The Chase – 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 Jeremiah Johnson and I STILL have Chandler singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” stuck in my head.

The Choice

The Chase 01

It was my choice this time around. We mutually decided that we’re sticking with Redford for the long haul, so that helped narrow down the options. We’d already discussed wanting to watch Brubaker, Sneakers, and a few others that at least one of us had seen many many years ago. But I wanted something new. By which I mean something old. Redford’s break came in 1967 with Barefoot in the Park, so I selected a film from just before then, when he was just some jobbing actor still. I went with The Chase.

The Chase and me

I’d never heard of The Chase before the Chain Reaction Film Club. And all I knew when we sat down to watch was the IMDB blurb (below) and that alongside Redford it also starred Marlon Brando as a sheriff, and Jane Fonda. Seemed plucky, but why had I never heard of it…?

IMDb says

The Chase (1966): The escape of Bubber Reeves from prison affects the inhabitants of a small Southern town. 7.3 stars.

I says

Expectation gap can be a terrible and a wonderful thing. While I’m sick of films being wilfully mis-sold by their trailers (more on that at the end), it’s also perfectly possible to sometimes just get the wrong end of the stick. That’s what happened with The Chase, and took about half the film for me to catch up.

From the title and the IMDb blurb I thought I knew roughly what I was in for. A convict on the run; a small town sheriff the only man who can catch him; a bit of tension, a bit of action, everything coated in a layer of dust.

The Chase 02

Sheriff Brando… No, YOU tell him his hat is silly

In actual fact The Chase is a sub-Tennessee Williams Southern melodrama, and probably all the better for it (having since looked up the writer, Horton Foote, I feel a bit bad about calling him sub-Tennessee Williams given he’s won the Pulitzer prize. But I do think it gives a sense of the tone).

Yes, Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) has escaped from prison. And yes, Marlon Brando is Sheriff Calder, the law man on the spot. But for starters it’s set contemporaneously (I think). And Redford is barely in it. Instead we spend an evening in Bubber’s home town which, purely accidentally, is where he’s headed. The town bigwig, an oil man, is hosting a birthday party to which the great and the good are invited, as is Sheriff Calder, who was installed in office by the bigwig himself. But the sheriff isn’t happy that the bigwig has bought his wife an ostentatious dress for the occasion. The sheriff isn’t to be bought so easily…

The Chase 03

Bubber Reeves on the run (and looking surprisingly like Mel Gibson)

PLUS the bigwig’s son Jake (James Fox) is in a marriage of convenience and both parties know they’re merely playing, but bigwig doesn’t understand… and Jake also happens to have always been in love with, and is carrying on an affair with his friend Bubber Reeves’ wife (Jane Fonda).

PLUS the bigwig’s earnest employee (Robert Duvall, would you believe) is also hosting a party, put out that the bigwig never invites him. But his wife is fairly openly having an affair, and happened to tell Bubber Reeves a couple of years ago that Duvall set him up for the first crime he was convicted of.

PLUS another employee of bigwig, the one Duvall’s wife is having an affair with, is married to a drunk and is a racist, just waiting for an excuse to teach a black man a lesson (with his two burly friends in tow, of course).

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Duvall is the life and soul of the party

PLUS there’s an elderly town snoop who… seems to be everywhere at once and know all the secrets.

PLUS Bubber Reeves’ mother thinks Sheriff Calder just wants to kill Bubber, but is arranging to sell her house to the town snoop in order to fund a lawyer. And she really blames herself for whatever has gone so wrong in Bubber’s life.

PLUS Bubber is implicated in a murder during the escape but Calder doesn’t bring in outside forces to catch him, in order to ensure he’ll live.

PLUS… I’m pretty sure there’s more that I’ve forgotten.

But what I mean is there’s a LOT going on here. Simmering sexual frustration, racism reaching boiling point, a town full of secrets that everyone knows really, a powder keg just waiting for notorious wild boy Reeves to come back and light the fuse.

And there’s the slight hole at the centre of all of this. Ten years earlier, Brando could have played Reeves (actually the part would’ve been too small for him I reckon, but it’s a Brando kind of part nonetheless). But Redford… isn’t that guy. It’s funny to think of a time before Redford was a star, before his screen persona, with its limits and its inversions, was etched in the mind. But he’s not a wild man. He’s not a kid that’s always been on the wrong side of the tracks. When his wife finally catches up to him near the end of the film he says something about looking terrible. But he has that chiselled jaw, not a hair out of place and might as well just have taken a bath. He looks like young Robert Redford goddamnit, not a wild con on the run with a troubled history.

The Chase 04

So wild. Such danger.

It’s not enough to spoil the film, but I think it’s part of the reason I’d not heard of it. Cast someone properly dangerous in that role and it could elevate the whole shebang.

Oh, and there’s some INCREDIBLE dancing.

If you’re interested, the two recentish films that win joint Most Mis-sold awards from me are It Comes at Night and Inherent Vice. It Comes at Night trailers made it look like a traditional jump scare horror. In fact it was hellishly tense and horrific, but not a standard popcorn-in-the-air horror. It was one of my favourite films of that year, but I think some audiences were disappointed because they were expecting something else. And Inherent Vice had one of the funniest trailers I’d ever seen. It was great – I still quote it in fact (“molto pancaku!”). But the film is a sluggish, stoned bore.

The Verdict

Perhaps not an overlooked classic, but there’s much to recommend if you can chase it down.

Coming Attractions

We’re sticking with Redford. Expect Brubaker, Sneakers, Electric Horseman and The Sting at the very least before we move on…

@BornToPootle

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Jeremiah Johnson – 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 1972’s The Candidate, and it failed to get my vote.

The Choice

It was Tim’s choice this week, and he was pretty clear about his intention to stick with Redford. His shortlist was narrowed down to 1966 film The Chase starring Redford as a convict captured by Marlon Brando’s sheriff, Downhill Racer from 1969 which is about skiing, and Jeremiah Johnson, a Western from 1972.

We’ve recently watched a couple of 1972 Westerns – Pocket Money and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Neither were particularly good. So bearing in mind the law of averages, Tim went ahead and picked Jeremiah Johnson. And that’s why I’ve had Chandler Bing singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” stuck in my head for a week.

Jeremiah 01

The Link

It’s Redford again. See the last few posts for more on him. Here’s a couple of related facts though… Apparently he owned 600 acres of land in Utah where much of this was filmed. And at one time or another he has declared it to be his favourite of his own films.

Jeremiah Johnson and me

This is another I hadn’t heard of before scouring his filmography for this very blog. The poster made me think it was going to be a very slow affair with lots of handsome cinematography.

Jeremiah 03

Spoiler: I was right about the handsome cinematography

IMDb says

Jeremiah Johnson (1972): A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier. 7.6 stars.

I says

Let’s just take a moment to break that IMDb blurb (which I read before watching the film) down.

‘A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit’ – this is set up in the first couple of minutes.

‘becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier.’ – this is the last twenty minutes of the film. Thanks IMDb.

Jeremiah 02

Impressive crags

So as Redford’s Johnson (snigger) bumbled through his first weeks in the mountains, then became adept, then saved a young boy who became a surrogate son, then was gifted a wife by a tribe of native Americans who he at first struggled to communicate with then finally they fell for each other, all I was doing was waiting for him to become ‘the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians etc etc etc’.

I mean it wasn’t necessarily unpredictable, but they could have give me a chance. Hey ho.

So spoilers aside, what did I think? The Westerns of the 70s that we’ve watched (the two from 1972 mentioned above plus The Ballad of Cable Hogue) all have a very broad sense of humour. Jeremiah Johnson doesn’t feature the sped-up-Benny-Hill style bits of Cable Hogue or Roy Bean, but there are a some quasi-slapstick moments. That’s juxtaposed next to some really bleak stuff about a woman driven mad by her family’s slaughter and other such sobering stuff. The trouble is, when the vendetta begins and solo assassins come for him, it’s faintly comical. One hides in a snow covered bush and bursts forth, only to be clobbered by Redford’s Johnson (double snigger). Perhaps that’s the aim and I just don’t get the 70s style/sense of humour. But my impression going in was that it would be slow and handsome; to its credit it was indeed the latter, but not the former.

Moving on, it’s always tricky to know whether to judge some aspects of films by the standards of today or not, so I’m just going to ponder a casting decision quickly as I don’t think it’s something to ignore. Not all the Native Americans are played by Native Americans. This isn’t particularly surprising I suppose. I’ve started working for a union and have been thinking more about this (being white, male and cis casting opportunities is not something I’ve had to contend with much in my own life).

The union I work for deals with the entertainment industry in the UK, and our casting policy is that, where there are groups that are in need of equality (such as minority ethnic, disabled, LGBT+) and a particular characteristic of that minority is integral to a role, people who have that characteristic should be seen. So a recent example (not within our jurisdiction) is the casting of Bryan Cranston as a wheelchair user. There was a fair bit of press and some terribly dull thinkpieces were published. The union’s position is not to comment on the ultimate casting decision (the creative process has many pressures, after all), but to comment on the casting process. Were disabled actors seen for the role? If not, if there wasn’t any opportunity for disabled actors to get the role (when they are almost never considered for non-specifically disabled roles) then there’s a problem.

Jeremiah 04

Jeremiah Jonson and his… Native American… spouse

So bearing all of that in mind, I read that for the role of Johnson’s wife, a Native American girl who has something approaching a character arc, 200 Native American women were seen (yay). And yet they cast someone of completely different heritage. And the actress went on to do precisely one more bit of acting, in an episode of Two and a Half Men some 30 something years later. I’m sure none of the Native American actresses were right for the part…

Oh, also worth mentioning is that the film is based on a couple of books, one of them a biography of Liver-Eating Johnson, the Crow Killer. So, uh, there’s that.

The Verdict

I’ve now seen Robert Redford’s Johnson; I’ve seen better.

Coming Attractions

I’m up next. I’m giving serious thought to finishing our Redford season by picking The Sting and getting back to Newman. But I’ve not seen Sneakers in a long time, Brubaker is tempting and so is All Is Lost.

We shall see…

@BornToPootle

The Candidate – 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 Old Man and the Gun, a tale of musing and mumbling. Thanks Casey. Read about it here.

The Choice

It was my choice and I decided to stick with Redford. Part of the reason Tim and I do this film club is to try films that we may, at an earlier time in our lives or with infinite choice, have turned our noses up at. Muriel’s Wedding was a revelation when we tackled that last year. Looking through Redford’s filmography there are quite a few examples of that kind of film. Things like Electric Horseman and Out of Africa. We were too busy watching Bruce Campbell and Chow Yun Fat films to worry about that sort of thing thankyouverymuch. Looming large over Redford’s filmography though is The Horse Whisperer. And so this was the week where I almost picked The Horse Whisperer… until I saw that it’s almost 3 hours long.

So instead it was back to slightly more expected territory with 1972’s The Candidate.

candidate 04

The Link

It’s Redford, pay attention! I’ve written about him for the last couple of weeks so shall spare you more.

The Candidate and me

I don’t specifically remember hearing about this film before, but the poster looks familiar. All I knew going in is that Redford’s a politician of some kind facing an election battle. There’s a time when I would have lumped that in with the Horse Whisperers and Muriel’s Weddings of the world as something that I’m not that interested in, however there are a couple of notable things that have changed that view. First is, of course, The West Wing. I find it impossible to think of American politics without thinking of Josh, Sam, Toby, CJ, Bartlett et al. They were too good for this world.

West wing.gif

Heavyweight political commentary

Second up is that American politics (and UK too, I’m not just being down on the yanks) is an absolute dumpster fire at the moment. I’m listening to an excellent podcast from some former Obama staffers (effectively the real life versions of Toby, Sam and Josh) that’s giving me a better understanding of how it all works, and with Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race starting to announce it seemed like a good time for a film about election campaigns. The podcast is Pod Save America, by the way.

IMDB says

The Candidate (1972): Bill McKay is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. He has no hope of winning, so he is willing to tweak the establishment. 7.1 stars.

I says

There’s no doubting the veracity of the campaign trail in The Candidate. It was written and directed by people who had worked on election campaigns. A notable scene where Redford is berated by his campaign manager in a grimy public toilet is apparently something that really happened to one of the filmmakers. So far so good.

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The sideburns of an idealist

Redford’s McKay is presented as an idealist. A political outsider (though the slightly estranged son of a political insider). His campaign manager, played by Peter Boyle, sees something in him and convinces McKay to run for the Senate. Both acknowledge that the incumbent will win, but perhaps they can make some kind of an impact…

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Toby Ziegler in The Candidate

Over the course of the film McKay’s idealism is slowly replaced by the campaign team’s more glib, soundbite-friendly talking points. And at the end of it all, surprise surprise, McKay ends up winning. So the trajectory is from idealistic no-hoper to identikit politician ground down by the system.

candidate 01

Photo op, you say?

There aren’t really many surprises along the way, and I’m reminded of something I wrote the other week about Redford’s best performances (for me at any rate) being when he is part of a duo. Here he is the centre of it all, and while he’s certainly got the presence to pull it off, his character arc seems a little flat. The early idealism never really rang that true, and so the anchor of the transformation wasn’t in place.

candidate 03

McKay at the centre of it all. See what I did there?

With the announcements of (some) of the Democratic presidential candidates Pod Save America had an interesting discussion about how to answer pundits when asked why your view on a topic have changed. More often than not the reason for the change is likely to be political expediency rather than a long night of soul searching, but generally that’s unlikely to play well with people. I’d just listened to that discussion a day or so before watching this film (I think in this episode), and so rather than see Redford cave to his aides and state that abortion is ‘something that needs to be looked into in greater detail’ (instead of his original more positive response) I’d recommend listening to the pod.

The Verdict

If comments earlier in my life may have made it seem like I was not in favour of The Candidate then I’d like to apologise. I was not as well informed then as I am now, and having examined all the facts can comprehensively state that The Candidate is fine.

Coming Attractions

The allure of more Redford beckons. Will we have time to tackle some of the longer films? Or will we play it safe? Or will we say screw it, link to Captain America: Winter Soldier and then do a whole MCU rewatch…?

@BornToPootle

The Old Man and the Gun – 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 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and frankly I was tempted to watch it again this week.

The Choice

A forking path lay in front of us. On the one hand, deep in a Paul Newman season, it was very tempting to carry on Newmanning. On the other hand: Redford.

Of course Katharine Ross has a great filmography to pick from too, and Sam Elliott is no slouch… but with Redford there’s an easy way to have a second bite of Paul Newman’s cherry (phrasing!) by picking The Sting.

And so, having narrowed down the link, Tim plumped for something still in cinemas – a first for CRFC (not counting older films being reshown, like the Paul Verhoeven trilogy we tackled). It’s The Old Man and the Gun.

TOMATG_1Sheet_27x40_MECH_8R1.indd

The Link

It feels like we’ve had a Robert Redford season before on CRFC but we haven’t, honest. No, instead during our William Goldman season Robert Redford turned up a lot. We’ve watched Three Days of the Condor, A Bridge Too Far, The Hot Rock, The Great Waldo Pepper and The Company You Keep. And of course Butch Cassidy now. He gets around.

redford

I mean, he’s no Newman but he does OK…

Sneakers was probably the first film I ever saw him in, which is long overdue a rewatch. I’ve never been particularly smitten with him as an actor if I’m honest – I’ve always thought he was fine, but only great in rare bursts – All The President’s Men, The Sting and Butch Cassidy perhaps being the standouts, and in each of those he’s closely teamed with another excellent actor.

The Old Man and the Gun and me

I go to the cinema quite a lot and, had it not been for the busy festive season, would probably already have seen this. But despite the presence of Tom Waits in the supporting cast it got squeezed out in favour of other revelry.

I’d seen trailers. I was intrigued. And knowing that Redford viewed it as his final film added a little more interest too. Was I right to (almost) miss it? We’ll find out…

IMDB says

The Old Man and the Gun (2018): Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. 6.9 stars.

I says

I hadn’t realised Casey Affleck was in it, playing the cop in pursuit of Redford’s Forrest Tucker. I don’t really like Casey Affleck as an actor. First up are the allegations about his behaviour. Second up is an interview with him that I read while I was still an actor. In it he claimed he didn’t enjoy acting at all (and I think that shows in his performances). For a jobbing actor struggling to get anywhere in the business that’s pretty much a ‘Fuck You’. Thirdly he mumbles everything. I longed for subtitles while watching this.

old man and gun 04

“Whut?” “mrrmmrr.” “Whut?” “mrrmmmrrrr.” *click*

Right, that’s out of the way.

Robert Redford, Danny Glover and Tom Waits are the elderly gang (oh god, Tom Waits is old now, what the hell?) who commit polite bank robberies. Sissy Spacek is the lady Redford meets and starts dating, kind of telling her the truth though she may not believe him. And Casey Affleck is the mumbling cop who mumbles.

old man and gun 05

“Tom, pull over a sec.” “Nah Danny, Tom Waits for no man.” (sorry)

There are lots of references to actors’ earlier films – the opening text is lifted from Butch Cassidy, Affleck’s cop uses a gesture from The Sting, Sissy Spacek’s face is drenched in red light as it once was in blood… I suppose there’s a poignancy in a film about a man who just can’t give up his thrill being the final performance of a man giving up his.

old man and gun 02

Talking of lifting from other movies… Isn’t this Peter Falk in The Princess Bride?

Forrest Tucker escaped from prison 17 times. We’re treated to a brief montage of these escapes about three quarters of the way through the film, and it’s one of the few moments the film fizzes with a bit of excitement. But the director didn’t want to make a cops n’ robbers film. He isn’t interested in excitement, I think. He’s interested in musing. Redford muses. Spacek muses. Affleck does a lot of musing. Witnesses muse. So let us muse for a moment on Chekhov’s gun.

Chekhov’s gun is the theory that if a gun (or other similarly charged object) is introduced on stage in the first act, it must be used in the third. The title of this film is The Old Man and the Gun. Sure, it’s a play on The Old Man and the Sea (totes didn’t just find that out by looking at IMDb trivia), and I suppose the meaning is that he is inexorably drawn to committing bank robberies. But ‘gun’ is a loaded (ahem) word. He barely uses it in the robberies. Some witnesses never even see it. And so as the film is pootling onwards I found myself when this totemic object, this object capable of a sudden startling drama might be deployed.

But it wasn’t. Because the film was more interested in musing on the title of The Old Man and the Sea.

old man and gun 03

Well they’re amused by the musing, at least

The Verdict

A better film for Redford to go out on than A Walk in the Woods at least.

Coming Attractions

Well. Do we carry on with Redford? Do we go straight for The Sting and get back to Newman? Who can say?

Me. Next week.

@BornToPootle

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 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…

It’s been Newman season, so we tackled four Paul Newman films and The Prize took the prize.

The Choice

How much Newman is too much Newman? That’s the question. The great thing about devoting mini-seasons to a single actor is that you can get a nice cross section of their work, and it can throw up some glorious surprises – take a look at me waxing lyrical about Gregory Peck, for example. What a treat! On the other hand, there’s the risk that, for an already beloved actor, we might restrict ourselves to justifiably lesser-known films and so end up with a slightly tarnished view of them. Weighing up the pros and cons of continuing Newman season in that context, and bearing in mind that the last Newman film we tackled was a bit of a dud, I decided we needed a guaranteed hit. Something to really start 2019 with a bang. And that film is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Link

Paul Newman, duh! I wrote a little about him last week, so will save you this time around. But while I’ve been finding images and gifs and the like, it’s become apparent quite how many of his films involve lingering shots of him topless.

newman chest 1

That reminded me of the fairly shoe-horned section of The Prize that saw his character try and hide in a nudist meeting, only for villains to steal his clothes. Any excuse…

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and me

Man, there’s the film I want! Stick me in there with Paul Newman and Robert Redford please!

There have only been a handful of films we’ve tackled in the CRFC that have already been favourites. Fifth Element springs to mind. Starship Troopers too. But Butch Cassidy is slightly more totemic. It’s a film Tim and I have bonded over together in the past. I bought him a poster of it perhaps a decade ago, and it’s sitting framed in his living room. In terms of pedigree, it’s written by the late William Goldman, who also collaborated with director George Roy Hill on The Great Waldo Pepper which has been a standout of CRFC… But, and whisper this, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion Tim likes Butch Cassidy more than I do. I always remember the damn bicycle bit really breaking the flow of the film and dragging on. Is that just my memory playing tricks?

Add to that a poor run of western biopics in CRFC, particularly those taking a lighter tone, and I had a bit of a worry that it might not live up to expectations. Did it? Let’s find out…

IMDB says

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution – escape to Bolivia. 8.1 stars.

I says

I can’t ride a bike. Tried when I was a kid, fell into some rose bushes, scratched my leg up quite badly, and gave up. Gave it a half-hearted go about five years ago – nada. When I was still acting I had a fear that I’d land an amazing film role, turn up to the first day of filming and Speilberg would turn to me and say “Now Jon, this scene is gonna have you riding this bike down the street…” So perhaps my antipathy towards the bicycle scene, in which Paul Newman’s Butch does a load of tricks while riding a bike for presumably the first time, is simply jealousy.

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What a colossal show-off

It’s good, gang. It’s really good. Phew.

butch 04

That Newman and Redford made only two films together is, and this isn’t a controversial opinion, criminal. They are a properly sensational double act. The scene in which our heroes(?) are on the run and have to decide between making a stand or leaping off a cliff is a two minute slice of heaven. Honestly, it really is. Katharine Ross is wonderful as well (as she always is, let’s be honest) stoking something that thankfully never quite becomes a love triangle. The first scene between her and Redford is a wonderful bit of misdirection.

butch 01

Spoilers ahead…

Are they heroes? Well, no. But they’re not just thugs, at least. Butch’s confession that he’s never shot anyone about two thirds of the way through is lovely. Though he swiftly gets over that particular hurdle. They are problem solvers. Obstacles are hurled into their path – ornery gang members, bolshy security guards, those guys – and at every turn Butch and Sundance find solutions. They overcome their obstacles until the obstacle is so large that it can’t be bested. Until it’s a whole damn army lying in wait for them. And then, even then, we don’t see them fail. We don’t know. The film freezes and fades to sepia as gunfire sounds, Butch and Sundance running out into the open… And maybe just maybe they survive?

butch 02

They’ll be FINE

Maybe?

WHY CAN’T YOU LET ME HAVE THIS?

And yes, I still agree with myself that the bicycle scene is a tad overlong. It just keeps going and going and that bloody Burt Bacharach song plays over the top for some reason… BUT… it happens much earlier in the film than I remembered, so it doesn’t break the flow at all.

Butch Cassidy came out in 1969, a year of three big end-of-the-West films. The Wild Bunch I covered recently. True Grit is the third spoke of the triumverate. Funnily enough Strother Martin is in all three (he’s the mine foreman in Bolivia here), but that’s by the by.

butch strother

Oh brother, it’s yet another Strother

When it came to Oscars time though, it was a fourth cowboy film that took Best Picture and Best Director – Midnight Cowboy. I suppose that’s also about the end of the myth of the West as well, in a more allegorical way. I like Midnight Cowboy. I’ve not seen it for a few years, but I remember really liking it. But it’s too sad to rewatch, I think. Butch Cassidy I would rewatch in a heartbeat.

A final notable thing – Sam Elliot, he of the fine ‘tache and beautiful voice, appears at the beginning of this as Sundance’s card playing adversary. He’s pretty unrecognisable.

butch elliott

Where’s Sam Elliott?

butch elliott2

There he is!

He would go on to marry Katharine Ross 15 years later, and married they still very much are. So Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid does have a happy ending really.

The Verdict

Even the devil’s transportation device can’t dent my enjoyment of this. It’s a proper ol’ masterpiece.

Coming Attractions

Well. Do we carry on with Newman? Do we swap to Redford? After all, we can always get back to Newman with The Sting… It’s quite the pickle, but fortunately it’s Tim’s choice next so I’ll let him fret.

@BornToPootle

New Year? Newman – 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 three Strother Martin films in a row and regretted (some of) our life choices.

The Choice

It’s a quartet of films this week: The Prize, Harper, Torn Curtain and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. It’s another season dedicated to one actor (hmmm, who could it be?). I know, following the underwhelming and downright maddening previous season why do another? Two reasons:

Firstly, and most boringly, Tim and I are both are lot busier at work these days, so the merry hours of scrolling through filmographies are slightly harder to come by. Narrowing the focus for a bit makes life easier.

Secondly, it’s a really plucky actor…

The Link

paul newman

Hubba hubba

It’s only Paul bloody Newman! One of the most handsome men to ever walk the planet, and with a tasty line of salad dressings and sauces to boot. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a stone cold doozy, as is The Sting. His snarling turn in The Hudsucker Proxy is a joy (as is everything about that film). I’ve seen him eat dozens of eggs and lounge around like… someone looking at a cat on a hot tin roof, I guess. He’s also in loads of stuff I’ve never heard of, so will this tarnish his brilliance or make his lustre ever brighter? Here goes…

The Prize, Harper, Torn Curtain, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean and me

The Prize and Torn Curtain were my choices, so I’ll start with them. I’d never heard of The Prize before – it was a complete unknown with a mediocre IMDb score. But it co-starred Edward G Robinson and sounded fun, and that’s been sorely lacking. Torn Curtain is a Hitchcock film, and I’m really never quite sure how I feel about Hitchcock. There are usually some very captivating moments, but the sum of the parts never quite comes together, for me. Though Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window are both immense.

Tim picked Harper and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. One’s a private dick film – how wrong can you go? – and the other a Western biopic. We’ve not had much enjoyment from Western biopics in CRFC before, but there’s always a first time. And despite McLintock’s shadow, Tim does love a Western…

IMDB says

The Prize (1963): As the Nobel Prize winners come to Stockholm to receive their awards, their lives are overturned and perturbed in various ways. 6.8 stars.

Harper (1966): Lew Harper, a cool private investigator, is hired by a wealthy California matron to locate her kidnapped husband. 7 stars.

Torn Curtain (1966): An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin before planning an escape back to the West. 6.7 stars.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972): In Vinegaroon, Texas, former outlaw Roy Bean appoints himself the judge for the region and dispenses his brand of justice as he sees fit. 7 stars.

I says

Well it’s not a repeat of the Strother Martin debacle, so that’s good.

The Prize was the real surprise of the bunch. Paul Newman plays a booze-soaked writer, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. In the hotel where the winners are all staying a cold war plot starts to play out, but no-one believes Newman’s unreliable witness.

newman prize

Having been down on Pocket Money last time for being pretty dull, strangely enough this time round I was almost disappointed when the plot kicked into gear in The Prize. Newman’s writer is being guided chaperoned by Elke Sommer, gets into an escapade with the wife of one of the other nominees and has a couple of lovely conversations with the hotel staff and Edward G Robinson’s scientist character. It’s all light and nicely played and I could have watched a whole frothy film about that with a big smile on my face. I don’t mean to be downbeat about the plot – it was absolutely fine cold war thrillery stuff – it’s just I was having such a good time without it in the first place! It’s not a life-changing watch, but is a hearty recommendation. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

Harper (or Moving Target as it’s also known) was… fine.

newman harper

It’s a private eye movie and it does all the things that private eye movies do and not a lot besides. Funnily enough Strother Martin turns up again (he was in quite a few Paul Newman films).

strother harper

Your Strother from another mother… or something

My favourite things in Harper were a couple of montages of 60s dancing. Worth it for those alone, I’d say. It’s written by the late William Goldman (adapted from a novel), but does not rank with his best.

Torn Curtain is probably the most frustrating of the bunch, as it featured some really good stuff, and some really terrible stuff (classic Hitchcock!).

newman torn

“Some really good stuff,” he says…

There’s a protracted silent fight sequence that really doesn’t gloss over the heroes killing a villain. It’s a pretty hard watch, but intentionally so. And it doesn’t have to pull the smug Funny Games trick to make you think a little about violence.

Where the film fell down somewhat was in the decision making of the characters, making them stunningly stupid to ensure the plot moved on. And there’s a whole chunk that should and could have been excised without necessitating any other changes. While Paul Newman’s scientist is on the run from the Stasi with his wife (Julie Andrews), he is told a name and address. He doesn’t quite catch it and asks again. And is told again. Then in the next scene he can’t remember the address and we’re treated to a truly terrible ten minutes that only detracts from the film, and any tension, as a passerby offers help and a long sob story about needing to get out of East Germany. The actress was a friend of Hitch and the scene was not trimmed at all. It should have been. In its entirety.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean proves that we really should just avoid Western biopics.

newman roy bean

I don’t mind films based on real stuff twisting the truth a bit to make a better film (unless it’s presented as the unvarnished truth), but this one took the cake. From the real Roy’s Wikipedia page:

In one case an Irishman named Paddy O’Rourke shot a Chinese laborer and during the trial a mob of 200 angry Irishmen surrounded the courtroom and saloon. They threatened to lynch Bean if O’Rourke was not freed and after looking through his law book Bean ruled that “homicide was the killing of a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a Chinaman” dismissing the case.

In the film this is reversed. The killer turns up saying that there’s no law against killing Chinese people, and good ol’ Roy decides that the law treats all men equal so it is in fact a crime. I guess my frustration is why on earth make it about a real person and then so fundamentally reverse that kind of decision? Just make it about a fictional person instead… The bear from Gentle Ben turns up at some point so… there’s that.

The Verdict

The Prize takes the prize!

Coming Attractions

It’s my choice next. Having decreed we should avoid Western biopics, I’m going to pick a Western biopic. But this is different. This is one I know is good. It’s better than good. It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

@BornToPootle

Strother Martin – 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 managed the ton! Our 100th film was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance which suffered by comparison to our recently watched Big Country.

The Choice

With Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin to choose from there were almost too many options. So Tim nixed them all and we ended up at The Wild Bunch via Strother Martin. In fact we stuck with Strother twice more, tackling McLintock! and Pocket Money in quick succession. I’ll cover them all in this post.

The Link

strother martin valance

Strother Martin is one of those character actors who usually has a meaty enough role but is never quite the lead. Both in name and performance he’s pretty unforgettable though, with a screen persona like a wussier M Emmet Walsh. Given the number of Westerns he’s in perhaps a better comparison is Strother being a more scheming Walter Brennan. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance he played a giggling goon as likely to feel the back of Lee Marvin’s hand as Jimmy Stewart’s.

The Wild Bunch, McLintock!, Pocket Money and me

The Wild Bunch is one of those classics that I’d never seen but probably pretended to have during playground and pub conversations. I’ll be honest though, knowing Sam Peckinpah’s record for animal cruelty I’m always in two minds about whether I want to watch his films.

A long time ago I saw ten minutes of a John Wayne western on TV and really enjoyed it. It was a scene of Wayne sitting outside a woman’s room, either guarding her or being a creep (I can’t remember) but it was funny and silly. Given the poster for McLintock! I thought this might be the one… spoiler: it wasn’t. Got any ideas?

Pocket Money was Tim’s choice. I hadn’t heard of it, but a Paul Newman/Lee Marvin double header seemed like a sure bet. Right?

IMDB says

The Wild Bunch – An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them. 8 stars.

McLintock! – Wealthy rancher G.W. McLintock uses his power and influence in the territory to keep the peace between farmers, ranchers, land-grabbers, Indians and corrupt government officials. 7.3 stars.

Pocket Money – Broke and in debt, an otherwise honest cowboy gets mixed up in some shady dealings with a crooked rancher. 5.5 stars.

I says

The Good

Oof. Well let’s start with the best of the, ahem, bunch… The Wild Bunch. Yes, Peckinpah did seem to revel in animal cruelty so I think that’s it for me and him. And there was definitely some punishment of women going on. But otherwise (and that ‘otherwise’ is doing a lot of work) it’s all solid enough. A gang of rogues go up against a villainous ruler and no-one comes out of it well. It’s all muscular machismo which wore a little thin but Ernest Borgnine is a loveable grump and Strother Martin reprises his giggling goon act nicely.

strother martin wild

At the time it was apparently a revolutionary approach to a western, and John Wayne thought it would kill the myth of the West (along with his career). These days we’re so soaked in grimdark/realistic portrayals of violence that it perhaps doesn’t make the impact it did at the time.

The Bad

Pocket Money was written by one Terry Malick, it turns out, before he became Terrence. And while I’m a fan of Badlands and The Thin Red Line he does seem to have disappeared somewhere with himself with his last few films. This is more conventially narrative then his recent ouvre (and he didn’t direct this), but its two leads are so conflict-averse as to rob the film of much interest. Paul Newman is the cowpoke, Strother Martin the scheming mastermind and Lee Marvin the comedy sidekick acting through a series of mannered ticks. They pootle south. They pootle north again. There’s almost some trouble and Paul Newman gets slung in prison. But then it’s resolved and they pootle off again. It reminded me a little of The Scarecrow, which we tackled in the very early days of CRFC. But that had Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman’s drifter characters change a little along the way. Pocket Money… doesn’t really.

The Ugly

McLintock! was a difficult watch, I’ll be honest. The last ten or so minutes feature John Wayne’s titular landowner, a boorish drunk, pursing his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara) through town to give her a spanking. The townsfolk hoot and holler him on, pointing out where she’s hiding. As her struggle to escape becomes more desperate parts of her clothing are ripped to tatters. She flings herself through a plate glass window to escape. But eventually he catches her and gives her a spanking. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s just the tonic, and they end the film on happier terms. It’s like the Terminator lurching through the West to administer domestic violence. It may be based Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but it looks pretty horrible now. I’m utterly gobsmacked at its rating on IMDb. I think it ousts the rapping Hamlet part of Renaissance Man as the worst thing we’ve seen in CRFC.

strother martin mclintock

Meanwhile, on Strother-watch, Strother Martin played a slightly different kind of whiner in this one – an uptight big city man with a stick up his butt. I don’t think it suited him as well as his lowlife characters, but to be honest I was distracted by everything else going on. The only good news is that they didn’t copyright it correctly when it came out, so the film has entered the public domain and presumably no-one’s been able to make much money on it.

The Verdict

This was a wild bunch and no mistake.

Coming Attractions

We ended with Pocket Money. Pocket Money stars Paul Newman. I point blank refuse not to have a Paul Newman season next. So there.

@BornToPootle

Limerick Reviews – Films of the Year

I go to the cinema a fair old bit – more than 50 films last year, a slight dip to forty-something this year (that list is missing Worlds of Ursula K LeGuin which doesn’t seem to be on IMDb) – and over on my Twitter account I review every single one. But (plot twist!) my reviews take the form of limericks (yeah, I actually spoiled that twist in the article title, huh?).

So this year I thought I’d count down my top five of the year by reposting the limericks here… So in reverse order, here we go:

5. Mirai

This is a joy and delightfully observed,
And the praise in reviews is deserved:
A young boy feels edged out
And like he’s lost his clout
When his cute baby sister is birthed.

Mirai

4. BlackKklansman

The takedown of supremacist crap
Made me laugh and even thigh-slap
When it pulled it’s last trick
And made me feel sick
I didn’t know whether to cry or to clap.Blackkklansman

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Those awards for Frances MacDormand,
Sam Rockwell and crew are well earned.
It was funny, depressing,
Moving, distressing;
If it were playing again I’d have returned.

Three Billboards

2. Beast

If you want moody and dark it’s a feast
Helped by impeccable casting of leads.
Loads of peeps stayed
After the credits had played
To bask in the atmosphere of Beast.

Beast.jpg

1. Leave No Trace

This tale of a Dad and his daughter
Hit me right in the feels like it oughta.
He’s damaged and hiding,
Her curiosity’s climbing,
But living wild is all that he’s taught ‘er.

leave no trace

Honourable mentions

It’s been pretty tough to call this year – the top three are all on a fairly similar (brilliant) level, and there are a raft of films which could have taken the 4th and 5th spot. So along with Mirai and BlacKkKlansman there could easily have been Shoplifters, Roma, Coco, Black Panther, Into the Spider-Verse, Ghost Stories, Thoroughbreds, The Breadwinner, Hereditary, Incredibles 2 or Bad Times at the El Royale.

And the worst? Well. I’m sure there were far worse films released this year that I didn’t go anywhere near but…

Solo: A Star Wars Story

This features the second clunkiest explanation,
After midichlorians, in the Star Wars creation.
And when it’s finished
Han’s story’s diminished.
This was much better left to one’s imagination.

So there we go. It’s nice to see Leave No Trace doing well in critics’ roundups, and Solo is already fading away in my memory. What will 2019 bring? Loads of good films, I reckon.

 

The 100th Film Spectacular – Chain Reaction Film Club

We were so young, so naïve back in those hazy 2016 days. “I know,” said one doofus. “Why don’t we decide what film to watch each week by taking it in turns to pick, limiting the choice to the something starring an actor in the previous film.”

“Sure,” said the other doofus. It was an agreement he would come to regret…

And so was born the Chain Reaction Film Club in a blaze of noncommittal agreement and arbitrary rules (actors must be seen on screen and have dialogue! So no animation! And no TV movies!).

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

At least the film inspired something…

The first film was 1996’s Chain Reaction (obviously), the most recent 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Along the way we’ve been back as far as 1945 in search of hidden gems, classics we’ve not seen and films worth reappraising. We’ve watched some brilliant stuff, some weird stuff, and a couple of downright stinkers.

The darkest moment came pretty early on. In the 8th film we watched in fact. Hands up who wants to see Danny Devito’s embittered ad man relocate to a military base to teach English Lit to new recruits? Hands up who then wants to see those young recruits rapping Hamlet? Here you go: https://youtu.be/5Ij5XXaUl48

I don’t think we’ve bested (worsted?) that. Yet.

Traffic.jpg

It’s a very yellow film

There are a clutch of films that have proved entirely forgettable. I couldn’t tell you much about Sweet Dreams, The Insider, Syriana, Sunshine Cleaning or A Single Shot. I’ve now seen Traffic twice and still can’t remember much about it apart from the general message being ‘drugs are bad, m’kay’.

The player.jpg

Do you think Altman was dropping some hints to the Academy here…

But let’s focus on the positives. Mud was an early favourite in amongst a lot of mediocre choices, and a strong showing for Matthew McConnaughey. Robert Altman’s The Player was every bit as acerbic and well-told as everyone says, with a killer opening tracking shot. The Fifth Element was exactly as good as I’d remembered. I’m still gutted I didn’t see it at the cinema when it came out. I did see Starship Troopers on the big screen when it came out though, and again for the 50th film triple-header last year. It’s ageing very well, as the satire seems even more horribly relevant now.

Duellists

Got to entertain the sheep somehow…

Probably the strongest run of three films in a row was the Edward Fox triple-header of The Duellists, The Day of the Jackal and The Dresser. They’re all absolute stone-cold classics.

The best film about stunt pilots you’re ever likely to see is The Great Waldo Pepper, made all the better by finding out that Robert Redford really did climb out on the wings without safety tethering while high above the earth. Two other absolute stormers with great central performances were Talk Radio and Muriel’s Wedding – fewer stunts perhaps, but both just as gripping.

 

Along the way we’ve had mini-seasons for Edward Fox, Paul Verhoeven, Susan Sarandon, William Goldman, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine and Gregory Peck. And it’s with the latter that I think we found my favourite film of the CRFC so far – Cape Fear. The standout of our Peck season, even compared to the excellent To Kill A Mockingbird, The Gunfighter, The Big Country and Twelve O’Clock High.

And what of the weird? Well the jarring switch between race relations study/coming of age drama/black comedy about a woman and a decapitated head of Sweet Home Alabama will take some beating. Tank Girl was weird, but not in the same league. And I’m still perplexed by the nonchalant way characters reacted to revelations of child abuse in Last of Sheila. Compared to those, a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali in Spellbound actually seemed pretty tame.

So what next? We’ve been hankering after rewatches of Tombstone and The Blues Brothers for a while. Tim’s in a big Western mood. We both fancy heading back to the 30s, 40s and 50s slightly more. And Tim still hasn’t managed to trick me into picking Shooter with Marky Mark Whalberg…

Gregory Peck – The Chain Reaction Film Club

One of the great things about IMDb is that the URL for people betrays how early they were added to the database. For example, the first person on the IMDb, with the url ending ‘name/nm0000001/’, is Fred Astaire. There’s another film club to be had around that idea, now that I think about it.

Last time I wrote about the rather strange Last of Sheila, then waxed lyrical about two Gregory Peck fims. Anyway, so taken was I with Gregory Peck, and so enticed by the fact that he’s got a relatively small filmography for someone of his fame, that a season beckoned. And now after ten Peck films in a row I am a dedicated fan. Even though I’ve written about two of them before, I’ll look at the whole season here, because Peck deserves that sort of treatment.

From Last of Sheila we linked via James Mason to The Boys From Brazil. I enjoy Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives (the original, obvs) so another Ira Levin-based ooky thriller seemed like a safe bet. Laurence Olivier is a Nazi hunter (and the 59th person added to the IMDb), and Gregory Peck is the fiendish Joseph Mengele (and number 60, conveniently enough. The first hundred or so seem to have been added in alphabetical order!).

Peck Boys from brazil

It wasn’t great (nor was James Mason’s accent come to that), but I thought Gregory Peck was outstanding. Looking up trivia afterwards, it turned out that Olivier was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, which seemed terribly hammy to me. Peck on the other hand was critically mauled. Perhaps it’s time and acting styles passing on that have affected my view, perhaps it’s just down to taste, or perhaps it’s that I wasn’t saddled with the view of Peck that critics of the time had. He was, by all accounts, almost always cast as the good guy, the moral authority. But I can count the number of Peck films I’d previously seen on the fingers that I’d hold up at the President if I saw him.

The previous films were Roman Holiday and The Omen, neither of which I remember him from particularly. In fact, in my head Cary Grant played the lead in Roman Holiday, so what do I know!

Peck Designing Woman

It definitely wasn’t all top quality stuff in the season. Designing Woman was a fun enough romp, but would have benefited from Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant in the lead, with their screen personas more able to invite laughter at their expense. Spellbound and Mirage were a pair of duff Hitchcock and Hitchcock-wannabe thrillers. The former is notable for a Dali-designed dream sequence, the latter for an excellent Walter Matthau interlude.

Peck Mockingbird

But everything else was gold. To Kill A Mockingbird and Cape Fear both came out in 1962. Even without seeing any other Peck films, those two alone should be enough to cement an iconic image. A man of unwavering moral authority, brought to breaking point. A man for whom morality is the ultimate arbiter. I think Cape Fear is one of the very best we’ve watched as part of the Chain Reaction Film Club.

Peck Cape Fear

I’ve not seen the remake (I mooted it as a way to end the season, as Peck turns up in it, but Tim was less keen) and am a little scared of it now. I found Robert Mitchum to be skin-crawlingly horrible enough. I’m not certain I want to see where De Niro takes it.

Then there was The Gunfighter, a stripped down Western that would work well as a stage play. It’s largely set in one bar as a weary-of-fame gunfighter waits for the woman he loves and tries to fend off young hotheads and horrified matrons. It’s good stuff. The Guns of Navarone is one of those Sunday afternoon standards that I somehow missed growing up, and its band of plucky misfit soldiers assaulting a Nazi base seems to have laid the blueprints for parts of the original Star Wars trilogy.

A war film with a different tone, Twelve O’Clock High had Peck taking over a bomber unit suffering from low morale. Determined not to get attached to the men for their own good, it’s another great example of his moral strength being tested. Bouncing back to another western, The Big Country is as handsome as they come.

Peck Big Country

It’s here where Peck’s archetypal quiet competence and morality seemed to find their most natural home. Thrust into the middle of a feud which is about to bubble over, Peck outwardly takes the moral high ground, using brain over brawn. At the same time he tackles physical challenges on the quiet, determined not to use those as a means of proving himself to others.

After ten films, almost a fifth of his entire filmography, I am absolutely converted to the temple(ton) of Peck. Is he the greatest actor? No, I don’t think so. There is an unbendingness to his performances that suits his most notable roles. I think that’s also why he excelled as Mengele – a man who believes as unwaveringly in his (horrendous) actions as Atticus Finch believes in the law.

After leaving Peck behind we tackled The Ballad of Cable Hogue, then via Strother Martin we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Made four years after The Big Country, it was a similar story of Jimmy Stewart’s moral man forced into a world where the rule of law is seemingly meaningless. When we started the Peck season I thought of him as an also-ran compared to the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Watching Liberty Valance I was struck by how much I would have liked Gregory Peck to be playing the lead instead.

It turns out that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was the 100th film in the Chain Reaction Film Club, so I’ll have a little look through what we’ve watched so far and pick out a few choice morsels. And if you haven’t looked at my post about some exciting writing news, then maybe tiptoe over here and see what’s going on.