Big Entertainment: Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT (Columbia, 1953)

cracked rear viewer


Fritz Lang is one of the most influential film directors of all time. Getting his start in Germany’s famed Ufa Studios, Lang became world renown for masterpieces like  METROPOLIS (1927) and M (starring Peter Lorre, 1931), and his Dr. Mabuse series. Lang fled the Nazi regime in the early 30s, coming to America to ply his trade. He became a top Hollywood director particularly famous for film noir classics like SCARLET STREET (1945, a personal favorite of mine), THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953), and WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1954). One of the best of these is 1953’s  THE BIG HEAT.

The movie starts with the suicide of Tom Duncan, head of the police records bureau. Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is called in and interviews the widow. Bannion’s a family man with loving wife Katie (Jocelyn Brando) and young daughter. While at home enjoying some quality time, he receives a call from a woman named Lucy claiming Duncan didn’t…

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Film Review: Kid Blue (1973, directed by James Frawley)

KidBlueFor the past week and a half, I have been on a major Warren Oates kick.  The latest Oates film that I watched was Kid Blue, a quirky western comedy that features Warren in a small but key supporting role.

Bickford Warner (Dennis Hopper) is a long-haired and spaced-out train robber who, after one failed robbery too many, decides to go straight and live a conventional life.  He settles in the town of Dime Box, Texas.  He starts out sweeping the floor of a barber shop before getting a better job wringing the necks of chickens.  Eventually, he ends up working at the Great American Ceramic Novelty Company, where he helps to make ashtrays for tourists.

He also meets Molly and Reese Ford (Lee Purcell and Warren Oates), a married couple who both end up taking an interest in Bickford.  Reese, who ignores his beautiful wife, constantly praised Greek culture and insists that Bickford take a bath with him.  Meanwhile, Molly and Bickford end up having an affair.

Bickford also meets the local preacher, Bob (Peter Boyle).  Bob is enthusiastic about peyote and has built a primitive flying machine that he keeps in a field.  The town’s fascist sheriff, Mean John (Ben Johnson), comes across Bob performing a river baptism and angrily admonishes him for using “white man’s water” to baptize an Indian.

Bickford attempts to live a straight life but is constantly hassled by Mean John, who suspects that Bickford might actually be Kid Blue.  When Bickford’s former criminal partner (Janice Rule) shows up in town and Molly announces that she’s pregnant, Bickford has to decide whether or not to return to his old ways.

Kid Blue is one of a handful of counterculture westerns that were released in the early 70s.  The film’s biggest problem is that, at the time he was playing “Kid” Blue, Dennis Hopper was 37 and looked several years older.  It’s hard to buy him as a naïve naif when he looks older than everyone else in the cast.  As for Warren Oates, his role was small but he did great work as usual.  Gay characters were rarely presented sympathetically in the early 70s and counter-culture films were often the worst offenders.  As written, Reese is a one-note (and one-joke) character but Warren played him with a lot of empathy and gave him a wounded dignity that was probably not present in the film’s script.

Kid Blue plays out at its own stoned pace, an uneven mix of quirky comedy and dippy philosophy.  Still, the film is worth seeing for the only-in-the-70s cast and the curiosity factor of seeing Dennis Hopper in full counterculture mode, before he detoxed and became Hollywood’s favorite super villain.


Film Review: Capone (1975, directed by Steve Carver)

capone-poster-1Over the course of his legendary career, filmmaker Roger Corman produced two films about the life of Al Capone.  The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which starred Jason Robards as the famous Chicago mobster and featured Jack Nicholson in a two-line role, is the one that everyone remembers.  The other one was simply titled Capone and starred Ben Gazzara.

Capone opens in 1918, with Al Capone as a cunning young criminal who cons his way into the trust of Chicago racketeers Johnny Torio (Harry Guardino) and Frankie Yale (John Cassavetes, appearing in two scenes and probably using his salary to produce The Killing of a Chinese Bookie).  The tough and streetwise Capone works his way up, becoming Torio’s right-hand man before eventually betraying his boss and taking over the Chicago rackets himself.  Al rules Chicago with an iron fist and has an affair with a flapper named Iris (Susan Blakely).  After killing nearly all of his enemies, Al is taken down on a tax evasion charge and, after contracting syphilis, he ends up a pathetic and lonely man, sitting by his pool and ranting about his enemies.

Despite being one of the few movies to depict Al’s final days, Capone makes little effort to be historically accurate.  Instead, it’s a gangster film in the tradition of Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and both versions of Scarface, complete with nudity, tough talk, and plenty of tommy gun action.  (Since this is a Roger Corman film, Capone also features Dick Miller and footage that was lifted directly from St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.)  There is nothing surprising about Capone but it’s still entertaining.

Al Capone has been played by everyone from Rod Steiger to Robert De Niro to F. Murray Abraham.  Ben Gazzara may not have been the most subtle Capone but he was one of the most watchable.  Gazzara played Al Capone like a snarling animal, always ready to bite anyone who gets too close.  My favorite Gazzara moments come at the end of the film, when a syphilitic Capone bugs his eyes and starts to rave about Bolsheviks.

Today, Capone is best remembered for featuring Sylvester Stallone in the role of Frank Nitti, Al’s right-hand man and eventual successor.  One year later, Rocky would turn Stallone into a superstar and his days of working for Roger Corman would be over.




Happy Birthday, Mr. Lovecraft (One More Time) : Alan Moore And Jacen Burrows Peel The Scabs Off “The Dunwich Horror” In “Providence” #4

“Providence” just keeps upping the ante —

Trash Film Guru


Not so long ago — in fact, just last week, if memory serves me correctly — we did a mini-round-up of reviews for films based (sometimes quite loosely) on the works of H.P. Lovecraft in honor of his 125th birthday, and while I didn’t think I’d be re-visiting the world of so-called “Lovecraftiana” again so soon, when Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #4 hit comics shops yesterday I simply had to, given that it’s based so heavily on The Dunwich Horror , the 1970 celluloid version of which I almost-literally just did a little write-up on . Soooooo — since I figured it would be worth delving into these murky backwaters one more time to have a closer look at just how this four-color printed story differs from its literary and cinematic step-siblings, let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?


For those of you who have been following Providence from the…

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