Holiday Film Review: Carol For Another Christmas (dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is a wealthy American industrialist who served in World War II and who, despite seeing first hand the horrors of Hiroshima, still believes that war is sometimes the only answer.  He spends his Christmas Eve sitting in darkened study, thinking about his dead son (who was killed in combat) and listening to an old record.  When his nephew, Fred (Ben Gazzara), stops by, it leads to an argument about American foreign policy.  (Who stops by their uncle’s house on Christmas Eve to argue politics?)  Fred is do-gooder.  Daniel Grudge hates do-gooders.

So, naturally, it’s time for Daniel Grudge to be visited by three ghosts!  The Ghost of Christmas Past (Steve Lawrence) takes Grudge first to a troop ship that is full of coffins, representing the dead of World War I.  Then he forces Grudge to relive his own callous reaction to Hiroshima.  Grudge sees how his actions upset the nurse (Eva Marie Saint) who was traveling with him.  The Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle) invites Grudge to eat a feast in front of a camp full of refugees.  The Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Shaw) takes Grudge to the future where, after a devastating nuclear war, a buffoonish leader (Peter Sellers) encourages his followers to continue to make war and to live only for themselves.  Grudge watches as his former butler (Percy Rodriguez) is murdered for advocating for peace.  Back at his mansion, Fred shows up again and Grudge must now decide …. will he support the work of the United Nations?

YEEEEESH!  What a heavy-handed movie!  Really, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how unsubtle the film’s message was.  Originally made for television, A Carol For Another Christmas was actually co-produced by the United Nations.  It was the first of four UN-produced films that aired on ABC between 1964 and 1966.  Seen today, with all that we know about the UN’s signature mix of corruption and incompetence, the film’s message seems almost laughably naïve.   “Only the UN can bring peace,” the film says.  Tell that to Israel, the next time that the UN passes a resolution condemning it for existing and defending itself.  Say that only the UN can make the world a better place when some of the worst dictatorships on the planet are sitting on the Human Rights council.

The heavy-handed message aside, A Carol For Another Christmas was full of talent both behind and in front of the camera.  This was the only TV movie to be directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and, whatever else one might say about the film, he was responsible for some intriguingly moody shots.  The script was written by Rod Serling who, unfortunately, allowed his didactic tendencies to get the better of him and wrote a film where characters didn’t have conversations as much as they just gave speeches.  The cast, however, is uniformly strong.  Sterling Hayden, Robert Shaw, and Steve Lawrence are obvious stand-outs.  Pat Hingle does fine until his role is diminished to one long harangue.  Playing the so-called “Imperial Me,” Peter Sellers brings so much needed unpredictability to the film, even if his character is saddled with the film’s most heavy-handed moment.  The Imperial Me teaches his followers that the individual is more important than the state and that everyone should focus on “me” instead of “we.”  Cutting-edge satire this is not and again, there’s something rather offensive about the UN being held up as humanity’s last hope against rampant individualism. 

This is very much a film of its time.  The fear of nuclear war runs through every frame.  The disillusionment that came with the assassination of John F. Kennedy is present in the film’s open-ended conclusion.  What good is convincing one man when the rest of the world continues to think for itself? the film seems to be asking.  Dickens, I think, would probably say that Serling missed the point of A Christmas Carol and it’s hard not to feel that Dickens would be correct.

Norwood (1970, directed by Jack Haley, Jr.)


Norwood Pratt (played by country singer Glenn Campbell) is a just a good old boy who has just returned home from serving in the Marines over in Vietnam.  After saying goodbye to his Marine buddy, Joe William Reese (played by quarterback Joe Namath), Norwood heads to his hometown of Ralph, Texas.  Norwood discovers this his sister (Leigh French) has married an idiot named Bill (Dom DeLuise!)

Norwood gets a job working at the local garage but he’s got his guitar and he’s got his dreams.  All he wants to do is play his music on the Louisiana Hayride radio program.  But with no money and no connections, how is he going to make it there?  When a shady businessman (Pat Hingles) offers to pay him fifty bucks to drive a car and prostitute (Carol Lynley) to New York City, Norwood agrees.  When Norwood discovers the car is stolen, he abandons both the vehicle and the girl but he still heads up to New York City.

Norwood has plenty of adventures and he meets plenty of people, like a hippie (Tisha Stirling) who invites him to open mike night at a coffee house in the Village.  Later, she invites him to join her in a bathtub by asking him if his guitar plays underwater.  “No, ma’m,” Norwood says, “but I do.”  He also meets a pregnant teenager (Kim Darby, Campbell’s co-star from True Grit) and a little person (Billy Curtis) who is traveling with a super intelligent chicken.

There have been a lot of very good films made about the struggle of military veterans to transition back to civilian life after their tour of duty comes to an end.  Unfortunately, Norwood is not one of those films.  Both Norwood and Joe have just returned from Vietnam but neither one of them seems to carry any lingering effects from their time overseas.  Neither of them shares any war stories or any thoughts on war in general.  (Someone does point out that Norwood has a scar.  Norwood says it’s a war wound that he got when he accidentally fell off a water truck.)  There’s no hint that the war itself was not going well for the United States in 1970 or that it wasn’t a popular war and that returning veterans often felt as if they had been rejected by the same country that asked (or forced) them to serve.  Even when Norwood meets the hippies in the Village, there’s no mention of protests.  Instead, Norwood presents 1970 as a time with no real conflicts, which is the perfect era for someone as forgettable as Norwood Pratt to become a star.

Norwood has the same basic and episodic structure as an Elvis movie, except that Elvis could actually act when he wanted to.  No one can deny Glenn Campbell’s talent as a singer but as an actor, he had very little screen presence.  In True Grit and this movie, the best that he could come up with was an amiable dullness.  In True Grit, it didn’t matter because John Wayne was in the movie.  But in Norwood, Campbell had to carry the story and his acting limitations were much more obvious.  Campbell even managed to get outacted by Joe Namath, who, as far as pro football player-turned-actors were concerned, was no Alex Karras.  Wisely, Campbell didn’t further pursue a career as an actor and instead concentrated on singing.  When Campbell died in 2017, he was praised for both his musical legacy and his honesty and courage while facing Alzheimer’s.  He may not have made it as an actor but he still touched a lot of lives.

Batman (dir. by Tim Burton)


Here on the Shattered Lens, the love for Batman is very strong. There are too many Batman related articles to fully list, but for a good start, go with Ryan’s Which Way Forward for the Batman Franchise.

This isn’t so much a review for Batman as it’s just me looking back on the film.

I spent the Saturday Morning of June 24th, 1989 standing on a line that snaked around the white walls of the Sunrise Multiplex Cinema in Valley Stream. Thankfully, by the time I arrived, there were only a few people there. Most of them were my friends, so we were close to the door. The following year, the Sunrise would go down in history as being the only movie theatre I’ve ever known with metal detectors after a shooting around the release of The Godfather Part III prompted tighter security. Before then, anyone going into the theatre had a free run of the place. From that incident to the theatre’s shutdown in 2015, you always had to pass the metal detectors.

You knew Tim Burton’s Batman was going to be something grand when they first put up the posters in bus stations. The character was so well known that the poster was simply a black and gold Batsymbol with a date – June 23. In my neighborhood, the poster lasted a week before the bus stop’s glass was broken and it was stolen. This was how mad people were for the film. Although merchandise was already available, it moved at an incredible pace. For a film made before pre-Internet, the buzz was just amazing.

“Okay, Everyone, we know you’re looking forward to seeing the movie.”, came the announcement over the theatre’s loudspeaker, which caused a few murmurs from everyone. It was a smooth, business like voice, probably from someone who had never even heard of The Caped Crusader. “We’re going to open up the doors and we want everyone to proceed to the ticket booths in a nice, orderly fashion.”

I was 14 at the time. Batman was the first movie I ever saw without my family. My parents, a cop and a bartender, saw so much of the worst of NYC that they figured the best place for me was home. Still, since I was among friends they knew, I gave me a pass. It was a big deal. My friend Pierre and I had a plan, along with the 4 others that came with us. We’d head in, make for the ticket booth and go right in for our seats near the back right side.. No refreshments were necessary, since we could all go eat at the mall later on after the move was done. To make sure I didn’t miss anything, I had already read the novel for the story beforehand.

Anyone close to the door could see the theatre workers as they approached, keys in hand. The layout of the Sunrise was such that after stepping through the front door, you could cut to your immediate left or right down a open path to separate ticket booth. As the door unlocked, was pushed open and secured, someone from near the middle of the line decided it was time, declaring in a loud scream.

“Batman!!!!!”

It was madness. Utter madness. Bodies piled into the theatre in a mad scramble for the ticket booth. On the way there, I was shoulder blocked and fell to the floor. I instantly curled into a ball to keep from getting trampled, wondering if my parents were right about not letting me out. ‘Here lies Lenny…”, my epitaph would read. “…he died at the movies after being let outside on his own just once.”

Thankfully, I was scooped up to my feet a few seconds later by one of my friends.

“Go on! We’ve got your tickets! Head for the ticket guy, we’ll meet you there!” he yelled over the crowd passing us on sides.

“Okay!!” I’d been to the Sunrise tons of times, so I knew it well. I moved through the crowd, bypassing the concession stand, which was already developing a line of its own. I thought they were going to go in without me and leave me there. I don’t know they did it, but within a few minutes of reaching the ticket taker. most of my group caught up, tickets in hand for all of us.

The actual experience of Batman was a packed crowd with almost non-stop talking throughout. After all, the audience was made up of teens and DC fans that that were ravenous for anything Batman related. Superman had about four films by the time Batman premiered. I think the only real time the entire audience hushed was near the beginning when we first see Batman grab the one robber and they ask him what he is. After that, the crowd pretty much erupted in applause.

Of course, that line would become famous and reused over the years, such as it was with the WB’s Supernatural.

Even before the film was released, the buzz for Batman was immense.

Batman focuses on Gotham City, a grand town with a great deal of crime. Reports are coming in of a mysterious vigilante figure resembling a giant bat that’s taking down random criminals. Crime in Gotham is run by Boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, City Slickers), with his right hand man, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Departed). After discovering that Napier’s spent some quality time with his girl, Alicia (Jerry Hall, Urban Cowboy), Grissom sets him up so that he’ll be caught by the cops. Things don’t go as planned, and after falling into a vat of chemicals, Napier is reborn as The Joker. Can the Dark Knight defeat this new menace?

One of Anton Furst’s designs for Batman.

For me, one of the most interesting elements of Tim Burton’s Batman is how Jack Nicholson was the main draw for the film. Nicholson stands front and center in this film. If any real eyebrows were raised, it was over casting Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. Keaton and Burton worked together on Beetlejuice, so there was some chemistry. However, when the announcement for Keaton being cast in Batman, most people were pretty skeptical. Keaton was known for playing more comedic roles, and playing the Batman required a more serious attitude. However, I’ve always felt that comedians are the most shocking when they take on a serious role. Some examples of this are Patton Oswalt in Big Fan, Robin Williams’ Academy Award winning performance in Good Will Hunting and most recently, Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. I feel that worked for Keaton, and most viewers underestimated what he could bring to both Bruce Wayne and Batman. As Wayne, Keaton seems a bit subdued. As Batman, he’s a little scary simply because he doesn’t quite look like the kind of individual who would roam the streets at night dressed as a bat. My parents would later argue over Batman’s drop of Jack Napier at Axis Chemicals. I thought it was a situation where he just couldn’t hold on to him. My parents’ viewpoint was that Batman deliberately did it. We never really know for sure, but it did seem a little convenient that Batman couldn’t hold on to Napier. Overall, Keaton’s Batman plays second fiddle to Nicholson’s Joker, who also had a some sway in the design of the nemesis for the film.

Batman’s cast also includes Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential) as Vicki Vale, Robert Wuhl (Bull Durham), Billy Dee Williams (Nighthawks) and Pat Hingle (Sudden Impact) as Commissioner Gordon, The cast is pretty perfect here, without anyone really falling out of step. Batman stories would grow more serious by the time Nolan would step in, but for the 1980s, it was just fine.

Anton Furst would win an Oscar for Best Art Direction for his design of Gotham City, which was for its time, quite dazzling. On par with some of the designs from Blade Runner and The Crow, Furst’s rendition of Gotham was dark and brooding, compared to the more modern backdrop of Batman Begins. In addition to Gotham’s look, Furst also helped design the Batmobile, which was based off the Chevy Impala (another Supernatural connection). When the film was released on home video, my family caught sight of the Batmobile up close on the street as it delivered VHS Copies to a video store in Manhattan. Although he died some years later, Furst’s work on Batman remains an influence on both the comics and future installments of the movies.

1989 was also a big year for Danny Elfman. His score for Batman would earn him a Grammy, and the main theme would become a definitive one for the Caped Crusader throughout the early 1990. Shirley Walker would build on the theme with her music from Batman: The Animated Series. It was also something of a surprise for Prince. With songs like Trust, Electric Chair and Vicki’s Waiting, Prince’s Batman Soundtrack is full of great hits that you really wouldn’t think would fit in a story like Batman. Still, they manage to do just fine, and even elevate scenes like the Joker’s entry in the Gotham Museum and the Balloon Parade.

Batman is not without a few problems. It gets a little long in the tooth in the film’s second half, particularly in the scenes leading up to the Monarch and Bruce losing his parents. It’s not a terrible slowdown, since it has to set the tone for some of the more spectacular fights later on. It could have been edited just a little tighter. Additionally, when compared to some of the modern versions, 1989’s Batman can feel a little bit dated (to me, anyway). That’s more of a nitpick, or where you stand on the Batman universe as a whole. Everyone has their favorite adaptation on the Caped Crusader.

Burton and Keaton would later reunite in 1992’s Batman Returns, and the franchise on a whole would take a different turn with Joel Schumacher’s takes in 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997 Batman & Robin. 

Stranger On My Land (1988, directed by Larry Elikann)


The Air Force wants to build a new air base in Utah but the Whitman family refuses to sell their ranch.  Bud Whitman (Tommy Lee Jones) served in Vietnam and he disapproved just as much of forcing Vietnamese villagers to move as he now disapproves of the idea of allowing the government to force American citizens to move.  When a judge rules that the Air Force can force the Whitmans to vacate their property under the rule of eminent domain, Bud announces that he still will not be moving.  With several of Bud’s old combat buddies showing up to support Bud, the villainous county surveyor, Connie Priest (Terry O’Quinn), prepares to take matters in his own hands.

Tommy Lee Jones vs. Terry O’Quinn?  That sounds like it should have the makings of a classic but Stranger On My Land is a largely forgettable made-for-TV movie.  A huge part of the problem is that O’Quinn’s character doesn’t have any real motivation beyond just being a prick and that seems like a waste when you consider the number of interesting villains that Terry O’Quinn has played over the years.  This is the actor who, in The Stepfather, actually made a multiple murderer seem a little bit likable.  Connie Priest seems like a villain that O’Quinn could have done a lot with if only the film’s script hadn’t been so simplistic.  Tommy Lee Jones is always well-cast as a modern day western hero but again, the script doesn’t do much with his character.  He’s just Tommy Lee Jones yelling at people to get off his property.  You could probably go to Tommy Lee Jones’s own ranch and have the exact same experience without having to sit through the rest of this movie.  Even Bud’s ethical objections to the Vietnam War feel like something that was just tossed in to assure the people watching at home that he’s not meant to be some sort of gun-toting militiaman.  The best performance in the movie comes from Ben Johnson, who is plays Tommy Lee Jones’s father.  That’s prefect casting.  If Ben Johnson wasn’t actually Tommy Lee Jones’s father, he probably should have been.

The main problem with Stranger On My Land is that it was made for television and it had to operate within the limits of what was acceptable for television in 1988.  The entire movie seems to be building up to a fierce battle between Bud and law enforcement but instead, it settles for a personal fight between Bud and Connie.  The film’s sudden ending doesn’t feel authentic but it does feel like what you’d expect to find on ABC in the late 80s.

Disaster on the Coastliner (1980, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)


A completely computerized passenger train is traveling across the country, with the Vice President’s wife as one of the passengers.  When Jim Waterman (Paul L. Smith), a man who blames the railroad for the death of his family, manages to hijack the train he plans to ram into a locomotive until his demands a met.  He wants railroad president Estes Hill (Raymond Burr) to take responsibility for the crash that killed his wife and children.  With Waterman determined to crash the two trains, it falls to dispatchers Al Mitchell (Lloyd Bridges) and Roy Snyder (E.G. Marshall) to try to figure out a way to stop the collision.  Helping them out on the train is a con artist named Stuart Peters (William Shatner!) who may be wanted by the police but who is still willing to do whatever it takes to save his fellow passengers.

Disaster on the Coastliner is an above-average made-for-TV disaster movie.  Even though it was obviously made for a low-budget and that the majority of the money was probably spent on securing the B-list cast, there are enough shots of the train careening on the tracks to bring happiness to the hearts of most disaster movie fans.  The cast is full of the type of people who you would typically expect to find in a movie like this, people like Raymond Burr, Lloyd Bridges, and William Shatner.  Bridges, interestingly enough, gives the same performance here that he gave in Airplane! and when he starts ranting about how everything’s computerized, he sounds like he could be reciting dialogue from that film.  The only difference is that Airplane! was a comedy while Disaster On The Coastliner is meant to be a drama.  Raymond Burr also does a good job hamming it up as the president of the railroad.  He spends most of the movie sitting behind his desk and looking annoyed, which was pretty typical of Burr in the years after Perry Mason and Ironside. 

For a lot of people, the main appeal of this film will be seeing what William Shatner was doing in between Star Trek movies.  This is a typical early 80s Shatner performance, when he was still trying too hard to win that first Emmy but also when he had just starting to develop the self-awareness necessary to poke fun at his own image.  Shatner really digs into the role of a conman with a heart of gold.  He delivers his lines in his trademark overdramatic style but, in scenes like the one where he sheepishly discovers that a door that he’s been pounding on was unlocked all the time, Shatner actually seems to be in on the joke.  Shatner also did his own stunts in this film, including one where he had stand on top of a speeding train.  In his autobiography, Shatner wrote that he wasn’t even wearing a safety harness in the scene so give it up for Bill Shatner.  That took guts!

Fast-paced and agreeably unpretentious, Disaster On The Coastliner is an enjoyable runaway train movie.

 

The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969, directed by George McCowan)


Andy Crocker (Lee Majors) is a earnest young Texan who enlists in Vietnam, is injured in a firefight, and returns home with a purple heart.  Upon landing in California, he discovers that America has changed.  A group of hippies (led by Stuart Margolin, who also wrote this film’s script and the folk-style song that’s played throughout the action) taunts him for wearing his uniform.  After Andy steals a motorcycle from them and makes his way back down to Dallas, he discovers that his girlfriend, Lisa (Joey Heatherton), has left him for another man and that his best friend (played by singer Jimmy Dean) has sold Andy’s business.  Lisa’s mother (Agnes Moorehead) orders Andy to stay away from her family while she’s skeet shooting.  Even though everyone tells him how proud they are of him, no one seems to want Andy around.  Finally, Andy ends up back in California without any direction home.

This made-for-television movie (which was produced by Aaron Spelling) was important in that it was the first film to attempt to explore the issues that would face servicemen as they returned home after serving in an unpopular war.  It was actually meant to be a pilot for a series called Corporal Crocker, which would have followed Andy Crocker as he traveled across the country, Route 66-style.  Since the series wasn’t picked up, The Ballad of Andy Crocker instead becomes a downbeat look at a man discovering that he no longer has any place in the world.  It’s only 72-minutes long so it doesn’t examine any issues in depth but it’s still sincere in its intentions and Lee Majors gives a good performance in the lead role.  Andy Crocker is an interesting character.  Despite the fact that he just returned from fighting in it, he doesn’t seem to have any strong opinion about the war in Vietnam.  He’s hardly a pacifist and he does steal a motorcycle but, at the same time, he’s not a gung ho warrior either.  He’s just an ordinary man who is trying to figure out where he fits in.  By the end of the movie, he’s more scarred by society’s indifference than he has been by the war.

Keep an eye out for Marvin Gaye, who has a small role as Crocker’s best friend from Vietnam.

Citizen Cohn (1992, directed by Frank Pierson)


The year is 1986 and the powerful attorney Roy Cohn (James Woods) is dying.  The official story is that Cohn has liver cancer but the truth is that he’s dying of AIDS.  As he lies in his hospital bed, he thinks about his past and the events the led to him becoming one of the most feared and powerful men in America.  He is haunted by the ghosts of his many enemies, people like communist spy Ethel Rosenberg (Karen Ludwig) and his former colleague, Bobby Kennedy (David Marshall Grant).

Not surprisingly, a good deal of Cohn’s memories center around his association with Sen. Joseph McCarthy (Joe Don Baker), a charismatic alcoholic who, in the 50s, charged that he had a list with the names of communist spies deep within the government.  Cohn and Kennedy served as the counsels on McCarthy’s committees.  Cohn is with McCarthy from the beginning and he’s with him until the end of the senator’s career.  In fact, it’s Cohn’s own shadowy relationship with an army private that ultimately leads to McCarthy’s downfall.

Except for one aspect of the film, Citizen Cohn is one of the best films to ever be produced by HBO.  The film covers a lot of history in a little less than 2 hours and it does so in a way that is always interesting and easy to follow.  By including incidents from every phase of Cohn’s life, as opposed to just focusing on his time as McCarthy’, the film also shows how someone like Roy Cohn can become a behind-the-scenes power player despite the majority of the country having no idea who he is.  James Woods gives one of his best performances as the hyperactive and unapologetically corrupt Cohn while Joe Don Baker is perfect as the self-pitying Joseph McCarthy.

The problem with the film, and your mileage may vary on how big an issue this is, is that it almost presents Cohn’s final days — dying of AIDS in a lonely New York hospital room — as being some sort of deserved fate for everything that he did wrong in life.  For me, even in the case of someone like Roy Cohn, that’s a step too far and it comes very close to presenting AIDS as some sort of divine punishment (which, itself, comes dangerously close to mirroring the homophobic statements that were made — and still are being made — by anti-gay activists).  That may not have been the film’s intention but, with the flashback structure and all of his dead enemies materializing to taunt Cohn as he lies dying, it’s still a very valid interpretation.

Some of that is perhaps unavoidable.  Cohn, in both real life and the film, died largely unrepentant for anything he did during his life.  As the central character of a biopic, Cohn never has the type of big moment that you would hope for, where he would realize that it was wrong for him to destroy so many lives and show at least a hint of contrition for his past behaviors.  That Roy Cohn is even a compelling character is a testament to the talent of James Woods because it’s certainly not due to any sort of hidden goodness lurking underneath the surface of Cohn’s snarling personality.  The lack of apologies and regrets that made Cohn a powerhouse in real life also makes him an ultimately unsatisfying subject for a movie.

18 Days of Paranoia #4: The Falcon and the Snowman (dir by John Schlesinger)


The 1985 film, The Falcon and the Snowman, tells the story of two friends.  They’re both wealthy.  They’re both a little bit lost, with one of them dropping out the seminary and the other becoming a drug dealer who is successful enough to have a lot of money but inept enough to still be treated like a joke by all of other dealers.

Chris Boyce (Timothy Hutton) is the son of a former FBI agent (Pat Hingle).  He has a tense relationship with his father.  It’s obvious that the two have never really been sure how to talk to each other.  While his father is sure of both himself and his country, Chris is far more sensitive and quick to question.  While his father plays golf and attends outdoor barbecues, Chris becomes an expert in the sport of falconry and spends a lot of time obsessing about the state of the the world.  While his father defends Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation, Chris sees it as evidence that America is a sick and corrupt country.  Because his father doesn’t want Chris sitting around the house all day, he pulls some strings to get Chris a job working at the “Black Vault,” where Chris will basically have the ability to learn about all sorts of classified stuff.

Daulton Lee (Sean Penn) was Chris’s best friend in school.  Daulton’s entire life revolves around cocaine.  He both sells and uses it.  He’s managed to make a lot of money but his addiction has also left him an erratic mess.  Daulton’s father wants to kick him out of the house.  Daulton’s mother continually babies him.  Chris and Daulton may seem like an odd pair of friends but they’re both wealthy, directionless, and have a difficult time relating to their fathers.  It somehow seems inevitable that these two would end up as partners.

Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee, together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  Instead, they end up betraying their country.  (Boooo!  Hiss!  This guy’s a commie, traitor to our nation!)  After Chris discovers that the CIA has been interfering in the elections of America’s allies (in this case, Australia), he decides to give information to the Russians.  Since Daulton already has experience smuggling drugs over the southern border, Boyce asks Lee to contact the KGB the next time that he’s in Mexico.  Despite being a neurotic and paranoid mess, Lee manages to do just that.

Of course, as Chris soon comes to discover, betraying your country while working with a greedy drug addict is not as easy as it seems.  While Chris wants to eventually get out of the treason game, marry his girlfriend (Lori Singer), and finish up college, Daulton wants to be James Bond.  The Russians, meanwhile, soon grow tired of having to deal with Lee and start pressuring Chris to deal with them directly….

And it all goes even further downhill from there.

Based on a true story, The Falcon and the Snowman tells the story of how two seemingly very different young men managed to basically ruin their lives.  Boyce’s naive idealism and Lee’s drug-fueled greed briefly makes them a powerful duo but they both quickly discover that betraying your country isn’t as a simple as they assumed.  For one thing, once you’ve done it once, it’s impossible to go back to your normal life.  As played by Hutton and Penn, Chris and Daulton are two very interesting characters.  Boyce is full of righteous indignation and sees himself as being a hero but the film hints that he’s mostly just pissed off at his Dad for never understanding him or caring that much about falconry.  Daulton, meanwhile, is a lunatic but he seems to be aware that he’s a lunatic and that makes his oddly likable.  At times, it seems like even he can’t believe that Chris was stupid enough to depend on him.  The film provides a convincing portrait of two men who, because of several impulsive decisions, find themselves in over their heads with no possibility of escape.

The Falcon and the Snowman is an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking time capsule of a different age.  If the film took place in 2020, Daulton would be hanging out with the Kardashians and Chris would probably be too busy working for the Warren campaign to spy for America’s enemies.  If only the two of them had been born a few decades later, all of this could have been of avoided.

Previous Entries In The 18 Days of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Privates Files Of J. Edgar Hoover

Love on the Shattered Lens: Splendor in the Grass (dir by Elia Kazan)


What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind…

— “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

The 1962 film, Splendor in the Grass, takes place in Kansas shortly before the start of the Great Depression.  Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are two teenagers in love but, as we learn, youthful love does not always translate into adult happiness.

Bud and Deanie are idealistic and in love but they’re from different social classes.  Bud is the son of a boisterous oilman named Ace (Pat Hingle) and Ace acts much like you would expect a millionaire named Ace to behave.  Bud’s parents are determined that he attend Yale and that he marry someone else from a wealthy family.  They don’t want him to turn out like his older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), who drinks, smokes, and is rumored to have recently had an abortion.  Meanwhile, Deanie is repeatedly told by her mother that she must always remain a “good girl” and not give in to the temptation to have premarital sex with either Bud or any other boy.  If she does, she’ll be forever branded a bad girl and she’ll pretty much end up with a reputation like Ginny’s.

(Interestingly enough, Ace doesn’t have any problem with Bud finding  himself a bad girl, nor does he have a problem with taking his son to a speakeasy later in the film.  As far as society in concerned, being “good” and following the rules only applies to women.)

Needless to say, things don’t work out well for either Deanie or Bud.  Bud is so frustrated that Deanie won’t have sex with him that he dumps her and then has the first of several breakdowns.  When Deanie’s attempt to win Bud back by acting more like Ginny fails, she ends up going out with a classmate named Toots Tuttle (Gary Lockwood).  Nothing good ever comes from going out on a date with someone named Toots Tuttle.  That’s certainly the case here as Deanie and Bud both struggle with the demands of a hypocritical society that expects and encourages Bud to behave in a certain way but which also condemns Deanie for having desires of her own.  And, of course, the entire time that Bud and Deanie’s drama is playing out, we’re aware that the clock is ticking and soon the stock market is going to crash and change everyone’s lives forever.

It’s kind of a depressing film, to be honest.  I’ve always found it to be rather sad.  When we first meet them, Deanie and Bud seem as if they’re perfect for each other but, throughout the entire film, the world seems to be conspiring to keep them apart.  By the end of the film, they’ve both found a kind of happiness but we’re painfully aware that it’s not the happiness that either one was expecting while they were still in school.  The film suggests that type of happiness might be impossible to attain and a part of growing up is realizing that there is no such thing as perfection.  Instead, there’s just making the best of wherever you find yourself.

There’s a scene in this film where Natalie Wood nearly drowns and it always freaks me out, both because of my own fear of drowning and the fact that it foreshadows what would eventually happen to Natalie in 1982.  (The fact that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner’s yacht was called “Splendour” doesn’t help.)  Natalie herself was also deeply scared of drowning and just filming the scene undoubtedly took a lot of courage on Natalie’s part.  But then again, Natalie Wood’s entire performance is courageous.  Natalie Wood gives an emotional and intense performance as Deanie, holding nothing back and it’s impossible not to get emotional while watching her.  Making his film debut, Warren Beatty is a bit of a stiff as Bud, though he’s certainly handsome and you can tell why Deanie would have found him attractive.  (In high school, you always assume that the boring, handsome guys actually have more depth than they let on.)  By the end of the film, you understand that Deanie deserved better than Bud.  Then again, Deanie deserved better than just about everything life had to offer her.  But Deanie survived and endured and made the best of what she was given because, really, what else could she had done?  What other choice did she have?

For her performance in Splendor in the Grass, Natalie Wood received her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  She lost to Sophia Loren for Two Women and …. well, actually, Loren deserved the award.  But so did Wood.  1961 would have been a great year for a tie.

Dead Man Walking: Clint Eastwood in HANG ‘EM HIGH (United Artists 1968)


cracked rear viewer

Clint Eastwood  returned to America after his amazing success in Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy as a star to be reckoned with, forming his own production company (Malpaso) and filming HANG ‘EM HIGH, a Spaghetti-flavored Western in theme and construction. Clint was taking no chances here, surrounding himself with an all-star cast of character actors and a director he trusted, and the result was box office gold, cementing his status as a top star.

Clint plays ex-lawman Jed Cooper, who we meet driving a herd of cattle he just purchased (reminding us of his days on TV’s RAWHIDE). A posse of nine men ride up on him and accuse him of rustling and murder, appointing themselves judge, jury, and executioner, and hang him. He’s left for dead, until Marshal Dave Bliss comes along and cuts him down, taking Jed prisoner and transporting him to nearby Ft. Grant. Evidence…

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