Spencer Tracy can act better than most others with one arm tied behind his back! He proves this in John Sturges terrifically well paced and tense film, “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Sturges paints a picture of a town that is barren, both physically and psychology. It’s a town with a dark secret cancer called hatred and it is slowly eating away at everyone in it. Into this dust bowl comes John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), a one armed stranger dressed in a black suit and tie which only accentuates his difference even more from the rest of the town. Like Gary Cooper’s Will Kane in “High Noon,” or Alan Ladd in “Shane,” Tracy’s John Macreedy is one lone man who has to face evil alone. The film takes place shortly after the end of World War II when, for some, the Japanese were still seen as the enemy. Racial hatred simmers underneath the surface of the entire town. Like most racists it is their own fear and insecurities that drive them to action.
Black Rock is a small dusty whistle stop of a town where the railroad (the Streamline) always passes through, never stopping to pick up or drop off anyone. This time, the first in four years, it does stop and the folks in town are suspicious as to who this stranger is and what he wants. Small towns can be curious little places where local folks remain distrustful of outsiders and the outside world. That’s the way it is in Black Rock, it’s an inhospitable desolate place, where it can be cold in many ways other than the weather. Continue reading →
Max Dembo (Dustin Hoffman) is a small time nobody of a criminal who has been in and out of jail his entire life. Most recently, he has just been released from San Quentin after a six year stretch for armed robbery. He’s trying to do some straight time now that he out of jail but the odds, the system, and as becomes most obvious, he himself are all against him.
The parole officer assigned to Max, Earl Frank (M. Emmett Walsh), is a patronizing low-life, playing mind games continually attempting to bait Max; almost daring him to do something that will land him back in prison. At first, all Max wants is a place to live, a job and a girl. But Max is his own worst enemy. He’s a born liar and a career crook. He even lies about small things for no other reason than it’s just the natural thing for him to do; not admitting the truth no matter how unimportant.
Max’s attempt at a straight life is short lived. He gets an honest job at a canning factory, he met a girl, Jenny (Theresa Russell) at the employment agency but he still hooks up with an old friend one night, Willy Darin (Gary Busey), an ex-con who one day ends up cooking up some coke in Max’s dumpy apartment. When Earl Frank unexpectedly stops by a day or so later, he finds burned out matches on the floor of Max’s apartment. This is enough for Earl to come down on Max and lock him up in the County jail to have him tested for drug use. After he is found to be clean, Earl gets him released, but for Max, he is about to turn a corner from which he will never return. Continue reading →
Many true heart Elvis fans consider “Jailhouse Rock” one of his best films. As a movie, I much prefer “King Creole” with its better cast, script, director and overall a better musical score. However, Elvis never looked as good as he did in “Jailhouse Rock,” young, sensuously dangerous, and still wildly untamed from what would soon become the chain around his neck, his manager Colonel Tom Parker. It was only Elvis’ third film, first came “Love Me Tender,” a film already in the works at 20th Century Fox before Elvis came on board, and originally was going to be called “The Reno Brothers.” With Elvis’ involvement, the title was changed to one of his hit songs. The film starred Richard Egan and the lovely Debra Paget, Elvis’ credit read “introducing Elvis Presley.” It was a fairly typical low budget western except for the four songs tossed in for Elvis to sing, along with a bit of shaky legs, and some girls in the crowd giving in to some half hearted screams that all seemed totally inappropriate for the Civil War setting. Then there is Elvis’ horrible death scene, a guilty pleasure all itself, his acting is just dreadful; I believe he really died here of embarrassment and not from the gunshot wound. His next film, “Loving You,” would in many ways mirror Elvis’ life up to that point, that of a young country boy who becomes a big time singing sensation. The film was a step up from his first feature; it even had an older woman, film noir favorite Elizabeth Scott, getting the hots for the young rock and roller. Still it was all very wholesome, even had Elvis’ mama in the audience for one scene while he is on stage singing, “Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do,” and his true love in the film was the virginal and future real life nun, Dolores Hart.
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 →
In the film’s pre-title opening sequence, the viewer finds himself in the middle of the ocean on a dark night. A Coast Guard boat pulls up to an anchored Yacht. Two men dressed in Coast Guard uniforms, armed with machine guns, come on board. Quickly and efficiently they kill everyone on the boat including a high level big shot named Julio Scolotti (Lincoln Demyan). Just as quickly we then segue to the classic Henry Mancini theme as the credits roll…Peter Gunn is back!
Daisy Jane (Marion Marshall), a Madame at a swank bordello, hires Gunn (Craig Stevens) to investigate the murder of crime boss Julio Scolotti believing it was the work of another criminal big shot named Nick Mancuso (Albert Paulson) looking to muscle in on Scolotti’s territory. By the end of the ninety minutes or so of bloodshed, corpses and women, Gunn proves he is as persuasive, slick and deadly as ever to both enemies and the ladies. This includes Laura Devon as Edie, his main squeeze, and an almost always semi-clad Sherry Jackson (Make Room for Daddy) who throws in her towel for Gunn time and time again. After an additional few murders and some attempts on our heroe’s life, along with some twist and turns, Gunn uncovers the surprising truth. Continue reading →
This is the first of seven entries I am writing for the Musical Countdown being hosted by WONDERS IN THE DARK. There are actually two reviews of the film posted, the other by Jim Clark. Below are links to both.
Found this photo below, most likely a publicity stunt, where some swimsuit attired ladies were protesting the film in front of Graumans Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The women rightly claiming “they have everything blondes have.”