Scenes That I Love: Harry Meets The Mayor From Dirty Harry


Today, we wish a happy 89th birthday to the one and only Clint Eastwood!

At this point of his career (from which he says he is now semi-retired), Clint Eastwood has become an American icon.  In many ways, his persona epitomizes all of the contrasts and extremes of the American experience.  A political conservative who specializes in playing taciturn and rather grouchy men, he is also one of our most humanistic directors, specializing in films that often question the traditional view of history and morality.  He may have first become a star in Europe but Clint Eastwood is definitely an American original.

In honor of his birthday, I’m sharing a scene that I love from 1971’s Dirty Harry.  In this scene, Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) meets the Mayor of San Francisco (John Vernon).  The mayor is concerned that there’s a psycho on the loose, gunning people down and demanding money.  Callahan’s annoyed that he’s spent a lot of time sitting in a waiting room.  Things pretty much go downhill from there.

There’s so much that I love about this scene.  Both Eastwood and Vernon do a wonderful job playing off of each other.  The Mayor may be in charge of the city but Callahan probably didn’t vote for him.  One thing that I especially love about this scene is the look of annoyance that crosses Harry’s face whenever he’s interrupted.

And, of course, there’s that final line!  Eastwood does a great job explaining Harry’s “policy” but ultimately, it’s Vernon’s “I think he’s got a point,” that provides the perfect closing note.

Happy birthday, Mr. Eastwood!

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1970s


David Niven at the 1974 Oscars

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1970s.

Dirty Harry (1971, dir by Don Siegel)

“Well, I’m all torn up about his rights….” Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) says after being informed that he’s not allow to torture suspects for information.  Unfortunately, in this case, the Academy agreed with all the critics who called Harry a menace and this classic and influential crime film was not nominated.  Not even Andy Robinson picked up a nomination for his memorably unhinged turn as Scorpio.

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian DePalma)

The Academy liked Carrie enough to nominate both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  The film itself, however, went unnominated.  It’s enough to make you want to burn down the prom.

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

In a perfect world, Goblin would have at least taken home an Oscar for the film’s score.  In the real world, unfortunately, Argento’s masterpiece was totally snubbed by the Academy.

Days of Heaven (1978, dir by Terence Malick)

If it were released today, Terence Malick’s dream-like mediation of life during the depression would definitely be nominated.  In 1978, perhaps, the Academy was still not quite sure what to make of Malick’s beautiful but often opaque cinematic poetry.

Halloween (1978, dir by John Carpenter)

“The night he came home!” should have been “The night he went to the Oscars!”  The film received no nominations and it’s a shame.  Just imagine Donald Pleasence winning for his performance as Loomis while John Carpenter racked up almost as many nominations as Alfonso Cuaron did this year for Roma.

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

If the Academy wasn’t willing to nominate Night of the Living Dead, there was no way that they would go for the film’s longer and bloodier sequel.  But perhaps they should have.  Few films are cited as an inspiration as regularly as Dawn of the Dead.

Up next, in about an hour, the 1980s!

 

A Movie A Day #244: Death of a Gunfighter (1969, directed by Allen Smithee)


At the turn of the 20th century, the mayor and the business community of Cottonwood Springs, Texas are determined to bring their small town into the modern era.  The Mayor (Larry Gates) has even purchased one of those newfangled automobiles that have been taking the country by storm.  However, the marshal of Cottonwood Spings, Frank Patch (Richard Widmark), is considered to be an embarrassing relic of the past.  Patch has served as marshal for 20 years but now, his old west style of justice is seen as being detrimental to the town’s development.  When Patch shoots a drunk in self-defense, the town leaders use it as an excuse to demand Patch’s resignation.  When Patch refuses to quit and points out that he knows all of the secrets of what everyone did before they became respectable, the business community responds by bringing in their own gunfighters to kill the old marshal.

Death of a Gunfighter is historically significant because it was the very first film to ever be credited to Allen Smithee.  The movie was actually started by TV director Robert Totten and, after Widmark demanded that Totten be fired, completed by the legendary Don Siegel.  Since Totten worked for 25 days on the film while Siegel was only on set for 9, Siegel refused to take credit for the film.  When Widmark protested against Totten receiving credit, the Director’s Guild of America compromised by allowing the film to be credited to the fictitious Allen Smithee.

In the years after the release of Death of a Gunfighter, the Allen (or, more often, Alan) Smithee name would be used for films on which the director felt that he had not been allowed to exercise creative control over the final product.  The Smithee credit became associated with bad films like The O.J. Simpson Story and Let’s Get Harry which makes it ironic that Death of a Gunfighter is not bad at all.  It’s an elegiac and intelligent film about the death of the old west and the coming of the modern era.  It also features not only one of Richard Widmark’s best performances but an interracial love story between the marshal and a brothel madame played by Lena Horne.  The supporting cast is full of familiar western actors, with Royal Dano, Harry Carey, Jr., Larry Gates, Dub Taylor, and Kent Smith all making an impression.  Even the great John Saxon has a small role.  Though it may be best known for its “director,” Death of a Gunfighter is a film that will be enjoyed by any good western fan.

A Movie A Day #175: Telefon (1977, directed by Don Siegel)


Across America, strange things are happening.  Seemingly ordinary, middle-aged citizens are, without explanation, attacking formerly top secret government facilities.  The attackers are from all different walks of life.  One was an auto mechanic.  Another was a priest.  There was even a housewife who, after blowing up a power station, committed suicide with a poison pill that the KGB stopped issuing a decade ago.  Before launching their attacks, each one of them received a phone call in which a Russian man recited a poem by Robert Frost.

The Americans may not understand what is happening but the Soviets do.  Immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the KGB planted sleeper agents across the United States.  They hypnotized and brainwashed the agents so thoroughly that they no longer remember that they are agents.  The Frost poem was the trigger designed to activate the agents, all of whom were meant to attack what were then valuable parts of America’s infrastructure.  With the arrival of détente, the program was abandoned and the sleeper agents were simply left behind in the United States.  But now, a former hardliner (Donald Pleasence), is activating the agents one by one.  Because he has a photographic memory, KGB colonel Charles Bronson is sent to the United States to track down and kill Pleasence before the United States discovers the truth about what is happening.  Lee Remick, as an American KGB agent, is assigned to work with him but is also ordered to kill him once the assignment has been completed.

That Telfon is one of Charles Bronson’s better post-Death Wish films is largely due to the presence of Don Siegel in the director’s chair.  As a director who specialized in intelligent genre films and who helped to make Clint Eastwood one of the world’s biggest stars with Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, and Escape from Alcatraz, Don Siegel was the ideal director to bring out the best in Bronson.  Like St. Ives, Telefon features Bronson in an uncharacteristically cerebral role.  For once, he spends more time analyzing clues than he does shooting people and Bronson is surprisingly credible as a man with a photographic memory.

As directed by Siegel, Telefon is almost a satire of the type of violent action films that Bronson usually made for directors like Michael Winner. In Telefon, both the bad guys and the good guys are equally clueless.  All of the KGB sleeper agents are dumpy and middle-aged and the film continually emphasizes that they’ve all been brainwashed to attack targets that are no longer strategically important.    Donald Pleasence, playing one of his raving villains, wears a blonde, Beatles-style wig for much of the film.

Though the ending is a let down, Telefon is still one of the best of Bronson’s late 70s films.

A Movie A Day #126: Baby Face Nelson (1957, directed by Don Siegel)


The place is Chicago.  The time is the era of Prohibition.  The head of the Chicago Outfit, Rocca (Ted de Corsia), has arranged for a career criminal named Lester Gillis (Mickey Rooney) to be released from prison.  A crack shot and all-around tough customer, Gillis has only two insecurities: his diminutive height and his youthful appearance.  Rocca wants to use Gillis as a hit man but Gillis prefers to rob banks.  When Rocca attempts to frame Gillis for a murder, Gillis first guns down his former benefactor and then goes on the run with his girlfriend, Sue Nelson (Carolyn Jones).  Because they are both patients of the same underworld doctor (played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Gillis eventually meets public enemy number one, John Dillinger (Leo Gordon).  Joining Dillinger’s gang, Gillis becomes a famous bank robber and is saddled with a nickname that he hates: Baby Face Nelson.

While it is true that Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis was an associate of John Dillinger’s and supposedly hated his nickname, the rest of this biopic is highly fictionalized.  The real Baby Face Nelson was a family man who, when he went on the run, took his wife and two children with him.  While he did get his start running with a Chicago street gang, there is also no evidence that Nelson was ever affiliated with the Chicago Outfit.  (The film’s Rocca is an obvious stand-in for Al Capone.)  In real life, it was Dillinger, having just recently escaped from jail, who hooked up with Nelson’s gang.  The film Nelson is jealous of Dillinger and wants to take over the gang but, in reality, the gang had no leader.  Because Nelson killed three FBI agents (more than any other criminal), he has developed a reputation for being one of the most dangerous of the Depression-era outlaws but, actually, he was no more violent than the typical 1930s bank robber.  Among the era’s outlaws, Dillinger was more unique for only having committed one murder over the course of his career.  In this film (and practically every other film that has featured Baby Face Nelson as a character), Nelson is a full on psychopath, one who even aims his gun at children.

Baby Face Nelson may be terrible history but it is still an excellent B-movie.  Don Siegel directs in his usual no-nonsense style and Mickey Rooney does a great job, playing Baby Face Nelson as a ruthless but insecure criminal with a perpetual chip on his shoulder.  As his fictional girlfriend, Carolyn Jones is both tough and sexy, a moll that any gangster would be lucky to have waiting for him back at the safe house.  B-movie veterans like Thayer David, Jack Elam, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Hoyt all have colorful supporting roles but the most unexpected name in the cast is that of Cedric Hardwicke, playing an alcoholic surgeon with broken down dignity.

Don’t watch Baby Face Nelson for a history lesson.  Watch it for an entertaining B-masterpiece.

 

Diamond in the Rough: RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 (Allied Artists 1954)


cracked rear viewer

Back in 1951, movie producer Walter Wanger (rhymes with danger) discovered his wife, actress Joan Bennett , was having an affair with her agent, Jennings Lang. The enraged husband tracked them to a parking lot, where Wanger shot Lang in the groin. That’ll teach him! Wanger was subsequently arrested, and sentenced to serve a four-month bid in a Los Angeles county farm. His stint in stir, though brief, affected him profoundly, and he wanted to make a film about prison conditions. The result was RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, a ripped-from-the-headlines prison noir that’s tougher than a two-dollar steak.

Wanger hired Don Siegel to direct the film. Siegel was gaining a reputation as a director of muscular, low-budget features, and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 is a great early example of his harsh, brutal style. The movie’s sparse, shadowy setting was filmed on location at California’s infamous Folsom Prison thanks to…

View original post 584 more words

Victim of Love: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (Universal 1971)


cracked rear viewer

beguiled1

THE BEGUILED was the third of five collaborations between star Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel. It’s definitely the most offbeat, a Gothic Western set during the Civil War. Clint plays John McBurney, a wounded, half-dead Yankee found in the woods by one of the girls from Miss Martha’s Seminary for Young Ladies. What unfolds from there is unlike anything the duo ever did before or after, a tale of sexual desire and vengeance that’s one of the most unusual entries in the Western canon.

beguiled2

Clint Eastwood has one of his most unsympathetic roles as McBurney. Although we feel bad about the condition he’s in, we soon realize what an amoral, manipulative scoundrel he is. Flashbacks reveal his lies about his role in the Union Army. Even as he suffers some major “misery” (hint, hint) at the hands of Miss Martha, Clint’s McBurney isn’t a likeable figure. This offbeat casting probably contributed to the…

View original post 394 more words