Saturday, April 6, 2024

Noir Watch: No Way Out (1950)

Watched:  04/06/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz

If you want to see a young actor show up with a ton of star power - and this was Sidney Poitier's real screen debut - seeing him in this film is extraordinary.  Heck, in most ways, this film is extraordinary.  

I thought No Way Out (1950) was a simpler film, but confess I didn't know anything about the plot or set-up.  Just that it starred young Poitier, the always great Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell, who is always a good reason to watch a film.  

Poitier plays a doctor just done with school on his first day as an official doctor.  He's sent to treat two criminals caught during a robbery, shot and in need of care.  One of them is displaying bizarre symptoms and while Poitier is looking into what ails him via a spinal tap, one of the crooks dies.  His horrendously racist brother (Widmark) is convinced Poitier killed him on purpose.  

While the hospital backs Poitier, Poitier still wants an autopsy, and so they go to the dead man's wife (Darnell) to get her to convince the brother that an autopsy should be performed.  Widmark convinces her that the hospital is looking to cover up the evidence of foul play, which she conveys to the residents of Beaver Canal, which is where the poorest (and apparently most racist) folks in their city live.  

Soon, a race riot breaks out, but rather than have it happen in their neighborhood, the Black men head to Beaver Canal.  Things get violent.

There's a wide array of characters in the film, from the progressive chief doctor supporting Poitier to the pragmatic hospital director to the elevator operator who sees Poitier as stepping outside of his place to the domestic who knows more than she says.  And, of course, Poitier's family, with a negative nelly of a matriarch.  It's a great way of showing some of the complexity everyone is dealing with, and even the purest of intentions gets mangled by agendas and scars (some literal).  

Friday, April 5, 2024

Bette Davis Birthday

Bette Davis, one of the greatest stars of cinema, was born on April 5, 1908.  

If you haven't seen many Bette Davis movies, fix that.  She's terrific in everything.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Noir Watch: Pushover (1954)

Watched:  04/03/2024
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Richard Quine
Selection:  Myself via Noir Alley

I vaguely recalled watching this movie several years ago, and liking it well enough.  And, sure enough, in 2011, I'd seen it during one of my noir sprints.   

The post linked above is good enough at providing a synopsis.  I would argue my appreciation for the film is probably greater at this point than in 2011.  On that first viewing I was a bit dismissive about the stakes and the scope being too small of a plot for a movie in modern terms, comparing it to a single episode of a cop show, but i feel like And that may be somewhat true:  I don't think this would be greenlit - or at least the execution would now be greatly reimagined.  But I'd walk that back to:  this is a full arc for a prestige TV show. 

What I don't think, now, is that I quite grasped exactly how noir this movie is, how much one could use it on an exam to say "now, in what ways is Novak's character a femme fatale?" and "what mistakes did Fred MacMurray's character make and why did he make them?"  The movie is like a punchlist of what makes noir, noir - right down to the contrasting story with Dorothy Malone as the bubbly nurse living nextdoor to Novak and the "good" cop slowly falling for her.

There's the obvious 50's film favorite issue of voyeurism, which I mostly previously discussed in the framework of "oh, hey, Vertigo also came out around the same time."  While it's impossible not to think of Hitch's film, this movie seems less aware of the perverse thrill of people-watching, and treats it in a "boys will be boys" way as our cops enjoy their stakeout ogling women, which only really serves as subtext and draws commentary as discussion external to the film.  

The movie is also not just beautifully shot, but I think you need to be impressed by the editing.  A good chunk of the film takes place in and around a single apartment building, in and out of doors - almost to the point of absurdity - and it's never a question for the audience who is where and what they're doing. There's some modern version of this with cameras and a split screen tracking everyone.  

I also didn't say much about Novak in the original post, but it is her first film, and she's an astounding natural talent.  She's very young here - something like 20, and she already has polish of a seasoned actor (which may be Quine's direction).  Her character is going through a lot, and I think only once did I think "is that the right reading of that line?" but it was the one that wound up in the film on purpose.  But, yeah, amazing work from Novak who is both the center and kind of heart of the film.

Anyway, I don't know that this movie will change your life, but it's better than I gave it credit for on the first viewing.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Joe Flaherty Merges With The Infinite

According to multiple sources, actor and comedian Joe Flaherty has passed.  

Flaherty retired about a decade ago, but still lived large in the public consciousness of GenX and probably on either side of that media-consuming era.  

I knew Joe originally from SCTV episodes, and basically stole his Count Floyd bit to entertain Jamie as Count Dracula Jr.  Flaherty was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be surrounded by some of the comedy giants of his generation - so you both have a bar set that's extraordinarily high and you're one of the SCTV bunch rather than just Joe Flaherty.  But he did work *constantly* until his retirement in 2012-ish.  

He was always good, and quite often *great*, and I'll miss knowing he was out there.

Fritz Lang Watch: M (1931)

Watched:  04/01/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Fritz Lang
Selection:  Me

I've been meaning to get to this one for at least fifteen years.  Maybe much longer.  And if I can keep my act together, I'll watch another Fritz Lang movie soon, Ministry of Fear.  

But M (1931) was priority as it's on a lot of "best movies ever" lists, and cited by academics as wildly important and influential - and I'd argue - as this is 1931 - so influential it's imprinted itself onto mass media to such a degree that tracing it back would be quite the cladogram.  

Also, it turns out: the universally praised movie is, in fact, shockingly good.

Essentially what delayed my viewing of the film was what I assumed the movie would be about, and any enjoyment would be largely academic.  And the movie is about the things I suspected, in part.  But stunned was I when the movie took a hard pivot and became about something far more nuanced and difficult to wrangle.

Here's what I knew:  M stars Peter Lorre in his breakout role.  In 1931 Berlin, someone is murdering children.  A frantic manhunt begins.

Those things are correct.  


Monday, April 1, 2024

Doc Watch: Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces (2024)

Watched:  03/30/2024
Format:  Apple+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Morgan Neville
Selection:  Jamie

I remember back in high school going to see L.A. Story, written by and starring Steve Martin, and getting that Steve Martin was going through some sort of sea-change in what he wanted to be in as an actor.  I'd always known him as a movie star, but certainly associated him with silly/ smart movies like The Jerk, but I'd also seen Roxanne and got that maybe he was doing something with his career now that was less goofy (but, arguably, pretty smart) than Three Amigos.  

And then I think it was around the release of Novocaine that I heard him on the radio (NPR) and got the idea that, oh...  Steve Martin is a weirdly smart guy.  And he's smart in that way that I think he probably just doesn't really connect well to a lot of people - which is the thesis of the doc, one supposes.

If you generally like Steve Martin, I think this is a good way to spend some time.  I'm not overly interested in the personal lives of most modern entertainers, and this is definitely a curated peek into Martin's life, including interviews with friends and his current wife.  It's a collection of showbiz personalities - and you get the feeling Tina Fey really was holding herself back - and then artists, poets and others in Martins orbit who do seem to be his actual friends.  Which is, frankly, unusual for one of these types of docs.  

Sunday, March 31, 2024

It's Supergirl's Birthday - 65th Anniversary of Supergirl's First Appearance

Today marks the 65th Anniversary of the first appearance of Supergirl - or as us actual nerds know her, Kara Zor-El of Argo City, Krypton.  Yup, Supergirl hit newsstands on March 31, 1959!

Prior to Kara's arrival, DC had played with a few variations of what Supergirl might be - from giving Lois powers for an issue or two to a sorta magical helper friend for Clark for an issue.  But eventually DC just said "teen-age cousin" and a superhero was born.  

Created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, Kara Zor-El appeared in Action Comics 252.  It's not an epically long story, mostly there to set the table for whatever they'd try next with the newest toy in the DC toybox.  Enough for an origin and a status quo set-up, and out.

And, I am happy to say, I do actually have a copy of this comic.

After about 20 years as the semi-sole-survivor of Krypton (minus Krypto, Beppo and a few stray villains in the Phantom Zone), we learn that a chunk of Krypton has been hurtling through space for decades, with the city of Argo attached.  Living in that city, Superman's Uncle and Aunt - Zor-El and Alura - have given birth to Kal-El's couson, Kara.  

As things go from "this seems bad" to "oh no" during a meteor storm threatening Argo City, Zor-El puts Kara in a rocket and shoots her at Earth.  Superman finds her, decides she's his new secret weapon and places the traumatized youth into an orphanage in Midvale.  Because he's a swinging bachelor and he has no time for kids, I guess.

Zorro Television Watch: Zorro (2024)

As much as I like to nod to the idea of superheroes as modern myths or carrying on the tradition of the Greek heroes or other mythologies of various geographic locales, it's an awkward fit.  The actual myths around, say, Hercules, are weird and brutal by modern standards.  ie: Murdering one's own family is not just another mishap adventure along the way for, say, The Flash.*  There's something a bit more of the swashbuckler and criminal doing right in an unjust world that was at the core of the first wave of superheroes.

Even before Superman leaped his first tall building, Batman punched his first mentally ill person, or Wonder Woman lasso'd her first Holliday Girl, pulp and popular fiction was cooking up some interesting personas.  One of the first superheroes I tend to think of is The Scarlet Pimpernel, who appeared in a novel in 1905 (written by a woman, no less, so take that, comics-gaters) and who would appear in a movie by 1934.  The Shadow existed as a radio and magazine character around 1931, Flash Gordon was around by 1934, The Phantom appeared in a comic strip by 1936.

But, Zorro..!  Zorro appeared in 1919 in print and by 1920 as a film.