Rage (1972, directed by George C. Scott)


Wyoming sheep rancher Dan Logan (George C. Scott) and his teenage son, Chris (Nicolas Beauvy), spend a night camping out on their land.  While Dan stays in the tent, Chris decides to sleep outside, underneath the stars.  The next morning, Dan leaves the tent to discover that all of his sheep are dead and that Chris is having violent convulsions.  Dan rushes his son to the local hospital, where he hopes that the family’s longtime physician, Dr. Caldwell (Richard Basehart), can save his son’s life.

However, at the hospital, Dan is separated from his son.  Two doctors that he’s never met before — Dr. Spencer (Barnard Hughes) and Major Holliford (Martin Sheen) — take over his case.  They tell him that Chris was probably just exposed to an insecticide and that both Dan and his son are going to have to stay at the hospital for a few days.  Dan is confined to his room and not allowed to see his son.

What Dan doesn’t know is that both he and his son have been unwittingly exposed to a secret army nerve gas.  Though the experiment was only meant to be performed on the animals that were grazing on Dan’s land, Dan and Chris were accidentally sprayed.  When Dan discovers the truth about what’s been done to him and his son, he sets out to try to get revenge with what little time he has left.

Fresh from refusing an Oscar for Patton, George C. Scott made his feature film directorial debut with Rage.  (He had previously directed The Andersonville Trial for television.)  As a director, Scott sometimes struggles.  Rage is so relentlessly grim and serious that even the most experienced director would have had a difficult time making it compelling.  The scenes in the hospital are effective claustrophobic but they’re also often dramatically inert.  The only humor in the film comes from Scott’s overuse of slow motion.  When even simple scenes, like throwing coffee on a campfire, are shown in slow motion, it goes from being ominous to unintentionally humorous.

As a director, Scott did make a very wise decision by casting himself in the lead role.  No one was better at portraying pure, incandescent anger than George C. Scott and the film picks up once Dan discovers what’s been done to himself and his son.  Once Dan sets off to get revenge, Rage becomes an entirely different film, one that is about both a father’s anger and the cold calculation of a government that views him as just as a subject to be tested upon.  The final scene is especially effective and suggests that Scott could have become an interesting director if he had stuck with it.

Scott would direct one more film, The Savage Is Loose, before devoting the rest of his distinguished career to performing.

The Bounty Man (1972, directed by John Llewellyn Moxey)


Kinkaid (Clint Walker) is a bounty hunter in the old west who doesn’t have time for sentiment or friendship.  All he cares about is the money that his next bounty is going to bring in.  When he captures outlaw Billy Riddle (John Ericson), it should be a cool $5,000 payday.  The only problem is that Billy’s girlfriend, a prostitute named Mae (Margot Kidder), insists on accompanying Kinkaid while he takes Billy to jail.  Though she initially conspires to help Billy escape, Mae soon starts to fall for the outwardly unemotional Kinkaid, especially when she discovers the details of his tragic backstory.  (Every bounty hunter has one!)

However, the three of them soon run into another problem.  Angus Keogh (Richard Basehart) and his gang have decided that they want to collect the bounty for themselves.  Kinkaid, Billy, and Mae find themselves trapped in a canyon, under siege and with no food or water.  The three of them will have to work together to survive but can they trust one another?

The Bounty Man was a made-for-TV western and it feels like it was originally mean to be a pilot.  There’s not really much to the story, beyond establishing Kinkaid and Mae as characters who could potentially have a new adventure every week.  I did like the performance of Richard Basehart, especially in the scene where he taunts the trapped Kinkaid by demonstrating that he has so much water that he can pour it out of his canteen without having to worry about running out.  Basehart was a good villain and Walker was a believable hero, even if the character wasn’t very interesting.  Margot Kidder, not surprisingly, is the best thing about the film.  Mae is stock role, the prostitute with a heart of gold, but Kidder brings a lot of life to the part.

The Bounty Man was one of many TV movies directed by John Llewelleyn Moxey.  He does a good job moving the action along.  The Bounty Man is a quick, 70-minute diversion for undemanding western fans.

Snap! Crackle! Pop!: TENSION (MGM 1949)


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The best films noir deal with post-WWII disillusionment, and that’s exactly what drives Richard Basehart’s sad sack Warren Quimby in TENSION. This cynical, downbeat, and downright sordid little tale of infidelity and murder is  boosted by first-rate performances from Basehart and scorchingly hot Audrey Totter as his manipulative bimbo of a wife, with a taut screenplay by Allen Rivkin and solid direction by John Berry. It may not make anyone’s top ten list (or even top thirty), but it’s one of those ‘B’ films that really works, provided you’re willing to suspend disbelief for an hour and a half.

Mild mannered pharmacist Quimby met and married Claire while stationed in San Diego during the war. He, like many others, hopes to someday live the American Dream: house, kids, the whole nine yards. Trampy Claire doesn’t give a crap about that; she prefers excitement, the high life. Claire is messing around…

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30 Days of Noir #24: Fourteen Hours (dir by Henry Hathaway)


As a genre, film noir has always been associated with crime: murder, brutish gangsters, seductive femme fatales, and occasionally a cynical private detective doing the right thing almost despite himself.  However, not all film noirs are about criminals.  Some are just about desperate characters who have found themselves on the fringes, living in a shadow-filled world that appears to be monstrously indifferent to all human suffering.

That’s certainly the case with the 1951 noir, 14 Hours.  The film centers around Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart, who previously played a murderer in another classic noir, He Walked By Night).  Robert isn’t a gangster.  He’s not a private detective.  He doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t provide any sort of hard-boiled narration.  In fact, for the majority of the film, Robert is defined by less who he is and more by what he’s doing.  Robert Cosick, having earlier checked into a room on the 15th floor of a New York hotel, has climbed out of a window and is now standing on a ledge.  Robert says that he’s going to jump.

What has driven Robert Cosik to consider such an extreme action?  The film never settles on any one reason, though it gives us several clues.  When his father (Robert Keith) and his mother (Agnes Moorehead) show up at the scene, they immediately start bickering about old family dramas.  When Robert’s ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) begs him to step in from the ledge, he listens a bit more to her than he did to his parents but he still refuses to come in from the ledge.

But perhaps the real reason that Robert Cosick is out on that ledge can be found in the film’s shadowy visuals.  Directed in a semi-documentary fashion by Henry Hathaway and featuring harsh, black-and-white cinematography that’s credited to Joe MacDonald, Fourteen Hours emphasizes the indifference of the city.  From the menacing landscape of concrete buildings to the crowds gathering below the ledge to see if Robert lives or dies,  New York City is as much as a character in this film as Robert, his family, or the cop (played by Paul Douglas) who finds himself trying to talk Robert into reentering his hotel room.  When night falls, the city may light up but it does nothing to alleviate the shadows that seem to be wrapping themselves around Robert.  For the fourteen hours that Robert is on that ledge, he may be the center of the world but the film leaves little doubt that New York City will continue to exist in all of its glory and its horror regardless of how Robert’s drama plays out.  Whether he lives or dies, Robert appears to be destined to be forgotten.

When the film isn’t concentrating on the cops trying to talk Robert into getting back in the hotel room, it shows us the reactions of the people who see him standing out on that ledge.  (If this film were made today, everyone would be holding up their phones and uploading Robert’s plight to social media.)  Some people are moved by Robert’s struggle.  For instance, a young woman played by Grace Kelly (in her film debut) reaches a decision on whether or not to get a divorce based on what she sees happening on the ledge.  Two office workers (played by Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) even strike up a romance as they wait to see what will happen.  Some people view Robert as being a madman.  Others see him as being a victim.  And then there’s the many others who view him as being either a minor distraction or a piece of entertainment.  For them, it’s less important why Robert’s on the ledge or even who Robert is.  What’s important to them is how the story is going to end.

It’s not a particularly happy film but it’s made watchable by Hathaway’s intelligent direction and the performances of Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart.  With its theme of instant fame and hollow indifference, it’s a film that remains as relevant today as when it was initially released.

30 Days of Noir #20: He Walked By Night (dir by Alfred L. Werker and Anthony Mann)


The 1948 film noir, He Walked By Night, opens with a policeman named Rawlins on his way home from work.  As he drives down the street, he sees a man walking alone at night.  Because there’s been a number of recent burglaries in the area and the man’s a stranger, Rawlins decides to pull over and ask the man for his ID.

What Rawlins doesn’t realize is that the man is Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart) and yes, Roy is indeed the burglar.  Roy is something of a mystery man.  (Needless to say, Morgan is not his real last name.)  In the pre-Internet age, he has very carefully and very meticulously avoided leaving any sort of paper trail.  He lives, by himself, in a small apartment, his only companion being an adorable dog and the police scanner that Roy uses to always stay a few steps ahead of the cops.  When Rawlins pulls him over, it’s the closest that Roy has ever come to being caught.  Roy get out of the situation by shooting the cop and then running into the night.

The rest of the film deals with the efforts of two police detectives (played by Scott Brady and James Cardwell) and their captain (Roy Roberts) to discover who shot Rawlins and bring him to justice.  It’s not easy because not only has Roy done a good job of obscuring his very existence but his police scanner always gives him advanced warning whenever they cops start to close in on him.  The only lead that the cops have is a salesman named Paul Reeves (Whit Bissell).  Reeves has been buying and reselling the electronic equipment that Roy’s been stealing from houses all over Hollywood.  When Reeves tells the cops that he had no idea the stuff was stolen, the cops all share a weary roll of the eye.  No matter whether Reeves is telling the truth or not, he’s now the key to tracking down a cop killer….

He Walked By Night is a police procedural and, while the plot may sound familiar, the film is elevated by the atmospheric direction of Alfred Werker and an uncredited Anthony Mann.  As visualized by Werker and Mann, the streets of Los Angeles have never been darker and more menacing.  Roy emerges from the fog to commit his crimes and then disappears back into the mist, like some sort of paranormal spirit.  The film reaches its high point when the police chase their quarry through the sewers of Los Angeles, a scene that will remind many of the famous finale of The Third Man.

Though the film offers up clues to Roy Morgan’s motivation, he remains an enigma for much of the film.  Richard Basehart plays him as a paranoid man who only seems to be confident and happy when he’s stealing or when he’s outsmarting the police.  In many ways, regardless of whether he escapes the police or not, Roy’s destined to spend his life trapped in a prison of his own design.  Even hiding out on the fringes of society, Roy knows that his time is limited.  There’s only so many times one person can escape their fate.  Until he’s either captured or killed, Roy is destined to always walk the night, alone.

Confessions of a TV Addict #8: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 1


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Irwin Allen  (1916-1991) wore many different hats during his long career: magazine editor, gossip columnist, documentarian, producer, director. He helped usher in the Age of the Disaster Movie with such 70’s hits as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO, but before that he was best known as the producer of a quartet of sci-fi series from the Swingin’ 60’s. From 1964 to 1970 he had at least one sci-fi show airing in prime time… during the 1966-67 season, he had three, all complete with cheezy-looking monsters, campy humor, stock footage, guest stars (some on their way up… some down!), special effects by Oscar winner L.B. Abbott, and music by John Williams (who later scored a little thing called STAR WARS )! Here’s a look at the Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen:

Allen’s first foray into sci-fi TV was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (ABC, 1964-68), based…

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A Movie A Day #170: Chato’s Land (1972, directed by Michael Winner)


Don’t mess with Charles Bronson.

That’s the main lesson that can be taken away from Chato’s Land.  In this western, Bronson plays Chato, an Apache who enters the wrong saloon and is forced to shoot a racist sheriff in self-defense.  Former Confederate Captain Quincey Whitemore (Jack Palance) forms a posse to track Chato down but soon discovers that his posse is not made up of the best and brightest.  Instead, most of them are sadistic racists who just want to kill Apaches.  Despite Whitemore’s efforts to stop them, the posse rapes Chato’s wife and kills his best friend.  Chato trades his white man’s clothes for a loin cloth and sets out for revenge.

Chato’s Land is historically significant because it was the first of many films that Charles Bronson made with Michael Winner.  The most famous Bronson/Winner collaboration was Death Wish, which also featured Charles Bronson as a man who seeks revenge after his wife is raped.  What is surprising about Chato’s Land is how little screen time Bronson actually has.  Most the film is spent with the posse, which is full of familiar faces (Richard Jordan, Simon Oakland, Victor French, Ralph Waite, and James Whitmore all report for duty).  It actually works to the film’s advantage, making Bronson even more intimidating than usual.  There’s never any doubt that Chato is going to kill every member of the posse but since almost every member of the posse is loathsome, that’s not a problem.

It’s possible that Chato’s Land was meant to be an allegory for the Vietnam War, which is probably giving Michael Winner too much credit.  (In an interview, the author of Death Wish, Brian Garfield, once shared an anecdote about Winner inserting a shot of three nuns into Death Wish and bragging about how the shot was meaningless but that it would fool the critics into thinking he was making a grand statement about something.)  Like most of Winner’s films, Chato’s Land is good but not great.  There are parts of the movie that drag and Jack Palance and Charles Bronson don’t get to share any big scenes together, which seems like a missed opportunity.  Bronson, who was always underrated as an actor, gives one of his better performances as Chato.  Chato does not say much but Bronson could do more with one glare than most actors could do with a monologue.  In Europe, Bronson was known as Il Brutto and Chato’s Land features him at his most brutal.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #14: Decision Before Dawn (dir by Anatole Litvak)


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So, I’m currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR by watching the 40 films that I recorded from March to June of this year.  Yesterday, I watched the 14th film on my DVR, the 1951 film Decision Before Dawn.  

Decision Before Dawn aired on April 9th on FXM and I specifically recorded it because it was nominated for best picture.  It only received one other nomination (for editing) and it’s one of those nominees that often seems to be dismissed by Oscar historians.  Whenever Decision Before Dawn is mentioned, it’s usually because it’s being unfavorably compared to the other nominees: A Place In The Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, and An American In Paris.  I went into Decision Before Dawn with very low expectations but you know what?

Decision Before Dawn is not a bad film.  In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it’s actually a damn good film.  If you’re into war films — and, admittedly, I am not — you will love Decision Before Dawn.  If, like me, you’re a history nerd, you’ll be fascinated by the fact that, since this film was shot on location, Decision Before Dawn offers a chance to see what Europe looked like in the years immediately following the destruction of World War II.

As I mentioned, I’m not really into war movies but fortunately, Decision Before Dawn takes place during World War II.  World War II is one of the few wars where there’s no real ambiguity about whether or not the war needed to be fought.  When it comes to picking a villain that everyone can hate, Adolf Hitler and his followers are petty much the perfect villains to go with.

In Decision Before Dawn, Oskar Werner plays Karl Maurer, a German soldier who deserts after his best friend is executed for insubordination.  Though Karl loves his home country, he hates the Nazis who have taken it over.  Karl surrenders to the Americans and volunteers to return to Germany to act as a spy.  Karl finds himself in a strange situation.  Though he’s fighting against the Nazis, he is also mistrusted by the Allies.  He is literally a man without a country.

When word comes down that a German general is willing to surrender, Karl and another German soldier-turned-spy, the greedy and cowardly Sgt. Barth (Hans Christian Bleth), are sent into Germany to both find out if the information is true and to find out where another division of German soldiers is located.  Accompanying the two Germans is a bitter American, Lt. Dick Rennick (Richard Basehart).  Rennick doesn’t trust either of the Germans.

While Rennick and Barth track down the surrendering General, Karl is sent to track down the other division.  Along the way, Karl visits many bombed out German towns and meets Germans of every political persuasion.  Some of them still vainly cling to hope for victory over the Allies but the majority of them are like Hilde (Hildegard Knef), a young war widow who just desperately wants the fighting to end.  Thanks to the deeply empathetic performances of Werner and Knef, the scenes between Hilde and Karl elevate the entire film.  In those scenes, Decision Before Dawn becomes more than just a war film.  It becomes a portrait of men and women trapped by circumstances that they cannot control.

Decision Before Dawn is an exciting and well-acted thriller, one that starts slow but then builds up to a truly thrilling conclusion.  Anatole Litvak directs the film almost as if it were a film noir, filling the entire screen with menacing shadows and moody set pieces.  Decision Before Dawn is a war film that does not celebrate war but instead mourns the evil that men do and argues that sometimes the most patriotic thing that one can do is defy his or her government.  It may be one of the more obscure best picture nominees but it’s still one that deserves to be rediscovered.

By the way, if you do watch Decision Before Dawn, be sure to keep an eye out for Klaus Kinski.  He only appears for a minute or two and he’s not even credited but you’ll recognize him as soon as you see him.  The eyes give him away as soon as he shows up.

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The Fabulous Forties #3: The Black Book (dir by Anthony Mann)


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The third film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1949’s The Black Book, which was also released under the title Reign of Terror.

The Black Book takes place during the French Revolution.  It is, to quote Dickens, both the best of times and the worst of times.  Actually, mostly it’s just the worst of times.  The Black Book portrays revolutionary France as being a dark and shadowy country, one where the only things that hold the people together are paranoia and terror.  It’s a country where anyone can be executed at any moment and where power mad tyrants excuse their excesses by saying that they are only doing the people’s will.  Considering that the The Black Book was made in 1949, its vision of revolutionary France can easily been seen as a metaphor for Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.  Or perhaps even America at the start of the Red Scare.

(It’s probably not a coincidence that the Nazis also had a document known as the Black Book, one that listed everyone who was to be arrested and executed if Hitler succeeded in conquering Great Britain.)

Maximilien Robespierre (Richard Basehart, giving a disturbingly plausible performance that will make you think of more than a few contemporary political figures) is on the verge of having himself declared dictator of France.  Unfortunately, his little black book has disappeared.  Inside that black book is the name of everyone that he is planning to send to the guillotine.  If the book ever became public, then Robespierre would be the one losing his head.

Robespierre summons a notorious prosecutor named Duval (Robert Cummings) to Paris and gives him 24 hours to track down the book.  He gives Duval the authority to imprison and interrogate anyone in France.  He also informs Duval that, if the book is not found, Duval will be the next to lose his head.

However, what Robespierre does not know is that Duval is not Duval.  He is Charles D’Aubigny, a rebel against the Revolution.  Charles murdered Duval and took his place.  Now, Charles has to find the book without his own identity being discovered.  Not only do some of Robespierre’s allies suspect that Duval may not actually be Duval but some of Charles’s former allies also start to suspect that Charles may secretly be working for Robespierre, even as he claims that he’s trying to bring him down.  At times, even the viewer is unsure as to who is actually working for who.

Oh my God, this is such a good film!   In fact, it was so good that I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before watching it last night.  The chance to discover a hidden gem like The Black Book is the main reason why I continue to take chances on Mill Creek box sets.

The Black Book was definitely made on a very low-budget but director Anthony Mann (who is best known for directing several landmark westerns) uses that low-budget to his advantage.  There’s little spectacle to be found in this historical epic but then again, there was little spectacle to be found in the reign of terror.  This is a film that takes place in shadowy rooms and dark, almost claustrophobic streets.  It’s a historical film that looks and plays out like the most cynical of film noirs.  Despite the fact that all of these well-known French figures are being played by very American actors, the cast all does an excellent job of capturing the fear and desperation of people living under oppression.  The subtext of The Black Book was undoubtedly clear in 1949 and it’s just as clear today.  Fanaticism remains fanaticism, regardless of when it happened or what ideology is used to justify it.

There is a somewhat awkward moment towards the end of the film when a French army officer is asked for his name.

“Bonparte,” the officer replies, “Napoleon Bonaparte.”

“I’ll remember that name,” someone snarkily replies.

But, other than that one moment (which immediately made me think of Titanic‘s infamous “Something Picasso” line), The Black Book is an intelligent and effective thriller.  And because it’s in the public domain, you watch it below!

 

Shattered Politics #43: Being There (dir by Hal Ashby)


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As a general rule, I don’t watch the news.  However, a few nights ago, I made an exception and I watched CNN.  The reason was because it was snowing in New York City and apparently, CNN anchorman Don Lemon was broadcasting from something called the Blizzardmobile.  I just had to see that!

Well, the Blizzardmobile turned out to be huge letdown.  I was hoping for something like the Snowpiercer train but instead, it just turned out to be a SUV with a camera crew and a pompous anchorman who hilariously kept insisting that he was knee-deep in a blizzard when even a Texas girl like me could tell that the Blizzardmobile was only encountering a few snow flurries.

So, I flipped around to see if any of the other news stations had anyone in a blizzardmobile.  What I discovered was that only CNN had a blizzardmobile but one thing that every news station did have was a panel of experts.  An anchorperson would say something like, “What does the future look like?” and the panel of experts would tell us what the future looked like to them.  What I found interesting was that I had no idea who these experts were but yet I was supposed to just believe that their opinions were worth considering.

I mean, for all I knew, those experts could have just been people who were spotted wandering around New York at night.  But, because they were introduced as experts and looked directly at the camera whenever they spoke, they were suddenly authoritative voices.

Oddly enough, the very next night, I watched a movie from 1979 that dealt with the exact same issue.

Being There tells the story of Chance (Peter Sellers), a dignified, middle-aged man who lives in Washington, D.C. and works as a gardener for a wealthy older man.  Chance cannot read.  Chance cannot write.  Chance goes through life with a blank smile on his face.  Chance has never experienced the outside world.  Instead, he spends all of his time working in the old man’s garden and obsessively watching TV.  When the old man dies, Chance finds himself exiled from the house.  Wandering around Washington D.C., Chance asks a random woman to make him dinner.  He politely speaks with a drug dealer who pulls a knife on him.  Finally, he finds himself entranced by a window display of televisions.  Backing away from the window, Chance stumbles into the street and is struck by a car.

Though he’s not seriously injured, the owner of the car, Eve Rand (Shirley MacClaine), insists that Chance come back to her mansion with him so that he can be checked out by her private physician (Richard Dysart).  As they drive back to the house, Eve asks Chance for his name.

“Chance the Gardner,” Chance replies.

“Chauncey Gardiner?” Eve asks.

Chance blankly nods.

Back the house, Chance meets Eve’s husband, Ben (Melvyn Douglas).  Ben is a wealthy industrialist who is dying of leukemia.  Ben takes an immediate liking to Chance.  Because Chance is wearing the old man’s suits, everyone assumes that Chance is a wealthy businessman.  When Chance says that he had to leave his home, they assume that his business must have failed due to government regulation.  When Chance talks about his garden, everyone assumes that he’s speaking in metaphors.

Soon, Ben is introducing Chance to his friend, Bobby (Jack Warden).  Bobby happens to be the President and when he quotes Chance in a speech, Chance the Gardner is suddenly the most famous man in the country.  When he appears on a TV talk show, the audience mistakes his emotionless comments for dry wit.  When he talks about how the garden reacts to different seasons, they assume that he’s an economic genius.  By the end of the film, Bobby has become so threatened by Chance’s popularity that he’s been rendered impotent while wealthy, rich men plot to make Chance the next President of the United States.

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In many ways, Chauncey Gardiner was the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his era.

Being There is a one joke film and the idea of someone having no emotional skills beyond what he’s seen on television was probably a lot more mind-blowing back in 1979 than it is in 2015.  But I still enjoyed the film.  Peter Sellers gave a great performance as Chance, never sentimentalizing the character.  As well, the film’s point is still relevant.  If Being There were made today, Chance would be the subject of clickbait articles and Facebook memes.  (Chauncey Gardiner listed his ten top movies and number 8 will surprise you!  Or maybe This boy asked Chauncey Gardiner about his garden and his response was perfect.)

At its best, Being There is a film that will encourage you to question every expert you may see.  Especially if he’s just stepped out of a blizzardmobile…