“WOMEN AND MEN OF SIN’

A while ago I came across  yet another biography of Humphrey Bogart titled TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN: THE LIFE AND THE EXTRAORDINARY AFTER LIFE OF HUMPHREY BOGART by Stefan Kanfer. It is a slim volume by Bogart biography standards clocking in at a mere 320 pages compared with others on the same subject.

I had read Ann Sperber and Eric Lax’s much large  book (720 pages) titled BOGART a few years ago and thought that I had found out a good deal of Mr. Bogart’s life yet for some reason I wanted another take.  The author advanced the idea that there are no tough guys in today’s cinema which got me thinking that he is correct to a point that the ‘Tough guy’ role has become the ‘Action hero”

Who do today’s studios have that could portray a world weary, cynical tough guy cut from the same cloth as we see in Classic Hollywood?   I tend to agree with what Mr. Kanfer says that there are nothing but “Boy men” personified by the likes Toby Maguire, James Franco, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, with the rare exceptions of Tommy lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Johnny Depp,  Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn. Josh Harnett, and did a good turn in the opening of SIN CITY (2005) reminiscent of Dana Andrews (A slight facial resemblance) in WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950)

 

 

The Classic ‘Tough guy’ is often the Detective  who has  the qualities of a cynical acid tongue looking through the world through the bottom of a bottle and too many cigarettes. Today we give the villain the power to have ruthless odd behavior while the pursuing Law are often painted as being an ‘Every man’ reacting as the audience. Great example of this is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) with Javiar Bardem tearing up the screen as the bad guy against Josh Brolin.  You always remember the bad guy or girl in films as Leading men are acted upon.

 

 

Women of the  thirties and  forties were different  yet some could do “gritty” (non prostitution) roles like Aline McMahon and  Ann Dvorak in HEAT LIGHTNING (1934) or Anne Sheridan in NORA PRENTISS (1947).

 

 

These and others would give rise to the  Femme  Fatale of the coming, not  named postwar original Film Noir cycle. It would also spawn the chance of female writers and  Editors  who has always been in Hollywood  as shown in the work of Ida Lupino  in front and behind the camera.

You try not to say that they “Don’t write them like they did” anymore but it is true.  The stories should not be the same as Hollywood has changed alone with  the world has from the war years of the Forties and the Cold war/atomic fear of the fifties.  Now  we have  ‘instant gratification”  plus the  very real fear of populism in Government and  fear mongering of any group deemed  different without the cost of accountability.

The actors from Classic Hollywood often came by way of the theater not as the reverse today. I still believe the theater trained actor has tremendous technique with am ability depending on the group to create roles with accents done properly. It is deadly important to show ‘truth’ in the walk and speech pattern of a role yet that seems to escape many actors of today.

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)  is a strong example. The role of Duke Mantee originated in the theater with Bogart developing that facial snarl, the shuffle walk and rat like hand movements.  Mantee had a face like a clenched fist ready to spring out at you or anyone in his way.

These men  and  women all came from a world of War and the fear of the Depression. Many emerged from poor upbringing marred by alcohol, mental illness or just plain dirt poor living in some shack. It is a different time now with different stories to tell for a different market. The “tough guy’ and tough Girl” has become the action hero of today populating such CGI films as the FAST AND FURIOUS series, The X MEN, IRON MAN, GI JOE films. The resourceful woman is more at home in the Horror Genre with countless examples of being the ‘Final Girl’ in many a  franchise old and  new.

Actors can also pick projects shifting from genre to genre giving stronger career latitude.  This versatility for actors as well as Directors, Writers and  others can be  two edged in that  it give employ ability yet not giving the  public  identification.    Tom Cruise is not  Clark Gable  yet certain segment goes to see a Tom Cruise film because of him.    This   segues into Director Paul Schrader’s controversial article  on the audience.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

(Excerpts from Indie wire article)

“There are people who talk about the American cinema of the ‘70s as some halcyon period,” Schrader said (via Deadline). “It was to a degree but not because there were any more talented filmmakers. There’s probably, in fact, more talented filmmakers today than there was in the ‘70s. What there was in the ‘70s was better audiences.”

“When people take movies seriously it’s very easy to make a serious movie,” he continued. “When they don’t take it seriously, it’s very, very hard. We now have audiences that don’t take movies seriously so it’s hard to make a serious movie for them. It’s not that us filmmakers are letting you down, it’s you audiences are letting us down.”

The “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” writer went to summarize his point by saying, “If audiences are receptive to a quality movie, believe me they will get it. We’re all just waiting to make it. At that time, that period about ten, twelve years, every single week there was some kind of film coming out addressing a social issue in a fictional form.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________

 

I believe it is not  “slag’ of younger people in the audience but a general “call to arms’ for an audience  to care making the  studios produce better material.   One  does not have to have  the  “Cineaste” knowledge or study frame by frame  as anyone can acwuire knowledge but few can point to what is interesting.   The movie going public has changed with many new platforms for presentation and delivery available.  That means more people also more chance of a failure through ‘word of mouth” advertising and the many people and sites including myself that write  film criticism and opinion.   Difference can be good for a  tough story :I still enjoy the rumpled hat and body in the rain leaning against a wall in an ally. They always wore  wool even in the rain or the desert heat. Bogart was  even tough as a cartoon without a gun.

 

Actor Lou Telligan  who was an actor/sculptor in early Hollywood  and  had the walk of a  “panther” once  said  to  John Carradine when they were both younger: “I love my Men of Sin”. Many tend to agree then: now include the  women.

Advertisements

ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

Solid work can be timeless in its reach even be  out of  time.  I admit to getting that feeling that someone could be today when I look at a picture of Louise Brooks who is modern in her style, look and  facial expression especially those  eyes.  Strange  when you see a portrait of Brooks that reaches across time. I like to speculate on what film of today could have been made during  Golden Age of Hollywood.  Tough to believe that this picture was done in 2002 and is sixteen years old yet  Sam Mendes ROAD TO PERDITION could have been made in the past

ROAD TO PERDITION was based upon a graphic novel by crime writer Max Allan Collins which had a version written by David Self at the request of Steven Spielberg.  The  screenplay was then re written by uncredited people to distance itself from  the gratuitous carnage that was in the original source material.  Actor Tom Hanks and  Cinematographer  Conrad Hall requested Mendes limit the violence to necessary acts.  One of the  strengths of this picture is that a good amount of bloodletting occurs off screen which does not take away from the heart of the story.

Tom Hanks playing against type gives a wonderful mixture of cold hearted family man and an enforcer on a rollercoaster ride towards a fate that happens to people when they do the kinds of things that he has done.

The picture has many great scenes between Hanks and Newman one being their relationship set to music with no dialogue.   These two act with their faces, their eyes and let the melody tell the story.

Paul Newman also muses that sons are put on earth to torment their fathers.   One other has a young Daniel Craig getting his comeuppance at a meeting table from Paul Newman who is at the far end.  Newman is seated through the scene; he and Craig play it as a ‘give and take” exercise giving them both moments to shine.  Newman shows an actor brilliantly in touch with his craft and himself to give so much in those moments. James Cagney in John Ford’s 1955 production of MISTER ROBERTS is similar in stance and attack during his rant concerning not taking anything anymore from ‘college boys.’

The picture is filled with characters played by actors who are unafraid to make difficult choices. Jude Law as crusty Harlan Maguire wielding a shotgun, blowing holes in walls in hotel rooms that let sunshine in while trying to dispatch Tom Hanks.   Moody Jennifer Jason Leigh as the wife of Tom Hanks that pays a price for her involvement.

 

The musical score by Thomas Newman is exceptional in this scope and tenderness. Unlike most films set in this time period Newman does not use re- orchestrated songs of the day or obscure pieces instead he uses flowing tones creating soundscapes that images themselves flow over and around.  The music fades out at just the right moment in the climactic scene to let the rain patter down.

 

 

The cinematography by Conrad Hall who passed away during the making of the picture did win the Oscar that year. The film is filled with rain, mist, contrasting bright sunlight, shadows, rich wood tones and an almost sepia tone look.

Sam Mendes creates for us a sad story of a family doomed to consume itself because of its past. Yet it also juxtaposes the entire end on one family unit in a poignant ending.   Seldom today does a picture come together on all areas of story and look: this work still does and is a mere eleven years old.  It truly is a throwback to the great Noir films of the past. Yet it stands on its own with a modern look at themes of family devotion and father and son relationships.

Water images begin and  end the picture either in the cleansing or hiding rain creating shadows. The  desire and  redemption of going to the beach as the  goal at the end of the  film that is not the same because this is Noir and  ‘None of us will ever see  Heaven.”

ROAD TO PERDITION has a break outlook on the world based on its visual content.  The music, the relationships  between family and father  and  son are a corner stone of this  film.   The work stands the test of time yet hard to believe that Tyler Hoechlin who plays Tom Hanks son in the picture can now be seen as  “Superman’ on the  current SUPER GIRL television series.  Paul Newman has passed from us with this being his last on screen appearance.

ROAD TO PERDITION  has that acid tinged look is one of the staples and drawing points of Film Noir itself so it passes with flying gray colors.  The last word goes to Paul Newman from the picture: “I am glad it’s you.”

THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969)

 

Holidays are times that people love to watch the staple films of the season.  Every generation has their favorites they put on and quite frankly watch without thinking. The films can become like the poinsettia plant that someone brings you each year for no apparent reason other than they to  do the act.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is a completely different kind of darker holiday fare. Made in France and directed by Terrance Young with William Holden and Virna Lisi in the cast.  A widowed single father of a boy named Pascal, who are involved in tragic event off the coast of Corse.  An aircraft falls into the sea contaminating the water with nuclear radiation.  Nothing is thought of it until blue marks appear on Pascal and the fateful diagnosis of a terminal illness is delivered.  There is nothing for the family to do but to make Pascal comfortable for the next six months.

This picture  certainly a  role change for  William Holden who had just finished the totally different Sam Peckinpah’s  THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and one of my favorite if not slightly skewered war pictures  THE DEVILS BRIGADE (1968).  Holden does show range as he was beginning to grow in ‘Older” roles such as when he was   ‘Bumper Morgan”  in the seldom seen Television film THE BLUE  KNIGHT.

How does this fit into holiday times?  I believe because it is a something real that people face even at holiday times. THE CHRISTMAS TREE handles this very delicate and grim subject matter with grace.  The moments showing Pascal laughing, playing,  going on holidays and Holden and Lisi’s characters try to make the best of a  tragic situation are wonderful. It is unfortunate that people receive this diagnoses in some shape or form even day of the year.  Never once in the film does Director Terrance Young stoop to the fog shrouded, John William’s music, back lit style of Steven Spielberg sentiment.

Brook Fuller as the young stricken son Pascal has a precocious manner to him through the picture. Not deliberately set by the film maker or the  writer making him the equivalent of the “adorable, cute animal” introduced  in one scene only to be killed in the next scene .

There are many memorable sequences in the film, such as Pascal staring into the eyes of a wolf. Bonding with the animals as he knows he is different because of what he has inside. The disease makes you different from the others in spite of outward appearance:  yet animals know.  The bond that happens with outsiders becomes more apparent in the ‘angry horse’ moment as the wolves race to the boy’s rescue.

(Video Spoiler warning)

 

You can do everything for your children when something like this happens but protect them from what is happening inside them. Holden and Lisi are subtle and brilliant in showing the futility of this yet the exclude a warmth that we know will change as the disease takes its terrible course.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is a hard film to find as it was made in France  with limited release.  However if you get a chance to see it you will fine top acting, interesting  story very well handled and well done production values

THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is not a sentimental film. The picture shows a different side of a holiday that perhaps somewhere people are going through or someone they know is going through a personal event.  My Father once  said  that ‘Everyone has a story”.  That person giving you that poinsettia plant  or smile is having troubles and it is their wish to try to bring happiness so one should smile back and thank them.  That despite all the other gifts the most important for everyone is that of good health.