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!

The First Police Story: Slow Boy (1973, directed by William A. Graham)


Long before The Wire, Homicide, Chicago PD, NYPD Blue, or even Hill Street Blues, there was Police Story.

Co-created by cop-turned-writer Joseph Wambaugh, Police Story aired on NBC from 1973 to 1978.  It was an anthology series, with each episode following a different member of the LAPD as they deal with crime and social issues in Los Angeles.  For its time, it was ground-breaking in its realistic approach to the life and work of the police.  Interestingly, the show wasn’t always blindly pro-cop.  Often the cops featured were deeply flawed and the war on crime was frequently portrayed to be unwinnable.  Over the course of its run, Police Story was a regular Emmy nominee and won the award for Best Drama Series in 1976.

Police Story started, in 1973, with a two-hour TV movie.  At the time it aired, the pilot was called Stakeout but it has since aired in syndication under the title Slow Boy.  Vic Morrow stars as Sgt. Joe LaFrieda, a plainclothes detective who can’t keep his marriage together but who can take criminals off the street.  LaFrieda is the second-in-command of a special squad of detectives who specialize in watching and taking down high-profile criminals.  Their methods frequently come close to entrapment but they usually work.  Their current target is Slow Boy (Chuck Conners), the son of a mafia chieftain, who enjoys robbing stores.  When LaFrieda’s first attempt to put Slow Boy in jail is thwarted by a liberal judge and departmental bureaucracy, he and the squad come up with a second, less-than-legal plan to take Slow Boy down.

Considering the involvement of Joseph Wambaugh, it’s no surprise that plot is secondary to exploring the day-to-day lives of the blue-collar cops trying to take Slow Boy down.  The heart of the movie is in the scenes of the cops shooting the breeze and trying to keep each other amused during length shakeouts.  Their humor is often grim and the fascinating dialogue is cynical, dark, and, even by today’s standards, surprisingly raw.  One of the detectives (played by Harry Guardino, who specialized in loud-mouth city cops) is an unapologetic racist.  Though he gets a comeuppance of sorts, the way the film and the rest of his squad handle his racism will undoubtedly make modern audiences uncomfortable, even if it is authentic to the era in which Slow Boy was made.

The underrated Vic Morrow gives one of his best performances as the tough but sympathetic LaFrieda, who is bad at everything but his job.  He is ably supported by a host of familiar character actors.  Ed Asner plays LaFrieda’s reactionary lieutenant while Sandy Baron is great in the role of an informant.  Diane Baker was also perfectly cast as LaFrieda’s potential girlfriend.  (She first meets the detective while Slow Boy is holding a gun to her head.)  Finally, Chuck Conner is as intimidating as always as the sadistic Slow Boy.

Slow Boy is a tough and uncompromising police procedural and it provided a great start for Police Story.  Reruns of Police Story currently air on H&I on Sunday morning.

An Olympic Film Review: Goldengirl (dir by Joseph Sargent)


The 1979 film Goldengirl is a film that I had wanted to see ever since I first came across this trailer on one of the 42nd Street Forever compilation DVDs:

Wow, I wondered.  What was Goldengirl’s secret and why was she ordering James Coburn to kiss her feet?  For that matter, why did James Coburn have a haircut that made him look exactly like this old lady who used to live next door to my grandma in Fort Smith?  What did it all have to do with the villain from The Spy Who Loved Me and just how drunk was Robert Culp when he shot his scenes?  Even more importantly, why did Goldengirl keep running into that wall?  That looked painful!

I did some research.  (That’s a fancy way of saying that I looked the movie up on Wikipedia.)  I discovered that Goldengirl was made in 1979.  It was originally meant to be a television miniseries that would not only air during the 1980 Summer Olympics but which would feature Goldengirl competing at those Olympics!  However, during production, it was decided to just use the material for a feature film instead. (Hmmmm, I thought, behind-the-scenes drama!  Intriguing!)  The film was released in June of ’79 and, despite one rave review from Vincent Canby in the New York Times, the film failed at the box office.  Add to that, the U.S. ultimately boycotted the 1980 summer games, which made Goldengirl‘s Olympic-set climax a bit awkward.

I also discovered that Goldengirl is nearly impossible to see.  It’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray or any digital or streaming service.  So, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably never see Goldengirl and, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really didn’t care that much.

However, for the past few days, I have been absolutely obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Even though it was a Summer Olympic movie, I decided to go on YouTube and see if anyone had uploaded Goldengirl since I last checked.

And guess what?

They had!

Now, here’s the problem.  The two guys who uploaded Goldengirl also talked over the entire movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  The movie looked about as good as a VHS copy of a movie from 1979 is ever going to look.  And I could still follow Goldengirl‘s story, even if I sometimes had to really strain to hear the dialogue over the two guys “commenting” on it.  Still, it meant that I had to put a bit more effort into watching this movie than it perhaps deserved.  It was kinda hard not to resent that.

Anyway, I have finally seen Goldengirl and I can now tell you that it’s a pretty lousy movie.  Goldengirl is Goldine (Susan Anton).  Her father is a German scientist who used to work for the Nazis.  When he came to the United States, he decided to prove that his theories of eugenics were correct by adopting a daughter and breeding her to be the world’s greatest athlete.  Working with a psychiatrist named Dr. Lee (Leslie Caron, for some reason), they have not only turned Goldine into the world’s greatest athlete but they’ve also turned her into a bright, smiling media personality.  (Dr. Lee has trained Goldine, through the use of a vibrator, to always give the right answer when she’s asked a question.)  Now, they just need Goldine to win three gold medals at the Summer Olympics and for PR agent Jack Dryden (James Coburn) to make Goldine into a star.  Dryden is the only person who really cares about Goldine as something other than an experiment or a way to make money.

Goldine spends almost the entire movie running.  There’s one running montage that seems to go on forever.  Susan Anton was a model when she was cast as Goldine.  She’s got the right look to be a celebrity but she’s never convincing as an Olympic-class athlete.  Whenever Goldine competes, we either get a close-up of Anton running in slow-motion with no other runners around her or else a long-shot that’s designed to keep us from noticing that Anton isn’t really on the track.

Really, that’s entire film.  On the basis of the trailer, I was expecting that Goldengirl would turn out to be a robot or something like that.  Instead, it just turns out that her stepfather has spent years injecting her with vitamins and hormones and now, as a result, she has diabetes.  Seriously, that’s it.  She gets pretty mad when she finds out that her handlers have put her health at risk just so she could win a race.  But then she goes ahead and runs the race anyway so I guess it was all for the best.  Seriously, that’s the entire freaking movie.  It doesn’t help that Anton’s acting is amateurish and the rest of the cast seems bored.  Only Curt Jurgens really makes much of an impression, mostly because he’s too sinister not to be memorable.

The trailer is better than the movie.  That’s the secret of Goldengirl.

A Movie A Day #174: St. Ives (1976, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


Raymond St. Ives (Charles Bronson) is a former cop-turned-writer who desperately needs money.  Abner Procane (John Houseman) is a wealthy and cultured burglar who needs someone to serve as a go-between.  Five of Procane’s ledgers have been stolen.  The thieves are demanding a ransom and Procane believes that St. Ives is just the man to deliver the money.  But every time that St. Ives tries to deliver the money, another person ends up getting murdered and St. Ives ends up looking more and more like a suspect.  Who is the murderer?  Is it Janet (Jacqueline Bisset), the seductive woman who lives in Procane’s mansion?  Is it Procane’s eccentric psychiatrist (Maximillian Schell)?  Could it be the two cops (Harry Guardino and Harris Yulin) who somehow show up at every murder scene?  Only Ray St. Ives can solve the case!

Charles Bronson is best remembered for playing men of few words, the type who never hesitated to pull the trigger and do what they had to do.  St. Ives was one of the few films in which Bronson got to play a cerebral character.  Ray St. Ives may get into his share of fights but he spends most of the film examining clues and trying to solve a mystery.  The mystery itself is not as important as the quirky people who St. Ives meets while solving it.  St. Ives has a great, only in the 70s type of cast.  Along with those already mentioned, keep an eye out for Robert Englund, Jeff Goldblum, Dana Elcar, Dick O’Neill, Daniel J. Travanti, Micheal Lerner, and Elisha Cook, Jr.  It’s definitely different from the stereotypical Charles Bronson film, which is why it is also one of my favorites of his films.  As this film shows, Bronson was an underrated actor.  In St. Ives, Bronson proves that, not only could he have played Mike Hammer, he could have played Philip Marlowe a well.

St. Ives is historically significant because it was the first Bronson film to be directed by J. Lee Thompson.  Thompson would go on to direct the majority of the films Bronson made for Cannon in 1980s, eventually even taking over the Death Wish franchise from Michael Winner.

Film Review: Capone (1975, directed by Steve Carver)


capone-poster-1Over the course of his legendary career, filmmaker Roger Corman produced two films about the life of Al Capone.  The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which starred Jason Robards as the famous Chicago mobster and featured Jack Nicholson in a two-line role, is the one that everyone remembers.  The other one was simply titled Capone and starred Ben Gazzara.

Capone opens in 1918, with Al Capone as a cunning young criminal who cons his way into the trust of Chicago racketeers Johnny Torio (Harry Guardino) and Frankie Yale (John Cassavetes, appearing in two scenes and probably using his salary to produce The Killing of a Chinese Bookie).  The tough and streetwise Capone works his way up, becoming Torio’s right-hand man before eventually betraying his boss and taking over the Chicago rackets himself.  Al rules Chicago with an iron fist and has an affair with a flapper named Iris (Susan Blakely).  After killing nearly all of his enemies, Al is taken down on a tax evasion charge and, after contracting syphilis, he ends up a pathetic and lonely man, sitting by his pool and ranting about his enemies.

Despite being one of the few movies to depict Al’s final days, Capone makes little effort to be historically accurate.  Instead, it’s a gangster film in the tradition of Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and both versions of Scarface, complete with nudity, tough talk, and plenty of tommy gun action.  (Since this is a Roger Corman film, Capone also features Dick Miller and footage that was lifted directly from St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.)  There is nothing surprising about Capone but it’s still entertaining.

Al Capone has been played by everyone from Rod Steiger to Robert De Niro to F. Murray Abraham.  Ben Gazzara may not have been the most subtle Capone but he was one of the most watchable.  Gazzara played Al Capone like a snarling animal, always ready to bite anyone who gets too close.  My favorite Gazzara moments come at the end of the film, when a syphilitic Capone bugs his eyes and starts to rave about Bolsheviks.

Today, Capone is best remembered for featuring Sylvester Stallone in the role of Frank Nitti, Al’s right-hand man and eventual successor.  One year later, Rocky would turn Stallone into a superstar and his days of working for Roger Corman would be over.

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A Death-Defying Quickie With Lisa Marie: Rollercoaster (dir by James Goldstone)


Recently, despite my longstanding fear of heights and my refusal to ever ride one in real life, I watched a film called Rollercoaster.  First released in 1977, Rollercoaster recently made its debut on TCM.  I was hesitant about watching it but then Robert Osborne assured me that it was an entertaining film and, seriously, who can say no to Robert Osborne?

An unnamed bomber (Timothy Bottoms) is going from amusement park to amusement park and blowing up roller coasters.  He wants money and, even more importantly, he wants the money to be delivered to him by safety inspector Harry Caulder (George Segal).  Will the FBI back off long enough for Harry to deal with the bomber?  Will the bomber ever smile?  Finally, will Harry be able to save the day while, at the same time, trying to quit smoking and bond with his daughter?

Roller Coaster is about 30 minutes too long and it’s never quite as exciting as it should be.  My mind kept wandering during the climax, which is not a good thing when the film is supposed to be a race against time.  However, at the same time, when taken on its own dated terms, Roller Coaster is a lot of fun.  Even if director James Goldstone (who also directed the far more surreal Brother John) struggles a bit with keeping the action moving at a steady pace, he still directs with a good eye for detail and gets good performances out of the majority of the film’s cast.

Since I best know George Segal for playing cantankerous father figures on about a thousand different sitcoms, it took me a few minutes to get used to the idea that he was the main character here.  While Segal does have several funny lines in Rollercoaster, he is also totally convincing and likable as the film’s hero.  Timothy Bottoms is equally convincing as the unnamed bomber.  The fact that we learn little about the bomber’s motivations or background just serve to make Bottoms’s cold performance all the more chilling.

As for the supporting cast, Henry Fonda is the biggest distraction, snarling his way through his role as Segal’s jerk of a boss.  Oddly enough, Fonda showed up in a lot of disaster films in the 70s, usually playing authority figures and usually only appearing in two or three scenes.  Whenever Henry Fonda shows up in a film like this, overacting and looking somewhat humiliated, it’s best just to close your eyes and think of 12 Angry Men and then realize that even great actors sometimes just needed a paycheck.  Richard Widmark is far more convincing, playing the stuffy FBI agent who doesn’t have much use for George Segal.  Finally, for those of you who enjoy spotting future Oscar nominees in unlikely roles, 13 year-old Helen Hunt makes her film debut here as Segal’s daughter, who just wants to ride the rollercoaster one time.

Ultimately, the best recommendation that I can give to Rollercoaster is to say that it’s a quintessentially 70s films and hence, it’s a piece of history.  Not only is the film full of 70s fashion, 70s hair, and 70s stereotypes (just check out the long-haired teenagers joking about getting high while unknowingly sitting on top of a bomb) but the film also features a performance from a band called Sparks that is so 70s that the cast of Dazed and Confused might as well have been watching them in the audience and going, “Alright, alright, alright…”

(I have to admit that I had never heard of Sparks before I saw this film.  I looked them up on Wikipedia and I discovered that not only is the band still performing but that the lead singer claims that appearing in Rollercoaster was the band’s biggest regret.  Personally, I think he’s being too hard on both the band and the film.  Sure, they seem painfully out-of-place but I dare anyone to get the borderline annoying sound of “Big Boy” out of their head.)

For those of us who were born a few decades too late to experience it firsthand, Rollercoaster is our chance to spend two hours living in the 70s.

What could have been: The Godfather


I don’t know about you but I love to play the game of “What if.”  You know how it works.  What if so-and-so had directed such-and-such movie?  Would we still love that movie as much?  Would so-and-so be a star today?  Or would the movie have failed because the director was right to reject so-and-so during preproduction?

I guess that’s why I love the picture below.  Taken from one of Francis Ford Coppola’s notebooks, it’s a page where he jotted down a few possibilities to play the roles of Don Vito, Michael, Sonny, and Tom Hagen in The Godfather.  It’s a fascinating collection of names, some of which are very familiar and some of which most definitely are not.  As I look at this list, it’s hard not wonder what if someone like Scott Marlowe had played Michael Corleone?  Would he had then become known as one of the great actors of his generation and would Al Pacino then be fated to just be an unknown name sitting on a famous list?

(This page, just in case you happen to be in the neighborhood , is displayed at the Coppola Winery in California.)

The production of the Godfather — from the casting to the final edit — is something of an obsession of mine.  It’s amazing the amount of names — obscure, famous, and infamous — that were mentioned in connection with this film.  Below is a list of everyone that I’ve seen mentioned as either a potential director or a potential cast member of The Godfather.  Consider this my contribution to the game of What If….?

Director: Aram Avankian, Peter Bogdonavich, Richard Brooks, Costa-Gravas, Sidney J. Furie, Norman Jewison, Elia Kazan, Steve Kestin, Sergio Leone, Arthur Penn, Otto Preminger, Franklin J. Schaffner, Peter Yates, Fred Zinnemann

Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando): Melvin Belli, Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Callelia, Lee. J. Cobb, Richard Conte, Frank De Kova, Burt Lancaster, John Marley, Laurence Olivier, Carlo Ponti, Anthony Quinn, Edward G. Robinson, George C. Scott, Frank Sinatra, Rod Steiger, Danny Thomas, Raf Vallone,  Orson Welles

Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino): John Aprea, Warren Beatty, Robert Blake, Charles Bronson*, James Caan, David Carradine, Robert De Niro, Alain Delon, Peter Fonda, Art Genovese, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Jones, Tommy Lee Jones, Tony Lo Bianco, Michael Margotta, Scott Marlowe, Sal Mineo, Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Parks, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Richard Romanus, Gianni Russo, Martin Sheen, Rod Steiger**, Dean Stockwell

Sonny Corleone (played by James Caan): Lou Antonio, Paul Banteo, Robert Blake, John Brascia, Carmine Caridi, Robert De Niro, Peter Falk, Harry Guardino, Ben Gazzara, Don Gordon, Al Letteiri, Tony LoBianco, Scott Marlowe, Tony Musante, Anthony Perkins, Burt Reynolds***, Adam Roarke, Gianni Russo, John Saxon, Johnny Sette, Rudy Solari, Robert Viharo, Anthony Zerbe

Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall): James Caan, John Cassavettes, Bruce Dern, Peter Donat, Keir Dullea, Peter Falk, Steve McQueen, Richard Mulligan, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Ben Piazza, Barry Primus, Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell, Roy Thinnes, Rudy Vallee****, Robert Vaughn, Jerry Van Dyke, Anthony Zerbe

Kay Adams (played by Diane Keaton): Anne Archer, Karen Black, Susan Blakeley, Genevieve Bujold, Jill Clayburgh, Blythe Danner, Mia Farrow, Veronica Hamel, Ali MacGraw, Jennifer O’Neill, Michelle Phillips, Jennifer Salt, Cybill Shepherd, Trish Van Devere

Fredo Corleone (played by John Cazale): Robert Blake, Richard Dreyfuss, Sal Mineo, Austin Pendleton

Connie Corleone (played by Talia Shire): Julie Gregg, Penny Marshall, Maria Tucci, Brenda Vaccaro, Kathleen Widdoes

Johnny Fontane (played by Al Martino): Frankie Avalon, Vic Damone*****, Eddie Fisher, Buddy Greco, Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Carlo Rizzi (played by Gianni Russo): Robert De Niro, Alex Karras, John Ryan******, Sylvester Stallone

Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (played by Al Letteiri): Franco Nero

Lucas Brasi (played by Lenny Montana): Timothy Carey, Richard Castellano

Moe Greene (played by Alex Rocco): William Devane

Mama Corleone (played by Morgana King): Anne Bancroft, Alida Valli

Appollonia (played by Simonetta Steffanelli): Olivia Hussey

Paulie Gatto (played by John Martino): Robert De Niro*******, Sylvester Stallone

—-

* Charles Bronson, who was in his mid-40s, was suggested for the role of Michael by the then-chairman of Paramount Pictures, Charlie Bluhdorn.

** By all accounts, Rod Steiger – who was then close to 50 – lobbied very hard to be given the role of Michael Corleone.

*** Some sources claim that Burt Reynolds was cast as Sonny but Brando refused to work with him.  However, for a lot of reasons, I think this is just an cinematic urban legend.

**** Despite being in his 60s at the time, singer Rudy Vallee lobbied for the role of the 35 year-old Tom Hagen.  Supposedly, another singer — Elvis Presley — lobbied for the role as well but that just seems so out there that I couldn’t bring myself to include it with the “official” list.

***** Vic Damone was originally cast as Johnny Fontane but dropped out once shooting began and announced that the project was bad for Italian Americans.  He was replaced by Al Martino.

****** John P. Ryan was originally cast as Carlo Rizzi but was fired and replaced with Gianni Russo.  Ryan went on to play the distraught father in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive.  Russo went on to co-star in Laserblast.

******* Robert De Niro was originally cast in this role but dropped out to replace Al Pacino in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  Pacino, incidentally, had to drop out of that film because he was given the role of Michael in The Godfather.