fine post-Sea Hunt, pre-Hot Shots performance is given by Bridges pere.
It's just one of many fine films of the era that have slipped through the cracks in terms of availability and by the fact that they haven't been written into the popular narrative of what one unfortunate written account dubbed "easy riders, raging bulls."  I guess, though, that it is the nature of such narratives to simplify and narrow the criteria so that it all can ultimately fit nicely into an hour-long made-for-IFC Channel talking head piece.

"Well, what the hell is this?!  In order to get an abortion here, you gotta make an appointment before you're pregnant!"
....anyway, have a look at Larry Karaszewski's informative "Trailers From Hell" piece on the film and rent / download the feature before it's taken down.  Thanks, Larry...where in the hell did you unearth that trailer anyway?!

It wouldn't be a "dirty old New York" movie without a little mugging.

Kulik returned to New York to shoot Columbia's Shamus the next year, including scenes on the grounds of the future, first-ever Brooklyn Whole Foods in Gowanus!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Downstairs (1932, Monta Ball)

Gilbert and his then-wife Virginia Bruce snuggle for this half-sheet design.
Warner Archive's release of Downstairs (in Forbidden Hollywood Volume 6) is another nail in the coffin of that old canard about John Gilbert not having the voice for talkies.  Gilbert is downright mesmerizing as Karl, an unapologetic scoundrel who makes his living as a chauffeur for the barons and baronesses of Austria.  Gilbert not only stars in the film, he also wrote the story (which he reportedly sold to MGM for $1) upon which Lenore J. Coffee and Melville Baker's script is based.

What I find most fascinating about Monta Ball and Gilbert's film is the way it depicts the relationship of the masters (upstairs) and servants (downstairs) in this particular household, culminating with these two typically opposed sides coming together to deal with one bad egg (Karl).  Paul Lukas, who would later become a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, is appropriately cast as the household's stodgy head servant, Arthur, who has just married sweet, naive Anna (Virginia Bruce) and who takes his responsibilities to the Baron and Baroness very seriously. While he waxes poetic about the duties of the servants to their masters, Karl moves in on his new bride. Bruce is given a great speech when Arthur and Anna have it out over her dalliance with Karl, wherein she gets as close--very close, in fact--as pre-Code standards would allow to telling her husband that the chauffeur brought her to orgasm where he previously failed.  In its trim 77-minute running time, Downstairs has many laugh out loud moments, a number of which are simultaneously sad, particularly with regards to Bodil Rosing's over-the-hill cook who has fallen hard for Karl.

Other familiar faces include Olga Baclanova (immortalized a year later in Tod Browning's Freaks) as the Baroness who Karl attempts to blackmail, Reginald Owen (who earlier starred alongside Jeanne Eagels in the original The Letter) as the humorously soft Baron, and a pre-gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as Countess De Marnac.

All the perfs are fine, but this is Gilbert's show and when all is said and done, it's not Gilbert's voice and likely not his legendary tussle with Louis B. Mayer that did in his post-silent career.  No, aside from his untimely death in 1936, it's probably the fact that roles like Karl and that of Gunner Smith in Browning's Fast Workers are not easily digestible and overly likable to mass audiences.  These were some of the first and, sadly, in fact, only speaking roles that Gilbert had and they were a far cry from the romantic leads that he built his fame on. For the pre-Code aficionados this--a star playing a bastard and relishing that opportunity--is just one of the many decidedly pre-Code pleasures of Downstairs.  Aside from Bruce's aforementioned speech, there's no shortage of frank sexual talk and plenty of still-potent jokes at the expense of both the rich and poor, as well as the physically attractive and un-attactive, usually connected to one's ability, or lack thereof, to hold his liquor.  In other words, it's equal opportunity heckling.  Not to be missed.

Gilbert's got his paws all over another man's (onscreen, anyway) woman.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rep Discoveries: 2013

Michel Constantin essays the "Parker" role in Alain Cavalier's Mise a Sac (aka Pillaged aka Midnight Raid), an adaptation of Richard Stark's (aka Donald E. Westlake) The Score.
My good friend Rupert is once again in the midst of another fun series of lists, this time focusing on "best repertory discoveries" of 2013. He's just published my list here.  Thank you again, my friend.