Censorship, The Pawnbroker and Me

the-pawnbrokerFor many years, around the holiday season, the Catholic Church had a pledge they brought forth to their parishioners. The oath was for “Good” Catholics not to attend any film considered morally objectionable, that is, the big C word was applied…Condemned!For years, the Church’s list of objectionable films was a dominant force that changed filmmaking. Many directors, among them Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus) and Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch), edited their films, eliminating scenes found objectionable. While it’s true most of the films on the list were foreign that received the condemned rating there were exceptions. In 1953, Otto Preminger’s lightweight romantic comedy, The Moon is Blue was given the dreaded C rating, this after the Hays Office refused to give the film its seal of approval and Preminger and United Artists refused to make what today seem like ridiculous deletes.

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Al Capone (1959) Richard Wilson

title_al_capone_ I first saw “Al Capone” during the summer of 1959 at the Staten Island Paramount Theater on Bay Street. I was pretty young at the time, probably around ten or eleven years old, but I was already in love with gangster movies! Only a year or so earlier I can remember seeing Don Siegel’s “Baby Face Nelson” with Mickey Rooney at the Loew’s Commodore (the theater some seven years or so later would become the Fillmore East). Despite my tender young age, I remember going to the movies that day to see “Baby Face Nelson” unaccompanied by an adult. I can’t imagine that happening today; then again, I can’t imagine my parents allowing me to go it alone even back then. That said, I do have this memory of going to the movies alone that day and it wasn’t the only time. There was at least one other time around that same period. The Three Stooges were touring movie theaters accompanying the release of their latest film (Have Rocket, Will Travel) and I know for sure my parents did not go with me to see them. They hated The Three Stooges! Continue reading

Short Takes: Natalie Wood, Diana Dors and Ginger Rogers

Short Takes returns with three reviews, totally unrelated. A young Natalie Wood stars in A CRY IN THE NIGHT while 1950’s Brit blonde bombshell Diana Dors is in THE UNHOLY WIFE. Finally, Ginger Rogers shines in the lightweight 5th AVENUE GIRL.

I wonder when they named this picture, “A Cry in the Night,” whose tears they were referring too, Natalie Wood’s character perhaps, who is kidnapped in the middle of the night or maybe the audience who had to sit through this cliché ridden tale about a child-like adult (Raymond Burr), think Lenny in “Of Mice and Men,” who watches young couples making out at a local lover’s lane.

After knocking out her boyfriend old Raymond kidnaps Ms. Wood taking her to his secret hideout where he confesses he just wants to be ‘friends.’  Yes, Nat makes a couple of feeble attempts to escape but in the end only manages to ripe her skirt so she can reveal some leg in order to keep the males in the audience awake.   Wood’s father, played by Edmond O’Brien, is an overbearing, over protective, sexist who finds it hard to believe his eighteen year old daughter would  willingly go to a lover’s lane of her own free will after he forbid her too. In fact, ole’ Edmond seems more concerned with wanting to beat the crap out of the boyfriend for this dirty deed than finding his daughter. Oh yeah, by the way, he’s a cop who naturally wants to be involved in the case though he should not be. The cast also includes Brian Donlevy as the sensible cop who attempts to control the out of control O’Brien. As directed by Frank Tuttle, there is nothing original here, to say the least. Tuttle is best known for making “This Gun For Hire” some fourteen years earlier which made Alan Ladd  a star. Ladd, by the way, is the narrator who opens the film and his company co-produced the film. Continue reading

The Harder They Fall (1956) Mark Robson

     Humphrey Bogart in his last film plays is of work sportswriter Eddie Willis who lets himself be hired by crooked fight promoter, Nick Benko, helping him exploit giant Argentine boxer, Turo Moreno, who cannot punch his way out of a paper bag. Benko fixed all the fights that is until the championship match, where the current champ, Buddy Brannen, (Max Baer) promises to beat Turo to a pulp.

      Bogart, in this his last film before he died about a year or so later of cancer. He looks worn down and much older than the 57 or so years  he was at the time, but Bogie gives us once last great performance. Rod Steiger who gave an Oscar winning performance as a corrupt waterfront hood in “On the Waterfront” gives another terrific performance here as the crooked fight promoter, Benko. Jan Sterling plays Bogie’s wife who watches as he wavers with he own inner struggles on right and wrong and finally walks out on him. The cast also includes Nehemiah Persoff, and Harold J. Stone.

     “The Harder They Fall” is a tough look at the way, the Boxing racket was, corrupt and dirty. The film spares nothing.  The final boxing match between Brannen and Moreno is equally brutal to anything in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The film was based on a novel by Budd Shulberg who also has to his credits the story and screenplay for “On the Waterfront” and “A Face in the Crowd” among others. Burnett Guffey’s gritty black and white photography evokes the slimy bleak atmosphere of the boxing world.    Shulberg, based his character, Moreno on Primo Canera, the 6 foot 8 inch Italian boxer,  whose manager Lou Soresi, not only stole most of Canera’s money leaving him broke, he was also connected to prohibition underworld figure Owney Madden that, led to rumors over the years that many of Canera’s fights were fixed.  In real life just like in the film, Max Baer who played Buddy Brannen, beat up Canera so brutally, his career was essentially finished. Also, look for Jersey Joe Walcott in a small role.  

    According to Wikipedia, “The Harder They Fall” has two different endings. In the DVD version, Eddie Willis demands that boxing be banned while in the second version, a softer ending that is usually broadcast on TV Eddie just suggests that boxing be banned.

More than fifty years after its release the film still hits you will a strong right to the gut.