I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009) Richard Shepard

Five classic films (The Godfather, The Godfather 2, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter), five memorable performances, John Cazale died at the still young age of 42 leaving a small but everlasting legacy of work that has more than stood the test of time. More amazing, is considering his performances he never received an Oscar nomination. Casual filmgoers remember him only as Fredo, the middle brother with the permanently hurt puppy dog look on his face in The Godfather 1 and 2.

Richard Shepard’s insightful documentary, “I Knew it Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale” is a warm tribute to an actor, respected and treasured by his peers. The film traces his life growing up in Massachusetts, moving to New York to pursue a career in theater and film. The film includes many interviews including playwright Israel Horovitz (Cazale was in ten of his plays, including the Off-Broadway,”The Indian Wants the Bronx” with Al Pacino for which they both won Obie’s). Many of his co-stars including Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep, who became the love of his life, talk about working with Cazale, his talent and friendship. Directors Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet discuss his special qualities and the unexpected nuances he would bring to a role adding an unexpected depth to his characters which stretched the film’s effectiveness beyond what they imagined.   Coppola was so taken with Cazale in “The Godfather,” he expanded his role in the second film.

By the time Cazale made his last film, “The Deer Hunter,” he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer and considered uninsurable. In order for him to get the role of Stan, Robert DeNiro put up his own money as insurance that Cazale would be able to finish the film. Cazale completed his role though he died before the film was released.

John Cazale was an extraordinary actor who through his work earned the trust and respect of his fellow actors and filmmakers. Al Pacino states he learned more about acting from working with John Cazale than any other actor.  The film is a short intriguing 40 minutes long, directed by Richard Shepard (Matador, The Hunting Party).   It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, made its New York Premiere at BAM before making its way to HBO in 2010. Now available on DVD. It includes two shorts, one in which Cazale acts and is the cinematographer in the second.

****

Advertisements

The Panic in Needle Park (1971) Jerry Schatzberg

 

“The Panic in Needle Park” is raw unnerved New York filmmaking from the 1970’s. Its locations reek with the underbelly of city life, the subways, dirty streets, and the infamous Sherman Park aka Needle Park. Al Pacino in his first leading role is on fire, gum chewing, chain-smoking and wired. This is Pacino, pre-Godfather, unadulterated and hungry.  

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg, a well-known photographer, who spent the early part of his career taking portraits of Bob Dylan, including the cover of his “Blonde on Blonde” album, Faye Dunaway, The Rolling Stones and Andy Warhol. Schatzberg would go on to direct other downbeat works like rarely seen “Puzzle of a Downfall Child” and “Scarecrow.”

 “Panic” opened in 1971 and died a quick death at the box office. It remained mysteriously missing from the world of video for 36 years until finally released on DVD in 2007. The 1970’s was a time when filmmakers made statements, provoked and were passionate about what they did. You could make a small art film and not worry about the commercial viability, at least not completely.

The film is a disturbingly beautiful piece of work. An uncompromising bleak vision as filmed by Schatzberg whose use of improvisation and cinema verite style filmmaking puts you right there on the grimy streets with the protagonists. Unlike most drug themed films from this period “Panic” does not cater to the counter-cultures glorification of drug use, part of the reason it did not do well at the box office, as portrayed in such films as “The Trip”, “Psych Out”, “Wild in the Streets”, “Easy Rider” and “Head.” That said, the day after “Panic” opened in New York City another hard-core film about drug addicts opened also, this time the location is on the west coast, the little known “Dusty and Sweets McGee.” Continue reading

The Killers (1946) Robert Siodmak

This review is part of the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: THE FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON  to benefit the film noir foundation who work for the restoration of decaying noir films. The blogathon runs from Feb. 14th through Feb. 21st. For more information on how you can help by donating please check out our blogathon hosts, The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.

Here is a link to the organization’s facebook page.

“The Killers” is a hard-boiled film noir that starred an unknown 32-year actor making his film debut and a contract player from MGM, of limited talent, with little in her filmography at that point in time, to prove she would amount to anything.  “The Killers” is intricate and visually stunning with its black blacks and pure white whites. Just take a look at the opening scene when the two killers arrive in town, the film is a dark fatalistic work of photographic beauty, a visual feast of light, darkness and shadows. Credit goes to director Robert Siodmak and cinematographer Elwood “Woody” Bredell. The opening is also enhanced by Miklos Rozsa’s music, which may sound familiar to some who remember the theme from the old TV police show “Dragnet.”

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers”, written in a hotel room in Madrid sometime in 1926, first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in March 1927. The story is characteristic of themes that would continue to emerge in Hemingway’s work, the inescapability of death and the emptiness of life.  Producer, newspaper columnist and theater critic, Mark Hellinger purchased the film rights for $36,750.  Hemingway’s story is about two killers who come to the small town of Summit, Ill. (changed to Brentwood, New Jersey in the movie), looking for a man known as The Swede. Why is never said. Most of the short story takes place in Henry’s Diner where The Swede is known to come for dinner most nights. Hemingway’s story ends after Nick Adams, Hemingway perennial character, and a customer in the diner at the same time the two killers show up and announce they are going to kill The Swede, sneaks out to warn him of the two men out to kill him. The Swedes’ fatalistic resolve that there is nowhere left to run, to just remain where he is, accepting the consequences is where the short story ends. It leaves open a multitude of questions. What did The Swede do that these two guys want to kill him. Who hired them? Why has The Swede given up running readily accepting his doomed fate? Continue reading

Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder

This review is part of the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: THE FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON  to benefit the film noir foundation who work for the restoration of decaying noir films. The blogathon runs from Feb. 14th through Feb. 21st. For more information on how you can help by donating please check out our blogathon hosts, The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.

Here is a link to the organization’s facebook page.

Manipulation, exploitation, opportunism, and hard-boiled vile, shaken, mixed and slammed into your guts by Billy Wilder. “Ace in the Hole” (aka The Big Carnival) is a lurid, take no prisoners portrait of the news media delivering a knock down nasty assault on journalism and the morbid character of the blood leeching public. No one is spared. A film made more than fifty years ago, yet more relevant today than ever.

From the moment journalist Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) arrives in Albuquerque in his broken down vehicle to the final shot of him falling down dead, his face inches from the camera, Wilder creates a rare work that scorches the celluloid it was made on. A disaster at the box office when first released, the film was a hit overseas in Europe where critics liked it for Wilder’s attack on American ethics, even winning the International Award at the Venice Film Festival. Wilder was stung by the bad reviews and poor box office and retreated over the next several years, sticking to adaptations of plays and novels. It was not until 1959 with “Some Like it Hot” that he would do another original screenplay. Critics in the U.S. must have taken the attack personally which may account for the hostile reviews. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Wilder has let imagination so fully take command of his yarn that it presents not only a distortion of journalistic practice but something of a dramatic grotesque.”   I guess Mr. Crowther could not take a joke, especially when the morbid joke is on his profession.

Continue reading

Roadblock (1951) Harold Daniels

This review is part of the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: THE FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON  to benefit the film noir foundation who work for the restoration of decaying noir films. The blogathon runs from Feb. 14th through Feb. 21st. For more information on how you can help by donating please check out our blogathon hosts, The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.

Here is a link to the organization’s facebook page.

“Roadblock” is a mixed bag with a series of 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.

Continue reading

Detour (1945) Edgar G. Ulmer

 

This review is part of the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: THE FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON  to benefit the film noir foundation who work for the restoration of decaying noir films. The blogathon runs from Feb. 14th through Feb. 21st. For more information on how you can help by donating please check out our blogathon hosts, The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.

Here is a link to the organization’s facebook page.

 

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