Weekend Film Recommendation: A Tribute To Dana Andrews Begins

Carl Rollyson’s Hollywood Enigma is the definitive biography of the remarkable Dana Andrews

Dana AndrewsRBC Weekend Film Recommendation takes a break from recommending movies this week in favor of recommending the next best thing: A book about the movies! And with it I commence a month-long tribute to Dana Andrews. I have always found him intriguing because he was such a towering star in the 1940s, anchoring films of superlative quality that were also wildly popular with audiences, including A Walk in the Sun, Laura and of course The Best Years of Our Lives. But beginning in the 1950s his career dissipated very rapidly and few people today even remember his name. What happened to this talented and toothsome actor, who seemed poised to dominate the screen for decades as did similar performers such as Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck?

That’s one of the central questions addressed by Carl Rollyson’s fine recent biography Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews. Nothing else written about Andrews over the years pulls together so many sources of information so skillfully, making this likely the definitive biography of the man for all time. Crucially, Rollyson obtained the support of Andrews’ family and with it access to home movies, letters and anecdotes that get beneath the glossy images that the Hollywood publicity machine creates for its stars.

Rollyson makes clear that Andrews’ path to Hollywood was neither certain nor easy. Dana’s domineering, colorful father was a Baptist preacher in Texas and money was at times tight in the large Andrews clan. Dana and his siblings worked at odd jobs to keep the family afloat, and even as he was later getting a foothold in Southern California theater, he was still driving trucks to make ends meet during The Great Depression. His humble origins may have accounted for why, throughout his life, he remained an unpretentious regular guy more comfortable with the average person on the street than the glitzy Hollywood types who came to surround him when he became a star. It also helped account for him later becoming an avid New Dealer who loathed the political rise of Ronald Reagan (Both Reagan and Andrews would serve as President of the Screen Actors Guild).

Through extracts from love letters Rollyson movingly conveys the central conflict of Andrews’ young adult life. Dana had moved to California and was excited by what he might achieve there. But he was still strongly attached to his long-time girlfriend back in Texas. A painful choice had to be made and he ultimately broke off the engagement with the girl-next-door and married a woman he had met in his new life. Yet he stayed lifelong friends with his first girlfriend, whom he probably recognized understood him and loved him in a way that the many women who later swooned over the famous star never would.

After success in theater, Andrews began to land movie parts of growing significance. He was the epitome of a certain kind of masculinity that was cherished in that era. Outwardly strong, noble and fearless on screen, he simultaneously conveyed, in a minimalistic and naturalistic way, churning emotion underneath. Clearly, he had a handsome face, but it was what was going on underneath that transfixed most movie-goers. Rollyson dissects Andrews’ most critical roles well, helping the reader understand both Andrews’ talents and how some directors (but not others) knew how to maximize them.

In the mid-to-late 1940s, Andrews was one of the most beloved, most highly-paid movie actors in the world. But how many people remember him today compared to Bogart, Peck and Fonda, or even Fred MacMurray, who attained similar heights in that era? Andrews’ steep decline fascinates Rollyson and he goes a long way towards sorting out why it happened. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: A Tribute To Dana Andrews Begins”

Weekend Film Recommendation: A Time for Drunken Horses

The first internationally released Kurdish language film, A Time for Drunken Horses is a shattering experience

un-tiempo-caballos-borrachos-L-bw0FZuI remember the Kurdish area on the Iran/Iraq border as a land of stunning beauty and inordinate risk. No movie captures both realities better than this week’s film recommendation: A Time for Drunken Horses. Made by then-unknown Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi in 2000, it’s the first widely-released film in the Kurdish language, one of many virtues that help it bring alive this part of the world in an authentic way.

The Kurdish villagers (most of whom Ghobadi had play themselves on screen) eke out an existence by smuggling goods back and forth across the snowy, mountainous border. In addition to avoiding border guards who mete out lethal summary punishments, the smugglers must also scramble to evade armed bandits who raid their caravans. Crushing poverty is the lot even of those smugglers who succeed, but they are too economically desperate to abandon their dangerous business. The film’s plot centers on an orphaned family led by a heroic 12-year old boy named Ayoub. He provides for his siblings by smuggling, but his profits are too small to save his deformed, pained and ill brother Medi. Though an operation will only extend rather than save Medi’s life, Ayoub takes on increasingly dangerous work out of love for his sickl brother.

This is an achingly sad film that tells a painful story in an unsparing fashion (Analogies to Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves are inevitable and accurate). But it’s watchable because of the astonishing performances of the young actors and the inspirational courage and love of the family upon whom the story centers. As a director, Ghobadi is wise enough to never descend into mawkishness or to idealize the moral character of the poor, some of whom are portrayed here as greedy and conniving. Nor does he make the mistake of so many films of this sort by lecturing or scolding the audience (e.g., by having some character deliver an earnest speech about the callousness of wealthy Westerners). Rather, he lets the audience feel their own emotions and draw their own conclusions about the characters’ bleak lives.

Saed Nikzat’s cinematography captures the harsh gorgeousness of the region. Nitzat also, wonderfully, lets the camera linger in extended shots so that they audience can immerse themselves in the events portrayed rather than have their attention jerked around by constant jump cuts and close ups. The camerawork is so skillfully done that watching this film at times feels like a melancholy form of meditation.

A Time for Drunken Horses is a powerful piece of cinematic art that deservedly raised the profile of Iranian film worldwide. It will not make you happy, but it will stay with you in a way that is precious beyond words.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of prior film recommendations.

Weekend Film Recommendation: True Romance

After making the second best film of all time that deals with the frustrations surrounding homosexuality in inhospitable environments (I’m referring of course to Top Gun (1986); the top prize goes to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) unless someone chooses to correct me), Tony Scott directed his honed craft of concealing a romantic narrative underneath hyper-violent high-stakes capers in this week’s movie recommendation, True Romance (1993).

Screen shot 2014-01-19 at 23.18.35Christian Slater plays Clarence Worley, a comic book salesman fluent in the language of cult-pop one liners and nerd irreverence. For his birthday, while attending a Sonny Chiba marathon at the local cinema, Clarence meets a prostitute named Alabama, played by Patricia Arquette. When the two instantaneously fall in love and get hitched the next morning, Clarence resolves to liberate Alabama from her indenture to her pimp Drexl (one of Gary Oldman’s more sinister creations). In doing so, he haplessly makes off with a suitcase that he expects contains Alabama’s effects, but that instead contains rather precious cargo belonging to some powerful associates of Drexl. The rest of the movie follows the couple across the country as they try to dispatch the contents of the suitcase. During their journey they reconnect with an old friend and an estranged father, and they become embroiled with brutal mobsters, enterprising cops, indolent roommates, and some of Hollywood’s most burned-out or talentless wretches.

The story is one of Quentin Tarantino’s first, and his stamp is clearly visible. Among other things, fans of his later work will recognize the self-indulgent fondness for gore, obscure movie references (Sonny Chiba was later cast as the sword-smith Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill), and swipes at the vapidity of Hollywood exec culture. Scott’s ability to harness A-list acting talent is a great foil for Tarantino’s slick script. The cast is so star-studded that they make sense together only in a film as replete with machismo as this: you’ll find cameo appearances by Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Val Kilmer, James Gandolfini, and a slew of other actors all known for their bravado.

Screen shot 2014-01-19 at 23.20.44Three performances in particular are commonly cited as standouts. As the layabout stoner Floyd, Brad Pitt showed that his repertoire extended far beyond traditional ‘effortlessly good-looking’ roles. However, the mesmerizing scene between Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father and Christopher Walken as the mob boss with an agenda deserves to go down as one of the great master-classes in how to combine nail-biting tension with uproarious comedy. It’s spellbinding.

The film is uncommonly violent, as is Tarantino’s wont, so you’d have to remember the title to recall that it is intended first and foremost as a romance movie. However, as romance movies go… there’s just a tad too much racism, cocaine, death, and violence against women for this to qualify as a good date film. But hey, maybe it’ll work for you.

This is one of my favorite films of all time. Watch it, revel in yet another bit of 90’s fun, and try – just try, I defy you – not to enjoy yourself.

It’s trivia time again, RBC. When True Romance was released, Tarantino’s name didn’t appear in the credits (his contribution was recognized only later). Name other films that followed a similar pattern. I’ll allow films credited to Alan Smithee, even though that technically refers to a rather different sequence of events.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Railroaded!

railroadedI have praised Anthony Mann’s many noir westerns with Jimmy Stewart here at RBC, but have never recommended any of his more traditional urban noirs. Let me rectify that by pointing you to his 1947 low-budget triumph, Railroaded!.

The film opens with a high-voltage portrayal of a blown stickup, as some luckless bad guys fail to get away clean while robbing a gambling joint, despite having inside help. But the heart of the story comes after the opening fireworks, as the lead gunsel (reliable bad guy John Ireland) and his boozy floozy (Jane Randolph, who excelled in these kinds of roles) frame an innocent man (a sympathetic Ed Kelly) for the crime. A police detective (a pre-Leave it to Beaver Hugh Beaumount) at first isn’t convinced that the guy in the frame is innocent, but he is persuaded to investigate by the attractive, goodly sister of the accused (Sheila Ryan). Action, suspense and romance ensue.

This film was made on Poverty Row, which churned out low-budget B-movies until its business underpinnings were destroyed by the Paramount Supreme Court Case, which I have written about before. The budgets of Poverty Row studios were too small and the films were shot too quickly to consistently achieve quality, but these studios were also a playground for talented people who went on to better opportunities later, including Anthony Mann. The Poverty Row studios were also more comfortable pushing the envelope with the censors, an example in Railroaded! is that when the slatternly Randolph and the saintly Ryan meet in this movie, they get into an extended brawl! (Nice touch by the way: They were dressed in inverted colors for the fight, Ryan all in sinful black, Randolph in angelic white).

Railroaded!, in addition to being an exciting story on its own terms, shows how skilled filmmakers can overcome low budgets. The noir lighting and plenty of closeups keep the viewers from contemplating the cheap props and sets. And Mann’s brisk pace (the film is not much more than an hour long) stops anyone from thinking too hard about some of the less plausible aspects of a script, which would have benefited from one more rewrite to iron out some plot contrivances.

By the way, Hugh Beaumont isn’t the only person in this tough, dark crime movie who went on to inordinately wholesome TV stardom. Ellen Corby, who later became Grandma Walton, appears uncredited as Mrs. Wills.

In summary, this is a remarkably solid and entertaining movie given that its budget was probably around two bits. I believe the poverty row studio movies are in the public domain at this point, so I am posting Railroaded! right here for you to enjoy.

Weekend Film Recommendation: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Editors-Pick-The-Spy-Who-Came-in-From-The-Cold What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives.

So says disillusioned British secret agent Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) in perhaps the best effort to adapt a John le Carré novel to the big screen: 1965’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The serpentine plot concerns a burnt-out espionage agent who enters a downward spiral of booze, self-hatred and lost faith after a disastrous mission in Berlin. But then it turns out that Leamas’ decline and despair is a ruse (?) play-acted at the behest of his superiors. As planned, he is recruited by the other side and ends up trying to discredit East German intelligence head Hans-Dieter Mundt (A cold, effective Peter van Eyck). Leamas undermines the ex-Nazi by feeding false (??) information to Mundt’s ambitious, Jewish deputy (Oskar Werner, very strong here). It’s a difficult, high-risk mission, but Leamas knows that his boss back home is 100% behind him (???).

This may be the most magnificent performance in Richard Burton’s career, and will definitely please all fans of rotting charm. Drinking heavily in real life at the time, he was willing to expose his own capacity for ugliness and decay in a way that many glamorous stars of his era would not have dared to do. He exudes bone crunching hopelessness and isolation in shot after shot: Leamas alone on a park bench, alone in a bar, alone in his bed, alone chained in a cell. He’s devastated and devastating.

x950A 15 minute sequence of scenes in Britain is a masterclass in cinematic storytelling. It’s unsettling yet fascinating as Leamas repeatedly gets pissed and wanders through empty streets. Ultimately, he savagely beats an innocent man (Did the filmmakers cast for this part Bernard Lee — M from the flashy, unrealistic James Bond series — to make a point?). His copy book blotted, Leamas is judged “turnable” by the other side. After being released from jail, he is recruited by the Soviets in a sleazy men’s club by an unctuous businessman and a pathetic, gay procurer (Robert Hardy and Michael Hordern, respectively, terrific actors who clearly understood that there are no small roles).

The romantic aspects of the story also work well and become more important as le Carré’s ingenious plot unfolds. Claire Bloom is credible and sympathetic as the British would-be communist “who believes in free love, the only kind Leamas could afford at the time”. Leamas’ lacerating disdain for her naiveté reveals the depths of his own self-contempt: She may be immature in her politics but who after all is the one risking his life and doing horrible things in a struggle over the very same politics?

Rarely has the look of a movie more perfectly captured its mood, and that’s a credit to Oswald Morris. Without any conscious intention, I have recommended here at RBC more films shot by Morris than any other cinematographer. He is a remarkably unpretentious professional who maintained an astonishingly consistent quality in his work for 6 decades (and he is still with us at age 98). It was a bold and brilliant choice to make this movie in black and white, which let Oswald create a washed out look that matches the bleak tone of the story. As much as the excellent acting, what stays with the viewer are Oswald’s shots of complete desolation both during Leamas’ alcoholic, putatively free, British wanderings and his time in East German captivity.

The other delight of this film is that it never condescends to the audience by over-explaining. With each double and triple cross, rather than clumsy exposition director Martin Ritt simply gives us Burton’s face, as the mind behind it struggles frantically to make sense of the latest shift in the icy wind. A small example of the film’s understated, even at times cryptic, storytelling style is the scene where Werner asks for some paperwork from his underling Peters (Sam Wanamaker, memorably creepy). The seated, lame, Wanamaker extends his hand but not far enough. Rather than step forward, Werner waits until Wanamaker struggles to his feet and hands it to him. Burton starts to laugh derisively. The subtext which the film expects you to understand: Werner is the boss but as a Jew, he will never be fully respected by his German underlings. A small moment, a sly moment, a powerful moment, brought across with no comment other than Burton’s mad laughs at Wanamaker’s expense.

Touches like that are a key reason why The Spy who Came in from the Cold is completely engrossing. Fans of spy films simply cannot miss this landmark movie.

p.s. If you like this movie, you might enjoy prior RBC posts on the best effort to adapt le Carré to television (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and on the battered, shattered Richard Burton and his iconic dingy overcoat

Weekend Film Recommendation: L.A. Story

Kiss-herEver wonder what the result would be if Steve Martin tried to make a Woody Allen movie? You will wonder no longer after watching this week’s film recommendation: 1991’s L.A. Story.

The plot concerns wacky L.A. weatherman Harris Telemacher, who is in a mid-life rut. His extremely high-maintenance girlfriend (Marilu Henner, just perfect) is emotionally distant, his TV job is empty-headed, and something is missing at the heart of his life. But then he gets some mysterious advice from an electronic billboard(!) and wild events of a meteorologic and romantic nature ensue, centered upon a lovely British journalist whom he find irresistible. Meanwhile, L.A. is L.A., and is as much a character as any of the actors in this sweet and funny film.

Martin shines here both as a screenwriter and actor. His script is filled with laughs, including a number of literate in-jokes. It also includes a surprising amount of warmth, which Martin and his then-wife Tennant bring across beautifully as their love develops. Life in L.A. is parodied well, but Martin isn’t as bitter as Woody Allen. The result is more gentle fun-poking than lacerating humor.

This film was an early career success for Sarah Jessica Parker, who is appealing as SanDeE* (Not a typo). People who think that Zoey Deschanel invented the manic pixie dream girl need to see Parker in this film. In the first-rate supporting cast, Patrick Stewart does particularly well as the contemptuous head waiter at L’idiot, Woody Harrelson makes a fine boss/jerk and Richard E. Grant is sympathetic as Tennant’s lonely ex-husband.

But the producers made one TERRIBLE judgement, which is that they cut for running time’s sake the most funny supporting performance in the film: John Lithgow as agent Harry Zell. His scene re-emerged on cable rebroadcasts and the 15th anniversary DVD re-issue, so try if you can to get your hands on those because Lithgow is absolutely gutbusting.

There are moments when the film may strike some viewers as slowly paced or a bit precious, but it always gets back on track comically and dramatically in short order. Hooray for Steve Martin, who worked on the script for a number of years and managed to capture the foibles and virtues of Los Angeles and its denizens in an affectionate and highly entertaining way.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of prior RBC recommendations.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Strange Days

Before Kathryn Bigelow became one of Hollywood’s hot tickets for films like The Hurt Locker (2008), and before her public spat with James Cameron, she turned out some fairly unknown but enjoyable films like Point Break (1991) and this week’s movie recommendation, Strange Days (1995).

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 15.52.20The film is set in a deteriorating L.A., in the final moments of the last millennium. Racial tensions are ablaze, everyone is paranoid, and no one is safe (the Rodney King riots from four years before the film’s release loomed large). Against that backdrop, the conceit of the film revolves around a technological device intended for leisure, which transmits signals directly into its user’s brain and allows them to experience a pre-recorded memory – either their own or that of another person – as though it is in the present. An amputee missing both legs can know the sensation of running barefoot along a sandy beach, and an embittered lover can re-live his favorite memories from a long-ago relationship. Except our protagonist Lenny Nero, an ex-cop played by Ralph Fiennes who now deals in the market exchanging these memories, is mysteriously being sent recordings of rapes and brutal murders, and he needs to solve the whodunit before the killer strikes again.

Bigelow has a real talent for constructing engrossing and visually sensational set pieces. Los Angeles has never looked as meretricious as it does here, with the 90s rave aesthetic spilling out onto the cityscape: there’s no shortage of neon, sequins, strobes, and billows of steam. The visual experience is all the more intense when accompanied by prevailing violence and jarring camerawork, especially during the memory scenes. Like most good sci-fi dystopias, there’s more than a hint of film noir to feast on. L.A. is a city in decay after having been used up by people trying to ‘get theirs’ no matter the cost, and the main characters wear an understandable look of exhaustion and resignation on their faces.

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 15.56.51Unfortunately, Bigelow’s talent for visual extravaganza isn’t quite matched when she tries her hand at symbolism. Lenny’s ex-girlfriend Faith, played by Juliette Lewis, won’t take him back (D’ya get it? It’s like he’s lost Faith!); his best friend Max, played by Tom Sizemore, delights in the coming apocalypse (Hmm… I wonder how Lenny will end up if he abandons all hope and faith entirely?); and his guardian angel Mace, played by Angela Bassett, rescues him from just about every scrape in which he finds himself (redemption through the resolution of race tensions. That’s, like, so deep).

Nonetheless, I happen to enjoy that the central conceit is about the desire for escapism from the present life, and a failure to face up to current problems. It isn’t new, and while it’s been done better elsewhere (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stands out as one example), this is a good effort with impressive acting from a great cast, and a passable script by James Cameron.

If you can stomach the visceral opening scene of Strange Days, you’ll manage the rest. Enjoy this New Year’s film, but don’t expect it be a calm start to 2014!

[Anytime] Film Recommendation: The Fountainhead

Keith appears not to have reviewed this pearl, so here goes:

I came upon this on TCM recently.  A movie about a heroic architect, with Coop and Patricia Neal, what could go wrong?  If you met Ayn Rand at the appropriate age  and never went back to it, you have a really fun campy wallow in store.  Like everyone else, I read The Fountainhead as a college sophomore or freshman, while I was still connecting up neurons into some sort of functional system.  I didn’t think much of the philosophy, or whatever it is, even then, but it was the trigger that got me interested in architecture as I realized I had no idea what the buildings Rand gauzily described as masterpieces would actually look like, and took some courses to find out more.

Like the novels, the film is drenched in unintended self-parody and clearly marked out with signposts for us.  The heavy is named Toohey. (Rhymes with phooey, get it? Like his doppelgänger in Rand’s other big lift, Wesley Slouch, I mean Mouch.  The failed woulda/coulda/shoulda who compromises his principles has the non-gender-specific moniker Gail. You are never lost or in doubt in Randworld.)  Rand wrote the screenplay, and a preachier, speechier bunch of unplayable lines I have never heard.  The whole thing was some kind of bonfire of postwar Hollywood craziness: Cooper and Neal had an affair during the filming, Rand was on the set meddling (and didn’t like the result), and (I just learned from the linked article) Bogart and Bacall, beloved lefties, were initially cast for the leads–did they read the script?

The architecture we are supposed to admire is “modern” architecture as imagined by the people who gave us the sets of Astaire/Rogers films, or maybe the Wizard of Oz.  The great building that caps the film is, of course, thus because it’s the tallest; Burj Khalifa theory of architecture and all the cluelessness it implies.  If you got the subtle functioning of the names, and I bet many of our deepest, sharpest readers did, you will catch the 642 separate instances of phallic this-and-that, especially including Coop tickling a mountain with a little pneumatic drill held about waist-high.

All in all, though, the idea that a communist could orchestrate the decline of everything by getting the rabble stirred up about architecture, or that an architect could save us from collectivism, is so delicious and loony that it redeems the film. It’s a hoot from start to finish, check it out.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Gilda

Rita Hayworth seduced the world with Gilda, which also features terrific cinematography by Rudolph Maté and a fine co-leading performance by Glenn Ford

gilda-black-dress-useRita Hayworth was a big singing and dancing star of musicals in the early 1940s, but the film that made her an international sex bomb (literally) wasn’t released until 1946. It’s this week’s film recommendation: Gilda.

The plot, which echoes Casablanca in a number of respects, concerns a love triangle in a faraway land, in this case, Argentina. Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is a cocky grifter who is flat on his uppers. He is saved from a mugging by a mysterious and rather menacing casino owner named Ballin Mundson (George Macready) whom he subsequently manages to talk into hiring him as an aide-de-camp. All is well for a time, though Johnny suspects that the casino is only a front for Mundson’s other, more shady, business. But before you can say cherchez la femme, their relationship changes for the worse when Mundson marries a sizzling beauty named Gilda (Hayworth), with whom Johnny has an unhappy history. Thus commences a love-hate-love relationship in which Johnny and Gilda torment each other while Ballin begins to suspect the truth about their former relationship. Meanwhile, both the police and Ballin’s criminal associates are closing in on his other lucrative but illegal line of work.

This is a star vehicle for Hayworth from the famous moment she first appears on screen with a sensual toss of her hair. She gets to sing and dance as well as act, most legendarily in her striptease style number “Put the Blame on Mame”. Countless American men (and no doubt some women) were sexually enthralled with her forever after.

I know too much about Hayworth to have such an uncomplicated reaction. I feel sorry for Margarita Cansino, the pudgy Hispanic girl and incest victim whom Hollywood turned — at the cost to her of physical and emotional pain — into Rita Hayworth. She never got to be who she really was and virtually every man in her life, starting with her father, exploited her. It’s a credit to her strength that despite understandable, significant emotional troubles she managed to always pull things together on screen throughout the 1940s and be a terrific movie star. Gilda is generally considered her finest hour, and with good reason.

Even though it’s Hayworth’s film, two other aspects of it are extremely compelling. The first is Glenn Ford. He’s kinetic on screen, a man always appraising every angle in search of some advantage. He also manages, despite not having classically handsome Hollywood-type features, to convey enough sexual attractiveness that Hayworth’s desire for him is entirely believable.

The other thing I adore about this movie is Rudolph Maté’s camerawork, which is completely arresting beginning with the opening, rising shot of those big rolling dice. I have praised him before for his work on Vampyr, but the tools of cinematography came a long way technically since that early film. And boy, does Maté take advantage. Perfect use of light and shadow, deep focus shots, close-ups at critical moments, it’s all here in the hands of a master. And thank you again UCLA Preservation team for this crystal clear, gorgeous restoration of the print.

The performances and the cinematography help make up for an uneven script, which may simply have had too many cooks. There are some lines to die for, and some sharp dialogue, but the plot structure of the last third is unnecessarily clunky in some respects and too pat in others. Still, Gilda is a very fine film noir that completely holds up almost 70 years later.

p.s. The conventional take on Bosley Crowther’s career as a NYT film reviewer is that he lost touch with modern tastes in the late 1960s (His repeated trashing of Bonnie and Clyde being the death-knell) after a long and distinguished career. But if you read his obtuse, inept review of Gilda twenty years earlier, you will see that he never really knew what he was talking about.

p.p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of prior RBC recommendations.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Timetable

Mark Stevens’ 1956 film noir Timetable gives the heist film a special twist

20072011131916editedMany movies start out creative and intriguing but then at some point lapse into formulaic filmmaking, thereby disappointing the viewer. This week’s film recommendation is a fine example of the reverse phenomenon, a movie that starts out in familiar territory but ends up somewhere far more engaging: Mark Stevens’ 1956 film noir Timetable.

The film opens with an ingeniously plotted robbery on a train, pulled off by an icily calm physician (Wesley Addy, a durable TV actor who is very good here in a rare big screen appearance). The case is investigated by a seasoned by-the book police detective (played Joe Friday-style by King Calder) and an eminently respectable insurance investigator named Charlie Norman (Mark Hopkins). For the first 20 minutes, Timetable is a solid but unremarkable police procedural as the two heroes track down the robbers. But then comes a superb twist that drives the story into deep film noir territory, allowing Aben Kandel’s script to dig into themes of lust, middle-class alienation and deceit. The next hour of the film is thus unexpectedly suspenseful and powerful, raising the movie into RBC recommendation-worthy territory.

I admire the control Mark Stevens took over his career in the 1950s. He was stuck in a “road company leading man” spot with the big studios, so much so that even when he anchored a good film he got fourth billing! (The Dark Corner, mentioned at RBC before in a discussion of Lucille Ball and Lured). So he struck out on his own by directing, producing and starring in his own movies, including Timetable, where he does good work in all three capacities.

A few other notes about the film. Jack Klugman, as a luckless criminal named Frankie Page, made his big screen debut here. This is also Felicia Farr’s first film, but she was underutilized I think. Finally, on a silly note, this movie inspired an RBC post on how little money weighs in the movies.

My belief is that Timetable is in the public domain, so I am going to post it right here for you to enjoy. It’s 80 minutes well-spent.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? See the full list of RBC recommendations here.