The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Edge of Fury (dir by Robert J. Gurney Jr. and Irving Lerner)

Damn, this is a dark movie.

The 1958 film, Edge of Fury, opens with a man standing on the beach.  It seems like it should be a pleasant opening but instead, the entire scene feels threatening.  The man, Richard Barrie (Michael Higgins), is a veteran of the Korean War and he’s working on a painting with what appears to be an almost possessed intensity.  Thanks to the film’s black-and-white, noir-like cinematography, the beach does not look inviting.  Instead, it looks dark and cold.  A voice over informs us that Richard once asked to be confined for not only his own good but also the good of society.  However, the authorities could not intervene because Richard had yet to commit a crime.

Suddenly, the police arrive.  They arrest Richard and take him away, suggesting that Richard has finally proven just how much of a threat he actually is.

The rest of the film is told in flashback.  We watch as Richard, who works in a bookstore, comes across a beach house that he quickly rents.  It turns out that he wants to stay there with the Hacketts, Florence (Lois Holmes) and her daughters, Eleanor (Jean Allison) and Louisa (Doris Fesette).  Somewhat improbably, Richard and Florence are friends, having met in a grocery store.  Florence trusts Richard because he’s so polite and nice.  Eleanor has a crush on Richard because he’s handsome and brooding.  And Louisa just thinks that Richard is kind of a loser.

The Hacketts move into the beach house and Richard sets up an artist’s studio in the shed.  He paints a lot of pictures of Louisa, despite the fact that Louisa has a boyfriend and wants nothing to do with him.  Though the three women don’t realize it, Richard is growing increasingly unstable and obsessed.  He wants the three women to be his new family and when he realizes that he’s not going to get his way, he turns violent….

And certainly, this is not the only film to be made about a mentally disturbed man who becomes obsessed with what he considers to be the perfect family.  It’s also not the only film to end with an act of shocking violence and to leave the audience feeling as if they’ve just taken a journey into a waking nightmare.  What does set Edge of Fury apart from some other films is that it was made in 1958 and, in many ways, it’s the exact opposite of what we expect a 1958 film to be.  This is a dark, dark movie that suggests that the universe is ruled by chaos and that kindness will be rewarded with pain.

Seriously, it’s dark.

That said, it’s definitely a flawed film.  You never buy that Florence would trust Richard as much as she does.  Michael Higgins is frighteningly intense as Richard but the rest of the cast often seems to simply be going through the motions.  That said, it’s definitely a film that sticks with you.  This isn’t a story that you just shrug off and forget.

Probably the best thing about the film is the cinematography.  This film was an early credit for Conrad L. Hall, who later went on to become one of the great cinematographers.  He fills the film with ominous shadows and hints of the madness to come.  As filmed by Hall. the beach looks like some alien landscape, as twisted as the inside of Richard’s mind.

Edge of Fury took me by surprise.  It’s nowhere close to being perfect but it’s worth tracking down on YouTube.

Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.7 “The Open Window” (dir by John Newland)

If tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond seems familiar, that’s because it’s a remake of a story that was originally filmed as an episode of The Veil. 

This time, instead of witnessing a murder occurring in another apartment, it’s a suicide that is witnessed by artist Anthony March (Michael Higgins).  Of course, when he investigates, he discovers that the apartment in empty.  Is Anthony hallucinating or has he gone one step beyond and is he seeing the future?  Watch to find out!

By the way, that’s future Oscar winner Louise Fletcher playing Anthony’s model.

This originally aired on November 3rd, 1959.


When McQueen Met Ibsen: An Enemy of The People (1978, directed by George Schaefer)

What happened when famed action star Steve McQueen met playwright Henrik Ibsen?

Here’s Steve McQueen in The Great Escape:

Steve McQueen In The Great Escape

This is Steve McQueen in Bullitt:

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Here’s Steve McQueen with his future wife, Ali MacGraw, in The Getaway:

Steve McQueen in The Getaway

And finally, here’s Steve McQueen starring in An Enemy of the People:

Steve McQueen in Enemy of the People

In the four years between appearing in the Oscar-nominated The Towering Inferno and starring in An Enemy of the People, McQueen notoriously turned down several high-profile projects.  He turned down the lead role in Sorcerer because director William Friedkin would not write a role for MacGraw.  He turned down the lead role in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind because he felt that he would not be able to cry on cue.  (When Spielberg offered to take out the crying scene, McQueen replied that it was the best scene in the script.)  Francis Ford Coppola could not afford his salary and McQueen missed out on the chance to play Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now, a role he would have been perfect for.

AnEnemyOfThePeople_posterInstead, after a four years absence, McQueen returned to the screen in one of the least expected films of his career.  Based on Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s original play, An Enemy of the People featured McQueen playing Dr. Thomas Stockmann, a scientist who discovers that his town’s local spring has been polluted by a tannery.  When Stockmann reveals his findings, the town turns against him and his family.  Stockmann has to decide whether to give into pressure from the town or to stay true to his principles.

As a star who was best known for playing stoic men of action, Steve McQueen was the last actor that anyone expected to appear in a film based on an Ibsen play.  McQueen also insisted on playing the role with a heavy beard and a stocky build, making him virtually unrecognizable on-screen.  Warner Bros. had no idea how to advertise An Enemy of The People so they didn’t.  After a year of sitting on the shelf, An Enemy of the People was given a limited run in a few college towns.  Many critics assumed that McQueen deliberately made an uncommercial movie just to get out of his contract with Warner Bros but, according to both Ali MacGraw and Marshall Terrill’s Steve McQueen: An American Rebel, McQueen was actually very enthusiastic about making An Enemy of the People and extremely disappointed when it was not a success.  After the film failed to find an audience, Steve McQueen returned to appearing in action films and westerns.

Steve McQueen in Tom Horn (1980)

Steve McQueen in Tom Horn (1980)

I recently saw An Enemy of the People on TCM and I thought it was slow and didactic.  (It did not help that An Enemy of the People is Ibsen’s weakest play.)  Especially in the beginning, there are a few scenes where McQueen struggles to hold his ground against co-stars Charles Durning and Richard Dysart, both of whom had far more theatrical experience.  But McQueen gets better as the film goes on and proves that his deceptively casual approach can still be effective even when he is playing an intellectual who chooses to make his point with his words instead of his fists.  He does a good job handling Ibsen’s notoriously wordy speeches.  By the end of the movie, the idea of Steve McQueen in an Ibsen play no longer seems strange at all.

After An Enemy of the People, McQueen would only make two more movies before dying of cancer at the age of 50.  Based on his performance as Dr. Stockmann, I believe that if McQueen had not died, he would have aged into being a great actor, in much the same way as Clint Eastwood.  It’s unfortunate that McQueen never got that chance.


Guilty Pleasure No. 28: Swimfan (dir by John Polson)

Oh my God, y’all — Swimfan was on last night!

Do you remember Swimfan?  It originally came out in 2002 and it starred Jesse Bradford, the hot guy from Bring It On, and Erika Christensen, the drug addicted runaway from Traffic.  The movie is like a high school version of Fatal Attraction.  Jesse swims for the high school swim team.  Erika is a psycho stalker who is obsessed with swimmers.  Chaos follows.

I was on a high school date when I first saw Swimfan.  Fortunately, the movie offered up some very important life lessons.

Probably the film’s most important lesson was that you should always put out because, if you don’t, your dumbass boyfriend is going to end up cheating on you with some psycho bitch who is going to go all obsessive on his ass and end up framing him for murder.  When Swimfan starts, Ben (Jesse Bradford!) is dating Amy (Shiri Appleby) and they’re a cute couple but Amy is more into studying and planning for the future than in having sex with Ben.

So, of course, Ben ends up cheating on her with the new girl at school, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen).  He does this despite the fact that Madison is obviously unbalanced from the minute that he meets her, has a major case of the crazy eyes, and tends to come across as being a little bit robotic.  It’s only one night and Ben says that he feels terrible about it but Madison still decides that Ben is her man now.

It all leads to this scene:

(I have to admit that the artful placement of the camera in this scene makes me laugh every time.  The filmmakers were obviously really determined to get that PG-13 rating.  Also, just a little tip — if you’re taking nudes for your man, try smiling.)

When Ben keeps rejecting her, Madison conspires to get him kicked off the swim team.  She also kills the swimmer who takes Ben’s place on the team and frames Ben for the crime.  (The exact same thing happened to Michael Phelps but you never hear about it because all the media wants to talk about is that time he got his picture taken at that party.)  And then she tries to kill Amy and, the movie tells us, this all could have been avoided if only Amy hadn’t spent so much time worrying about which college to go to.  Keep your man happy, girls, the movie tells us, or be prepared to deal with the consequences. Boys will be boys!

The other life lesson is that you should really learn how to swim.  Since this movie is called Swimfan and it features a gigantic subplot about swimming, you can already guess that it’s all going to end with a big fight in a pool.  Ben can swim.  Madison and Amy can’t.  Can you guess what happens?  Watching Swimfan last night reminded me that I still need to learn how to swim.  Thank you, Swimfan!

Anyway, Swimfan is definitely a guilty pleasure.  I mean, if you want to get technical about it, this is a really, really bad movie.  The plot is derivative of every single stalker thriller that you’ve ever seen.  Jesse Bradford is pretty good but Erika Christensen appears to be in a daze.  And yet, whenever I see that it’s on, I can’t help but watch it.  Some of it, of course, is because Swimfan appeals to the same nostalgia that still causes me to sing …Baby One More Time, at the top of my lungs, whenever I’m driving home despite the fact that Britney’s later songs are so much better.  But beyond the nostalgia appeal, Swimfan is just so ludicrous and silly and over the top.  How can you not be a fan of Swimfan?


Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings

Shattered Politics #44: The Seduction of Joe Tynan (dir by Jerry Schatzberg)

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)

You know how sometimes you see a film and you can just tell that it was probably a big deal when it was first released but now, in the present day, it’s just not that interesting?  That’s the way that I felt when I saw 1979’s The Seduction of Joe Tynan on Netflix.  This is one of those film’s that you just know was probably praised for being adult and mature when it was first released but seen today, it’s just kinda bleh.

Joe Tynan (Alan Alda) is a Democratic senator from New York, a committed liberal who is also an ambitious pragmatist.  As quickly becomes apparent, Joe is happiest when he’s at work.  He struggles to talk to his rebellious teenage daughter (Blanche Baker).  While he may love his wife (Barbara Harris), she’s also one of the few people in his life who isn’t always telling him how great he is and, to an extent, she resents having to live in his shadow.  At times, it seems like the only thing holding Joe’s family together is the possibility that Joe could soon be nominated for the presidency.

When a Southern judge is nominated for the Supreme Court, Joe is asked by his mentor, Sen. Birney (a great Melvyn Douglas), to not oppose the nomination.  While Joe originally agrees to keep quiet, he soon changes his mind when he’s approached by lobbyists who make it clear that, if he goes back on his word to Birney, they’ll be willing to support Joe for President.

Leaving behind his family, Joe heads down south where he meets a researcher named Karen Traynor (Meryl Streep).  With Karen’s help, Joe discovers that the judge actually is a racist.  He also discovers that, politically, he has a lot more in common with Karen than he does with his own wife and soon, they’re having an affair.

The Seduction of Joe Tynan is an odd film.  As written, Tynan is a decent but flawed man.  He may do the right thing but he does so largely because of his own ambition.  That’s not a problem, of course.  If anything, that would seem to be the making of a great political film.  Some of the greatest film characters of all time have been morally ambiguous.  But then, Alan Alda (who also wrote the script) gives a performance that would seem to indicate that he was scared of being disliked by the audience.  Alda is believable when he’s being a self-righteous crusader but, whenever he has to play up the pragmatic and ruthless side of Joe Tynan, he almost seems to have zoned out.  It’s interesting to compare Alda’s lukewarm performance here with the far more nuanced performance that he would give, as a less idealistic Senator, decades later in The Aviator.  As far as the film’s senators are concerned, Melvyn Douglas and Rip Torn (playing a libertine colleague) are far more believable than Alda.

The film’s best performance is delivered by Meryl Streep.  That might not sound shocking but actually, Streep’s performance here is surprising because it’s far more natural and less mannered than some of her more acclaimed performances.  Believe it or not, you actually forget that you’re watching Meryl Streep.

Ultimately, you have to respect the fact that the film attempted to tell an adult and mature story about politics but that doesn’t make The Seduction of Joe Tynan any less forgettable.

For Your Consideration #3: Angelina Jolie in Maleficent


Way back in March, when people like me first started to ask ourselves what and who would be nominated for Oscars in January, a lot of us assumed that 2014 would be the year of Angelina Jolie.  We predicted that her film Unbroken would be an Oscar front-runner and quite a few people felt that Angelina herself would become the second woman to win the Academy Award for directing.

And, it could still happen!

However, with Angelina being pretty much ignored by most of the traditional Oscar precursors and Unbroken getting positive but hardly rapturous reviews, it’s starting to look more and more like Unbroken will be lucky to receive a picture nomination, much less a mention for Jolie.

Now, I haven’t seen Unbroken yet so I can’t really judge whether it deserves any awards consideration or not.  However, I can say that Unbroken is not the only film for which Angelina Jolie deserves consideration.

Maleficent came out this summer and did quite well at the box office but it seems to have been forgotten and that’s a shame because it features one of Angelina Jolie’s best performances.  The film itself is a revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty, re-telling the story from the point-of-view of the fairy queen Maleficent (played, of course, by Angelina.)

In this version of the story, we see that the true villain was Sleeping Beauty’s father, Stefan (Sharlto Copley).  When they were younger, Stefan and Maleficent were lovers but the Stefan eventually abandoned her, knowing that having a relationship with a winged fairy would only serve to thwart his own ambitions.  Years later, when the humans attempt to conquer Maleficent’s kingdom, it is announced that whoever slays Maleficent will become the new king.  Knowing that Maleficent is still in love with him, Stefan drugs her and then cuts her wings off.  Using her wings as evidence to back up his claim that he has killed her, Stefan becomes the new king.  The now wingless Maleficent is left alone and embittered.  When Stefan’s daughter, Princess Aurora, is born, Maleficent announces that, on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will sink into a deep sleep and will only be awaken by the kiss of someone who truly loves her.

Maleficent was one of those films that truly divided critics.  Male viewers tended to rightfully criticize the film for being tonally inconsistent and for relying too much on CGI.  Female critics, however, understood that none of that mattered.  As flawed as the film may have been, we knew that the most important thing was Angelina Jolie’s performance.  She may have been playing a fairy and she may have been appearing in a movie that was dominated by CGI but Angelina Jolie brought such strength and complexity to the role that she transcended all of the film’s flaws and instead created a thoroughly real character.  We understood and we related to Maleficent’s fury.  When she first woke up to discover that her wings had been stolen from her, it was devastating because the moment was real.  We all knew what had truly happened to Maleficent.  When she sought revenge, we sought it with her.  When she regretted her actions, we shared her regrets.  Her pain was our pain and her triumph was our triumph.

Angelina Jolie gave one of the best performances of the year in Maleficent and she certainly deserves your consideration.


Back to School #47: School Ties (dir by Robert Mandel)

School Ties

For the past two and a half weeks, we’ve been reviewing 80 of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school films ever made.    We’ve been going in chronological order, starting with two films from 1946 and then working our way through the years that followed.  After 46 reviews, we are now ready to enter the 1990s.

And what better way to kick off the 90s than by taking a look at a film from 1992 that very few people seem to have ever heard of?

School Ties takes place in the 1950s, which of course means that everyone dresses like either James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause or Troy Donaue in A Summer Place.  It also means that the soundtrack is full of the same songs that tend to turn up in every film about the 1950s.  David Greene (Brendan Fraser) is a working-class teen from Pennsylvania* who wins a football scholarship to attend an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts.  At first, David struggles to fit in.  Not only are all of his classmates rich but they’re also extremely anti-Semitic.  However, David wins them over by playing hard on the football field and hiding the fact that he’s Jewish.  However, when the jealous Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon) discovers that David is a Jew, he reveals his secret and David is forced to confront his prejudiced classmates.

School Ties is one of those extremely well-intentioned films that’s never quite as good as you might hope.  With the exception of David and Charlie, the characters are all pretty thinly drawn and there’s more than a few subplots that really don’t really work.  For instance, Zeljko Ivanek shows up playing a sadistic French teacher who harasses one of Fraser’s friends (played by Andrew Lowery) and, as I watched Ivanek drive Lowery to the point of a nervous breakdown over proper verb conjugation, it occurred to me that I knew Ivanek was evil as soon as he showed up wearing his little bow tie and his beret.  (It’s also interesting how French teachers are always evil in films like this.)

That said, the message of School Ties is still a timely one.  On the surface, the message of “Don’t be an intolerant, prejudiced prick,” might seem pretty simplistic and self-explanatory.  However, every day we’re confronted with evidence that there are still people out there who don’t understand this simple concept.  As such, it’s a message that can stand being repeated a few times.

(Seriously, don’t be an intolerant, prejudiced prick.)

When seen today, School Ties is mostly interesting for who appears in it.  For instance, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Cole Hauser all show up here, 5 years before they would all co-star in Good Will Hunting.  One of the anti-Semitic students is played by Anthony Rapp who, a year later, would appear with Affleck and Hauser in Dazed and Confused.  Fraser’s sympathetic roommate is played by Chris O’Donnell.  As for Brendan Fraser himself, it’s a bit odd to see him playing such a dramatic role but he’s convincing and believable as a football player. It’s a good-looking cast and yes, you better believe that there’s a fight scene that takes place in a shower.  If you’ve ever wanted to see Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon wrestling each other while naked — well, this is the film to see.


* Interestingly enough, David’s family lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania so I guess David could very well have gone to elementary school with Joe Biden and he may have family working at Dunder-Mifflin.