An October Film Review: The Night America Trembled (dir by Tom Donovan)


Today is the 79th anniversary of Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.

In 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Welles’s War of the World.  Presented as a live news program, it was one of the first mockumentaries.  It also caused a panic.  How big the panic was is open for debate.  Some say only a few people took it seriously.  Other sources say that it was a nationwide crisis.  But, regardless, Welles made history on that night.  Not only did he illustrate the power of the media but he also scared the Hell out of a lot of people.  All in all, a pretty good night…

Filmed in 1957 for a television program called Westinghouse Studio One, The Night America Trembled is a dramatization of that night.  For legal reasons, Orson Welles is not portrayed nor is his name mentioned.  Instead, the focus is mostly on the people listening to the broadcast and getting the wrong idea.  That may sound like a comedy but The Night America Trembled takes itself fairly seriously.  Even pompous old Edward R. Murrow shows up to narrate the film, in between taking drags off a cigarette.  (I enjoyed the show but, whenever Murrow showed up, I was reminded of a grumpy old teacher complaining that none of his students cared about the Spanish-American War.)

Clocking in at a brisk 60 minutes, The Night America Trembled is an interesting recreation of that October 30th.  Among the people panicking: a group of people in a bar who, before hearing the broadcast, were debating whether or not Hitler was as crazy as people said he was, a babysitter who goes absolutely crazy with fear, and a group of poker-playing college students.  If, like me, you’re a frequent viewer of TCM, you may recognize some of the faces in the large cast: Ed Asner, James Coburn, John Astin, Warren Oates, and Warren Beatty all make early appearances.

As I said, it’s an interesting little historical document and you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Bonnie and Clyde (dir by Arthur Penn)


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If you’re ever visiting my former hometown of Denton, Texas, you owe it to yourself to do two things.

Number one, go to Recycled Books and Records.  It’s right across the street from the old courthouse and it’s perhaps the greatest used bookstore in the world.  When I was going to college at UNT, I would spend hours in Recycled Books.  Not only do they have three floors of books but they have some really nice apartments on the fourth floor.  I attended my share of hazily remembered parties in those apartments.

The second thing that you must do is stop by the Campus Theater.  The Camps Theater is located on the other side of the old courthouse and it is a true historical landmark.  (It’s also the home of the Denton Community Theatre.)  When you step inside of the theater, be sure to look for a plaque on the wall.  The plaque will inform you that, in 1967, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde premiered at the Campus Theater.

Bonnie and Clyde not only premiered in Denton but it was also filmed around North Texas.  This was a pragmatic decision, made to minimize studio interference.  Even with that in mind, that’s still the way it should have been because Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are true Texas legends.  In the 1930s, they were young, they robbed banks, and they killed people.  Much like many of the outlaws of the era, they became folk heroes and they died in a hail of bullets.

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In the picture above, Clyde is short, scrawny, and slightly handsome in a class clown sort of way.  Bonnie, meanwhile, is even shorter than Clyde and has the hard look of someone who has never known an easy life.  Both of them have a look that should be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in the small towns that dot the North Texas landscape.  They look like real people.  They don’t look like film stars.

Here’s the movie’s version of Bonnie and Clyde:

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In other words, Bonnie and Clyde is not a documentary.  But that doesn’t matter.  50 years after it was first released Bonnie and Clyde remains a powerful and, even more importantly, extremely entertaining film.  When the film was released, it was controversial for it violence and, having recently rewatched it, I have to say that the violence still makes an impression.  When guns are fired, the shots seem to literally explode in your ear.  When people are torn apart by bullets, they die terrible deaths and the film’s most graphic demises are reserved for its most likable characters.  Towards the end of the film, with the Texas Rangers relentlessly closing in on Bonnie and Clyde, the tension becomes almost unbearable.

What makes the violence all the more disturbing is that it often interrupts scenes that, until the bullets started flying, were often humorous.  A bank robbery starts out as a lark, becomes an exciting chase scene as Bonnie and Clyde attempt to escape, and suddenly turns into an act of shocking of violence when Clyde fire a gun and shoots a man point-blank in the face.  Later, stopping to help an old farmer change a tire leads to a sudden ambush.  Perhaps the film’s outlook is best captured in a scene in which the Barrow gang cheerfully bonds with a hostage until they suddenly find out that he’s an undertaker, a reminder that the promise of death is always present.

“Get him out of here!” Bonnie snaps.

Like many of the great gangster films, Bonnie and Clyde presents its outlaws as being folk heroes.  They may rob banks and occasionally kill people but they look good doing it and they seem like they would be fun to hang out with.  The thing that set Bonnie and Clyde apart from previous gangster films is that it refused to even pretend to condemn its bank robbers.  The cops and the Texas Rangers are all on the side of the banks and the banks are on the side of big business.  Bonnie and Clyde aren’t outlaws.  They’re rebels.  When they rob banks, they’re not just taking money.  They’re standing up to the same establishment that was feared in the 30s, resented in the 60s, and hated today.

Clyde is played by Warren Beatty (who also produced the film) and Bonnie is played by Faye Dunaway and both of them give performances that literally define screen charisma.  You never forget that you’re watching two movie stars but, at the risk of repeating myself, Bonnie and Clyde is not meant to be a documentary.  At times, it almost seems as if Beatty’s Clyde and Dunaway’s Bonnie know that they’re characters in a gangster movie.  They know that they’re doomed because that’s how gangster movies work so, as a result, they’re determined to live as much life as possible before that final reel.  The supporting cast — Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Wilder — are all great but the film is definitely a celebration of Beatty and Dunaway.

Bonnie and Clyde went from premiering at the Campus Theater to a best picture nomination.  However, it lost to In The Heat of the Night.

The Story of Suicide Sal

A Poem by Bonnie Parker

We each of us have a good “alibi”
For being down here in the “joint”;
But few of them really are justified
If you get right down to the point.

You’ve heard of a woman’s “glory”
Being spent on a “downright cur,”
Still you can’t always judge the story
As true, being told by her.

As long as I’ve stayed on this “island,”
And heard “confidence tales” from each “gal,”
Only one seemed interesting and truthful —
The story of “Suicide Sal.”

Now “Sal” was a gal of rare beauty,
Though her features were coarse and tough;
She never once faltered from duty
To play on the “up and up.”

“Sal” told me this tale on the evening
Before she was turned out “free,”
And I’ll do my best to relate it
Just as she told it to me:

I was born on a ranch in Wyoming;
Not treated like Helen of Troy;
I was taught that “rods were rulers”
And “ranked” as a greasy cowboy.”

Then I left my old home for the city
To play in its mad dizzy whirl,
Not knowing how little of pity
It holds for a country girl.

There I fell for “the line” of a “henchman,”
A “professional killer” from “Chi”;
I couldn’t help loving him madly;
For him even now I would die.

One year we were desperately happy;
Our “ill gotten gains” we spent free;
I was taught the ways of the “underworld”;
Jack was just like a “god” to me.

I got on the “F.B.A.” payroll
To get the “inside lay” of the “job”;
The bank was “turning big money”!
It looked like a “cinch” for the “mob.”

Eighty grand without even a “rumble” —
Jack was last with the “loot” in the door,
When the “teller” dead-aimed a revolver
From where they forced him to lie on the floor.

I knew I had only a moment —
He would surely get Jack as he ran;
So I “staged” a “big fade out” beside him
And knocked the forty-five out of his hand.

They “rapped me down big” at the station,
And informed me that I’d get the blame
For the “dramatic stunt” pulled on the “teller”
Looked to them too much like a “game.”

The “police” called it a “frame-up,”
Said it was an “inside job,”
But I steadily denied any knowledge
Or dealings with “underworld mobs.”

The “gang” hired a couple of lawyers,
The best “fixers” in any man’s town,
But it takes more than lawyers and money
When Uncle Sam starts “shaking you down.”

I was charged as a “scion of gangland”
And tried for my wages of sin;
The “dirty dozen” found me guilty —
From five to fifty years in the pen.

I took the “rap” like good people,
And never one “squawk” did I make.
Jake “dropped himself” on the promise
That we make a “sensational break.”

Well, to shorten a sad lengthy story,
Five years have gone over my head
Without even so much as a letter–
At first I thought he was dead.

But not long ago I discovered
From a gal in the joint named Lyle,
That Jack and his “moll” had “got over”
And were living in true “gangster style.”

If he had returned to me sometime,
Though he hadn’t a cent to give,
I’d forget all this hell that he’s caused me,
And love him as long as I live.

But there’s no chance of his ever coming,
For he and his moll have no fears
But that I will die in this prison,
Or “flatten” this fifty years.

Tomorrow I’ll be on the “outside”
And I’ll “drop myself” on it today;
I’ll “bump ’em” if they give me the “hotsquat”
On this island out here in the bay…

The iron doors swung wide next morning
For a gruesome woman of waste,
Who at last had a chance to “fix it,”
Murder showed in her cynical face.

Not long ago I read in the paper
That a gal on the East Side got “hot,”
And when the smoke finally retreated
Two of gangdom were found “on the spot.”

It related the colorful story
of a “jilted gangster gal.”
Two days later, a “sub-gun” ended
The story of “Suicide Sal.”

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The Story of Bonnie and Clyde

Another Poem by Bonnie Parker

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you’re still in need
Of something to read,
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I’m sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.

There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They’re not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”

The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn’t give up till they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it’s fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.

From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can’t find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We’d make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”

The police haven’t got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, “Don’t start any fights
We aren’t working nights
We’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.

They don’t think they’re too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They’ve been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

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The Alliance of Women Film Journalists Announced Their Picks For The Best of 2016!


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The Alliance of Women Film Journalists (of which I am not a member and what’s up with that!?) announced their picks for the best of 2016 earlier this week.

And here they are:

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS
These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration.
Best Film
Arrival
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Best Screenplay, Original
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hail Caesar – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Lion – Luke Davies
Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Nocturnal Animals –Tom Ford

Best Documentary
13th – Ava DuVernay
Gleason – Clay Tweel
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck
OJ Made in America – Ezra Edelman
Weiner – Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegma

Best Animated Film
Finding Dory – Andrew Stanton andAngus MacLane
Kubo and the Two Strings- Travis Knight
Moana – Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Best Actress
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester By the Sea
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director
20th Century Women – Mark Bennett and Laura Rosenthal
Hail Caesar – Ellen Chenoweth
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin and Richard Hicks
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez

Best Cinematography
Arrival – Bradford Young
Hell or High Water – Giles Nuttgens
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Manchester by The Sea – Jody Lee Lipes
Moonlight – James Laxton

Best Editing
Arrival – Joe Walker
I Am Not Your Negro — Alexandra Strauss
La La Land – Tom Cross
Manchester By The Sea – Jennifer Lame
Moonlight – Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders

Best Non-English-Language Film
Elle – Paul Verhoeven, France
Fire At Sea – Gianfranco Rossi, Italy
The Handmaiden – Chan-Wook Park, South Korea
Julieta – Pedro Almodovar. Spain
Toni Erdmann – Maren Ede, Germany

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS
These awards honor WOMEN only

Best Woman Director
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Ava DuVernay -13TH
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Mira Nair – Queen of Katwe
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women

Best Woman Screenwriter
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women
Lorene Scafaria – The Meddler
Laura Terruso – Hello, My Name is Doris

Best Animated Female
Dory in Finding Dory –Ellen DeGeneres
Judy in Zootopia – Ginnifer Goodwin
Moana in Moana – Auli’i Cravalho

Best Breakthrough Performance
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Janelle Monáe – Moonlight and Hidden Figures
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Ruth Negga – Loving

Outstanding Achievement by A Woman in The Film Industry
Ava DuVernay – For 13TH and raising awareness about the need for diversity and gender equality in Hollywood
Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby for establishing Tangerine Entertainment’s Juice Fund to support female filmmakers
Mynette Louie, President of Gamechanger Films, which finances narrative films directed by women
April Reign for creating and mobilizing the #OscarsSoWhite campaign

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Actress Defying Age and Ageism
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Viola Davis – Fences
Sally Field – Hello, My Name is Doris
Isabelle Huppert – Elle and Things to Come
Helen Mirren – Eye in the Sky

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award
Dirty Grandpa – Robert De Niro (b. 1943) and Aubrey Plaza (b. 1984)
Independence Day: Resurgence – Charlotte Gainsbourg (b 1971) and Jeff Goldblum (b 1952)
Mechanic Resurrection – Jason Statham (b. 1967) and Jessica Aba (b. 1981)
Rules Don’t Apply – Warren Beatty (b. 1937) and Lily Collins (b. 1989)

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent
Jennifer Aniston – Mother’s Day and Office Christmas Party
Melissa McCarthy – The Boss and Ghostbusters
Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad and Tarzan
Julia Roberts – Mother’s Day
Shailene Woodley – Divergent Series

Bravest Performance
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Ruth Negga – Loving

Remake or Sequel That Shouldn’t have been Made
Ben-Hur
Ghostbusters
Independence Day: Resurgence
The Magnificent Seven
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

AWFJ Hall of Shame Award
Sharon Maguire and Renee Zellweger for Bridget Jones’s Baby
Nicholas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning for The Neon Demon
David Ayer and Margot Robbie for Suicide Squad
David E. Talbert and Mo’Nique for Almost Christmas

Shattered Politics #62: Bulworth (dir by Warren Beatty)


BulworthSo, if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Robert Redford’s Bill McKay after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the end of The Candidate, I imagine that he probably ended up becoming something like the protagonist of 1998’s Bulworth, U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth.

As played by Warren Beatty, Bulworth is a veteran senator.  A former liberal firebrand, he may still decorate his office with pictures of him meeting Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King but Bulworth sold out a long time ago.  Now, he just says whatever has to say in order to get elected, including pretending to have a happy marriage. He has become a part of everything that’s wrong with Washington.

Sick of both politics and life in general, Bulworth decides that he’d rather be dead.  But, in order to make sure that his daughter collects on his $10,000,000 life insurance policy, Bulworth cannot commit suicide.  Instead, he arranges for a contract to be taken out on his life.  In two days, Bulworth will be assassinated.

Returning to California for his campaign, Bulworth gets drunk and suddenly starts to say what he actually believes.  He attacks the Washington establishment.  He attacks the voters.  He attacks the insurance companies and comes out for single payer health insurance.  With his desperate press secretary (Oliver Platt) chasing behind him, Bulworth spends the night dancing at a club where he discovers marijuana and meets a girl named Nina (Halle Berry).

(Platt, meanwhile, discovers that he really, really likes cocaine.)

Soon, Nina and Bulworth are hiding out in the ghetto, where Bulworth meets both Nina’s brother (Isiah Washington) and local drug dealer, L.D. (Don Cheadle), and gets a lesson about how economics actually work in the ghetto.  Soon, Bulworth is appearing on CNN where he raps his new political platform and suggests that the solutions for all of America’s problems would be for everyone to just keep having sex until eventually everyone is the same color.

Of course, what Bulworth doesn’t know is that Nina also happens to be the assassin who has been contracted to kill him…

I have mixed feelings about Bulworth.  On the one hand, the film starts out strong.  You don’t have to agree with the film’s politics in order to appreciate the film’s passion,  Bulworth is an angry film and one that’s willing to say some potentially unpopular things.  It’s a film about politics that doesn’t resort to the easy solutions that were proposed by some of the other films that I’ve reviewed for Shattered Politics.  Warren Beatty does a pretty good job of portraying Bulworth’s initial mental breakdown and Oliver Platt is a manic wonder as he consumes more and more cocaine.

But, once Warren Beatty starts rapping, the film starts to fall apart and becomes a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  You get the feeling that Warren Beatty, at this point, is just trying to live out the liberal fantasy of being the only wealthy white man in America to understand what it’s like to be poor and black in America.

Bulworth starts out well but ultimately, it begins better than it ends.

Shattered Politics #34: The Parallax View (dir by Alan J. Pakula)


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Judging from the films that the decade produced, the 1970s were truly a paranoid time.  (Of course, 2015 is a paranoid time as well, which is probably why so many of the classic films of the 70s still feel incredibly relevant.)  Some weekend, you should watch a marathon of 1970s films and I guarantee that, by the time Monday rolls around, you will be looking for lurkers in every shadow and automatically distrusting any and all authority figures.  The 1970s were a good time to be paranoid.

And it’s really not surprising at all.  The previous decade was a time of turmoil and upheavel, a time when some people feared protestors and some people feared the establishment but, ultimately, everyone was afraid of someone.  When you think of the 1960s, you think about all the leaders who were violently assassinated — John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, and more.  (And that’s just in America!)  And then the 70s came along, with Watergate and the revelations about the CIA partnering up with the Mafia to try to kill Fidel Castro.

The 70s were a good time to be paranoid and the films of the 70s reflected that fact.

Take for instance, 1974’s The Parallax View.  The Parallax View opens and ends with assassination.  In both cases, the victims are U.S. politicians who are running for President and whose ambitions have caused concern for the shadowy and rarely seen leaders of the established order.  In both cases, the official story is that the assassin was a lone gunman, a nut with a gun and absolutely no political or religious motivations.  Of course, both accused assassins were apparently involved with the shadowy Parallax Corporation and, over the course of the film, anyone who knows anything about Parallax ends up dying.  Reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) goes undercover to investigate the group but, as he does so, he grows increasingly paranoid and unstable, until finally  it’s easy to mistake him for any other paranoid madman, ranting in the street and, in many ways, indistinguishable from the accused assassins that he’s been investigating.  In many ways, Joe becomes like a character in a H.P. Lovecraft short story who, upon laying eyes on Cthulhu, is driven mad as punishment.

It’s a good film, one that’s enhanced by Gordon Willis’s trademark shadowy cinematography and the convincing desperation of Warren Beatty’s performance.  In the film’s best scene, Frady applies for a job with the Parallax Corporation.  As a part of his job interview, he’s taken a dark room and he’s told to watch a short film.  His reactions will help to determine what role he could possibly play at Parallax.

Needless to say, The Parallax View feels just as relevant today as it did when it was first released.  We still live in paranoid times and hints of conspiracy are still everywhere to be seen.  Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that, back in 1974, conspiracies could still take people be surprise.

Now, we just take them for granted.

Embracing the Melodrama #40: Bugsy (dir by Barry Levinson)


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Let’s continue to embrace the melodrama with the 1991 best picture nominee Bugsy.

Gangster Benjamin Siegel (Warren Beatty) may be known as Bugsy but nobody dares call him that to his face.  Siegel may be best known for his quick temper and his willingness to murder anyone who gets in his way, but Ben insists that he’s not as crazy as everyone considers him to be.  Instead, Ben knows that he’s a very special person, a visionary businessman whose business just happens to be organized crime.  Along with his childhood friends Lucky Luciano (Bill Graham) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), Siegel is one of the founders of the modern American crime syndicate.  Unlike his more practical-minded partners, Siegel revels in being a public figure.  Bugsy examines how Siegel became a celebrity gangster and how that celebrity eventually led to his downfall.

As the film opens, Luciano and Lansky send Siegel out to Los Angeles, specifically to look after their west coast business operations.  Before Siegel leaves, he is specifically told to keep a low profile.  So, of course, as soon as Siegel arrives in Los Angeles, he starts hanging out with actor George Raft (Joe Mantegna) and having a very public affair with actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening).  Siegel quickly falls in love with the glamour and glitz of Hollywood and starts to think of himself as being a movie star.  When he’s not working with violent gangster Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) to control the Los Angeles underworld, Siegel is attending film premieres and even shooting a Hollywood screen test.  Back in New York, Luciano and Lansky can only watch as their childhood friend goes out of his way to defy their instructions and become the most famous gangster in America.

Eventually, Siegel goes on a gambling trip to Nevada and comes up with an idea that is destined to change America forever.  With funding from Lansky and Luciano, Siegel begins construction on the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  However, Siegel’s plans are so extravagant and, in many ways, impractical that the budget soon soars out of control.  Not helping matters is the fact that Virginia is embezzling money from the casino’s budget.  Even after Siegel finds out, he can’t bring himself to be angry at her.  He understand that he and Virginia are essentially cut from the same cloth.

However, back in New York, Luciano grows more and more frustrated with Siegel’s wasteful ways and Lansky comes to realize that he can only protect his friend for so long…

Bugsy is a big, extravagant movie that tries to be a few too many things at once.  Over the course of two and a half hours, it attempts to be a love story, a biopic, a classic gangster film, an allegory for the American dream, a history lesson, a period piece, and finally, a metaphor for the act of filmmaking itself.  (When Siegel complains that Luciano and Lansky don’t understand why the Flamingo has to be huge, it’s hard not to feel that he’s meant to be a stand in for every director who has ever had his budget cut by a meddling studio executive.)  When a film tries to be so many different things all at once, you can’t be surprised when the end result is a little uneven.  Bugsy starts out slowly but gradually picks up speed and the final part of the movie is everything that one could hope for from an epic gangster film.

The film works best as a character study of a man who, in the best American tradition, attempts to reinvent himself by moving out west.  Back in New York, Ben is known as a cold-blooded and dangerous killer.  However, once he arrives in Los Angeles, Ben attempts to recreate himself as a celebrity and then as a visionary.  For him, the Flamingo is about more than money.  The Flamingo is about being remembered for something other than his nickname.  The Flamingo is his way to escape from his past.  However, as Bugsy makes clear, the past can be ignored but it never goes away.

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Scenes I Love: The Montage from The Parallax View


In Alan J. Pakula’s 1974 film The Parallax View, Warren Beatty plays a seedy journalist who goes undercover to investigate the links between the mysterious Parallax Corporation and a series of recent political assassinations.  The film is a masterpiece of a paranoia, the type of film that makes you want to check under your bed for listening devices before you go to sleep in the morning.  In the film’s most famous sequence, Beatty — pretending to be a job applicant (read: potential assassin) for the Parallax Corporation — is shown an orientation film that has been designed to test whether or not he’s a suitable applicant.  This film turns out to be a nightmarish montage of rage, insecurity, fear, Oedipal psychosis, and — oddly enough — comic book super heroes.  The montage is shown in its entirety, without once cutting away to show us Beatty’s reaction.  The implication, of course, is that what’s important isn’t how Beatty reacts to the film but how the viewers sitting out in the audience react.

So, at the risk of furthering the conspiracy, here’s that montage.

(By the way, Oswald acted alone.)