Arthur Penn 1922-2010

In memory of Arthur Penn I am posting these  two photos I took in 1981 during the filming of FOUR FRIENDS.

Arthur Penn on the set. 


This photo of Jodi Thelen was also taken the same day on the location set. 


photos by John Greco

Double Feature: House of Bamboo on The Street With a no Name

House of Bamboo (1955) Sam Fuller

Contains spoilers

The film is set in post war Japan, a time when there is still a strong American military presence. Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack)  arrives in Tokyo looking to connect with his old army buddy Webber (Biff Elliot) who he learns from his Japanese wife has been killed. Upset over his friend’s death, though it seems more because he came all the way over from the states and his friend’s death has inconveniently left him twisting in the wind. To get by he attempts to muscle in on some protection rackets at a couple of pachinko parlors which only brings Eddie to the attention of Tokyo’s American crime-boss, Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan). After checking Eddie out with some inside sources Dawson invites the determined newcomer to join the gang (all made up of former G.I’s), soon becoming his right hand man much to the discontent of Griff (Cameron Mitchell). Dawson runs the gang and their heist like a military operation, though unlike the Marines whose motto is no man left behind, Dawson’s rule is if you’re wounded during a heist you are killed and then left behind. Continue reading

Underworld U.S.A. (1961) Sam Fuller

The first time I saw “Underworld U.S.A.” was back in 1961 at the Loew’s Oriental in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. I lived about six blocks away and Saturday afternoons I was a regular there, if not at the Loew’s I would be at one of the other two theaters that were close by.  The film opened on the lower half of a twin bill, the top feature was “Mad Dog Coll”, another low budget cheapie released by Columbia. Continue reading

Force of Evil (1948) Abraham Polonsky


John Garfield has always been one of my favorite actors probably ranking in my top ten if I were to create such a list. He was always at his best when he played a guy from “the wrong side of the tracks”, scrappy, always behind the eight ball like say, Joe Bell in “Dust Be My Destiny” or Frank Chambers in “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” In a film such as “East of the River” he manages to rise above the mediocre material making the film more interesting than it has a right to be. When Garfield’s contract with Warner Brothers eventually ended he formed his own production company, Enterprise Productions, his first film for his new company was “Body and Soul” directed by Robert Rossen with a screenplay by Abraham Polonsky. Continue reading

Short Takes: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) Preston Sturges


I have always hesitated to watch this film because I, for whatever reason on my part, lacked any attraction to the two leading stars Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken.  Well, I finally bit the bullet, smacked myself a couple of times and said this is a Preston Sturges film, just watch it! Subsequently I finally picked up a copy at the local library and happily report how foolish I have been to have avoided this clever work.

Trudy Klockenlocker (Betty Hutton) is a war time victory girl who dates soldiers about to leave for the war.  She sees this as her patriotic duty! On one of these wild evenings Trudy gets drunk, marrying one of the unknown soldiers she partied with and the next morning cannot remember a damn thing about how it all happened. Complications ensue when she soon finds out she is pregnant. Local 4-F Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) is in love with Trudy tries to help (she borrows his car to go out and party while he goes alone to a movie) but cannot compete with the soldiers and constantly find himself in trouble with Trudy’s hyper protective father (William Demarest). False identities, jail time for Norval and the birth of sextuplets all contribute to the surprisingly miraculous and controversial going ons.

For the time period this has to be one of the most audacious comedies ever made, a bold satire making sophisticated fun of marriage, small town life, soldiers, and the government all the while pushing the buttons of the production code. Sturges takes on small town values, the sanctity of soldiers going off to war, local politics presenting an almost anti-Capraesque view of America reminding one that he was one of the best screenwriters of his time and now.

 The film was held up from release for about a year resulting in Sturges having three films released in 1944 (Hail, The Conquering Hero and The Great Moment being the other two).  The film was a big hit with audiences when it hit the screens in January becoming Paramount’s biggest money maker for the year.
The cast includes fifteen year old Diana Lynn as Trudy’s kid sister along with many of Sturges regulars including Demarest, Chester Conklin, and Porter Hall among others. Reprising their roles from “The Great McGinty” are Brian Donlevy as the Governor, and Akim Tamiroff as the Boss in cameos. 

Sturges received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay that year (he was also nominated the same year for “Hail the Conquering Hero”) losing to Lamar Trotti for “Wilson.” The Jerry Lewis/Frank Tashlin 1958 film “Rock a Bye Baby” is a loose remake of this film for which Sturges received a screenwriting credit. 


The Mortal Storm (1940) Frank Borzage

Director Frank Borzage began his career in silent film having won two Oscars by 1931 (7th Heaven -1927 and Bad Girl – 1931). “The Mortal Storm” was released in 1940 while the U.S. was still in an official position of neutrality on the war that was raging in Europe. Based on a novel by Phyllis Bottome (1938) the film was, like the 1939 Warner Brothers film “Confession s of a Nazi Spy”, a blatant anti-Nazi film or at least as blatant as the film studios dared to be in those pre-war days.

During the time prior to the U.S. entering the war, Hollywood was cautioned by Washington politicians not to violate the Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936 and 1937 by making any films that were openly anti-Nazi or anti-Japanese.   The Government insisted during this period that no specific enemies or nations be mentioned; it could be only vaguely insinuated. Many studio heads balked about this unvoiced position though for the most part they followed the Government’s orders.  Sometimes, like in the 1939 “Confessions of a Nazi Spy”, they did not. And of course there was Charlie Chaplin who financed his own film mocking Hitler and Mussolini in “The Great Dictator.” In between these two films came MGM’s “The Mortal Storm” which clearly states right at the beginning that the story takes place in Southern Germany in a small university village. Continue reading

The House in the Middle (1954)

In 1954, this handy-dandy Civil Defense Administration short film gave Americans a quick and easy way to protect themselves from an Atomic blast. Yes, it is can be done, and a lot easier than you would think, at least according to the pin heads that made this film. In the test three homes are set up next to each other, the ones on the left and right, as you can image, are in trouble while the house in the middle is a survivor.

So what is the answer, what is the magic bullet to surviving an atomic blast? Well, it seems to be keeping your house clean and free of clutter. Get rid of trash, old newspapers and magazines that have been hanging around the house, as well as other untidiness. Outside get rid of dried leaves, mow your grass and paint your house for God sake! The house that is neglected will suffer the consequences when the bomb hits!  And just in case you think they were kidding, they show you  couple of tests taken out in the Nevada Proving Ground where men are men and paint is a really strong hard shell of protection. Yes, we see an atomic blast on these three sample homes and the two on the left and right are blown to kingdom come, along presumably with the families inside, while the house in the middle is still standing only slightly charred.

The lesson here is to get rid of your trash and other junk if you do not want your home to be a tinder box ready to be torched. If you keep your home fresh with a nice paint job and tidy inside you will survive.  They also recommend your organize your neighborhood. Get the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to clean up the neighborhood planting new fresh trees to replace the dried up flammable ones.    

Even more strange is that the film was produced by the National Clean up – Paint up – Fix up Bureau with the cooperation of the Civil Defense Administration. They must have had a strong lobby to get the CDA to have produced this piece of atomic propaganda. I have no idea if this National Clean up etc. was a government organization or private but what it is hard to believe is anyone took this stuff seriously even in 1954. Mow your lawn to save yourself from an atomic blast.  

The folks at Saturday Night Live could take this short film verbatim and turn it into a classic skit. Of course maybe in ’54 mowing your grass was the best the government had to offer as protection from the bomb, just like after  9/11 all the government was able to tell us was to buy duct tape and go shopping.  

Here is the film…watch…and then for God sake go clean your house!