Seconds (1966) John Frankenheimer

The biggest problem John Frankenheimer’s 1966 movie “Seconds” had at the time of its original release was having Rock Hudson in the lead role. Hudson was still a huge star (he was one of the top 10 most popular stars from 1957 to 1964), however his fans were not interested in seeing him in such a dark science fiction/psychological film, and fans of this type of film were not going to see a “Rock Hudson movie.” The results? “Seconds” died a quick death at the box office. In retrospect, while Hudson was no Robert DeNiro he does gives one of the best performances of his career in a film unlike anything he ever did before or after. Frankenheimer had been on a roll since the beginning of the 1960’s. In the previous five years, he made “The Young Savages,” “All Fall Down,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Seven Days in May” and “The Train” followed by “Seconds,” though he would soon embark on a more erratic course from which he would not recuperate from until the 1990’s with a series of excellent TV movies.

 Man is never satisfied with who he is or what he has in his life. What if your family life had lost its purpose, your job had lost all meaning, and your entire life was one big disappointment. What if you were given the chance to change your life, erase it all and start all over again?  What if you could live the life you have only dreamed about?  For Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) this chance happens when he meets an old friend, presumed to have died year’s earlier, who arranges a meeting that puts Arthur in contact with a secret group only known as “The Company.” The Company offers wealthy bored individuals a chance at a completely new life. They will fake Arthur’s death, provide extreme plastic surgery and give him a totally new identity, in Arthur’s case, as an artist known as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Continue reading

Lost in America (1985) Albert Brooks

“Tune on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in his hilarious off-beat comedy, Lost in America“his third feature film as a director and writer, actually co-writer, the script was co-written with his long time writing partner, Monica McGowan Johnson. (1)

Woody Allen and Mel Brooks pretty much dominated the writer/director  comedy ledger during the 1970’s and 1980’s but rising fast in the background was Albert Brooks whose first venture into filmmaking was a short called The Famous Comedian’s School originally shown on PBS. In 1975, he made a series of short films on the first season of “Saturday Night Live.” After several acting gigs including a role in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Brooks wrote and directed his first feature-length film in 1979, Real Life, a satirical take of the on the pioneering PBS reality show, though it was not given that now dubious label, An American Family. Today, after too many years of “reality” shows that are unintentional more comical and demeaning to viewers than realistic, the film can be still be seen as a mirror to the seemingly endless number of fabricated “reality” TV  shoved down our throats. Real Life had a very limited distribution and modest financial success but did launch Albert Brooks career as an important comedic writer/director.

Lost in America concerns the story of David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California, but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company where he works. However, on the big day he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him. A transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. Continue reading

Return on Friday

No, that’s not the name of some obscure classic film that you missed on TCM the other night. This is just a note to let all know I w ill be unavailable, off line, unresponsive, without the internet, on hiatus for a few days and will return on Friday November 18th with a new posting.

Just to whet your appetite, upcoming postings will include Albert Brooks’ LOST IN AMERICA and Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW.

Kansas City Confidential (1952) Phil Karlson

Phil Karlson made a string of crime films in the 1950’s that few could equal in volume and quality. One of his earliest and best is 1952’s “Kansas City Confidential,” a hard fisted noir thriller that never lets up in tension for its entire running time. Joe Rolfe (John Payne), is an ex-con, now gone straight, working as a florist delivery driver who is set up to take the fall for a $1.2 million bank robbery. The gang of four split up until the heat is off with plans to meet in Mexico where the money will be divided up. Through sheer perseverance, Rolfe pursues the robbers in order to clear his name; however,  but after the death of one of the crooks, shot by the police, he decides to muscle himself in on a share of the money.

The film is shot in a straight forward style with a grittiness and hard hitting violence, rare for its time. It also has the good fortune to have three of the 1950’s nastiest looking criminal character actors, Jack Elam, Neville Brand and Lee Van Cleef in the kind of roles they do best. Heading up the gang is Preston Foster, who plays Tim Foster, an ex-cop, gone bad, contemptuous that after twenty years on the force, his pension is so small. His plan included having his three heavies wear face masks at all times when they meet obscuring their identities from one another, lessening the chances one will squeal on the other if they should get caught by the law. Pete Harris (Jack Elam) is first, a nervous slimy looking gun happy thug. Next is borderline psychotic, the  stone faced Boyd Kane (Neville Brand) and the last member is Tony Romano portrayed by the snake like Lee Van Cleef. It’s a rogue’s gallery of menacing ugliness.

The heist goes off as planned except that the cops pick up Rolfe as part of the gang. The truck used by the robbers was an exact replicate of Rolfe’s flower delivery truck and the police quickly come to the conclusion he was in on the job. He is eventually proven innocent however, not before one sadistic cop applies third degree tactics for three straight days in an effort to beat the “truth” out of him. Rolfe is enraged that he has been unknowingly used as a sap in the robbery. He sets out to find the criminals and seek revenge. He finds them in Mexico and assumes the identity of one of Pete Harris, after he is shot dead by Mexican police. With other gang members unaware Harris is dead, Rolfe manages  to works his way into the gang posing as the dead gang member. However, it becomes complicated with the arrival of the gang leader, along with a woman, Helen (Coleen Gray), with who Rolfe begins a relationship. Helen, it turns out, is the gang  leader’s daughter. 

“Kansas City Confidential” was one of the most brutal films to come out of the U.S. at the time and not surprisingly met with some censorship problems. It also met with wicked condemnation from critics including The New York Times’ Bosley Crowthers whose review consisted of nothing but complaining about the seedy characters and the violence. Crowthers also found it extremely hard to swallow that there could ever be a police officer who would be so brutally sadistic in attempting to coerce a confession out of a suspect.  “There is an obvious and sickening implication,” he writes,” that the Kansas City police are not only rough when they capture a suspect, but they exercise a wicked ‘third degree.’ There is one character in this little run-down, supposedly a plainclothes cop, who is as nasty and sadistic in behavior as the hero or any of the thugs. This, of course, does not lend a climate of hope or moral uplift to the film.”

The “one character” who is “supposedly a plainclothes cop” is no doubt a police officer. Mr. Crowthers inability to admit that this type of behavior sometimes exist is extraordinarily quaint. 

John Payne who transitioned himself, career wise, from Mr. Nice Guy on screen played a similar role the following year in “99 River Street,” and again in “Hell’s Island,” two other edgy Karlson crime films  and suitable follow ups to this film.

Phil Karlson made his way up from Poverty Row where he worked on the cheapest of  low budget fare like “The Shanghi Cobra” and “Dark Alibi,” two Charlie Chan mysteries,  and the Bowery Boys epics “Live Wires” and “Bowery Bombshell.” He was just moving into his golden age period with a series of films in the 1950’s that would cement his reputation as a fixture of classic low budget crime films. His works during this period included, “Scandal Sheet,” “99 River Street,” “Tight Spot,” “Five Against the House,” “The Phenix City Story” and  “The Brothers Rico.” He would also direct the two part TV premiere episodes, later combined and released in movie theaters, called “The Scarface Mob” from the TV show, “The Untouchables.”

Karlson’s later work would vary in quality ranging from the soap opera like “The Young Doctors” with an eclectic cast that included Dick Clark and Aline McMahon, an Elvis Presley remake of “Kid Galahad,” two Matt Helm films,  “The Silencers” and “The Wrecking Crew” featuring Dean Martin, the odd ball creepy horror fest about a young boy and his pet rat, “Ben” (sequel to Willard) and the red neck law and order anthem of the 1970’s, “Walking Tall.”