Film Review: Cocaine and Blue Eyes (1983, directed by E.W. Swackhamer)


When San Francisco-based private investigator Michael Brennen (O.J. Simpson) gives a ride to Joey Crawford (John Spencer) on Christmas Eve, he doesn’t know that it’s going to lead to the biggest case of his career.  When Joey asks Michael to help him track down his ex-girlfriend, Michael assumes that Joey would never be able to pay for his investigative services.  But one week later, Michael gets something in the mail from Joey.  Inside the envelope, there’s a picture of both Joey’s ex and a thousand dollar bill.  Ever after he discovers that Joey was mysteriously killed the night before, Michael decides to take on the case.  His investigation will take him not only to Joey’s ex but it will also lead to him uncovering a drug ring that involves one of San Francisco’s most prominent families.

Simpson not only starred in this made-for-TV movie but he also served as executive producer.  Watching the movie, it’s obvious that it was meant to serve as a pilot for a Michael Brennen TV series and it’s also just as obvious why that series never happened.  O.J. Simpson was not a terrible actor but, ironically for someone who set records as an NFL player, there was nothing tough about him.  Simpson may be playing a two-fisted, cash-strapped P.I. but, in every scene, he comes across like he can’t wait to hit the golf course.  Simpson’s pleasant demeanor may have served him well in other areas of his life but it didn’t help him with this role.  Whenever Simpson has to share a scene with John Spencer, Candy Clark, Cliff Gorman, or any of the other members of this film’s surprisingly talented supporting cast, Simpson’s bland screen presence and lack of gravitas becomes all the more apparent.

Of course, when seen today, the main problem with Cocaine and Blue Eyes is that it’s impossible to watch without thinking, “Hey, didn’t the star of this movie get away with killing his wife and an innocent bystander?”  Even the most innocuous  of lines take on a double meaning when they’re uttered by O.J. Simpson.  It doesn’t help that the movie opens with Michael visiting his estranged wife and their children on Christmas Eve and getting chased around the neighborhood by a guard dog.  When the movie was made, this scene was probably included so that O.J. could show off some of the moves that made him a star at UCLA and with the Bills.  Seen today, the scene takes on a whole different meaning.

Without O.J. Simpson, Cocaine and Blue Eyes could easily pass for being an extended episode of Magnum P.I., Simon and Simon, or any other detective show from the 80s.  With Simpson, it becomes a pop cultural relic.  I don’t think it’s ever been released on DVD but it is available on YouTube, where it can be viewed by O.J. Simpson completists everywhere.

Cleaning Out The DVR #22: The Good Earth (dir by Sidney Franklin)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

Good_earth_(1937)

The 1937 film The Good Earth is a strange one.

It’s a big, epic film about life in China in the years before World War I.  It opens with a poor farmer named Wang (Paul Muni) marrying a servant girl named O-Lan (Luise Rainer).  O-Lan is quiet but strong and, with her support, Wang eventually starts to prosper.  He buys land and they have children.  Together, Wang and O-Lan manage to survive both famine and a political upheaval.  In fact, it’s China’s volatile politics that occasionally allow the family to survive.  When a revolutionary mob loots a mansion, O-Lan joins in just long enough to come across a bag of diamonds that the Wang uses to eventually buy the biggest house in town.  Once he’s become wealthy and complacent, Wang ends up taking on a younger, second wife (Tilly Losch) and O-Lan finds herself competing for his attention.  Ultimately, it’s only when Wang is again forced to tend to the Earth that he understands what is really important.

So, here’s the weird thing about The Good Earth.  It’s a film about China.  It covers several years of Chinese history and the story itself is rooted in Chinese culture.  All of the characters are meant to be Chinese.  When the movie was filmed, China was at war with Japan so it’s not surprising that the film was shot in California.  But what is interesting (though not really surprising when you consider the history of Hollywood) is that there are very few Chinese people in the cast and none of them play any of the major roles.

Instead, Wang was played by Austria-born, Chicago-raised Paul Muni.  O-Lan was played by German Luise Rainer.  Wang’s comic relief uncle was played by American character actor Walter Connolly while his father was played by a former vaudeville star from Ohio named Charley Grapewin.  All of the actors are heavily made up so that they’ll look Chinese but none of them act or sound Chinese.  It makes for a very strange viewing experience.

And it’s a bit unfortunate because there are some very good scenes in The Good Earth.  Technically, it’s a very strong film.  Towards the end, there’s a locust invasion that is still thrilling to watch.  The sets look great.  The costumes look great.  If you’re a history nerd like me, the story has the potential to be interesting.  But, whenever you start to get sucked into the film’s story, Wang starts to speak and sounds totally like a guy from Chicago and it takes you out of the movie.  The uneven mix of quality and miscast actors makes for a rather disjointed viewing experience.

As a big epic, it’s probably not surprising that The Good Earth was nominated for best picture.  However, it lost to another Paul Muni film, The Life of Emile Zola.

Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.