Short Takes: Bogart, Bacall and Widmark Times Two

This week’s short takes are not a particularly great bunch. Like most bloggers I tend to write about the films I love, or at least like. I decided that’s not fair; makes every film that is considered “classic” sound great. They are not. This group is not necessarily horrible, except for one; another is mediocre and another is just decent. Now mediocrity can be enjoyable on some levels, recently I have been watching some low budget Boston Blackie films from Columbia Pictures which have been on TCM every weekend. They are light hearted, a bit corny, but enjoyable pieces of detective fluff. Blackie, as played by Chester Morris, is the only one with any brains, and in every film has to prove his innocence to the two dumb and dumber detectives who see him as a one man crime wave. You see, Blackie was a former jewel thief, now gone straight. At best, these films are fair, lightweight entertainment. Classic? Well, I guess it all goes down to your definition of classic, which by the way, has been discussed recently by some members of CMBA and there is a particularly good posting on the subject by Gilby of  Random Ramblings of a Broadway, Film and TV Fan.  Anyway below are this week’s short takes. classics or not. Continue reading

Coogan’s Bluff (1968) Don Siegel

Don Siegel released two films in 1968, films bookending the changes that were happening in Hollywood, the first film representing the ending of one era and the second beginning of another. Both films are police dramas based in New York City and both films involved law officers who are troublesome renegades to their superiors. They also have some similar casting with actors, Susan Clark and Don Stroud, in both films, yet in “Madigan” starring Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, we are saying goodbye to Hollywood’s old guard, while with “Coogan’s Bluff” we are welcoming the future in the cool, silent gaze of Clint Eastwood. Director Don Siegel himself was kind of turning a corner in his own career going from a “B” film director to the “A” list along with what would turn out to be the start of a fruitful and professional relationship with Eastwood.  

 Siegel teamed up for the first time with Eastwood who just completed his first starring role in an American film, “Hang em’ High” and was now looking to move on to his next project, “Coogan’s Bluff,” based on a screenplay by Henry Miller, Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman. The film is a fish out of water story, a culture clash of East meets West, city slickers meet small town country boy. Call it what you will but when the boy is Clint Eastwood the shit is going to fly. Continue reading

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Don Siegel

This review is part of the 50’s Monster Mash Blogathon hosted by Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. The blogathon runs from July 28th through August 2nd.

An allegory on the infiltration of communism in America? A metaphor for people turning a blind eye to the McCarthyism hysteria that was sweeping the country in the early 1950’s? An attack on the potential dangers of conformity and the stamping out of individuality? Don Siegel’s 1956 gem of a film, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has been said to really be about any and all of these themes since its debut now more than fifty years ago. Siegel, who should know, never mentions any of this kind of subtext in his autobiography, “A Siegel Film,” so one can assume, all the reading into this classic SF film that has been done is just that, critics and filmgoers reading their own thoughts and ideas into a work of pop art…and there is nothing wrong with that! After all, isn’t personal interpretation one of the elements and joys of good art? Admirer, analyze, come up with theories, themes beyond what even the artist conceived.

The film is based on a serialized novel, written by Jack Finny, published in 1954 in Collier’s Magazine called, “The Body Snatchers.” It was produced by Walter Wanger (notoriously known for shooting  talent agent, later a producer, Jennings Lang. Wanger believed Lang was having an affair with his then wife, actress Joan Bennett) and directed by low budget action director Don Siegel. Siegel already had ten feature films under his belt including “The Big Steal,” “Duel at Silver Creek,” “Private Hell 36″ and “Riot in Cell Block 11.” Allied Artist agreed to back the film and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring was on board to adapt Finney’s superb novel. Continue reading

The Lineup (1958) Don Siegel

Based on a TV series that ran for about six years back in the 1950’s The Lineup is one of director Don Siegel’s earlier crime thrillers. The TV show, like the movie, was filmed in San Francisco and was a precursor to latter San Francisco cop shows like The Streets of San Francisco. The show starred Warren Anderson as Detective Ben Guthrie and Marshall Reed as Inspector Fred Asher, both recreating their roles in the movie, though Reed’s role in the film is minor. According to his autobiography, Siegel also directed the pilot for the TV show. 

In the film, a porter tosses a disembarking passenger’s luggage into a waiting taxi. The taxi quickly speeds off triggering an out of control wild ride along the San Francisco docks. The speeding driver recklessly crashes into an oncoming truck. He quickly backs up and takes off speeding down the street where he next runs down a cop. The injured cop gets off one gunshot before dying. The bullet hit the cab driver, causing the taxi to crash again, this time for good. All this happens before the opening credits role in this early exciting Siegel thriller. Police inspectors Ben Guthrie and Al Quine (Emile Meyer) arrive to investigate the scene. In the cab, they find a gun and a syringe lying next to the dead body of the driver.  The police confiscate the stolen luggage. Back at the station, they find a hollow Chinese sculpture.  Stuffed inside the sculpture is a bag of pure heroin. Conclusion: someone is using innocent unknowing businessman and tourists as mules to smuggle heroin into the country.  Continue reading

Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott Links to Twenty Four Frames

I was happily surprised to find that James Wolcott, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, linked an article I wrote on Don Siegel’s “Baby Face Nelson” to his post on the upcoming release of Columbia Pictures Film Noir Box Set. Checkout Mr Wolcott’s article here.

Click here for my article.

 

Where Are They? Baby Face Nelson (1957)

An occasional series on missing films. They are rarely, if ever, shown on TV and have never been released on video in any form. If anyone has any knowledge where these films have been shown, TV, a film festival or in a basement in your house please let me know.

 

The next film in this series is “Baby Face Nelson” directed by Don Siegel.

 

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Siegel’s other films include the original 1956 verison of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”,  “Coogan’s Bluff”, “Madigan”, “Dirty Harry”, “Two Mules for Sister Sara”, “The Shootist” and many other great films. Mickey Rooney stars in the 1957 film about the violent and uncontrollable Baby Face Nelson, bank robber and killer. His real name was Lester Gillis and he became a member of John Dillinger’s gang participating in numerous crime sprees. After Dillinger’s death outside a movie house, Nelson became Public Enemy Number 1.

 

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The film co-stars Leo Gordon as John Dillinger who starred earlier in another rare Siegel film, “Riot in Cellblock 11.” The film also co-stars Carolyn Jones as Sue, Nelson’s girlfriend.

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In 2006, the Film Forum in New York City had a Don Siegel retrospective and “Baby Face Nelson” was given a rare showing. Elliot Stein in a review of the series in the Village Voice, said, “a ferocious Mickey Rooney gives the finest dramatic performance of his career.”

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 The film received mostly negative reviews when first released (see New York Times review here ) however, since then the film has been praised by many film critics for Rooney’s performance and it violent action scenes. See this short review in the Chicago Reader.

 

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The late 1950’s and early 1960’s saw a rash of low budget gangster films. Along with “Baby Face Nelson”, there was “Al Capone”, “Machine Gun Kelly”,  “The Purple Gang”, “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond” and “Mad Dog Coll.”

 

 

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In addtion to the Film Forum Don Siegel retrospective, “Baby Face Nelson” has been shown at a few other venues including a 2005 salute to Don Siegel at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The real question is when will this film be released on home video or shown on TCM?

 

In fact, many of Siegel’s film are among the missing, the previously mentioned “Riot in Cell Block 11″, the teenage gang film  “Crime in the Streets” with John Cassavetes, Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell, “The Lineup” with Eli Wallach, which had a rare showing on TCM last year and “Private Hell 36″ with Ida Lupino to name a few. 

 

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I saw “Baby Face Nelson” at the time of its original release. We (my father took me) saw it at the Loew’s Commodore on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The Commodore in the 1960’s would gain legendary status when it became the Fillmore East  rock venue.  

   

Here is a list of the films mentioned in this post that are not available on home video.

 

Crime in the Streets

Riot in Cell Block 11

Private Hell 36

Mad Dog Coll

Al Capone (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)

The Purple Gang

The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond  (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)

The Lineup

Machine Gun Kelly (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)

 

  

OOP VHS can still be found in some video stores and local libraries. Certainly worth checking out.