44 Days of Paranoia #34: Saboteur (dir by Alfred Hitchcock)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 1942 Alfred Hitchcock film, Saboteur.

Saboteur opens at an aircraft factory in Glenda, California.  Co-workers Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) and Ken Mason (Virgil Summers) notice a stand-offish new guy named Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd, who appropriately looks something like a rodent).  When a fire breaks out at the factory, Fry hands Barry a fire extinguisher which Barry then hands off to Ken.  The extinguisher, however, is full of gasoline, both causing the fire to turn into an inferno and killing Ken.

When questioned by the FBI, Barry explains that Fry handed him the extinguisher, just to then be informed that no one named Fry worked at the plant and that no one saw Fry — or anyone else — hand Barry the extinguisher.  Realizing that Fry has framed him and also remembering the address on an envelope that Fry was carrying, Barry runs.  With the FBI and police pursuing him, Barry tries to track down the real saboteur.  Along the way, he discovers a friendly rancher (Otto Kruger) who is actually a Nazi agent and gets some help from a group of circus freaks, a blind man, and the blind man’s model daughter (Peggy Cummings).  He also discovers that the U.S. is crawling with Nazi double agents who hide behind a veil of respectability and are plotting to destroy historic landmarks across the country.  It all eventually leads to a genuinely exciting climax atop the Statue of Liberty.

Saboteur doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other films that Hitchcock directed in the 40s and perhaps that’s not surprising.  It’s not as technically audacious as Notorious nor is it as thought-provoking as Shadow of the Doubt or as flamboyant as Spellbound.  While Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane make for perfectly likable leads, they certainly don’t generate the chemistry of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.  When one looks at the masterpieces that Hitchcock directed in the 40s, it’s easy to dismiss Saboteur as being a well-made B-movie.

And yet, I love Saboteur.  The film is pure non-stop melodrama and, over 70 years since it was first made, it remains an exciting and entertaining film.  Despite the fact that some critics may not hold Saboteur in as high regard as some of Hitchcock’s other films, Saboteur is full of moments of the director’s trademark ambiguity and irony.  This is one of Hitchcock’s wrong man films, where innocent men are chased across a shadowy landscape by the forces of law and order who, in many ways, are portrayed as being just as menacing as the film’s nominal villains.  Meanwhile, the Nazi agents hide behind warm smiles and friendly words, their evil only apparent when it’s too late to stop them.  Despite his rather fearsome reputation, Hitchcock’s sympathies always lay with the powerless and the wrongly accused.

It’s those sympathies that make Saboteur into far more than just another B-movie.

Instead, it’s one of Hitchcock’s best.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives

Artist Profile: Peter Driben (1903 — 1968)


Driben

Peter Driben was one of the most prominent and prolific artists of the pin-up era.  The son of Russian immigrants, he was born in Boston and dropped out of school in order to work and help support his family.  Eventually, he was able to take night classes at the Vesper George School of Art.  He moved to New York in 1936 and found work doing covers for pulp magazines like Silk Stocking, Beauty Parade, and Flirt.  Though Driben is best known for his pin-ups, he also did true crime covers and advertising work.

Driben 1 Driben 2 Driben 3 Driben 4 Driben 5 Driben 6 Driben 7 Driben 8 Driben 9 Driben 10

44 Days of Paranoia #33: The Stepford Wives (dir by Bryan Forbes)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at the sci-fi social satire, The Stepford Wives.

Now, don’t panic.  I’m not talking about that terrible Nicole Kidman comedy that came out in 2004.  No, I’m talking about the original Stepford Wives.  This film originally came out in 1975.  I recently saw it on TCM and I was shocked to discover that, despite the fact that the film is undeniably dated in that fascinatingly weird way that most films from the 70s are, The Stepford Wives holds up rather well.

Joanna (Katharine Ross) and her husband, Walter (Peter Masteron) leave dangerous New York City and move to the idyllic suburb of Stepford, Connecticut.  Walter is immediately invited to join the exclusive Stepford Men’s Association but Joanna finds it far more difficult to fit in with the citizens of Stepford.  As Joanna discovers, all of the women of Stepford are oddly submissive and obsessively domestic.  When Joanna and her friend Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) attempt to hold a consciousness raising meeting, they quickly discover that the other women of Stepford would rather talk about cleaning products than women’s lib.

The more that Joanna investigates the social structure of Stepford, the more convinced she becomes that something sinister is being done to keep the Stepford Wives from desiring a life outside of pleasing their husbands.  The more disturbed Joanna is by Stepford, the more Walter loves it…

One of the many reasons why I love my boyfriend is because he knows that I’m not perfect.  He knows that I’m often a neurotic mess.  He knows that I’m just as obsessively insecure about my big nose as I’m obsessively vain about my red hair.  He knows that I tend to take on too much and that I get defensive whenever I’m told that I need to slow down.  He knows that I can be emotional and silly.  He also knows how much I value my independence.  He’s knows that I need to have a life of my own and, instead of being threatened, he has always been there to encourage me, to cheer for me when things go right and to hold me when things go wrong and, most importantly, to never judge me regardless of whether I succeed or fail.  He knows that I’m not perfect and that I’ll never be perfect and he loves me anyway.

That hasn’t always been the case with some of the guys that I’ve gone out with in the past.  For the longest time, I always thought I was the only girl who had a hundred men trying to change her but I’ve discovered that my experiences were hardly unique.  All of my friends have stories about men who have tried to change them.  There seems to be something inherent in the mentality of many men that leads them to assume that they can make any woman into a robot.

Perhaps that’s why The Stepford Wives resonated with me.  Most husbands may not be able to literally turn their wives into robots but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.  The Stepford Wives is a flawed film — the pace often drags and the performances are uneven — but it’s one that rings true for many women.

(And don’t worry, boys!  The men in this film are such pigs that there’s no way you won’t look better by comparison.)

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge

Space Hulk


space-hulk-03

A long time ago, Games Workshop released a board game for their popular “Warhammer 40,000” game franchise. It featured a web of interlocking pieces that could be fashioned together to create the claustrophobic interior of a derelict spacecraft, adrift an unknowable period of time in the great beyond. Obstacles such as doors (both functional and not) populated the game board, and then one player took control of an incursion team of elite Space Marine Terminators as they attempt to secure the derelict. In the lore of the universe, this is done because such derelicts, or “Space Hulks”, have the awesome potential to harbor lost technologies from the distant past. Also, such ships could be full of random marauding Orks, or much worse… the Tyranid Genestealers controlled by Space Hulk’s second player.

You don’t need to know what all of that stuff is to understand that the game was fun. The Space Marine player deploys their squad of Terminators and attempts to achieve their objective, while the Genestealers spawn into the map after play begins as ‘radar blips’. Until visual contact is made, the Terminators can’t know how many Genestealers each blip represents… and even a single one of them is a mortally dangerous adversary at close quarters. Of course, the Terminators prefer to do most of their fighting at range, and have stormbolters (think assault rifles), assault cannons (think miniguns) and heavy flamers (think heavy flamers!) they can deploy to wipe out the Genestealers before they can close to close-combat range. Combat within the game is capriciously lethal, and the whole experience was half an hour or so of good, clean fun.

Fast forward to 2013. Space Hulk (even its re-issue!) has been out of print for a long time. It is now very expensive to acquire, and must be procured second-hand (‘new’ copies exist, but you’ll more than likely have to resort to various hobbying or miniatures sites on the Internet to find them). Enter Full Control Studios, a UK-based developer with several other turn-based strategy credits to their name, who on 15 August of this year dropped “Space Hulk”, a fully realized 3-D recreation of the board game experience that some of us will remember. You know, from a long time ago. Their stated goal was to faithfully recreate the board game experience. The tension of that game primarily came from the uncertainty facing both the Genestealer and Terminator players. The Terminators knew their objective and had prior knowledge of the spawn points for the Genestealers, but had no way of knowing which spawn location they might choose to use, and as I mentioned before… the Genestealers always ride single file, to hide their numbers. The Genestealers need these advantages to make up for their deficiencies in long-range firepower, which the Space Marines have brought in spades.

At the time of the game’s launch, it was met with very mixed reviews. I’ll get to some of the game’s high points in a moment, but it was rightly criticized at launch for an obscene number of bugs. I’m happy to report (in fact, it’s the reason that I’m doing this review now) that with the advent of the 1.3 version patch and the release of the new DLCs, that the game has been running smooth and bug free for me ever since I revisited it. I have not even noticed any jarring graphical anomalies, though they seem like an inevitability in modern game experiences. With the game now smoothly playable, I feel like I can much more authentically recommend it to the interested player. If you are interested… read on, I guess!

Couched in these terms, the video game experience is a very pleasing one. The 3-D graphics are pretty (maybe nothing awe-inspiring, but this is 2013, you’d have to work very hard to impress me with game graphics), and more importantly, the environments have been well constructed to recreate the claustrophobia of the original game. Because, my friends, the corridors aboard the space hulk are only one square wide. You can’t just have your marines spread out in a fire line and advance under a withering hail of machine gun bullets. Instead, the winning tactic tends to be advancing slowly using the ‘Overwatch’ command to fire at moving Genestealers off-turn, or to deploy the heavy flamer or the powerful psionics of the Terminator Librarians to deny certain passageways to the Genestealers completely. Otherwise, what tends to happen, is that a whole bunch of Genestealers charge your position, and your guys die one after another. Oh, and that’s one thing to keep in mind if you do try out Space Hulk: Some of your guys will die. Trying to prevent all friendly casualties? That way lies madness.

If some of this stuff sounds at least a little reminiscent of another recent release (specifically, 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown) that’s because the interfaces share some similarities. Veterans of the new XCOM game will probably find that they have an upper hand in some respects, as you’ll understand what kind of tactics work against enemies that you don’t always know the position of, and who are hilariously deadly if approached in a cavalier fashion. Each of your Terminators, by default, has four ‘Action Points’ available in a turn. One AP allows your space marine to take a step, change his facing 90 degrees, or discharge his firearm (the Heavy Flamer requires 2 action points). You can also use 2 AP to enter Overwatch or Guard (Guard gives you a marginally better chance of success in melee, can be effective on units who already have a leg-up in melee combat)… AP is also used for things like opening doors, acquiring mission critical objects, and so on.

The Genestealer player’s traditional disadvantage, on the other hand, is that she does not know how many command points the Terminator squad has on a given turn, which (in the original version) allowed them to do certain things ‘out of turn’. In the 2013 video game release, command points are rolled at the start of turn (1-6, and you can re-roll them if your squad’s ‘Sergeant’ is still alive), and can be used (at a 1:1 exchange rate) to supplement a Terminator’s normal limit of 4 AP in a turn. In addition, when autofiring while on Overwatch, any roll of ‘doubles’ (1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, whatever) will jam the overwatching weapon…but your Terminator can automatically unjam at the cost of a leftover Command Point.

The game is entirely tactical, without any sort of overarching strategic framework. You enter each scenario (or multiplayer match) with the Terminator’s forces and objectives pre-determined. Only the tactical combat on the map is in play. For that, I find it to be both engaging and fun… in small doses. The game play deepens when you add in all of the game’s potential features, like the Genestealers being able to loose Broodlords into the hulk, and the full Terminator arsenal, including heavy melee weapons, assault cannons, heavy flamers, and psionic Librarians, rather than just the vanilla stormbolter guys…but still doesn’t really match the tactical depth of a game like XCOM, which has many varied enemy types, special unit skills, and a wider arsenal of weapons. An average scenario can clock in at 40 minutes or so, which is not at all disagreeable for me, and, unlike XCOM, Space Hulk is quite amenable to the idea of saving, taking a break, and coming back to your game later.

Oh, one more thing: Space Hulk normally retails at $29.99 from Steam, but is featured in the 2013 year-end sale at 50% off!

What Lisa and Megan Watched Last Night #96: Saved By The Bell 2.9 “Jessie’s Song” (dir by Don Barnhart)


Last night, my sister Megan and I watched the classic 1990 Saved By The Bell caffeine pill episode, Jessie’s Song.

Why Were We Watching It?

I was visiting Megan and her family for the holidays, she has every episode of Saved By The Bell on DVD — seriously, how could we not end up watching it?

What Was It About?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and things at Bayside High were pretty messed up.  Self-declared genius Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) was failing Geometry so she started taking caffeine pills.  Then, her sociopathic friend Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) decided that Jessie should also launch a musical career as a member of the disturbingly generic girl group Hot Sundae.  And who can blame him with all of this talent of display?

 And so, Jessie started taking more and more pills.  And then, this happened…

Fear not!  Jessie recovered from her drug addiction in time to be featured in Johnny Dakota’s No Hope With Dope ad campaign.

What Worked?

Jessie’s Song is like The Room of Saved By The Bell episodes, 22 minutes of television that is just so wrong and oddly executed that it becomes oddly fascinating.  For that reason, it’s impossible to judge this episode by standard definitions of quality.

The idea that Kelly, Lisa, and Jessie (a.k.a. Hot Sundae) could get a recording contract, the fact that Jessie ends up getting hooked on the equivalent of can of Red Bull, the fantasy sequence where Jessie imagines having to go to Surf U. because she failed Geometry, the fact that a few pills transform Jessie overnight, and the overly optimistic ending; none of it works.  And, for that reason, the entire episode works.

Consider this — before I had even seen this episode, I knew that Jessie Spano ended up getting hooked on caffeine pills and singing, “I’m so excited!  I’m so excited!  I’m so …. SCARED!”  For better or worse, this episode is a part of our culture.

On a personal note, I loved the extremely earnest way Mario Lopez delivered the line, “Hold on, Jessie — it says right here that these may be habit-forming…”

What Did Not Work?

As Megan pointed out to me, there’s a huge continuity error in this episode.  Back in the glee club episode, it had been established that Kelly couldn’t sing.  Now, suddenly, she’s on the verge of getting a recording contract.  Was there no such thing as a consistency at Bayside?  No wonder Jessie ended up addicted to drugs.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Jessie Spano, I have a tendency to push myself.  Whereas Jessie pushed herself to attend an Ivy League college and to try to destroy the patriarchy, I push myself to post a certain amount of film reviews each month.

For instance, earlier this year, I decided that I would post at least 120 reviews in October.  And so, much like Jessie, I pushed myself and pushed myself and, when I felt like I couldn’t go on, I took every pill that I had in the medicine cabinet and then I danced around my bedroom going, “I’m so excited!  I’m so excited!  I’m so … scared!”

And some people though that was silly on my part but you know what?  This October, the TSL posted 137 new reviews so, obviously, I was doing something right.  And I’ve already decided that next year, we’re going to break all previous records.  That’s right — 200 posts in October of 2014!  You read it here first.

And, to think, I owe it all to caffeine.

Lessons Learned

There’s no hope with dope!  Wait … no, actually, that was a different episode.  In this one, I guess I learned not to abuse caffeine but I really didn’t learn that because I’ve seen this episode a few dozen times and I’m still addicted to caffeine and, for that matter, I’m still pushing myself and having trouble accepting that I can’t always be the best at everything so maybe I didn’t learn anything from this episode…

Oh wait!  I did learn something.  Geometry leads to drug addiction and causes you to let all of your friends down.

Seriously, geometry sucks.

(For another look at drug abuse in the 1990s, please be sure to check out my review of the California Dreams steroid episode, Tiffani’s Gold.)