Tora! Tora! Tora! – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched In a Lonely Place, our first Bogart in about 140 films.

The Choice

Tim was up. He had worked out that this year I’m trying to pick films that we can link to just by female cast members (to start to make up for the fact that we have overwhelmingly linked via men). That said, he’s not under any obligation to join me and the lure of Bogart was strong…

Elsewhere in the cast of In a Lonely Place, Gloria Grahame has a good filmography, including The Bad and the Beautiful starring Kirk Douglas – which seemed like fitting timing. The only other female cast member was Martha Stewart (not that one) who only has a few films to her name, and not particularly notable ones at that…

Nevertheless, Tim set his sights on a war film, and chose… Tora! Tora! Tora!

The Link

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It’s Jeff Donnell again! Perhaps this will turn into a Jeff Donnell season, who knows. She was ditzy in The Sweet Smell of Success (although it transpires a notable scene for her character was cut, so perhaps there would have been more to it…), charmingly perky in In a Lonely Place. Never really a leading lady, I’ve got a feeling that a war film is probably not going to give her a particularly juicy role. We shall see.

Tora! Tora! Tora! and me

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For some reason I tend to assume all Second World War films made before I was born were made in the 50s, so it’s always a surprise to me that that’s not the case. I’d heard of Tora! Tora! Tora! But didn’t know anything beyond “50s war film”. And given it was made in 1970, I was already pretty off the mark. I read enough in advance just to know that it was made in 1970 and was about Pearl Harbor. While I wasn’t particularly hopeful, I was immediately intrigued by a film on that topic being made at the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement…

IMDb says

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970): In 1941, following months of economic embargo, Japan prepares to open its war against the United States with a surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. 7.5 stars.

I says

This was absolutely fascinating, as much for how it was made as for the film itself. Disclosure: I am fortunate enough not to have seen Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor so happily I don’t have that to compare it to.

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“Well this is embarrassing, we appear to have worn the same outfit…”

What’s really interesting is that the Japanese side of events and the American side of events are given fairly equal weight. Not only that, the American scenes were written and directed by Americans, the Japanese scenes by Japanese. Akira Kurosawa did a couple of years of preproduction work on the Japanese scenes, but was fired as director after a couple of weeks. What becomes clear as the film rolls on (and it’s long, but never boring) is how prepared the small Japanese fleet was, and how a few key terrible decisions hampered the American fleet and ability to defend.

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“What are the chances we’d ALL wear the same outfit?”

I suffer pretty badly from mulling over relatively inconsequential mistakes I’ve made. The time I said that stupid thing at a party… The time I ad-libbed some lines in a play and the director wasn’t happy… Sometime I wake up sweating about them, 25 years after the fact. But Imagine going through life as the guy who didn’t pass the submarine sighting up the chain of command? Imagine ignoring the radio operator’s discovery of incoming planes from an unexpected direction? Yikes.

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“I understand you just got changed, but now you’re wearing the same as ME…”

Anyway, that’s all I’m really going to say about the film – it was handsomely shot, told the sequence of events very well and seems to be largely unchallenged on the factual accuracy of those events. Instead, I’m going to write about the character our link, Jeff Donnell played. Because I am really angry about it.

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Jeff Donnell as Cornelia Fort

On the morning of December 7th 1941, Cornelia Fort was taking a pupil up in a small plane. She was a pilot teacher in Hawaii, and had always loved planes. In the film, as in life, Cornelia was one of the first people to know about the Japanese attack. With her pupil at the controls the plane was suddenly surrounded by Japanese planes as they made their approach to Pearl Harbor. She wrestled the controls back, banked sharply away and made a break for the civilian airfield. A Zero fighter followed, and strafed them with machine gun fire as they landed. They managed to get to cover safely, though the airfield manager and two other civilian planes and their crews were not so lucky. Cornelia Fort wrote of the experience “Later, we counted anxiously as our little civilian planes came flying home to roost. Two never came back. They were washed ashore weeks later on the windward side of the island, bullet-riddled. Not a pretty way for the brave yellow Cubs and their pilots to go down to death.

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In September 1942 she became the second woman invited to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), responsible for transporting planes from the factories to the airfields where they were needed. It was war work, the best she could hope for when only men were allowed in combat.

Then in March 1943, at the age of 24 and with 1100 hours of flight experience, she flew as part of a six-plane formation from Long Beach to Dallas. A fellow WAFS pilot later related the events of that flight: “Some of [the male pilots] began teasing her and then they began to pretend that they were fighter pilots. She was easy game for them, for she had never had any evasive training in military maneuvering. By the time they got to Texas, a few of the men has become too bold and were flying too close. A joke had become harassment.

At 3:30 in the afternoon the plane piloted by Frank Stamme, who had 267 hours of flight experience, got too close to Cornelia Fort’s plane and clipped her wing with his landing gear. Part of the wing sheared off, and Cornelia crashed. She was unable to bail out and died at the crash site.

The cause of the crash was officially given as ‘momentary lapse of mental efficiency’, and no blame was assigned. She was the first female pilot to die in service.

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Reading about Cornelia Fort has left me terribly sad and angry, but I think it’s a story worth being aware of. I got the details from this site if you want to read more: http://www.check-six.com/Crash_Sites/CorneliaFort-1943.htm

The Verdict

From a brief moment in a decent, earnest film, I’ve discovered an interesting and sad story that I can’t seem to get out of my head. I guess that’s a win.

Coming Attractions

Maybe it’ll be a third Jeff Donnell film. There were three, maybe four speaking roles for women in the whole two and a half hours. And only one of those people had more than two lines (they had about four…). So I might try and pivot slightly (if I can find something from the limited pool!) and find a film which is not only linked to by a woman, but also has some actual decent roles in it for them too.

In a Lonely Place – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We sniffed The Sweet Smell of Success and felt a bit ill…

The Choice

It was my turn to pick, and as I’m only linking via female actors in 2020 there were four main conduits: Susan Harrison, Jeff Donnell, Barbara Nicholls and Edith Atwater.

I’d enjoyed Edith Atwater’s performance the most, but her filmography is primarily TV (True Grit being a notable exception, but alas I’ve seen it relatively recently). Susan Harrison was only in one other film (Key Witness) which didn’t sound scintillating. Barbara Nicholls played a lot of brassy bombshells and while she was in more films than Edith or Susan, they didn’t by and large look great.

So that left Jeff Donnell, who fortunately had a great filmography to look through. And I didn’t actually look very far, because I swiftly found Humphrey Bogart starrer In a Lonely Place and the choice kind of made itself.

The Link

Jeff Donnell!

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Jeff, right, with Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success

In The Sweet Smell of Success she played the slightly ditzy secretary of Tony Curtis’ PR agent. She took her name from the Jeff and Mutt cartoon, which I hitherto was blissfully unaware of. Having now googled it, I’m not sure I’ve missed out. She became better known later in life thanks to a long stint in General Hospital, but was in steady work through the 40s, 50s and 60s in predominantly B-movies and latterly TV. Before The sweet Smell of Success I hadn’t seen anything she was in.

In a Lonely Place and me

Lonely02

I like Humphrey Bogart. That’s not exactly a controversial statement, is it? My other half is a 30s/40s/50s film obsessive, and she introduced me to the pleasure of Bogart (and many more besides). I haven’t seen that many of his films though – Casablanca of course, Key Largo, The Maltese Falcon and a few more. Having not really been in the mood for a film noir last week, this time around I was girding myself…

IMDb says

In a Lonely Place (1950): A potentially violent screenwriter is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. But she begins to have doubts. 8.0 stars

I says

Last week we were in the mood for something light and got gritty film noir. This time we were ready for gritty film noir and… found ourselves laughing quite heartily. At least for the first half of the film.

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“Maybe the surprise ending is that we live happily ever after?”

Bogie is a famous screenwriter tasked with adapting a romantic epic. The coat-girl at the restaurant where this is discussed happens to have just finished the book in question. Bogie, being not entirely thrilled with the project, invites her back to his to tell him the story. She makes it clear she’s not in it for hanky panky, goes back to his and indeed tells him the story. He boots her out around midnight and, not being a gentleman, tells her to get a cab from just down the street. The following day he’s hauled in by the police after the young woman is found dead: strangled and thrown from a moving car. And Bogie is mysteriously light-hearted about the whole thing.

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“I’m not so sure about that happy ending, Humph…”

What ensues is a sort of romance between Bogie and his neighbour while the cloud of suspicion hangs over him. Dry wit gives way to poorly suppressed anger that seems to bubble out of nowhere, and so the film swerves more into the film noir territory we were expecting.

And it’s good, gang. While the tagline promises a surprise ending, we’re not exactly in Sixth Sense territory. The names are a particular joy, with Humphrey Bogart playing Dixon ‘Dix’ Steele and the main investigating detective (and friend of Dix) going by Brub Nickolai! I couldn’t guess what Brub is short for.

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Brub. Brubathan? Brubothy? Brubolas? Brubbington? Brubbory?

Our linking lady Jeff Donnell has a nice role as Brub’s wife, equally fascinated by and horrified by Bogart. And Gloria Grahame does a fine job as the neighbour who falls for Bogart and then, all too late, starts to see the cracks in his façade.

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“Boo! There’s your surprise finish.”

Louise Brooks wrote in her autobiography that this role was closest to what Humphrey Bogart was like in real life, which is a little scary as Dix Steele (god I love that name) has some serious rage issues and a clear history of domestic abuse. Hopefully she means the first half where he has a sparkling dry wit and open creative soul.

The Verdict

Definitely the best film we’ve tackled for a few weeks. If you’re in the market for a bit of wit and a bit of noir mystery then this is your boy.

Coming Attractions

It’s Tim’s choice. Will he twig and link via one of the women? Or will we be heading for Humphrey Bogart heaven?

The Sweet Smell of Success – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched Susan Sarandon wash herself with a lemon, and felt skeevy about it.

The Choice

This year I’m trying to only link via female actors, though I’ve yet to tell Tim that. It nearly all came unstuck this week, as he was very close to choosing My Dinner With Andre, which stars only two male actors and two male waiters. Fortunately (TBD!) he changed his mind and went with The Sweet Smell of Success instead.

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My Dinner With Andre looks good though, and there would be a nice synergy watching a film about two friends having dinner and chatting while me and Tim have dinner and chat. Also, I’m aware that Wallace Shawn (who would’ve been the link) is a serious writer, but we only really know him from The Princess Bride, Toy Story and other brilliant comedic turns. I’d like to see another side of him at some point.

The Link

Burt Lancaster.

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Burt (right) with Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City, USA 

It’s Tim’s choice, so he’s not bound by picking a female actor (when he twigs what I’m doing perhaps he’ll join in, who knows?).

I only know Burt Lancaster from that famous From Here To Eternity image and Atlantic City USA. So it’s not been a great introduction. Having looked him up he seems to have been a relatively good egg, politically speaking – he was on Nixon’s hate list alongside Paul Newman, so must’ve been doing something right.

The Sweet Smell of Success and me

It’s a Burt Lancaster/Tony Curtis double act. And I really don’t know what to expect from this pairing. I’m reckoning it’ll be light-ish, or fast-talking at least. The screenplay is by Clifford Odets, a notable playwright (though I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of his plays), so I’m also hoping for some peppy dialogue. I don’t think we’ll be in Tennessee Williams territory, but we can dream.

IMDb says

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957): Powerful but unethical Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker coerces unscrupulous press agent Sidney Falco into breaking up his sister’s romance with a jazz musician. 8.1 stars.

I says

Well the clue that it wouldn’t be particularly light is right there on the IMDb page: ‘Drama, film-noir’. It took us surprisingly long to twig though, and I blame the Coen Brothers. First up, Burt Lancaster plays a character called J J Hunsecker, and it really sounds like they’re pronouncing it ‘Hudsucker’. Secondly, he’s a fast-talking gossip columnist who has a slightly mannered way of speaking, employing lots of jazz slang – similar, one might think, to characters in The Hudsucker Proxy. Yeah yeah, sure sure.

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The lighting may have been a clue that this wasn’t going to be a romp

And it really is not light. Both Lancaster and Curtis play absolute dickheads, the former a powerful gossip columnist who can make or break lives, the latter a press agent who’ll do whatever it takes to get a story in Hunsecker’s column. Will he pimp out a girlfriend? Sure. No big deal.

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“You like bald older men, right?”

What’s missing is a bit of a foil. The jazz musician who’s at the heart of things, the one Hunsecker wants his sister to stop seeing, is the closest thing the film has to a moral character, attempting to balance out some of the darkness (though being a film noir he is of course not successful). Robert Vaughn was originally cast, and would’ve been great – we’ve seen him deployed to excellent effect in The Philadelphia Boys previously in CRFC. Sadly he was drafted and the replacement is something of a non-entity.

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A maverick hot jazz musician being scintillating

I also remain unconvinced by Burt Lancaster. While he was an effective threatening presence here, I just didn’t particularly buy him as a gossip columnist.

This was absolutely a film marred by not being in quite the right mood for how dark it was – I was recovering from illness and Tim had had a stressful day. A little light Tony Curtis romping would’ve been just the ticket. Instead it was a descent into the inky depths of celebrity gossip and PR, and we all know how horrendous that is.

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Excellent eyebrow action from Edith Atwater

There was some good dialogue though, so props to Odets for that:

Sally: But Sidney, you make a living. Where do you want to get?

Sidney Falco: Way up high, Sam, where it’s always balmy. Where no one snaps his fingers and says, “Hey, Shrimp, rack the balls!” Or, “Hey, mouse, mouse, go out and buy me a pack of butts.” I don’t want tips from the kitty. I’m in the big game with the big players. My experience I can give you in a nutshell, and I didn’t dream it in a dream, either – dog eat dog. In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.

The Verdict

Like Atlantic City USA last week, I was left feeling a bit icky after this. The difference is that it was definitely more intentional here.

Coming Attractions

There were four decent female roles here (decent in terms of more than a couple of lines, at least) – my favourite was the relatively brief appearance of Edith Atwater as Hunsecker’s secretary, who made me realise that my type is ‘arch’. So perhaps we’ll be seeing more of her…

Atlantic City, USA – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched The January Man, because it was January, man…

The Choice

With a plum cast to pick from (Kline, Rickman, Aiello, Sarandon, Steiger, Mastrantonio and Keitel!), I had plenty of options. The most immediately appealing choice was In The Heat of the Night via Rod Steiger. It’s almost been picked a few times before, and would set us up nicely for some more Sidney Poitier, last seen in the enjoyable Paris Blues alongside Paul Newman.

But…

I realised recently that almost all of our seasons have been centred around male actors. In fact we have linked via male actors about 118 times, and female actors 19 times. Now the link isn’t always an integral part of the film – often we’ve linked via actors who’ve had very small roles. But it’s pretty Not Great. So I’ve decided that this year I’m only going to link via female actors, assuming there’s a speaking female role for me to link from in whatever Tim chooses (I haven’t told him yet – I’m going to see how long it takes him to twig).

Bearing that in mind I had a quick scan through Susan Sarandon and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s filmographies and found a likely candidate: Atlantic City, USA.

The Link

JANUARY MAN, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Kline, 1989.

Susan Sarandon with Kevin Kline in The January Man. Poor saps.

Funnily enough Susan Sarandon is the only woman we have to date held a season around. For a long time I assumed that she and Chris Sarandon (Humperdink, Humperdink, Humperdink!) were brother and sister. Eventually I discovered that he was her husband until 1979, and she’s kept the name – whether that was because she was already professionally established under that name or for some other reason I don’t know. Names are odd things, particularly in the performing arts world. In the UK at least, the union for performers and the most notable casting directory each insist that your name must be unique on their list. But they have different lists. And what if you haven’t joined them, but become established? And by the time you do want to join them it transpires there’s a children’s entertainer in Scunthorpe who goes by that same name. When are you too established to change it, and when are you so established that you can change it and have it stick?

Anyway, Susan Sarandon is plucky as heck, and I wonder what it means to her to drag around the name of her ex husband?

Atlantic City, USA and me

This was a new one to me. Burt Lancaster stars alongside Susan Sarandon, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in anything, so I was looking forward to that. There’s something about the name Atlantic City that’s just weird though. It seems made up. Obviously all place names are made up to some degree (I live in Penge, so am fully aware of silly place names) but it’s like a fictional place name. I think the first time I became aware of it was a mention in The Simpsons, and I assumed it wasn’t a real place. Like Capital City.

IMDb says

atlanticcity_poster (1)

Atlantic City, USA (1980): In a corrupt city, a small-time gangster and the estranged wife of a pot dealer find themselves thrown together in an escapade of love, money, drugs and danger. 7.3 stars.

I says

Some serious spoilers here, as I think a rundown of part of the plot is necessary.

Susan Sarandon’s ne’erdowell ex husband and her sister are an item. They grab a load of drugs from a pickup spot and leg it to Atlantic City to sell them. They turn up on Susan Sarandon’s doorstep and she lets them stay.

Sarandon herself is a trainee blackjack dealer. Every night she washes herself with a lemon, right in the kitchen window with the curtains open. And her neighbour, an elderly Burt Lancaster, who had mob connections back in the Al Capone days, watches and presumably tugs himself silly.

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This is how one washes oneself with a lemon

The owners of the drugs turn up and the ex husband winds up dead (it’s in the trailer, don’t worry), meanwhile Burt Lancaster had been enlisted to help sell the drugs and carries on. Eventually he and Sarandon have to leg it out of town. He confesses to watching her wash herself with a lemon and tugging himself silly. Which she finds incredibly appealing apparently, as she immediately shags him.

Atlantic02

“She washes with a lemon! Nekkid!”

Oh, and Robert Goulet turns up to sing a song at one point (who I also only know from The Simpsons – weird synergy there).

Here’s an exchange that leads into the septuagenarian getting lucky with the (maybe) 30-something:

Lou: Why do you use lemons?

Sally: The fish smell. I’m embarrassed.

Lou: Oh. I thought maybe it was for some other reasons I didn’t understand. I even went to a supermarket to look at lemons.

Sally: It’s just to get the smell off. It’s nothing weird.

Hot, right? Sizzling stuff.

atlantic-city

“I’ve heard you wash with a lemon. Nekkid…”

It’s a strange film, and not a great introduction to Lancaster for me. He’s oddly stilted – perhaps that’s intentional. There’s some fairly heavy handed metaphor going on, with the film ending as a notable block is demolished. The old Atlantic City is being bulldozed to make way for the new. There’s no place any more for Lancaster’s kind of guy.

There’s an elderly lady in the same apartment block as Lancaster and Sarandon, and a strange friendship strikes up between her and Sarandon’s hippy, drop-out sister. That subplot was more interesting than watching Lancaster getting his fantasies fulfilled.

The Verdict

I couldn’t really get beyond the creepiness of Lancaster ogling Susan Sarandon and him being rewarded for it. Still, when life gives you lemons…

Coming Attractions

It’s Tim’s choice next. He doesn’t know yet that I’m intending to only pick films I can link to by using female actors. He’s also quite tempted to pick My Dinner With Andre, which stars only men, so that could scupper the whole thing entirely. We’ll find out soon enough!

The January Man – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We (finally!) finished Paul Newman season with the pool-hall sequel The Color of Money.

The Choice

The plan was to segue from Paul Newman season into Tom Cruise season. But no plan survives contact with the enemy Tim, and as it was his turn to choose he decided to throw a curveball. He found a hitherto unknown (to us) film with a cracking cast: The January Man.

The Link

Technically we could link from The Color of Money to The January Man with either Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio or Bill Cobb, as they’re both in both. But Tim specified that Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was the link.

Mary, Tom and Paul too

Looking through her filmography, I’ve only seen the most famous films she’s been in – The Abyss, Scarface and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – none of which I have much intention to rewatch. And the Color of Money too of course, where she held her own with Tom Cruise and Paul Newman.

The January Man and me

I hadn’t heard of this before Tim chose it, but let’s have a look at that cast… Kevin Kline (last seen here in Silverado), Alan Rickman (his next role after Die Hard!), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Harvey Keitel, Rod Steiger, Susan Sarandon, Danny Aiello… It’s a plucky bunch. I saw the poster when checking it out before watching it, and with Kevin Kline’s involvement was expecting a deft comedic touch…

IMDb says

The January Man (1989): Two years after being forced out of NYPD, quirky Nick is rehired by the mayor to catch a serial killer after the 11th murder of a woman. 5.6 stars.

I says

There’s a thing going round on Twitter at the moment about whether you should continue a relationship if your significant other isn’t engaged with your work (it’s a novelist, I think). Well the year after this dropped, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio married the director, Pat O’Connor. So presumably she found something to recommend in it… But quite what that was I can’t begin to guess.

It’s the tone that’s off here. The poster (see above) and trailer (which I watched after the film) definitely try to paint this as an offbeat comedy. And indeed, there are some elements here that resemble that – Alan Rickman is a louche painter who Kevin Kline’s detective ropes into becoming his sidekick. Wacky! There’s an extended sort of action sequence at the climax where Kline and the killer slide/fall all the way down the staircase of an apartment building while fighting, with residents watching on bemused. Double wacky! But no one else got the memo.

Is wackiness ensuing?

Harvey Keitel and Rod Steiger are playing it super straight as the Police Commissioner and Mayor desperate for a resolution. Keitel in particular appears to be in a different film, with half of his scenes either pure exposition or alluding to things that may not have quite made the final cut. Kline may have a wacky fight scene, but otherwise he’s psychologically tortured detective by the numbers, needing the love (and mothering) of a good (much younger) woman to get him through.

Kline and Keitel play brothers, and the crime that originally got Kline kicked off the force was actually a grift that the Commissioner and Mayor had cooked up… But the subplot doesn’t really get going at any point. Sarandon is the commissioner’s wife but has always had stronger feelings for Kline… But the subplot doesn’t really get going at any point.

The murderer has a hankering for killing on prime-numbered days. And also a zodiac fixation. And also a music fetish. Why? Who cares. Just to sprinkle a couple of clues that are solvable by a psychologically tortured detective and his painter (and computer whizz?) buddy.

I’d love to see Kline and Keitel as brothers in something else, as I think they could make an interesting pair. But not in this.

And Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio?

Her best friend is killed, she gets topless and has to mother Kline’s character, is compared to a cigar for reasons I didn’t quite understand, and is used as bait to catch a killer. The director must’ve been really nice.

The Verdict

Searching the film to find Colin Mochrie after seeing his name in the credits was more fun than the film itself.

Coming Attractions

It’s my choice next. I have more headspace than last year, so hopefully we can go back to swapping the link every week or perhaps brief seasons. There’s certainly no shortage of films to choose from with a cast like this.

@BornToPootle

New Year, Newman (again) – The Chain Reaction Film Club

I started 2019 with a post about Paul Newman, and here we are again 12 months later. I’m a little behind with Chain Reaction Film Club blogs – the last one was in October, but we haven’t actually managed to watch many films since then. Over the last couple of months of 2019 we watched three more Paul Newman films which I’ll cover in this one post. But What that does mean is that over the course of the year we only watched Paul Newman and Robert Redford films, which is quite something.

So what are the three Newman films?

Sometimes a Great Notion 01

First up is Never Give an Inch (AKA Sometimes a Great Notion…) from 1971. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have to have a quick read of the IMDB page to remember what it was all about, but essentially Henry Fonda is a crotchetty patriarch of a family of loggers holding out against a union strike. Michael Sarrazin is his somewhat estranged son who returns to the family business. Paul Newman is the son who has remained by the father’s side the whole time. As a whole it’s not particularly memorable, but two things stand out. Firstly, it felt slightly odd to see Paul Newman in a film where the union is presented as nothing but the bad guy. And it’s not just that he starred in it, he’s the director too. Secondly, there’s an incredibly harrowing scene of a worker being pinned under a fallen tree in a river, then the tide starts to rise…

Sometimes a Great Notion 02

Waterworld 1971

Other than that there’s not a whole lot to recommend (or remember, it turns out). The soundtrack, comprised mainly of chainsaws, was grating, and the characters were on the annoying side…

Tim chose the next film, and went with Harry & Son from 1984.

Harry and Son 01

Paul Newman is Harry Keach, a recently(ish) widowed crane driver on a demolitions crew. Robbie Benson is his son, a stay-at-home wannabe writer that Harry is desperate to see gainfully employed. It’s a quiet, relatively gentle film (a bit of 80s misogyny aside) and again was directed by Newman.

Harry and Son 02

Acting, directing, racing, salad dressing, charity, politics… Is there anything he couldn’t do?

Robbie Benson was somewhat unfairly nominated for a Razzie for his performance. It’s definitely not a stone cold classic, but mystifyingly Harry & Son has 5.8 stars on IMDb whereas Never Give an Inch has 7. If you had to watch one of them, it’s Harry & Son all the way.

A little while ago we decided to end Paul Newman season with The Color of Money, and so, mindful that it would be our last film of 2019 too, that’s what I chose next. We tackled The Hustler a while back and this is the sequel, catching up with Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson 25 years on from the first film. This time he’s the experienced hustler, and Tom Cruise is the hotshot rookie with everything ahead of him and a canny Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio fighting his corner.

The Color Of Money - 1986

Left: Me when we started CRFC. Right: Me now.

It’s a solid film, with decent performances from the main trio underpinning the whole thing. It led to Paul Newman’s only Best Actor Oscar victory which seems ridiculously overdue by 1987.

On the subject of Newman’s filmography, we’ve now watched 29 of his films as part of CRFC. He’s pretty good, you know. If I had to pick some favourites, it’s still the likes of The Sting, Butch Cassidy and The Hudsucker Proxy that would top the list, all of which I knew and loved before we started CRFC. But the ones I think about most often that have been new to me include Hud, with its stellar performance by Patricia Neal, The Prize for goofy charm, Sweet Bird of Youth despite the impotence of its ending, and Paris Blues for it’s wonderful jazz battle royale between Newman and Louis Armstrong. Sure there have been a few duds along the way but it’s a hugely impressive filmography. And that’s not even looking at his charitable or political work. He really was a titan and I’m pleased we’ve been able to watch so many of his films together to place them in context.

Color of Money

Are there more Paul Newman films? Sure. We’re only a little over half way through his whole filmography so we may well return to tidy a few more up. But for now that’s the end of Paul Newman season.

What next? Well part of the reason we ended on The Color of Money was so we could segue into Tom Cruise season. But I’ve just changed jobs and have a little more head space for jumping around so perhaps we’ll revert to a different linking actor every week…

I wrote a film and you can watch it now

A little while ago I wrote about Just Fucking Doing It and mentioned a short film that I’d written and was making with some friends. Well since then things have been very much happening and I have been very much not blogging about them, largely because I’m an idiot. Anyway, there’s a new development and that means the film is now freely available.

The reason it’s taken so long to make the film public is because I’ve been submitting it to film festivals, and they all insist that films aren’t publicly viewable. I’ve finished with submissions now, so can finally make it public. It’s been a fun, and genuinely rewarding, experience.

Over the course of the last year I submitted The Accident to eight or nine festivals, and it was accepted as part of the Official Selection at three. The World Premiere of The Accident happened in April at the Crystal Palace International Film Festival. The following month saw The Accident selected for The Unrestricted View Film Festival in London. We were nominated for Best Comedy and, in a turn which completely gobsmacked me, we won. Finally, earlier this month The Accident broke America by appearing as part of the Official Selection at the Portland Comedy Film Festival in Oregon.

In the time since making the film, Kellie Higgins, the director/star, has moved to Australia, had a baby and continued making hilarious things. I’ve bought a house, changed jobs and changed back again, and published my first games (here). We absolutely could not have done it without Tom Golding handling the sound and edit, Joseph Brett who rocked up on the day as DoP and was absolutely unfazed by making a one-take film, and Guy Cubitt resurrecting his acting chops and lending us his house to film in.

Kellie and I met in 2007 while both jobbing actors. We were employed as scarers in a notable tourist attraction, paid to cover ourselves in fake blood and do silly, spooky things. It seems appropriate that over a decade later we’d finally work together on our own project and cover ourselves in fake blood all over again.

Here’s The Accident, and here’s to Just Fucking Doing It: https://vimeo.com/327708486

@BornToPootle

Where The Money Is – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

I tried to keep my general disdain for boxing at bay for Somebody Up There Likes Me.

The Choice

With the ball back in Tim’s court, would we finally leave Paul Newman season behind? Steve McQueen appeared briefly in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and I have seen very few McQueen films. Not even The Great Escape, believe it or not. Sal Mineo was great last week too. He died tragically young in what was thought to be a botched robbery, and I’d be very keen to tackle a season of his work. Plus there’s the long mooted Color of Money which we’ve been planning to end Newman season on for weeks.

Bearing all that in mind, Tim picked… Where The Money Is, a thriller from 2000 starring Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino.

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Where The Money Is and me

Neeeeeever heard of it. The only things I knew going in were that it starred Paul n’ Linda, an has an eminently forgettable title.

Linda Fiorentino. That’s not a name you hear much these days. A quick google tells me that her last role was in 2009 in a direct to video movie. In fact, since Where The Money Is she is only credited in two things, both DTV. I recall hearing the scuttlebutt that she was ‘difficult’ to work with, but since the Weinstein (and others) revelations it’s become apparent that ‘difficult’ is frequently code for something else. I don’t know if that’s the case here or not, or possibly like Ken Wahl (who we saw in Fort Apache, The Bronx) she simply decided that the business wasn’t good for her. Or something else entirely.

Whatever it is, this film marks Linda Fiorentino’s last theatrically released film to date and so is interesting purely from that point of view. It also happens to be Paul Newman’s penultimate appearance on cinema screens. Last week we saw his second appearance, now we’re seeing his second to last.

IMDb says

Where The Money Is (2000): Old bank robber Henry, paralyzed from a stroke, is moved from a prison hospital to a retirement home, where Carol is a nurse. She doesn’t believe he’s paralyzed and sees him as a way out of her boring life. 6.2 stars.

I says

The main duo in this, Paul Newman’s Henry and Linda Fiorentino’s Carol, are joined by Dermot Mulroney – the first time he’s made an appearance in CRFC. It made me wonder if there are people who consider themselves fans of Dermot. I’m sure there must be, everyone’s taste is different and special etc etc etc, but I just find it very hard to imagine. To clarify, I don’t mean that he was bad in this, or is bad in general. This isn’t another Jonathan Rhys Meyers situation. He’s just… terribly uninteresting.

Even shirtless Newman can’t stand to look at Mulroney

The reason I’m starting with that is because this entire film is almost a Dermot Mulroney. It oozes bland late-90s aesthetic out of every frame. The plot is slightly undercooked, and despite threatening the occasional interesting avenue of digression manages to stay blinkered on its path. Henry is indeed faking his paralysis (shock!) to try and collect the money his late partner left for him. Nurse Carol is intrigued and looking for excitement. Her boyfriend Wayne (Henry, Carol and Wayne? Even the names are bland!) is a bit of a jerk. Or is he just not in love with her any more? Either way, when he discovers Carol and Henry are planning a heist he mystifyingly goes along with it because the film has steamrollered him entirely with its blandness.

Where’d she come from, where’d she go? Where’d she come from, Fiorentino?

But it’s not quite a Dermot Mulroney of a film. And the reason for that is because Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino are both really good. They don’t elevate this to anything special; it’s not a classic Paul Newman performance for the ages. But they’re both so entirely watchable that the whole thing is enjoyably mediocre rather than crushingly so.

At least they’re having fun…

The film was a box office failure, which isn’t a great surprise. I mentioned that it feels very late 90s, and I think even in 2000 it would have felt a little dated – it doesn’t have (for better or worse) the zip and zing that heist films developed post-Tarantino.

Lacking zip, if not a gun

It doesn’t ever get particularly tense or exciting. It just plods along doing its bland thing, leaving Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino’s magnetism to do all the work.

The Verdict

After we finished the film, Tim and I had to have a bit of a google to work out the difference between Dermot Mulroney, Dylan McDermot and Dougray Scott. I imagine in a month or so I’ll have to google this film to work out the difference between it and various other late 90s/early noughties thrillers.

Coming Attractions

So far this year we have only watched films starring Paul Newman or Robert Redford. Allowing for few fallow weeks we’ll probably tackle seven more films before 2020… So it seems a mite churlish to break away from Newman before then.

@BornToPootle

Somebody Up There Likes Me – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

There was rumbling in Fort Apache, The Bronx.

The Choice

It was back to my choice, and so finally I chose The Color of Money so we could end Paul Newman season and move on to Tom Cruise. Right?

Right…?

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooope.

It occurred to me that we really couldn’t finish a hefty Neman season and not tackle his big break. His first film was The Silver Chalice, which apparently was so bad that he took out adverts apologising for it (and now I reaaaaaaaaaaallllllly wanna see it). But the film that catapulted him to widespread acclaim was boxing biopic Somebody Up There Likes Me. Would somebody round at Tim’s flat like it? We’ll find out.

Somebody 01

Somebody Up There Likes Me and me

I knew a little about this going in. The lead role was originally meant for James Dean, but his untimely death paved the way for Paul Newman. I’m sure Newman’s break would have come soon enough anyway, but it’s a curious twist of fate that his star rose in such a tragic way.

And as mentioned above, it’s a boxing biopic. I don’t like boxing. I don’t like it at all. I haven’t seen Raging Bull (though I did see Jake Lamotta playing the bartender in The Hustler…). I have only seen the first Rocky film. I haven’t seen The Fighter, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby, When We Were Kings or any of the other notable boxing films. But here we are with an almost-guaranteed Newman-half-naked movie and an important one in his filmography, so I felt it was unavoidable.

IMDb says

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956): Boxer Rocky Graziano’s biopic, based on his autobiography, from childhood to his World Middleweight Championship title win at age 28 in 1947. 7.5 stars.

I says

Welp, it’s definitely a boxing movie! Fortunately most of the onscreen pugilism is saved for the climactic bout, and instead we spend most of the film following Newman’s bad boy who just can’t seem to turn a corner as he tumbles from the streets to juvie to prison to the army back to prison.

 

After a few minutes spent getting used to the thick Bronx accent, Newman’s pretty strong in the lead, gamely helped by some great make up as his chiselled face gets slowly puffier when his boxing career takes off.

Somebody 04

Stay Puft Marshmallow (New)Man

 

There’s not a lot in here that’s going to surprise anyone – Newman’s Rocky Graziano doesn’t play by the rules, and falls into boxing purely to earn a quick buck (while on the lam, to bribe an army officer he lamped – he’s not the smartest cat). There’s an abusive father, a doting, distraught mother, a collection of hoodlums (including an excellent Sal Minoa looking for all the world like a young David Krumholtz).

Somebody 05David_Krumholtz_2012.jpg

 

There’s a girl, and wouldn’t you know it, she doesn’t like boxing. And then, much later than I expected actually, there’s the pressure to take a dive and all the fallout you might expect and might have seen in any number of sporting biopics.

Somebody 02

There’s a girl…

Without Newman in the centre of it, this would be fairly dull stuff, but his energy is always up and he dominates the screen. His face, still beautiful when the black eyes and puffiness starts, was absolutely made for film. It’s strange to see his break coming in a role that’s not quite aligned to many of his classic performances – he’s all instinct and muscle here, not like the lightning-witted Hud, Butch, Gondorff and Mussburger. But Paul Newman could do it all, really. He was the likeable bad boy, the stand up guy, the man who relies on his wits in the moment, and the man who has a hundred long-term plots running in his mind at once. It would be fascinating seeing the intended James Dean version of this, but I can’t see how he could have held the film together more assuredly than Paul Newman does.

Somebody 03

There’s still a girl…

The Verdict

This is the second best boxing film I’ve ever seen! And while that also means it’s by default the worst, that’s not to say it’s bad. There’s nothing that’ll surprise you, but a great central performance an plenty of game support from the rest of the cast makes this more than just a celebration of people hitting each other in the face.

Coming Attractions

I mean… maybe it’ll be more Paul Newman? Who can say? Funnily enough, Steve McQueen has a very brief supporting role in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and appeared opposite Newman again in The Towering Inferno. So we could go off on a McQueen tangent and then wind up back with Newman. Just spitballing, y’know…

@BornToPootle

Fort Apache, The Bronx – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched The Hudsucker Proxy, and it’s still a doozy.

The Choice

Tim and I have an unofficial agreement to end Paul Newman Season on The Color of Money and swap to Tom Cruise for a while. It was Tim’s choice so the decision very much rested with him. We’ve tackled a fair old chunk of Paul Newman’s filmography now, and while there are some well-regarded films left still, I thought perhaps this might be the moment to jump ship before we get stuck in more mediocre territory.

Not so! Tim fancied more Newman, and chose Fort Apache, The Bronx.

Fort Apache 01

Fort Apache, The Bronx and me

I hadn’t heard of this film before scouring Paul Newman’s filmography for CRFC. In fact, having scoured his filmography a few times over the last 6 months or so, it was only recently that I really looked beyond the first two words. I’d been assuming this was a Western. I’m not a massive Western fan (that’s more Tim’s forte), and so the thought of a Western (from 1981, no less) was really not tickling my fancy. But lo and behold, after reading more than the first two words of the title I finally twigged. Turns out it’s a thoroughly depressing-sounding cop film, not a western.

Oh great joy, oh endless delight.

IMDb says

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981): In New York, South Bronx’s main police precinct is nicknamed Fort Apache by its employees who feel like troopers surrounded by hostiles in a wild west isolated outpost. 6.7 stars.

I says

I tried to make myself a little better-informed before writing this; I wanted to watch the documentary Rubble Kings, but unfortunately it seems to have vanished from Netflix. So I will add a caveat now that I really know nothing of The Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s other than The Warriors drew heavily (and stylistically) on some of the gang culture.

Fort Apache 02

Rubble in The Bronx

The reason I wanted to be better-informed is because the film starts with a disclaimer, one that was added as an attempt to mollify the sentiment of residents of The Bronx towards the depiction of African American and Hispanic characters in the film. Spoiler: they ain’t the good guys. Here’s that disclaimer in full:

The picture you are about to see is a portrayal of the lives of two policemen working out of a precinct in the South Bronx, New York. Because the story involves police work it does not deal with the law abiding members of the community, nor does it dramatize the efforts of the individuals and groups who are struggling to turn the Bronx around.

Indeed, a character almost says this verbatim during the film too, but that doesn’t affect the overwhelmingly negative portrait of the area’s Black, Puerto Rican and Latino communities. That’s not to say the police are all saints – to paraphrase a bigot, there are very bad people on both sides. It’s just there aren’t really glimmers of much else from the Bronx residents. So we are where we are… This was felt to be offensive at the time (there were protests at the film’s release – unsurprisingly the prologue was not enough to counterbalance things), and that’s only aged poorly.

Hasselblad/Flextight X5/Transparent

What about everything else?

I’d been expecting an overwhelmingly depressing experience but, while not exactly uplifting, the film does nip along at a decent pace and there are a few flashes of lightness. I could have spent more time with the grizzled desk sergeant Pantuzzi as he out-quips the precinct’s new chief. Newman is excellent (although seems about 10 years too old according to the script) as the more experienced of our two main cops and Ken Wahl is a likeable foil.

Fort Apache 03

Wahl and Newman: Acres of chin

Across the board there are strong performances – Pam Grier is fearsome as the drugged up serial killer that kicks the film off by assassinating two rookie cops, and Rachel Ticotin has a particularly harrowing standout moment that I won’t spoil.

Fort Apache 04

It’s less harrowing in colour

For all that though, it falls between two stalls. Parts of the plot (Pam Grier’s role most notably) kind of seem bolted on from a different film. While the dramatic tension of the cops having a bunker mentality as a cop killer stalks the streets is a fairly playbook move and perhaps explains some of the poor decision-making on the part of the cops, it could be fairly well excised without harming the meat of the film (a burgeoning romance between Newman and Ticotin, dirty cops and conscience-wrestling, policing a community on the edge of riot).

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Fear Grier

On the other hand, there’s the whiff of the generic about things. In fact it was a court case that had the most damning indictment of the film’s shortcomings. The writer of the 1976 book Fort Apache sued the film studio for ripping off his novel. He argued that “both the book and the film begin with the murder of a black and a white policeman with a handgun at close range; both depict cockfights, drunks, stripped cars, prostitutes and rats; both feature as central characters third- or fourth-generation Irish policemen who live in Queens and frequently drink; both show disgruntled, demoralized police officers and unsuccessful foot chases of fleeing criminals”. But the court ruled that these are stereotypical ideas and so found in the studio’s favour.

Oh, and Paul Newman gets his torso out again.

The Verdict

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, though the racial stereotyping issues that were noted in 1981 sure don’t look any better now. I’m still keen to see Rubble Kings and find out more about what was going on in The Bronx generally at the time though, so count that as a win.

Coming Attractions

We’ve had a few fallow weeks recently, and so with the excellent Hudsucker Proxy and now this being better than expected, I’m starting to feel the Newman love again. We’ll definitely jump ship soon, but maybe not quite yet…

@BornToPootle