Thursday, June 28, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for July 1-7

July 1–July 7


ON THE WATERFRONT (July 3, 10:00 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple – the struggle facing Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions – anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well. 

THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 6:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny and fun story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier together is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.


1776 (July 4, 10:45 pm): A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You’re kidding, right? No, we’re not kidding, and furthermore, it’s quite good. Based on the play, it retains many of those originally performed it. William Daniels is splendid as John Adams, Ken Howard makes for a most effective Thomas Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva is the spitting image of Ben Franklin. Throw in Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to look for include “But Mr. Adams,” “Cool Cool, Considerate Men” (My favorite), and the heart tugging “Mama Look Sharp.” American history was never this much fun.

THE BLOB (July 5, 8:00 pm): Take some silicone, gradually add red food coloring, throw in a bunch of teenagers led by Steve McQueen, budget it for around $170,000, and voila! a box office hit that grossed $4,000,000. But beyond that, it’s a pretty good film. A meteor lands in a remote wooded area. An old man (Olin Howard in his last film) investigates, and the thing that popped out of the meteor attaches itself to his arm. McQueen and girlfriend Aneta Corseaut (later famous as Helen Crump on the Andy Griffith Show) take him to the doctor. When Steve checks later the blob has eaten the old man, the doctor and his nurse. Steve goes to the cops, but they find nothing and decide it’s a prank. Meanwhile the monster is on the loose in town, helping itself to unsuspecting victims. Steve rounds up his high school buddies to spread the word, but everyone is deaf. Until the climax, that is. One critic said it was a metaphor for the Cold War, but that’s pure baloney. Just sit back and enjoy one of the best B-horror movies ever made.

WE DISAGREE ON ... EAST OF EDEN (July 1, 10:00 pm)

ED: A. Made in 1954, released in 1955, when Elia Kazan was at the height of his creative powers, East of Eden is a finely nuanced film, a rough retelling, as it were, of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, embodied in the Trask brothers. Aron (Richard Davalos) is Abel, the good son, favored by his father, while Cal (James Dean) represents Cain, uncomfortable in his own skin and constantly fidgeting. The family patriarch, Adam (in a brilliant performance by Raymond Massey) is a stern, humorless taskmaster. Kazan captures the family dynamic perfectly, highlighting the contrast between the sons and Cal and his father. Nothing escapes Kazan’s eye, as notice the cinematography, with its dreamy shots of the surrounding countryside, and even a romantic shot of a freight train. This is the American Eden circa 1917, but Dean’s performance makes it feel much later. His heartbreaking rendition of Cal, consumed by jealousy, is probably the best performance of his short career. Richard Davalos, perfect as the innocent Aron; Jo Van Fleet’s wonderful portrayal of their mother. It all blends together under Kazan’s skilled guidance into a masterpiece of cinematic drama. Francois Truffaut praised the film and Dean in particular in Cahiers du Cinema, by noting “East of Eden is the first film to give us a Baudelairean hero, fascinated by vice and honor, who can embody both love and hate at the same time.” That Kazan can take the last third of Steinbeck’s novel and transform it into a gripping family drama only gives further testament to his peculiar genius.

DAVID: C. I've never understood the appeal of James Dean during his short cinematic career. His characters are all the same mad at the world for some flimsy reason, or no reason at all. Dean broods and his characters often have trouble functioning because of their internal turmoil angst. Most critics love his performances in the three credited films he did: this 1955 film debut, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Dean always went over the top to the point I had no idea why his characters acted the way they did. Rebel is the perfect example of that. Maybe Dean would have grown as an actor if he hadn't died so young. But I can only judge him based on what he did during his brief film career. In East of Eden, there is some indication as to why Dean's character, Cal, is troubled. His father Adam isn't an affectionate man and he clearly favors Aron, Cal's brother, in an obvious set-up of the Cain and Abel Biblical tale. The name of their mother, who Adam tells his sons is dead, is Kate, the only one without a name connected to the Old Testament story. She isn't dead. She runs a whorehouse in town. Unlike the Bible story, Cal doesn't kill his brother. He is troubled, but a nice guy who is misunderstood. (Aren't we all?) Dad is a vegetable farmer who loses everything when his plans for a long-hauling veggie business goes bust. Cal gets into the bean business and is a huge success because of World War II profits. He wants to give the money to Pops in an attempt to buy his love. But Adam isn't interested because the money came as a result of the war. Cal broods, brings Aron to see the mother he was told was dead, Aron broods, enlists in the military and Adam suffers a heart attack or a broken heart. I'm a fan of many Elia Kazan films (just look at On the Waterfront as one of my Best Bets), but he really misses the mark with this one. The pacing is painfully slow and dull. The cinematography is nice, but doesn't save this movie from being a snoozer. As Bosley Crowther, The New York Times' main film critic of the era, wrote in his review, "The director gets more into this picture with the scenery than with the characters. For the stubborn fact is that the people who move about in this film are not sufficiently well established to give point to the anguish through which they go, and the demonstrations of their torment are perceptibly stylized and grotesque." He also calls Dean's performance "a mass of histrionic gingerbread." That last one is a little harsh to gingerbread.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Hollywood Stories, Vol. 4

By Ed Garea

Some of what you read below is true. Some is pure fantasy. But we include them all in this column, dedicated to a town unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

What’s In a Name?

Ann Dvorak would tell interviewers, “My name is properly pronounced ‘vor’shack.' The D remains silent. I have had quite a time with the name, having been called practically everything from Balzac to Bickelsrock.” Pretty good, considering she was born Anna McKim. By the way, Dvorak was a direct descendant of US Vice President John C. Calhoun (1825-32).

Diana Dors was born Diana Mary Fluck. She joked to interviewers that “I had to change it in case the ‘L’ blew off a marquis in a high wind.”

Coin of the Realm

Veronica Lake always personally opened her fan mail because, quite often, admirers would enclose money to cover the cost of a hoped for reply from their favorite star. Lake would remove the coins, throw them in a jar, and throw the letter away. If she determined the letter had no money she simply threw it away.

Attila the Nun and Her Cuss Jar

Loretta Young, known among her co-workers as “Attila the Nun” for her supposed piety (it didn’t keep her from screwing her co-stars), used to lug around a “cuss jar” with her. If anyone swore in front of her they had to deposit 25 cents in the jar “for the nuns,” she said. One day, while on the set of A Man’s Castle with Spencer Tracy, she heard him say “damn.” She immediately got out her jar and demanded he put a quarter in it. Tracy reached into his pocket, pulled out a $20, and stuffed it in the jar. “Here’s twenty, sister. Go f—- yourself.” 

Loretta's “piety” was often a source of mirth for her co-workers. According to Jeanne Basinger, Joan Crawford once told a guest in her home not to sit in a chair because “Loretta was just sitting there. It probably has the mark of the cross in the seat.”

Humphrey Bogart and Lena Horne

When Lena Horne signed with MGM, her agent arranged for her to live in Hollywood. The only catch was that African-Americans were not permitted to live within town limits back then. The agent rented a house for her and she moved in at night, so as to escape detection. But this didn’t last long, for once her neighbors found out who was in the neighborhood, they took up a petition to have her removed. When they passed it to Horne’s neighbors across the street – Humphrey Bogart and his wife, Mayo Methot – they got more than they bargained for. At a neighborhood meeting Bogart raised hell and told them in plain terms that Horne not only had a right to live anywhere she wished, but also that she wasn’t going anywhere. Years later Horne told the New York Times in an interview that Bogart sent word apologizing for his neighbors’ actions, and that anyone bothered her in the future she was to let him know and he would put a stop to it.

Ann Sheridan’s Tits

Ann Sheridan was known as “The Oomph Girl” (a name she hated) in studio publicity, but in reality as he had little oomph in her chest. Ann was rather small in the breast department. In the early ‘30s that would have been no problem because breasts were downplayed in fashion. (Who knew that Joan Blondell measured at 38-C?) But by the late ‘30s big breasts were in. To rectify matters Warner Bros. had an artificial chest made for their star, one that she could wear under her blouse. She hated it and was frequently misplacing it. Studio workers could hear her yelling “Where’s my tits?” One time they were found in a wastepaper basket in her dressing room. 

The Ping Girl

As Ann Sheridan was known as “The Oomph Girl,” so Carole Landis was dubbed “The Ping Girl” by her studio, Hal Roach. While “Oomph” was in reality undefinable, “Ping” was ‘40s slang for an erection.

The Perks of Being the Studio Boss

Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, was quite proud of his endowment and thought the actresses who worked for him should share the feeling. During private meetings he used to take his erection out and show it to the lucky victim. Few of them were powerful enough to say no. Betty Grable was taken aback and simply said, “That’s beautiful. You can put it away now.” She then beat a hasty retreat. Joan Crawford, on the other hand, simply guffawed and told Zanuck that she had seen “bigger things crawl out of cabbages.”

Harry Cohn, who ran Columbia, was said to have verbally or physically raped every woman whoever worked for him. He had a private passageway that connected his office with a dressing room assigned to a string of Columbia starlets. Each and every new female employee had to report to Cohn’s office. During the first meeting he used a pencil to open the woman’s mouth ands check her teeth. He then used it to lift her skirt, so he could examine her thighs. This would inevitably be followed by the obligatory sex session on his large couch, after which his victim was ushered out the back door while Cohn retreated to his all-marble bathroom for a shower. When he died, his funeral was attended by thousands, which led Red Skelton to remark that if you give the public what they want, they’ll come out to see it.

Friday, June 22, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for June 23-30

June 23-June 30


THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (June 24, 8:00 am): Warner Brothers wasn't known for making excellent comedies in the 1930s and 40s, and Bette Davis didn't become famous for her comedic skills. However, this 1942 screwball comedy is the exception to the rule. Davis is delightful and funny as Maggie Cutler, secretary to Monty Woolley's character. Woolley's Sheridan Whiteside is an arrogant, acerbic lecturer and critic who slips on the front steps of the house of an Ohio family, injuring himself in the process. Since he's going to be laid up for a while, Whiteside thinks nothing of completely takes over the house, leading to some funny and madcap moments. Woolley, who reprised the role he first made famous on Broadway, is the best part of the movie. While Davis didn't become famous for being a comedian, she is great here and showed legitimate promise as a comedic actress.  

VIVA LAS VEGAS (June 26, 9:15 am): For the most part, if you've seen one Elvis film from the 1960s, you've seen them all. While 1964's Viva Las Vegas doesn't stray too far from the Elvis Formula – he has a rugged-type job, somehow gets into a jam, sees a pretty girl, sings some songs, gets into a fight, gets the girl and lives happily ever after – it is significantly better than most of them. That's not much of a compliment, but this is one of Presley's best films. The reason? The on-screen and off-screen chemistry between Elvis, who plays race-car driver Lucky Jackson, and Ann-Margaret, who plays Rusty Martin, his love interest in one of her sexiest roles. While not the best actress to play opposite Elvis, Ann-Margaret is the most entertaining and interacts better with him than any other. Rusty is a swimming instructor and dancer, great excuses for her to wear skimpy clothes. But it's more than a T&A film. There's some great dance numbers that are filmed nicely with the use of several different camera angles, the excellent theme song along with a few other musical numbers, an exciting car race (of course Elvis is a race-car driver, a job he had in several of his films), and Presley's charisma, rarely captured during this era. Is it a masterpiece or even Elvis' best movie? No, but it's very entertaining to watch.


GET CARTER (June 23, 4:00 pm): Michael Caine is pitch perfect as a vicious London gangster in this hard-boiled crime thriller from writer/director Mike Hodges. In Newcastle for his brother's funeral, Jack Carter begins to suspect that his brother's death was not an accident. Seeking the truth he follows a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders through Newcastle's underworld, hopefully leading to the man who ordered his brother killed. Because of his, Carter is totally ruthless and will not hesitate to knock heads together to find out what he wants to know, which in this film happens quite a lot. The film feels a lot like a detective movie, except that the hero is on the other side of the law. It also separates itself from the pack in its depiction of the underworld, as Carter moves through a world of working-class pubs, rundown boardinghouses managed and urban betting parlors, unusual for this type of film, which usually focus on the flash while leaving the underlying characterization on the cutting room floor. Look for playwright John Osborne as the heinous leader of the porno crime syndicate Carter is up against. Get Carter was not only a top-notch action noir, but also a huge influence on the British crime drama.

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (June 29, 1:45 pm): This is a terrific and fast moving noir about a rising reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire) whose testimony at the trial of a cab driver (Elisha Cook, Jr.) accused of killing a café owner results in his conviction and death sentence. He argues with his noisy neighbor, which results in a surreal dream that he has murdered the neighbor. When he awakes, he finds that the neighbor is dead; killed in the same manner as the café owner, and now Mike is arrested as the prime suspect. He tells his fiancée Jane (Margaret Tallichet) that he remembers seeing a man who ran from him on the night he argued with the neighbor, and now Jane searches for that man in order to clear Mike. Will she find him? Is it Peter Lorre? There’s only one way to find out: tune in.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FUNNY GIRL (June 28, 8:00 pm)

ED: A-. The reason for my grade can be given in two words: Barbra Streisand. Though I’m not a fan of Ms. Streisand, one must give credit where it is due, and in this movie she is due all the credit, for without her it hardly moves. To quote Roger Ebert: “But the film itself is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long. The second half drags badly. The supporting characters are generally wooden. And in this movie, believe me, everyone who ain't Barbra Streisand is a supporting character.” Truer words were never spoken. Take Streisand out and the movie is practically unwatchable. If there was anyone born to be a movie star, it is Barbra Streisand. Watching the movie again after almost 20 years, I noticed her natural comic timing. Take notice of her way with a song. She just doesn’t sing it, she acts it out, using her hands and facial expressions to get the song across to the audience. But while her performance is remarkable, it ends up hurting the film, especially in the case of her leading man, Omar Sharif, who in this movie is reduced almost to a mannequin. Looking at him I imagine he may have been thinking how much better it was to be with Julie Christie in Revolutionary Russia. Thinking about it after it ended, I reckoned that director William Wyler, who was nearing the end of his career and who wasn’t really conversant with the musical form, took a close look at the script and decided to let Streisand dominate. Streisand, one of the most egocentric performers in Hollywood, later said that Wyler didn’t direct her, she directed herself. Of course she did; one almost expects her to say that she wasn’t born, but emerged fully grown from the head of her father, Zeus, on Mt. Olympus.

DAVID: D+. There's very little that's funny about this film. The plot is dull and lifeless and this is after they fictionalized the life of Fanny Brice to make this more interesting. They failed. The movie is too much of a bad thing. As Ed mentions in his review, Roger Ebert wrote that the 1968 film "is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long." It clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, and is a chore to watch. The movie is slow paced and only gets worse as it goes on. I generally dislike musicals and this one did nothing to change my mind. While "People" is a good tune, the rest of the songbook is forgettable. William Wyler was a wonderful director, but he did an awful job with this film. Most critics have kind words for Barbra Streisand's performance in this movie, but she's just too much and Wyler fails to reign her in, and the rest of the actors are simply awful. It's far from being the worst movie or musical ever made, but it's a bad film that fails to entertain.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Shoot the Piano Player

Films in Focus

By Jean-Paul Garrieux

Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianiste, Cocinor, 1960) – Director Francois Truffaut. Writers: Marcel Moussy (adaptation), Francois Truffaut (adaptation and dialogue), David Goodis (novel). Stars: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michele Mercier, Serge Davri, Claude Mansard, Richard Kanayan, Albert Remy, Jean-Jacques Aslanian, Daniel Boulanger, Claude Heymann, Alex Joffé, Boby Lapointe & Catherine Lutz. B&W, 92 minutes.

In 1960 Francois Truffaut was on top of the world. His first feature, The 400 Blows, a wonderful coming-of-age story, was a hit with critics and moviegoers alike. Both groups were wondering and speculating about how Truffaut would follow it up. When Shoot the Piano Player was released, audiences mainly stayed away and the critics were divided.

Move ahead to today and the film is seen as a classic. Time always has a strange way of changing the perception of a film. When Hitchcock’s Vertigo was released, both the critics and the public were less than enthused. Today, many now see it as the greatest film ever made.      

Shoot the Piano Player is Truffaut’s tribute to the American B gangster movies of the 1940s and ‘50s he so loved and would spend hours out of his day watching at second-run theaters. However, he wasn’t so much interested in imitating those movies as he was to bending them to his own vision, such as Edgar Ulmer had done with the noir Detour (1945), and Nicholas Ray had done with Johnny Guitar (1954).    

The director also wanted to depart from the plot of The 400 Blows, lest he become typecast. He was working with Godard on a project to star Bernadette Lafont. But he suddenly switched gears and turned to Down There, a 1956 pulp novel by David Goodis, one of his favorite authors, and which had been published in France as Tirez sur le pianiste, or Shoot the Piano Player.      

Truffaut first read Goodis' novel while shooting Les Mistons in 1957 when his wife Madeleine Morgenstern read it and recommended it to him. He immediately loved the book's dialogue and poetic tone and showed it to producer Pierre Braunberger, who bought the rights and gave the director a budget of $150,000.

Awed by how Goodis blended the hard-boiled with the romantic and the fantastic, Truffaut wanted to further blend Goodis with the comic novelist Raymond Queneau, creating a film that was “practically a musical.” It was a daunting project for a young director trying to create a new way of looking at pulp noir.      

Both Truffaut and his cowriter Marcel Moussy are faithful to the novel’s plot and even its offbeat structure (in the film, as in the book, about halfway through the action is interrupted by lengthy flashback). Aside from moving the action to Paris (from Philadelphia) and adding a few minor characters, they kept the story of a washed-up concert pianist who has forsaken the world for a job playing in a dive bar and who, in a weak moment of family loyalty, gets involved with gangsters.       

Charlie Kohler (Aznavour) is a shy, retiring piano player in a cheap Parisian dance bar. He is raising his youngest brother Fido (Kanayan) with the help of prostitute neighbor Clarisse (Mercier), who at one time was Charlie's mistress. His peace is suddenly shattered with the appearance of his brother Chico (Remy), who tells Charlie that he and Charlie’s other brother, Richard (Aslanian), are being pursued by Momo (Mansard) and Ernest (Boulanger), a couple of gangsters they double-crossed in a deal. Although Charlie wants no part of it, when the gangsters enter the bar looking for Chico, Charlie helps him escape. Now they are after Charlie as well. 

He takes refuge at the apartment of Lena (Dubois) a waitress at the bar who has fallen in love with him. She has also discovered his hidden past, that his real name is Edouard Saroyan, a brilliant rising young concert pianist, and in a flashback we see now Charlie’s obsession with his career led his wife, Therese (Berger) to confess that she had gotten him his first shot a fame by sleeping with an impresario. Edouard walked out on her, but returned on a premonition to find that she had committed suicide. Shattered and holding himself to blame, he abandoned his career and changed his name to fit in with his new outlook: to avoid any sort of trouble or entanglement. 

Now he is in love with Lena, who is encouraging him to give concert performing another try. They give their notice at the bar, mainly because Plyne (Davri) the bartender gave Momo and Ernest their addressees, but Charlie is forced to fight with Plyne for Lena and accidentally kills him in the back alley. Meanwhile, Momo and Ernest, having failed in their abduction of Charlie and Lena, kidnap Fido in an attempt to force Charlie’s hand. After attempting to cover up Plyne’s death, Charlie and Lena drive to Charlie’s family home in Savoie, where Chico and Richard are hiding.   

Lena leaves for town, but returns the next morning to tell Charlie that the charges of him killing Plyne have been dropped on the grounds of self-defense with the neighbors helping to back up his story. As Ernest and Momo have not yet arrived, Charlie now believes they have something else in mind and heads back with Lena to town when Momo and Ernest finally arrive with Fido. As they head up the hill and towards the cabin, Fido makes a run for it. In the ensuing gun battle between Charlie's brothers and the gangsters, Lena is killed by a stray bullet. Cleared by police in Plyne's death, Charlie returns to his old job as a piano player at the cafe.      


The critics were divided on the film. While some saw confusion, others saw charm and groundbreaking innovation instead. In France one critic described it as “a sort of manifesto against the dominant, passive cinema,” while another described it as “a thriller told by a child. Everything is lost in a dream.”    

In America, critics were mostly confused by it all. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times dismissed it as “nuttiness,” noting that Truffaut seemingly went haywire, unable to control the material. But Pauline Kael saw the film as a triumph. In her review The New Yorker, she wrote that when she referred to Truffaut's style as anarchic and nihilistic, she was referring to a style, rather than an absence of such. What she found exciting about movies like Shoot the Piano Player was “that they, quite literally, move with the times. They are full of unresolved, inexplicable, disharmonious elements, irony and slapstick and defeat all compounded  not arbitrarily as the reviewers claim  but in terms of the film maker's efforts to find some expression for his own anarchic experience.”

What those who panned the film missed was that, for Truffaut, films were not so much an expression of plot as they were of the human condition that he saw as an uneasy mix of worldweary alienation and flip cynical humor, such as Godard did in Breathless. His remarks in a 1960 interview attest to that vision: “There isn't much story to tell. I have tried to give a portrait of a timid man, divided between society and his art, and to show his relationship with three women. But no treatise, no message, no psychology; it moves between the comic and the sad, and back again.” Later he would say that, “the idea was to make a film without a subject, to express all I wanted to say about glory, success, downfall, failure, women and love by means of a detective story.”

For Truffaut the human condition is chaotic, and this is reflected rather brilliantly in the film by its changes of mood. For example, as the film begins we are thrown into the midst of action as the camera follows a running figure, who we later learn is Charlie’s brother Chico, pursued down a street by unseen assailants. Suddenly a passerby collides with the man on the run. In the midst of apologies on both sides the passerby tells his story  he’s an ordinary man on his way home where his to a wife of 11 years, who he loves very much, is waiting for him and invites Chico to walk with him as he talks about how he met his wife.      

When Chico remarks that he wishes he was married, the man replies that it sounds like he really means it. “It has its good points,” he says. “We almost didn't make it at first. I'd watch her over breakfast, wondering how to get rid of her.” He tells Chico all about marriage and children and then says to Chico that since they probably won't see each other after this, he feels more comfortable being frank and spilling his guts to him. After the stranger arrives in front of his home he wishes Chico goodbye and goes in, never to be seen again in the film. The tale he tells, however, sets an opening mood of melancholy regret that underlies the film.     

Once Chico ducks into bar where Charlie is working we learn who he is and why he came to that particular bar. The mood now shifts to an absurd slapstick as his pursuers follow and Charlie, much like Chaplin in a silent slapstick, helps him escape out the back. When Charlie learns of Lena’s love of him from afar, the mood shifts again to one of romance and shifts back again to comedy when the gunmen pursuing Chico put the squeeze on Charlie and Lena and kidnap Fido. Then the film takes on the mood of a mystery when the truth about Charlie and the circumstances that brought him to his withdrawn state are revealed in a flashback. And finally, in the gun battle, the mood switches to one of noir.

For Truffaut, every drama has moments of comedy or comic irony. Is it any wonder that Truffaut has Edouard take the name of Charlie (as in Chaplin) and that there are four brothers, one of whom is named Chico (the Marx Brothers)? When Charlie and Lena are abducted by Momo and Ernest, looking to learn the whereabouts of the other brothers, Truffaut spices the scene with a little absurd humor, taking our minds off the seriousness of the situation. 

When Momo and Ernest kidnap Charlie, and then Lena, the kidnappers are bickering back and forth on how bad of a driver Ernest is. Ernest looks at Lena and asks if he shocking her, to which Lena responds, “Not at all. I've met bastards before. I'm learning something.” Ernest then says that no matter what women say, “they all want it." Charlie is confused. “Want what?” he asks. Then, when Ernest begins rambling on about women, Charlie says, "If I may, on the subject of women, my father used to say that if you've seen one, you've seen them all,” which causes everyone in the car, including Lena, to burst into hysterical laughter.     
After the kidnappers take Fido back to their place they begin showing him all their cool accessories. When Momo lies about his scarf being Japanese Fido says that there is no reason to lie about that. Momo replies that “If I'm lying, may my mother kneel over this instant.” Truffaut then inserts a humorous clip of her falling down dead.

In the final analysis, Shoot the Piano Player is a totally unique film, one that takes us to the heart of existential anguish while avoiding the trap of becoming unrelentingly downbeat. Truffaut manages to see the underlying ironic humor in circumstances that themselves are decidedly unfunny by simply catching that laughter and applying a tone of melancholy without killing the jest. He is aided by the excellent performances of Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger and Albert Remy in the principal roles, while Raoul Coutard’s beautiful cinematography combines with Georges Delerue’s unforgettable score in creating a perfect overall atmosphere of mystery about characters who, despite their circumstances and failing, never manage to lose their sense of self. This is that makes Shoot the Piano Player a film of fascination that endures to this day, never becoming dated nor losing any of its punch. A rare feat, indeed. 

Monday, June 18, 2018


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Mountain (Madman Entertainment, 2017) - Director: Jennifer Peedom. Writers: Robert Macfarlane, Jennifer Peedom. Narrator: Willem Dafoe. Color, NR, 74 minutes.

Under the eloquent narration of Willem Dafoe, Mountain follows the history of man’s fascination with mountains from ancient times of reverence and fear to modern times of recklessness and flagrant disregard. A quote from the story says it all: Mankind’s view of the forbidding peaks went from “Mystery to Mastery,” but not without the mountains taking their toll of revenge.

A lama worshipping in a Tibetan monastery ties the whole tale together in well-placed flashbacks. The historical footage was well researched and in some cases I wondered who filmed that. The modern day cinematography is stunning and sometimes dizzying and terrifying. There were several stomach-dropping moments. For a documentary, it had many “Wow” moments besides the majestic aerial scenes that changed with the lighting.

And time-lapse photography? Splendid! Evergreens filled with snow and thawed right before your eyes appearing to do a weird dance. The exhaustion of the climbers was heart-rending, as were the occasions when they missed their footholds and fell, only to be caught by their ropes.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra supplied the musical backdrop to the film and, though they played some of my favorite pieces by Vivaldi and the musical insertions were appropriate, Mountain would have been a major feature without the music, only the narration. And this is from a reviewer who doesn’t care for narration. In some instances, the music cheapened the experience and detracted from the natural majesty of craggy peaks marching away from the viewer in all directions.

An excellent documentary, worthy of nomination in the category. I would see it again.

Rating: 4 out of 5 martini glasses.

Baar Baar
13 East 1st Street, New York

Every restaurateur knows that one of the selling points of a restaurant is location, location, location. In New York City we add property taxes, property taxes and more property taxes. Chef Sujan Sarkar seems to have had both of these considerations when he opened Baar Baar (the name means Again And Again in Hindi) 6 months ago. It’s five blocks removed from New York’s “Little India,” sometimes called “Curry Row” on East 6th Street between 2nd and 1st avenues. A large presence fronted completely in glass with an outdoor café area next to the main building draped in short blood-red awnings with the name in white block letters.

Called the “first of its kind Indian Gastro Bar” (at least in New York), the title is borne out by the imposing bar area surmounted by five tiers of shelves stocked with every kind of liquor you can imagine. The food is classified as “Contemporary Indian” (meaning you’re going to see things on the menu you won’t see in any restaurant on 6th Street). Chef Sujan considers New York to be behind the times as far as Indian cuisine goes.

From the food menu I chose my meal with a little help from my waiter, Karla. The wine list had a good selection of affordable wines and I chose the 2015 Lioco Medocino “Sativa” Carignan, from California. A medium-bodied red with nice deep color a fruity nose and rich blackberry flavor and mild spice that would be perfect with all my dishes.

My first course was the Cauliflower 65 with curd-rice mousse, peanut chutney and Podi (a coarse powder mixture of spices) masala was a delightful, crunchy, exciting appetizer and an innovative departure on the traditional pakoras (fritter). The flavor was spicy but not too hot and a bit sweet and the mousse had pureed cauliflower in it as well.

My second course was another first for me in any Indian restaurant, the Veal Sweetbread Koliwada (kolis are fishermen in Mumbai) with lemon aioli and Sirka (pickled) onion. It tasted way better than it looked, with a crisp outside and melt-in-the-mouth inside. Sweetbreads is always a rich tasting dish and this dish had that aspect but with the feathery spice flavors of India.

The Lamb Shank Nihari (a stew of slow-cooked meat) with fresh ginger, rose, cilantro and chili oil filled that need. The large bone rested on the burnt orange Nihari sauce and the tender meat fell off the bone with a touch of a fork. It was heaven: juicy, a little spicy, savory and sweet at the same time.

A meat never seen in Indian restaurants is duck, but I had the Kashmiri Duck and Apricot Kulcha with bitter greens and shredded parmesan cheese. Wow! The puffy bread was stuffed with moist, duck meat and sweet-tart apricots and frosted with shredded parmesan. When I needed a break from the spice, this was where I went.

My side dish was Brussels Sprouts Foogath (a stir fry curry). The sprouts were shredded and mixed with carrots, cabbage, string beans and other vegetables, lightly spiced and served in their own red crock. Lovely!

No serving was too large and finishing everything was easily done. For a rocky start, Baar Baar had proven itself worthy with the food. I found a dessert I’ve never had – the Thandai (usually a cold drink prepared with a mixture of almonds, fennel seeds, magaztari seeds (watermelon kernel) rose petals, pepper, vetiver seeds (a grass native to India), cardamom, saffron, milk and sugar) cassata (a sponge cake moistened with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with cheese). The oblong cake was sandwiched taco-style in a sweet, flakey white shell that shattered at a touch. Multiple flavors came through at tasting; fruit, cheese, mild spice, flowers and milk. A truly unique twist on an Italian concept.

Masala Chai (tea) was served in a beautiful little ceramic teapot fully prepared and needing nothing but pouring into the matching cup and enjoying. As an after-dinner drink I decided to order the cocktail I first saw online and was attracted to, the New Delhi Sour – Medley Bros. 102 Proof Bourbon, rose hip shrub, citrus, egg white and bitters, garnished with a thin orange slice. It was not that sour and a beautiful preparation as well.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for June 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM and Fathom Events announced that West Side Story will come to theaters on June 24 and June 27. This musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, set in the slums of 1950’s New York City, boasts music from Leonard Bernstein and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim. Visit the TCM website for more information and tickets.


June 16: In The Pitfall Dick Powell is an insurance investigator who enjoys a comfortable, suburban home life in post World War II, Los Angeles with his wife Sue (Jane Wyatt) and son Tommy (Jimmy Hunt). But though he seemingly has it made, he feels dissatisfied with his work and social routine, feeling personally stifled and that they should have accomplished more. And in the world of noir, nothing sets up a character for a fall than feelings of dissatisfaction. Working on an embezzlement case places him in close contact with the embezzler’s girlfriend, blonde bombshell Lizabeth Scott and it goes downhill from there. A forgotten classic from director Andre De Toth examining the dark side of the American Dream and certainly worth a view. It airs at 12:15 am and repeats the next morning at 10 am.

June 23: At Midnight, Lee J. Cobb is Ed Cullen, a San Francisco police lieutenant who is secretly romancing married socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt) in director Felix E. Feist’s 1951 noirThe Man Who Cheated Himself. Lois is embroiled in divorce proceedings with second husband Howard (Harlan Warde). Things get out of hand, and when she puts two bullets in Howard, Cullen lends a hand to cover up the murder by dumping Howard's body in the airport's parking lot. But being as this is a noir, nothing goes as planned. Cullen’s car is noticed by a couple who come forth as witnesses, though they provide a vague description of him and his car. When Cullen tosses the murder weapon off a toll bridge, he is spotted by Officer Blair (Bud Wolfe), who engages him in a casual conversation that will later be used against him. And if that wasn’t enough, Cullen is assisted in his investigation by his eager beaver brother, Andy (John Dall), who’s on his first case. It’s Andy who puts two and two together and gets his brother Ed. All told, an entertaining film with a nice twist at the end.

June 30: Determined cop Charles McGraw is hot on the trail of  heist mastermind William Talman in the smartly paced Armored Car Robbery (1950) at Midnight.


June 17: During the ‘60s, the crime film enjoyed a run of popularity in Japan, and one of the best came in 1966 from maverick director Seijun Suzuki, Tokyo Drifter (2:30 am). The plot follows Tetsuya “Phoenix Tetsu” Hondo (Tetsuya Watari), a recently paroled ex-con who wants to go straight after his Yakuza boss Kurata (Ryuji Kita) dissolves his own criminal empire. Rival gang boss Otsuka (Hideaki Esumi) offers him a position with his family, but is turned down. No one refuses an offer from a Yakuza boss and Tetsu now finds himself as a threat. Hounded by gangsters, business associates and police, his former boss advises him to leave town and assume the life of a drifter, to go under the radar. What he doesn’t know is that he has also become a threat to Kurata, who joins forces with Otsuka to send a hit man to silence their former ally. Tetsu returns to Tokyo to confront his former boss and things catch fire from there. Suzuki’s outrevisual style dominates the film, full of twists and turns, moving from the neon nightlife of Tokyo to snow-covered country vistas, and requires the viewer to pay close attention, lest the film seem rather incomprehensible (In fact, I recommend a send viewing to take it all in). Look for the climatic showdown in the nightclub, Club Aries, with its severe black and white color scheme. Jeff Stafford, in his essay on the film for TCM, compares it to “the ultra stylized look of such MGM films from the fifties as Nicholas Ray's Party Girl (1958) or the Mickey Spillane musical homage in Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953).” The visual styling will last with the viewer long after the film has ended, and for those Tarantino fans out there, Tokyo Drifter was a direct influence on his Kill Bill films. I’ve seen this film quite a few times and always find something new on each viewing.

Following Tokyo Drifter at 4:00 am is a film I haven’t seen, but have long wanted to see: Fighting Elegy, also from 1966. Set in 1935, it concerns a Catholic teenager named Kiroku Nanbu (Hideki Takahashi) who is attending a military school in Bizen, Okayama. He boards with a Catholic family and becomes seriously infatuated with their daughter, Michiko (Junko Asano). Her only interest is in reforming his “sinful tendencies,” and his unsatisfied lust  is soon channeled into the only outlet available to him: savage violence. He learns to fight and joins a school gang called the OSMS. Later, when he learns that Michiko has been gang raped by soldiers, his distress leads him to join the movement of radical right-wing political activist Ikki Kita (Hiroshi Midorigawa) and take part in the events of Ni-niroku Jiken, an attempt to overthrow the Imperial Japanese government organized by a group of young disaffected Imperial Japanese Army officers. Fighting Elegy gives viewers unfamiliar with Japanese history a chance to see the country during this period of “government by assassination.” (Ikki Kita and the coup d’etat really did exist.) And in a country where one might assume the only religions were Shintoism and Buddhism, it offers a rare insight into the Catholic population and their outlook. 


June 24: Two films from Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, seen by many critics and fellow filmmakers (including Ingmar Bergman) as the greatest director in the history of film, are on tap beginning at 2:15 am with his 1979 allegorical tale, Stalker. The film concerns an expedition led by a figure (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky) known as the "Stalker." He leads two clients – a melancholic writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) seeking inspiration, and a professor (Nikolai Grinko) seeking scientific discovery – to a mysterious restricted site known simply as the “Zone,” a fiercely protected post-apocalyptic wasteland that contains a mythical place known only as The Room, which supposedly has the ability to fulfill a person's innermost desires. In the Zone, nothing is what it seems. Objects change places, and the landscape constantly rearranges itself. It seems as if an unknown intelligence is actively thwarting any attempt to penetrate its borders. As the trio travel farther and farther into the Zone, they realize they need more than more than just determination to succeed. It may actually take faith on their part. The further they travel the more unsure they become of their deepest desires, In the end they enter the room wondering if they can handle the responsibility that would come with the granting of their own wishes. As with other works by the director, it is slow-moving and talky, not for those who are looking for action. But for those who see science-fiction as a reflective form Stalker is highly rewarding. I must admit that it took me a while to adjust,  but once I did I found it one of the most enjoyable and rewarding films I had seen in quite a while and fully deserving of the praise.

At the late hour of 5:15 am comes Tarkovsky’s 1961 featurette, The Steamroller and the Violin. Sasha (Igor Fomchenko) is a 7-year old boy who lives with his mother (Marina Adzhubei) and his sister in an old house in Moscow. He is learning the violin and to get to his lessons he has to walk past a group of boys who harass him. One day as he is being harassed, Sergey (Vladimir Zamansky), a steamroller operator, intervenes on his behalf. This leads to an unlikely friendship between the two. Sergey tells stories about the war, and Sasha plays the violin for his new friend. However, two obstacles come in the way of their friendship: Sasha's mother, who disapproves of the friendship, and a pretty female coworker who is interested in Sergei. The Steamroller and the Violin is a sweet and moving film about an unlikely friendship.


June 16: At 8 am Tom Keene seeks vengeance on those who killed his father in the 1931 Western, Freighters of Destiny. Tailspin Tommy begins his 12-episode adventure at 9:30 am. At 10 am, when a tribe of lion worshippers kidnaps Jane and alluring half-breed Lola, it's Tarzan, Cheetah, and the gang to the rescue in Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950). At 11:30 am it’s Ted Healy and the Three Stooges in the rarely seen short, Nertsery Rhymes, from MGM in 1933.

June 18: A mixed bag of rock musicals and sci-fi, highlighted by Rock, Rock, Rock (6 am), Muscle Beach Party (9:15 am), Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (11 am; read our essay on it here), The Wasp Woman (12:15 pm), From Hell It Came (3:15 pm) and Untamed Youth (5 pm).

June 21: Consigned to the late night ghetto are Elvis in Jailhouse Rock (3:15 am) and Bill Haley and the Comets in Rock Around the Clock (5 am). 

June 22: Steve Reeves leashes people against the British army of Queen Victoria in the execrable Sandokan the Great, a 1963 Italian production airing at 2:15 pm.

At 2:30 am we once again get to see Tom Hanks’ debut film, He Knows You’re Alone (1980), followed by yet another showing of Alice, Sweet Alice (1977) at 4:15 am. Time to retire these, guys.

June 23: At 8 am Texas Ranger Tom Keene must reluctantly pursue framed rancher Julie Haydon in RKO’s Come On Danger! (1932). After another episode of Tailspin Tommy at 9:30 am, Tarzan is hot in pursuit of gunrunners in Tarzan’s Peril (1951) at 10 pm.

June 26: Three rock musicals in succession beginning with Don’t Knock the Twist (1962) at 6 am, followed by Beach Party (1963, read our essay here) at 7:30 am, and Elvis and Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas (1964) at 9:15 am.

June 29: In a day dedicated to Peter Lorre, watch for M (1931) at 9 am; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) at 11 am; Mad Love (1935) at 12:30 pm, Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) at 1:45 pm; and The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) at 6:30 pm.

The evening’s psychotronic festivities are kicked off  at 8 pm by Hammer’s 1965 remake of She (Where is the 1935 original?), followed in order by Prehistoric Women (1967) at 10 pm, Tarzan and The Amazons (1945) at 11:45 pm, and Zsa Zsa Gabor run the laff riot, Queen of Outer Space (1958) at 1:15 am.

Capping off the evening are two blaxploitation classics:  Max Julien in The Mack (1973) at 2:45 am and Tamara Dobson in Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 4:45 am.

June 30: At 8 am, outlaw leader Tom Keene helps embattled rancher Rochelle Hudson fight cattle rustlers in Beyond the Rockies (1932). The adventures of Tailspin Tommy continue at 9:30, and at 10 am, the jungle king’s cousin (Patric Knowles) tries to get him to help find a diamond treasure in 1952’s Tarzan’s Savage Fury.

At 8 pm, meek, bow-tie wearing mystery writer Peter Lorre is in Istanbul trying to reconstruct the life of recently murdered notorious crime figure Zachary Scott in The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). Sydney Greenstreet lends a hand.

At 1:30 am, Brad Davis is arrested for stupidly trying to smuggle drugs out of Istanbul Airport and thrown into the hell of the Turkish prison system in Midnight Express (1978). It’s hard to feel any sympathy for someone this arrogant and stupid. John Hurt gives an excellent performance as a fellow inmate.