From Noon till Three (1976, directed by Frank D. Gilroy)

Graham Dorsey (played by Charles Bronson) is an outlaw in the Old West who is eager to get out of his gang’s plan to robb a bank in a small town.  He’s been having nightmares in which he and his entire gang are wiped out by the townspeople.  However, the other members of the gang insist on trying to rob the bank.  Because Graham needs a new horse, they stop off at a ranch owned by the widowed Amanda Starbuck (Jill Ireland).  Both because he doesn’t want to die and also because he wants to spend time with the beautiful Amanda, Graham lies to the gang and tells them that Amanda doesn’t have a horse.  The gang leaves Graham behind, saying that they’ll return for him in a few hours.  The gang, of course, ends up getting captured by the townspeople while Graham and Amanda make love three times over the next three hours.

When Graham learns that the other members of the gang have been arrested, he’s content to just allow them to hang so that he can spend the rest of his life with Amanda.  However, Amanda insists that Graham go into town and rescue his fellow outlaws.  Graham agrees, even though he’s planning on actually just laying low for a few hours until the others have been executed.  Through a series of events that are far too complicated to even try to recount here, Graham ends up switching clothes with a traveling dentist.  When a posse guns down the dentist, Amanda believes that Graham has been killed.  Meanwhile, Graham is arrested for practicing dentistry without a license and is put in prison for a year.

While Graham is away, Amanda writes an idealized account of the three hours that she spent with Graham.  A play is produced.  Songs are written.  Tourists flock to Amanda’s ranch.  Amanda becomes a celebrity and even she begins to believe that, instead of being a cowardly and uncouth outlaw, Graham was actually a tall, handsome, and cultured gentleman.  When Graham finally gets out of jail, he heads for the ranch.  Graham thinks that Amanda will be happy to learn that he’s alive and to see him but instead, there’s another surprise waiting for him.

Speaking of surprises, who would have though that one of Charles Bronson’s best films would be a romantic comedy?  Bronson pokes fun at his own image in From Noon Till Three, playing a laid back outlaw who would rather catch a few extra hours of sleep than spend his time robbing people and seeking vengeance.  The film’s entire third act, in which Amanda is reminded that the real-life Graham is far different from her idealized memory, feels like a commentary on Bronson’s entire film career.  Just as Graham isn’t a typical romantic hero, Charles Bronson was never a typical movie star but, like Graham, he never gave up his dream.  This is one of Bronson’s most likable and appealing performances.  From Noon Till Three also features one of Jill Ireland’s best performances.  She was, of course, Bronson’s wife at the time and their chemistry in this film goes a lot towards making the film’s complex story credible.  Ireland’s best moments come at the end of the film, when she reveals how far she’ll go to maintain the myth of what happened between noon and three.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” the newspaper editor said at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and that also describes the main theme of From Noon Till Three, a clever romance that will be appreciated by even by those who would normally watch a Charles Bronson film.


An Offer You Can’t Refuse #17: Murder, Inc. (dir by Stuart Rosenberg and Burt Balaban)

We all know the famous line from The Godfather.  “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  Of course, everyone also knows that “It’s not personal.  It’s strictly business.”  There’s another line that’s almost as famous: “One lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”  That line comes from Mario Puzo’s novel.  It’s never actually used in the film though it’s certainly present as a theme.

The idea of organized crime essentially being a huge corporation is hardly a new one.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a cliche.  Nearly every gangster film ever made has featured at least one scene where someone specifically compares their illegal activities to the day-to-day business of politicians and CEOs.  However, just because it’s a familiar analogy, that doesn’t make it any less important.  It’s hard not to think of organized crime as being big business when you consider that, in the 30s and the 40s, the mafia’s assassination squad was actually known as Murder, Inc.

Murder, Inc. was formed in Brooklyn, in the 30s.  It was founded and initially led by a man named Lepke Buchalter.  Lepke was a gangster but, because he was Jewish, he couldn’t actually become a made man.  However, he used that to his advantage when he created Murder, Inc.  The organization was largely made up of non-Italians who couldn’t actually become official members of the Mob.  The major mafia families would hire Murder, Inc. to carry out hits because they knew that, since none of the members were made men, they wouldn’t be able to implicate any of the families if they were caught by the police.

It was a good idea and Lepke and his band of killers made a lot of money.  Of course, eventually, the police did catch on.  A member of the organization by the name Abe Reles was eventually arrested and agreed to be a rat.  Lepke went to the electric chair.  Reles ended up falling out of a window.  Did he jump or was he thrown?  It depends on who you ask.

19 years after Reles plunged from that window and 16 years after Lepke was executed, their story was told in the 1960 film, Murder, Inc.  Lepke was played by David J. Stewart while Reles was played by Peter Falk.  The film is told in a documentary style, complete with a narrator who delivers his lines in a rat-a-tat-tat style.  We follow Reles as he goes to work with Lepke and as he harasses a singer (Stuart Whitman) and his wife (May Britt), forcing them help him carry out a murder and then allowing them to live in a luxury apartment on the condition that they also let Lepke hide out there.  (It’s probably not a surprise that a professional killer wouldn’t turn out to be the best houseguest.)  Eventually, a crusading DA (Henry Morgan) and an honest cop (Simon Oakland) take it upon themselves to take down Murder, Inc.

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot that’s surprising about this film but it’s still an entertaining B-movie.  The black-and-white cinematography and the on-location filming give the film an authentically gritty feel.  The action moves quickly and there’s enough tough talk and violent deaths to keep most gangster aficionados happy.  The best thing about the film is, without a doubt, Peter Falk’s portrayal of Abe Reles.  Falk is magnetically evil in the role, playing Reles as a man without a soul.  Even when Reles finally cooperates with the police, the film leaves no doubt that he’s only doing it to try to save himself.  Falk plays Reles like a tough guy who secretly knows that his days are numbered but who has convinced himself that, as long as he keeps sneering and threatening people, the rest of the world will never figure out that he’s been doomed all the time.  The more people he kills, the higher Reles moves up in the corporation and the more he tries to take on the look of a respectable member of society.  But, no mater how hard he tries, Reles always remains just another violent thug.  Falk was deservedly Oscar-nominated for his performance in this film, though he ultimately lost the award to Spartacus‘s Peter Ustinov.

Murder, Inc. may be a low-budget, B-movie but it’s also a classic of gangster cinema.  It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me


4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Pete Walker Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, along with celebrating Independence Day, we are also celebrating the birthday of the great British director, Pete Walker!  Walker is 81 years old today and, if he’s not exactly a household name …. well, he definitely should be.  In fact, if there’s any director from the 70s and the early 80s who is deserves to rediscovered and reappraised, it’s Pete Walker!  He made exploitation films with wit and genuine suspense.  Frightmare is one of the scariest movies that I’ve ever seen.

In honor of Pete Walker’s birthday, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971, dir by Pete Walker)

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972, dir by Pete Walker)

Frightmare (1974, dir by Pete Walker)

House of Whipcord (1975, dir by Pete Walker)

Hardball (2001, dir. by Brian Robbins)

Conor O’Neill (Keanu Reeves) is a gambler who is going to be killed by his bookies unless he can pay off a $6,000 debt.  When he finds out that he can make $500 a week just for coaching a little league team in the Chicago projects, he takes the job.  He’s not planning on caring about the team but, of course, he does.  He doesn’t expect to fall in love but when he meets his team’s 5th grade teacher (Diane Lane), he does.  No one expects him to get his team to the championship but he does.  When tragedy strikes one of his players, Conor and the team have to decide whether to keep playing or to give up.

Hardball is a movie that I wanted to like because Keanu Reeves is in it and the movie tells a good, heart-warming story.  Hardball is really predictable, though, and the movie is so focused on Conor that you never really get to know most of the players on team or what winning the championship would mean to them.  I wanted to know about the members of the team, all of whom were poor, black, and living in the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago.  (When Conor drops one of them off from practice, he’s told to duck whenever he walks by a window, just in case someone outside is shooting a gun.)  There is one really powerful scene that drives home the reality of the danger that the kids on the team live with on a daily basis but other than that, the movie is almost all about the white coach and his problems.  The team should be the heart of the movie but instead, Hardball focuses everything on Conor and whether or not he’s going to stick with coaching the team even when things get difficult. Even Conor says he’s done, everyone knows he’s not going anywhere.

The other thing that bothered me about Hardball is that, for a baseball movie, there wasn’t enough baseball.  Conor didn’t spend any time discussing strategy with his players or doing any other coaching beyond telling his players not to trash talk each other and to always do their best.  I understand that little league is not the same as major league baseball but I still would have liked to have seen more scenes of Conor actually being a coach and his players actually learning how to play the game.

Hardball‘s not all bad.  It’s got a good heart and it’s got Keanu Reeves.  I just wish it had more baseball.

Happy 4th of July From The Shattered Lens!

Happy Independence Day!

Obviously, this 4th of July is going to be different for a lot of people.  I’m not even sure how many counties are still going to be doing an official fireworks show and I know a lot of people aren’t going to want to spend all day outside, wearing a mask in 100 degree heat.  This is probably the angriest Independence Day in my lifetime and I know there’s some people who are even saying that it’ll be our last because America’s on the verge of collapsing.

Personally, I don’t think it’ll be our last and I think that, though it may not seem like it today, things will get better.  America’s been through tough times before.  If most of the people out there knew as much about history as they thought they did, they’d know that.

Now, myself, I have to admit that I love the whole ritual of fireworks.  I’m a Texan and I’m probably more of a country girl than even I’m willing to admit.  I mean, as sophisticated as I may try to be here on the Shattered Lens, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t own an American flag bikini and if I didn’t kind of get a thrill from the sight of fireworks exploding in the night sky.  In fact, since I’m up at Lake Texoma, I’m planning on spending tonight out on the deck, wearing an American flag bikini while watching fireworks explode over the water.  Of course, I’ll also be writing about classic movies while I do so because I love cinema even more than I love fireworks.

Anyway, here’s my point.  There’s going to be fireworks tonight, whether they’re “legal” or not.  A lot of them will probably be set off by drunk idiots in their backyard.  People have been locked up for a long time.  There’s a lot of frustration and a lot of people are going to be expressing that frustration by making as much noise as possible.  (I don’t blame the people, by the way.  I blame government officials who, instead of understanding people’s frustrations and trying to help them deal with them, have instead used this entire crisis to act like a bunch of petty authoritarians.  A little empathy goes a long way to convincing people to do the right thing.)

So, please, as a favor to me — GET YOUR PETS INSIDE!  KEEP THEM INSIDE!  Seriously, they’re going to be scared to death.  Every 4th of July, our cat hides underneath a bed and refuses to come out until after the fireworks have stopped.  Erin and I usually toss one of his kitty toys under there and he’ll usually end up playing with it until he eventually decides to come out.  It’s funny.  As much as we would worry whenever we saw Doc scramble under the bed, that’s where he feels safe on the 4th of July.  I don’t know if it’s the same for dogs but cats are all about finding a safe place.  Once they do, they can handle just about anything.

Also, please remember that fireworks may be fun to you and me but they’re not fun for people who have served in war and/or who are suffering from PTSD and who might find them triggering.  So, check on your neighbors.  Keep them in mind before you go crazy trying to recreate a combat zone in their neighborhood.

“But Lisa, you just said you love fireworks….”

Yes, I do.  But I love animals and treating people with consideration even more.

Anyway, stay safe out there!  Happy Independence Day from the Shattered Lens!

Music Video Of The Day: American Girl by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1980, directed by ????)

“I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. The words just came tumbling out very quickly – and it was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have.”

— Tom Petty on American Girl

Because it’s the 4th of July, I wanted to share the music video for Tom Petty’s American Girl but it turns out that there never was an official video for American Girl.  The song came out before the launch of MTV and, strangely enough, it was never as big a hit in the United States than it was in the UK.

I was, however, able to find footage of Tom Petty performing the song on FridaysFridays was a rip-off of Saturday Night Live.  It aired live with a regular ensemble and it also featured a weekly musical guest.  The only real difference between it and SNL was that Fridays aired on …. you guessed it, Friday night.  It never escaped the shadow of Saturday Night Live, though it did receive some attention when guest host Andy Kaufman got into an on-air brawl with Michael Richards.  (Apparently, it was a staged fight though, as was often the case with Kaufman, few people realized it.)  Today, Fridays is best known for featuring several performers — Richards, Larry David, Bruce Mahler, and others — who were later appeared on Seinfeld.

This performance above is from the June 6th, 1980 episode of Fridays.  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed Shadow of a Doubt and American Girl on the episode.  According to Wikipedia, that episode also featured sketches with names like “Johannes the Friday’s Parakeet Needs Marijuana Seeds” and “Prostitution Debate with Pastor Babbitt.”

American Girl, incidentally, was originally recorded on July 4th, 1976.  Today is its 44th birthday.