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Month: March 2017

Clockwork Orange, A (1971)

Clockwork Orange, A (1971)

“If you need Pretty Polly — you take it.”

Synopsis:
In a dystopian British future, an ultra-violent thug (Malcolm McDowell) who has committed a series of heinous crimes with his “droogs” (James Marcus, Michael Tarn, and Warren Clarke) is arrested and sent to prison, where he undergoes a new conversion therapy known as the “Ludovico Technique”. Upon release, Alex (McDowell) feels ill at the thought of violence or sex — but what future lies ahead for this reformed delinquent?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Dystopia
  • Gangs
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Malcolm McDowell Films
  • Mind Control and Hypnosis
  • Rape
  • Revenge
  • Science Fiction
  • Stanley Kubrick Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian 1962 novel — written after Burgess endured the brutal beating and rape of his wife by AWOL GI’s during a WWII blackout raid — remains a “visually brilliant [yet] thematically reprehensible” film. Peary asserts that “because Alex is meant to embody our savage, anarchic impulses, Kubrick figured we’d identify with him”, and “manipulates us into accepting Alex in relation to the world”. He notes that as “played by McDowell… Alex is energetic, handsome, witty, and more clever, honest, intelligent, and interesting than any of the adults in the cruel world” — and that “without exception, Kubrick makes Alex’s victims more obnoxious than they are in the book [and] their abuse at Alex’s hands more palatable by making them grotesque, mannered, snobbish figures”. Peary points out how many “distancing devices” Kubrick uses, including “extreme wide angles, slow motion, fast motion, surreal backgrounds, [and] songs that counterpoint the violence” — which, by the way, is all “very stylized” when Alex perpetrates it, “but when it comes time for him to endure violence… is much more realistic”. We’re led to pity Alex, who is “like an alley cat declawed before being returned to the streets”.

Peary’s no-holds-barred reviews of A Clockwork Orange in GFTFF (and his Cult Movies 2 book) are incisive, compelling, and worth quoting at greater length. He notes that Burgess stated, “If we are going to love mankind, we will have to love Alex as a not unrepresentative member of it; it is preferable to have a world of violence undertaken in full awareness — violence chosen as an act of will — than a world conditioned to be good or harmless.” However, Peary points out that “the mankind Kubrick shows us is totally alien to us and not worthy of our love. And even before he undergoes the Ludovico treatment, Alex’s violent acts don’t seem to be made through free choice, but are reflexive, conditioned by past violence — he is already a clockwork orange (human on the outside, mechanized on the inside).” Ultimately, the “film’s strong, gratuitous violence is objectionable (as is the comical atmosphere when violence is being perpetrated), but the major reason the film can be termed fascistic is Kubrick’s heartless, super-intellectual, super-orderly, anti-septic, anti-human, anti-female, anti-sensual, anti-passion, anti-erotic treatment of its subject”, with “all emotional stimuli… lumped together as being harmful”, and “all art… pornographic”.

In Cult Movies 2, Peary adds that “the film is like a Sunday sermon where the fellow up on the pulpit suddenly realizes there is no moral lesson that applies to his listeners… Kubrick [simply] teaches paranoid individuals… that you can’t cure the habitual thrill criminal”. He concludes his essay in this book by noting that “once Alex is arrested and the look of the film shifts away from dreamlike pop art, the picture becomes excruciatingly dull”. I’m essentially in agreement with Peary: I’ve avoided a re-watch of A Clockwork Orange for years, and don’t plan to revisit it again — but it’s infamous (and beloved) enough to warrant one-time viewing by film fanatics. (Meanwhile, the cinematography and sets are indeed memorable, as is Wendy Carlos’s synthesized score.) Be forewarned that some scenes are almost unbearably misogynistic and/or brutalizing; if our world is actually headed in this direction, we have reason to be very scared indeed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Malcolm McDowell as Alex
  • John Alcott’s cinematography
  • Many hideously memorable sequences

  • Effectively stylized, futuristic sets and visual design

  • Wendy Carlos’s memorable synthesized score

Must See?
Yes, once, as a dark cult classic.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Important Director

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

Links:

Face in the Crowd, A (1957)

Face in the Crowd, A (1957)

“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!”

Synopsis:
A radio producer (Patricia Neal) discovers a charismatic drifter (Andy Griffith) in Arkansas who is soon tapped to star in his own television show as “Lonesome Rhodes”, and becomes a folksy cult favorite with “the common people”. Griffith and Neal fall in love, but their romance is compromised when Griffith marries an adoring young baton-twirler (Lee Remick). Meanwhile, Griffith’s estranged wife (Kay Medford) shows up to wreak havoc, and Griffith’s growing need for adoration turns him into a monstrous narcissist.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Andy Griffith Films
  • Elia Kazan Films
  • Folk Heroes
  • Journalists
  • Lee Remick Films
  • Media Spectacle
  • Naïve Public
  • Patricia Neal Films
  • Political Corruption
  • Television
  • Walter Matthau Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
There could hardly be a more apt time in American history to post a review of this “cynical film” about a “Frankenstein Monster [who] use[s] the media to bolster his fame, manipulate the public, and increase his power”.

Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Bud Schulberg had no way of knowing that a bombastic reality-T.V. star would rise to the highest power of the land in 2016 — but their telescoping of current-day America is simply uncanny, and demonstrates that human tendencies haven’t evolved much (if at all) since this film’s release. Peary writes that “Schulberg is expressing his fear that television, which has tremendous power, will become a political tool” — as, of course, it has (along with the internet). He notes that while “Lonesome Rhodes is guilty of taking advantage of the medium — through which you can fool all the people all of the time”, “Schulberg is attacking us, the ignorant people who sits like sheep and believes whatever it sees on the tube”. Perhaps most creepily prescient is Peary’s comment that these days, if “Rhodes were caught expressing his real thoughts while thinking the mike was off, his popularity would probably go up”. ‘Tis true, indeed. He closes his review by noting that this is a “well-made film” and that “in her debut, Lee Remick catches your eye as a sexy baton twirler”:

— but I find it more relevant to comment on Kazan’s memorable direction and Gayne Rescher and Harry Stradling’s consistently stark b&w cinematography.

In his Alternate Oscars, Peary names Griffith Best Actor of the year for his role here, noting that his “Lonesome Rhodes is quite a shock, a perversion of the other two characters” he was known for at the time: a “harmless country boy” in No Time for Sergeants on Broadway, and his “easygoing sheriff in the long-running Andy Griffith Show.” He writes that “Lonesome is abrasive, ambitious, shrewd, and manipulative” — someone who “with unbridled energy and the right mix of superiority and humility, attempts to convince everyone around him that he is right”. He further notes that “when Lonesome expounds his conservative philosophy to redneck sycophants” he’s “creepy”, and that “when Lonesome has made a fool of himself on national television and no one shows up for his lavish dinner and he hugs the servants in an effort to get them to say they love him” he “is pathetic”.

Lonesome’s ultimate lesson (appropriately enough) is that “it really is lonely at the top”. Peary asserts it’s a good thing that Griffith never again played such a “monster” on-screen, given that no one “could stand to see or hear another Lonesome Rhodes” — but then again, life itself offers plenty such monsters to loathe…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Andy Griffith as “Lonesome Rhodes”
  • Patricia Neal as Marcia Jeffries (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Fine cinematography


  • Incisive direction by Kazan



  • Budd Schulberg’s searing screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as a heartbreakingly relevant classic. Nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

Raw Deal (1948)

Raw Deal (1948)

“What do you know about anything? You probably had your bread buttered on both sides since the day you were born.”

Synopsis:
With help from his lovestruck moll (Claire Trevor), a convict (Dennis O’Keefe) escapes from prison and kidnaps a soft-hearted social worker (Marsha Hunt) while fleeing from both the police and his deceitful crime boss (Raymond Burr).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Mann Films
  • Claire Trevor Films
  • Escape
  • Ex-Convicts
  • John Ireland Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Love Triangle
  • Raymond Burr Films

Review:
Anthony Mann and DP John Alton collaborated on several Peary-listed titles, including T-Men (1947), Reign of Terror (1949), Devil’s Doorway (1950), and this gritty escape drama about a convict caught between his growing love for a “good” woman (Hunt) and loyalty for his girlfriend (Trevor). The three key characters in the film are indeed given a “raw deal”: O’Keefe took the rap on behalf of his corrupt boss (Burr), who not-so-secretly hopes O’Keefe will be killed during his escape; Trevor is desperately in love with O’Keefe, but recognizes Hunt as a legitimate threat to her status; and do-gooder Hunt simply wants to help O’Keefe, but ends up kidnapped and endangered as a result. The performances (including supporting roles by Burr, John Ireland, and others) are all excellent, and the storyline is reliably tense — but it’s Mann and Alton’s visual work that really ties this piece together as a stylistic gem of the genre (see stills below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dennis O’Keefe as Joe Sullivan
  • Claire Trevor as Pat
  • John Alton’s highly atmospheric cinematography



  • Anthony Mann’s consistently inventive direction

Must See?
Yes, as a nifty little noir flick.

Categories

Links:

American Pop (1981)

American Pop (1981)

“You’re the prize in my box! And my box is this country. It’s all tinfoil on the outside, corn and sweetness on the inside.”

Synopsis:
Four generations of Russian-Jewish immigrants seek love, fortune, and musical careers in New York City and beyond.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Animated Features
  • Musicians

Review:
Ralph Bakshi‘s animated musical-paean to the messy glory of American life and the pursuit of happiness offers a satisfying alternative to his more famous yet crasser work (i.e., Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic). Utilizing impressive rotoscoping and an eclectic array of colors, sets, and styles, Bakshi tells an affecting tale of musicians (fathers, sons, grandsons) living through distinctive historical eras in America. Film fanatics will want to check this one out simply for the consistently engaging visuals and awesome soundtrack — including songs by Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Doors, George Gershwin, Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, Louis Prima, and the Mamas & the Papas (whew!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent rotoscoping animation


  • An affecting story of inter-generational trauma and artistic striving

  • An impressive soundtrack

Must See?
Yes, as a good show with enduring cult potential. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

Links:

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

“I can’t wander all my life… I’ve got to be going somewhere!”

Synopsis:
When her wealthy lover (Dana Andrews) refuses to leave his manipulative wife (Ruth Warrick) out of concern for his two daughters (Peggy Ann Garner and Connie Marshall), a magazine artist named Daisy Kenyon (Joan Crawford) agrees to marry a widowed veteran (Henry Fonda) — but is Andrews really gone from Daisy’s life?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dana Andrews Films
  • Divorce
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • Joan Crawford Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Otto Preminger Films

Review:
Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Elizabeth Janeway‘s novel about a working woman in New York City who is torn between continuing her affair with an overbearing lawyer (Andrews) or settling for a tamer life with her smitten new suitor (Fonda). Naturally, it’s Crawford’s show the entire way, and her diehard fans likely won’t be disappointed:

— but the film on the whole is not quite satisfying, with both characters and plot underdeveloped. Fonda’s character is meant to be an enigmatic (how in the world did he come into Daisy’s life, anyway?), psychologically damaged milquetoast, with the ultimate result that he’s little less than a foil for Andrews’ unappealing womanizer.


A critical subplot about Warrick’s abusive treatment of Marshall (who looks appropriately traumatized):


… is the most intriguing element of the screenplay, but is glossed over. Apparently the film now holds a minor cult following, with DVD Savant writing that it is “dramatically and emotionally satisfying” and “easily one of Preminger’s best efforts” — but I can’t really agree.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Crawford or Preminger completists.

Links:

T.R. Baskin (1971)

T.R. Baskin (1971)

“The city is pretty from a distance — like someone with bad skin.”

Synopsis:
A young woman (Candice Bergen) from a small town heads to Chicago, where she falls for a guy (James Caan) who inexplicably mistakes her for a prostitute, and recommends her “services” to a former college buddy (Peter Boyle).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Candice Bergen Films
  • Coming of Age
  • Flashback Films
  • Herbert Ross Films
  • James Caan Films
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos

Review:
Herbert Ross directed this somewhat bewildering flashback tale (scripted by Peter Hyams) about a naive young woman in the Big Cold City who is so offended at being mistaken for a prostitute that she… becomes one.

The film’s “plot twist” is given away immediately, leaving all narrative tension (such as it is) to Bergen’s big reveal about how or why Caan could have done such a thing (spoiler alert — we never really learn). When the true meaning of a character’s initials is one of the film’s biggest mysteries (hint: Bergen’s character is named after a famous supporting actress), you know you’re in trouble. Thelma Ritter, please rescue us!

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some effective cinematography

Must See?
No; don’t bother seeking this one out.

Links:

Untamed Youth (1957)

Untamed Youth (1957)

“Don’t you see, honey? After this harvest, I’ll be rich — and after next season, I’ll be wealthy!”

Synopsis:
Two aspiring singers (Mamie Van Doren and Lori Nelson) are arrested for vagrancy on their way to Hollywood, and sentenced by a judge (Lurene Tuttle) to work on a cotton farm owned by her greedy husband (John Russell), who hopes to exploit as many young “delinquents” as possible.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Mamie Van Doren Films

Review:
All film fanatics should be familiar with Mamie Van Doren, known as one of Hollywood’s three busty-blonde “M’s” (along with Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield). However, Peary lists no less than eight of Van Doren’s titles in his GFTFF, which is far too many — and this Z-grade exploitation flick should definitely not be among them. Mamie shimmies as seductively as ever in her super-tight clothing:

… but she’s ultimately a bit player in a ridiculous tale about a villainous cotton farm owner who exploits young white delinquents (!) due to an apparent widespread lack of manpower (the racist implications in this aspect of the plot are beyond belief). Meanwhile, he’s actively deceiving his cougar-wife (Tuttle), whose passion for this caddish heel gives a terrible name to female judges, and lends the film its ultimate message: never trust hormonal middle-aged women in positions of power. According to IMDb, the film “was originally condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency” — perhaps due in part to a subplot involving a blonde delinquent nicknamed “Baby” (Yvonne Lime) — “but that only served to enhance the curiosity factor, resulting in it being a big moneymaker for the studio.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Surreal scenes of young white “delinquents” singing and dancing while “toiling” in cotton fields

Must See?
No, unless you’re a Van Doren completist.

Links: