Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2015

W Schug 2015Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, North Coast, California, U.S.

100% pinot noir

13.8% alcohol

Purchased:  7 April 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  19 April 2018

els:  9.0/10

James Suckling:  93

Wilfred Wong:  92

Tastings:  89

Cellar Tracker:  87

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries that produced 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

The California wine industry was initially established by Spanish in the 18th century, planting the Mexican sourced “black grape” around their Catholic missions to be used for religious ceremonies and enjoying Californian sunsets.  The “black grape” or the Mission grape, was originally brought to the new world buy Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. It did nothing of note for the Aztecs but it dominated the state’s industry for almost 200 years.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country accounting for about 85% of US production.  The state still ranks as the 4th largest producer in the world just behind France, Italy, and Spain; without including the rest of country. There are over 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and just shy of 4700 wineries in the state producing 285 million cases of wine in 2016. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties, accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. In 2016 the state had about 44,600 acres planted in Pinot Noir grapes.

The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are upwards to 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only; counties are automatically classified as an AVA without further registration with the federal government.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA that’s smaller than a county, must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used. If it is a county labeled AVA only 75% of the grapes need to come from that area.

The North Coast region, just north of San Francisco, includes the counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The area stretches 100 miles, north to south, and about 50 miles east to west. From Clear Lake on the eastern boundary to the Pacific Ocean on the western edge, the area includes the valleys just north of the San Francisco Bay to the North Coast Mountains in the northern part of the region. The North Coast contains almost half of all the state’s wineries spread over 3 million acres with more than 130,000 acres dedicated to vineyards within 50 smaller AVAs. The predominate grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sonoma County wine history dates back to the early 1800s when a Catholic priest established a vineyard around the San Francisco Solano Mission which is now in the city of Sonoma. By the early 1920s the county boasted 20,000 acres of vines and 250 plus wineries. Prohibition knocked Sonoma’s wine industry down to a shadow of its former glory and it took almost 60 years for the county to recover from that social experiment.

Sonoma County has a rich, heterogeneous geography of mountains and valleys that present a profusion of soils and climates that make the French landscape look like vanilla pudding.  The area’s soils are heavily influenced by volcanism along the county’s eastern boundary in the Mayacamas Mountains.  The volcanoes include the Plio-Pleistocene aged Mount St. Helena and Hood Mountain which, among others, spiked the surrounding soils with ash and other wine-loving volcanic ejecta. The climate of the area is a product of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean which has endowed the area with foggy mornings, warm days, not too hot, and cool nights.

Sonoma County is the North Coast’s largest AVA, about 50 miles on a side, containing more than third of North Coast region’s grape acreage, along with 1800 growers, and 400 wineries. The county grows 66 varieties of grapes on 60,000 acres but just 7 of these account for about 90% of all the wine produced.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 grapes grown. The area produces about 6% of California’s total wine production versus 4% for Napa.

The county is further subdivided into 3 large AVAs loosely based on geography: Northern Sonoma, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley with each of these containing an additional 15 distinct AVAs within their borders. These include:  Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain District, Petuluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Mountain. Petuluma Gap was granted AVA status in 2018.

Sonoma Coast, awarded AVA status in 1987, has about 2000 acres planted in vines and around 10 wineries. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted variety in the AVA with Syrah coming in third. The climate in this area is cooler and wetter than the rest of the county with lots of fog.

Pinot Noir, native to the Burgundy region of France, is a cool climate, thin-skinned, fussy grape. It is a popular drinking wine, ranking as number 10 in the world by acreage. France and the US are the largest growers of the vine, each with about 75,000 acres under cultivation out of 215,000 acres worldwide. The grape produces a garnet to ruby colored wine with low tannins and medium-body.  The low tannins generally mean it does not age well but that property can be quite unpredictable. Young wines have aromas of cherries and raspberry but older wines tend to acquire more earthy smells.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery, a family operation, with strong wine-making roots in Germany has been making North Coast Schug wines since 1980. In 1989 the family purchased 50 acres in the Sonoma part of the Carneros Sonoma AVA from which winery has grown to its present form of old world tradition and new world wine-making techniques.

This Pinot Noir is sourced from several owned and non-owned vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA area including: 29% Ricci, 16% O Tirado, 13% Stage Gulch, 5% Schug Estate, 4% Sangiacomo, 15% Russian River, 14% Sonoma-Carneros. The grapes were harvested from 24 August through 19 September 2015.

After harvesting, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks with pump over occurring 2-4 times daily, followed by malolactic fermentation in neutral oak casks. Aging was in neutral French oak barrels.  The wine was released for sale on 1 October 2016.

A dark garnet color with aromas nuts, chocolate, cherry and a hint of oak.  A spicy medium-bodied wine with a medium finish.

We enjoy Pinot Noir as a sipping wine, indulging in them in the late afternoon, slightly chilled, with a plate of sliced fruits and chocolates nearby to provide some contrasting tastes to this fruity wine.

An outstanding wine at a fair to good price. It should last until 2019-2021. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$16.99-29.00 wine-searcher.co

Played

Funeral in BerlinM Funeral 1966

Theaters:  December 1966

Streaming:  August 2001

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  102 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classic – Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  6.5/10

IMDB:  6.9/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.5/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Guy Hamilton

Written by:  Evan Jones (screenplay), Len Deighton (book)

Music by:  Konrad Elfers

Cast:  Michael Caine, Paul Hubschmid, Oscar Homolka, Eva Renzi

Film Locations:  Germany, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $

Harry Palmer (Caine), an expendable British spy, is sent to East Germany to bring in  a Russian intelligence colonel, Stok, (Homolka) who is tired of his no-win job providing security for the Berlin Wall and wants to defect to the west. Palmer, a born cynic and an insolent one at that, doesn’t believe the Russian’s story, doesn’t accept that he is seduced, willingly, by a glamorous model, Steel, (Renzi) because of his charm and great looks, and he doesn’t trust his West German contact, Mr. Smooth and Rich, British agent Johnny Vulkan (Hubschmid).  With no good options Palmer just carries on and sees where his strolls at midnight take him.

Funeral in Berlin, written in 1964, is the 3rd spy novel in Len Deighton’s Unnamed Hero series and 2nd one that was made into a movie starring Caine. This book was preceded by The Ipcress File in 1962 and Horse Under Water in 1963.  The 4th book in series was Billion-Dollar Brain published in 1966.  All the books were made into movies except Horse Under Water which was scheduled to be the 4th movie with Caine but was canceled when Billion-Dollar Brain fared poorly with the critics and the box office.

Deighton, part of the popular triumvirate of British spy novelists along with Ian Fleming and John le Carré, wrote his first spy novel, The Ipcress File while living in Dordogne, France, an expat community of Brits, socialists and communists. All 3 not necessarily being the same person. The book was an instant success and it was quickly adapted into a movie of the same name in 1965 which also met with critical success.  His books were hailed for their realistic detail to bureaucratic bumbling and pettiness, germane to all large departments and agencies the world over.

Evan Jones, born to banana farmers in Jamaica, studied in Jamaica and the U.S., taught in the U.S., then moved to England to write for television and film.  Evan Jones loosely followed Deighton’s book when writing the screenplay.  In the book the defector is a Soviet scientist who has been granted approval to leave by the Russian security guru Colonel Stok.

Guy Hamilton, director of 4 James Bond movies, has a deserved reputation for injecting high-brow humor into his action movies and he does not let his viewers down with his, and Evan Jones’, interpretation of the Funeral in Berlin. The action is low-tech with tight scenes of suspense interspersed with Caine’s acerbic cracks at the establishment. Hamilton’s efforts are better than what Ken Russell accomplished in Billion-Dollar Brain but significantly inferior to Sid Furie’s The Ipcress File.

Michael Caine and Oscar Homolka are brilliant in the movie. They play off each others morbid sense of humor and dial the thriller down to a level of fun and games in a world of known mostly for deadly results.

 

The L.A. Times reported in 2007 that Howard Hughes in a codeine induced haze watched Funeral in Berlin, in the buff, 3 times in row.  Regardless of Hughes critique this is a good movie, not a great movie, but Michael Caine makes it fun to watch.

Slow Sadness

Touch of EvilM Touch 1958

Theaters:  February 1958

Streaming:  October 2000

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  95 minutes

Genre:  Classics – Crime – Drama –  Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.1/10

Amazon:  4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Orson Welles

Written by:  Orson Welles (screenplay), Whit Masterson: aka Robert Wade and Bill Miller (book)

Music by:  Henry Mancini

Cast:  Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Film Locations:  US

Budget:  $829,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $2,247,465

A man runs through a parking lot in a small Mexican town along the US border carrying a small package, placing it in the trunk of convertible moments before the owner and driver, Rudy Linnekar (Jeffery Green) and his young girlfriend Zita (Joi Lansing) arrive.  With the bomb ticking in the trunk of the car, Linnekar slowly drives through the town, filled with tourists and locals enjoying the cool night, heading for the nearby US border and home.  As they are driving, they pass the strolling newly married couple of Mike Vargas (Heston), a Mexican drug cop, and his American wife Susie (Leigh). The car crosses the border into the US and explodes.

Captain Quinlan (Welles), an obese cop with a bum leg, walking with the aid of a cane, arrives to take over the investigation of bombing. He quickly surmises that Sanchez (Victor Millan), who is secretly married to Rudy Linnekar’s daughter Marcia (Joanna Cook Moore), is the prime suspect.  Quinlan’s partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) plants incriminating evidence in Sanchez’s apartment and he is arrested. Vargas knows that the evidence against Sanchez was planted and begins to investigate the bombing and Quinlan, while letting his wife spend her honeymoon alone in some cheap deserted hotel in the dry scrublands of the American southwest.

Welles loosely based the movie’s screenplay on a 1956 Red Badge Mystery serial novel, Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson. The crime novel slowly solves the mystery of who killed Rudy Linnekar by blowing up his house with dynamite. The murder is investigated by police officers Hank Quinlan and Leron McCoy along with an assistant district attorney.  The 2 cops quickly make an arrest of Ernest Farnum, who soon commits suicide, even though incriminating dynamite was found in the apartment of Linnekar’s future son-in-law Delmont Shayon.

Whit Masterson is a pseudonym for 2 authors: Robert Allison “Bob” Wade and H. Bill Miller.  The pair, good friends since the age of 12, wrote more than 30 novels in their lifetimes with at least 6 adapted for movies.  Two other well received movies adapted from their books, in addition to this movie, were the 1942 All Through the Night with Humphrey Bogart, and The Yellow Canary starring Pat Boone.

Orson Welles, director, writer, actor, producer, and occasional illusionist was born an entertainer.  Shakespeare and presenting visual interpretations of the classic books were his passions. His colossal talent spanned the stage, radio, and movies, bequeathing an artistic ensemble to the world that increases in stature every year. In 1938, Welles produced, directed, and acted in Caesar, an updated version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The play was a monumental success. In the same year he narrated Mercury Theater’s adaptation of  H. G. Wells’, The War of Worlds, bringing him instant fame or at least infamy. In 1941 Welles, wrote, produced, directed, and acted in his greatest gift to movie goers everywhere: Citizen Kane.  A critical success on opening but financially not too great, held back by the Hearst’s family distaste and advertising boycott of the movie. Its impact on the public, though, has increased over time and by 2017 it was considered the greatest film ever made. He is also considered the 2nd greatest director of all time, with only Hitchcock ranking above him.

A Touch of Evil was Welles’ last Hollywood movie and one of the last in the film-noir genre, at least in the era of Hitchcock, Wilder, and Huston.  It ranks as one of his finest. Filmed in black and white, his use of upward shots, long sequences, and garish, crowded scenes gives the movie a dark and sinister look, foretelling from the beginning an ending of bleakness and sorrow.

Welles and Dietrich steal the show.  They are the 800 pound gorillas among the lesser greats of Heston, Leigh, and Cotton.  Heston’s acting is worthy of his name and this movie but casting him as a Mexican is a head scratcher.  Every time he appears in a scene you have to think about why he is portraying someone he clearly isn’t.

A Touch of Evil expresses the shadows of our lives that we all try to suppress, not by standing in the light but hiding them in our dark lonely places. Quinlan always getting his man regardless the cost, Vargas forsaking his wife to play the good cop, crime bosses sinking lower, night watchmen to afraid to do the right thing.  A tale of crossroads, with the right and left forks leading to the same forlorn scene of heartache and grief.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.  It is a great film-noir movie consistently ranking as one of the top 100 movies of all time.

Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz 2016

W Blue Eyed 2016Shiraz from The Gateway, McLaren Vale, Fleurieu Zone, South Australia, Australia

100% shiraz

16.0% alcohol

Purchased:  6 April 2018  –  $60.00

Opened:  6 April 2018

els:  9.1/10

Cellar Tracker:  91

In the beginning, Australia’s entire stock of vines had to be imported from Europe and South Africa since it does not have any native grape varieties. In the early 1800s John Macarthur, established the first successful vineyards and winery near Sydney. By the early 1820s wine was being produced in sufficient quantities that the first exports were recorded in 1822.  In 1833 James Busby brought additional cuttings from Europe and introduced Shiraz to the fledgling wine industry. By the latter half of the 1800s, Australian wines were garnering world-wide attention and tasting awards.  Then the unspeakable happened. Phylloxera reached Australia around 1875 destroying a majority of vines in the country.  It would take until the 1960s before Australia moved beyond fortified wines and started producing good to great table wines again.

Wine is currently produced in all 6 six of the country’s states which are further divided up into 65 wine regions that contain over 2400 wineries.  The regions creating serious wines, though, are all located in the cooler southern states of Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania.

Australia, in 2016, was the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, behind the US and ahead of China, making 343 million gallons of wine or about 4% of the world-wide total.  Australia consumes about 40% of their wine or a little more than 135 million gallons and exports 60%, about 215 million gallons in 2017, and is 4th largest exporter of wine in the world.  The country exports to 126 counties but five of those countries; China, the US, the UK, Canada, and Hong Kong account for 75% of the total wine exports. China is by far the country’s largest market, sending about a 3rd of their total wine exports, by value, to their thirsty northern neighbors.

The country grows over 130 varietals with just a few accounting for the lion’s share of all grapes harvested. The red grapes Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot accounted for 85% of all grapes harvested in 2017. Shiraz contributed 47% to that years red grapes total harvest.  Chardonnay is the top white grape harvested in 2017 accounting for 42% of the total.

South Australia is the largest wine area, by acres of vines planted and wine produced, in Australia.  The temperatures vary widely over area, cool along the coast and hot in the interior. The area is consistently dry and requires irrigation almost everywhere. The area first started growing grapes and producing wine back in the 1830s.

The region had almost 190,000 acres planted in 2017, more than half of the country’s total.  The area produced over 160 million gallons of wine in 2017 and exported 135 million gallons. China-Hong Kong, the UK, the US, and Canada are South Australia’s largest export markets.

There are 7 wine zones, further divided up into 20 distinct regions in South Australia. The zones are: Barossa, Fleurieu, Mount Lofty Ranges, Far North, Limestone Coast, Lower Murray, and The Peninsulas.  The 20 regions are all recognized appellations known in the country as Australian Geographical Indications or AGIs.

McLaren Vale, 1 of the 5 regions within the Fleurieu zone, is one of two premier South Australia wine-producing regions in the country; the other being Barossa Valley. McLaren Vale’s wine history goes back at least 175 years to the time of John Reynell and Thomas Hardy and their first grape plantings in the region.  Today’s Accolade Wines traces its beginnings back to the establishment of the Thomas Hardy and Sons winery, in 1853, in Old Reynella, now a suburb of Adelaide. With its Mediterranean climate and well-drained soils, McLaren Vale has 18,000 acres planted in vines and more than 80 wineries. Its star pupil is Shiraz, accounting for 55% of all grapes grown and processed. The region also produces great wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache grapes.

Australia is the second largest producer of Shiraz or its genetic French twin, Syrah, in the world, France being the first. These are dark-skinned grapes that produce wildly different flavors depending on the terroir they spring from. The cooler climate versions tend towards medium-bodied wines with higher tannins, producing flavors and aromas of pepper and tobacco.  In the hotter climates, such as McLaren Vale, the wine is fuller in body, softer in tannins with notes of leather and velvety chocolate. Ageing potential is 10-15 years.

In 2006, Sparky and Sarah Marquis established their own brand: Mollydooker, and opened their winery the next year just a few miles southwest of Adelaide and a hop, skip, and jump from the Gulf of St. Vincent in The Gateway sub-region of McLaren Vale. From the outset they have produced outstanding wines garnering high 90s ratings and wine of the year accolades, seemingly without effort. The winery includes 3 vineyards: Long Gully Road, Coppermine Road (Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road produced weed and whiskey),  and the Home Block, totaling 114 acres planted in Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The grapes for Blue Eyed Boy were grown on all 3 of Mollydooker’s vineyards: Coppermine Road, Long Gully Road, and Home Block. The vines are growing in ancient, Snowball Earth, Pre-Cambrian to Cambrian metasediments, usually extremely weathered and kaolinized. The metasediments include various textures from siltstones to sandstones and limestones to dolostones.  The Mollydooker vineyards are situated a little over 450′ above sea level and enjoy a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 55-85ºF.  Rainfall is generally less than 1.25″ per month during the growing season.

The grapes are barrel fermented and matured in American oak, 58% new and 42% one- year old.

A dark, dark purple wine with a ruby rim. Aromas of  blueberry, plum and a hint of vanilla. A full-bodied wine, well-structured, and solid tannins. Juicy, silky and smooth, with a very long finish. The high alcohol content does sneak up on you after a couple of glasses.

An outstanding wine.  My wife and I had this for dinner at the Helix Wine and Bites restaurant in Grand Forks, ND.  We shared an entrée of a fall-off-the-bone rib eye, served with baked new potatoes and fried broccoli in olive oil and garlic.

The wine with the meal was simply astounding. The wine is on the pricey side but worth it for special occasions. It is a little young to drink now, wait awhile.  It should last until 2026-2030. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$48.99 wine.com

Out the Double Double

The Spy Who Came in from The ColdM Spy 1965

Theaters:  May 1965

Streaming:  July 2004

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  112 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classics – Drama –  Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.7/10

Amazon:  4.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Golden Globe

Directed by:  Martin Ritt

Written by:  Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Sol Kaplan

Cast:  Richard Burton, Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom

Film Locations:  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,600,000

Alec Leamas (Burton), station chief for the British “Circus” in West Berlin, has just lost one of his operatives and is recalled to London.  He is given a new mission in London to play the part of an angry alcoholic, drummed out the secret service, desperately in need of money to get by, and to make his plight as public as possible.  The East Germans take notice of his condition and entice him to defect; trading state secrets for a cushy retirement.  He agrees and is whisked off to East Berlin to be interrogated. His cover story quickly nabs a double agent in the East German spy office but Leamas finds himself a pawn rather than the checking knight.

Germany after WWII was divided into 3 sectors in which Britain, the US and the Soviet Union administered starting in 1944.  From 1944 to 1948, Berlin was administered jointly by the 3 powers but in 1949 the Soviets claimed sole possession of East Berlin and declared it the capital of Germany Democratic Republic. The post-war East Berlin economy was ruined, as it was in West Berlin, but because of Soviet control it was excluded from the Marshall Plan used to rebuild the rest of western Europe.  East Berlin’s centrally planned economy had supposedly the highest standard of living in the Soviet controlled sphere of Europe and Asia but the inhabitants were leaving the city and country in droves, with estimates of 1000 per day leaving in 1960. To stop the emigration and retain skilled workers, up went the wall in 1961 and the East German soldiers were instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.  The East Germany security forces, the Stasi, formed in 1950, tightened their grip on the East German citizens, spying on everyone to break up any dissent.  Additionally the Stasi extensively infiltrated West Germany to obtain industrial, political, and military secrets, eventually bringing down West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974 because his personal secretary was an East German spy.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller. He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. Prior to his 1963 novel being published, Heinz Paul Johann Felfe, a German double agent that spied for everyone, Nazis, Soviets, West Germans, Brits; was caught by the West Germans, while in their employ, in 1961, and sent to prison for treason.

Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper wrote the screenplay for the movie and it follows the novel very closely. Dehn was a writer of plays, musicals and movies.  His first screenplay in 1950, Seven Days to Noon, won him an Oscar. Guy Trosper was a writer and producer from Lander, Wyoming best known for this movie and the 1962, Birdman of Alcatraz.

Martin Ritt, actor, director, writer, and producer, gives the viewer a somber message of spy craft without any glamour or gadgets.  Presenting a story about dubious principles and ugly spy results, he sticks to script and makes one of the best spy movies of all time.  This is his 2nd best movie, his 1963 Hud is his best.  The rest of his 30 or so movies are just a rehash of communist talking points and politically correct drivel. Nominated many times for Best Director he never managed to pull down Oscar or a Golden Globe.

The acting in this movie couldn’t get any better.  Richard Burton and Claire Bloom team up to create a tragic series of dichotomies revolving around youth and age, communism and freedom, innocence and cynicism, idealism and debauchery.  In the end they are both occupying the same poles, one learning nothing, the other wanting to learn no more.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Innocence Lost

The Third Man M Third 1950

Theaters:  September 1949

Streaming:  November 1999

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  93-108 minutes

Genre:  Classic – Crime – Drama – Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.2/10

Amazon:  4.2/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Oscar

Directed by:  Carol Reed

Written by:  Graham Greene (screenplay and book)

Music by:  Anton Karas

Cast:  Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard, Orson Wells, Alida Valli

Film Locations:  Austria, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $618,173

Holly Martins (Cotton), an American writer of 3rd rate westerns, broke and drunk more often than not, is invited to post-WWII Vienna by his old friend Harry Limes (Welles). Martins arrives in Vienna in time to witness Limes’ funeral.  Martins begins to ask around about the death of his friend and slowly becomes suspicious that the official account of his death, a traffic accident, is cover for a murder. Martins, an innocent fool, sets out to discover the truth about his friend’s death, stumbling through a city filled with experienced cynics, thugs, and kriminelle.

Nazi Germany annexed Austria, known as Anschluss Oesterreichs, in March 1938 with significant support of the Austrian public.  In 1943 the Allied powers; Britain, France, US, and the USSR, agreed to nullify the German annexation and have it revert back to an independent country at the end of the war.  The Allies, in 1945, divided Austria and Vienna into 4 sectors with each sector controlled by one of the 4 powers.  This arrangement was to last until 1955 when the country agreed to maintain eternal neutrality. The allied powers initially stationed 260,000 troops in the country after 1945, which was entirely paid for by the Austrian people. The cost of the occupation coupled with the war-destroyed industries and poor harvests lead to wide-spread hunger, lack of heating for homes and businesses, and unemployment.  The post-war years of 1945-46, with little in the way of an Austrian police force, saw crime spiral out of control with Soviet troops responsible for 90% of all reported crimes. The underground economy flourished with little or no regulation or oversight.

Graham Greene, considered as the greatest English writer of the 20th century and with the publication of his 1940 novel, The Power and the Glory, cemented his reputation as one of the best writers of his generation. Early in life he joined the communist party and a few years later converted to Catholicism. He initially wrote a short novel for The Third Man, not intending to publish it, but to provide background for the screenplay. The novella was eventually published under the same name as the movie, The Third Man in 1950. The book is not very good, basically because it is in an unfinished state. Ignore the book and watch the movie.  Greene, in 1948, personally researched the book and screenplay by exploring the streets, nightclubs, and sewers of Vienna along with immersing himself into the clandestine black-markets within the city.

MU Zither 2018A pedestrian movie filmed in Vienna would require a musical score relying heavily on orchestral waltzes with dance scenes showing gay Venetians circling the glossy dance floors of resplendent Viennese palaces. Well this movie isn’t pedestrian by any means; no waltzes, no orchestras, and no palaces make an appearance.  The entire score is delivered by a single instrument; the Zither, a multi-stringed, wooden instrument played either in an upright position or laid flat on one’s lap. The movie opens with the Anton Karas playing  an instrumental on a Zither. It is initially foreign and harsh to the ear but as the movie progresses you warm to its sound and melody, eventually succumbing to its hypnotic effects, realizing in the end that no other musical approach or sound would have worked.

Carol Reed took Greene’s ok screenplay and transformed it into the greatest British film ever made.  The black and white scenes of mountainous mounds of Viennese bombed rubble, the back-lit monstrous shadows, tilted horizons that change the normal perspective to an austere strangeness fitting of the black undertones of the movie; effects that add to the downbeat story of innocence lost in the harsh glare of a crooked reality.   The movie begins and ends with a funeral, letting you know that the only happiness you will find in post-war Vienna comes with death: death of desire, death of devotion, death of decency.

The acting in this movie is superb. Joseph Cotton’s innocence, Trevor Howard’s natural stoic acceptance of a world gone bad, Alida Valli’s stubborn attachment to love, but its Orson Welles that stands out as the films larger than life anti-hero.  An auteur with only acting credits in this movie, but he still insists on bringing along his own style, ad-libbing his lines when it suited him, inserting one of the most memorable lines in the movie:

You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It doesn’t really matter that it was the German’s who invented cuckoo clocks and the Swiss were content with being bankers, sans the Hapsburgs, and providing mercenaries to the other European powers’ wars.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Little Mole

The Little Drummer GirlM Drummer 1984

Theaters:  October 1984

Streaming:

Rated:  R

Runtime:  130-132 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  4.5/10

IMDB:  6.1/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.4/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  George Roy Hill

Written by:  Loring Mandel (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Dave Grusin

Cast:  Diane Keaton, Yorgo Voyagis, Klaus Kinski

Film Locations:  Germany, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, UK

Budget:  $20,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,828,841

Charlie (Keaton), a creator of alternate realities and a so-so actress believes in the Palestinian cause; in their quest for a country and peace.  She is recruited by Israeli intelligence, telling her they also want peace. They want her help in finding a Palestinian terrorist bomber, using her well honed abilities at deception and misdirection.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller.  He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire  without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. In 1983 he broke from his successful template of cold war spy novels and wrote about the ethical ambiguity between Palestinian and Israeli methods of prosecuting and defending against acts of terror in his novel, The Little Drummer Girl. The novel was the 4th highest selling novel in the US in 1983. Loring Mandel is mainly known for his long-time writing involvement for the TV soap opera, Love of Life and his 2001 screenplay for the Nazi final solution movie, Conspiracy depicting the 1942 Wannsee Conference.  His screenplay for The Little Drummer Girl is a faithful and true rendition of le Carre’s novel.

George Roy Hill directed 14 movies, 8 were nominated Oscars and 9 for Golden Globes. Four of the movies won Oscars and 3 won Golden Globes. He was nominated, but didn’t win, the Best Director Academy Award for the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. His high water mark came in 1974 when he won the Best Director Academy Award for the 1973 movie The Sting. His movies slowly declined in quality after that, with his last 2 films, The Little Drummer Girl and Funny Farm receiving little praise from either the public or audiences. His direction of The Little Drummer Girl was not spectacular, workman-like rather, but that wasn’t what destroyed this movie, that distinction belongs to Diane Keaton.

Diane Keaton is absolutely horrendous in this movie.  Some of the polite critics say she was miscast, which is true, but that doesn’t negate the fact that throughout this movie she just recites lines without conviction or is capable of displaying any proper scene awareness.  Diane Keaton made her name in 1970s acting in movies with the incestuous Woody Allen.  The apogee of her career  came in 1977 with her playing Annie Hall in the movie of the same name.  It has been downhill for her ever since.

This is a movie that you never need to watch unless you wish to watch all of John le Carre’s books come to life on the big screen. Just be aware that the story is good but Keaton is painful to watch.

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