Cotter (1973, directed by Paul D. Stanley)


Cotter (Don Murray) is an alcoholic Native American who works as a rodeo clown.  One day, when he’s too drunk to do his job, a bull rider is killed as a result.  All of the other bull riders track Cotter down in his trailer and tell him that his days of being a clown are over.  They tell him that if they ever see him anywhere near another rodeo, they’ll kill him.  It’s a dramatic scene that would probably be more powerful if Cotter wasn’t wearing a clown make-up while rolling around on the floor in a drunken stupor.

With nowhere else to go, Cotter returns to his hometown and tries to surprise his old friend Roy (Rip Torn) by jumping through Roy’s front door while wearing his clown make-up.  However, when Cotter jumps into the living room, the only person he meets is Roy’s half-naked wife, Leah (Carol Lynley) and she promptly fire two barrels worth of buckshot at him.  Showing the reflexes that would have saved that bull rider’s life if only Cotter had been sober, he manages to duck out of the way.

When Roy comes home, he’s at first excited to see his old friend.  He even invites Cotter to stay with them.  Leah slowly warms up to Cotter.  However, the other townsfolk are suspicious of Cotter because of his heritage and his reputation for being a hard drinker.  When a local rancher turns up dead, almost everyone immediately assumes that Cotter must be responsible.  Not even Roy is willing to stand up for his friend.

Made for a low-budget, Cotter is a well-intentioned film that doesn’t work.  A large part of the problem is that, while Don Murray and Rip Torn were both good actors, they both overact in Cotter.  For some reason, both of them yell the majority of their lines.  Torn was a good bellower but Don Murray, who was usually a far more low-key actor, seems uncomfortable in his role.  While it is true that Don Murray first found stardom playing a headstrong cowboy in Bus Stop, it’s also that, from the 60s onward, Murray was always best cast as men of authority and it’s hard to buy him as an irresponsible character like Cotter.  Maybe the film would have worked better if Torn and Murray had switched roles.  Carol Lynley seems more comfortable with her role than either one of the two male leads, though she doesn’t get to do much beyond suffer at the hands of Roy and eventually fall in love with Cotter.  Also giving a good performance is Sherry Jackson, cast as a sympathetic barmaid, though she’s also not given much to do beyond reacting to Cotter and Roy.

Cotter doesn’t have a bad message and it at least acknowledges that Cotter’s alcoholism is largely his way of dealing with the prejudice that he’s suffered his entire life, though Cotter’s monologue on the subject would have probably been more effective if it had been delivered by an actual Native American actor instead of the very white Don Murray.  Unfortunately, good intentions aside, Cotter just never really comes together as a movie.

Film Review: King of Kings (dir by Nicholas Ray)


The 1961 film, King of Kings, was the final biblical film that I watched on Easter.  Like The Greatest Story Ever Told, it tells the story of Jesus from the Nativity to the Ascension.  Like The Greatest Story Ever Told, it’s an epic film that was directed by a renowned director.  (In this case, Nicholas Ray.)  Like The Greatest Story Ever Told, King of Kings also has a huge cast and there’s a few familiar faces to be seen, though it doesn’t really take the all-star approach that George Stevens did with his telling of the story.

Probably the biggest star in King of Kings was Jeffrey Hunter, who played Jesus.  Hunter was in his 30s at the time but he still looked young enough that the film was nicknamed I Was A Teenage Jesus.  (Some of that also probably had to do with the fact that Nicholas Ray was best known for directing Rebel Without A Cause.)  But then again, for a man who had so many followers, Jesus was young.  He hadn’t even reached his 40th birthday before he was crucified.  As well, his followers were also young while his many opponents were representatives of the establishment and the old way of doing things.  It makes perfect sense that Jesus should be played by a young man and Hunter gives a good performance.  As opposed to so many of the other actors who have played Jesus in the movies, Jeffrey Hunter is credible as someone who could convince fishermen to throw down their nets and follow him.  He’s passionate without being fanatical and serious without being grim.  He’s a leader even before he performs his first miracle.

King of Kings is one of the better films that I’ve seen about the life of Jesus.  While remaining respectful of its subject, it also feels alive in the way that so many other biblical films don’t.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Nicholas Ray focuses on the idea of Jesus as a rebel against the establishment.  Ray emphasizes the casual cruelty of the Romans and their collaborators.  When John the Baptist (Robert Ryan) is arrested by Herod (Frank Thring), it’s not just so the filmmakers can have an excuse to work Salome (Brigid Bazlen) in the film.  It’s also to show what will happen to anyone who dares to challenge the establishment.  When Jesus visits John the Baptist in his cell, it’s a summit between two rebels who know that they’re both destined to die for the greater good.  When Pilate (Hurd Hatfield) makes his appearance, he’s smug and rather complacent in his power.  He’s not the quasi-sympathetic figure who appears in so many other biblical films.  Instead, he’s the epitome of establishment arrogance.

As a director, Nicholas Ray keeps things simple.  This isn’t Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments.  The emphasis is not on grandeur.  Instead, the film is about common people trying to improve the world in which they’re living, while also preparing for the next.  Jeffrey Hunter gives an excellent performance as Jesus and, all in all, this is one of the better and more relatable biblical films out there.

18 Days of Paranoia #3: The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (dir by Larry Cohen)


The 1977 film, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, opens in 1972.

J. Edgar Hoover, the much-feared and long-serving director of the FBI, has just been found dead at his home and it seems like the entire city of Washington, D.C. is scrambling.  Not only are people jockeying for Hoover’s job but they’re also wondering what might be found in his secret files.  As quickly becomes apparent, Hoover had a file on everyone.  While Presidents lauded him and the press portrayed him as hero, Hoover spent nearly 50 years building up a surveillance state.  Hoover said it was to fight criminals and subversives but mostly, it was just to hold onto his own power.  Even President Nixon is heard, in the Oval Office, ordering his men to get those files.

Hoover may have known everyone’s secrets but, the film suggests, very few people knew his.  The film is narrated by a former FBI agent named Dwight Webb (Rip Torn).  Dwight talks about how he was kicked out of the FBI because it was discovered that he not only smoked but that he was having an adulterous affair with a secretary.  “You know how Hoover was about that sex stuff,” he says, his tone suggesting that there’s more to the story than just Hoover being a bit of a puritan.

We flash back to the 1920s.  We see a young Hoover (James Wainwright) as a part of the infamous Palmer Raids, an early effort by the Justice Department to track down and deport communist subversives.  Though Hoover disagrees with the legality of the Palmer Raids, he still plays his part and that loyalty is enough to eventually get him appointed, at the age of 29, to be the head of the agency that would eventually become the FBI.  Hoover may start out as a relatively idealistic man but it doesn’t take long for the fame and the power to go to his head.

Hoover (now played by Broderick Crawford) serves a number of Presidents, each one worse the one who proceeded him.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Howard Da Silva) is an avuncular despot while the Kennedy brothers (William Jordan as John and Michael Parks as Bobby) are two rich brats who think that they can control Hoover but who soon discover that Hoover is far more clever than they realize.  Hoover finds himself a man out-of-place in the 60s and the 70s,  Suddenly, he’s no longer everyone’s hero and people are starting to view the FBI as being not a force for law enforcement but instead an instrument of oppression.

Through it all, Hoover remains an enigma.  He demands a lot of from his agents but he resents them if they’re too successful.  Melvin Purvis (Michael Sacks) might find fame for leading the manhunt that took down Dillinger but he’s driven to suicide by Hoover’s cruel treatment.  Unlike Clint Eastwood’s film about Hoover, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover suggests that Hoover was not gay but that instead, that he was so repressed that he was essentially asexual.  When one woman throws herself at him, he accuses her of being a subversive and demands to know how anyone could find him attractive.  He’s closest to his mother and when she dies, he shuts off his emotions.  His own power, for better and worse, becomes the one thing that he loves.  He’s married to the FBI and he often behaves like an abusive spouse.

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is an interesting film.  It’s an attempt to do a huge American epic on a less than epic budget.  At the start of the film, the low budget is undeniably distracting.  The 1920s are essentially represented by a back lot and two old cars.  The scenes of the FBI dealing with gangsters like Dillinger and Creepy Karpis feel awkward and slapdash.  But, as the film’s timeline gets closer to what was then the modern era, the film’s story tightens up and so does Larry Cohen’s direction.  (One get the feeling that Cohen was, perhaps understandably, more interested in the Hoover of the 60s and the 70s than the Hoover of the 20s and 30s.  There’s a sharpness to the second half of the movie that is just missing from the first half.)  Broderick Crawford gives a chilling performance as a man who is determined to hold onto his power, just for the sake of having it.  The scenes were Hoover and Bobby Kennedy snap at each other have a charge that’s missing from the first half of the film.  Michael Parks does a great job portraying RFK as basically being a spoiled jerk while Crawford seems to relish the chance to play up the resentful, bitter old man aspects of Hoover’s personality.  The film ultimately suggests that whether the audience previously admired RFK or whether they previously admired Hoover, they were all essentially duped.

Though the film never quite overcomes the limits of its low budget, it works well as a secret history of the United States.  In 1977, it undoubtedly took guts to make a film that portrayed Roosevelt and Kennedy as being as bad as Nixon and Johnson.  (It would probably even take guts today.  One need only rewatch something like The Butler or Hyde Park on Hudson to see the ludicrous lengths Hollywood will go to idealize presidents like Kennedy and dictators like FDR.)  While this film certainly doesn’t defend J. Edgar Hoover’s excesses, it often suggests that the president he served under were just as bad, if not even worse.  In the end, it becomes a portrait of not only how power corrupts but also why things don’t change, regardless of who is nominally in charge.  In the end the film’s villain is not J. Edgar Hoover.  Instead, the film’s villain is the system that created and then enabled him.  The man may be dead but the system remains.

Previous entries in the 18 Days of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau

 

The King of Love (1987, directed by Anthony Wilkinson)


From the depths of the 80s comes this soapy film about a publisher played by Nick Mancuso whose father issues fuel not only his rise but also his fall.  When the movie starts, Mancuso is dying because he’s been shot by an unknown assassin but he still needs someone to give him some answers before he can give up the mortal coil.  Much like Dutch Schultz deliriously babbling about his dog Biscuit after getting fatally wounded, Mancuso spends his last minutes flashing back to how he became America’s most controversial magazine publisher.

In a ruthless and methodical fashion, Mancuso rose up the ranks from being just a lowly photographer to being the publisher of Love, a magazine that may remind you of Playboy and Penthouse but which is definitely not either one because it’s called Love.  Because sex and nudity sells, Love grows to be a billion dollar empire but, along the way, Mancuso uses and alienates everyone who gets close to him.  With his outspoken views on politics and his advocacy for free love and personal freedom, he also become the number one enemy of anti-pornography crusaders everywhere.  Only his partners, Nat (Michael Lerner) and Annie (Sela Ward), are willing to stay with him, mostly because they’re both in love with him.

Mancuso is obsessed with running a rival publisher out of business.  Jack Kraft (Rip Torn) is just a ruthless as Mancuso and he also might be his father.  In fact, everything that Mancuso does is because he wants to get revenge on Jack for not being there for him as he was growing up, even though he doesn’t have any definite proof that Jack is actually his father and Jack refuses to say whether he is or isn’t.  As Mancuso lies on his death bed, Jack stops in for one last visit.  Mancuso finally asks Jack flat-out if he’s his father.  “I don’t know,” Jack answers, as the film draws to a close.  I know that’s a big spoiler but it probably does not matter because this film has never been released on video and it probably never will be.  My mom has a copy on VHS tape, which she recorded when it originally aired in 1987.  It even has the original commercials.  It’s possible my mom may have the only copy of this film in existence, I don’t know.

The King of Love‘s attempt to be daring and racy is sabotaged by its origin as a made-for-TV movie from the 80s.  There may be a lot of talk about sex but you’re not going to see or hear anything that could have gotten ABC fined by the FCC.  What’s most interesting about The King of Love is the way that the film combines the personas of the three most famous adult magazine publishes.  Mancuso dresses like Bob Guccione, spouts Hugh Hefner’s philosophy, and ultimately suffers Larry Flynt’s fate.  Otherwise, the movie’s not very interesting at all but it is also ways enjoyable to watch Rip Torn play an arrogant bad guy and Michael Lerner manages to overcome a bad script and give an effective performance as Mancuso’s conflicted second-in-command.

Royal Flush: THE CINCINNATI KID (MGM 1965)


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There are movies about the high-stakes world of poker, and then there’s THE CINCINNATI KID. This gripping look at backroom gambling has long been a favorite of mine because of the high-powered all-star cast led by two acting icons from two separate generations – “The Epitome of Cool” Steve McQueen and “Original Gangster” Edward G. Robinson . The film was a breakthrough for director Norman Jewison, who went after this from lightweight fluff like 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE and SEND ME NO FLOWERS to weightier material like IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR.

The film revolves around a poker showdown between up and coming young stud Eric Stoner, known as The Kid, and veteran Lancey Howard, venerated in card playing circles as The Man. This theme of young tyro vs old pro wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, having been hashed and rehashed in countless Westerns over the…

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Film Review: Payday (dir by Daryl Duke)


First released way back in 1972, Payday tells the story of Maury Dann (played by the late, great Texas actor, Rip Torn).

Maury is a country singer.  He sings songs about wholesome values and good country girls.  His music isn’t exactly ground-breaking but his fans still love him and it’s easy to see why.  The movie opens with Maury performing in a small, country club and his charisma is undeniable.  He has a good singing voice and he easily dominates the stage.  Between songs, he flashes a friendly but slightly mischievous smile.  After his performance, he is perfectly charming when he meets his older fans.  And, when he meets a younger fan, he takes her outside and has sex with her in the backseat of his Cadillac.  He does this while her boyfriend is wandering around the parking lot looking for her.

Maury is a man who is in control when he’s on stage.  However, when he’s off-stage, the real Muary comes out.  When he’s not singing and basking in the applause of his fans, Maury is …. well, he’s a total mess.  Actually, mess doesn’t quite do justice to just how screwed up Maury Dann is.  He cheats on his girlfriend.  He pops pills constantly.  He treats the members of his band with a casual cruelty.  When Maury’s off-stage, that charming smile changes into a rather demented smirk.  Just when you think Maury’s done the worst possible thing that he could do, he does something even worse.

Payday follows Maury as he is driven through the South, singing songs and ruining lives.  Along the way, he gets into a fight with his mother and then a fight with his ex-wife and eventually, a fight with the boyfriend of that younger fan from the start of the movie.  We watch as Maury drinks, bribes DJs, and frames his employees for all sorts of crimes.  It’s an episodic film about a man who seems to understand that he’s destined to self-destruct no matter what he does.

Payday is very much a film of the early 70s.  Though the film may be about a self-destructive country star, it’s hard not to suspect that — as with most of the films from that era — Maury and his adventures were meant to be a metaphor for America itself.  Country Western is a uniquely American genre and by showcasing the damage that Maury does to everyone around him, the film seems to be suggesting that Maury’s sins are also America’s sins.  The people who idolize Maury and make him a star despite all of his flaws are the same people who reelected Richard Nixon and supported sending young men to die in Vietnam.

It’s all a bit much for one film to carry on its shoulders and spending two hours with Maury Dann is not exactly a pleasant experience but the film works because of the performance of Rip Torn.  When Torn died earlier this week, there was a lot of discussion about which performance was his best.  Quite a few people on twitter cited his roles in Defending Your Life and The Larry Sanders Show.  I personally mentioned The Man Who Fell To Earth and Maidstone.  But if you really want to see what made Rip Torn such a great actor, you simply must watch Payday.  Maury is a jerk with little in the way of redeeming qualities but Torn gives such a fearless and cheerfully demented performance that it’s impossible not to get caught up in his story.  As much as you want to look away, you can’t because Rip Torn keeps you so off-balance that you cannot stop watching.  Torn is smart enough to play Maury with just enough self-awareness that the character becomes fascinatingly corrupt as opposed to just being a self-centered jerk.

Finally, Payday simply feels authentic.  The film was made way before my time but I’m a Southern girl who has spent enough time in the country to know that the backroads of rural America haven’t changed that much over the past few decades.  At times, while watching Payday, I felt like I was back on my granduncle’s farm in Arkansas, walking through high grass and listening to the cicadas while watching the sun go down.

Payday is definitely a film that’s worth the trouble to track down.  Watch it and appreciate the fearless genius of the great Rip Torn.

A (Not-So) Brief Note On WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT (20th Century Fox 2004)


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Sometimes while scrolling through the channels one come across a pleasant surprise. So it’s Saturday afternoon,a thundershower has cancelled my plan to hit the beach, the Red Sox don’t start for awhile, and I’m clicking the old clicker when I land on WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT. I wasn’t expecting much, just a way to kill time; instead, I found an underrated little gem of a comedy that kept me watching until the very end.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT is an undiscovered classic or anything like that. It’s just a solidly made piece of entertainment about small-town life starring Ray Romano (riding high at the time thanks to his successful sitcom EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) and Oscar winning Gene Hackman. Romano uses his nebbishy TV persona to portray Mooseport, Maine’s local hardware store owner “Handy” Harrison, who gets involved in a mayoral campaign against Hackman’s Monroe “Eagle”…

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A Movie A Day #317: Flashpoint (1984, directed by William Tannen)


November 22, 1963.  While the rest of the world deals with the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, a man named Michael Curtis drives a jeep across the South Texas desert, heading for the border.  In the jeep, he has a $800,000 and a high-powered rifle.  When the jeep crashes, the man, the rifle, and the money are left undiscovered in the desert for 21 years.

1984.  Two border patrol agents, Logan (Kris Kristofferson) and Wyatt (Treat Williams), are complaining about their job and hoping for a better life.  It looks like they might get that opportunity when they come across both the jeep and the money.  A bitter Vietnam vet, Logan wants to take the money and run but Wyatt is more cautious.  Shortly after Wyatt runs a check on the jeep’s license plate, a FBI agent (Kurtwood Smith) shows up at the station and both Logan and Wyatt discover their lives are in danger.

Though it was made seven years before Oliver Stone’s JFK, Flashpoint makes the same argument, that Kennedy was killed as the result of a massive government conspiracy and that the conspirators are still in power and doing whatever they have to do keep the truth from being discovered.  The difference is that Flashpoint doesn’t try to convince anyone.  If you’re watching because you’re hoping to see a serious examination of the Kennedy conspiracy theories, Flashpoint is not for you.  Instead, Flashpoint is a simple but effective action film, a modern western that uses the assassination as a MacGuffin.  Though Kris Kristofferson has never been the most expressive of actors, he was well-cast as the archetypical gunslinger with a past.  Rip Torn also gives a good performance as a morally ambiguous sheriff and fans of great character acting will want to keep an eye out for both Kevin Conway and Miguel Ferrer in small roles.

That’s Blaxploitation! 11: Jim Brown in SLAUGHTER (AIP 1972)


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Jim Brown  is one bad mother… no wait, that’s Richard Roundtree as Shaft! Jim Brown is one bad dude as SLAUGHTER, a 1972 Blaxploitation revenge yarn chock full of action. Brown’s imposing physical presence dominates the film, and he doesn’t have to do much in the acting department, ’cause Shakespeare this ain’t – it’s a balls to the wall, slam-bang flick courtesy of action specialist Jack Starrett (RUN ANGEL RUN, CLEOPATRA JONES , RACE WITH THE DEVIL) that doesn’t let up until the last second, resulting in one of the genre’s best.

Ex-Green Beret Slaughter (no first name given) is determined to get the bad guys who blew up his dad’s car, with dad in it! Seems dear ol’ dad was mob connected and knew too much. Slaughter’s reckless abandon in seeking revenge lands him in hot water with Treasury agents, and he’s “persuaded” to assist them in taking down…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 1.7 “The Purple Room” (dir by Douglas Heyes)


For tonight’s televised horror, we have The Purple Room, an episode of Thriller!  This was an anthology series, which was hosted by Boris Karloff.  Admittedly, Thriller was not always a horror show.  Several of the episodes were crime stories that had a diabolical twist.  But anything hosted by Boris Karloff is perfect for October viewing.

The Purple Room is the story of what happens when a skeptic (played by a young Rip Torn) learns that he must spend a year living in a house that may or may not be haunted.  This episode is enjoyably creepy and, of course, it has a twist.

This episode originally aired on October 25th, 1960.