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.

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.

The Last Little Tramp

Modern TimesM Modern 1936

Theaters:  February 1936

Streaming:  August 2010

Rated:  G

Runtime:  87 minutes

Genre:  Comedy – Drama – Family  – Romance

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.5/10

Amazon:  4.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  96/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.9/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Charlie Chaplin

Written by:  Charlie Chaplin

Music by:  Charlie Chaplin

Cast:  Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman

Film Locations:  Santa Clarita and Los Angeles, California, US

Budget:  $1,500,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $1,400,000

Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp, humorously battles modern life in the depression years of the 1930s, and he repeatedly loses. In his never-ending quest for survival he splits his time between failing his employers, getting fired, getting arrested, and spending time in the local jail. Coming off one escapade he discovers and falls in love with the beautiful gamin, Goddard; the dual together accelerate the tempo of absurd slap-stick into overdrive.

Silent films, after the technical hurdles of film, camera, and projector were overcome, became a full-fledged art form beginning in the mid-1890s and lasting until the late 1920s.  The early 20th century saw the art form generate almost all the genres that we know today, along with the experimentation and perfection of close-ups, long shots, and panning.  Contrary  to popular belief the technical quality of these early films was generally very good and the use of color in the 1920s was common. What wasn’t good was their preservation; by some estimates almost 70% of all silent films are forever lost. True silent movies incorporated live music at the theater, giving employment to thousands of musicians and the coming ‘talkies’ laid them all off.  Progress always has a price. The beginning of the end for silent movies occurred when Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer in 1927, squeezing out silent films in a few short years afterward.

This is Chaplin’s last ‘silent’ movie, although audible music, song, and voice are interspersed with pantomime and title cards throughout the movie. By 1936 silent movies were well in the past but Chaplin felt that for his send off of his beloved mime, the Little Tramp, he needed to keep him inaudible.  But with all things Chaplin he broke that promise also when he staged the Tramp’s hilariously memorable nonsense song and dance number towards the end of the movie.  This scene alone, is worth the price of admission.

Charlie Chaplin, born in England in 1889, began his performing  career early in life, somewhere around the age of 10, working the London music halls and stages until he was 19. He came to America in the first decade of the 20th century and through his Little Tramp persona became one of the most recognizable men in the world. His movies on the surface were comedies but almost always contained a statement on the sufferings of the proletariat and fascism. His farce: the 1940 film, The Great Dictator, lampooned the German fascist while playing off the similarities between himself and Hitler; their small stature, silly mustache, and low birth. Loathing fascism, Chaplin, inexplicably was able to sympathize with communism, never realizing that the two were the opposite sides to the same coin.

Charlie Chaplin was married to 4 women and had 11 children.  His 3rd wife was the lovely and captivating, Paulette Goodard, whom he married in 1936. She co-starred with Chaplin in this movie and others including the above mentioned: The Great Dictator.  She is remembered mostly for these two films along with Cecil B. DeMille’s Reap the Wild Wind and So Proudly We Hail!, which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  To see Goodard, in this movie and others, is to fall in love with her.

Place this movie on your “Must See in My Lifetime” list.  A true Chaplin masterpiece.

Black Water

ChinatownM Chinatown 1974

Theaters:  June 1974

Streaming:  November 1999

Rated:  R

Runtime:  130 minutes

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

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.2/10

Amazon:  4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore:  86/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.9/10

Awards: 1 Academy Award and 4 Golden Globes

Directed by:  Roman Polanski

Written by:  Robert Towne

Music by:  Jerry Goldsmith

Cast:  Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

Film Locations:  California, US

Budget:  $6,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $29,200,000

J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Nicholson), a former L.A. cop, spends his days and occasional nights as a private investigator, hired mainly to catch cheating spouses in the act of, well, cheating. An elderly woman hires Jake to find the women her adulterous husband, Hollis Mulwray the chief engineer for L.A. Water and Power, is fooling around with.  Jake photographs Mulwray in the embrace of a young woman and the next day the pictures are on the front page of the newspaper. Mulwray is found dead by drowning in a city reservoir the same day. The wife of Mulwray (Dunaway), who it turns out, is not the women who hired Jake the day before, sues him for publishing the pictures. Jake realizes soon enough that he was set up and Mulwray was murdered. He is determined to find out why.

The movie’s story, set in 1937, is a mixed-up, mashed-up telling of the L.A. water wars in the early 1900s. By the end of the 19th century L.A.’s growth was outstripping its water supply and the city fathers, politicians, started looking for alternate sources that would quench the city’s ever-growing thirst.  They found it 250 miles northeast of L.A. in Owens Valley, a high valley nestled between the Sierras to the west and the beginnings of the Basin and Range region to the east, containing a very nice, thirst quenching river.  The voters in L.A. approved 2 bond measures in 1905 and 1907, totaling $26 million dollars, to build a 233 mile long aqueduct from the Owen River to the L.A.’s Lower San Fernando Reservoir,  which was later renamed the Lower Van Normans Reservoir.  The city along with numerous investors negotiated the water rights from the farmers in the valley, some say swindled, and the aqueduct was built by L.A. Power and Water between 1908 and 1913. The project was supervised by William Mulholland (Hollis Mulwray in the movie), who along with the mayor, Fred Eaton, acquired the water rights to the valley by purchasing the land for a fraction they paid to other land owners outside of Owens Valley.  They told the owners that they only wanted a small part of the rights but by 1928 the city owed 90% of the water. The water diversion to L.A. effectively destroyed farming in Owens Valley and by 1924 Owens Lake, which was fed by the river, dried up to a throat-choking plain of dust. That same year farmers in the valley dynamited some of the diversion gates, allowing the water to return to its natural course, at least for a short while. It was an ineffective revolt and by 1927 the farmers were mostly bankrupt and defeated.

Robert Towne wrote the script for Chinatown, winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, using the L.A. water wars and Raymond Chandler as inspiration.  He originally envisioned the story to be a trilogy, all starring Jack Nicholson.  The second part, The Two Jakes, involving shady oil deals within the city, was directed by and starred Nicholson. The movie did poorly causing everyone to lose interest in the third movie. Roman Polanski had an uncredited part in the Chinatown screenplay, shortening it and changing the ending.

Roman Polanski, celebrated director and rapist, directed Chinatown, winning a Golden Globe for Best Director by creating a beautiful film noir that elevates the genre to heights not seen since the 1941 The Maltese Falcon or the 1958 Touch of Evil.  His homage to the genre even includes 1940 style rolling credits; a charming touch. While his Rosemary’s Baby was horror within your mind, Chinatown was in your face with political cynicism and sexual debauchery.

Jack Nicholson, winner of two Academy awards for Best Actor and nominated for 10 others including Chinatown, provides the glue that takes this picture from good to great. His role of an aggressively suave, former gum-shoe, propelled him to the heights of a true legend in Hollywood. A couple of pointless points: Nicholson was in a serious, sometimes, relationship with John Huston’s daughter, Angelica, during the filming of this movie and he also lived on Mulholland Drive, see above, in Beverly Hills.

This is another movie that should be on your “Must See in My Lifetime” list.  A true masterpiece of writing, directing, music, and acting.

Gold to End Dollars

The Good, The Bad, and The UglyM Good 1967

Theaters:  December 1966

Streaming:  November 1997

Rated:  R

Runtime:  177 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Western

els:  9.0/10

IMDB:  8.9/10

Amazon:  4.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  90/100

Metacritic User Score:  9.1/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Sergio Leone

Written by:  Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli (screenplay), Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone (story and screenplay)

Music by:  Ennio Morricone

Cast:  Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach

Film Locations:  Spain and Italy

Budget:  $1,200,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $25,100,000

In 1862, 3 gunfighters, prowling the New Mexico Territory for easy money; the Good (Eastwood), the Bad (Van Cleef), and the Ugly (Wallach) hear tales of Confederate gold buried in a Civil War cemetery. Pairing up when convenient, going alone when it wasn’t, they set out for the golden grave at Sad Hill Cemetery but only the “Man with No Name” knows which grave. Their travels and adventures to the final resting place of Blue and Grey casualties leave a trail littered with the excesses of betrayal, brutality, deception, extortion, and death.  Honor and friendship are vices that will get you killed, according few serviceable distinctions between the good, bad, and ugly.

The movie ties its tale around the events of the Confederate Army’s Civil War New Mexico Campaign in 1862. Confederate General Henry Sibley convinced the president of the southern slave states, Jefferson Davis, to invade the western states and territories from the east side of the Rockies and continue on to California.  The goal was to capture the gold mines of the Colorado Territory, a major source of revenue for the Union’s war efforts, and the California ports.  The ports would provide additional resupply bases for the Confederates or at a minimum require the Union Navy to divert scarce resources in attempting to blockade them.  Sibley’s initial thrust, beginning in early 1862, came from Texas and continued up into New Mexico towards Santa Fe and Fort Union. The Confederates, initially successful, were eventually forced to retreat back into Texas, because Sibley’s already thin supply lines were destroyed.  Skirmishes continued for another year but the South’s New Mexico campaign lasted less than 6 months and General Sibley was demoted to logistic details, ironically the major drawback of his southwest strategic, invasion planning.

Sergio Leone may not have invented Spaghetti Westerns but he certainly raised the genre to a high and profitable art form. As a director his credits are few, just 11 movies, but his 2 trilogies, Dollars and Once Upon a Time, were critical and financial successes. Leone, additionally, has  screenplay credits for most of the movies he directed along with a second unit director credit for the 11 Oscar award-winning, 1959 film: Ben Hur. His trademark long view shots of uninviting background coupled with intense close-ups of emotion filled eyes gave his westerns a barefaced, grainy look of realism in a land of little opportunity except for those who created their own.

Ennio Morricone made his name and fortune composing the scores for Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Creating an iconic sound of wolves howling, punctuated with Indian drum beats portending events to come.  None of the Dollars movies had a large budget to work with causing Morricone to creatively improvise, using ricocheting bullets, whips, and trumpets to fill in for the missing orchestra.  His film scores eventually earned him an honorary Academy Award in 2007 and the Best Original Score Academy Award for the 2016 movie: The Hateful Eight.

Then there was Clint Eastwood. Initially reluctant to do the final movie in The Man with No Name trilogy, he agreed to it after Leone met his hefty financial demands, $250,000 plus 10% of the profits.  In the mid-1960s these were demands that stars made, not the unknown Eastwood, who previously had just played bit parts in forgettable movies.  Leone must have seen something in him though because A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly made Eastwood an international star.  In these westerns Eastwood plays the part that he would reprise many more times throughout his career. That of a loner, willing to push morality and law to the limits and beyond, but showing compassion and tolerance when needed.

This movie should be on your “Must See in My Lifetime” list. If you have seen it, watch it again. A true masterpiece of writing, directing, cinematography, music and acting.

Teutonic Woe

M Dark 2014The Dark Valley

Theaters:  February 2014

Streaming:  January 2015

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  115 minutes

Genre:  Action – Drama – Mystery – Thriller

els:  5.5/10

IMDB:  7.1/10

Amazon:  3.9/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NR/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Andreas Prochaska

Written by: Martin Ambrosch and Andreas Prochaska, (screenplay); Thomas Willmann(book)

Music by:  Matthias Weber

Cast:  Sam Riley, Tobias Moretti, Paula Beer

Film Locations:  Val Senales, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Budget:  $ NA

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

Near the close of the 19th century Greider (Riley) slowly rides his horse up into a mountain valley in the Alps, a valley of steep slopes and fir trees, shadowed by two grim, coarse looking fellows with rifles strung across their backs. As he enters a small mountain village, he approaches a group of men, the towns overlords, and asks for lodging for the winter.  He is told to go away.  Greider offers gold, lots of it, the rulers have their price and relent, allowing him to stay at the house of an old widow and her soon-to-be married daughter. The town and the stranger have secrets, mean nasty secrets; all which slowly seep out of the frozen, village grounds into the somber, cursed lives of the anti-chosen.

The movie is based on a novel written by the German author Thomas Willmann: Das Finstere Tal.  The movie is a fairly honest representation of the book except Greider in the book is a painter, in the movie he is a photographer.

Andreas Prochaska, director and writer, relatively unknown outside of Austrian-German cinematic circles, has produced a German western which, I believe he did it on purpose and is unashamed of it to boot.  This is genre that I didn’t know existed but once seen comes across exactly as you would expect; a slow, thorough, mechanistic, unemotional progression through a plot until the inevitable brings a conclusion.

This is a dark and grim movie, a movie on Valium.  No one is allowed to smile in this movie. No one is allowed to speak faster than a largo beat of a metronome. No one is happy in this movie and likely they don’t know the meaning of word.  This is, first a drama, secondly a thriller, and finally a movie about perseverance and revenge. What this movie lacks is originality, except the part about it being a German western but that’s closer to original sin than original, and vibrancy.

Unusual Detention

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle M Jumanji 2017

Theaters:  December 2017

Streaming:  March 2018

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  119 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Comedy – Drama – Family – Fantasy

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  7.1/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.4/5

Metacritic Metascore:  58/100

Metacritic User Score:  6.7/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Jake Kasdan

Written by:  Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner; (screenplay), Chris Van Allsburg (book)

Music by:  Henry Jackman

Cast:  Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale

Film Locations:  Hawaii and Georgia, US

Budget:  $90,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $942,935,000

Four high school kids, serving detention for being high school kids, discover an old Nintendo-like video console in a school store-room, complete with a Jumanji game cassette.  They hook it up to a TV set and 4 avatars appear, with the kids naturally choosing the one opposite of their true personality. After the 4th avatar is chosen they are transported into the video game, assuming the bodies of their apotheosis.  Very quickly they discover that they can die in this fantasy land of make-believe. To survive and escape they must complete the task of returning a gigantic green jewel to the eye of a rock jaguar statue.  Thus begins the slap-dash adventure of evading charging rhinos, hippos, and a crazed motorcycle gang.

The movie is based on the 1981 children’s illustrated book by Chris Van Allsburg of the same name: Jumanji.  Preceding this 2017 movie was the well-received 1995 Jumanji movie starring Robin Williams.  Allsburg followed up his book with another, similar, illustrated children’s book: Zathura; which was made into the 2005 movie: Zathura starring Tim Robbins. The screenplay for this movie is entirely predictable, all adventure and mild comedy with no real plot twists or surprises.  The one and only time I was surprised came very early in the movie when a hippo charged the avatars.  After that scene everything played out as expected.

Jake Kasdan, director of the mostly forgettable comedies, Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, along with the tolerable Walk Hard, manages to make this movie blandly humorous and almost interesting. He certainly didn’t take any risks with this family movie with the exception of penis jokes, and he definitely could have given those a rest.

Dwayne Johnson provides the backbone for this movie and turns in a great performance depicting a fearful, nervous 16 year-old. Karen Gillan’s spastic rendition of a come-on was whimsically passable but Sandra Bullock did the spaz part better in the 2000 flick: Miss Congeniality.

This is a fun family movie.  It breaks no new ground but it does entertain for a few hours. It’s rumored that Kasdan, the screenplay team of Rosenberg and Pinkner, and the principal actors are all lined up for a sequel.  It may work but new writers may have given it better odds.

 

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