An insufferable movie snob wanders off the beaten track, comes back and talks about what he has seen.
My Week of Movie Watching
June 1, 2015
The Stunt Man – Cult favorite from 1980 stars Steve Railsback as a guy on the run from the cops who inadvertently falls in with a movie crew and its martinet director (a terrific Peter O’Toole). O’Toole’s Eli is the most interesting character here, as the film begins to revolve around whether or not he wants Railsback to die on screen. It is to the movies credit that it teases with the idea without quite coming out and saying it. Eli is probably based on a few well-known directors who had reputations as sadistic pricks; think Josef Von Sternberg or Fritz Lang. There is a scene where he cruelly manipulates Barbara Hershey for a specific reaction that looks like it could have come directly from one of those men. As an illustration of the workings of making a movie, this would make a great double feature with Francois Truffauts’ Day for Night.
Mikey and Nicky – Elaine May directed this gangster-buddy film which is a John Cassavetes movie not actually made by him. He DOES star, however, along with his frequent collaborator, Peter Falk. Cassavetes plays Nicky, a small time hood who is in hiding because he believes he has been marked to be killed. Falk is Mikey; a fellow hood and an old friend who spends a long night trying to corral his erratic friend. There is a sub-plot involving the hit man (Ned Beatty) who is tailing the two in order to do the hit. Above all, this film is a great example of a movie-length riff between two great actors, playing two great characters. Recommended.
Dirty Harry – It has probably been 25 years since I have seen this, and I was anxious to see it again now, after I have digested all the talk about its supposed fascism (As Pauline Kael famously called it). I have to say, I don’t really view the film that way. Harry (Clint Eastwood) is a bit of a loose cannon, for sure, but he is also dedicated to justice. The portion of the film that generates all the talk is a section where Harry breaks into Kezar Stadium without a warrant and arrests and tortures the bad guy (Andy Robinson). The arrest, of course, is disallowed and he walks free. This scene, and the follow-up are a bit contrived because they presume that Harry doesn’t realize that his methods would have the result they do. The movie also cheats a bit by making the Scorpio killer a figure of pure, unfiltered evil, which somewhat mitigates Harry’s questionable methods. I love the finale of this film, after Harry has gone his own way to get the killer. There is a real sadness and regret in the final passengers, because he couldn’t do his job within the system, and it will end his career. That’s what I think he is thinking when he throws his badge away.
The Silver Whip – Little known, but quality western stars a very young Robert Wagner as a fledging stagecoach driver who has his first big job go horribly wrong. Dale Robertson plays a veteran driver (and Wagners’ mentor) who is consumed by thoughts of revenge, and Rory Calhoun plays a soft-spoken sheriff who is charged with the job of stopping Robertson before he goes on a murderous revenge spree. The crux of the film is the conflict within Wagners' Jess. He was partly responsible for the bloodbath that sets Robertson’s Race on his rampage, and he is torn between loyalty to him and to the rule of law, as personified by Calhoun. A very good examination of guilt and responsibility, and I recommend it.