The Music Man (1962)

And sometimes: Exhilaration.

I love this movie. I love this musical. When the dorky animated credits start with the whistle blowing and the little toy marching band figures moving around, I enter another plane, securely in bliss from the opening rap—and it is, basically, a rap—to the closing “magical realism” marching band sequence/credits.

Don't care. Love it.
Stop-motion animation at its least animated.

I don’t even like marching bands.

The story, in case you don’t know it, is that of a con man (Robert Preston) whose scam is convincing people in small towns to buy musical instruments and marching band uniforms by telling them he’ll set them up a boy’s band, and then absconding the with the cash as soon as the uniforms arrive. He sets down in River City, Iowa, a town full of grumpy-but-good-hearted (crusty but benign, I suppose Paddy Chayefsky would say) farmers and convinces them (with the help of an old associate, played by Buddy Hackett) that their town is imperiled by newfangled things like “Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang” (one of the original magazine/comic books which launched the Fawcett Publishing Company), as well as various trends in clothing and language.

This scene is, of course, parodied and re-immortalized in a classic Simpson’s episode “Marge vs. The Monorail”.

The parody is brilliant but the source is sublime.
It’s more of a Shelbyville idea…

Our con man, who is going by the name of Harold Hill, is not a good guy. When he’s not evading the mayor and school board (who he turns into a barbershop quartet), he’s making love to the town librarian (Shirley Jones, looking and sounding divine) whom he believes is a “fallen woman”. He gets that idea from the nattering ladies of the town when he corrals their hen-party into a dance committee, but Marian (the librarian) is too smart and too suspicious to fall for his shtick, and threatens to undermine him even as he’s wooing her.

But—and here’s the thing that makes the story transcendent—it’s such a fine line between the thing and the illusion of the thing. To get the thing you have to be able to imagine the thing being there. And the Professor gets the whole town imagining something—I mean, this is an Iowan town! even if the same thing might be applied to dozens of towns across the west—where before their lives were farming, worrying about the weather and the occasional delivery on the Wells Fargo wagon.

Little Ronnie Howard, ladies and gentlemen.
“It could be thomething thpeshul, juth for meeeee…”

And that, ultimately, is what this movie is about. The illusion is so good, it becomes the reality. And you can, of course, see the flip side of all of this: Harold Hill is the consummate politician, saying whatever needs to be said to get agreement, and producing nothing; or you could say in a world like today where people are constantly going through the motions of producing without actually producing, this premise seems much less charming.

But the essential truth is there: Before you can make something, you must imagine it.

None of this even speaks to the music, which is gem after gem. (The weakest number in the bunch is the one made for the movie, “Being In Love,” which Shirley Jones does an excellent job with, but which managed to not even get nominated for the Oscar.) I mean, if I think about it, I can rattle off great lines from every song:

Whaddayatalk? Whaddayatalk?Whaddayatalk? Whaddayatalk?
But he doesn’t know the territory!

So, what the heck, you’re welcome
Join us at the picnic
You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself

Oh, we got trouble!
Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!

There’s not a man alive
Who could hope to measure up to that blend o’
Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat and Noah Webster
You’ve got concocted for yourself outta your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness, and your liberry fulla’ books!

It was a hit for about 25 years.
But who was the teacher who sang “In the Gloaming”?

It is, of course, a great romance as well. Marian falls under Harold’s spell because she sees what it does to her little brother (Ronnie Howard!), which gives the spell more power than even Harold imagines it to have, including ultimately the power to capture him and make a new reality.

I’ve seen it before, many times—I think it was the first musical I ever saw, on a grainy 12″ TV in a mountain cabin with snowy reception at best—and I always see something new. This time I was struck by the comic genius of the ladies dance committee. They are priceless, both sympathetic as characters (for all their scurrilous gossip) and delightfully goofy in the loftiness of their cultural aspirations.

I’ve never really thought of it as an Independence Day movie, though I believe the big picnic is on the fourth of July (the movie takes place over about 6-8 weeks, I think, though it feels very much more compressed). More importantly, it is pure Americana: From the trains and the traveling salesman, to the farmers and townspeople, to the simultaneous suspicion and embracing of new things, and above all the dreams. “I always think there’s a band,” the Professor laments to Winthrop when the latter finds out he’s a conman.

The worst thing, though, would be never thinking there’s a band.

Maybe. Maybe not. But if you don't, they sure won't.
If you build it, they will come.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Our Independence Day was a musical extravaganza with Yankee Doodle Dandy on a double-bill with The Music Man and, boy-oh-boy, that’s a lot of music. I had never seen Cagney’s brilliant performance, and his mimicry of George M. Cohan’s dance moves may be the only genuinely accurate part of this highly fictionalized (yet delightful) take on the great Irish-American’s life. At first I was suspicious. If you don’t know (and I didn’t), this movie is narrated by Cagney-as-Cohan to FDR, with Cohan in the last year of his 64 year life. (Though, presumably they didn’t know that.)

Or, I guess everyone ELSE was the dirty rat.
Light on his feet, for a dirty rat.

Anyway, Cagney as 64-year-old Cohan dances just like Cagney as 20-year-old Cohan, which seems unlikely, especially in 1942 when 64 was pretty hard won (and about the average life expectancy) but you can find videos of old Cohan and damned if the man didn’t dance like a man who was just made up to look old. (Although, unlike Cagney, he really did look old.) Cagney pretty much nails his sing-speak style, as well.

The music, of course, is woven into American history, somewhat to its detriment. That is, like Stephen Foster’s work, it’s so ingrained as to seem trite but then you realize, holy cow: This guy wrote “Over There” and “It’s A Grand Old Flag”, with the latter in particular being the sort of song one can imagine just evolving. But it didn’t! And in fact the original title—this isn’t mentioned in the movie—was “It’s A Grand Old Rag,” which I kind of like better. (I like the idea of recognizing that it’s just a piece of cloth but at the same time represents something much greater.) Other songs from the film by Cohan are “Harrigan”, “Give My Regards To Broadway”, “So Long, Mary” and “Molly Malone”.

Like you don't hardly see no more.
H! A! Double-R! I just wanted to point out that even here is great blocking.

Mixed in with these are classic Americana like “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Auld Lang Syne” (OK, it’s Scottish but we appropriated it), “My Country ’tis of Thee” and so on. Because above all, this is a movie about America and from a time when Broadway was a part of America instead of the Bolshevik enclave it is now. The story of Cohan’s life, as presented here, is the story of how immigrants can come to this country and have a kid who doesn’t just survive, doesn’t just succeed, but actually captures the national imagination for decades.

Though, as the movie points out, all fame is fleeting, and the new generation doesn’t know from Cohan’s classics (a little unlikely given my kids know quite a few of his songs) and are only into the fancy swing tunes, like “Jeepers Creepers” (1938). I guess it was more his shows (which he made mucho bank on) that were quickly forgotten—I hadn’t heard of them, but I’m more into the post-WWI, pre-WWII era—but such is the nature of live theater.

They probably weren't this good looking.
The Four Cohans, Hollywood Style

Anyway, the theme of this movie, beyond “America, Heck Yeah!” is the power of the family. Cohan (actually) got his start as part of The Four Cohans, where the other three Cohans consisted of his sister and parents. The movie shows him growing up, cocky to the point of arrogant and irascible enough to hurt The Four Cohans options for where they could play. So the family gets to stick beside him and he gets to sacrifice so they can succeed, and then he gets to succeed and then he gets to help them out, and then his parents get old and…oh, my, you get the picture.

Circle of life stuff. As trite as the music. But, as they say, everything true is trite, and if none of this actually happened, it’s a kind of idealization of the family life we all want. The sort of thing entertainment was made of before it got “real”: aspirational stuff. You wanna be there for your family and to know they’re there for you, and you’re willing to sacrifice because they have and will for you. Yeah, we all got choked up more than once.

Now, the only thing is: We’ve been sitting in the theater for over two hours at this point (well more because we got there early, and good thing, ’cause it was packed) and by the end were pretty “full” both cinematically and musically speaking. But The Music Man was next, and it’s a whopper (over 2 1/2 hours) and jammed with more music than even this. So the kids would be put to the test.

And forever in peace may it wave.
It truly is a Grand Old Rag.

Warriors of the Dawn

The Flower has friends downtown and, the way traffic is in the city, it takes an hour to make the trip. They often only hang out for a few hours at a time (none of the kids like sleepovers, curiously) so it seldom makes sense to come home in the interim. I hadn’t really looked around Koreatown since living there (pre-kids) and I thought it would be cool to see what had been done in the ensuing era. (Renovation had been talked about back then but it was basically a ghetto, if we can stretch the term. It still is, actually, with just a slightly bigger stretch.)

But with cell phones!
Everyone in Koreatown dresses like THIS.

And the thing about Koreatown is that you can go see Korean movies there. You can also go see American movies with Korean subtitles, like Wonder Woman and, actually, I might have gone to see that if it had been dubbed in Korean (with or without English subtitles). But I was actually excited to see that this movie, The Proxy Soldiers, was playing because the last Korean military movie I saw (My Way) was really good and, to me, culturally interesting.

The South Koreans, like everyone else who has adopted Western culture, has also absorbed all the black PR about the West. My Way was so astounding because it was just a straight-up patriotic film, and you don’t see a lot of that these days. So, for whatever reason, while the South Koreans seem to hate the USA (or perhaps that’s just the impression the media here gives us), they don’t seem to fully hate themselves (yet), and they can make movies like that, and like this.

But, sometimes, ya gotta...
The Man Who Would Rather Not Be King

The story goes that, in 1592, Japan invaded Korea, and the king escaped to China to beg for help. In order to keep the pretense that he hadn’t done so, he made one of his sons stay behind to rally the militia. In reality, nobody wants him to succeed. Similarly, nobody wants to be on the detail with him, so he ends with the other heroes of our film, the proxy soldiers. (Which is a way better title than Warriors of the Dawn but I suppose not as flashy.)

In Korea at the time, apparently, some term of military service was mandatory and the wealthy would get out of it by paying people to fight for them, hence, proxy soldiers. If the soldier died before fulfilling the contract he was proxying, the next eligible member of his family would take it over. If the movie is to be believed—and this seems so plausible as to be virtually inevitable—the trick the Korean elites pulled was to move a bunch of people to the inhospitable northern border and deprive them of any opportunity to make any other kind of living.

As you do.

This, of course, is the ultimate path of every government: Make everyone come to you for survival and you can pretty much get what you want. At least, right up until the Japanese invade.

And they will, ’cause, Japanese.

The proxy soldiers are at the end of their tours, and they’d rather get back to protect their families rather than waste their lives on a mission even they can see is a cynical ploy. But the leader is a guy who sees an opportunity which he initially sells (perhaps to himself as well as them) as a financial opportunity: Serving the Crown Prince—now the official King, even—means a way out of the lives they have been trapped into. (And their wishes really are, shall we say, modest: A lot of them just want the opportunity to take a test that will allow them to get into the real army.) But as he sees the bookish young man struggle with what is, essentially, a military command, he sees something greater: The possibility to give Korea a wise leader.

It’s packed full of action, but it gives enough space for the characters to grow and breathe. There’s a lot of band-of-brothers type camaraderie but all the characters are given a chance to fill out, as it were, including the prince-king’s personal ball-washer. (The prince-king does nothing for himself, you see?) There’s a lot of intrigue here, too, but for me it quickly veered into a kind of Warriors thing where all you know is the good guys are being besieged on all sides.

I think it was her. They all look alike.
You’d look like this if it were YOUR job, too!

I liked it, and as I was watching it, I kept saying to myself, “My God, The Boy would love this!” But, alas, he was not with me, so he had to hear how awesome it was secondhand (which is only fair since he ran off to see My Life as a Zucchini and Long Way North without us).

Fun fact: The last Korean movie we had seen was The Handmaiden, which was about how the Koreans fared under Japanese invaders in the early 20th century, and while I was waiting for this movie (about Japan invading Korea in the 1590s) to come on, there was another trailer for a movie called The Battleship Island, which was about Koreans trying to escape Japanese occupation during WWII.

It seems to be a theme.

That said, there appeared to be no actual rancor toward things Japanese amongst the Koreans I was with on this day (who I realized suddenly were the children of the people who were there the last time I was in Koreatown). They seemed to like Japanese stuff just fine.

I guess?
So, it’s agreed. We hate the Japanese but love “Hello, Kitty”.

Cabaret (1972)

I did a paper in college about how Cabaret was basically the death knell of the traditional musical and, these days, I probably couldn’t back that up (but back when it was much harder to research, I made a pretty good argument) but I’d still argue that it was a harbinger. By being so incredibly successful ( about $250M in today’s money) and utterly abandoning the traditional (and I probably can’t even back up “traditional” given the complex history of the musical) form. But the die was already cast by 1972, if you look at the (few) musicals made, they’re for kids (Snoopy Come Home), they’re historical/fantasy (1776, Man of La Mancha), or the music is ambient (like Lady Sings the Blues or this one). And I think it represented a shift in the ability of people to accept the form. “Nobody bursts out into song,” people say. And so passed musicals that dealt with real issues like labor disputes or racism or just poor life choices.

It’s not really Cabaret‘s fault. But it sure didn’t help.

Vaudeville was more like network TV.
Cabarets are creepy. They’re like vaudeville + sleaze.

And the funny thing is that, while I remembered how tight the movie was as a musical, I had forgotten how seamy it is as a drama. The dissolute Sally Bowles (Oscar winner Liza Minelli) strikes up a relationship (after we’re given to think she’s had a string of failed relationships) with the sexually confused Brian Roberts (Michael York) which finds complications with the completely decadent Baron Fancypanzer (Helmut Griem). There’s also a subplot with another fake-romance-gone-real between Fritz and Natalia, which is complicated by the fact that Natalia is a Jewess and it’s 1931 in Germany.

It’s a perfect fit for (Oscar Winner) Bob Fosse who was certainly of the decadent times (the West in the ’70s, not the West in the ’30s) but not oblivious to their portent. And it’s brilliantly done. The music is so thoroughly removed from the action that the Master of Ceremonies (Oscar winner Joel Grey) has no name and takes no part in the actual story—which fact did not keep him from winning the Oscar for best supporting actor. At the same time, it’s part of the woof-and-warp of the film. It would be done many times after this, but never better.

And I had forgotten—and we’re entering spoiler territory here—that our heroine resolves the dramatic tension of the story with an abortion.

Oh, Pinochet, we hardly knew ye!
The fascists will beat the communists, then we’ll reign in the fascists. Works every time!

It’s an awful, awful period in cinema. (Note that the movie snatched most of the Oscars away from The Godfather, where the hero is a cold-blooded murderer.) It’s still a great movie, and I find if I can spread watching the movies out from this period, I’m not overcome with their ennui and ugliness. (Cabaret is Technicolor, but it’s the under-saturated, “realism” that was typical for the era.) The music is quite good and the campy, ugly cabaret segments are well put together and often cutting.

The kids liked it, but I think they were a bit taken aback.

Hey, she won an Oscar. She can do whatever to her face.
And Liza Minelli never updated her makeup again.

It Comes At Night

Yes! It comes at night! What comes at night? you ask? Beats me. Still don’t know after seeing this.

Unless…what comes at night is fear, paranoia, savagery…and maybe Joel Edgerton.

It Comes At Night is sort of this year’s The Witch: A horror movie that isn’t really mean to shock, but meant to create a brooding atmosphere of foreboding against which our main characters futilely thrash. As such, it’s got a massive RT split 88/44 because horror movie audiences (and let’s face it: that’s a title designed to attract them) want the boogens and the jump scares and critics like to see other styles, and Joel Edgerton. (Joel was in 2015’s creepy The Gift as well as a bunch of other niche movies like Black Mass and Midnight Special.)

Spooky!
Look, waking up to this would scare you. Admit it!

The premise of this film is that the Something Has Happened. When the movie opens, Paul (Edgerton) and his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) are going to bury wife Sarah’s father. We know it’s Sarah’s father because she’s played by Carmen Ejogo (Born to Be Blue, Away We Go!) and she’s black and he’s black and, refreshingly, none of this is ever mentioned or matters anywhere in the rest of the movie. But Travis is seriously haunted by this, and he’s having terrible nightmares.

Paul and Sarah discuss The Thing That Has Happened, which appears to be some really nasty, highly contagious plague. They’re way out in the woods somewhere, and relatively safe, I guess, although, hey, there was someone living with them who had this plague so…

The story heats up when someone breaks into their house, which is well defended, and Paul ends up shooting him (or braining him, I don’t recall which). It’s not fatal though, and it turns out that Will (Chris Abbot, James WhiteMartha Marcy May Marlene) is just a Regular Joe trying to keep his own family alive. After much debate, they decide to let him bring his family to their home.

None better!
Good way to start any relationship, if you ask me.

Shenanigans ensue.

And if you haven’t, at this point, guessed that this isn’t the kind of movie where The Boogen Comes To Get You but in fact the kind where The Real Enemy Is Man, I may as well revoke your popcorn privileges right now. It’s dark, and some might think it nihilistic, but The Boy and I both ended up liking it. I think it’s because the characters were likable and relatable. Harrison does a really fine job as the troubled teenager, but the cast is generally quite good, and this is an actor’s movie.

Also, it’s not actually nihilistic, however bleak, and if I were going to fault it, it might be for the paranoiac premise: but that’s the movie they set out to make, and they made it. Certainly not for the popcorn crowd (except The Boy and I because we’re always eating popcorn) but if you’re down for it, it’s well done.

What? The guy does "creepy" real well!
Nope. Still less scary than Edgerton.

Rocky (1976)

I’ve mentioned (repeatedly) about movies that were part of my youth, and the reticence with which I sometimes recommend them to my children, and while I didn’t have that with Rocky, I was still a little surprised when I took them to see it. I mean, it’s good, sure. But it’s really, really good. Great, even. And in ways that you might not remember immediately, especially in the wake of the…six?…sequels.

And then guzzling it down, raw.
Me, contemplating Twitter in the morning.

Something I didn’t remember at all, for example, despite having retained near perfect memories of Rocky waking up and training, was exactly how squalid conditions were in Philadelphia ’76. At least, in the movie. Rocky lives in a one room flat with a picture of Rocky Marciano and what looks like a Beatles pic taken from a magazine. Adriane and Paulie have a tiny home, which he resents letting her cook-and-clean in.

It’s a great love story. Talia Shire is brilliant, which is easy to overlook considering until I pointed out we had just seen her in a completely different role in The Godfather, something neither of the kids picked up on. And, their relationship is not at all glamorous, but still deeply romantic in a way you don’t seem much these days (if you ever did).

Which is good, 'cause we like them.
There’s a great familiarity and affection in this shot, and Avildsen never looks down on them.

The script is tremendous. One of the maddening things about the critics’ (entirely political) portrayal of Stallone as a meathead is that he wrote this script. And just as a dumb blonde can’t play a dumb blonde (the smart ones are the best at it), a meathead can’t write a meathead because, you know, meathead. But Stallone is so convincing here (and of course reinforced his image as a monosyllabic action hero) that his range and intellect were completely overshadowed in his films, or played out in lesser known films. (Like Oscar, an underrated comedic gem where Stallone is the smartest guy in every scene.)

There’s another funny aspect of this, which didn’t occur to me at the time, but which seems pointed in today’s hyper-racialized atmosphere. (I would say we’re more racially sensitive than we were back then—and the movies and TV would bear me out on that—but my own experience was pretty limited.) In this story, it’s Apollo and his team who are the shrewd, canny manipulators of a dubious system, with an odd mix of patriotism and cynicism that only 1976 could muster, while Rocky’s the sincere down-on-his-luck guy just hoping—not even hoping—for one lucky break.

Thuggish white man beating up on that beautiful black face? That's GENTRIFICATION!
Also, today Rocky would be a “hate crime”.

Burgess Meredith—kind of a household name around here—is terrific, of course, but he’s written great, too. The scene where he comes to ask Rocky to let him train him, and Rocky waits until he leaves to rant (though loudly enough it can be heard on the street) is really very powerful and touching. The Flower, who learned of Meredith’s existence from “Adventure Time” and has seen him on “The Twilight Zone” has said, “He was always old!” I told her, “Yeah, and he’d go on to be old for another 20 years!” (If the original Of Mice and Men comes around, though, we’ll definitely see it.)

Another thing that surprised me here was that the fight actually seemed rather short, and almost anticlimactic. Almost, but not quite. I didn’t stop watching the series until Rocky III (until Creed) and I think those later films had a lot more fighting in them. So I probably mixed up some of those fights. I remember Rocky II having long fight scenes, and Rocky III has multiple fight scenes. But here, well, it’s not really a movie about boxing, it’s a movie about a guy who happens to be a boxer. You can see both why it spawned so many sequels and why Stallone might have trouble letting go of this character, whom he made, and who made him.

Or run up a flight of stairs, if you'd rather.
Now, get out there and punch some meat!

Some Like It Hot (1959)

And some like it sweet. Hard to believe, perhaps, but I had never seen this movie. (Perhaps less hard to believe: I didn’t get that it was a reference to jazz, where “hot” was used to refer to improvisational riffing on the tune, and “sweet” meant playing it as written. Although for a guy who’s as in to Paul Whiteman like I am, it’s pretty hard to believe!) Men in dresses fall into two categories: The kind who are trying to be funny, and the kind who aren’t. The latter (in film) give me the heebie-jeebies. (As Cynthia Yockey @conservativelez said on Twitter, they trigger the “uncanny valley” feeling.) The former—well, I typically don’t find them funny (pace Monty Python), and I don’t find the premise inherently amusing as some do. Also, I never “got” the whole appeal of Marilyn Monroe (a sentiment The Flower shared with me).

Well, this movie changed our minds. Bigly.

The static shots don't do her justice.
Pictured: Not unattractive.

It’s so, so funny. And Marilyn is so, so sexy.

It’s based in 1929, during prohibition, when a couple of Chicago musicians (hurting in the post crash, hard-times-for-musicians winter) find themselves witness to a mass murder by a vicious mob boss. (I said this was a comedy, right?) In order to escape the boss’ unwanted attentions, they put on dresses and flee to Florida with a girl’s band. The lady killer of the two falls in love with dumb, sexy vocalist of the group, and poses as the sort of wealthy gentleman she imagines she wants, while the other fends off an elderly romeo of his own. The shenanigans come to a head when the gangsters, attending a—I dunno, a gangster-con?—end up in the exact same hotel as our girl’s band.

What are the odds?!?

Close to 100%, maybe.
No better than 5:8, I’m sure!

It’s been done so many times, of course, and mostly not well. I expected to like the film okay, but I didn’t expect to love it—which I did. Same with The Flower. (The Boy was putting off to the next date so he could see it with His Girl, but they ended up missing the movie.) I was particularly surprised at how daring the movie was. Granted, this was 1959, and the world was beginning its descent into smut, but this managed to be as charmingly unsubtle as Marilyn Monroe.

Who is brilliant in this. For her small role in All About Eve, she was famously “difficult” to work with, it was apparently due to nerves and wanting to get it just right when acting alongside of Bette Davis—and who could blame her? This time, she was at least as hard to work with, but in this case, it’s her “personal life” (i.e. “drug addiction”) that made her a huge liability.  Fortunately, that liability was Billy Wilder’s problem and not ours, and Monroe does an unparalleled dumb blonde that reminds one how sublimely difficult that can be to pull off. I mean, a few women have pulled off “funny dumb blonde” transcendently (like Gracie Allen), and quite a few mostly forgettable women have done the “sexy dumb blonde” thing. Not very many can pull off the sublimely funny and also irresistibly sexy thing. Now, add to the “sexy” and “funny” her secret ingredient: a kind of vulnerability (even sadness) that makes her sympathetic and elicits a protective nature in the audience (and not just men). Amazing.

The cast is perfect overall. Tony Curtis, doing an amusing impression of Cary Grant when he poses as the rich man, plays well off the apparently exhausting Monroe, but his chemistry with Lemmon is better. (Probably because of the fewer takes needed for them.) Lemmon is fabulous as the guy who’s too much a guy to be a convincing girl, but then learns to embrace the financial opportunities it presents him. Of course, if you look this up today, you’ll get lots of side hits for “LGBT” movies which this most assuredly is not: The very concept is played for laughs at every turn. Indeed, that’s why the movie works.

Never fails. I guess.
Tony Curtis doing the old “I have…a problem” gag to get her hooked.

That said, another reason it works is because it’s not homophobic. One could reasonably expect a strong aversion to the advances of men on our faux-women, especially given their own libidinous natures, but Lemmon’s whole subplot (with the sublime Joe E. Brown as a genuinely rich suitor with a thing for showgirls) is premised on keeping him entertained while Curtis does his Cary Grant schtick on Brown’s character’s boat.  This is what you call “subverting expectations”. Remarkably, it still works.

Another amusing angle on the issue is the fact that the boys quickly discover they dislike being the objects of predatory ’50s-era males, and rather than giving them empathy for women, their primary goal is to go back to being the predators. Because of course. Wilder himself was more of the playboy type, and (if his movies are any indication) was basically a live-and-let-live libertine.

And a brilliant director, perhaps at the height of his career, even the low points of which seem much better in retrospect. The timing is perfect. Even if a lot of the jokes are missed because, honestly, how many these days are going to remember George Raft gangster quirks (like coin-flipping) or that James Cagney grapefruit bit. I mean, I do, but it’s sort of like Shakespeare: You don’t get all the jokes, because they’re references to contemporary things, puns for words that no longer carry the meanings they did, and so on. But they can still be hilarious. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.

I know and love the music, of course, with “I’m Through With Love” and Marilyn’s iconic rendition of “I Wanna Be Loved By You” being the most obvious among them. The composer of the former, Matty Malneck, was the composer of said song, and the song supervisor on this. Malneck was the composed only one musical score: Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution. And to tie it all back together, Malneck was a “hot” jazz violinist with, you guessed it, Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.

Top 10 closing line?
“Nobody’s perfect.”

The Godfather (1972)

One of my favorite bits of TV, which goes back far enough that you get the sense of how little TV I watch these days, is from a fairly hacky 2006 episode of “The Family Guy” where the Peter, trapped in a room and about to drown with the rest of his family confesses the grievous sin:

Peter: But since we’re all gonna die, there’s one more secret I feel I have to share with you. I did not care for The Godfather.
Lois: What?
Peter: Did not care for The Godfather.
Chris: How can you even say that, dad?
Peter: Didn’t like it.
Lois: Peter, it’s so good! It’s like the perfect movie!
Peter: This is what everyone always said. Whenever they say…
Chris: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, I mean, you never see, Robert Duvall!
Peter: Fine. Fine. Fine actor, did not like the movie.
Brian: Why not?
Peter: Did not…couldn’t get into it.
Lois: Explain yourself. What didn’t you like about it?
Peter: It insists upon itself, Lois.
Lois: What?
Peter: It insists upon itself.

Copyright law is weird.
It can be hard to find online (unlike the ACTUAL Godfather) because “Family Guy” is culturally significant.

If one wished to describe all of Francis Ford Coppola’s oeuvre with a single phrase, it might well be “it insists upon itself”. I’ve known plenty of people who felt Apocalypse Now (one of my favorite movies) was basically a bloated college film full of self-importance and, honestly, I can’t really disagree with that any more than I could disagree that The Godfather insists upon itself.

But I’ve actually never been a big fan of the film. When IMDB was first created, this movie and its sequel were #1 and #2. (They’ve been relegated to #2 and #3 since The Shawshank Redemption became ascendant.) And that’s all I have to say about that.

I wanted to see it again because I’ve never seen it on the big screen before and, frankly, that makes a world of difference. It’s a very dark film. I mean, literally, with scenes in the theater being almost complete blackness, like a higher budget Dirty Harry, and important things happen in those scenes that I can’t imagine I was ever able to make out on the little screen. There are a ton of people moving around here, and one needs a good visual image to keep track of the plot.

Coppola does this A LOT in his films.
Look at all the blacks! And here, it’s at least backlit. Often, nope.

The story is that an aging gangster is losing his grip on his little corner of the underworld because he refuses to deal drugs—and I believe this actually has some basis in reality—until a botched assassination ends up with his previously reluctant war hero son first fleeing after an act of revenge but soon re-emerging to take control.

I feel like that doesn’t matter, though. This is one of those movies practically overwhelmed by its historical impact. It won a ton of Oscar nominations, most of which it lost to Cabaret, except (oddly) for Best Picture (and it also won a writing award), and best actor (which Cabaret didn’t have a nom for), and when Marlon Brando won, he had a fake Indian come up and chastise the Academy and America (over Wounded Knee!). Al Pacino, Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall were bit players (at the time, not in this movie). Talia Shire was the director’s sister. (What an actress, though!)

She would never look so angelic again.
Simonetta Stefanelli makes Al Pacino forget all about Diane Keaton.

And Coppola did everything “wrong” from a studio standpoint. He made it non-commercial. He made it about family rather than fun-times running-and-gunning, which would’ve been more in the mold of Bonnie and Clyde, which one imagines this was part of the spate of gangster movies that the Beatty/Dunaway vehicle inspired. The violence there is not fun, and it’s not glamorous. There’s a lot of it, and the movie lacks much in the way of heroic figures though, as antiheroes, Brando and Pacino’s characters are far from the worst we’ve seen.

You know, in the theater, when I could follow it pretty well, I found it hung together and held my attention for the THREE whopping hours it goes on. That’s no small feat. The kids basically responded with “That’s a lot of movie,” and again, I can’t disagree. We liked it. But I don’t think we have the superlatives for it that others seem to.

He ALSO would never look so innocent again.
Al Pacino starts out all American and reluctant to get into the biz.

Frenzy (1972)

It’s all very well to talk about “lesser Hitchcock” but, once again, even “lesser Hitchcock” is still pretty damn good, and the kids ended up really liking this, the penultimate and most graphic of Hitch’s movies.  One can (and to some degree I did) end up remembering the graphic aspects of the film to the exclusion of others which is a shame, since the graphic aspects are both the tamest things in it 45 years later, and the least remarkable (though one strangling is particularly bravura). The kids didn’t even comment on these aspects which struck me as somewhat needlessly vulgar when I was their age (I was about The Boy’s age when I first saw it).

I mean, honestly. Some murders are so undignified.
Today they’d CGI broken blood vessels in the eyes and tint her skin a little, probably, and it would look just as goofy.

What’s left, however, is confident, polished film making with enough pizzazz to put it in the upper half of Hitch’s films on a lot of people’s lists. (Though it’s intriguing to note that there is wild disagreement over how to rank said films, and both this and and Saboteur can end up in the top 10 depending on who’s compiling the list.) The premise is classic Hitch: In a script by relative newcomer Anthony Schaffer (who would go on to write The Wicker Man, Evil Under The Sun and Death on the Nile) our hero is ne’er-do-well Richard Blaney (John Finch, Death on the Nile, Ridley Scott’s 2005 muddle Kingdom of Heaven) who finds himself out of work unfairly (but us with the sense that he’s got a lot of self-inflicted wounds).

He goes to his wife to complain, and possibly for help, but rather than wound his pride she slips a few bucks in his pocket, which he then blows on a barmaid named Babs—which in itself might be considered a bit tacky, but becomes more problematic when the ex-Mrs. Blaney turns up dead. Strangled at the hands of the Shropshire Slasher…wait, wrong story…at the hands of the…uh…Nectktie Strangler. (I can’t remember if that’s his actual appellation, but he’s a strangler and he uses a necktie so good enough.) This makes Richard the #1 suspect for the police because, well, as we established in Saboteur, authorities are just not very bright.

Just awful.
But still WAY brighter than ’70s Fashion Designers.

Because of course serial killers don’t just up and kill their wives like that. Or, as the Inspector’s wife (the delightful Vivien Merchant, who didn’t do a lot of movies but got an Oscar nom for Alfie) puts it, couples who have been married for a long time don’t commit crimes of passion. She helpfully uses her marriage to him as a harmlessly pointed example of a lack of passion. The Inspector (Alec McCowen) and his wife have a relationship which provides endless humor in this film, with her perfectly and complacently aware of his dietary needs as she feeds him exotic gourmet grotesqueries from all over the world. (At one point she gives a margarita to one of his officers, which is amusing at this late date for being so mainstream. Needless to say, the salt-ringed glass does not especially appeal to the English gent.)

We have a wrongly accused man, and he’s going down for the crime, as he must in a Hitch film. We have multiple betrayals, including one where a couple who knows for a fact that our hero is innocent because he was with them during the murder, yet doesn’t come forward because it will put them in an awkward position vis a vis a property in France they’re setting up. (The late Billy Whitelaw, whose last film was Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz has a very bitchy role here.) This probably happened in some of Hitch’s American films but none are leaping to mind.

Hitch!
No one but Hitch can make dark humor so broadly appealing.

The story and dialogue are entertaining enough. You get the suspense you’d expect. There are also, even at this late date, some extraordinary bits of camerawork. There’s also, despite the concession/exploitation of “modern” lax standards, an underlying morality. The murderer is a source of suspense and humor, but he’s never given a cool veneer (like, say, a Hannibal Lecter). He’s a kind of loser, though he gets along well enough in a superficial world.

Anyway, the kids liked it. And I liked it more than I remember, which (if I remember correctly) is true every time I see it. I’m probably hearing my dad clucking about Hitch’s exploitative nature (which I think he felt about Psycho) at its worst. Intriguingly, they both would debate the quality of both this and Saboteur over North by Northwest and Vertigo!