A Movie A Day #302: Love and Bullets (1979, directed by Stuart Rosenberg)

Joe Bomposa (Rod Steiger) may wear oversized glasses, speak with a stutter, and spend his time watching old romantic movies but don’t mistake him for being one of the good guys.  Bomposa is a ruthless mobster who has destroyed communities by pumping them full of drugs.  Charlie Congers (Charles Bronson) is a tough cop who is determined to take Bomposa down.  When the FBI learns that Bomposa has sent his girlfriend, Jackie Pruit (Jill Ireland), to Switzerland, they assume that Jackie must have information that Bomposa doesn’t want them to discover.  They send Congers over to Europe to bring her back.  Congers discovers that Jackie does not have any useful information but Bomposa decides that he wants her dead anyway.

Love and Bullets is an uneasy mix of action and comedy, with Bronson supplying the former and Ireland trying to help out with the latter.  Not surprisingly, the action works better than the comedy.  Because Charlie is an American in Switzerland, he is not allowed to carry a gun and he is forced to resort to some creative ways to take out Bomposa’s assassins.  Unfortunately, the scenes where Charlie and Jackie fall in love are less interesting, despite Bronson and Ireland being a real-life couple.  Ireland occasionally did good work when she was cast opposite of Bronson but here, she’s insufferable as a ditzy gangster moll with a strange accent.  While everyone else is trying to make an action movie, she’s trying too hard to be Judy Holliday.  Steiger’s peformance starts out as interesting but soon devolves into the usual bellowing and tics.

Love and Bullets does have a good supporting cast, though.  Bradford Dillman, Michael V. Gazzo, Val Avery, Albert Salmi, and Strother Martin all pop up.  The two main hit men are played by Paul Koslo and Henry Silva.  Silva’s almost as dangerous here as he was in Sharky’s Machine.

Film Review: Brother John (dir by James Goldstone)

Yesterday, while I was out running, I tripped over an invisible rock (at least I think it was an invisible rock) and I twisted my ankle. My first impulse was to check to see if I was being chased by zombies since I’ve learned from movies that anytime a woman sprains her ankle, there has to be either zombies or a masked killer somewhere nearby. Fortunately, movies are not real life. Anyway, I’m staying home from work today, trying to rest and stay off my ankle — which means going against every naturally hyper instinct in my body.

Fortunately, I’ve got thousands of movies, a lot of books, and a TV to help comfort me as I spend the day on the couch.  (I also have the sound of my landlord’s son mowing the lawn outside.)   Earlier this morning, as I was exploring everything that television has to offer, I came across a channel called Bounce TV and a movie called Brother John.

Up until I randomly came across it on Bounce TV, I had never heard of Brother John.  A quick google search hinted that I probably wasn’t alone in that.  Brother John appears to be a rather obscure film.

And that’s a shame because, as I quickly discovered, Brother John is actually a pretty interesting film.

Released in 1971, Brother John takes place in a small town in Alabama.  The majority of the town’s black citizens work at the local factory, where they are exploited by the white owners and kept in check by the white sheriff (who, as played by Ramon Bieri, is the epitome of the nightmarish Southern law enforcer).  When the workers, under the leadership of the charismatic Charlie Gray (Lincoln Kilkpatrick), threaten to unionize, the town finds itself on the verge of exploding into racial violence.

Into all of this comes John Kane (Sidney Poitier).  Wearing a dark suit and viewing the world through weary eyes, John grew up in the town.  The local doctor and town drunk Doc Thomas (Will Geer) can still remember delivering John.  However, John mysteriously vanished when he was a teenager.  As Doc Thomas points out, John only returns after someone dies.  In this case, it was the funeral of John’s sister that led to him returning to town.

This time, however, John doesn’t leave immediately after the funeral.  Instead, he spends a few days in the town and dates a school teacher (Beverly Todd).  The authorities — led by Doc Thomas’s politically ambitious son, Lloyd (Bradford Dillman) — are convinced that John is a labor agitator who has come to town to start trouble.  Meanwhile, the factory workers (including Todd’s ex-boyfriend, played by Paul Winfield) are angered by John’s reticent nature.

After having John arrested, Lloyd discovers, from looking at John’s passport, that John has been all over the world, even to communist countries that should be closed to American citizens.  He discovers that John carries a journal that’s full of empty pages.  When he asks John how he managed to learn a dozen different languages, John replies, “I listened.”  Lloyd thinks John is a communist.  Doc Thomas, meanwhile, is convinced that John is something more than just a human being…

Who is Brother John?  That’s the question that everyone’s asking in this film.  It’s a question that the film never answers.  Instead, it’s up to the audience to consider the enigmatic clues offered up in this film and come to their own conclusions.

And that is why I enjoyed Brother John.  It’s a film that encourages the audience to think for itself.  Featuring an excellent performance from a perfectly cast Sidney Poitier and plenty of moody Southern atmosphere, Brother John is a great discovery waiting to be found.


Film Review: Sudden Impact (dir. by Clint Eastwood)

Today, we continue our look at the Dirty Harry film series by considering the fourth installment in the franchise, 1983’s Sudden Impact.

“Go ahead.  Make my day…”

Yes, this is the film where Police Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (played, as always, by Clint Eastwood) delivers that classic one liner.  In this case, he says it to a man holding a gun to a waitress’ head.  The implication, I guess, is that the gunman would make Harry’s day by killing the innocent woman that he’s holding hostage and therefore, giving Harry an excuse to shoot him in the head.  That line really does get to the heart of one of the main themes that runs through all of the Dirty Harry movies in general and Sudden Impact in specific.  Harry’s life would be a lot of easier if people would simply stop getting in the way and just let him shoot anyone that he wants to.

At the start of Sudden Impact ,we discover that Harry Callahan is still on the San Francisco police force and Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman) is still his antagonistic boss.  Eight years have passed since the end of the Enforcer and Harry is a bit grayer and definitely grumpier.  Whereas the previous three films in the franchise made a (minimal) effort to humanize him, the Harry of Sudden Impact is a snarling, forehead vein-throbbing killing machine.  After years of dealing with sleazy criminals and weak-willed liberals, Harry now appears to wake up each morning and ask himself, “How many people can I find an excuse to kill today?”

Not surprisingly, all those years of shooting people have apparently made Harry the most targeted man in San Francisco.  Within the first 20 minutes of the film, three separate and unconnected groups of criminals attempt to kill Harry.  His superiors demand that Harry take a vacation before the entire city of San Francisco is destroyed.  Harry snarls in response so his bosses do the next best thing and order him to go to the coastal town of San Paulo to help with an unsolved murder.

San Paulo has a problem.  Local lowlifes are turning up dead, shot once in the head and once in the genitals.  Along with the gruesome way that they die, all of them seem to be acquainted with a frightening woman named Rae (played by Audrey J. Neenan).  The chief of police (Pat Hingle) doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to solve the crimes and he openly resents Harry’s attempts to help.  (He’s even less happy about the fact that the mobsters who were trying to kill Harry in San Francisco have followed him out to  San Paulo.)  Harry, however, is determined to solve the crime even while dealing with the unwanted gift of a rather ugly bulldog (given to him by his latest partner, who is played by series regular Albert Poppwell) and romancing an artist (a rather unconvincing Sondra Locke) who has some very strong thoughts of her own on both the sorry state of the criminal justice system and what should be done to improve it.

Sudden Impact was the only one of the Dirty Harry films to officially be directed by Clint Eastwood.  Even if his name wasn’t listed in the opening credits, you would probably be able to guess that Eastwood directed this. From the film’s opening  nighttime scene, during which time the screen is almost totally black except for the occasional flash of a gun being aimed, the film features Eastwood’s signature noir-influenced visual style but it doesn’t contain any of the thematic ambiguity that typifies Eastwood’s better films.

Sudden Impact is an entertaining and well-made action film but it’s also my least favorite of the Dirty Harry series.  Whereas the first three installments at least tried to play around with figuring out what made Harry tick (and, occasionally, even allowing Harry’s methods to be questioned by sympathetic characters like Chico in Dirty Harry or Kate Moore in The Enforcer), Sudden Impact is content to just to let Harry kill some of the most cardboard villains in the franchise’s history.  The end results are crudely effective but ultimately rather forgettable, with none of the eccentric touches that occasionally distinguished the next film in the series, The Dead Pool.  There’s a reason why Sudden Impact is best remembered for a one-liner that’s uttered during the film’s first 10 minutes and which doesn’t really have anything to do with anything else that happens in the movie.

Speaking of The Dead Pool, that’s the film we will be looking at tomorrow as we conclude this series on the Dirty Harry franchise.

Film Review: The Enforcer (dir. by James Fargo)

Today, we continue our look at the Dirty Harry film series by reviewing the third film in the series, 1976’s The Enforcer.

There’s a moment, towards the end of this film, where Harry (played as always by Clint Eastwood) is preparing to blow away one of the bad guys.  Before firing, Harry mutters something under his breath.  The first time I watched the film, I couldn’t make out what Harry was saying so I turned on the captioning and watched the scene again to discover just what exactly Harry had said before dispensing justice.

The line: “You fucking fruit.”

Yes, The Enforcer finds Harry at his most reactionary and it’s a good thing too.  Whereas Magnum Force found Harry fighting his fellow cops, The Enforcer could have just as easily been called Harry Vs. Occupy San Francisco.  This time around, the bad guys are members of something called The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force.  They’re led by a psychotic ex-pimp named Bobby Maxwell (played by an actor with the wonderful name of Deveren Bookwalter) and they’re fond of saying things like, “For the people!” before striking.  To be honest, The Enforcer’s villains are some of the most forgettable in the history of the franchise but that’s appropriate.  As opposed to the original Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, The Enforcer is less concerned with being a struggle between equals and more about Harry killing people.

The Enforcer opens with Harry preventing yet another armed robbery.  This time, he manages to destroy the entire store while doing so and ends up costing the city of San Francisco several million dollars.  Harry’s new superior, Capt. McKay (played by Bradford Dillman) isn’t amused and, as a punishment, temporarily transfers Harry over to the Personnel Department.  I have to say that McKay is a very brave man since Harry blew up the last superior who attempted to reprimand him.

Working Personnel, Harry has to sit in on interviews for promotions.  While doing so, he is informed that the Mayor has ordered them to find three women to promote to inspector.  “Women!?” Harry growls in shocked response.

While Harry is busy attempting to impede the march of progress, his old partner DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) stumbles upon Bobby and the revolutionaries stealing weapons.  As often happens with Harry’s partners, DiGiorgio is killed by the bad guys and Harry is transferred back to Homicide so he can investigate the death.  Helping Harry out is his new partner — Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), one of the three women who have recently been promoted to inspector.

While Harry and his new partner are busy tracking down Bobby, Capt. McKay tries to pin the crime on yet another revolutionary force, a group of black militants led by Big Ed Mustapha.

Big Ed is played by Albert Poppwell, who previously appeared in Dirty Harry as the “I’s got to know” robber.  When Harry first meets him, Harry says, “Haven’t I met you before?”  Though the film never explicitly says so, I like to think that the two characters are one in the same.

As for Bobby and the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force, they’re busy kidnapping the mayor and demanding $5,000,000 for his release.  Of course, it’s up to Harry and Moore to rescue the mayor and put all the “fucking fruits” back in their place….

Looking over other reviews of the Dirty Harry franchise, The Enforcer often seems to be dismissed as almost an afterthought.  Daly’s performance is usually praised (and quite rightfully so because she does give the film’s best performance) but the rest of the film is usually dismissed.  To a certain extent, that’s understandable.  As I mentioned before, Bobby Maxwell is not that interesting of a villain and Harry is at his most one dimensional here.

That said, I think The Enforcer is actually underrated.  There might not be much nuance to Eastwood’s performance here but he gets by on charisma alone and he has a likable chemistry with Daly.  As opposed to what we’ve been conditioned to expect from most other films, Harry and Moore’s relationship never turns romantic.  Instead, by the end of the film, they truly are equals.

The Enforcer was followed, nearly a decade later, by Sudden Impact.  We’ll take a look at that film tomorrow.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Escape From The Planet of the Apes (dir. by Don Taylor)

(Warning: Potential Spoilers, especially if you’re good at reading between the lines of my attempts to be all mysterious-like)

Continuing with our look at the original Planet of the Apes films, we come to 1971’s Escape from The Planet of the Apes.

Escape From The Planet of the Apes starts out with a huge problem — how do you make a sequel to a film that literally ended with the entire planet being destroyed?  Escape handles this problem by reversing the plotline of the original film.  Instead of a group of humans going into the future and landing on a planet dominated by apes, this film features three apes going into the past and landing on a planet dominated by the past.  It’s a premise that the film handles with a surprising amount of cleverness and the end result is probably the best of the various Planet of the Apes sequel.  Certainly, it is the only one that can stand alone as a film separate from the rest of the series.

Using Taylor’s old space capsule, Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and Milo (Sal Mineo, who you know is doomed because he’s the only one of the three who hasn’t appeared in either of the two previous films) escape Earth shortly before Charlton Heston blows the planet up at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  Slipping through the same vortex as Heston did in the first film, they end up crash landing on Earth in the year 1974. 

At first, Cornelius and the outspoken Zira become media celebrities.  They do interviews with the press, appear on the covers of magazines, and are generally celebrated like simian Kardashians.  However, one scientist — played by a very handsome Eric Braeden (seriously, he has gorgeous hair in this film) — isn’t as charmed by Zira and Cornelius.  Instead, he views them as threats to the future of the human race, especially after he discovers that Zira is pregnant.

The character that Braeden plays, by the way, is named Dr. Otto Hasslien and attentive viewers will recognize the name from a throw-away reference made by Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes.  One of the more interesting subtexts in this film is that, much as chimpanzees Zira and Cornelius are this film’s equivalent to the human Taylor, Braeden’s Hasslien is this film’s version of Dr. Zaius.  Much as Maurice Evans did for Dr. Zaius, Braeden brings a certain ambiguity to his villianous character.  Though Braeden’s actions are ultimately hateful, it’s also made clear that they’re more motivated by fear than by evil.  Indeed, when Braeden first appears in this film, he’s almost likable.  It’s only at the film’s conclusion that we become fully aware of the irony that the human, “civilized” Dr. Hasslien ultimately shows less mercy and empathy to Zira and Cornelius than the ape Dr. Zaius showed to Taylor.  The moral ambiguity of Braeden’s performance makes this a far more resonant film than most mainstream critics are willing to admit.

 As for, Zira and Cornelius, the once-fawing public eventually turns against them as it becomes apparent that for the two of them to exist, humanity has to be wiped out.  Zira and Cornelius find themselves hunted fugitives, fleeing for their lives while the whole planet — with the exception of a zoo keeper played by Ricardo Montalban and another scientist (played by Bradford Dillman — what a great name for an actor) — seems to be determined to destroy them.

Escape From The Planet of the Apes starts out as a likable, rather breezy social satire (much like Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet, the novel that Planet of the Apes was loosely adapted from) and that makes it even more surprising when, about halfway through, the movie shifts gears and becomes a rather dark and bleak action film.  It all ends, like many films from the early 70s, in a brutal act of violence that carries a surprising punch to it.  It’s after the end of the film that we truly become aware just how involved we had become with Zira and Cornelius.  A lot of that has to do with the strong performances of McDowall and Hunter who both created characters that came across as real and worthy, regardless of how many layers of makeup they were acting under.  Their chemistry as a couple makes this underrated film one of the surprising gems of the early 70s.