Cleaning Out the DVR #17: Film Noir Festival 3


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To take my mind off the sciatic nerve pain I was suffering last week, I immersed myself on the dark world of film noir. The following quartet of films represent some of the genre’s best, filled with murder, femme fatales, psychopaths, and sleazy living. Good times!!

I’ll begin chronologically with BOOMERANG (20th Century-Fox 1947), director Elia Kazan’s true-life tale of a drifter (an excellent Arthur Kennedy ) falsely accused of murdering a priest in cold blood, and the doubting DA (Dana Andrews ) who fights an uphill battle against political corruption to exonerate him. Filmed on location in Stamford, CT and using many local residents as extras and bit parts, the literate script by Richard Murphy (CRY OF THE CITY, PANIC IN THE STREETS, COMPULSION) takes a realistic look behind the scenes at an American mid-sized city, shedding light into it’s darker corners.

Andrews is solid as the honest…

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Insomnia File #28: The Arrangement (dir by Elia Kazan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, on Saturday you were having trouble sleeping at three in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1969 film, The Arrangement.

The Arrangement is one of those films where a rich guy gets hit by a sudden case of ennui and, as a result, spends the entire movie acting like a jackass.  However, as often happens in films like this, The Arrangement makes sure that we understand that it’s not the guy’s fault.  Instead, it’s his wife’s fault for not being as much fun as his mistress.

In this case, the guy is an ad executive who goes by the name of Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas).  His original name was Evangelos Arness but he changed his name when he was younger because he apparently didn’t want anyone to know that he came from a Greek family.  When we first meet Eddie, he’s attempting to commit suicide by driving his car into an 18 wheeler.  If he had died, the movie could have ended quickly.  However, since Eddie survived, the audience is now required to spend two hours watching Eddie as he tries to figure out what it all means.

Eddie’s father (Richard Boone) is dying.  His long-suffering wife (Deborah Kerr) just doesn’t understand that Eddie needs more than a big house and a nice pool to feel like a man.  Eddie’s mistress is Gwen (Faye Dunaway), whose new baby may or may not be Eddie’s.  Who could blame Eddie, the film demands to know, for being disillusioned with his comfortable life?

The Arrangement was one of the last films to be directed by Elia Kazan, who was a big deal in the 40s and the 50s and whose goal with The Arrangement was apparently to prove that he should still have been a big deal in the 60s and 70s.  Kazan’s way of doing this is to fill The Arrangement with all types of tricks that were designed to make young filmgoers say, “Man, that Eliza Kazan may be old but he’s one of us!”

Freeze frames?  Kazan’s got them!  Flashback after flashback?  Kazan spreads them all throughout the movie, even when they don’t really have anything to show us.  Scenes where the action is sped up for no identifiable reason?  Just watch Kirk Douglas trot down that hallway!  Rack focus shots?  Zoom shots?  A scene where the young Kirk Douglas argues with the old Kirk Douglas?  Casual nudity that’s still filmed in such a way that it feels oddly reticent, as if the filmmaker was just including it to try to establish his rebel credentials?  The Arrangement has it all!

It also has a lot of close-ups of Kirk Douglas.  In far too many scenes, he’s just sitting around with this blank look on his face and it doesn’t quite work because, as an actor, Douglas has never exactly come across as the type to get trapped in an existential crisis.  We’re supposed to view Kirk as being depressed and conflicted but, in all of his films, Kirk has always come across as someone who hasn’t known a day of insecurity in his entire life.

There are also a few scenes of Kirk just laughing and laughing.  For some reason, movies in the late 60s and early 70s always seemed to feature at least a handful of closeups of people laughing uncontrollably.  I’m not sure why.  (If you want to see the most extreme example of this, check out Getting Straight.)  These scenes are always kind of annoying because there’s only so much time you can spend watching someone laugh at the absurdity of it all before you want them to just close their damn mouth.  Especially when the person in question is a middle-aged man.  I mean, shouldn’t have Kirk figured out that the world is absurd before his 50th birthday?

Anyway, The Arrangement is a pretentious mess.  Of course, most films from the 60s are pretentious.  The problem with The Arrangement is that it’s also boring.  If you’re going to be pretentious, at least have some fun with it, like The Graduate did.  The Arrangement goes on forever and it’s never quite as profound as it seems to think that it is.  I once read a short story that a former friend of mine wrote.  She explained that writing the story had caused her to realize that, the longer you know someone, the more likely your initial impression of that person is going to change.  “You had to write an entire short story to figure that out?” I replied.  (That’s one reason why she’s a former friend.)  But that’s kind of how The Arrangement is.  For all the drama and the technique and the pretension, it has nothing to teach us that we shouldn’t already know.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name

The Medium is the Message: Andy Griffith in A FACE IN THE CROWD (Warner Brothers 1957)


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If you only know Andy Griffith from his genial TV Southerners in THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and MATLOCK, brace yourself for A FACE IN THE CROWD. Griffith’s folksy monologues had landed him a starring role in the hit Broadway comedy NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. The vicious, wild-eyed Lonesome Rhodes was thousands of miles away from anything he had done before, and the actor, guided by the sure hand of director Elia Kazan, gives us a searing performance in this satire of the power of the media, and the menace of the demagogue.

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When we first meet Larry Rhodes, he’s in the drunk tank in rural Pickett, Arkansas, a small town not unlike Mayberry. Local radio host Marcia Jeffries is doing a remote broadcast there, hoping to catch some ratings. The no-account drifter is hostile at first, but when the sheriff promises him an early release, you can practically see the wheels spinning…

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Lisa Marie Reviews An Oscar Winner For Labor Day: On The Waterfront (dir by Elia Kazan)


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I like On The Waterfront.

Nowadays, that can be a dangerous thing to admit.  On The Waterfront won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1954 and Marlon Brando’s lead performance as boxer-turned-dockworker Terry Malloy is still regularly cited as one of the best of all time.  The scene where he tells his brother (played by Rod Steiger) that he “could have been a contender” is so iconic that other films still continue to either parody or pay homage to it.  On The Waterfront is one of those films that regularly shows up on TCM and on lists of the greatest films ever made.

And yet, despite all that, it’s become fashionable to criticize On The Waterfront or to cite it as an unworthy Oscar winner.  Certain film bloggers wear their disdain for On The Waterfront like a badge of honor.  Ask them and they’ll spend hours telling you exactly why they dislike On The Waterfront and, not surprisingly, it all gets tedious pretty quickly.

Like all tedious things, the answer ultimately comes down to politics.  In the early 50s, as the House UnAmerican Affairs Committee conducted its search for communists in Hollywood, hundreds of actors, writers, and directors were called before the committee.  They were asked if they were currently or ever had been a member of the Communist Party.  It was demanded that they name names.  Refusing to take part was career suicide and yet, many witnesses did just that.  They refused to testify, apologize, or name names.

And then there was the case of Elia Kazan.  When he was called in front of HUAC, he not only testified about his communist past but he named names as well.  Many of his past associates felt that Kazan had betrayed them in order to protect his own career.  On The Waterfront was Kazan’s answer to his critics.

In On The Waterfront, Terry Malloy’s dilemma is whether or not to voluntarily testify before a commission that is investigating union corruption on the waterfront.  Encouraging him to testify is the crusading priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), and Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the saintly girl who Terry loves.  Discouraging Terry from testifying is literally every one else on the waterfront, including Terry’s brother, Charlie (Rod Steiger).  Charlie is the right-hand man of gangster Johnny Friendly (a crudely intimidating Lee J. Cobb), who is the same man who earlier ordered Terry to throw a big fight.

At first, Terry is content to follow the waterfront of code of playing “D and D” (deaf and dumb) when it comes to union corruption.  However, when Johnny uses Terry to lure Edie’s brother into an ambush, Terry is forced to reconsider his previous apathy.  As Terry gets closer and closer to deciding to testify, Johnny order Charlie to kill his brother…

The issue that many contemporary critics have with On The Waterfront is that they view it as being essentially a “pro-snitch” film.  It’s easy to see that Elia Kazan viewed himself as being the damaged but noble Terry Malloy while Johnny Friendly was meant to be a stand-in for Hollywood communism.  They see the film as being both anti-union and Kazan’s attempt to defend naming names.

And maybe they’re right.

But, ultimately, that doesn’t make the film any less effective.  Judging On The Waterfront solely by its backstory ignores just how well-made, well-acted, well-photographed, well-directed, and well-written this film truly is.  Elia Kazan may (or may not) have been a lousy human being but, watching this film, you can’t deny his skill as a director.  There’s a thrilling grittiness to the film’s style that allows it to feel authentic even when it’s being totally heavy-handed.

And the performances hold up amazingly well.  Marlon Brando’s performance as Terry Malloy gets so much attention that it’s easy to forget that the entire cast is just as great.  Rod Steiger makes Charlie’s regret and guilt poignantly real.  Karl Malden, who gets stuck with the film’s more pedantic dialogue, is the perfect crusader.  Eva Marie Saint is beautiful and saintly.  And then you’ve got Lee J. Cobb, playing one of the great screen villains.

The motives behind On The Waterfront may not be the best.  But, occasionally, a great film does emerge from less than pure motives.  (Just as often, truly good intentions lead to truly bad cinema.)  Regardless of what one thinks of Elia Kazan, On The Waterfront is a great work of cinema and it’s on that basis that it should be judged.

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44 Days of Paranoia #29: A Face In The Crowd (dir by Elia Kazan)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Elia Kazan’s 1957 political satire, A Face In The Crowd.

The film opens with radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) visiting a local jail in Arkansas.  She’s looking for human interest stories that she can feature on her show and she discovers one when she meets an imprisoned drifter named Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith).  When Marcia interviews him, Rhodes proves himself to be a natural performer, telling folksy jokes and launching into a song about being a “free man in the morning.”  Rhodes proves to be so popular that, after he’s released from jail, he pursues a career in show business with Marcia as both his manager and, eventually, his lover.

Moving to Memphis, a renamed Lonesome Rhodes eventually lands his own television variety show and he soon starts doing irreverent commercials for local companies.  Along the way, Rhodes also finds a new manager, the glib and manic Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa).  With the help of Joey, Rhodes becomes the spokesman for a fake energy supplement, Vitajex.

As Rhodes’ fame grows, so does his ego.  After dumping Jeffries, Rhodes impulsively marries a 17 year-old majorette (Lee Remick).  His show also goes national and Rhodes soon starts to use his influence to try to both promote an incompetent, business-backed Presidential candidate and to destroy anyone who he considers to be an enemy.  As his show’s disillusioned head writer (Walter Matthau) puts it, Rhodes has become a “demagogue in denim.”

A Face In The Crowd is a personal favorite of mine.  Director Kazan deftly mixes satire with melodrama and, with the exception of the weak ending, the film’s vision of media manipulation and demagogic celebrities probably feels more plausible today than when it was first released.  The film is full of great performances, from the avuncular Walter Matthau to vulnerable Patricia Neal to the innocent-and-then-not-so-innocent Lee Remick.  Anthony Franciosa is wonderfully glib and sleazy and it’s a lot of fun to watch his joy at discovering how easy it is to manipulate the world.

Ultimately, however, the film’s success is mostly due to Andy Griffith’s amazing performance as Lonesome Rhodes.  Griffith, displaying all of the folksiness but none of the empathy that would be displayed in his later television show, turns Rhodes into a force of nature, a smiling charlatan and a charismatic sociopath who manipulates for the pure enjoyment of manipulation.

To make the obvious comparison, it’s very easy to imagine Lonesome Rhodes getting his own show on MSNBC, where on a nightly basis he could bark orders at his followers and ridicule anyone who dares to question him.  But even beyond that, the character of Lonesome Rhodes resonates.  I’m from the South.  I grew up down here and I live down here.  I can tell you, from my own personal observations and experiences, that we still have our share of demagogues.  Some of them run in elections and some of them preach on Sunday but all of them have got a bit of Lonesome Rhodes inside of them.

For that reason, A Face In The Crowd is probably more relevent today than it’s ever been.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed

Screentests I Love: James Dean and Paul Newman for East of Eden


Here’s a blast from the past:  In 1954, James Dean and Paul Newman audition for Elia Kazan’s East of Eden.  Dean, famously, was cast and earned his first posthumous Oscar nomination.  (His second nomination came for his work in Giant.)  Dean was 23 here.  Newman was 29. 

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Crossfire (dir. by Edward Dmytryk)


I recently decided that I wanted to watch and review every single movie ever nominated for the Academy Award for best picture.  As part of that mission, I recently rewatched one of my favorite also-rans, 1947’s Crossfire.

Crossfire is a message movie disguised as a B detective flick.  A group of soldiers who have just returned from World War II decide to get together for a drink.  At the bar, they run into a civilian named Joseph Samuels (Sam Levine).  The soldiers end up going back to Samuels’s apartment and the next morning, Samuels is found dead.  Obviously, he was killed by one of the soldiers but which one.  Suspicion falls on the meek (and missing) Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie) but police detective Finlay (Robert Young) and Sgt. Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) both (correctly) suspect that Samuels was actually murdered by the far more outspoken and imposing Montgomery (Robert Ryan).  It quickly becomes obvious that Montgomery is an anti-Semite who killed Samuels solely because he was Jewish.  However, neither Finlay or Keeley can prove it.  The film quickly becomes a darkly intense duel between these three men as Finlay and Keeley attempt to trick Montgomery into implicating himself while Montgomery attempts to further frame Bowers for the murder.

Before Crossfire, director Edward Dmytryk specialized in making low-budget “B” movies and he brings that noir, near-grindhouse sensibility to Crossfire.  As a result, Crossfire is a one of those rare “message” films that is actually entertaining.  Only a few times does the film start to feel preachy and luckily, Robert Mitchum is there being his usual cynical self.  If anyone could deflate the pompous nature of the mid-40s message movie, it was Robert Mitchum.  The film says, “Love one another.”  Mitchum replies, “Baby, I just don’t give a damn,” and he keeps things from getting too heavy-handed.  Mitchum is one of three Roberts to star in this film.  Robert Young plays the police inspector with just the right amount of world-weary indignation while Robert Ryan is a force of nature as the film’s brutal murderer.  Don’t get me wrong.  You can pretty much peg Ryan as a killer from the first minute he shows up on-screen.  If Mitchum and Young smartly underplay their roles, Ryan goes the exact opposite direction.  He’s an obvious brute but he’s also totally believable.  You look at his character and it’s not difficult to imagine him passing the collection plate at Westboro Baptist Church.  As well, Crossfire also features an excellent supporting term by one of my favorite noir actresses, the great and wonderful Gloria Grahame.  She plays Bowers’ married girlfriend and gives a compellingly, real performance that suggests that maybe Hollywood in the 40s wasn’t quite as clueless as we all like to assume.

Crossfire was nominated for Best Picture of 1947 but it lost to another film about anti-Semitism, Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement.  (Oddly enough, both Kazan and Dmytryk would end up naming names during the McCarthy Era.)  Like Gentleman’s Agreement, Crossfire was based on a novel.  However, in the original novel, the victim was not Jewish but instead was gay.  However, back in the 1940s, the Hollywood Production Code specifically forbade any open depiction of homosexuality and so, the crime went from being motivated by homophobia to anti-Semitism.