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Category: Response Reviews

My comments on Peary’s reviews in Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986).

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

“Whadda ya hear, whadda ya say?”

Synopsis:
After rescuing his friend Jerry (William Tracy) from being run over by a train they’ve just tried to rob, young Rocky (Frankie Burke) is sent to reform school and embarks on a life of crime. When Rocky (James Cagney) emerges from prison years later, Jerry (Pat O’Brien) has become a priest caring for a group of juvenile delinquents (The Dead End Kids) who idolize Rocky as a notorious gangster. After demanding and being denied money from his former partner-in-crime (Humphrey Bogart) and Bogart’s business partner (George Bancroft), Cagney vows revenge, and soon becomes caught up in an elaborate new criminal scheme. Can Cagney’s loyal friend (O’Brien) and sweetheart (Ann Sheridan) convince him to change his ways before it’s too late?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ann Sheridan Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Friendship
  • Gangsters
  • George Bancroft Films
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • James Cagney Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Michael Curtiz Films
  • New York City
  • Pat O’Brien Films
  • Priests and Ministers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is a big fan of this “standout gangster film that has often been copied but never equaled.” He argues it remains “exciting” and “funny, too; with surefire direction by Michael Curtiz and a terrific performance by James Cagney in one of his best roles.” Unfortunately, Peary gives away a major spoiler early in his review and stays focused on the ramifications of the film’s ending in his analysis, so I won’t say more except to note that “the script was written by the notorious Rowland Brown (Blood Money), who, it was rumored, had underworld connections.” Peary discusses the film a bit more in Alternate Oscars, where he nominates it as one of the best Movies of the Year and names Cagney Best Actor of the Year. He writes that in this film, Cagney’s “mouth works nonstop, grinning, laughing, shooting tough talk… and street slang as fast as machine gun bullets” while he “races back and forth across the screen, lifting his shoulders and bringing his arms to his sides before doing any rough stuff.” He adds that while “gangster movies were often criticized for glorifying their crime-breaking protagonists”, “in this case the criticism may have had validity” given that Cagney’s Rocky Sullivan “is truly appealing”: “He’s a tough guy but we are taken by his infectious grin, even in the face of danger, his sense of humor, his touch of conceit…, and his humility.”

DVD Savant is less enamored by the film, referring to it as “a sanitized rehash of gangster themes tailored to appeal to all audiences”, coming “complete with sermons and a foundation of strict moral values [to] underpin every plot point”. My own sentiment lies somewhere in between Peary and Savant’s. Angels With Dirty Faces remains a powerfully made film, masterfully directed and shot by Curtiz and DP Sol Polito, and featuring a truly stand-out performance by Cagney — but the antics of the “Dead End Kids” quickly wear thin, and O’Brien’s sanctimonious priest is terribly one-note. With that said, Sheridan is fine in an underutilized role, Bogart is notably smarmy as Cagney’s duplicitous counterpart, and Cagney’s energized performance continuously holds the film afloat. The final scenes are indeed memorable, and viewers unfamiliar with the story should stay away from any reviews before watching it; the last close-up of Cagney says more in one shot than can quite be described.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • James Cagney as Rocky
  • Ann Sheridan as Laury
  • Fine direction by Curtiz
  • Sol Polito’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Cagney’s performance and as a mostly-effective classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Cabin in the Sky (1943)

Cabin in the Sky (1943)

“Sometimes when you fight the devil, you got to jab him with his own pitchfork.”

Synopsis:
When a lazy gambling addict named Little Joe (Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson) is nearly killed, his devout wife (Ethel Waters) prays hard enough that a heavenly angel (Kenneth Spencer) heeds her call and agrees to give Little Joe six more months to reform — but Lucifer’s son (Rex Ingram) and his henchmen (Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, and Louis Armstrong) are eager to get Joe down into Hell, and send both money and a seductive gold-digger (Lena Horne) his way.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African-Americans
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Life After Death
  • Marital Problems
  • Musicals
  • Play Adaptations
  • Vincente Minnelli Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that this “spirited M-G-M musical, with an all-black all-star cast” — “based on a Broadway musical by Lynn Root, John Latouche, and Vernon Duke” — “marked the successful movie debut of stage director Vincente Minnelli.” He notes that the “film pits cornball religion against hell-raising (which appear to be the only two choices in a black man’s life), and, though it probably wasn’t intended that way, the hell-raising looks to be more fun.” He advises us to “forget Joseph Schrank’s script and enjoy the precious footage of some of the most famous black performers at their peaks”, including Waters, Anderson, Horne, John ‘Bubbles’ Sublett, and Duke Ellington’s band, as well as Ingram reminding “us of the shrewd, intelligent, boldly laughing genie he played in The Thief of Bagdad.” As one of two all-black musicals produced that year — along with Stormy Weather (1943) — this film remains worth a look for historical purposes alone, but viewers will likely find themselves appreciating the chance to see Waters at her finest; her role here and in The Member of the Wedding (1952) indicate that she should have been given far more opportunities to grace us with her presence on screen.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ethel Waters as Petunia
  • Many fine musical numbers

  • Sidney Wagner’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical significance.

Categories

Links:

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

“I wouldn’t worry about this country if I were you. We’ve got this thing licked.”

Synopsis:
While visiting FDR (Jack Young) at the White House, famed vaudevillian George M. Cohan (James Cagney) reflects back on his rise to stardom, beginning with his role as part of The Four Cohans with his dad (Walter Huston), mom (Rosemary DeCamp), and sister (Jeanne Cagney), and continuing through his partnership with a loyal friend (Richard Whorf) and marriage to an aspiring singer (Joan Leslie).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Flashback Films
  • James Cagney Films
  • Joan Leslie Films
  • Michael Curtiz Films
  • Musicals
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque
  • Walter Huston Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “stirring, sentimental musical bio of an American institution, George M. Cohan” — a “songwriter whose unwavering devotion to friends, family, and flag made him an ideal subject for Warner Bros.’ pro-war, pro-Roosevelt propaganda in 1942” — still “has an undeniable charm” and remains “appealing” despite the “superpatriotic aspects of the film, which are laid on mighty thick by the end.” He points out that Oscar-winning Cagney is “magnificent” as Cohan, showing “infectious spirit, energy, and drive”, not to mention amazing dancing chops. He notes that Cagney’s scenes with Joan Leslie — “extremely winning as Cohan’s girlfriend, then wife” — are “very special”, but he reminds us that “what’s even more impressive is that Cagney proves to be one of the few actors we’ve had who can comfortably play tender scenes with other men”. He adds that the “lavish production is strongly directed by Michael Curtiz”, with the “musical numbers… particularly well done in a non-Busby Berkeley style”; I didn’t realize until watching this film that Cohan was responsible for writing several enormously famous and “infectious songs”, including “Over There”, “Grand Old Flag”, “Give My Regards to Broadway”, and the title song.

Peary acknowledges, however, that the “film is odd in that almost nothing bad happens to its protagonist.” Indeed, Cohan’s direct involvement in and oversight of the film’s script and production very clearly impacted the directions it goes in (or not). While Cohan allowed for his youthful self (Douglas Croft) to be authentically portrayed as brash and arrogant, he makes sure we see his loyalty, work ethic, and patriotism above all else (including his earnest attempt to enlist in the army despite being too old at 39). This may very well be authentic — indeed, Cohan was the first person in any artistic field to earn a Congressional Medal of Honor from the president — but it would have been even more interesting to see what challenges he faced other than the flop of his one attempt at “serious” drama, and the question of whether or not to return to the stage after retirement. It’s also a bit odd that no mention is made at all of Cohan’s four children — perhaps because one was with his first wife, who he divorced, and who doesn’t appear in this story.

One imagines this all played a lot fresher when it was released, with Cohan’s artistic legacy much more firmly entrenched in older Americans’ minds, and his bold patriotism serving as much-needed inspiration for Americans still processing their country’s entry into the war. Meanwhile, Cagney’s performance remains as powerful as ever, and well worth watching. Peary agrees with the Academy’s designation of Cagney as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, where he highlights Cagney’s “inimitable” dancing style, “which mixes elastic-legged tap with fast, across-the-frame balletlike toe-walking, his legs straight, his rear out, his shoulders moving as if he were a gangster about to strike a blow, his upper torso angled forward, his head raised proudly.” Peary notes that Cagney “has some great dance moments onstage; and backstage when, disguised as an old man, he shocks Mary [Leslie] (whom he has just met) with some furious footwork; and at the White House, when he taps down the staircase” — but he points out that perhaps most memorable of all “are those [moments] when Cagney-Cohan sincerely tells his audience, ‘My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.'”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • James Cagney as George M. Cohan
  • Joan Leslie as Mary Cohan
  • James Wong Howe’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Cagney’s performance.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Diva (1981)

Diva (1981)

“She’s the queen of the night.”

Synopsis:
A French postman (Frederic Andrei) obsessed with the music of an American opera singer (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) secretly tapes her performance and shares it with a young teen (Thuy An Luu) who lives with a Zen-like older mentor (Richard Bohringer). Meanwhile, the girlfriend (Chantal Deruaz) of a corrupt police commissioner (Jacques Fabbri) is murdered by henchmen (Gerard Damon and Dominique Pinon) just after dropping an evidence-filled tape into the basket of Andrei’s moped, and Andrei soon finds himself pursued not only by Damon and Pinon, but by a pair of Taiwanese gangsters interested in his pirated tape of Fernandez, as well as a dedicated female cop (Anny Romand) and her male accomplice.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Gangsters
  • Obsessive Fans
  • Opera
  • Singers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “goofy, glittery, dazzlingly stylish suspense thriller by first-time director Jean-Jacques Beneix became an immediate cult sensation in France and America,” noting that while “some critics complained that Beneix’s work was self-consciously (Pop) arty”, “surely the story, from a novel by Delacorta (Daniel Odier), is bizarre enough to warrant a wild style.” He points out that the protagonist, Jules (Andrei), “lives in one of Beineix’s fascinating sets (designed by Hilton McConnico): a dark loft full of stereo equipment, wrecked cars, and Pop art (including large photos of cars)”, and he notes that the “quirkiness of the film is evident in [the] three major character couplings: Jules, an 18-year-old, white, passive Frenchman, and Cynthia [Fernandez], the taller, 30-ish, black American performer; Alba [Luu], a teenage, hedonistic Vietnamese shoplifter and Gorodosh [Bohringer], her adult, white, Zen-freak boyfriend; the tall, handsome, suave Latin thug [Damon] and his short, indented-faced, punk-garbed, blond, younger partner (Dominique Pinon is a memorable screen villain), who always has a Walkman blaring in his ears.”

Peary points out that “Beineix underscores [these] odd teams by mixing rock and classical music”, and that “visually, Beineix uses his frame like a Pop-art canvas, filling the spaces between his black, blue, and red images with white light, direct or reflected.” (Beineix’s DP was Philippe Rousselot.) He notes that Beineix is “thrilled with movement, so he places his characters on wheels (Jules’s moped, Gorodosh’s classic white Citroen, Alba’s roller skates, etc.) and lets the camera run wild, almost as if it had a life of its own. (One of the highlights is a mad car-motorcycle chase.)” He adds that Beineix “makes weird choices at every turn and very few don’t have big payoffs.”

Peary elaborates on his detailed analysis of this film in his Cult Movies 3 book, where he notes that “it is precisely Beineix’s determination to mix diverse elements such as opera and a lowbrow crime drama that makes the film so outrageous and entertaining”, and points out that Beineix’s “actors come in all shapes and sizes and from various backgrounds”. He argues that what the film’s survivors “have in common is a capacity to love people and love good music” — indeed, “love and music are shown to be pure, purifying forces”, while “the criminals are those people who prostitute love… or music…; in the minds of Delacorta and Beineix the businessmen who deal in record piracy are just as ruthless as down-and-dirty street criminals.”

Peary ends his lengthy Cult Movies review by noting that “the film is about how a singer’s lovely voice and a series of strange circumstances cause Jules, Cynthia, Alba and Gorodish to interact”, with the result “that all of them break out of their depressed past-obsessed states, reveal inner goodness…, find love, and make commitments to the future”. He notes that while this is a “cheery, sentimental theme that would seem out of place in typical low-budget crime thrillers”, he thinks “it’s one of the reasons Diva is such a crowd pleaser” — and I agree. This delightful, quirky, visually vibrant flick remains as unique as it was upon its release, and has held up remarkably well — there’s no other film quite like it, and I doubt there ever will be.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vibrant cinematography


  • Highly unique and stylized sets


  • The exciting moped/subway sequence
  • Vladimir Cosma’s score

Must See?
Yes, as an enduring cult classic.

Categories

Links:

I’m All Right Jack (1959)

I’m All Right Jack (1959)

“It’s not compulsory, only you’ve got to join — see?”

Synopsis:
An upper-classman (Ian Carmichael) hoping to find a job in “industry” starts working for his wealthy uncle (Dennis Price) in a munitions factory, not realizing that he will quickly become embroiled in tensions between a trade union steward (Peter Sellers) and an old army buddy (Terry-Thomas) with corrupt plans for re-routing the company’s contract.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Class Relations
  • Labor Movements
  • Peter Sellers Films
  • Satires and Spoofs

Review:
Peary writes that this “classic British satire” by John and Ray Boulting — about a “naive but enthusiastic college grad who uses his wealthy family’s connections to break into industry” and then “becomes the unwitting pawn of both the corrupt management and the workers’ union” — remains a “sharp, cynical comedy” that “chastises workers, but is clearly sympathetic toward them” given “they’re not bad sorts, and much preferable to their sneaky, crooked bosses who are willing to sell out their country for a profit.” He adds that he doubts “if an American union-made film will ever deal so bravely with similar labor-management problems”. While this film mercilessly skewers labor-related problems of the day in a way that likely resonated deeply with many viewers, I’ll admit to feeling a bit detached from it: the basic theme of corruption on both sides of the aisle — not just with smarmy businessmen (of course), but with labor unions determined to ensure that “no worker is fired, be he incompetent, lazy, or doing work that a machine could handle in a tenth of the time” — is loud and strong, but the protagonist is too much of a twit to relate to in any way. Sellers is a top reason to watch the film: his devotion to the cause of Labor comes through loud and strong, and his character seems like a flesh-and-blood individual capable of authentic growth and emotion.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Sellers as Fred Kite

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.

Links:

Greetings (1968)

Greetings (1968)

“Like cats, there are so many young people, wandering to and fro.”

Synopsis:
Three friends — a draft-avoiding sex-seeker (Jonathan Warden), a Peeping Tom (Robert De Niro), and an obsessive follower of JFK’s assassination (Gerrit Graham) — spend time in New York City while the Vietnam War rages.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Brian DePalma Films
  • Counterculture
  • Episodic Films
  • New York City
  • Peeping Toms
  • Robert De Niro Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “seriocomedy, made in two weeks for a mere $43,000 by 28-year-old Brian De Palma, was one of the most popular ‘anti-establishment’ pictures of the late sixties and early seventies,” and “was that rare film made for filmmakers and film students as much as for the young, alienated, angry generation.” He argues it’s a “splendid example of the type of independent films made then: there are technical lapses and sloppy editing and photography throughout — but there are moments of cinematic brilliance,” and while the “wild, slapdash humor” is “original”, at times it is also “smug, vulgar, and self-congratulatory.” He points out the theme of obsession woven throughout each of the three main characters, but also — and most especially — De Palma himself, who “reveals here that he is obsessed with and is exploring the very nature of film.”

Peary elaborates upon all these points in his lengthier Cult Movies review, where he discusses the many cinematic influences on display. He writes that while “De Palma’s studio-backed pictures of the seventies and eighties invariably call attention to Alfred Hitchcock,” the “cinema-verite look to some of the scenes and the use of new footage and segments of Lyndon Johnson speeches… to counterpoint the disturbing images of ‘reality’ we see, suggest the influence of such diverse documentarians of the period as D.A. Pennebacker [Don’t Look Back, (1967)] and Emile D’Antonio [Point of Order, (1964); Millhouse: A White Comedy (1967)].” Meanwhile, as Graham “starts examining photos of the Kennedy assassination and considers enlarging some to see if he can discover another gunman in Dallas’s infamous grassy knoll, he becomes increasingly like the David Hemmings character in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966).” Finally, Peary points out De Palma’s obvious debt to Jean-Luc Godard, given that “the young characters who inhabit De Palma’s world could very well be acquaintances of Jean-Pierre Leaud and his compadres in Godard’s Masculine Feminine (1966) and La Chinoise (1967).”

Peary goes on to writes about how “Greetings is most interesting today as a testament of its times” (I agree). He notes that “not only does it reflect the political unrest and malaise of 1968 America — and the despair in Vietnam — but it… has a left-wing, anti-government/society/authority/status quo bias” and “is concerned with disillusioned young [white, heterosexual] males” (the genders, races, and sexual orientations of the protagonists would surely be more diverse if the film were made today) “who look for a direction in and meaning to life (another side to the previous year’s The Graduate.”) Indeed, much of this film should feel quite familiar in many ways to millenials, who are similarly skeptical of their government and seeking a point to their lives in the midst of rampant commercialism, greed, violence, racism, and (currently) a global pandemic. Even if technology has advanced, we remain — like the three characters here — obsessed with voyeurism, sex, and conspiracy; not that much has changed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An intriguing time-capsule glimpse into a certain era of American history

  • Many memorably quirky and/or amusing moments

Must See?
Yes, as a one-time cult favorite.

Links:

Cage Aux Folles, La (1979)

Cage Aux Folles, La (1979)

“We have to marry her off in great splendor. You’ll be the symbol of tradition once again.”

Synopsis:
When his son (Remy Laurent) announces he’s getting married to the daughter (Lisa Maneri) of a conservative couple (Carmen Scarpitta and Michel Galabru), the owner (Ugo Tognazzi) of a nightclub featuring transvestite dancers realizes he’ll have to send his long-time partner (Michel Serrault) away and invite his son’s estranged mother (Claire Maurier) to dinner that night — but Serrault, appropriately indignant, refuses to leave. How will the situation turn out?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • French Films
  • Gender Bending
  • Homosexuality
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Morality Police
  • Nightclubs
  • Play Adaptation

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is clearly no fan of this “French farce” which “became the most successful foreign film ever to play in the U.S., raking in more than $40 million and playing in some theaters for more than a year.” He notes that given how “it caused so much excitement among those who loved it or despised it”, it’s “startling how innocuous it is;” he goes on to refer to it as a “dishonest film” that is “so timid it suggests that this gay couple could raise a heterosexual son — and a boring son at that” (?!?). He’s right to point out that the film “plays it [too] safe, catering to straight audiences” to the extent that the only “lovemaking scene” we see “involves [Tognazzi] with a female, his ex-wife”. He also points out that much of the film’s “humor comes at the gay characters’ expense; repeatedly we are supposed to laugh at how effeminate [Serrault] and butler Jacob [Benny Luke] are, at how exaggerated their mannerisms are, at how awkward they look when walking or gesturing, at how affected their voices are … , and how they whine or scream in surprise over everything.”

Unfortunately, “director-co-writer Edouard Molinaro never bothers to explore the subtleties of his characters or accentuate their endearing idiosyncrasies”: Tognazzi “tolerates [Serrault] in [a] conventional movie fashion — like a husband who accepts the childish activities and personality of his wife because she is female and is supposed to act that way;” and “there are surprisingly few funny moments in the major sequence in which [Tognazzi] and [Serrault] try to clean up their act when [Tognazzi’s] son brings home for dinner his fiancee, her mother, and her father… who is the secretary for the Union of Moral Order.” Peary argues that while “there’s potential for fireworks”, “Molinaro forgot the matches”. He rags further on the film in his Cult Movies book, where he states that “Molinaro has no flare for comedy and never lets a scene run long enough for the gags to develop sufficiently.”

Peary does concede that there are at least “several amusing moments in the picture”, including “when [Tognazzi] toasts [Maneri] over the phone by breaking a glass on the receiver;” “when [Tognazzi] instructs [Serrault] how to butter his toast and stir his tea in a masculine manner;” and “when [Scarpitta] and [Serrault] quibble over whether the nude figures on the dinner dishes are all boys, as [Scarpitta] insists, or are male and female, as [Serrault] fibs.” Ultimately, however, Peary dismisses this film as “a family comedy that never rises above a level of mediocrity” — as “rollicksome as the most tired French bedroom farce but not as risque, as stupid a Laura Antonelli sex comedy but not as arousing, and as ‘controversial’ and ‘relevant’ as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) is today.”

While I enjoyed this “innocuous” cult comedy more than Peary, I agree with many of his assessments. It’s weird — though perhaps not surprising, given the intended audience — that Tognazzi allows himself to be “seduced” by Maurier (perhaps this was done to “prove” that Laurent could have been conceived once upon a long time ago?), and much of the humor-at-the-expense-of-homosexuality comes across as terribly dated these days. How much you laugh may depend on how much you can simply giggle uncomfortably — something that’s NOT possible in any way with Luke’s portrayal of a servile black “maid” (everything about how his character is presented and treated rings distasteful). With that said, I think all film fanatics should watch this film once to become familiar with it, though it likely won’t become a repeat favorite.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Michel Serrault as Albin

Must See?
Yes, once, for its cult status.

Categories

Links:

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

“They’re just a bunch of small-town car freaks, that’s all they are.”

Synopsis:
As the driver (James Taylor) and the mechanic (Dennis Wilson) of a souped up ’55 Chevy drive across the country looking for opportunities to race, they pick up a young hitchhiker (Laurie Bird) and eventually meet the middle-aged owner (Warren Oates) of a GTO who’s willing to race them cross-country for high stakes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Car Racing
  • Monte Hellman Films
  • Road Trip
  • Warren Oates Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “Monte Hellman’s film” — predicted to be “the movie of the year” and “turn the youth market as only Easy Rider had” — “never lived up to its pre-release publicity”, it remains “a unique, thematically interesting film that has deservedly become a cult favorite.” He describes it as an existential film in which The Driver (Taylor) and The Mechanic (Wilson) “race their car… back and forth across America’s highways and byways — going fast but going nowhere on the metaphorical endless highway of meaningless life.” Given how much loving attention is paid (by Hellman) to The Car, Peary notes that “we learn more about [it] than about the zombielike men who ride in it,” whose rare conversation are “only about cars and racing.” Indeed, even when The Girl (Bird) “enters their life” and “swims nude in front of them, they reminisce about old cars, not old flames.”

Peary points out that “The Driver and the Mechanic epitomize the sad products of a frustration-making D.C. bureaucracy, specifically a Nixon government which is conducting a controversial war that makes complete apathy as inviting as a warm cozy bed.” He notes that “while other films were about the alienation of the drug culture and war protesters, Hellman’s pessimistic film is about the alienation of everyone else: both those who race around the desolate, poor, conservative country and all those people inside the cubicles they pass who are just as withdrawn and isolated from the problems/horrors of their world.”

Peary discusses Two-Lane Blacktop at greater length in his Cult Movies book, where he notes that he finds it “so much more honest and less exploitative than the similarly plotted box office smash Easy Rider, another film about a routeless odyssey across America undertaken by society’s dropouts.” He describes Oates as, “as usual, a standout, showing the wide range of emotions of a troubled man” and providing “much wit to the film”. He adds that “most amusing, and pathetic, is how he keeps picking up the worst brand of hitchhikers… but keeps trying to find ideal companionship.” Peary asserts that while he likes this movie — “its characters, and its premise” — he finds the “beginning of the film… compelling” but “toward the end it becomes a bit tiresome and fizzles — just like the race.” I think that’s exactly the point, however. As The Girl makes yet another random decision near the end of the film about who she’ll hang out and travel with, we see that nothing’s really changed — life will continue to be about distraction, alienation, and thwarted attempts to connect; Two-Lane Blacktop is remarkably effective at portraying those still-enduring challenges of existence.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Warren Oates as GTO
  • Many memorable moments
  • An authentic sense of time and place

  • Fine cinematography


Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968)

Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968)

“You try any funny stuff on me, buster, and I’ll slice you up like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Synopsis:
As two ex-cons (Duncan McLeod and Robert Rudelson) wait until closing time to rob the safe of a topless dancing club, the club’s owner (Paul Lockwood) is lured to the home of a madam (Lavelle Roby), where he’s seduced by an Amish woman (Jan Sinclair) as well as Roby herself. Meanwhile, Lockwood’s sexually unsatisfied wife (Anne Chapman) has a guilty affair with the club’s bartender (Gordon Wescourt), and all three end up unwittingly involved in the heist back at the club.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Heists
  • Infidelity
  • Russ Meyer Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “piggy Russ Meyer film… probably won’t please even his diehard fans”, given that it “has none of the typical Meyer humor” and “even has a cruel edge to it.” He adds the unnecessary comment that “of course, the women have large chests; but they’re not particularly pretty — they’re the types who show up in stag films” (!!!). Vincent Canby’s review for the NY Times is a bit more delicately worded, if similarly dismissive: “Meyer’s sole preoccupation with extraordinarily well-developed female breasts, usually photographed from a low angle and while they’re in some sort of motion, is no longer particularly erotic.” (And kudos to Canby for introducing me to the new term “satyriasis.”) To Meyer’s credit, he perfectly captures the essence of the “male gaze” in the creatively shot and edited opening sequence of this film, which remains its artistic highlight.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The cleverly filmed opening sequence


Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Meyer fans.

Links:

Common Law Cabin / How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)

Common Law Cabin / How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)

“How’s your motor working?”

Synopsis:
An alcoholic boat captain (Frank Bolger) brings three new clients — a man with a briefcase (Ken Swofford), a spineless doctor (John Furlong), and the doctor’s lustful wife (Alaina Capri) — to a broken-down tourist destination where the owner (Jackie Moran), his busty French housekeeper (Babette Bardot), and his pubescent daughter (Adele Rein) are ready to entertain.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Infidelity
  • Russ Meyer Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this memorably-titled exploitation flick — set in “an out-of-the-way tourist trap on a little-traveled Colorado River tributary” — as “one of Russ Meyer’s ‘sweat’ films”. He notes that it “drags in spots, but holds interest due to sexy women… , smutty lines by [the] doctor’s wife(!!!), and [the] gathering of [a] strange group in a strange location.” He argues that the “existential aspects of the story would have made it an ideal project for some European director; in fact… if it were left intact, and made in a foreign language, it could pass as a masterpiece (that would be a suitable second feature to a film like Knife in the Water).” Oh, Peary — not quite. I actually gave this a try (playing portions of the film without any soundtrack), and was hard pressed to think about how any of these scenes, for instance:



might be perceived in an “existential” fashion as part of a “masterpiece”.

Note: Swofford (see still below) looks remarkably like a combination of Burt Lancaster and Damian Lewis.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Reasonably creative direction

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.

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