Monday, December 26, 2016

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

Sour Grapes (dir. Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2016). A documentary about a con artist in the world of high-end wine. Two elements stood out for me: the collaboration between the con artist and his marks (who really, really want to believe that they’re getting their hands on rare wines) and the lawyerly effort to cast the con artist’s efforts as relatively benign.

*

Plunder Road (dir. Hubert Cornfield, 1957). In the tradition of The Asphalt Jungle (dir. John Huston, 1950) and The Killing (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1956): five men execute a perfectly plotted heist, and then everything goes wrong. Much of the story happens via radio: after the five split up to drive three trucks to California, it’s the radio that brings the news as things go wrong. And at one point a radio makes things go wrong. Now playing at at YouTube.

*

Edge of Doom (dir. Mark Robson, 1950). An odd, unnerving movie, with a crucifix as a murder weapon, and every human relationship slightly off. Dana Andrews plays a priest — an unfathomable casting choice. Farley Granger plays a desperate young man — a more fathomable casting choice. Paul Stewart (Raymond the butler in Citizen Kane) is a downstairs neighbor. At YouTube.

*

Chinatown (dir. Roman Polanski, 1974). Los Angeles, water rights, family dysfunction, plot convolutions, private detection, a generous application of Raymond Chandler. Watching again after many years, I realized that all I remembered of this film was water, a fence, and Jack Nicholson’s nose.

*

Behind Locked Doors (dir. Oscar Boetticher, 1948). A private investigator feigns mental illness to get inside a sanitarium where a crooked judge may be hiding to avoid arrest. Douglas Fowley is a fine sadistic orderly. The real treat: Tor Johnson (of Plan 9 from Outer Space) as “The Champ,” an ex-fighter and inmate. At YouTube.

*

Million Dollar Weekend (dir. Gene Raymond, 1948). Shouldn’t that be Million-Dollar? But this film is so low-budget that they probably couldn’t afford the apostrophe. A stockbroker (Gene Raymond) skips town for Shanghai and promptly becomes involved in other people’s problems. Alternative description: an embezzler, a maybe-murderer (Osa Massen), and a blackmailer (Francis Lederer) walk onto a plane. At YouTube.

*

Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (dir. Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, 2015). In 1968, ABC News attempted to generate interest in its condensed coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions by including mini-debates — which weren’t debates at all — between Willam F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. I avoided this documentary after seeing a trailer: its claim for the importance of these few minutes of television theatrics seemed far out of proportion to reality. What most struck me: the modest production values of 1968 news, the cattiness of Messrs. B. and V., and the way their insults and name-calling seem to foretell all that’s horrid in cable news.

*

Fort Tilden (dir. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, 2014). Would-be adults, adrift in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, trying to get to Fort Tilden, a beach in Queens — by bike, by borrowed car, by car service, on foot. Wonderful social satire. As someone in the film might say, ”I’d love to see more of your work!” But I mean it. My favorite moment: Infinite Jest taken down from a shelf to serve as a seductive prop.

*

The Exiles (dir. Kent Mackenzie, 1961). The lives of young Native Americans adrift in Los Angeles: exiles from the reservation, exiles from the city itself. Comic books, cigarettes, beer, Thunderbird wine, cards, jukeboxes, and, even in these surroundings, tradition. Los Angeles neo-realism, with beautiful black-and-white cinematography and strong overtones of Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery (1956). (That I could recognize that connection tells me that I must really watch a lot of films.) More about The Exiles here.

*


[Exiles, the morning after.]

*

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne (dir. Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina, 2013). Doris Payne, jewel thief of many years’ experience, was recently in the news once again, at the age of eighty-six, after stealing a diamond necklace from a store in Georgia. This documentary presents Payne as a charming, elegant, incisive fabulator, a woman who has turned her life into a story (complete with The First Time I Stole, and Why) and who will prop herself up with the flimsiest logic: “My being a thief has nothing to do with my moral fiber. It has to do with my behavior.” See also: the difference between stealing and not giving back what someone gave you.

*

Shock Corridor (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1963). A reporter feigns an incestuous obsession with his “sister” (she’s really his girlfriend) to get inside a mental institution and solve a patient’s murder. The premise recalls Behind Locked Doors, but this film is a world apart. The three witnesses to the murder, all patients, have been made mad by racism, war, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. American culture, on this film’s account, is no Great Society: it’s sick. Gripping scenes of violence and of “Main Street,” the long corridor where men act out their delusions or stand and stare inertly.

*

The Great Lie (dir. Edmund Goulding, 1941). Mary Astor, George Brent, and Bette Davis in a love triangle that turns into a quadrilateral — or a pentagon, if you include the piano. If the utter implausibility of the storyline is too much, just press the SD button on your remote.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more

[The SD button activates the suspension of disbelief for those who cannot activate it for themselves.]

comments: 2

Fresca said...

Just to say I always like your movie round-ups.
And as always, am inspired to catch up (but must work!!!).

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Fresca.