Sweet Bird of Youth – 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 finished up our Robert Redford season with The Sting, which is still rather good.

The Choice

It was back to the warm embrace of Paul Newman, and I had first pick. We’ve already tackled a few Newman films as part of CRFC – The Sting of course, plus Butch Cassidy, Pocket Money, Harper, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Prize and Torn Curtain. I had a look through his filmography and had to stop myself getting too overwhelmed. Limiting myself to just his 50s and 60s output I had a list of ten films I was pretty keen to try, but one stood out above the others – Sweet Bird of Youth.

Sweet Bird 04

Sweet Bird of Youth and me

Sweet Bird of Youth is an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play. I’ve not seen it on stage or read the play (and his plays are worth reading, not just seeing – his stage directions are wonderful; here’s an excerpt from the stage directions of A Streetcar Named Desire: ‘Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth.’). A few weeks back we watched The Chase, which I described as being a sub-Tennessee Williams melodrama. Ever since I’ve been hankering after a bit of the proper stuff, and so here we are. Other than its provenance I know nothing about it going in.

IMDB says

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962): Drifter Chance Wayne returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies. Arriving with him is a faded film star he picked up along the way, Alexandra Del Lago. 7.4 stars

I says

Well this was exactly what Doctor Melodrama ordered.

Sweet Bird 01

Ain’t nothing mellow about this drama

  • An Oscar-winning performance as a controlling patriarch from Ed Begley (not junior)? Tick.
  • Faded star with all the airs and lack of graces you might expect? Tick.
  • Son stewing with emasculated rage? Tick.
  • Lovelorn daughter waiting, but not hoping, for the return of her troubled sweetheart? Tick.
  • Town that’s wired like a powderkeg and ready to blow? Tick.
  • Paul Newman as a drifter who likes taking his shirt off? DOUBLE TICK.

It’s a brilliant, heady trip below the surface of a small town, secrets being revealed like scabs being picked off a wound. The central relationship between Newman’s drifter (Chance Wayne, would you believe) and Geraldine Page’s glamourpuss Alexandra Del Lago is steamy in a way I wasn’t quite expecting for 1962. It’s where those Newman gifs come from.

Sweet Bird 02

Ed Begley is delightfully horrible as the town bigwig, particularly in a tense scene with his long-term mistress, and a young Rip Torn is his perfectly malevolent brat of a son.

Sweet Bird 05

Ed Begley chewin’ scenery and slappin’ dames

The whole thing is heavy like a late summer sun, exactly the way Tennessee Williams should be. Except… (SPOILERS AHEAD)

While some aspects were more daring than I expected, the censors took the explosive ending and turned it into a blank. In the film, the lovelorn daughter’s pregnancy and illegal abortion is changed to venereal disease leading to a hysterectomy. Still pretty hard stuff for the early 60s. But then at the very close of the film Chance Wayne is beaten up and told never to return, as “no woman is going to want him now…” He’s been whacked in the face a couple of times, but is otherwise pretty unaffected. In the play… he’s castrated. Bit stronger, right? And it unfortunately completely deflates everything that’s come before, everything that has been building to this pivotal, unspeakable moment.

Still very much worth watching though, as up until that final moment it’s pitch perfect.

The Verdict

A great effort, but a shame it didn’t quite have the balls to go all the way. Impotent at the climax. A bit limp at the end. You get the idea. Now for a NEW CATEGORY:

Paul Newman Shirtless-o-meter

10/10

Sweet Bird 03

Yes, technically there’s a shirt in the picture, shush.

Coming Attractions

I’ve still got a long list of Newman films just from two decades of his career that I want to see, but will Tim humour me with one of them or pick something a bit more recent? We shall see…

@BornToPootle

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The Sting – 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 All is Lost, which is pretty much how I felt while watching it.

The Choice

We’ve been in a Robert Redford season for a fair while. Now, there are still a few films of his we’d like to tackle, but it also feels like the time to move on and perhaps circle back for another pass. With that in mind we had a bit of a think about where we wanted to go next (meta-gaming!).

Most of the ‘seasons’ we’ve tackled have been based around a male star (Sarandon Season being the only exception so far), so a Jane Fonda season was quite tempting (and gave us a few options to pick from to start it off). But… we got into Redford after a brief Paul Newman season. So perhaps this whole thing could merely be an interlude in a longer Newman season… Also, Tim really fucking loves The Sting.

The Sting 01

The Sting and me

I think I’ve only seen it once before. I saw it after having seen Butch Cassidy, and although I enjoyed it my overriding memory is that it’s a poor relation. But then my memory of Butch Cassidy was slightly harsher than it needed to be too, so all bets are off. In recent years I’ve thought about The Sting more because of this brilliant hit piece on some terrible copywriting than anything else. So I’m looking forward to reappraising.

IMDB says

The Sting (1973): Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con. 8.3 stars.

I says

I’ve been a bit hard on Robert Redford recently while we’ve been slogging through some of his more mediocre films. We haven’t watched All The President’s Men as part of CRFC, which is a flat-out doozie. Butch Cassidy and The Great Waldo Pepper seem like distant memories. But the thing is, Robert Redford is fine. He’s horrendously handsome, like tooth-achingly good looking. His charisma bubbles over. I suppose someone like Ben Affleck is probably a good touchstone. He’s fine. I find myself not that interested in much of his work, but occasionally there’s something that crosses over.

The Sting 03

What an uggo.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Sting. We start off following Newman’s small-time con artist who gets in a little too deep. Eventually we’re introduced to Paul Newman, an old hand at the big-time con. And then, when they’re setting up their big score, we see the magic. Paul Newman must pretend to be a boorish drunk at a high-stakes poker game. And there it is. Robert Redford is a distant memory as Paul Newman shines. It’s like if Ben Affleck was acting opposite… I dunno, Paul fucking Newman.

The Sting 04

Drunk Paul Newman is best Paul Newman

Redford has the lion’s share of the screen time here, but this is the Paul Newman show. In Butch Cassidy they felt a bit more evenly served, Butch and Sundance sparking off each other wonderfully. Here they’re kept separate a lot of the time, and it’s Redford who suffers. I mean, he’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. He does a bang-up job. And the film is great too, zipping along nicely. But when it’s all over I just want to watch the scene of Paul Newman being a boorish drunk over and over again.

The Sting 02

“Handsomest man in the room, raise your hand!”

He’s an absolute master.

The Verdict

If forced to only watch one of the Newman/Redford films again, I’d pick Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But I hope I’m not forced.

Coming Attractions

Well. That’s definitely it for Redford season. Paul Newman has charmed me utterly, and despite watching a few mediocre ones in our first Newman season, I’m feeling pretty excited about delving into his back catalogue again.

@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.

butch 03

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

Sarandon Season – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time we ended up on Jeff, Who Lives At Home which is definitely not the film Lars and the Real Girl and I may or may not get them muddled up again. With a lack of interesting films starring Jason Segel or Ed Helms we were left with a 25 strong list of Susan Sarandon films to mull over. Some were classics that I’ve seen but are probably due a rewatch – Thelma and Louise for example – others classics that I haven’t seen at all, like Dead Man Walking. And then there were the ones which looked great on paper but for some reason neither of us had heard of. And that’s exactly where we started…

Film 57: The Company You Keep (2012)

This is how you do a goddamn cast list:

Susan Sarandon, Robert Redford, Stanley Tucci, Shia Lebeouf, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Brit Marling, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliot, Terence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins.

I mean, that’s just greedy.

With a cast like that I really don’t know how I hadn’t heard of this film. It’s also directed by Redford, though that isn’t always a hallmark of quality – last year’s A Walk In The Woods adaptation is surefire proof of that.

Susan Sarandon only makes a brief appearance, which was a bit of a shame for the start of Sarandon Season – she’s a former political activist whose cell went underground after someone was killed during one of their activities in the 60s. She’s settled down with a family and now the kids are old enough to handle it she turns herself in. The rest of the film revolves around Redford being on the run as he becomes implicated as a member of the group, and Shia Lebeouf’s journalist trying to uncover the secret they’ve been hiding.

It’s solid enough stuff, but doesn’t really get exciting at any point. It’s most notable for having what I’d argue is the most extreme example of a horrendous voice followed by a beautiful voice in cinematic history. Nick Nolte speaks, then Sam Elliot speaks. Hell followed swiftly by heaven. After it finished we watched the opening of The Big Lebowski just for Sam Elliot’s VO. It’s bliss. The Coens really know how to open a film – between that and Millers Crossing’s ice cubes in a tumbler/Jon Polito rant I doubt we’ll see much better.

Film 58: The Client (1994)

Somehow I missed all the major John Grisham adaptations in the 90s. I imagine we’ll tackle The Firm and The Pelican Brief in later outings of CRFC.  This is the only one with Susan Sarandon in though and so here we are.

Sarandon is a lawyer with a checkered past! Tommy Lee Jones is a smug District Attorney! Brad Renfro is a kid who witnesses a mob associate confess where a body is hidden then kill himself!

This is a great example of a film where it could all be over very very quickly if people just had a nice chat. I tend to find that a bit annoying generally – all the characters we’re following are ‘good’, they’re not maliciously throwing obstacles in each other’s way and yet throw obstacles they do. Despite those misgivings and serious concern about having a kid as a lead, they do a pretty good job of Brad Renfro’s background explaining his distrust of authority. It still wrankled but didn’t ruin everything.

Susan Sarandon does that great Susan Sarandon thing of being a mother figure but without being either mumsy or Rebellious Mum #2. Tommy Lee Jones does that great Tommy Lee Jones thing of being Tommy Lee Jones. It’s never less than watchable.

Tommy being Tommy

Film 59: Twilight (1998)

No, not that one. This is a wannabe noir with Sarandon, Gene Hackman and Paul Newman.

And Reese Witherspoon, Liev Schrieber, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Stockard Channing, John Spencer and M Emmet Walsh.

It’s another of THOSE casts. I mean M Emmet Walsh doesn’t even get any lines for god’s sake! And yet… This is a film which tries to convince us that Gene Hackman is one of the beautiful people but Paul Newman isn’t.

Not one of the beautiful people. Yeah. Whatever.

That’s all you need to know. It’s not very good.

Film 60: In The Valley of Elah (2007)

Tim had a friend staying with him for a few weeks recently. He joined us for a couple of films, possibly The Dresser and Traffic, and was surprised at how depressing our film choices were. When I tell people about CRFC (they glaze over, obvs) there seems to be an assumption that we’re working our way through 80s action films or something. And while we have done a few of those, part of the point of the thing is to watch films we otherwise wouldn’t get around to. So not always the easy watches.

In The Valley of Elah is definitely in the more depressing end of the spectrum. It’s not quite Brokeback Mountain scale (I could feel that film in my psyche for weeks after seeing it) but it’s not far off. Tommy Lee Jones is a military vet. whose son has joined the military, been over to Iraq and back, and now gone missing from his US army base. He goes to investigate and doesn’t find anything happy.

It only goes downhill from here

Susan Sarandon only has a small part – another mother role – waiting for news from Tommy Lee Jones. She delivers a gut punch of emotion though. More central is Charlize Theron as a terrible detective.

The police are useless in this, with Tommy doing all the investigating. And that’s a bit annoying, as he sort of teams up with Charlize but does all the work himself. Charlize’s colleagues accuse her of only being a detective thanks to sleeping with the boss (which she has been) – it would have been nice for her character to prove that wrong by being good at her job, but nope. She uses Tommy Lee Jones’ findings to show them up, but she just tagged along.

That aside, it’s a deeply affecting film. At the beginning it claims to be based on real events. I looked it up afterwards, and it is very close to the truth – an investigative article (in Playboy) tackled the story, but names and a few other details were changed for the film. It’s not perfect but if you’re looking for a film about cycles of violence and that is definitely anti war then it’s worth a look. And it’s directed by Paul Haggis who, amongst more famous recent things, gave us Due South. Any friend of Constable Benton Fraser is a friend of mine.

Film 61: The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Tim picked this out. I was put off by the title alone, but Tim saw Robert Redford and that was enough.

And then the opening credits rolled.

Director: George Roy Hill

Writer: William Goldman

And then I was convinced. If three of the four major players behind The Sting and Butch Cassidy are involved then you start to hope for a certain quality, and The Great Waldo Pepper delivers. It’s a fictional account of pilots trying to make a living after the first world war – biplane aces who got a taste of adrenaline and are constantly chasing a new high.

A magnificent man and his flying machine…

There’s barnstorming, wing-walking and glorious Redford grins. All of the plane action was done in real life, none of it was faked in a studio. When it looks like Redford is wing walking without a harness that’s because Redford was wing walking without a harness. Imagine trying to make that now! That’s one of the reasons Mad Max Fury Road tickled me so much – they wanted scenes with a load of cars smashing into each other in the desert, so they took a load of cars into the desert and smashed them into each other.  It’s effective and provides a thrill that, however realistic it’s become, still isn’t matched by cgi.

Oh, and the music in The Great Barry Pepper (hang on…) is by Mancini! The tone, led by the music, starts upbeat and fun. The music keeps this facade going, but slowly cracks appear. First in the stories Pepper tells with such panache, then in the possibility of being able to keep on flying as they have been. I hadn’t heard of this film before and it’s a real classic. A barnstormer, if you will. The second and third credited actor are both called Bo! And Susan Sarandon doesn’t play a mother!

As mooted above, William Goldman is responsible for Butch Cassidy and The Sting, two of Tim’s very favourite films. I think they’re pretty plucky too. And he also wrote The Princess Bride which is a stupendous achievement by any measure. Tim has spare copies of The Princess Bride on DVD to give to people he meets who haven’t seen it, which is entirely justified. There are plenty of his films neither of us have seen, and while linking to another film via a writer is outside the rules of The Chain Reaction Film Club, guess who turns up in another William Goldman movie – Robert Redford in The Hot Rock! And so we bid farewell to Sarandon Season and welcome to… The Goldman Variations.

Bonus Sarandon fact – I’d always assumed the Chris ‘Prince Humperdink’ Sarandon was a brother of Susan. Turns out they were married in the 70s, and she kept his name. So. There you go.