Monthly Archives: July 1992

Try And Get Me!

Conceivably the most anti-American Hollywood picture ever madeI certainly can’t think of any competitorsCy Endfield’s brilliant and shocking 1951 thriller (also known as The Sound of Fury) was adapted by Jo Pagano from his novel The Condemned, which was inspired by a lynching that occurred in California during the 30s. A frustrated and jobless veteran (Frank Lovejoy), tired of denying his wife and son luxuries, falls in with a slick petty criminal (Lloyd Bridges), and the two work their way up from small robberies to a kidnapping that ends in murder. Apart from a moralizing European character who isn’t really necessary, this is a virtually flawless masterpiece, exposing class hatred and the abuses of the American press (represented here mainly by Richard Carlson) with rare lucidity and anger. At once subtle and unsparing, this may be the best noir you’ve never heard of: Endfield’s American career was cut short by the blacklist the year it was released. With Kathleen Ryan, Katherine Locke, Adele Jergens, and Art Smith. (JR)… Read more »

Time Will Tell

A documentary about Jamaican and Rastafarian musician Bob Marley by Declan Lowney, priceless for its concert footage of Marley and his group, the Wailers, though rather skimpy as biography. (JR)… Read more »

Right On! The Original Last Poets

A fascinating time capsuleshot in 1968, released in 1970this is a filmed performance of three angry, talented black poets. Gylan Kain, Felipe Luciano, and David Nelson recite their highly rhythmic, passionate work to Afro-Cuban percussion (with occasional flute and guitar) on a rooftop and in other urban ghetto settings, working out a highly politicized poetics that anticipates rap while conveying much of the essence of black-power rhetoric of the late 60s. More than a simple objective rendering of an event, this film is interspersed with cutaways and found footage in a very effective fashion by director Herbert Danska, probably best known for his 1967 jazz feature with Dick Gregory, Sweet Love, Bitter. (JR)… Read more »

Prelude To A Kiss

I haven’t seen the stage version of this, but I suspect that what makes it work is the collective decision of cast and audience to believe in the fantasy conceit of two souls swapping bodies: it’s a bit like believing in fairies in Peter Pan. The conceit still carries charm in the movie, and the charisma of Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan as a romantic couple certainly helps, but inevitably one feels a bit more self-conscious about believing here; to some extent one remains on the outside looking in. Scripted by Craig Lucas from his own play and directed by Norman Rene, the original stage directorthe same team who wrote and directed Longtime Companionthis has enough old-fashioned appeal as a love story to carry one over its rougher spots, and the secondary castSydney Walker, Kathy Bates, Ned Beatty, Patty Duke, and Richard Riehleis uniformly fine (1992). (JR)… Read more »

The Master Plan

Writer-director Cy Endfield’s second Brittish feature, made shortly after he was blacklisted and forced into exile, and signed with the pseudonym Hugh Raker because of Hollywood’ s baleful transatlantic influences. Ironically this is one of the most paranoid cold-war thrillers to have been made anywhere, with a plot (adapted by Endfield from a story by Harold Bratt) that sounds like it could have been hatched by the hero of The Manchurian Candidate. An American major stationed in Germany who suffers from blackouts (real-life war hero Wayne Morris) is assigned to trace an intelligence leak; hypnotized by communists and unaware of what he’s doing, he photographs a secret file labeled the master plan. This is more an unsettling curiosity than a fully accomplished thriller, but Endfield’s singular edginess certainly comes through. With Tilda Thamar, Norman Wooland, Mary Mackenzie, and Arnold Bell (1954). (JR)… Read more »

London Kills Me

Hanif Kureishi, the English screenwriter of Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, makes his directorial debut in a feature with his own script about a group of young drug dealers in the Portobello Road area of London. As in the earlier features, Kureishi displays an uncanny feeling for the everyday textures of contemporary life in London and a less confident sense about what his true subjects are. In this case, they’re a street kid called Clint (Justin Chadwick) who’s trying to secure a pair of shoes for his first day of work at a restaurant; his street boss Muffdiver (Steven Mackintosh), a downscale dandy who has a crush on Clint’s old pal Sylvie (Emer McCourt); various customers and hangers-on; and an Indian sage (Roshan Seth), among others. While Kureishi’s directorial technique doesn’t always match his writing schemes, this is still recognizably his work, for better and for worse. At times a love story between Clint and Muffdiver, with Sylvie functioning as go-between, thought the closest the film comes to saying this directly is a scene bringing the three characters together in the same bathtub, an apparent allusion to Performance. With Fiona Shaw, Brad Dourif, Tony Haygarth, and Stevan Rimkus; the cast is uniformly fine, the story perpetually unresolved (1991).… Read more »

The Limping Man

Though this watchable and moody English thrillerabout an American (Lloyd Bridges) visiting a former lover (Moira Lister) in London and becoming involved in a murder caseis signed by one Charles De Lautour, it’s actually the first English feature of the black-listed American director Cy Endfield, who had to work anonymously or pseudonymously even in England during this period. (De Lautour was in fact a real director whom Endfield paid to front for him.) Despite an unsatisfying denouement that suggests hasty script work (the credited writers are Ian Stuart and Reginald Long), this manages to pack a lot into its tidy 74 minutes; with Helene Cordet, Bruce Beeby, Alan Wheatley, and Leslie Phillips (1953). (JR)… Read more »

The Last Of The Mohicans

The usually adept Daniel Day-Lewis, employed here more as an icon than as an actor, stars as Hawkeye, frontiersman and adopted son of a Mohican (Indian activist Russell Means), who becomes romantically involved with the daughter (Madeleine Stowe) of a British officer in 1757, during the French and Indian War, in a visually handsome but dramatically attenuated 1992 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic American novel. The North Carolina locations, framed in ‘Scope, are certainly pretty, but the period ambience is undermined by a tacky wallpaper score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman; all things considered, I still prefer Maurice Tourneur’s 1920 adaptation of the tale (I haven’t seen George B. Seitz’s 1936 version, but Philip Dunne’s script from that film is credited here as a source). Michael Mann, the director, collaborated on the screenplay with Christopher Crowe; with Wes Studi and Jodhi May. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jet Storm

Richard Attenborough plays the deranged father of a little girl killed by a hit-and-run driver. An explosives expert, he boards the same flight from London to New York as the guilty driver and plots to blow the plane up. Cy Endfield directed and cowrote (with Sigmund Miller) this hard-edged, almost entirely airborne English thriller with his characteristic sense of how people show their true colors, for better and for worse, during a collective crisis. Stanley Baker is the pilot and Mai Zetterling plays Attenborough’s second wife; the capable cast also includes George Rose, Hermione Baddeley, Diane Cilento, and Sybil Thorndike. Also known as Killing Urge and Jetstream (1959). (JR)… Read more »

Dream Deceivers: The Story Of James Vance Vs. Judas Priest

A singularly unpleasant and unedifying 1991 documentary by David Van Taylor about the young survivor of a suicide pact in Reno who blew half his face off with a shotgun, and the subsequent suit brought against the heavy-metal band Judas Priest for inspiring his friend (consciously and subliminally) to pull the trigger on himself. To make art or even sense out of this horrific storywhich also involves a lot of family abuse, drugs, violence, and fundamentalismwould require an H.L. Mencken or a Nathanael West. All it gets here is a barely competent documentarist more interested in exploiting his subjects’ misery than in attempting anything that resembles serious analysis. The sheer cheapness, crassness, and inhumanity of what emerges certainly makes an impression, but don’t expect any intelligence or insight. (JR)… Read more »

Death Becomes Her

Working with the two writers responsible for Apartment Zero (Martin Donovan and David Koepp), two of the best screen comediennes around (Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn), Bruce Willis under pounds of makeup, and Isabella Rossellini in the raw, Robert Zemeckis sustains both the nastiness of Used Cars and the animated cartoon aesthetics of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in a violent and macabre farce about female vanity and aging, featuring the mutilation of women’s bodies as its chief source of amusement. If there were something resembling genuine satire of human behavior beyond the simple pretexts for fancy special effects and relentless sadism, I might have found some of this funny. (JR)… Read more »

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a high school cheerleader who discovers from an ancient guru (Donald Sutherland) that she’s the latest in a series of girls fated to slay vampires, with the aid of acrobatic kicks, pirouettes, and wooden stakes (1992). In the middle 60s this would have been a beach-blanket comedy. The direction of Fran Rubel Kuzui (Tokyo Pop) suggests that she’s more comfortable with character than action, and Joss Whedon’s script has some fun with Valley talk (both genuine and ersatz) but strains to sell the story. Paul Reubens (the former Pee-wee Herman) and Rutger Hauer camp it up as vampires, Luke Perry provides romantic interest, and Michele Abrams, Hilary Swank, and Paris Vaughan provide the teenage backup. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

Black To The Promised Land

A fascinating documentary by Madeleine Ali, an American black woman who has converted to Judaism, about a group of black teenagers from a high school for problem kids in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant who spent ten weeks living and working on an Israeli kibbutz. Ali carefully and, to all appearances, quite objectively chronicles the entire experience, from anticipation in Brooklyn to initial alienation and frustration at the kibbutz to passionate commitment to disappointment about leaving. Branford Marsalis provides an effective jazz score. (JR)… Read more »

Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens

Russ Meyer’s most deliriously mannerist and frenetically edited feature (1978); it’s helped along by an extremely arch script written by Meyer and, pseudonymously, Roger Ebert. Set in Small Town, USAa curious place peopled exclusively by hapless males (including Ken Kerr) and voracious amazonian women with abnormally swollen breasts (including Francesca Kitten Natividad, Anne-Marie, and June Mack)this is basically a parody of Meyer’s already parodic style of porn comedy; Meyer himself makes an appearance. (JR)… Read more »

Barry Lyndon

All of Stanley Kubrick’s features look better now than when they were first released, but Barry Lyndon, which fared poorly at the box office in 1975, remains his most underrated. It may also be his greatest. This personal, idiosyncratic, melancholy, and long (three hours) adaptation of the Thackeray novel is exquisitely shot in natural light (or, in night scenes, candlelight) by John Alcott, with frequent use of slow backward zooms that distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative about an 18th-century Irish upstart (Ryan O’Neal). Despite its ponderous, funereal moods and pacing, the film is a highly accomplished piece of storytelling, building to one of the most suspenseful duels ever staged. It also repays close attention as a complex and fascinating historical meditation, as enigmatic in its way as 2001: A Space Odyssey. With Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, and Leonard Rossiter; narrated by Michael Hordern. PG, 183 min. (JR)… Read more »