4 Shots From 4 Films: Special James Coburn 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!

Whether he was appearing in a western, a spy film, a war film, a comedy, or a dark drama, James Coburn was one of the coolest and most underapperciated actors around.  He made bad films tolerable and good films even better.  Regardless of the role, Coburn brought his own unique style to each and every performance.  He was born 92 years ago today in Nebraska so here are just four of the films from his legendary career.

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Magnificent Seven (1960, directed by John Sturges)

In Like Flint (1967, directed by Gordon Douglas)

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971, directed by Sergio Leone)

Affliction (1998, directed by Paul Schrader)

18 Days of Paranoia #13: They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (dir by Gordon Douglas)


The 1970 police procedural, They Call Me Mister Tibbs!, opens with a murder in San Francisco.

A prostitute has been found dead in a sleazy apartment building and, according to witnesses, she was visited, shortly before her death, by the Reverend Logan Sharpe (Martin Landau).  Rev. Sharpe is a prominent civic leader, an outspoken liberal who is a friend of the civil rights movement.  Sharpe is currently at the forefront of a campaign to pass a city referendum that will add a “mini city hall” to every neighborhood and will help to fight against the gentrification of San Francisco.  If Sharpe’s guilty, it will mean the death of the referendum.

Despite the fact that there’s a ton of evidence piling up against him and he kind of comes across as being a little bit creepy (he is, after all, played by Martin Landau), Rev. Sharpe insists that he’s innocent.  Yes, he’s been visiting prostitutes but he’s not a client.  No, of course not!  Instead, Sharpe explains that he’s simply counseling them and praying for their souls.  In fact, as far as Sharpe is concerned, this whole thing is just an attempt by the establishment to discredit his efforts to help the poor and underprivileged.

Heading up the investigation is a friend and supporter of Sharpe’s, Detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier).  That may seem like a good thing for Sharpe, except for the fact that Tibbs is an honest cop and he’s not the type to let friendship stand in the way of doing a thorough investigation.  Tibbs admits that he supports Sharpe’s campaign and he wants the reverend to be innocent.  But Tibbs is all about justice.  Whether it’s teaching his son an important lesson about smoking or tracking down a potential serial killer, Virgil Tibbs is always going to do the right thing.

There are other suspects, all of whom are played by suitably sinister character actors.  Anthony Zerbe plays a criminal who lived near the prostitute.  Ed Asner plays her landlord, who may have also been her pimp.  Is Sharpe being set up by the powers that be or is Tibbs going to have to arrest a man whom he admires?

They Call Me Mister Tibbs! was the second film in which Sidney Poitier played Virgil Tibbs.  The first time he played the role was in 1967, when he co-starred with Rod Steiger in the Oscar-winning In The Heat of the Night.  In that film, Poitier was a Philadelphia cop in the deep south who had to work with a redneck sheriff.  In They Call Me Mister Tibbs!, Virgil is now working in San Francisco and he has to work the case on his own.

They Call Me Mister Tibbs! is a far more conventional film than In The Heat of the Night.  Whereas In The Heat of the Night had a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! could just as easily have taken place in Los Angeles, Phoenix, or even Philadelphia.  With the exception of some slight profanity, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! feels more like a pilot for a TV show than an actual feature film.  Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that there’s no real surprises to be found within the film.  You’ll guess who the murderer is within the first 10 minutes of the film and you’ll probably even guess how the movie will eventually end.

On the plus side, just as he did in In The Heat of the Night, Sidney Poitier brings a lot of natural authority to the role of Virgil Tibbs.  He’s actually allowed to show a sense of humor in this film, which is something that the character (understandably) couldn’t do while he was surrounded by bigots and rednecks during his previous adventure.  Virgil gets a few family scenes, where we watch him interact with his wife and his children.  The scenes feel out of place but, at the same time, Poitier plays them well.

With Sharpe attempting to get his referendum passed and the possibility that riots could break out if Sharpe is indeed guilty of murder, there’s a slight political subtext to They Call Me Mister Tibbs!  Sharpe’s argument that he was being set up by the establishment undoubtedly carried a lot of weight in 1970.  Still, this is ultimately a shallow (if adequately entertaining) film that, for the most part, is only made memorable by Poitier’s commanding performance.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller

Viva Knievel (1977, directed by Gordon Douglas)


Last night, I watched one of the greatest movies of all time, Viva Knievel!

Viva Knievel! starts with the real-life, motorcycle-riding daredevil Evel Knievel breaking into an orphanage in the middle of the night, waking up all the children, and giving each of them their own Evel Knievel action figure.  When one of the kids says, “You actually came!,” Evel replies that he always keeps his word.  Another one of the orphans then throws away his crutches as he announced that he can walk again!

From there, Viva Knievel! only gets better as Evel preaches against drug use, helps his alcoholic mechanic (Gene Kelly) bond with his son, and flirts with a glamorous photojournalist (Lauren Hutton).  Evel was married at the time that Viva Knievel! was produced but his wife and family go unmentioned as Evel, Kelly, and Hutton travel through Mexico, jumping over fire pits, and battling drug dealers.

Evel’s former protegee, Jessie (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner), has fallen in with a bad crowd and gotten messed up on the same drugs that Evel spends the entire movie preaching against.  An evil drug trafficker (Leslie Nielsen, a few years before Airplane! and The Naked Gun) pressures Jessie to convince Evel to do a dangerous stunt.  The plot is to replace Evel’s trusted mechanic with a crooked mechanic (Cameron Mitchell) who will sabotage the jump.  When Evel dies, he will be shipped back to the U.S. in a coffin and, hidden within the walls of the coffin, will be several kilos of cocaine.  Oh, the irony!  Evel Knievel, America’s number one spokesman against drugs, will be responsible for bringing them into the United States!  Can Evel thwart the nefarious plans of Leslie Nielsen while still finding time to fall in love with Lauren Hutton and break Gene Kelly out of a psychiatric ward?  If anyone can do it, Evel can.

Even Dabney Coleman’s in this movie!

From the start, Viva Knievel! is a vanity project but in the best, most loony and entertaining way possible.  There are many well-known actors in this film and all of them take a backseat to Evel Knievel, whom they all speak of as if he’s a cross between Gary Cooper and Jesus Christ.  Watching this movie, you learn three things: 1) Evel Knievel was high on life but not dope, 2) Evel Knievel always kept his word, and 3) Evel Knievel always wore his helmet.  He even makes sure that Lauren Hutton is wearing one before he takes her for a spin on his motorcycle.  You also learn that Evel Knievel liked to get paid.  He nearly beats up his manager (Red Buttons) when he thinks that he’s been cheated but they’re still friends afterwards because how could anyone turn down a chance to be in Evel’s presence?

There are plenty of stunts and jumps to be seen in Viva Knievel!, though watching Leslie Nielsen play a villain is almost as fun as watching Evel jump over a fire pit.  Judging from his performance here, Evel Knievel probably could have had a film career.  He had a natural screen presence and delivered even the worst dialogue with sincerity.   Unfortunately, three months after Viva Knievel! opened in the United States, Evel attacked a promoter with an aluminum baseball bat and ended up doing 6 months in jail.  Evel said it was because the promoter was spreading lies about him but, regardless, Evel lost most of his sponsorships and his toyline was discontinued.  Viva Knievel! sunk into an obscurity from which it has only recently reemerged.  Viva Knievel! is cheesy fun, a relic of a bygone era.  Watch it, think about whatever problems you may be dealing with in your own life, and then ask yourself, “What would Evel do?”

 

30 Days of Noir #16: I Was A Communist For The FBI (dir by Gordon Douglas)


The 1951 noir, I Was A Communist For The FBI, tells the story of Matt Cvetic (Frank Lovejoy).  The film could just as easily be called I Hate Matt.

Seriously, from the minute we first see Matt, he’s got people hating on him.  When he goes to visit his mother, his three brothers all make it clear that he’s not welcome in their house.  When he goes to the local high school to find out why his son has been getting into fights, the principal is cold and rude to him.  Even worse, his son announces that it’s all Matt’s fault!  When Matt goes to his job at a Pittsburgh steel mill, the other members of his union view him with a mix of suspicion and resentment.  When Matt attempts to give his neighbor’s son some batting tips, the boy’s father tells Matt to get away from his child and adds, “Baseball is an American game!”

As you may have guessed from the film’s title, Matt is a communist.  He’s been a member of the Communist Party for nine years and, during that time, he’s seen a lot of bad things.  He’s met wth the shady spies who secretly deliver Russian orders to their comrades in the U.S.  He’s watched as communist leader Jim Blandon (James Millican) has plotted to sow discord among otherwise loyal Americans.  He’s watched as unions have been taken over and money has been raised on the backs of the workers.  If there’s anything that Matt understands about communism, it’s that the majority of its leaders care little about the people that they claim to represent.

Because Matt’s a communist, he basically can’t go anywhere without someone calling him “a dirty red” or a traitor to his country.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that not even his fellow communists trust him.  When Matt leaves one clandestine meeting, he’s followed until he reaches home.  In order to test Matt’s ideological purity, Jim Blandon orders a school teacher named Eve Merrick (Dorothy Hart) to get to know him.  We’re told that Eve is one of many communists who have managed to land a job teaching the children of America.

As you’ve probably once again guessed just by looking at the film’s title, the communists have good reason to be suspicious of Matt.  For 9 years, Matt has been working undercover.  As much as it tears him up that he can’t even tell his family the truth, Matt is determined to do what he has to do to keep America safe.  Sadly, that means that Matt has to be a pariah.  He has to deal with his “comrades” showing up at his own mother’s funeral and sarcastically mocking her religious faith.  When his own brother punches him, he has to accept it and lie about  being “a communist and proud of it!”  As he explains it, the fact that his son hates his “communist” father just makes Matt love his son all the more….

I Was A Communist For The FBI is an interesting film.  On the one hand, it’s a very easy film to criticize.  Yes, it’s totally heavy-handed, to the extent that the film even ends with the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background.  Yes, Frank Lovejoy is a bit on the bland side in the lead role.  Yes, the film does seem to be making the argument that some people are more deserving of civil liberties than others.  As someone who believes in individual freedom above all else, it’s hard for me not to take issue with the way the film glorifies not only the FBI but also government overreach in general.

And yet, it’s a very well-made film.  Director Gordon Douglas hits all the right noir notes, from the shadowy streets to the pervasive sense of unease and paranoia.  James Millican is wonderfully villainous as Jim Blandon and Dorothy Hart also gives a good performance as Eve.  The film itself portrays the communist leadership as being more concerned with profit than ideology.  At one meeting, they brag about how much money they’ve made by infiltrating the unions.  In another meeting, Blandon orders one of his stooges to start promoting fascism, the idea being to divide Americans into two extremist camps and then wait for them destroy themselves.  When the communists start a riot during a labor strike, they attempt to blame it on a Jewish newspaper.  When they’re not fanning the flames of antisemitism, they’re causally using the “n-word.”  Again, it’s all very heavy-handed but, at the same time, it’s also a reminder that there will always be grifters who will attach themselves to any ideological movement, hoping to enrich themselves off of the idealism of others.  In our current hyperpolitical climate, that’s an important lesson to remember.

Finally, if nothing else, I Was A Communist For The FBI is very much a document of its time.  It was based on a true story, though how close it sticks to the actual facts of the case I won’t venture to guess.  Oddly enough, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, even though it’s clearly not a documentary.  Don’t ask me how to explain that one.  It’s a strange world.

Halloween Havoc!: THEM! (Warner Brothers 1954)


cracked rear viewer

The iconic, bloodcurdling scream of little Sandy Descher heralds the arrival of THEM!, the first and best of the 50’s “Big Bug” atomic thrillers. Warner Brothers had one of their biggest hits of 1954 with this sci-fi shocker, putting it up there with Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN, Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER, and Wellman’s THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY as their highest-grossing films of the year. Not bad company for director Gordon Douglas , previously known for his work with Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy! THEM! was also Oscar nominated that year for its special effects (and should’ve been for Bronislaw Kaper’s terrific score).

The movie begins with the look and feel of a noir mystery courtesy of DP Sidney Hickox’s (DARK PASSAGE, THE BIG SLEEP  , WHITE HEAT) brooding shadows and sandstorm-battered landscape. New Mexico policemen Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn come across a little girl wandering…

View original post 675 more words

The Fabulous Forties #47: Broadway Limited (dir by Gordon Douglas)


Broadway_Limited_FilmPoster

The 47th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was a 1941 comedy named Broadway Limited.

Broadway Limited tells the story of several increasingly desperate characters and a baby.  April Tremaine (Marjorie Woodworth) is a film star whose career is in danger of stagnating.  Her frequent director, the eccentric Ivan Ivanski (Leonid Litinsky), comes up with a plan to increase April’s popularity.  He starts a rumor that she has adopted a baby.  The only problem is that April has to be seen with the baby for the rumor to be believable.

Fortunately, April is going to be traveling from Chicago to New York via a train known as the Broadway Limited.  Ivan decides that April needs to be seen with the baby on the train.  April’s assistant, Patsy (Patsy Kelly), is dating the train’s engineer, Mike (Victor McLaglen).  When Patsy tells Mike about the scheme, Mike decides to help out.  He spots a mysterious man with a baby.  Mike asks if he can borrow the baby for a few minutes.  The man agrees and hands over the baby and then Mike gives the baby to April.  Everyone sees April with the baby but the mysterious man has vanished.  What Mike does not initially know but quickly comes to suspect is that the baby might be the Pierson Baby, whose kidnapping has become national news.

(As confusing as it may sound when you read about it, it’s even more confusing when you actually watch it.)

The rest of the film basically follows Patsy, Mike, Ivan, and April as they all try to get the baby to safety without running the risk of being implicated in the kidnapping.  The four of them keep trying to leave the baby in different parts of the train, where she can be discovered by someone, just to inevitably have the baby somehow end up back in their compartment.

But that’s not all!  The high-strung president of the April Tremaine fan club (played by ZaSu Pitts) is also on the train and she keeps getting in everyone’s way.  And then there’s Dr. Harvey North (Dennis O’Keefe).  Harvey was April’s childhood crush and they just happen to be on the same train!  However, Dr. North believes that, since April has a baby, she must also have a lover…

If Broadway Limited sounds like an extremely busy film … well, it is.  The film attempts to do the screwball thing, with increasingly frantic characters running from compartment to compartment and behaving in increasingly ludicrous ways.  How well it works depends on which character is appearing in which scene.  O’Keefe plays his role too seriously, Litinsky is too broad, and Woodward is never believable as a movie star (which, needless to say, is problem when you’re the star of a movie).  However, Patsy Kelly and Victor McLaglen are both hilarious as Patsy and Mike and have a lot of chemistry.  As long as the film concentrates on Patsy and Mike, it’s entertaining.

Plus, the baby’s super cute!

Broadway Limited is hardly a classic but it works well enough.

 

Film Review: Barquero (1970, directed by Gordon Douglas)


barquero-movie-poster-1970-1010695655Travis (Lee Van Cleef) is a former gunslinger who now makes his living taking settlers across a river on his small barge.  When we first meet him, he is telling a child to shut up and stop bothering him while he is guiding the barge.  He depends on the settlers on the other side of the river for his livelihood and they depend on him for transportation but he doesn’t like them and they don’t like him.  Travis only cares about two people, his Mexican lover, Nola (Maria Gomez) and an eccentric hunter named Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker).

After stealing a shipment of silver, outlaw Jake Remy (Warren Oates) and his army of mercenaries need to cross the river to escape into Mexico.  To prevent anyone from following, they plan to destroy the barge afterward.  However, Travis and Phil find out that Remy is on the way and take the barge to the other side of the river.  When Jake and his gang arrive, a tense stand-off ensues, with the outlaws on one side of the river and Travis and the settlers trapped on the other.

Though Barquero was directed by the veteran American director Gordon Douglas (Douglas’s best known film is the 1950s giant ant film, Them!),  it was heavily influenced by contemporary Spaghetti Westerns and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.  This can be seen in both its graphic violence and in the casting of Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oates in the leading roles.

Travis was a perfect role for Van Cleef, a talented actor who was ignored by Hollywood until he found fame playing ruthless villains in European westerns.  Surly and unsmiling, Travis may seem like an unlikely hero but, like many of the best Spaghetti westerns, there are no traditional good guys in Barquero.  Travis is more interested in saving his boat than protecting the settlers.  He is a hero of circumstance.

As Jake, Warren Oates is a great villain.  In his very first scene, he and a prostitute watch as his gang massacre the citizens of a small town.  When the prostitute asks if she can come with them, Jake calmly replies, “I don’t think so” and shoots her dead.  Stuck on his side of the river, Jake smokes the local weed and starts to have violent hallucinations.  Soon, he is shooting bullets into the river.

Also doing good work are Forest Tucker as Mountain Phil and Kerwin Mathews.  Mathews, who is best remembered for starring in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, plays the Marquette, a disgraced French nobleman who has started a second life as Jake Remy’s right-hand man.

Barquero starts with a bang but it struggles to keep up the momentum over its entire running time.  The opening shoot out is exciting but things slow down almost too much during the stand-off at the river.  It is an interesting but flawed western that deserves to be better known than it is and worth watching to see Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oates at their best.

Barquero-Oates-on-dock

CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt1: Five Films from Five Decades


cracked rear viewer

I record a LOT of movies. Probably around ten per week, more or less. And since I also have to do little things like work, exercise, cook, clean, breathe,  etc etc, I don’t always have time to watch  them all (never mind write full reviews), so I’ve decided to begin a series of short, capsule reviews for the decades covered here at Cracked Rear Viewer. This will be whenever I find my DVR getting cluttered, which is frequent! I’ll try to make CLEANING OUT THE DVR a bi-weekly series, but there are no guarantees. Monthly is more realistic. Anyway, here are five films from the 1930s to the 1970s for your reading pleasure.

View original post 748 more words