Pitfall (1948) Andre De Toth

Post war American bliss is shaken to its core in this Andre DeToth tale of the company man’s discontent. The film opens in a “Father Knows Best” environment complete with Jane Wyatt as Sue Forbes, though in a much sterner version than the thoroughly sweet homespun loving wife/mother she portrayed on the 50’s TV show. Making breakfast for her family, she calls up to husband John (Dick Powell) telling him to hurry or he’ll be late to the office. John’s been a good husband providing for his family, even as he grumpily notes at the breakfast table he feels like he is in a rut, a “six feet deep” one.  After all, he married the prettiest girl in school and he was voted the most likely to succeed; he should be doing better, and not just another average guy working for an insurance company.

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Interview with Author Douglass K. Daniel

Author Douglass K. Daniel’s new biography, “Tough As Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks” is an absorbing and in depth look at one of America’s most noteworthy filmmakers, of which little has been written about. Mr. Daniel’s book fills in the gap with a wealth of information complete with backstories on each of Brooks films as well as interviews and anecdotes with family, friends and co-workers.

 

First, I want thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Can you tell us a little about yourself.

Hey, John, it’s good to be a part of Twenty Four Frames!

I’m a journalist by day — I work for the Associated Press in Washington — and I use my off-hours to write about things that interest me, like the movies. I split my childhood between Richmond, Va., and Garden City, Kan., and studied at Kansas State University (B.S.) and later at Ohio University (M.S., Ph.D.). I worked for the AP in the 1980s between college stints. After having taught journalism at both my alma maters, I rejoined the AP in late 2003.

 

This is your third book. You previously wrote about two of journalisms most respected and well-known practitioners, 60 Minutes’ Harry Reasoner and the fictional Lou Grant. What attracted you to write about these two?

 The Lou Grant book was my dissertation for my doctoral degree in mass communication. I wanted to explore the link between movies and journalism, but coming up with a subject was tough. My adviser suggested looking at how the TV series “Lou Grant” depicted journalism during its five-year run, 1977-1982, to an audience of 15 million to 20 million each week.

The Harry Reasoner book was a project I undertook while teaching at Kansas State. I continued working on it at Ohio University and finally saw it to publication in 2007. Reasoner was a significant subject because of his prominence in TV journalism; little had been written about him. Continue reading

Italianamerican (1974) Martin Scorsese

Being Italian-American, and more importantly that my grandparents, parents, and other relatives lived in the same neighborhood, and in fact, some on the same street the Scorsese family lived on, Elizabeth Street, I had a curiosity about this film than others may not. Did anyone in my family know the Scorsese family back in those days, I wondered? Living in such a close congested area and only a few buildings away, anything was possible, I thought. Well, the answer was no, the name Scorsese was not familiar to anyone I knew.  Still, much of what was discussed in the film was so similar to my own family’s experiences that I felt a kind of correlation; here was my own family’s story being told.  

In “Italianamerican,” a 1974 documentary Scorsese made after “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” Marty explores his heritage through his parents’ homespun stories. The setting is casual, right in his parent’s apartment on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. The attention is strictly on his folk’s tales of their early life and that of their immigrant parents. 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

High and Low (1963) Akira Kurosawa

I have reposted this review of Kurosawa’s HIGH AND LOW in conjunction with the Japanese Film Blogathon fundraiser hosted by Cinema Fanatic and Japan Cinema to aid the people of Japan during this horrific tragedy. The images of homes being washed away like paper cups are devastating and painfully beyond imagination. Please give what you can, no amount is too small. Just click on the image on the sidebar. 

Over the years I have read many books written by Ed McBain. His 87th Prescient series, generally considered the originator of the gritty police procedural, began in 1956 with “Cop-Hater”, his first novel in the long running series.  His last, “Fiddlers” was the 55th in the series.  McBain was also well known as Evan Hunter (his legal name, though his was born Salvatore Lombino), author of among other novels, “The Blackboard Jungle”, “Strangers When We Meet” and “Buddwing” all made into movies. As Evan Hunter, he also worked as a screenwriter most notably with Alfred Hitchcock on  “The Birds.”

 Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film, “High and Low” is based on McBain’s 1959 87th Prescient novel, “King’s Ransom” and like the film it revolves around a child kidnapping, ransom and murder. For the most part Kurosawa has remained faithful to the novel though the main character Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is certainly a more sympathetic and three dimensional figure than the novel’s Douglas King.

Gondo is a top executive at  a shoe company where he is involved in a power struggle with other executives who want to reduce the quality of the shoes they produce in order to increase profits. Secretively, Gondo is in the process of buying up enough stock in the company to avoid the other executives’ takeover, instead he is attempting to take over the company himself. However to raise the money he has had to leverage everything he has including mortgaging his house, and putting his career on the line. Just as he is about to close the deal his son is kidnapped and much of the money he would use to buyout the company he is now prepared to use to save his son. He then finds out the kidnapper’s took the wrong kid. Instead of his son, they kidnapped his chauffeur’s young boy, and his son’s playmate. Gondo is now faced with a moral dilemma. Does he still pay off the kidnapper’s, saving the life of young boy, his chauffeur’s son, or use the money to close his big deal saving himself and family from financial ruin.

Kurosawa has taken a well written though typical police procedural and turned it into a complex moral quandary. When he believed the kidnapped boy was his, he was willing to sacrifice his career and financial wealth to save his child, but once it is discovered the wrong boy was taken, he backs off on paying the kidnapper’s. The risk, he says, is too high. If he pays it will mean financial ruin losing not just the opportunity to take over the company but personal financial ruin. They will be broke, a situation his wife, who comes from a upper class background, never knew. Still for her, the child’s safety comes first. She doesn’t understand how Gondo, a loving father, can be so callous toward another’s child.

The film can be split into two acts, the first is a one set claustrophobic piece set in Gondo’s expensive home that is set up upon a hill overlooking the rest of the city. This entire first act focuses on the corporate wargames (Kurosawa arranges the actors like pieces on a chessboard), and the kidnapping. The second half of the film moves outside on to the gritty streets of Yokohama with twist and turns, a police procedural tossed inside out as the law begins to search for clues on how to catch the kidnappers and get Gondo’s ransom money, that  he finally agreed to pay, back in time for him to close his deal. Kurosawa gives us a step by step narrative of the police investigation, how they build up enough detailed information finally identifying the kidnaper and then setting a trap.

What may sound like an episode of “Law and Order,” Kurosawa turned into a study on moral values, good and evil.  It is brilliantly presented with some scenes containing a film nourish bent (the Drug Alley scenes), while  others are  evocative of Hitchcock (the excellent bullet train sequence). Kurosawa’s camera placement is also that of a master. There is a memorable scene when Gondo throws his former right hand man out of his house after realizing he sold out to his business enemies. Kurosawa has Gondo camera right and up front, looming large, in this scene. Placed in the foreground throughout all this is Gondo’s chauffeur, the father of the kidnapped boy, with his head down, meek looking. This shot tells you all need to know about where the power lies, Gondo the big powerful corporate executive discussing paying the ransom or saving his business while their stands his servant/chauffeur, helpless, small, defeated father at the mercy of the strong, rich and powerful. Pitifully, at one point, the chauffeur even apologizes to Gondo for asking him to pay the ransom to save his son’s life.

Kurosawa has taken the basics of a standard police procedural and turned it into a vision of class distinction and resentment; rich versus poor, good versus evil, and the fact that nothing is simply black or white. As Gando, Toshiro Mifune reflects a character who is strong, powerful, loving, ruthless and helpless , a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Other fine performances include Tatsuya Nakadai as police detective Tokura and Takkashi Shimura, a Kurosawa regular. 

*****

Targets (1969) Peter Bogdanovich

1968 was a pivotal year in the United States. There were the duel assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Kennedy’s death ended the dream of Camelot while King’s death resulted in riots, neighborhoods burning, and racial tensions reaching new heights of discontent. In Vietnam, troop levels went over 500,000. The Siege of Khe Shan and the TET offensive caused Americans to wonder if the war was winnable. Emotionally and politically dead, LBJ refused to seek or accept another term as President. In August, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was marred by violence between protesters against the war and the Chicago police force. Vietnam was the first television war, blurring the senses between real and fictional violence. Unlike today, audiences back then were not use to watching the 6 o’clock news and seeing the blood of American soldiers flowing in the mud…unless it was just a movie.

In August of that year, “Targets”, a small film directed by a young novice director named Peter Bogdanovich was released to generally good reviews and not so good business. The film contains two narratives, one about Bobby Thompson, a seemingly all-American young man and the second about Byron Orlok an aging horror movie star, whose paths will cross blurring real vs. fictitious violence in our society.

Bogdanovich was already well known as a film writer for Esquire magazine; a film programmer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; a champion of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Allan Dwan and many others, all of who, he helped bring back to the attention of  cineastes. Bogdanovich’s book, “Who The Devil Made It?” is a collection of interviews with these directors, and many others, is an essential read for film lovers.  Bogdanovich, along with his then wife Polly Platt, would soon leave New York for Los Angeles where he hoped to break into the film industry. He would meet Roger Corman at a film screening, and eventually was offered a job directing. His first jobs for Corman were on films like “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” where he was given two Russian science fiction films and told to add some additional footage resulting in a new film.  “Targets” was his first film from scratch, well almost. According to Andrew Yule in his Bogdanovich biography “Picture Shows: The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich,” Boris Karloff owed Corman two days of work. Corman gave Bogdanovich the opportunity to make “Targets” if he incorporated about 20 minutes of outtake footage from Corman’s “The Terror.”  He would then be able to use Boris Karloff for approximately another 20 minutes of new footage and he could shoot an additional 40 minutes to fill out the feature, that way Corman had a new Karloff film.  Bogdanovich and Platt would write the story and screenplay (according to IMDB Sam Fuller had a hand in writing also) and direct. Corman sold the film to Paramount who purchased it for $150,000 netting Corman a profit of about $20,000. Continue reading

No Orchids For Miss Blandlish (1948) John Legh Clowes

“No Orchids for Miss Blandish” is a bizarre little exercise in British cinema in its attempts to duplicate the flavor of a 1940’s American crime film. Filled with extreme violence and unabashed sexuality for its time, this inappropriate film somehow got plenty passed the censors despite howls of protest from self-righteous groups on both sides of the ocean. At the time of its initial release, the Daily Express called the film “a wicked disgrace to the British film industry.” The British censors even apologized for “failing to protect the public.”  In the United States, the film was not released until 1951, and then in a truncated version running only 92 minutes. The pulp fiction novel the film is based on was authored by British novelist James Hadley Chase writing as if he lived next door to Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain all his life. The film stars a mostly British cast portraying Americans in a New York State setting. The only exception to the English casting is that of Hollywood character actor, Jack La Rue who portrays underworld thug Slim Grisson. La Rue portrays Grisson as a violent second tier Rick Blaine straight out of “Casablanca.” He owns a night club, dresses sharp, smokes and has an inclination for continually rolling dice, his mannerisms screaming out Bogie. Even the way director John Legh Clowes frames La Rue in many scenes is evocative of Bogart (La Rue was supposedly in line to get the role of Duke Mantee in the film version of “The Petrified Forest” until Leslie Howard insisted Bogart recreate his original stage role in the film).  Linden Travers as Miss Blandish comes across as a  woman with an obvious taste for bad boys yet she and La Rue display little screen chemistry despite the passionate kissing scenes they are given. All in all she is not given much to do. Continue reading