Eating Raoul (1982) Paul Bartel

EAting Raoul

Sex is disgusting, at least according to Paul and Mary Bland, the ‘heroes’ in Paul Bartel’s wonderfully perverse black comedy. The film originally premiered at the New York Film Festival in late September 1982 and a week later opened at the 69th Street Playhouse in Manhattan for a healthy run.

Starring Bartel and Mary Woronov as Paul and Mary Bland, “Eating Raoul” is about a straight laced couple, who may be duller to spend a night with than watching paint peel off a wall, are surrounded by the wild sex scene of 1980′s Hollywood.  The Los Angeles apartment complex the Blands live is filled with sleazy party goers, swingers and connoisseurs of S&M. Not exactly an environment for a couple who find sex a foul deed. Among the depraved your will find Buck Henry and Ed Begley Jr. in small but memorable roles. Not surprisingly, the Blands have no children. Continue reading

Stardust Memories (1980) Woody Allen

When I saw “Stardust Memories” for the first time back in 1980 (Baronet Theater in Manhattan) I was completely lost as to what Woody Allen was doing. Filled with Fellini like imagery, bizarre inhabitants straight out of Diane Arbus and seemingly resentful, bitter attacks on his fans.  I found the film, to say the least, hard to swallow. I wasn’t and am not one of those folks who keep wishing Woody would trek back to his ‘funny’ early films. I actually relished his celluloid journey, his growth from dubbing a cheesy Japanese spy flick with completely new dialogue turning it into “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?’ through his early visually clumsy, but oh so funny, films like “Take The Money and Run” and ‘Bananas” to his classic “Annie Hall” and on to the Bergman like “Interiors” and the homage to his home town in “Manhattan.” Woody always seemed to be expanding his artistic horizons. At the time of its original release, I chalked up “Stardust Memories” as a failure, hell everyone is entitled to a failure now and then, right?

Now, let me just say here, I watch many of Woody’s film all the time, over and over, true some more than others, I have lost count on how many times I have seen “Manhattan,” “Bananas,” “Sleeper,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Annie Hall, “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Broadway Danny Rose” and so on. His films are like old friends with whom you gladly sit, have a drink, and reminisce about those days gone by. The one film I never went back to was “Stardust Memories.” Frankly, until I watched it for the first time in years, just a few months ago, I remembered little about it except for the feeling of confusion I had and a why bother attitude about taking a second look. One day I found a copy at a local library and for no particular reason decided to give it another shot. All I can say is hallelujah brother! I have been seen the light and have been converted! Continue reading

Dressed to Kill (1980) Brian DePalma

Of all the filmmakers who came to be collectively known in the 1970′s as the movie brats, Brain DePalma was the one who liked to push most the cinematic buttons of both critics and audiences. He delights in making his audience uncomfortable. With a sardonic wit and an ice cold point of view, DePalma has never been a middle of the road filmmaker, critics and audiences either love his work or hate it. He is viewed as either a violent, immoral rip-off artist who hates woman or a visionary artist who flies in the face of conservative thinking enjoying the shock and loathing his films have sometimes unleashed over the years. The more uncomfortable the audience is the better DePalma likes it. Like Alfred Hitchcock, DePalma’s films are planned well in advance with each detail written into the script. What you read is what you get, little changes.  Editing is just putting the finished pieces together and not an exploration to potentially discover alternative new themes or ideas during the process.

Like Hitchcock, Brian DePalma’s films are a voyeurs’ delight. Examples abound, the slow motion dream like opening shot of the girls’ locker room in “Carrie” or the TV game show called “Peeping Tom” in “Sisters.”  In one of his earlier films, “Greetings” Robert DeNiro’s character is a porn filmmaker and in “Body Double,” Craig Wasson’s Jake Scully watches a beautiful, sexy neighbor undress in front of her window. Hitchcock himself gave us “Psycho” where the camera works its way into a hotel room catching Sam Loomis and Marion Crane finishing up a lunch time affair and later just before Norman murders Marion Crane he is seen watching her through a peephole in the motel room next to hers. Hitch also gave us the ultimate voyeur movie with “Rear Window.” Continue reading

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) Woody Allen

“Broadway Danny Rose” opens at the famed Carnegie Deli located in midtown Manhattan, known for its huge Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches and as a well known show business hangout for many of the old time Borscht Belt comedians of yesterday. At one table dishing out old show biz stories are comedians Corbett Monica, Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle and Will Jordan among others all playing themselves. Also in the group is Jack Rollins, Allen’s long time producer. The tales go around, back and forth, names come and go until Sandy Baron announces he has the best Danny Rose story ever. We flash back to a time not too long in the past.

Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business including a one legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his clients worth no matter how bad they are. He is willing to go to the extreme to keep his acts happy and get them jobs. It’s this dedication that gets him in trouble when he becomes involved with his top client’s mistress and some unfriendly gangsters who mistake Danny as her lover. Continue reading

Lost in America (1985) Albert Brooks

“Tune on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in his hilarious off-beat comedy, “Lost in America” his third feature film as a director and writer, actually co-writer, the script was co-written with his long time writing partner, Monica McGowan Johnson. (1)

Woody Allen and Mel Brooks pretty much dominated the writer/director  comedy ledger during the 1970′s and 1980′s but rising fast in the background was Albert Brooks whose first venture into filmmaking was a short called “The Famous Comedian’s School” originally shown on PBS. In 1975, he made a series of short films on the first season of “Saturday Night Live.” After several acting gigs including a role in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” Brooks wrote and directed his first feature-length film in 1979, “Real Life,” a satirical take of the on the pioneering PBS reality show, though it was not given that now dubious label, “An American Family.” Today, after too many years of “reality” shows that are unintentional more comical and demeaning to viewers than realistic, the film can be still be seen as a mirror to the seemingly endless number of fabricated “reality” TV  shoved down our throats. “Real Life” had a very limited distribution and modest financial success but did launch Albert Brooks career as an important comedic writer/director.

“Lost in America” concerns the story of David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company he works for, but on the big day he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him, a transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. Continue reading

Eight Men Out (1988) John Sayles

 

Disillusionment with sport heroes is something sport fans have had to deal with quite a bit recently. However, is it really a new occurrence?  Scandals in sports seem to have been with us throughout the years. Way back in the 1870′s, a professional ballplayer named George Gerchtel was accused of throwing games. Over the years, innumerable boxing matches have been fixed, the career of Primo Carnera being a prime example, with many of his fights being considered mob influenced set ups. The College basketball world was rocked in the 1950’s when seven colleges involving thirty two players were bribed by bookies to keep games close.  The mob was also involved in bribing Boston College players during the 1978-79 season. One of the mob members included Henry Hill, a name movie fans will remember from Martin Scorsese’s, “Goodfellas.” Then there was the Pete Rose gambling mess, the continuing steroid mess that has destroyed the integrity of baseball, the tour de France incidents a few year back where various cyclists were disqualified for using dope or testing positive for steroid use. There was also the NBA referee who was under investigation for betting on games including some he actually worked in. Tonya Harding was banned from ice-skating for her 1994 involvement in the Nancy Kerrigan episode. Notre Dame Coach, George O’Leary resigned after it was proven he fabricated his resume. Gambling, poor sportsmanship and even criminal activity, remember Michael Vick? And of course, the infamous1919 Black Sox scandal. 

In John Salyes 1988 film, “Eight Men Out,” a young boy is seen standing outside the courthouse when “Shoeless” Joe Jackson exits. The boy yells out to his hero, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”   Those same words can be yelled out today by so many young boys and girls, looking at today’s sports “heroes.”  Change Joe to Roger, or Jose, or Barry, or Jason and we are in modern times.  Continue reading

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Carl Reiner

The screen opens with the old Universal logo switching to a rain soaked dark Los Angeles night as the credits begin to roll. In the first scene, a car is speeding out of control; it suddenly swerves and goes crashing off the road. We cut to the messy office of private eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) who is reading the morning newspaper. The headlines scream about the disappearance of cheese maker king John Hay Forest.

There is a knock at his door; a beautiful mysterious alluring woman dressed to the nines in 1940’s fashion enters. She is Juliet Forest (Rachel Ward) the daughter of the missing big cheese. She wants to hire Reardon to find her father. Reardon is always willing to help a beautiful lady, (even willing to adjust her breasts when she faints, explaining to her after she woke, they had shifted all outta whack)… he takes the job.

Add to this mood and ambiance, the orchestra sound of Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, a perfect dead pan voice over by Martin and we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” is an affectionate and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames and mean darkly lit streets.

Written by Carl Reiner, Steve Martin and George Gipe, they are obviously a group that loves old movies and are a talented lot when it comes to comedy. Reiner’s career goes back as far as Sid Caesars “Your Show of Shows.” He also interviewed the 2000 Year Old Man, Mel Brooks on one of the first comedy albums ever recorded and was the creative source behind the classic 1960′s sit-com, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”  He previously directed Steve Martin in “The Jerk” and would do two more films with him, the underrated “The Man with Two Brains” and along with “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, one of my favorite Martin films “All of Me.”  Reiner even appears here in a couple of scenes spoofing Otto Preminger’s screen Nazi roles.

In 1982 when this was made Martin was still an adventurous comedy maverick willing to take chances with films like “Pennies From Heaven” and “Roxanne” among others instead of the series of tepid “Pink Panther” and “Cheaper By the Dozen” remakes of recent years (Though I have to admit “Shopgirl”, based on his own short novel was a surprising nice trip back to those more adventurous days).

The highest accolades for this film though are saved for film editor John DeCuir, director of photography Michael Chapman, sound editor James J. Klinger and many other techies for the flawless matter in which they matched the many classic clips used here with the new material. Well over twenty actors from the classic era “co-star” with Martin. They include Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton,  Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart who  as Marlowe, works for Reardon as his legman and is continually picked on by Reardon for the way he dresses. There are also some of the great character actors of noir popping up in the clips like William Conrad, Jeff Corey and Edward Arnold. Rachel Ward’s wardrobe was by the legendary Edith Head. This would turn out to be Ms. Head’s last film.

Some of the dialogue are take offs on classic lines from Hollywood films. When Juliet Forest leaves Reardon’s office she looks back seductively as she departs saying, “If you need me, just call. You know how to dial don’t you? You just put your finger in the hole and make tiny little circles.”

And while Reardon is in many ways a homage to Marlowe, Spade and other hard boiled screen P.I.’s he does have his own unique quirks, for example whenever someone says “cleaning lady” it turns Reardon into a murdering out of control maniac. Think Abbott and Costello and their “Niagara Falls” routine.  Another scene have Reardon dressed up as a woman, specifically as Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson from  “Double Indemnity,”  blonde wig and white sweater included. He also witnesses “Swede” Anderson’s murder in “The Killers”.

Beside the technical aspects, what makes this all work so well is the over the shoulder shooting style many of the 1940′s filmmakers used back then. As an example, we see Reardon talking to someone who is dressed up like Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious.” In the shot, the camera is shooting over “Bergman’s” shoulder, as we watch Martin speaking. The camera then cuts to the real Bergman speaking in a scene from the Hitchcock film and we view Reardon only from over his shoulder.  In most instances this works very well, though in this particular scene if one looks closely at Bergman’s hairstyle in the “Notorious” clip you will notice her ears are exposed and would be visible when shooting an over the shoulder shot. In this instance the Bergman stand-in’s hair covers her ears. As they cut back and forth a few times in this scene the mismatch becomes very obvious. Happily in most scenes this is not the case, the matches are very well done. Additionally, there is one scene where Martin appears in the same shot with Cary Grant. The scene is from “Suspicion”, which takes place in a train compartment, Grant asks Martin if he smokes, to which he answers, “No, I have tuberculosis.” Grants replies, “oh, thank heaven for that.”

Reiner and company have to be given credit for doing all this one year before Woody Allen did in the celebrated  “Zelig” and twenty years or so before Robert Zemeckis had  Forest Gump meet JFK! Overall, the film is funny, silly at times but always affectionate toward its subjects.

****

All of Me (1984) Carl Reiner

“Carl Reiner’s “All of Me” might just be one of the best comedies of the 1980′s with a career winning performance from Steve Martin. Martin’s movie career has been one of innovation, off beat (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Pennies from Heaven, The Spanish Prisoner, Shopgirl) and retreads (Sgt. Bilko, The Out-Of-Towner’s, Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pink Panther’s). Generally, his more adventurous work has been at least moderately successful while the retreads have been embarrassingly bad (so beware of his upcoming remake of Topper); the track record has not been very good.  “All of Me” falls into the first category, it’s different, it exploits Martin’s talent to the outer limits and it is just plain fun.  

The sickly and sickly rich Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin)  is about to expire and has embarked upon a plan to transfer her soul to that of a younger, prettier and healthier young woman named Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant).

“And what makes you think you can do that?” ask an incredulous Roger Cobb (Steve Martin), a reluctant lawyer assigned by his law firm to ensure Edwina’s legal papers have no loose ends and are all in order.

“Because I’m rich,” Edwina obnoxiously answers. And she is, she is filthy rich, diamonds dripping from everywhere even the oxygen tank she continually has to suck on. With the aid of her personal swami, (Richard Libertini), Edwina has arranged to mystically transfer her soul into the body of a young willing blonde.

Roger Cobb is a frustrated lawyer, who rather be a jazz musician. He works for a law firm but is getting nowhere in his career. His assignment to make sure Edwina’s papers are in order is the kind of work they dump him with, he pleads for more impressive client than crazy ladies. Through a series of circumstances when Edwina’s transference takes place, the swami’s pot, that is holding Edwina soul, accidentally going flying out a window landing on Roger’s head, and before you know it, Roger and Edwina are sharing the same body…Roger’s!

Thus begins a battle of the sexes only we are only body short. With Edwina’s soul now implanted into Roger’s body an internal struggle begins filled with physical and verbal gags. There is Roger dragging himself across the sidewalk, one side (Edwina’s) ever so feminine and the other his masculine self. Two scenes that stand out are a courtroom scene, with Roger’s career hanging in the balance, only problem is he is dead tired and falls asleep, while Edwina isn’t, so she decides to step in for Roger. Acting in a fashion she considers macho, she proceeds to grunt, spit and scratch his/her way through the court proceedings, until at one point she screams at the top of her lungs waking the Roger side up. A second scene involves Roger having to go to the men’s room and needing Edwina’s “assistance” with unzipping his pants and  well you can imagine the rest.  

Later on there is an attempted seduction scene by Roger, at least the half of Roger that he controls, of the beautiful young Terry. Of course, the Edwina side wants nothing to do with it. The whole scene is a beautiful timed combination of physical comedy and witty written dialogue played out to the hilt by the three characters.

What is most inspiring in this film is the performance of Steve Martin who is required to act as two people inhabiting one body. It is a brilliant performance, one that was recognized for its greatness by the New York Film Critics who gave him their best actor award for the year.     

Also making the film such a delight is it is not just physical humor, but a witty script written by Phil Adel Robinson. At one point, the engaging Lily Tomlin after hearing Roger complain about his day says, “My day hasn’t been that great either, I died 5 minutes ago.”

Beside the two stars, director Carl Reiner had put together a great supporting cast, the always amusing Selma Diamond, as Roger’s secretary, the amazing Richard Libertini as the Swami and the cool sophisticated beauty of Victoria Tennant.  However, there is no doubt that it is Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin who carry the day right up until the closing credits.

****

White Dog (1982) Sam Fuller

 

Censorship always seems to rear its ugly head. In 1982, Sam Fuller’s film “White Dog” was unjustifiably dumped from Paramount’s distribution after rumors spread that the film had a racist theme. In addition, pressure from special interest groups with threats of boycotts only confirmed the studio’s fears. Since that time, the film  had only a few rare showings on cable stations. In 1991, “White Dog” at last had its New York premiere at the Film Forum.  

The irony of it all is that the film’s theme is anti racism, though in typical Fuller fashion Sam is straight talking and blunt in his story line. The fear of corporations, in this case Paramount and the ignorance of pressure groups to blindly attack and suppress works that they have not even seen is as viciously discriminatory as that of what they supposedly are fighting against. Similar ignorance was in force against Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” when special interest groups protested and boycotted the film without even seeing it. With the release of the Criterion disc in 2008, “White Dog” finally had its day.   

The genesis of the film is as interesting as the film itself. Originally, a magazine story in the late 1960′s written by author Romain Gary about a group of white supremists who trained dogs to attack black people. Later on, Gary would expand the story into an autobiographical novel called “Chien Blanc” which translates to “White Dog.” The novel focused on his life with his wife the actress activist Jean Seberg.   In the novel, Gary and Seberg find a dog that is seemingly lovable but later they discover was trained to attack black people. The book’s under lying theme was one that examines racism and whether it is a learned response and if it is learned can it be unlearned. This also became the basis Fuller’s 1982 film.

At one point in time Roman Polanski was going to direct and later on Arthur Penn was even mentioned as possibly trying to bring the story to the screen. Still controversy raged, cold feet prevailed and the film continued to be delayed. Eventually, Sam Fuller was offered the job, and along with Curtis Hanson created a finished screenplay.  To ler, “White Dog” was a real life horror story unlike some made up thriller with a giant shark that eats people. 

As a filmmaker with a history of making anti-racist films (The Crimson Kimono, Shock Corridor, and The Steel Helmet) Fuller was one of the least likely artists to make a racist work. Paramount’s chicken livered fears along with special interest buried the film. In looking at “White Dog”, you see the work of a vibrant filmmaker (Fuller was about 68 at the time) in control of his art.  It is a bold adventurous, disturbing film, a metaphor on how humans are trained to hate.

Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) is driving down a dark highway  one night in Los Angles and accidentally hits a stray dog who was crossing the highway. She takes the dog to a vet (the nurse is played by Fuller’s wife Christa Lang) and then takes the stray home putting up signs in her neighborhood  in an attempt to find the owner.  The dog is loveable and affectionate with Julie. With no owner coming forward, Julie keeps the dog.

One night an intruder breaks into Julie’s home and attempts to rape her, the dog viciously attacks the man freeing Julie to call the police. Soon after, Julie brings the dog to the studio where she is working, when the dog suddenly attacks a black female actress seriously injuring her. It gets worst as the dog’s rampage continues when he chases a well-dressed black man into a church, and though hidden from the camera by the pews, viciously attacks the man. We see the dog walk away with blood all over his white fur. Julie takes the dog to an animal camp call Noah’s Ark, run by two men, Carruthers (Burl Ives) and a black anthropologist named Keys (Paul Winfield). Keys is challenged to deprogram the dog from this learned behavior. The dog becomes fully dependent on Keys for food and all else.  Slowly Keys begins to reprogram the dog, he exposes more and more of his black skin to the dog a little at a time. Meanwhile, the dog’s former owner has appeared at Julie’s place to claim the dog back. He is a grandfatherly type, seemingly a gentle man with two young grandchildren. Julie realizes this elderly outward looking mild man is a racist and responsible for the dog’s training. Julie verbally lashes out at him, telling the grandchildren not to listen to their grandfather who is full of vile thoughts and lies.  She drives away leaving them with the grandfather screaming back at her.  At the animal training center, Keys’ begins to make a break through as the white dog has come to depend on him.  In the beginning Keys did his training all from behind the safety net of a cage but eventually as the dog responded, without protection. Has Keys been able to recondition the dog’s psyche, unleash his racist training? The ending, which I will not reveal is a pessimistic unsettling twist.

The film’s appeal, like in most Fuller films, is due to his visual style and his blunt seriousness in attacking a story. While the film starts with Julie and her new found dog as the storyline, Julie practically becomes a secondary character after about a third of the way into the film as Fuller’s focus turns to Keys determination to turn this dog around.

Paul Winfield’s performance is the acting highlight in the film, he gives Keys  character depth and understanding. The cinematography of Bruce Surtee’s provides a lurid view of the dog’s world with Fuller’s camera focusing in extreme close ups at significant times in the story. Finally, the music soundtrack is by the well-known film composer Ennio Morricone and contributes to the sinister eccentricity of the film.

****