4 Shots From 4 Films
Seventy three years have passed since CASABLANCA was first released. What can I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before, by writers far more skilled than me? Well, since CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite, I feel obliged to put my two cents in. So, here are my top ten reasons why CASABLANCA is the greatest movie ever made:
- Humphrey Bogart as Rick. While Bogie was already a star thanks to THE MALTESE FALCON, his performance here sent him into the stratosphere. Cynical, self-centered Rick Blaine, bitter over a lost love, sticks his neck out for nobody. His character is multi-layered, and his true nature wins out in the end. Without Bogie in the role, CASABLANCA wouldn’t be half as good.
- Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa. Beautiful Bergman underplays her part in what should have been an Oscar winning turn (sorry, Greer Garson). Ilsa’s feelings are torn between Rick and husband Victor Laszlo…
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Chandler (Warren Oates) is a former private investigator who quits his job as a security guard and gets back into the detective game. An old friend of his, Bernie Oakman (Charles McGraw), hires Chandler to follow and protect a woman named Katherine Creighton (Leslie Caron). Katherine is scheduled to testify against gangster John Melchior (Gordon Pinset) and Oakman tells Chandler that he believes Melchior may be planning on murdering her. What Chandler does not know is that Oakman is being manipulated by a corrupt federal agent, Ross Carmady (Alex Dreier), who is planning on duping Chandler into killing Melchior so that Carmady can take over Melchior’s racket. Though Chandler tries not to get emotionally involved in his cases, he ends up falling for Katherine.
In case you are keeping count, Chandler is the sixth Warren Oates film that I’ve reviewed this week. Some of that is because TCM devoted all of Monday to showing his films but it’s also because Warren Oates was a really cool actor who died too soon and never got as much credit as he deserved. Warren Oates combined the talent of a leading man with the face of a character actor and, as a result, he played some of the most memorable supporting roles of the 60s and 70s. He was the tough guy who could talk a mile a minute and his upturned grin always showed up at the most unexpected of times. Warren Oates brought humanity to outcasts and sympathy to villains.
Chandler is one of Warren Oates’s few leading roles. Unfortunately, it’s not much of a showcase. Director Paul Magwood and producer Michael Laughlin felt that the then-head of MGM, James Thomas Aubrey, interfered with the production of the film. After the film’s release, Magwood and Laughlin took out a full-page, black-bordered ad in Variety that read:
Regarding what was our film Chandler, let’s give credit where credit is due. We sadly acknowledge that all editing, post-production as well as additional scenes were executed by James T. Aubrey Jr. We are sorry.
Chandler is a strange film to watch. The plot is complicated but nothing really happens until the downbeat ending. Much like Robert Altman’s far more successful The Long Goodbye, Chandler tries to contrast the title character’s old-fashioned 1940s style and moral code with the 70s. Chandler, who always wears a suit and drives an old car, is meant to be a man out of time. Warren Oates does a good job, giving a Humphrey Bogart-style performance. But since Chandler doesn’t seem to be sure what it is trying to say about either the 40s or the 70s, it’s all for naught.
Chandler is a forgettable film, one that is only worth watching for the rare chance to see Warren Oates as a leading man.
Safe Harbor (2009) – As far as Hallmark movies go, this was one of the best I’ve seen. Although, it’s almost like it’s 20 years past when it should have been released. It’s about a retired couple played by Nancy Travis and Treat Williams. One day a judge shows up who knows Williams and just dumps a couple of toubled kids on them who need a place to stay. It’s a little of the blue, but okay cause Williams gives a bit of background later. Turns out Williams once punched a cop after that officer shot his dog. Apparently, Williams had been living under a bridge. It’s after that he joined the Merchant Marine. Quite a lot of important information that his wife apparently didn’t know after all those years. I almost expected him to say I also used to go by the name Arnold Friend and did something really bad once.
Of course the judge finds a way to dump a few more kids on them. The couple steps up and decides to take care of them. They meet a little resistance from a lady in Social Services, some of the locals, especially after a fire, and one of their mothers, but for the most part it’s just getting the kids over their issues. Doing that, the movie works. It just feels like something that should have been released in 1989 as it feels reminiscent of episodes of MacGyver.
Since Mystery Woman: Game Time felt the need to censor the word “butt” in the phrase “pain in the butt”, I was rather shocked that not once, but twice, Travis and Williams try to have sex before being interrupted by the kids.
This is one of the good ones.
Notes from the Heart Healer (2012) – This has to be the most forgettable of the Hallmark movies I have watched so far. It’s a movie technically, but barely. It’s the third film in a trilogy and I’ve only seen this one. It’s about a writer who seems to be an advice columnist type. A lady turns up at one of her book signings. She has been fired, has no place to stay, and has a baby she can’t take care of. She tries to turn to the writer for help, but when the writer’s husband shows up, she runs away. Later on she drops the baby off at the writer’s doorstep.
What follows is a very forgettable story of the writer mulling over a child she had to give up for adoption and what to do with the baby she now has in her hands. There were only two parts that were memorable. First, during the film the writer jots down some diary entries and in one she mentions that cutting the baby in two story. Honestly, I’m not sure why, but what was memorable was that she felt the need to refer to it as a decision made by “Biblical” King Solomon. A war on Christmas type thing where we want to make sure you don’t divorce the widely known story from it being in the bible? I’m really just guessing. It just stuck with me like hearing someone say “up twice down twice” when saying the Konami code. Just not something I think I’ve ever heard someone feel the need to do when that story is referenced. The second thing is when the husband reacts to something about the baby in kind of an asshole manner, for lack of a better word. But it doesn’t really go anywhere.
There, that those are the things I strongly remember tells you how forgettable this one is. Maybe the first two were better. I’ll probably find out eventually.
Mystery Woman: Vision of a Murder (2005) – Once again, we join Kellie Martin and Clarence Williams III for another murder mystery. I haven’t mentioned her in my earlier reviews of these movies, but there is a character played by Nina Siemaszko who is basically Martin’s Beth Davenport from The Rockford Files. She’s an attorney who is frequently part of the case and definitely is in this one. In this one Martin joins Siemaszko to go to a spa and take photographs of the place. Siemaszko is going there for the spa. It’s not just a spa, but a place that does plastic surgery and other such beauty treatments.
It’s run by Charles Shaughnessy so you know something is up. But just in case you didn’t, Felicia Day is in this looking and acting like “the dog who gets beat” in that lyric from the Alice In Chains’ song Man In The Box. She might as well be wearing a sign around her neck that says “I’ve got secrets to tell.”
Describing much more is spoiling it. A dead body turns up at the spa and Day turns out to be psychic. There is a funny scene where Kellie Martin pretends to be a doctor. Funny, since she’s most famous for her role on ER. And finally, that when you get near the ending, no, it isn’t clever enough to end the way you hope.
Still, decent entry in the series and one of two of them that Kellie Martin directed herself.
Second Chances (2013) – Yet another Hallmark romance, right? Well, not exactly. Don’t get me wrong, there is a couple, but that’s not really where the story is. The story is with her kids. It’s also a Larry Levinson Production so apparently that means they must include goofs with technology. Not sure why that’s a thing, but it seems to be.
But let’s back up here. The story begins with a firefighter and a 911 dispatcher. They kind of know each other from going back and forth on the radio during calls, but they’re really still strangers. He gets injured and needs to spend some serious downtime according to his doctor played by James Eckhouse of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame. He’s quite good and makes the most of the few scenes he’s in. The dispatcher gets her hours cut back and decides to rent out a room at her house to make up the difference. The firefighter decides to move in. That’s this movie’s excuse for the boy and girl to spend time together.
However, this is when the kids kind of take over the movie. They know that their Mom needs money so they decide to start charging residents of a nursing home a dollar for reading to them. These parts are the best parts of the film. It’s actually a shame that there had to be other parts cause if they had made that the whole film and let it go deeper then it could have been even better. But they don’t, so we do get a little romance between the two as well as some backstory on them. It really isn’t worth going into because you’re watching this for the kids and the two tech goofs.
The first tech goof comes really early in the movie. They obviously thought no one would notice and I don’t blame them here, but considering what it would have taken to make it right, it’s pretty stupid. If you have a better version of this then the one I watched on TV and can prove me wrong, then I’m all ears, but the firefighter picks up a sealed copy of a game the kid is supposedly playing from their living room table and talks to the kid about it. The kid isn’t a collector or anything. That sealed copy of the game is what he is supposedly playing. It’s weird because the two games under it are open. Again, if you have a higher definition copy and see differently, then tell me. But here’s what I was able to capture.
The second goof, there’s no mistake. Throughout the movie there is a fake 911 dispatch screen. Fake because it’s in a Hallmark movie, but not fake because it looks ridiculous. That is, until for reasons beyond me, they felt the need to give us a closeup of the terminal portion of it where we can see that it’s a DOS command line. It’s open to a directory called “C:\Users\Art Department\” and apparently someone has been typing random crap in and trying to execute it only to get error messages.
Like I said though, this is one of the better Hallmark movies, and the credit goes to the story with the kids.
I first saw There Was A Crooked Man as a part of TCM’s tribute to the great actor Warren Oates. Warren Oates was rarely cast in the lead but, as a character actor, he appeared in supporting roles in several great films. Unfortunately, There Was A Crooked Man is not one of them.
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and written by the screenwriting team of Robert Benton and David Newman (best known for writing Bonnie and Clyde), There Was A Crooked Man is meant to be a comedic western. Outlaw Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is arrested while visiting a bordello. Paris is sent to an Arizona prison, where everyone tries to get him to reveal where he has hidden the stash from a $500,000 robbery. Pittman uses everyone’s greed to manipulate them into helping him attempt to escape. Standing in Pittman’s way is the new warden, a liberal reformer played by Henry Fonda.
There Was A Crooked Man is a long movie that features a lot of familiar faces. Burgess Meredith plays The Missouri Kid, who has been in prison for so long that he is now an old man. Hume Cronyn and John Randolph play a bickering gay couple who eventually become a part of Pittman’s scheme to escape. Even Alan Hale, the skipper from Gilligan’s Island, shows up as a guard named Tobaccy! There Was A Crooked Man is a big movie but it’s also not a very good one. It’s not serious enough to be a good drama but it’s not funny enough to be a good comedy either.
At least the movie has Warren Oates going for it. Oates plays Harry Moon, a prisoner who is drafted into Pittman’s escape plot. It is a typical Warren Oates supporting role but he steals every scene that he appears in. Even in the smallest of roles, Warren Oates was worth watching and he’s the best thing about There Was A Crooked Man.
Terrence Malick is such an influential director that it is easy to forget that he has only directed nine films over the past 42 years. (One of those ten, Knight of Cups, will be released later this year. Two other are currently in postproduction.) He has received Oscar nominations for The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life but, for me, Malick’s best work remains his directorial debut, Badlands.
Badlands is based on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. In 1958, 20 year-old Starkweather murdered 11 people in Nebraska and Wyoming. 14 year-old Fugate was with Starkweather at the time of the murders but has always claimed that she was Starkweather’s hostage. After the two of them were captured, Starkweather was sent to the electric chair while Fugate served 17 years of a life sentence.
In Badlands, 25 year-old Kit (Martin Sheen) is a garbage man who has a huge chip on his shoulder. One day, Kit spots 15 year-old Holly (Sissy Spacek) outside, twirling a baton. Kit starts to talk to Holly, who thinks that he looks like her favorite actor, James Dean. Kit and Holly start dating. Holly’s father (Warren Oates), a sign painter who has never recovered emotionally from the death of his wife, tells Kit to stay away from his daughter. After Kit murders her father, Holly joins him in fleeing from the scene of the crime. With the police and bounty hunters chasing them, the two young lovers head across the midwest and leave a trail of bodies in their wake.
Badlands sticks pretty close to the facts of the real-life Starkweather/Fugate case but, at the same time, it is definitely the product of Terrence Malick’s artistic vision. It is interesting to see how, even in his first film, Malick was already exploring the themes and using the techniques that would later distinguish both The Thin Red Line and The Tree Of Life. Like those two films, Badlands is full of majestic scenery, contrasting the beauty of nature with the ugliness of humanity. Like all Malick films, Badlands also features a narrator. Holly tells us her story but, in contrast to the philosophical narrators from Malick’s later films, Holly speaks exclusively in romantic clichés and delivers her narration in a flat, unemotional style.
When we first see Holly, her white shorts, blue shirt, and red hair add up to an all-American tableau. When Holly falls in love with Kit because of his resemblance to James Dean and then either justifies or ignores every destructive thing that he does, she is predicting the rise of our current celebrity-dominated culture. Meanwhile, Kit is so determined to be James Dean that he even imitates Dean’s performance from Rebel Without A Cause while talking to the police.
Badlands is one of Malick’s most accessible films. Sissy Spacek is amazing as the childlike Holly and Martin Sheen has probably never been better than in his role here. And, of course, you have the great Warren Oates in the small but crucial role of Holly’s harsh father. Badlands is an American classic and still the best film of Terrence Malick’s legendary career.