An Offer You Can’t Refuse #17: Murder, Inc. (dir by Stuart Rosenberg and Burt Balaban)


We all know the famous line from The Godfather.  “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  Of course, everyone also knows that “It’s not personal.  It’s strictly business.”  There’s another line that’s almost as famous: “One lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”  That line comes from Mario Puzo’s novel.  It’s never actually used in the film though it’s certainly present as a theme.

The idea of organized crime essentially being a huge corporation is hardly a new one.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a cliche.  Nearly every gangster film ever made has featured at least one scene where someone specifically compares their illegal activities to the day-to-day business of politicians and CEOs.  However, just because it’s a familiar analogy, that doesn’t make it any less important.  It’s hard not to think of organized crime as being big business when you consider that, in the 30s and the 40s, the mafia’s assassination squad was actually known as Murder, Inc.

Murder, Inc. was formed in Brooklyn, in the 30s.  It was founded and initially led by a man named Lepke Buchalter.  Lepke was a gangster but, because he was Jewish, he couldn’t actually become a made man.  However, he used that to his advantage when he created Murder, Inc.  The organization was largely made up of non-Italians who couldn’t actually become official members of the Mob.  The major mafia families would hire Murder, Inc. to carry out hits because they knew that, since none of the members were made men, they wouldn’t be able to implicate any of the families if they were caught by the police.

It was a good idea and Lepke and his band of killers made a lot of money.  Of course, eventually, the police did catch on.  A member of the organization by the name Abe Reles was eventually arrested and agreed to be a rat.  Lepke went to the electric chair.  Reles ended up falling out of a window.  Did he jump or was he thrown?  It depends on who you ask.

19 years after Reles plunged from that window and 16 years after Lepke was executed, their story was told in the 1960 film, Murder, Inc.  Lepke was played by David J. Stewart while Reles was played by Peter Falk.  The film is told in a documentary style, complete with a narrator who delivers his lines in a rat-a-tat-tat style.  We follow Reles as he goes to work with Lepke and as he harasses a singer (Stuart Whitman) and his wife (May Britt), forcing them help him carry out a murder and then allowing them to live in a luxury apartment on the condition that they also let Lepke hide out there.  (It’s probably not a surprise that a professional killer wouldn’t turn out to be the best houseguest.)  Eventually, a crusading DA (Henry Morgan) and an honest cop (Simon Oakland) take it upon themselves to take down Murder, Inc.

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot that’s surprising about this film but it’s still an entertaining B-movie.  The black-and-white cinematography and the on-location filming give the film an authentically gritty feel.  The action moves quickly and there’s enough tough talk and violent deaths to keep most gangster aficionados happy.  The best thing about the film is, without a doubt, Peter Falk’s portrayal of Abe Reles.  Falk is magnetically evil in the role, playing Reles as a man without a soul.  Even when Reles finally cooperates with the police, the film leaves no doubt that he’s only doing it to try to save himself.  Falk plays Reles like a tough guy who secretly knows that his days are numbered but who has convinced himself that, as long as he keeps sneering and threatening people, the rest of the world will never figure out that he’s been doomed all the time.  The more people he kills, the higher Reles moves up in the corporation and the more he tries to take on the look of a respectable member of society.  But, no mater how hard he tries, Reles always remains just another violent thug.  Falk was deservedly Oscar-nominated for his performance in this film, though he ultimately lost the award to Spartacus‘s Peter Ustinov.

Murder, Inc. may be a low-budget, B-movie but it’s also a classic of gangster cinema.  It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Pete Walker 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!

Today, along with celebrating Independence Day, we are also celebrating the birthday of the great British director, Pete Walker!  Walker is 81 years old today and, if he’s not exactly a household name …. well, he definitely should be.  In fact, if there’s any director from the 70s and the early 80s who is deserves to rediscovered and reappraised, it’s Pete Walker!  He made exploitation films with wit and genuine suspense.  Frightmare is one of the scariest movies that I’ve ever seen.

In honor of Pete Walker’s birthday, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971, dir by Pete Walker)

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972, dir by Pete Walker)

Frightmare (1974, dir by Pete Walker)

House of Whipcord (1975, dir by Pete Walker)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Michele Soavi 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!

Today, we wish a joyous 63rd birthday to Italian filmmaker Michele Soavi!

Soavi, of course, started his career as an actor.  You can find him in Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and Lamberto Bava’s A Blade In The Dark and Demons.  Reportedly, he came close to playing the role that was eventually played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice in The House On The Edge of the Park.  Soavi, however, eventually moved behind the camera.  He was an assistant director on both Dario Argento’s Tenebrae and Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brothers Grimm.

He also, of course, directed four of the greatest Italian horror films of all time, Stage Fright, The Church, The Sect, and Dellamorte Dellamore.  Though a family tragedy temporarily put his career as a director on hold, Soavi has since returned to directing.

In honor of Michele Soavi and his birthday, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Stage Fright (1987, dir by Michele Soavi)

The Church (1989, dir by Michele Soavi)

The Sect (1991, dir by Michele Soavi)

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994, dir by Michele Soavi)

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #16: Love Me or Leave Me (dir by Charles Vidor)


The 1955 film, Love Me or Leave Me, is a biopic about singer Ruth Etting.

Don’t know who Ruth Etting is?  Well, don’t feel too bad.  I didn’t know who she was either, at least not until I watched this movie.  Judging from the trailer that I’ve embedded at the top of this review, she was apparently well-known enough in the 50s for a biopic about her to be a big deal.  Having now watched Love Me or Leave Me and having done some independent research, I know that Ruth Etting was a popular singer in the 20 and 30s and that she was, for a while, married to a gangster named Marty Snyder (played, in the film, by James Cagney).  I also know that, after her marriage to Snyder ended, she married a composer named Johnny Alderman (played by Cameron Mitchell).

I still couldn’t tell you just how closely Love Me or Leave Me actually sticks to the facts of Etting’s life.  I imagine that there was a quite a bit of liberty taken with the truth, if just because the film was made in 1955 and it’s one of those big, glossy productions where all of the sets are ornate and all of the clothes are to die for and all of the dialogue has an edge that’s somehow both tough and sentimental.  It feels less like real life and more like the way that you would imagine life to be.

The film begins in the roaring 20s, with Marty Snyder intervening when Ruth nearly gets fired for kicking an obnoxious admirer.  For Marty, it’s obsession at first sight and, even after Ruth refuses to spend a weekend in Miami with him, Marty continues to help her out in her career.  Marty uses his considerable clout (and the fact that everyone is scared to death of him and his temper) to get Ruth on the radio and then eventually a job with the Ziegfeld Follies.  Despite the fact that Ruth is in love with Johnny and Johnny is in love with her, she ends up marrying Marty because she feels that she owes her entire career to him.  Even after they get married, Marty continues to be obsessively jealous.  It all eventually leads to a shooting, an arrest, and a final song from Doris Day.

It’s very much a film of the 50s.  I imagine that audiences in 1955 thought it made perfect sense that Ruth would feel that she owed it to Marty to marry him despite the fact that she never really asked him to do anything for her.  Seen today, though, Marty comes across as being a stalker and you really want someone to sit Ruth down and have a conversation with her about it and maybe explain concepts like gaslighting and restraining orders to her.

My advise, though, would be to not think too much about it because seriously, the film’s sets are beautiful, the musical numbers are entertainingly excessive, and Doris Day gives a really good performance.  For those who only know her from the romantic comedies that she did with Rock Hudson, Love Me or Leave Me is a revelation.  She’s likable and she’s tough and she sings as if the world depended upon it and watching her in Love Me Or Leave Me, you not only understand why Ruth Etting became a star but also why Doris Day did as well.  James Cagney also gives a good performance as Marty Snyder, bringing all of his swaggering charisma to the role.  As a fan of exploitation films, the most interesting thing about Love Me or Leave Me to me was getting to see Cameron Mitchell play a nice guy for a change.  Mitchell does an okay job with the role, though Johnny is never as interesting a character as Marty.  In the end, it’s an entertaining film, an ornate visual feast that works as long as you don’t think about it too much.

Love Me or Leave Me is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Olivia De Havilland 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!

Today, I’m thrilled to wish a happy birthday to two of my favorite people!

First off, let’s all wish a happy birthday to Patrick Smith!  Along with being a contributor here on the Shattered Lens, Patrick is also a Snarkalec in good standing and one of the founders of the Late Night Movie Gang!  I’ve been happy to call Patrick a friend for several years now and I’m thankful to have him as part of a team here on the Shattered Lens!  Happy birthday, Pat!

Also born on this day was the one and only Olivia de Havilland.  Olivia is 104 years old today, one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s golden age.  Olivia de Havilland, whose career spanned 53 years and who co-starred with everyone from Errol Flynn to James Stewart to Michael Caine, currently lives in Paris and I can’t wait to celebrate her 105th birthday next year.

In honor of a legendary career and life, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, dir by Michael Curtiz)

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948, dir by Anatole Litvak)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #15: Bugsy Malone (dir by Alan Parker)


Remember how, a few weeks ago, I said I was going to spend the month of June reviewing 30 gangster movies?  Well, I was doing pretty well but then I got distracted with some things and I ended up falling behind and now, it’s the last day of June and I’ve only reviewed 14 of the 30 films that I was planning on taking a look at.  It’s frustrating but, as any movie blogger can tell you, it happens.  Still, I’m not one to give up so easily!  I promised to review 30 gangster movies and I’m going to keep my word.  Or, at the very least, I’m going to try to…. like, definitely maybe try to….

Anyway, let’s get back to it with 1976’s Bugsy Malone!

Bugsy Malone is an homage to the old gangster movies of the 1920s and 30s.  It’s also a musical, featuring a lot of songs about wanting to make a lot of money, fall in love, and go away to Hollywood.  On top of all that, it’s also a children’s film.  Though they may be playing gangsters and going to war over who will control the rackets, the cast is entirely made up of children.  Though the film does feature a lot of guns, none of the guns fire bullets.  Instead, they shoot custard pies.  Once you get cornered by a rival gangster and you get “splurged,” your career in the rackets is over.  You’re humiliated.  You’re nothing.  You’re just another two-bit hood who couldn’t make it in the big leagues.  You’re just….

Well, you get the idea.

Basically, the plot of the film is that Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) and Fat Sam (John Cassissi) are two rival gangsters who want to take over the Lower East Side.  Fat Sam owns a speakeasy, which means that there’s always a lot of dancing and singing going on in the background.  Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a tough boxer who wants Fat Sam to give a job to Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger), who dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a big star.  Tallulah (Jodie Foster) is Fat Sam’s gun moll but she used to go out with Bugsy and she still wants him back.  Bugsy get caught up in the middle of the war between Dandy Dan and Fat Sam and it all eventually leads to a big pie fight and a lot of children covered in custard.  “You give a little love,” the children sing as they realize that their lives don’t have to be defined by gang wars, “and it all comes back to you….”

So, I have to admit that I was absolutely dreading watching Bugsy Malone.  I mean, singing children and custard pie guns?  It all sound just unbearably cutesy.  But, to my surprise, Bugsy Malone actually turned out to be a fun and clever little movie, one that was full of smart dialogue, catchy songs, excellent dancing, and wonderfully non-cutesy performances from its cast.  Even though the film may be about a bunch of children dressing up as gangsters, all of the child actors take their characters seriously and director Alan Parker directs the film as if it were an actual gangster film as opposed to just a children’s musical.  The end result is a film that’s cute but never cutesy.  Believe me, there is a huge difference between the two.

To my shock, Bugsy Malone turned out to be an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions For June


Once again, even trying to predict the Oscars this year seems like a fool’s errand.

Our story so far:

  1. COVID-19 shut everything down, including both theaters and production on many of the films that were expected to be contenders for the 2020 Oscars.
  2. The Academy announced that, for this year only, VOD and streaming-only films would be considered eligible for the Oscars.  That’s good news for all of the films premiering on Netflix and Prime right now, right?
  3. It looked briefly as if theaters might start reopening in July.  Tenet awaits!
  4. Oh wait, there’s still a pandemic going on.  Keep those theaters closed.
  5. But what about Tenent!?  Tenet will open in July, no matter what!
  6. Tenet gets moved back to August.  Every other big production gets moved back to August and chances are they’ll get moved back again.
  7. The Academy, meanwhile, throws everything into even more disarray by announcing that they will be extending the eligibility window to the end of February of 2021.
  8. And now, we’re all waiting to see which films will be moved either back or forward to a January or February 2021 opening in order to qualify for the Oscars.

In other words, who knows what’s going to be eligible once the Academy finally gets around to selecting their nominees.  Personally, I wish they hadn’t moved the eligibility window.  It feels like a bunch of studios complained about the having to release all of their big movies via VOD so the Academy said, “Okay, we’ll give you an extra two months.”  With the way things are going, though, it’s totally possible that theaters could still be closed in January and February so joke’s on them.  ENJOY YOUR VOD OSCARS, YA BASTARDS!

Anyway, here are my monthly Oscar predictions.  I did the best I could with what little information is actually out there.  Normally, I would say that the Da 5 Bloods came out too early to be remembered at Oscar time but this is not a typical year.  Despite the best picture victories of 12 Years A Slave and Moonlight, no black director has ever won best director.  If there’s ever a year when the Academy is going to be motivated to rectify that, it will be this year.

Anyway, be sure to check out my equally useless predictions for January, February, March, April, and May!

Best Picture

Ammonite

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

News of the World

Nomadland

On The Rocks

Respect

Soul

West Side Story

Best Director

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Courier

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On the Rocks

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Angelina Jolie in Those Who Wish Me Dead

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Tom Burke in Mank

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Mark Rylance in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Best Supporting Actress

Abigail Breslin in Stillwater

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Scenes That I Love: Putting On The Ritz From Young Frankenstein (Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!)


Today, Mel Brooks is 94 years old!

Mel Brooks.  What can you say Mel Brooks?  Not only did he help to redefine American comedy but he was also responsible for bringing David Lynch to Hollywood.  Brooks was the one who hired Lynch to direct The Elephant Man.  It can probably be argued that, if not for Brooks, Lynch’s feature film career would have begun and ended with Eraserhead.  Brooks not only hired Lynch but also protected him for studio interference.  When the execs tried to make Lynch remove two surrealistic sequences from The Elephant Man, Brooks stood up to them.  When they requested a more conventional biopic, Brooks defended Lynch’s vision and the result was one of the best films ever made.

Of course, Brooks isn’t listed in the credits of The Elephant Man.  Though he produced the film, he went uncredited because he didn’t want people to assume that the movie was a comedy.  By doing so, Brooks missed out on an Oscar nomination but he also ensured that the film was taken seriously.  It’s hard not to respect someone who was willing to go uncredited to help make the film a success.

Though Brooks, as a producers, was responsible for a number of serious films, there’s a reason why Brooks is associated with comedy.  He’s a very funny man and he directed some very funny films.  In honor of Mel Brooks, here’s a scene that I love from 1974’s Young Frankenstein.

Happy birthday, Mel Brooks!

Film Review: American Wisper (dir by Russ Emanuel)


Josiah Wisper (Christian Barber) is a young and successful businessman.  He owns a few bars in Harlem.  He owns a few New York apartment building and, to his tenants, he’s a familiar site, walking up and down the hallways and making sure that everyone has paid their rent.  He and his family have a nice, big house in New Jersey where, not insignificantly, they’re the only black family living in the neighborhood.  Josiah is brash and confident and so sure of his future that he’s even hired a videographer to record every aspect of his life.  Everywhere he goes, she follows and films.

She films him when he’s at his bar, kicking out a drug dealer.  She films him while he’s collecting rent.  She films when he’s talking to his parents.  She films him when he’s flirting with his mistress.  She even films him the night that he returns to New Jersey and discovers that his entire family has been shot to death.  She continues to film as Wisper is interrogated by the police, shunned by his neighbors, and finally forced to investigate the murder on his own.

Usually, found footage films get on my last nerve and I have to admit that I was a little bit concerned when American Wisper began with Wisper talking to the camera.  However, American Wisper actually makes fairly good use of the gimmick.  There’s no shortage of people in the film who are willing to point out how strange it is that Wisper is allowing all of this to be filmed.  In fact, once people start to suspect that Wisper committed the murder, many of them specifically claim that his obsession with being filmed proves that there’s something off about him.  It’s held up as evidence that Wisper is a narcissist who only cares about himself.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t necessarily dismiss that possibility.  As played by Christian Barber, Wisper does come across as a man who is happy to be living in a movie.  When we first see him, he’s presiding over his bar and you can tell that he’s a man who loves being the center of attention.  Even after the murders, Wisper still often seems to be playing up to the camera, leaving you wondering if maybe it’s possible that there is something that he’s not being honest about.  It creates a genuine feel of suspense, which is more than can be said for most found footage films.

I liked American Wisper.  It’s a low-budget film, made for under $500,000, but it makes good use of that low budget.  When Wisper drives through New York or into New Jersey, he’s not visiting an elaborate Hollywood sound stage.  Instead, he’s actually walking down those streets and driving down those roads and it brings an authenticity to the film that it might have lacked with a bigger budget or a more elaborate production.  Some of the actors are a bit more convincing than others but Christian Barber does an excellent job in the lead role, making Wisper into a character with whom you sympathize despite his flaws.  American Wisper is a murder mystery that’s about more than just a crime.  It’s also an examination of race, upward mobility, and fame in America.

American Wisper can currently be viewed on Prime.

Ian Holm, R.I.P.


The British actor Ian Holm passed away yesterday.

When the news was announced, almost every story mentioned that he played Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and it is true that he was a great Bilbo.  Even though he didn’t go on the quest, he brought a lot of heart to the film and the character.  Though his screen time may have been brief, he made you understand why Frodo and all the other Hobbits would feel such loyalty to him.  He was the ideal Hobbit.  He final scene in Return of the King brought tears to my eyes.  How could you not love him?

Holm, however, was in a lot of other films.  He was one of those extremely memorable character actors who, sadly, I think was sometimes taken for granted.  He was also one of those actors who seemed so distinguished (at least to American audiences, who tend to have a rather stereotypical view of anyone who first found fame as a Shakespearean actor) that it’s easy to overlook that he could also very funny.  Watch him in The Fifth Element.  Watch him in Brazil and Time Bandits.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Ian Holm in those roles.

The other Holm role that many people mentioned when they heard of his passing was his role as the evil android Ash in Alien.  Indeed, he was perfectly menacing in Alien.  If you believe Ridley Scott, Alien and Blade Runner take place in the same universe, which means that Ian Holm was the first actor to play a Replicant.  He did a great job of it.

I want to end this tribute with a picture of Ian Holm and Sigourney Weaver on the set of Alien.  I like this picture because they both look like they’re having a lot of fun.  Even in his humorous roles, Holm tended to play characters who were, if not outright neurotic, definitely very serious-minded.  And Alien is a remarkably grim movie.  So, it’s kind of nice to see both Ripley and Ash smiling between takes.

Rest in Peace, Ian Holm.