A Movie A Day #308: Number One With A Bullet (1987, directed by Jack Smight)


Number One With A Bullet is the story of two cops.  Nick Barzack (Robert Carradine) is so crazy that the all criminals have nicknamed “Beserk.”  (Who says criminals aren’t clever?)  Nick’s partner, Frank Hazeltine (Billy Dee Williams) is so smooth that jazz starts to play whenever he steps into a room.  Nick keeps a motorcycle in his living room, wants to get back together with his wife (Valerie Bertinelli), and has an overprotective mother (Doris Roberts).  Hazeltine is Billy Dee Williams so all he has to worry about is being the coolest man on Earth.  Their captain (Peter Graves!) may want them to do things by the book but Nick and Hazeltine are willing to throw the book out if it means taking down DaCosta, a so-called respectable citizen who they think is actually the city’s biggest drug lord.

It is natural to assume that, because of the whole crazy white cop/centered black cop storyline, this movie was meant to be a rip-off of a well-known film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but actually, Number One With A Bullet was released a week before Lethal Weapon.  As well, while Carradine’s Nick is almost as crazy as Mel Gibson’s Riggs, it is impossible to imagine Billy Dee Williams ever saying that he’s “too old for this shit.”  Williams is having too good a time listening to jazz and picking up women.  Whenever Hazeltine shows up, Number One With A Bullet feels like a Colt 45 commercial that somehow costars Robert Carradine.  Whenever the film is just Carradine, it feels like an unauthorized sequel to Revenge of the Nerds where Lewis gets really, really pissed off.

Number One With A Bullet is a Cannon film and entertaining in the way that most late 80s Cannon films are.  There is a lot of action, a little skin, and some dated comedy, much of it featuring Robert Carradine having to dress in drag.  There is also a mud wrestling scene because I guess mud wrestling was extremely popular back in the 80s.  They may not be Gibson and Glover but Carradine and Williams still make a good team and they both seem to be having a ball.  For fans of cheap 80s action films, there is a lot to enjoy in Number One With A Bullet.

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Insomnia File #26: Rabbit Run (dir by Jack Smight)


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, at one in the morning on Wednesday, you were suffering from insomnia, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1970 film, Rabbit Run.  That’s what I did.

Rabbit Run is the epitome of a dumb lug film.  In a dumb lug film, a male character finds himself living an unfulfilling life but he can’t figure out the reason.  Why can’t he figure it out?  Because he’s a dumb lug, with the emphasis on dumb.  Usually, the viewer is supposed to sympathize with the dumb lug because he doesn’t mean to hurt anyone and everyone else in his world is somehow even more annoying than he is.  Typically, the dumb lug will have an emotionally distant wife who refuses to have sex with him and who is usually portrayed as being somehow at fault for everything bad that has happened in the dumb lug’s face.  (Want to see a more recent dumb lug film than Rabbit Run?  American Beauty.)  Ever since the silent era, there have been dumb lug films.  In particular, male filmmakers and critics seem to love dumb lug films because they allow them to pat themselves on the back for admitting to being dumb while, at the same time, assuring them that everything is the fault of the wife or the girlfriend or the mother or the mother-in-law.

In Rabbit Run, the dumb lug is named Harry Angstrom (James Caan), though most people still remember him as Rabbit, the high school basketball star.  Harry’s life peaked in high school.  Now, he’s 28 and he can’t hold down a job.  He’s married to Janice (Carrie Snodgress), who spends all of her time drinking and watching TV.  He has a son and another baby is on the way.  One day, when the pregnant Janice asks him to go out and get her a pack of cigarettes, Harry responds by getting in his car and driving all the way from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

When he returns to Pennsylvania, Rabbit doesn’t go back to his wife.  Instead, he drops in on his former basketball coach (Jack Albertson) and begs for advice on what he should do.  The coach, it turns out, is more than little creepy.  He also has absolutely no practical advise to give.  He does introduce Rabbit to a part-time prostitute named Ruth (Anjanette Comer).  Rabbit quickly decides that he’s in love with Ruth and soon, he’s moved in with her.

Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of little things going on.  Rabbit gets a job working as a gardener.  Rabbit befriends the local Episcopal minister (Arthur Hill), even while the minister’s cynical wife (Melodie Johnson) tries to tempt Rabbit away from both his wife and his mistress.  Rabbit both resents and envies the sexual freedom of the counter culture, as represented by his younger sister.  And, of course, Janice is pregnant…

Rabbit Run is based on a highly acclaimed novel by John Updike.  I haven’t read the novel so I can’t compare it to the film, beyond pointing out that many great works of literature have been turned into mediocre movies, largely because the director never found a way to visually translate whatever it was that made the book so memorable in the first place.  Rabbit Run was directed by Jack Smight, who takes a rather frantic approach to the material.  Since Rabbit Run is primarily a character study, it needed a director who would be willing to get out of the way and let the actors dominate the film.  Instead, Smight overdirects, as if he was desperately trying to prove that he could keep up with all the other trendy filmmakers.  The whole movie is full of extreme close-ups, abrupt jump cuts, intrusive music, and delusions of ennui.  You find yourself wishing that someone had been willing to grab Smight and shout, “Calm down!”

(On the plus side, as far as the films of 1970 are concerned, Smight’s direction of Rabbit Run still isn’t as bad as Richard Rush’s direction of Gettting Straight.)

James Caan actually gives a likable performance as Rabbit, which is good because Rabbit would be totally unbearable if not played by an actor with at least a little genuine charisma.  There’s nothing subtle about Caan’s performance but he makes it work.  You never like Rabbit but, at the same time, you don’t hate him.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing subtle about the rest of the cast either.  Something rather tragic happens about 80 minutes into the film and, as much as I knew I shouldn’t, I still found myself giggling because Carrie Snodgress’s performance was so bad that it was impossible for me to take any of it seriously.  Even worse is Arthur Hill, as the minister who won’t stop trying to help Rabbit out.  I eventually reached the point where, every time that sanctimonious character started to open his mouth, I found myself hoping someone would hit him over the head and knock him out.  Among the major supporting players, only Anjanette Comer is allowed a chance to be something more than just a sterotype.  Like Caan, she does the best that she can but ultimately. this is James Caan’s movie.

It’s a disappointing movie but it did not put me to sleep.  Give credit for that to James Caan, who is the only reason to see Rabbit Run.

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

 

Horror On TV: Twilight Zone 2.17 “Twenty-Two”


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“Room for one more, honey!”

Agck!

This classic episode of the Twilight Zone originally aired on February 10th, 1961. It was written by Rod Serling, directed by Jack Smight, and stars Barbara Nichols.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes


Happy birthday, Ray Bradbury.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Fahrenheit 451 (1966, directed by Francois Truffaut)

Fahrenheit 451 (1966, directed by Francois Truffaut)

The Illustrated Man (1968, directed by Jack Smight)

The Illustrated Man (1968, directed by Jack Smight)

The Martian Chronicles (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

The Martian Chronicles (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, directed by Jack Clayton)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, directed by Jack Clayton)

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #45: Double Indemnity (dir by Jack Smight)


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Nothing can make you appreciate a classic film more than by watching a really bad remake.  As proof, I would offer up the 1973 made-for-television version of the classic 1944 film Double Indemnity.  The original Double Indemnity is a classic example of film noir, one that remains intriguing and powerful over 70 years since it was first released.  The remake features the exact same plot as Double Indemnity and a few of the original’s scenes are recreated shot-by-shot but it just does not work.

Part of the problem is that the remake is in color.  In fact, since it was made in 1973 and for television, it’s in very bright and somewhat tacky color.  Bright and vibrant doesn’t work for film noir.  You need the shadows and the visual ambiguities that are unique to black-and-white.  If the original Double Indemnity was full of secrets and mysteries, the remake is all on the surface.  There are no secrets to be found in this remake.

That goes for the cast as well.  In the original, Fred MacMurray made Walter Neff into the epitome of the bored, post-war American male.  You watched him with a certain sick fascination, trying to figure out what was going on behind the blandly friendly facade.  In the remake, you know that Richard Crenna is a serpent from the minute he first appears.  If MacMurray’s Walter was motivated by ennui, Crenna’s Walter is just bad and therefore, far less interesting.  Meanwhile, in the role of Phyllis, Samantha Eggar has none of Barbara Stanwyck’s ferocious determination.  Instead, Eggar’s performance is curiously refined (which is another way to say boring).

Probably the most interesting thing about the remake of Double Indemnity is that the role of Keyes is played by Lee J. Cobb.  Cobb actually gives a pretty good performance and, unlike Crenna and Eggar, he’s actually entertaining to watch.  In the original film, Keyes was played by Edward G. Robinson and was roughly around the same age as Walter.  They were contemporaries and friends and that made the original’s ending all the more poignant.  In the remake, Cobb is quite a bit older than Crenna and, as a result, their relationship feels more paternalistic.  It’s almost as if Crenna is the prodigal son who has betrayed his father and who tells his story as a way of begging for forgiveness.

But that’s probably reading too much into the remake!  For the most part, the remake of Double Indemnity is bland and boring.  The best thing about it is that it’ll make you love the original even more.

As for how I ended up watching the remake of Double Indemnity, it was included as an extra on my DVD of the original.  Watching them back-to-back, as I did, really serves to make you appreciate Billy Wilder as a filmmaker.

Ghosts of Christmas Past #4: Twilgiht Zone Ep. 47 “Night of The Meek” (dir by Jack Smight)


A Christmas episode of the Twilight Zone?  Yes, such a thing does exist.  In Night of the Meek, an unemployed man (Art Carney) is given a chance to be Santa Claus.  This is a wonderful episode that truly captures the spirit of the season.

Night of the Meek was written by Rod Serling and directed by Jack Smight.  It was originally broadcast on December 23rd, 1960.

Horror On TV: Twlight Zone Ep. 54 “Twenty-Two”


Tonight’s televised horror story is Twenty-Two, the fifty-fourth episode of The Twilight Zone.

First broadcast on February 10th, 1961 and written by Rod Serling, Twenty-Two tells the story of a dancer (Barbara Nichols) who is in the hospital, suffering from fatigue.  As she tries to recover and get out of the hospital in time to catch a flight to Miami, Nichols finds herself having a reoccurring nightmare.  In her dreams, Nichols goes down to the morgue and is told, by a smiling nurse, “Room for one more, honey.”

This episode seriously freaks me out!  Perhaps it’s because I’m a dancer who, in the past, has suffered from fatigue or maybe it’s because I’m scared of flying but this episode scares me to death.  Though the episode’s final twist may have been spoiled by far too many inferior imitations, Twenty-Two, as directed by Jack Smight, manages to perfectly capture the feel of a nightmare.

It’s the perfect episode for an October night.