The Undercover Man (1949) Joseph H. Lewis


Glenn Ford is no stranger to the dark streets of film noir, he’s walked them many times before, in “Gilda”, “The Big Heat” and “Human Desire.” In Joseph H. Lewis’ 1949 film, “The Undercover Man,” a low rent though first-class crime drama filmed in a semi-documentary nourish style. Treasury Agent Frank Warren (Glenn Ford) who is out to bring down the gangland syndicate leader known only as “The Big Fellow” leads a criminal investigation. It would sound ludicrous if it were not true that the IRS brought to justice real life gangster Al Capone, whose story this film tells a fictionalize version of. Based on a Collier’s magazine article called “Undercover Man: He Trapped Capone” by Frank Wilson, it tells the story of how the federal government finally caught Al Capone on income tax evasion.  The screenplay is credited to Sidney Boehm and Jack Rubin, though independent producer Robert Rossen is said to have had a say in the script.  Boehm would go on to write many noir films including “The Big Heat”, “Violent Saturday”, “Mystery Street” and “Side Street.”

Burnett Guffey’s gritty dark lit cinematography is filled with murky overcrowded city streets, dark movie theaters and seedy hotel rooms not fit for a two-dollar hooker but good enough for federal enforcement officers to shack up in during the investigation. It is a dark dingy world filled with squealers, bookies and murderers. In this part of town, the bookies are dropping dead, quicker than flies attacked by a blast of bug spray.undercover-poster1

Glenn Ford is a dour actor who barely breaks a smile here until the film’s ending. His government agent is at times tormented, driven, paranoid and almost beaten. He’s prepared to give up his job, until the mother of slain bookie Salvatore Rocco, hands over her son’s books, and tells him how she and many others came to America to get away from the Mafia in Italy, and how thanks to brave men like him, she and others no longer have to live in fear. The woman’s story brings tears to Agent Warren’s eyes and he decides stay on the case. Joseph H. Lewis states in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich that this scene was shot in one take using three cameras. He felt it was the only way he could capture the realistic emotions as portrayed by the actors. Nina Foch, who would have the lead role in Lewis’ “My Name is Julia Ross” is Judith, Warren’s wife. While she has some nice moments, Foch is generally wasted in a role that is of minor importance to the film. James Whitmore is on hand, in his film debut, as fellow T-Man George Pappas.

Lewis spent most of his career in the bargain basement department of filmmakers, though he proved himself a master of camera placement with some of the most unconventional shots to come out of poverty row. He was given the name “Wagon Wheels Joe” after he did one low budget oater that had more cowboys than actors in the cast. Since they could barely read their lines, Lewis, in order to distract the audience from the lack of talent, shot a scene with the camera looking through a wagon wheel. The shot was considered so artistic; it gave Lewis a reputation for placing his camera at unusual angles.

undercover-still1  While “The Undercover Man” was a second feature, it had a budget of about one million dollars and turned out to be the film on the double bill everyone wanted to see. Lewis’ noir films like the aforementioned “My Name is Julia Ross”, along with “So Dark the Night”, “Gun Crazy” and “The Big Combo” are required viewing for any serious film enthusiast.. Along with his noir work, Lewis’ filmography consisted of westerns, generally starring Bob Baker or Johnny Mack Brown. In the 1950’s he made two westerns with Randolph Scott however, his oddest western was the 1958 film “Terror in a Texas Town”, that opens with Sterling Hayden walking down the town street carrying a harpoon! There were war films like “Retreat Hell,” films of intrigue and even the East Side Kids in Poverty Row stuff like “Boys of the City”, “Pride of the Bowery” and “That Gang of Mine.” In the 1960’s, Lewis spent the final days of his career in television doing mostly western series like “The Rifleman”,  “Bonanza”, “Gunsmoke” and “The Big Valley.” He died in 2000.

“The Undercover Man” is a good crime thriller. It will not make you forget “My Name is Julia Ross” or “Gun Crazy” or “The Big Combo”, though it will remind you of what a large talent can do with just a small amount of money.

The Undercover Man will be on TCM on August 7th at 10PM EST.

Roadblock (1951) Harold Daniels


“Roadblock” is a mixed bag with a few twists and turns, one of which almost derails the film’s impact. Still, it has much going for it, namely Charles McGraw, the grizzly voiced stocky handsome tough guy who has graced so many classic noir films. The film is also blessed with the cinematography of Nicholas Muscuraca whose camerawork in film noir is legendary in works like “Out of the Past”, “Cat People”, “The Seventh Victim” and “Blood on the Moon” among others.

The plot is simple, honest cop falls for sexy femme fatale, plans a robbery to get money to support the dame’s expensive lifestyle. Only this time, the femme fatale switches gears in the middle of the film and decides she does not need the fur coats and penthouse. She willing to suddenly settles down with the working stiff in martial bliss. Unfortunately, for the “honest” cop he is already in too deep.

496840_1020_A   “Roadblock” waste no time as it starts with an enticing opening scene that grabs you and holds your attention from the start as Joe Peters (Charles McGraw) and his partner Harry (Louis Jean Hyendt) fake a shooting to frighten a suspect into surrendering stolen insurance money. After this opening setup, Insurance Investigator Peters heads back to L.A. At the airport Joe meets a flirty Diane (Joan Dixon), who weasels a half price ticket by telling the ticket seller Joe is her husband. On the plane, she purposely sits next to Joe, playing it both cold and flirty at the same time. The plane runs into stormy weather and is forced to make an unscheduled landing forcing everyone to stay overnight at a hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Peters must share a room. Like most noir saps, Joe falls quickly for the seductive Diane, but soon discovers she has expensive taste and is using Los Angeles crime boss Kendall Webb, a suspect in a recent fur company robbery, as her fix. Despite her affiliation with the underworld, Joe is still stuck on the dame and continues to pursue her. His only strategy to get enough money to support her lifestyle is to plan a robbery using inside information he has about a train carrying over one million dollars in cash with the help of Webb and his men to pull it off. For his part Joe gets a percentage of the action. With the robbery set to go, an unexpected turn happens when Diane, realizes she’s in love with Joe and living on a cops salary is good enough. Joe tries call off the robbery but it is too late. While Joe and Diane are on their honeymoon the robbery goes off without a hitch. When Joe receives his share of the money, Diane is stunned that he was involved. The insurance company assigns Joe, and his partner Harry, to the case. He attempts to lead the investigation away from him and his partners but one of the robbers is arrested and talks. The couple are now are on the run, as his partner, Harry has figures out Joe is implicated in the robbery and is tracking him down. There’s a climatic car chase through the streets of L.A. ending with the shooting of Joe in the middle of a dry Los Angles riverbed.

Like many men of noir who came before him, Joe Peters downfall is due to the lure of sex and money. A duplicitous woman making a man’s head stop thinking straight. Peters loins were hot for Diane from the moment he sees her in the Airport terminal. One of the real treats in this film is seeing tough guy McGraw act with almost childish glee when Diane, trying to get her cheap plane ticket, points him out and waves while talking to the ticket seller.

Charles McGraw’s career began when he went to New York; he actually hitchhiked there, and soon got a role in the hit Broadway play “Golden Boy” with John Garfield, Luther Adler and a young actor who would become better known later on as a great director, Elia Kazan. He parlayed this early success into as film career when he soon after headed to California, signing a contract with Howard Hughes RKO Pictures and began a career that would last until his premature death in 1980. His big break came in 1946 in “The Killers” where he played Al, one of the two hit men looking to off Burt Lancaster. With his rough voice and stone like face, McGraw was perfect for the shadowy darkly lit wet streets that would mark film noir.

Roadblock-LC The unconvincing transformation of Diane from a gold digging femme fatale to decent woman in love with her regular working stiff is the weakest link in the film, a femme fatale who credentials disappear halfway through the film. The problem is twofold, it is with the script but also in the casting of Joan Dixon, a limited actress, whose career mostly under the misguidance of Howard Hughes, lasted about a short eight years. She is unimpressive as a femme fatale, and will not make you forget Gloria Grahame, Ann Savage or other tough no-nonsense dames who have walked and lived on these dark city streets.

The film is directed by Harold Daniels whose career seemed to be split between acting and directing low budget works and later on television. Along with McGraw, the most enticing name associated with “Roadblock” is cinematographer Nicolas Muscuraca whose closing shot in the film lays all the blame on Diane for all that had transpired. After witnessing her husband shot to death, we watch her walk away, her back to the screen as the closing credits come on.

The 39 Steps (1935) Alfred Hitchcock

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    Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller “The 39 Steps” speeds along like a ray of light shooting through dark clouds. The film waste not a moment from the opening scene at the Music Hall to the closing tense finale at the London Palladium. The script was written by Charles Bennett who had already worked with Hitch on two other works (The Man Who Knew Too Much and Blackmail), and would collaborate on other films including “Secret Agent” and “Sabotage” and “Foreign Correspondent.” The screenplay is very loosely based on a novel by John Buchan, originally published in 1915, which by the time it was filmed was too antiquated in style for the 1930’s cinema. Subsequently, Hitchcock and Bennett made many changes including the adding of the leading female character, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll).  

      thirty-nine-steps_1241486c                      Canadian Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is mistakenly implicated in the murder a woman, Annabelle Smith (Lucie Mannheim); he met at the music hall while watching an act called Mr. Memory. She admits to being a spy selling herself to the highest bidder and right now, the British were paying the best. She is being followed by foreign agents who are on the verge of smuggling top-secret papers out of the country. In a Hitchcock film, it does not really matter what the papers are, this is the MacGuffin, a red herring that gets the story moving.   Taking sanctuary in Hannay’s apartment, Annabelle tells the skeptical Canadian that two men are following her. After looking out his window, seeing two shadowy figures standing out on the street Hannay become’s a believer. Unfortunately, her time is short, as Hannay sleeps; Annabelle is knifed in the back. With Annabelle leaving few details before her death, something about “39 Steps”  a map of Scotland with the area known as Alt-na Shellach marked on the map as the location she believes the ring leader of the spies is located, Hannay heads for Scotland with the police on his trail as the accused murderer of Annabelle Smith. Along the way, Hannay ends up handcuffed to Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) who turns him into the police or so she thought, as they turned out to be foreign agents kidnapping both Hannay and Pamela.  The plot leads up back to London and the famed Palladium where Hannay comes to the realization how the foreign agents are going smuggle the secret plans out of the country.

       the_thirty_nine_39_steps_alfred_hitchcock                         This quickly paced episodic film runs from one short descriptive scene to another. Filled with suspense and humor, some risqué for its time, the film is a rollercoaster ride that does not stop for 85 minutes. The opening music hall scene get things off to a rousing start filled with laughter and a marvelous setup; the meeting of Hannay and Annabelle that sets the rest of the film in motion. Hannay’s relationship with Pamela is another highlight. Taking an instant dislike to him after he burst into her compartment on the train and begins kissing her in order to hide from the pursuing police, she quickly turns him in. The couple will soon meet again and find themselves handcuffed together in a series of scenes that are both suspenseful and comedic. Hitchcock liked pushing the censors’ buttons even as far back as 1935 when the British board did not allow unmarried couples to share a bed. Hitchcock gets away with this through some clever direction and   skillful performances by Donat and Carroll including the scene where Pamela removes her stocking and Hannay, his hand handcuffed to Pamela’s, is “forced” to rub up against her leg. Left unsaid, but still it must be in the back of filmgoers mind is how did they go to the bathroom? The film is actually filled with sexual innuendo. The salesmen Hannay meets on the train heading Scotland, displayed their samples, women’s under garments. When Hannay takes refuge in a Scotsman farmhouse, the farmer at one point insinuates Hannay and his wife have slept together. Even at the beginning of the film when Hannay meets Annabelle, one of the first things she says to him is “May I come to your home.” Hannay quickly agrees, and when Hannay tries to sneak out of his apartment after Annabelle’s murder, the only way he can convince the milkman to switch clothes with him so he can sneak past the two men watching outside is to tell him he has just spent the night with a married woman.

             stockings            Speed is of the essence in this film, with swift cuts and lightening transitions from one scene to the next. Note how quick the editing is when the housekeeper finds Annabelle’s body and screams, her scream blending together with the train whistle of the next scene. Hitchcock and his editors do this so well the train’s whistle seeming coming from the woman’s mouth as she screams.

    For the first time, Hitchcock used what would become one of his most famous motifs that of the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit. It would surface again in films like “The Wrong Man”, “Saboteur” and “North by Northwest.” Other themes that show up again and again in his films appearing here are the cool blonde; Madeleine Carroll may be the first in a long line of cool Hitchcock blondes. Spies and secret organizations are another theme that would continue to show up in future works.

    When the film opened at the Roxy Theater in New York in September of 1935, New York Times critic Andre Sennwald called it “one of the most fascinating pictures of the year.” He continues, “If the work has any single rival as the most original, literate, and entertaining melodrama of the year, it is “The Man Who Knew Too Much” which is also out of Mr., Hitchcock’s workshop.” Today, the film remains one of the greatest from his under appreciated English period.

Last Day! – Win Tickets to Broadway’s The 39 Steps

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Want to win free tickets to see Broadway’s longest running  comedy and winner of 2 Tony Awards?  The Hitchcock Papers is holding its first contest and the winners, yes winners, three winners to be exact, will win a voucher entitling them to two tickets to see this Broadway smash. How do you enter? Well just click HERE and you will found out.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) Peter Yates


    Simply said, Peter Yate’s 1973 film, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a crime thriller. The problem with stating it so simply is today’s action fans will be disappointed. There are no blow-ups, no action car chases, and no CGI graphics. What “Eddie Coyle” remains, is an unsentimental, uncompromising film about the final days of a somewhat tragic protagonist.

    Eddie is a small time gunrunner with no ambition to be any more than what he is. He is fifty-one years old and facing a two to five years jail sentence for driving a truck loaded with smuggled stolen whiskey. Earlier in his career, Eddie made one mistake, when he purchased stolen guns that some of his associates used in a robbery. The guns were traced by the law costing a couple of Eddie’s “friends” twenty-five years in the slammer. For this mistake, one of Eddie’s hands was smashed in a draw, cracking his knuckles, acquiring him the nickname Eddie Fingers.  “It was nothing personal,” he tells bartender/police informant/contract killer, Dillon (Peter Boyle). Eddie understood why it had to be done. It was business. 

    The film is split into two interweaving narratives, one of which is a straight-laced bank heist movie demonstrating the intricate details of the robberies, something director Peter Yates has perfected over the course of his career. Having previously directed ”Bullitt”, “Robbery” and “The Hot Rock” you might take it for granted that Yates is giving us more of the same. He’s not. The second narrative is Eddie’s story,  a man getting too old for the business he’s in, not wanting to face another term in jail and slowly turning into a stool pigeon.

   eddie1 Robert Mitchum as the doomed Eddie gives one of his most beautiful understated performances. It is a work is equal to anything else in his portfolio. Just watch him toward the end of the film sitting in the nosebleed seats watching the Boston Bruins play. It is a simple scene, yet so perfectly executed scene. He’s semi drunk from too many beers and he suddenly yells out to no one in particular “Number 4, Bobby Orr! The greatest hockey player ever.” It’s a perfect Boston moment at the now gone Boston Garden. Soon after the game, Eddie’s “friends” will take him for a final ride. Though Mitchum is the star, his part is just one of many excellent integrated roles. Surprisingly he sometimes remains off camera for long periods of time, still it is his quiet unassuming performance that grabs you and holds you to the screen.   

    The film is based on an excellent novel, and former bestseller, by George V. Higgins. The screenplay is by Paul Monash who wisely stuck close to Higgins dialogue and storyline. Higgins never acknowledge it but the story is similar to real life Boston criminal Billy O’Brien, an associate of Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Like the fictional Coyle, it was feared by his associates that Billy O’Brien was talking to the cops. Billy was silenced, and again like Eddie his murder was never solved. Unusual for an action film “Eddie Coyle” is dialogue driven, there are few violent scenes and when they do happen Yates is very low key, making the film’s ending that much more unsettling.  Tarantino fans should note that Eddie’s gun dealer is named Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), a name borrowed by Mr. Tarantino when he turned Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch” into his classic crime film.

    Along with Mitchum, the film is loaded with nice subtle performances by some excellent character actors of the 1970’s, from Peter Boyle, to Richard Jordan, Joe Santos, Steven Keats and Alex Rocco. Brit Peter Yates displays a nice affinity for a Boston filled with cold, gray weather. Character’s whose breath is clearly visible in the wintry air. Hangouts of dingy bars and unsavory coffee shops, automobiles that have seen better days. It is all very unglamorous. Still, Boston has rarely been served better on screen than in this low-key crime drama. eddie1

    An interesting story from Kent Jones article included in the Criterion Edition of the DVD is about Alex Rocco who was born  in Boston, Mass. Rocco, who originally went by the name Alexander Petricone, aka Bobo, was very familiar with Bugler and his gang. He eventually left the North East for L.A. changing his name and started a career in acting. The New England mobsters never knew what happened to Bobo until 1972 when they saw him on screen as Moe Green in “The Godfather”

The Tall T (1957) Budd Boetticher


    One of the ironies of Budd Boetticher’s “The Tall T” is that under different circumstances the two main protagonists could have been friends in this deceivingly simple story. Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) is a non-conformist rancher, a loner who refuses to become part of a larger ranch owner’s consortium, even after he loses his horse in a bet with the rancher, that he can ride a bull. On his way back to his place, he hitches a ride on a stagecoach driven by longtime friend Rintoon (Arthur Hunnicutt). The stage is soon held up by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) and his gang only to find to their frustration there is no money on board. The stage is a special run, carrying newlyweds Willard Mims (John Hubbard) and his rich bride Doretta (Maureen O’Sullivan), to their honeymoon destination. Chink (Henry Silva), one of Usher’s men, cold bloodedly kills Rintoon and the remaining three are taken as prisoners. Mims, a wimpy former accountant, begs for his life informing the robbers about Doretta’s family fortune and that her father would be surely willing to pay for her safe return. After he arranges for the ransom payoff, the cowardly Willard is told he can safely leave. Without even saying anything to his wife Willard attempts to leave as Chink aims and shoots him in the back. When Usher goes off to pick up the ransom, Brennan, begins to erode the trust between Usher’s two stooges systematically separating and eventually killing them both.

Tall T Still   While little seems to happen, Boetticher and screenwriter Burt Kennedy draw out every bit of tension and nuance from the story and their actors. It is a  minimalist work with a small cast and little action, with only the rough western landscape looming large over the entire canvas. Unlike John Ford, Boetticher’s western presents a colder version of the west, there is little, if any sentiment in his work.  His characters kill without emotion or trepidation. For example, early in the film we find out the outlaws killed a stationmaster and his young son dumping their bodies unceremoniously into a well.

    Of the four main characters, three present a façade around their true selves. Willard Mims first comes across as a decent gentle man who is in love with his new bride. As we are soon to find out the former accountant is a conniving little weasel, who married Doretta for her money. Once under the control of the outlaws he willingly and spinelessly betrays his wife to try to save himself. Doretta, views herself as a good woman sticking by her man insisting they married each other for love. She later, after his death, admits that she knew all along Willard married her for her money and that she married him because she feared a life of loneliness and a desire to get away from her wicked father. Frank Usher also is deceiving himself into believing that some day he will have his own ranch and leave the outlaw life. He views himself as better than his two cohorts, who he describes as “animals.” It is only Pat Brennan, who does not give us a pretense of being someone other than what he is. Brennan is straightforward, admitting at one point that he is afraid, still he is intelligent and composed enough to outsmart the killers managing to segregate the members taking them down one by one. Brennan is a typically stoic Randolph Scott character who only displays any passion twice in the film, first, after Doretta admits she married Mims more out of loneliness and self-pity than love.  Brennan, holding her expresses his disapproval of her living a lie telling her “sometimes you gotta walk up and take what you want.” He then swiftly kisses her hard on the mouth. Later on, given the chance to take on the killers he is ready to kill and make sure it all ends here and now. 

talltx    Richard Boone gives a standout performance as the top outlaw, Frank Usher who deludes himself into thinking he could have a life similar to Brennan however, sees the desperado life as his only avenue there. Boone gives us so many nice touches to his character that Usher is the most sympathetic character in the film.

    Burt Kennedy’s screenplay is based on the short story, “The Captives”, by Elmore Leonard, whose works were also the source for “3:10 to Yuma” and “Hombre” among others. Today Leonard is better known as one of our best crime fiction writers whose novels include “Get Shorty”, “Out of Sight”, and “Be Cool.” Most recently, his novel “Killshot” was made into a good film and unceremoniously dumped almost straight to the video market. Much of the dialogue in the film Kennedy wisely took straight from the short story. In an interview at the Parallax View website Kennedy mentions that “The Tall T” was originally a project he wrote for John Wayne and his partner, Bob Fellows. When the partnership broke up, the project went with Fellows and he eventually sold it to Harry Joe Brown, Randolph Scott’s partner.

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) Paul Mazursky


In the 1950’s, New York was the center of the art world. The Broadway Theater was filled with the works of great playwright like Tennessee Williams, William Inge, and Robert Anderson with plays like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “Sweet Bird of Youth”, “Picnic” and “Tea and Sympathy.” The musical theater was electric with shows like “Gypsy”, “West Side Story” “Guys and Dolls”, “Bye Bye Birdie” and all were original productions, new shows. Not one was a revival. The theater was just the tip of the iceberg, live television, dramas produced by such up and coming writers as Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Sterling were broadcast live featuring unknown actors like James Dean, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Ben Gazarra and Paul Newman, directed by such newbie’s as John Frankenheimer, and Sidney Lumet. Music was also in the air, Jazz clubs one after another on 52nd Street; Folk Music filled the streets of Greenwich Village, along young comedic acts like Woody Allen, Mort Sal and Lenny Bruce, and artists like Jackson Pollack and a young man by the name of Warhol were breaking new ground.

It must have been an exciting time to be young, creative, free and living in New York, but not just New York but one specific area in lower Manhattan known as Greenwich Village. There was art, music, coffee houses, poetry readings, politics, rent parties and sexual freedom. The Village was a place to fit in when you did not fit in anywhere else. In his 1976 film, “Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Paul Mazursky, who lived the life, gives us one of the best screen portraits of what Village life was like in those now bygone days. Mazursky, was a young actor and writer performing in improvisational theater before he moved on to the left coast and an acting career that included parts in Stanley Kubrick’s first film “Fear and Desire” along with “The Blackboard Jungle” and “Crime in the Streets.”

NSGW-Still    His story centers on young Larry Lapinksy (Lenny Baker) a Brooklyn College graduate who has always wanted to be an actor. He moves out of his parents’ apartment, much to the despair of his over protective mother Fay (Shelley Winters) and complacent father (Mike Kellen), in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn to Greenwich Village. Here he gets a job in a deli working for Lou Jacobi and attends acting classes where he meets other young hopefuls all vying for a piece of the artistic pie. Among Larry’s inner circle are his girl friend,a free spirited girl named Sarah (Ellen Greene). She’s intelligent, witty and incapable of committing to a relationship. When Lenny asked her if she loves him, she could only respond by saying, she wears a diaphragm. Sarah is also attracted to Robert (Christopher Walken), a self-absorbed playwright/poet who draws women like flies yet remains emotionally cold. Other village eccentrics include Lois Smith as Anita, a depressed suicidal type, Antonia Fargas as Bernstein, a gay black man and a young Jeff Goldblum as Clyde Baxter already a phony leading man type looking for his break.

next_stop_gv_poster    Lenny may have left home but his over emotionally attached mother Fay (Shelley Winters) will not leave him. Inappropriately appearing at his apartment, she barges in during a rent party, charging in like a hippo in a Yardro factory embarrassing Lenny to no end. On another occasion, she unexpectedly appears when he is attempting to make love to Sarah and blindly going into a tirade insisting that they now have to get married. Lenny gets a bit part in a Hollywood movie and is ready to fly off to Hollywood. Saying goodbye to his parents, his mother gives him a bagful of apple strudels to eat on the plane. She is a Jewish mother to be reckoned with; all love and terror wrapped up in a loud uncontrollable big heart spitting out guilt to for the world to share. Lenny Baker’s performance holds the film together and it is a shame his career was cut short when he was struck with cancer three years later and died prematurely in 1982. He was 37 years old. Shelley Winters is ideal as a lovable bear of a woman who is fearful of letting go of her baby. Ellen Greene is tantalizing as Sarah and Christopher Walken is prefect as the unemotional Robert.

Mazursky has written a gentle love letter to his past, a fond look back at his early days. You get the feeling that for him there is a nostalgic fondness to days gone when we see Larry’s imitations of Brando and his dreams of an Oscar acceptance speech as he waits at the subway station. Lenny is Mazursky as a young man.  It is a lovely film with no bitterness, resentment or regrets.

“Next Stop, Greenwich Village”, opened to generally favorable reviews in 1976, Pauline Kael liked it, and Vincent Canby did not. The film was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival and Mazursky received a nomination for cest comedy written directly for the screen from the Writers Guild. This is a film that seems to have gotten lost in the seventies and waiting to be rediscovered. It’s an intelligent, witty and engaging work of a period in time that will never be seen again.

The Wanderers (1979) Philip Kaufman


Richard Price’s first novel “The Wanderers” was published in 1974, when he was twenty-four years old. Price knew the territory having grown up in the housing projects of The Bronx. It was a period just before the Assassination of JFK, before Vietnam was on the front page of every newspaper and before the Beatles. The episodic novel focuses on an Italian-American gang, “The Wanderers” led by Richie Gennaro (Ken Wahl). Price’s Bronx is overflowing with gangs, among them the Del Rays, the Fordham Baldies, the Wongs and the stunted Irish bat wielding wild men, the Ducky Boys. Phillip Kaufman’s 1979 film version, while diverting from it source novel in many respects, similarly focus’ on a series of descriptive scenes centering on Gennaro and his fellow Wanderers. Though they wear matching satin jackets, they are not so much a gang as they are a union of close friends hanging out on street corners, chasing girls and protecting themselves from the more dangerous gangs of the Bronx neighborhood they live in. This inner city coming of age film sparkles intermittently while managing to unfortunately derail itself at times with arty self-consciousness.

Statistically the sixties began in 1960 however, the mood, the essence, the spirit of the sixties began in 1963; the year it all began to change. At this point in time, the radio was still filled with American Rock and Roll; artists like Dion, The Contours, The Four Seasons, The Shirelles and The Isley Brothers ruled the Billboard charts. Guys hanging out on street corners singing doo-wop, watching the girls walk by, sizing them up, planning how to cop a feel by “accidentally” bumping into them.

Wanderers LC1225162.1020.AThe film’s focus is on four of The Wanderers, Richie, Joey (John Friedrich), Perry (Tony Ganios) and Buddy (Jim Youngs).  Though the screenplay, written by Philip and Rose Kaufman, is as episodic at Price’s novel, the film never goes much beyond the boys’ current life and does not reveal any dreams or aspirations they may have beyond their present existence. In his novel, Price ventures to suggest what the future could offer, what they as individuals, want out of life beyond hanging out on the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road. True, Joey and Perry drive off to San Francisco at the end however; they do not seem to have any plans other than to get out of their current individual situations. The boys’ families are dysfunctional, Joey, an artistic type, is brutalized by his over macho father, Emilio (William Andrews), and Perry (Tony Ganios), a new kid on the block, just moved from New Jersey, has an alcoholic mother who sleeps around. As for Richie, he seems destined to marry his recently knock-up girlfriend Despie (Toni Kalem) and live a life of eating pasta and wearing Hawaiian shirts, similar to his Mafia like future father-in-law.

The film is successful in spots, particularly the opening scenes where Kaufman’s camera gloriously flows over The Bronx from above, fluidly moving down in front Alexander’s Department store to focus on the pug faces of the Fordham Baldies, all to the beat of The Four Seasons “Walk Like a Man.”  Another finely realized scene is the strip poker party Richie orchestrates with Joey. The girls, Despie and a new girl Nina (Karen Allen), from the right side of the tracks, are set up to lose both the game and their clothes. There is a mischievous comic interplay between the four characters, the girls begin to catch on that the game is rigged, that is executed more naturally than anything else in the movie.

The Wanderers posterss  Unfortunately, the film goes off course in other scenes, particularly when Kaufman films a bizarre atmospheric episode where Richie and his friends spot Nina walking down the street and follow her in Perry’s car. They end up in an eerie fog filled, oddly lit world controlled by the bat swinging Ducky Boys. It is such a strange out of context scene that I almost expected one of the Wanderers to say, “I don’t think we’re in The Bronx anymore, Toto” as they drive deeper into this strange Oz like landscape gone wrong. Outnumbered, the four are beaten up, though they eventually manage to escape the villainous Ducky Boys.

New York City, like many big cities, was inundated with youth gangs in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Price, in his novel, and Kaufman likewise in the film, used the names of real gangs from those bygone days. The Fordham Baldies (the real gang did not shave their heads), The Ducky Boys, and The Wanderers were all real and violent gangs. Unlike “The Warriors”, released earlier the same year, “The Wanderers” is not so much about gangs as it is about coming of age, in a more innocent time that was on the verge of extinction. We see the dawn of a new age (of Aquarius?) in various scenes. The Vietnam War, though never mentioned, is symbolized by the foreboding Marine recruiter who suckers some of the Baldies into signing up. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is viewed by Richie as he passes by a department store window with a TV broadcasting the news on the President’s death. During his bachelor party in Little Italy, Richie spots Nina and follows her a few blocks to Folk City where a young Bob Dylan is performing “The Times They Are A- Changin.’” Nina enters the club meeting some friends while, Richie uncertain remains outside. He turns and leaves returning to his party and the familiar world he knows. These scenes may be a bit obvious and even heavy-handed but they do convey an emotion that our lives will no longer be as innocent and carefree as they once were.

Richard Price, as I am sure many know, is one of our grittiest and best novelist and screenwriters. His novels include “The Ladies Man”, “Bloodbrothers”, “Clockers”, “Freedomland”, and most recently “Lush Life.”  His screenplays include “Sea of Love”, “Clockers”, “Shaft”, “Mad Dog and Glory”, “Night and the City” and “The Color of Money.” Price also wrote the music video “Bad” for Michael Jackson, which was directed by Martin Scorsese.

Wanders b wThe cast was filled, at the time, with talented unknowns. This was Ken Wahl’s first film; he would later star as Vinnie in Stephen Cannell’s TV series “Wiseguy.”  Karen Allen, of course, would hit it big in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Toni Kalem would later appear in “The Sopranos” as Angie Bonpensiero, Big Pussy’s wife. I especially found Wahl’s characterization of Richie and Toni Kalem’s, Despie the real highlights along with EricVan Lidth De Jeude who played Terror, the gigantic intimidating 350 pound, 6’6” imposing leader of the Baldies. Terror’s girlfriend was played by 4’ 10” Linda Manz. In filming the couple, polar opposites in size, Kaufman’s camera presents an idiosyncratic Fellini like images of the two.

The soundtrack is filled with early sixties hits, highlighted by two of Dion’s greatest, “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue.” Kaufman’s uses the soundtrack not just as an excuse to sell albums; his choices compliment the visuals as effectively as Scorsese did in “Mean Streets” a few years earlier.  The use of “Walk Like a Man” at the beginning of the film where we first are introduced to the Fordham Baldies is a highlight. The pounding beat Dion’s “The Wanderer” is the Italian-American gang’s national anthem.

“The Wanderers” was released about six months after “The Warriors” and was unfairly compared to Walter Hill’s gang infested adventure with a New York City over ridden with gangs. What “The Wanderers” does is capture a moment in time, not always very successfully, but in spirit, a time when the innocence of a nation was about to end and we and The Wanderers were about to grow up.

Karl Malden 1912-2009


Kiss of Death

The Gunfighter

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A Streetcar Named Desire

I Confess

On the Waterfront

Baby Doll

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All Fall Down

Birdman of Alcatraz

How the West Was Won


Chyenne Autumn

The Cincinatti Kid

Billion Dollar Brain


Here is a recent New York Times  appraisal

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