A year or two ago, twitter-friendly comics artist and classic movie buff Patch Zircher suggested the film Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) my direction. This last weekend, the film aired on TCM's Noir Alley, so I was able to get the Eddie Muller discussion to frame the production and story.
The talent in the movie is undeniable - Signal Watch faves Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame star, along with Ed Begley Sr. and Shelley Winters, and Harry Belafonte, who I think Jamie was eager to see (me too, maybe for different reasons). But the talent behind the camera is also entirely notable. Expert filmmaker Robert Wise was listed as both Director and Producer, Abraham Polonsky was secretly the writer (but blacklisted at the time, did it under cover), Joseph C. Brun as cinematographer, and the great Dede Allen in an early job as editor.
I saw this one the first time at the Paramount with absolutely zero context. Back in the day, I'd just show up for whatever was showing during the Summer classics series, and it's how I first saw some of my "new favorite" films since college. Third Man. Sunset Boulevard. and a host of others.
And, yeah, I really like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974). It's a tidy caper movie, sharing screen time between the heisters and the heisted, but with no set up - just the execution. So, when four guys take a subway car hostage on a weekday afternoon in New York, it makes no sense to the guys running the subway - blue collar schlubs whose jobs it is to literally make the trains run on time - and it takes a minute they don't have to figure out what the hell is going on. Let alone - how the baddies think they're going to get away with it (they're trapped in a tunnel, too).
The gang is a classic heist gang. The master mind. The wild card. The dutiful sergeant. The guy who is there as the inside man. But part of what makes the movie is that the guys on the other side of the mic aren't hostage negotiators - they're public employees suddenly in a very weird position, running communications from the heisters all the way to the Mayor. And, of course, they're a bunch of 1970's New Yorkers.
As the world I live in is project and operational management, I get a kick out of heist films. The heist = a project - and the plan for the heist, accounting for everything that can occur and keeping your stakeholders managed sure feels familiar. The opposite side is operations, which are interrupted by the interference of the heist. And - man, as I am wont to say - people are terrible in a crisis.
One detail I like about the film is that no one is working in synch on the MTA or government side. From the mayor dithering and worrying about votes to the internal disagreement in the subway tracking office where Matthau is trying to keep things in hand. I assure you, there's almost always someone in a crisis who is more bent out of shape that they can't do their usual job than aware of the actual unfolding situation than makes rational sense.
The movie was released in '74, so the occupants of the jobs likely have been sitting in that office since the late 1950's. There's a casual racism and sexism pervading the scene and characters, and the film does comment on it - albeit not in the way we're used to in 2020. Brace yourself for some stereotypes (especially among the hostages) and among the main cast. It's a movie about an imperfect world that has to suddenly deal with the unknown.
It's a tight film - the run time almost occurs in about half of real-time. We don't worry too much about the home lives of the characters, and we don't even really know the motivations or what led up to the heist. But what we do get is a wild mix of talent in the film which makes it work. Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Jerry Stiller, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Doris Roberts, Julius Harris, Kenneth McMillan, and a bunch of other faces you'll recognize (I finally identified Robert Weil as also appearing in Hudsucker Proxy after it's bugged me every time I've watched this movie previously).
Jamie, SimonUK and yours truly revisit the 1988 favorite about a barrister, an animal lover, a moron, and Jamie Lee Curtis - all caught up in the fallout from a heist. Simon and Jamie can quote it, Ryan quite likes it, and we do our best not to talk about what makes something funny. And Ryan insists on further discussing JLC.
JAL and Ryan watch two noir classics. Both heists. Both starring Sterling Hayden. One directed by a young Stanley Kubrick, the other by John Huston. We dive into what makes them work, some terrific performances and which director was in his prime and which was sorting things out. It's a journey into movies that set the stage for every heist movie to come after.
Viewing: Second or third
Back in the 90's, in an era where not every movie needed to kick-start a franchise or go for Oscar gold, sometimes you'd just have an entertaining movie.
It's been years since I last saw The Thomas Crown Affair remake from 1999, then 31 years after the release of the original - which I didn't see until the last ten years, but I recalled liking the 1999 edition, even if I did not feel like I needed to have it in my DVD collection. Stars Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo are charismatic and effortless in their parts, the story isn't a mind-bender, but engaging, and the supporting cast - while distinctly 90's-ish in stance and dialog, works well around our leads.
Format: Noir Alley on TCM
I'd heard Hammer produced some thrillers and whatnot, but I'd not really seen any - my exposure to the studio's output had been mostly limited to their horror films.
Shown as a Christmas treat by Noir Alley's Eddie Muller - who fessed up that it's more noir adjacent than noir - this small-scale production is a terrific sort-of real-time story of a robbery at a bank branch in a small town well outside of London.
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Somehow I'd never seen Kansas City Confidential (1952), but if I'd known it starred John Payne, Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam, I would have tried a lot harder to see it sooner.
A windy, twisty heist caper - this one is told from the outside as John Payne plays an ex-con who is accidentally/ sorta framed for a bank heist when masked robbers pull a job worth $1.2 million (that's about $11.6 million now), using a duplicate of his flower delivery van.
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing: 7th? Unknown
I know I throw a lot of soft recommendations around, saying "oh, you might like this" or "it's worth catching", but The Asphalt Jungle (1950) was one of those hit-me-like-lightning movies the first time I watched it, and, in a lot of ways, I've been chasing that same high ever since. That viewing was way back in college from a rented tape on a 20" TV, and I've seen and owned various copies of the film ever since. Frankly, when I just looked up the movie on this blog, I assumed I'd written it up 3 or 4 times, but, instead, I'm just finding mentions of it tucked into other posts. So, it's been a while.
In some ways, in 2019 there's little new in The Asphalt Jungle - the film is one of those that reset the path for heist movies and created the template from which heist movies would flow from then til now. But for a movie popping up just a few years after World War II, and because of the influence, it feels shockingly modern (especially for modern TV more than movies, which are largely toothless in comparison these days). It's 3/5ths getting to and getting through the heist, and 2/5ths things going wrong and the fallout as our ensemble tries to sort out the mess they're in.
SimonUK finally gets around to talking about one of his favorite films, a heist film about a scrappy team pulling off the impossible with cheer and good spirits. Honestly, it's mostly just a love fest for a movie both Simon and Ryan enjoy immensely.
Get a Bloomin' Move On/Self Preservation Society - Don Black/Quincy Jones, The Italian Job OST
The mentioned poster for The Italian Job that seems to have nothing to do with the film:
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing: at least fourth
I've surely written this movie up before, but it's a great heist flick. Maybe not Ashpalt Jungle good, but one for the pantheon. And, it was a breakout movie for Bogart, hot on the heels of Petrified Forest. And, of course, it broke Ida Lupino, which is a boon to us all.
Viewing: Unknown. 6th?
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
First of all, "The Killing" that occurs in this movie is not an assassination. It could refer to about five or ten different things, and I suppose that's intentional. I'd start with "they're gonna make a killing on this heist", but, of course, this is a 1950's-era heist movie, so you know it's not ending in sunshine and flowers.
The Killing (1956) sits on a curious edge when it comes to crime dramas/ noir. Marking maverick, young filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's first foray into studio-backed cinema, the movie feels part and parcel of the noir movement with a structure and an ending not atypical for a dime-store crime novel, retaining those rough edges that some noir eschewed. As much as I like The Asphalt Jungle and Rafifi - likely The Killing had more impact and reflects more of where the heist genre would go - especially in American cinema (at least marginally).
(possibly NSFW) It's "Goldfinger", Ryan's favorite Bond movie. SimonUK is back to help Ryan sort out how much he can say Honor Blackman's character's name out loud whilst being recorded. Join us as we say a lot of nice things about this iconic/ seminal film in the Bond franchise, some of its oddities and how it is just super problematic in 2018.
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Format: Noir Alley on TCM - DVR
Sometimes casting can save the day for a fairly standard plot in a movie - it can be a real pleasure to see your favorite actors, character or otherwise, play out the parts in your boilerplate movie. Other times that same old jazz standard gets a new look, a new interpretations and the execution is enough to make you stand up and applaud.
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, and you think that maybe you have a rough idea of what this movie will be like - bingo. You are correct.
Hell or High Water (2016) is currently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which is maybe the surest sign that the Academy is comprised of white people over the age of 65. A post No Country for Old Men meditation on justice in the sun-baked desert plains of West Texas, it's an enjoyable enough way to spend the run-time of a movie. But with no non-standard plot turns or character moments, a movie where the sub-text of the film is text, it's the sort of thing that's been done better elsewhere (see the movie named at the beginning of this sentence) and has characters walking a path of moral uncertainty enough that you can say it has some edge to it.
That said, I didn't actually dislike Hell or High Water. It's a fine movie with characters you'll enjoy (I've seen these same characters done a few dozen times, and if you're going to do those characters, this is pretty good), a decent plot, and if you like Chris Pine (I do!) and Jeff Bridges (what sort of psychopath doesn't like Jeff Bridges?), I've got a movie I'd say you can watch comfortably with your dad. Or, better yet, your sibling.
I've really embraced the idea that Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas movie.
In theory it takes place on Christmas Eve despite the fact the Nakatomi Corporation is having its holiday party on Christmas Eve, which... What Dickensian rules is your company playing by? And why is Holly leaving her kids at home with her poor nanny who probably has friends and family of her own she'd rather be with?