The Magic Bond

The Veterans of Foreign Wars have been there, and they know.

Juvenile delinquency, voter neglect, failure of defense, forgetting the fighting man and other ills are how it all started overseas.

Bob Considine reports, from November 1944 “somewhere in Europe” to the present, a squad in “the rubble of a farmhouse” to the peacetime activities of the VFW, all a function of comradeship.


The Delinquents

“A Porter’s Love Song to a Chambermaid”, too young the kids are thrown out of the joint, young lovers debarred from seeing each other.

It works out as a scam, the delinquents squire the girl to the party, get the boy drunk and so forth.

Cruel animosities beneath a smiling surface, typical hoods.

Gas station robbery, assault, murder almost.

They kidnap the girl to silence the boy, who arrives just in time and has to face a drawn knife in a suburban kitchen.

The girl is charming, pretty, proper, thin, emotional, and with reserves of good humor, a discovery repeated in Shelley Duvall later on.

The boy is muscular, well-knit, equable, long-suffering, also humorous underneath it all.


The Young One
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

She is underage, in the care of her aunt, and remembers a beautiful childhood. “Your mother and father were servants, the lady in chiffon was the mistress of the house.” Her boyfriend can’t be persuaded to take her away.

At a roadhouse called the Woolly Bear, she meets a slightly older man and frames him for the murder of her aunt. This is spoiled by the boyfriend’s discovery of the body just before, when he came to elope with her.

Altman begins with a crane shot down from a sign at the Woolly Bear, “No-one under 21...”, over Tex at the bar and around to Janice and Stan at a table. After a conversation with Tex, she’s walked home by Stan. The camera is on the staircase in the foyer at a down-angle framing the door in the background left and a light fixture on the wall, right, very bright in the dim foyer. She climbs the stairs into a medium close-up, he is at the foot of the stairs in the background between her and the light. A reverse shot as she turns to him leaves the bright fixture (a small floral globe) out-of-focus behind her, and below it a glinting wall ornament.

The scene with her aunt culminates in her recollection, lying on the carpet with its pattern of decorative circles, like Alice in Wonderland amid tuffets.

Carol Lynley has this in a perfect study, with top support turning on stock situations realistically conceived for maximum dramatic significance. Tex is brought home, game but not reckless, the light is out in the foyer. A policeman drops by to check on her, after an encounter at the Woolly Bear. The light comes on, she’s screaming, Tex is standing by the body on the stairs.

Stan arrives, after an agonizing walk. This leads directly to That Cold Day in the Park, after some further television work, and is apparently Altman’s first dramatic effort in Hollywood. The first scene exhibits a delicate use of signs in the background (“No Boisterous Activity”) as components of the various shots.


Glamour Girl

In the movies, at takeoff a touching anticipation of MASH, wants her little daughter back from an earlier marriage to a bank clerk in Hemetville, now remarried.

Jean Willes, Charles Aidman, Angela Cartwright.


Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The supremely eloquent teleplay anatomizes a love affair and murder in a phone call and subsequent meeting. Shelley calls Tony from the office party at Christmas, it’s noisy, she goes into Mr. Courtney’s office as he leaves. Tony is at Charlie’s, he’s spoken to his rich wife, Shelley needn’t. He meets her at the office after the party. She’ll call his wife if he doesn’t. He kills her with a letter opener, takes his signed photo from her purse, and with her keys tries to unlock the door. The key breaks in the lock. The windows lead straight down. He drags the body into the washroom, calls Charlie, who will come after his own Christmas party full of guests.

He tries to push the key out onto a piece of paper, but it slips off. Charlie calls again and drifts away, leaving the connection open. A woman across the way is asked to call a locksmith, but brings police instead. Tony sees a photo, rummages in a desk drawer for a pair of spare glasses, puts on his hat and coat, collar up, greets the police as Mr. Courtney. They break the door in, he’s apologetic, all start to leave as Charlie breezes in, still drunk, looking for Shelley. “She’s really passed out,” he says, and a policeman corrects him.


United States Marshal

An anagram of The Long Goodbye on a tight budget in a weekly series and all the more effective for that.

Nogales, Silver City, Tucson, the locales are named in an armored car robbery headed for Mexico that dribbles around a false wife and a true one.


Bank Run

Before the credits, John J. Harrison outlines his plan to seize a miner’s claim by foreclosure through the simple expedient of declaring his own bank in Virginia City insolvent, leaving the wealthy miner unable to pay for the tools he bought from Harrison’s company (“The man’s a fool!”), and Harrison in possession of a bloc of real estate. Next, the Ponderosa. “I want it all!”

The plan is foiled by Little Joe, with Hoss’s help, after the two take the bank’s negotiable bonds to the Placerville branch for cash to pay the depositors. The Virginia City bank manager and assistant, knocked out by Joe when they balked, declare them bank robbers and follow for the money, “in the spirit of John J. Harrison,” to settle in Switzerland or the South of France.

Ben and Adam arrive in town from a business trip to see Joe and Hoss on a wanted poster. The bank run scene in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is reproduced with Ben promising to sell the Ponderosa if need be. The boys return with the cash, the miner keeps his in a buried tin can henceforth, and Ben tells Harrison where to get off, threatening a trip to Washington to put him in jail if any more schemes are hatched.


The Duke

“The Duke of London”, Clarence Simpson (Bobo to his brother Harry), is a prizefighter touring the West in hopes of meeting the champion for a bout. He’s a haughty devil with no care of his fists and a taste for women “no better than they ought to be”. His perennial trouble is their laughter at him, which provokes him.

Two major elements of Eastwood’s Unforgiven are thus prefigured. One such lady runs afoul of him, loved by a cowhand and fresh for a new start.

Ben sets up a championship fight on the Ponderosa. The champ fails to show, Hoss fills in, disgusted by the Duke’s ways. The fight is thrilling, accurate and well-filmed on a sound stage representing a night exterior by torchlight, with a square ring of dirt, ropes and posts. The Duke is a professional fighter, whose easy stance parries Hoss with a backhand left. In the second round, dazed Hoss barrels through to body blows and a right to the jaw. The Duke is hurt, but stumbles out in the third and falls.

Ben, who put up the purse, receives one thousand American dollars from the bareknuckled Englishman, who apologizes to the couple and is reconciled with Harry, his manager, as they go off to face the champion in San Francisco.


The Rival

A trifler with women dies at the hands of a lynch mob and the man he wronged, hanged for the murder of a couple wrongly thought to be cattle thieves. He protests a slim innocence to the girl who loves him, and who is loved by Hoss.

Altman opens with hooded men in the foreground approaching a lighted house in the distance at night. The camera watches through the window as the husband is dragged outside. The initial long shot is resumed (long shots pervade the episode) for his hanging in front of the house. The wife is shot and killed, a sign is nailed to the tree, “Cattle Thieves Beware”.

Shy Hoss courts Cameo on her porch with a vertical shadow framing the scene on the left, cast by a post he bumps into.

The trifler has a way of judging the season, “when the swellin’ on my corn goes down, summer’s on,” he says with a smile and a finger on the side of his nose.

His brother’s wife wasn’t missed, it was the first girl, who slammed a window on the abandoned lover’s hand, crippling it. He was one of the hangmen, swears his brother was, too.

The hanged man’s brother leads a lynch mob against the pair of them, who escape from jail. Hoss lets the trifler go and then rescues him from the mob, for Cameo’s sake. The crippled brother finds Hoss supporting the man on the end of a rope with his bare hands. Hoss won’t let go, even shot in the arm, the man in the noose kicks him away, his brother is shot by the lynch mob’s leader and falls dead, his gnarled fist slowly unclenching after thirty years. The trifler’s cut down, admits he was there, thought they were going to scare the couple, and dies.

Cameo leaves the Ponderosa driving her buggy, the camera tracks out on her, then cranes up for a high long shot of Ben and Hoss standing on the porch.


The Secret

John Hawkins’ retelling of An American Tragedy puts the girl atop Indian Leap in the opening scene, her lover is mistaken for Little Joe. A grand jury inquest binds him over for trial.

Altman begins with a long shot of the scene. His astounding inventions are in the best classical Hollywood style as achieved by few. A large sofa and table occupy the foreground at a slight angle while the men stand behind to discuss the murder. The same idea of unwonted activity produces the second shot later of two horses hitched to a post at the same angle, left there by Adam and Hoss captured by the girl’s relatives.

Ben hires the best lawyer in Virginia City, whose daughter is engaged to his junior. The young lawyer is highly ambitious, “at the reception, when Jerome met the governor, it was just as if I didn’t exist.” Altman maneuvers the camera while the couple talk so that his big idea is expressed by a picture frame behind him, her truth by a lighted lamp or window behind her.


The Dream Riders

Altman analyzes the teleplay in two quick movements, and couches the rest in studious conventions of television filming, to express the theme.

An Army major has developed observation balloons, is not encouraged in his vision of transatlantic flight, goes beyond his orders to Nevada for tests with a hydrogen balloon, and robs the Virginia City bank to finance his project.

Papers are placed in the safe, retrieved on Sunday morning with the cash at gunpoint. A sergeant and a private accomplish this while the balloon is filled on the Ponderosa.

The major’s daughter comes from back East by stagecoach, having seen a letter from the Adjutant General. She and the private have broken off their romance. She considers the Atlantic Queen an unworkable proposal.

Hoss’s idealism is set off against Little Joe’s disinterest, of the earth earthy (“I’m a lover, not a flier”), mirroring the “old Army” sergeant who “hasn’t much imagination” and the devoted private who risks his life for the project (and resumes the affair).

The key movement for Altman’s whole reading is a dolly-in to Adam in town on the private’s line, “He’s going into the sky, Mr. Cartwright, right into the sky.” This accomplishes the nineteenth-century Westerner faced with such a string of words, and cuts at once to a shot of the balloon in blue sky and clouds viewed from a sharp angle below.

Altman derives this from the put-and-take of the robbery procedure, and plants a camera in the vault for the second movement, which continues in a POV as Little Joe is elevated for a laugh by Hoss.

The dolly-in ripples several times through the episode. The Great Bank Robbery (dir. Hy Averback) has an escape by balloon, Dr. Miguelito Loveless reflects the theme in certain aspects, by way of Captain Nemo (the major, dying while his empty balloon sails away, confesses he planned to pay the money back). Exactly two weeks before this episode first aired, “The Case of the Misguided Missile” was successfully defended by Perry Mason, in which a visionary scientist resorts to extreme measures on behalf of his invention.


Sam Hill

The son of a sailor is Sam Hill, his father drunk can beat Joe’s time with a girl, he himself can outswing Hoss with a sledge and work at an anvil all night long, “there’s ways o’ restin’ the brain without closin’ the eyes, Little Joe... the brain takes care o’ the body, Hoss, ain’t you learned that yet?” He tells a horse to come get shod, Hoss and Joe flee the stable.

His mother’s buried on the hill beside the ruins of their home. Col. Tyson wants the place for pastureland, it’s “hallowed ground” to the son. Tyson has a deed signed by the father passing through Virginia City by way of a hotel room full of objets d’art from his travels and an endless store of tales, he disremembers signing the thing. “She wouldn’t have you alive,” Sam Hill tells the colonel, “you’ll not have her now.”

Tyson and his “private army” are dispelled, Capt. Hill has a new tale for his collection.

Altman engages his shot from “The Secret” as Ben rises from his chair beside the fire to cross left and answer a knock at the door, the senior Hill has been regaling the Cartwrights with his story of the Maharajah, they rise in the background of this pan and are seen when the camera returns to them, panning right on Ben and Col. Tyson (with cash to pay for the deed), on their feet in the background while the low table still bears evidence of their drinks and so on, in the foreground.

The opening sequence is designed to elicit the title character as a tour de force, “What in the ...?”

Dortort’s allegory is so recondite, it even figures as a pilot episode in some reports. The son of thunder, his negligent father, the hot springs erupting around his mother’s grave to fend off a hollow army, and finally another lost son by another mother, the lad’s a singer roaming the West.


The Many Faces of Gideon Flinch

They are his own (under the incognito Homer T. Cranston), Hoss’s, Little Joe’s and Jake the Weasel’s (a pickpocket thought to be in a Detroit prison).

Thus he outnumbers Bullethead Burke and two helpers out of Chicago, wrathful on the subject of a failed investment.

A couple of ancients gab all day outside the Cattlemen’s Exchange, and so observe the comings and goings from morn till late suppertime.

Gideon’s niece Jennifer (AKA Hephzibah) enlists the “Cartwheels” one by one as stand-ins for him against the wrath, his wallet is found in the possession of Jake the Weasel.

Bullethead breaks a fist on Hoss’s chin and retires satisfied with the truth. Things was not this excitin’ at the Alamo, declares one of the ancients.


Forgotten Front

A reconnaissance patrol out at night along the Vire River to locate a big gun uses an empty two-story dyeworks as an observation post and is wiped out by a booby trap. Lt. Hanley sends Saunders, Caje, Kirby and Doc.

They find a lone German soldier in the cellar, middle-aged, versed in English and claiming to be a deserter. They also find some apples, Kirby torments the hungry soldier, finally tosses him a rotten one. “He’s a human being,” says Doc. “He’s a bug!”, says Kirby, smashing the apple with his boot. The sound of artillery fire sends the Americans upstairs, the German scrambles for a fresh apple. Doc comes down to guard the prisoner, loses his footing on the stairs and falls, dropping his carbine to the floor below. The German, apple in mouth, picks it up and hands it to him.

The gun is spotted, its coordinates radioed in. The German hears mention of an American assault to take place on the following day. When the patrol leaves that night, Kirby and Caje opt to kill him.

A German tank forces the issue. Escape must be made through a storm drain in the cellar, then one by one to the river ten yards away, directly under the tank’s machine gun. Caje is left to handle the prisoner, the rest get into position. Caje is exceedingly tense, the man pleads, “I cannot hurt you in any way!” At last he holds up his hand and cries, “Wait!” He puts his cap on over his thinning hair and hides his face in his arm. Saunders hears the shot. The machine gun nips at them as they crawl or dash to the river, Saunders is missed by a shell. On the bank downstream, Doc asks about the German, Caje tells him, “I think the Krauts got him.”

Both are terse at the bivouac, Caje tells Sgt. Saunders he couldn’t do it, “they don’t teach you that, nobody ever taught me that.”


Rear Echelon Commandos

A complex allegory of three replacements, Pvts. Gainsborough, Temple and Crown.

Gainsborough is a used car salesman turned Army cook, Temple is a ballet dancer/calisthenics instructor, Crown a radio announcer for the Army as in civilian life.

Recon patrol, French town, six men, Saunders/Crown, Caje/Gainsborough, Kirby/Temple.

The town is empty, Crown fails to notice a second-story machine-gun nest. Kirby is wounded. The Germans move to a higher floor.

Saunders is hit, Gainsborough dies coming to his aid. Crown is pinned down with Saunders (Caje is outside town covering an exit).

Temple dives into the river under fire, swims downstream, climbs a building and walks along the narrow top of the roof, one building to the next. Stymied by fire, he moves hand-over-hand along an eave, it breaks and swings him onto a ledge. He walks on this to the window, tosses in a grenade.

Before the patrol, Saunders throws a towel down in disgust at these green noncombatants, Altman cuts on this to an explosion in the river, grenade practice. He tilts down from Temple on the roof to his reflection in the water. Geese are everywhere in the town. The rapid shots are vigorously composed for ambience on the exterior set.

A high-angle shot takes in the first view of the three with clean field jackets, helmets and M-1 rifles, like a photograph admired by the weary platoon.

The Germans have a basket of kittens and no milk, give them wine in a cupped hand.


Any Second Now

Lt. Hanley and Sgt. Saunders go to Division Headquarters at Lore. The basis of the teleplay is laid in a brief scene at a German pilots’ briefing, where the target for tonight is Lore.

A time-delay fuse stalls a bomb that hits the church. A bomb disposal officer from the British Army on leave gives the order to blow it up. The rubble clears a little to one side, Hanley is trapped nearby. The bomb has two other fuses, an anti-disturbance mechanism as well as a booby-trap on the main fuse.

The two men converse during the removal. The Englishman is bolstered by this, his nerves are at an end. Funny thing, he muses, if Hanley saved his life. “Not me, lieutenant,” Hanley replies, “I just talked about it.”

Schrecklichkeit and the apparatus involved are discussed and explained. Altman favors the crane in an adaptation of multiple-point scene construction with a dolly camera.


Escape to Nowhere

Lt. Hanley is a prisoner of the Germans, General Von Strelitz appropriates him. In a German officer’s uniform, Hanley is taken to a nightclub and given a message to convey to the singer, who is the general’s daughter. A Gestapo man is in the audience.

Walking in the rain, the two are accosted by French children with rifles, taken to a churchyard and are about to be shot when a French priest intervenes, standing between the men and the children, who shoot him.

The daughter meets them in a train compartment, her father explains. “The war is lost,” he has participated in a failed plot against Hitler and is now fleeing. She gets off the train and reports him. Von Strelitz and Hanley are pursued around the train at the station and escape in the Gestapo man’s car. The general is badly wounded, and dies when they are met by a British patrol.

Altman pays especial attention to the sound track for the rain and the engine. Albert Paulsen in a close-cropped wig and mustache is another person as Von Strelitz.


Cat and Mouse

Altman constructs his entire teleplay from a single image or set of images. The platoon is halted (in a hillside graveyard under shellfire) by snipers and land mines so thick “a field mouse couldn’t get through”. A regular army sergeant is joined by Saunders on a reconnaissance patrol that does just that.

The two sergeants are trapped in a mill with an overshot waterwheel as a German platoon sets up a regimental command post occupying the center room of the mill. Saunders and Jenkins observe them from the cellar and the attic or grenier, obtaining a view of German positions on a map that is the objective of the patrol. A cat in the mill precipitates Jenkins’ self-sacrifice, Saunders returns to find the German code broken, his information redundant.


I Swear by Apollo

The allegory of Pvts. Gainsborough, Crown and Temple in “Rear Echelon Commandos” is further extended and developed to describe the practical application of the lesson learned in the previous episode.

Here, wounded Temple dies while receiving a transfusion from Crown while Bresson, a Frenchman with vital intelligence for S-2, is operated on by a German military doctor in a convent church under a crucifix, the sign of contradiction or the union of opposites.

Nuns are working in a field, a patrol led by Sgt. Saunders emerges from brush, the wind blows leaves about, Bresson’s papers are scattered, retrieving them he steps on a land mine, Temple is hit in the thorax, Bresson in the back. They are carried to the convent.

Lt. Hanley rushes an army doctor to them, this captain dies en route. Saunders and Caje commandeer the German from an occupied town nearby. Altman establishes the image in a quick pan from a side door in the convent church onto Hanley right foreground, Doc and the patient below the crucifix (with John 19:30 in French around it as a mandorla) in the background. At the opposite wall, nuns pray before an altar. In the center, the transfusion. At this back wall, the operation.

Hanley orders even the altar lights brought for illumination, leaving only a single light above the altar, to one side.

Saunders tells the German he will die if the operation fails. In the town, Caje objects, “He’s a Nazi! What’d you get this for,” he asks, fingering an Iron Cross. “Bravery,” replies the doctor.


The Prisoner

Pvt. Braddock, chiseler and scrounge, gets assigned to hazardous duty when the platoon is stymied. He brings this information to Company HQ, where Col. Clyde needs a driver. Braddock takes that job. The jeep goes into a river with the colonel at the wheel (he “used to race midgets”), Braddock is captured in the senior officer’s coat (he has a cold) and helmet (picked up on the roadway after the accident knocked him unconscious), and is mistaken for him.

Braddock offers a German officer one of Col. Clyde’s cigars, from his pocket. “Thank you,” says the captain, “but I do not smoke.” Braddock asks, “You sick?”

He is given food and cognac, as a field-grade officer. He demands the enlisted prisoners be fed as well. The German is cognizant of the Geneva Convention, accedes.

A colonel and an intelligence officer sort out the mess, Pvt. Braddock will be exchanged for a Col. Hoffmann in American hands.

Col. Clyde returns to his office, hears the report of his capture, figures it all out, trades the Germans some enlisted men in the uniforms of Hoffmann and his aide.

Altman films the crash in a second or two, cow on the road, swerve and splash. Braddock is marched off up and around the bend (driving the cow on ahead) in a rising tilt-and-pan left that tilts down again to the submerged jeep in the foreground. After the exchange, German shells explode nearer and nearer to the camera in retaliation.

Col. Clyde is a forceful man. “You gonna stand around suckin’ on a prune pit all day? Let’s go!”


The Volunteer

Gene Levitt’s teleplay is an adaptation of The Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven. A Nazi flag fills the screen, mud strikes it, the camera pulls back to show it doused with gasoline above and set afire below. A French village liberated, general rejoicing. An orphan boy watches, arms himself with a rifle and kit, goes to join the American Army.

The platoon marches out toward enemy guns, he follows. Amid the casualties is Lt. Hanley, who is helped back to the village by the boy. The inhabitants are gone, a German unit establishes heavy machine-gun nests. Hanley sends the boy to Sgt. Saunders, the platoon destroys the German positions and captures the remaining soldiers, then moves on again.

This is the main action. On their way to the village, Hanley and the boy encounter the German unit. A friendly soldier has a son of the same age, now dead, and gives the boy a piece of chocolate. “Children should have chocolate,” he says in German, “a piece every week.” At the battle in the village, the boy shoots and kills a soldier, who is this very one. At the moment of discovery, the boy instantly recalls the soldier’s laughing face, the shellburst that knocked the boy down, himself lost and running along the road and through the forest under streams of sunlight.

He is unable to comprehend all that, it is a crux successfully addressed much later by John Schlesinger in The Believers.

Levitt writes a demanding, accurate teleplay with little room to maneuver. Altman is, moreover, greatly busy with his young actor and the German, who add still further precision (Serge Prieur, Ted Knight). He ends the sequence of the boy giving his message by dollying in to the speaker as French is heard so fast Caje cannot understand it.


Off Limits

The two words of the title appear in hand-lettering on the side of a large pig in the barnyard where the squad sleeps. Cpl. March is awaiting a 48-hour pass to see his wife, a nurse. Kirby (accompanied and abandoned by Crown) has fought “the entire French Resistance” over a barmaid at a village café, and is now in the hospital. March is badly wounded on the daybreak mission in Kirby’s absence.

Moreover, the nurse wedded in England is in love with the medical doctor. Altman adapts a shot from “Any Second Now” to put Saunders in the foreground standing left against hospital beds across the room in the background, where diminutive Kirby receives his rebuke.

“Just about the toughest skull I’ve ever run across,” says the doctor.



Survival means, in Faulkner’s words, not merely to endure but to prevail. A succession of images explicates this in terms of a revelation not unlike the general character of Dreyer’s Ordet, it is a wayside folly to the worldling who lives by it, willy-nilly. “He that hath clean hands”, with fasting, shall see it, and that is Saunders here, burned from fingers to elbows, unable to eat yet able to lift a dead German he takes for his brother Joey, “it’s all my fault, I shoulda taken care of him.”

The image of a tree struck by lightning, fallen and burning, is the enemy in this revelation.

An enemy tank forces the squad’s surrender at the opening, Saunders faces a tank with his burden, the driver emerges to call for a medic.


The Long Lost Life of Edward Smalley
Kraft Suspense Theatre

Absolution of a soldier in the field.

It comes years later in a lawyer’s office.

Two Combat! veterans worked on the teleplay, one directed it.

The abstruse logic works out to “command influence”, a phrase in the script given another meaning in the action.

Training is a reflex, finally. That’s the service for you.

“In the vicinity of Avranches, on or about 23 July, 1944.”


Once Upon a Savage Night
Kraft Suspense Theatre

The killer of cheap blondes is eventually associated with a hush-hush government convoy, code name Long John, transporting a missile on the Illinois Tollway.

The effective cause is understood to be a childhood scene much like Hitchcock’s Marnie.

Altman on location, terrifically filmed.

A lengthier version also was broadcast, Nightmare in Chicago.

Dark glasses even at night, due to dilated pupils, another foible of the peripatetic killer.



“The Man in the Moon is a girl, and she’s gorgeous!”

This little song varies “John Henry” with an idea reflected from McCarey’s Rally ‘Round The Flag, Boys! and Glenville’s The Comedians.

Part of the theme recurs in Smight’s The Illustrated Man.

Lang’s Frau im Mond with real gantries and rockets, by way of Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”, crucially.

A landing in the Sea of Storms, amidst the litter of a crashed vehicle and some precursors.

Altman in Technicolor and Panavision.

Howard Thompson of the New York Times was bored absolutely witless.


That Cold Day in the Park

The entire proposition was so remote from critics’ understanding, such as it is, that Howard Thompson shat with indignation (which probably did him good) in the New York Times, and John Simon of course insisted that somebody was trying to make a monkey out of him (somebody was always trying to do that).

The surreal romance of a young lady and the beau of her choosing is a tale of “Vancouver, B.C.” and filmed there, realistically enough so that the confusion in popcorn critics’ minds was almost inevitable.

She’s beautiful (therefore rich), lonely (everyone’s old), and bored. She sizes up the wayward youth in an instant, shows him her spread, employs every art to woo and win him.

And when it’s done, he’s fairly corralled.



The triple-headed script is the accomplished, seasoned transformation promised by That Cold Day in the Park and reportedly balked by the producers of Countdown, it was mistaken for an “antiwar” protest in some quarters. Welles is the main tributary.

An early tracking shot along the operating tables perhaps reveals that the unit was not responsive at first to Altman’s camera style, which very effectively organizes material propounded by Frankenheimer. Two reports require verification, one that Lardner disowned the script as by another hand, and the other that Auberjonois conceived the blessing of the jeep on the set, a detail of pointed structural significance. Add to this that the loudspeaker voiceovers and the superimposed titles after the credits (“...and then there was KOREA”) were dictated by circumstances in post-production, reportedly.

The point of the film is clearly stated in the final voiceover (“putting our soldiers back together”). Countless details, as well as the overall structure, demand formal analysis. Gen. Hammond’s unit flag is seen as red in the shot that has him proposing a football game to Col. Blake.

The even keel of the democratic, sane mind is placed in contradistinction to the hysterias it encounters. The only serious criticism that might be offered is George Burns’ joke that “the trouble with America is the folks who know how to run it are too busy driving cabs and cutting hair.”


Brewster McCloud

An admirably complex treatment of the theme taken in hand by Beckett on “Recent Irish Poetry”, to wit, “the sense of confinement, the getaway, the vicissitudes of the road, the wan bliss on the rim,” this before making tracks for the Continent (but after “Le Concentrisme”), that is, escapism, “desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living.”

Bullitt comes away to Houston for Det. Frank Shaft’s number, registering the false witness before expiring, a suicide, in a parody of Captains Courageous.

The muse of the Castalian spring takes part in the charades and the shenanigans. A tour guide brings about the fall. The muse of Czerny’s exercises is almost visible.

Altman registers the Peckinpah shock of editing. The Lecturer on ornithology amusingly pays homage to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Renoir’s Partie de campagne is inconveniently recalled at the moment of confession.

Mr. Potter and his spiritual bride appear by courtesy of Capra to provide the utz. The Hammer Codex left Los Angeles in circumstances nearly as mysterious as those in the film, with no questions asked but “Where’s Waldo?”


McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Ride the High Country is the principal basis, with a stamp of approval in several places from Mark Twain, which is why the lawyer’s name is Clem. Samuels and seen reversed on his office window from inside. Huston underscores the classic theme in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, it occurs in Chisum and Lawless Range, among others.

The structure is solid as a rock, yet Altman has another film entirely set out on its premises. It’s visible from the first in those dark interiors from Van Gogh in Holland, and there is Postman Roulin, shortly the genius of Dutch painting is trumped by “a proper sportin’ house”, Gauguin arrives as a nightmare sellout, little Dutch boy in tow.

No-one having noticed this subjective vision of Van Gogh’s career, Altman spelled it out in Vincent & Theo.

Quite apart from this monumental care and apposition is the painting, almost abstract, engaged upon by Altman himself (not mentioning Toulouse-Lautrec’s prostitutes and Fragonard’s Girl Reading), calmly descending in a tracking shot on Mrs. Miller at night as she faces the bleak situation, shadowy trestles or lumber articulate this, the camera’s movement recomposes the shot as something other than futility, a lighted door or window, her.

John Frankenheimer paid a distinct homage to this film in Ronin, partly filmed at the famous café in Arles.



A husband who stays out till four o’clock in the morning at business meetings fractures his wife’s mind into the French lover who died in a plane crash and the randy neighbor with young daughter and grass widow.

Her mind is very calm as a rule, she’s writing a children’s book, they live well.

This structure is so persuadingly simple that the exasperation of Howard Thompson in the New York Times is hard to follow.

The very pure style exhibited here is one of the best in Altman’s line, to complement the analysis.

The point is rather the departure from Polanski’s Repulsion toward Cassavetes’ A Woman under the Influence.


The Long Goodbye

A perfect equation, the dead wife of an absconded bag man, the boozing writer dead in the surf, both neighbors.

And the relationship is even closer than that, though Roger Ebert pretended there was no plot (other critics more or less did the same).

It all goes South, as the saying is. Philip Marlowe has the equalizer.

The song by Williams & Mercer is a Baudelairean elegy for the lost moment and the missed chance, redeemed happily. The city suffers a sea change that is viewed in three ways, a shipment of money to Mexico City, a murdered wife, a husband driven to suicide.

Marlowe is only himself at the office, a bar where he returns calls from his clients, sifting out divorce cases. “It’s okay with me” is his byword elsewhere.

The ending effectively cites The Third Man.


Thieves Like Us

Altman intends for this version of Ray’s They Live by Night to be understood as a close analysis of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (based on the same material), it is eminently serviceable in that respect from first to last, he gives the top hand to Penn so that there is no mistake and he can have a free hand on the one essential problem that interests him above all. Losey may be said to have done this in Secret Ceremony, with relation to Jack Clayton’s Our Mother’s House.

The particular problem Altman has faced is the re-creation of a period already known by its films. Simply put, if you want to know the Thirties, they speak for themselves, Altman regards it rightfully an impertinence to think otherwise. It’s typical of him to formulate more than one independent structure in a film, here there are three. The main framework comes from Penn, the other two are Altman’s and both appear visibly after the manner of Frost’s star-splitter. He formally displays them as exteriors and interiors in the latter part of the film.

The lovers exist outwardly in nothing less than a Thirties film without equivocation. This is hard-won through modern technique, and intermittent, but quite accurate.

Inwardly, they are constructed by the most elemental Altman technique, beginning on the porch where he is placed against a solid, masculine cross of window frames and she against a distant tree at twilight, they are Ma and Pa in their youth, courting or spooning a little. This ghost play is carefully wrought, along with the two other structural viewpoints, to give the drama of their existence a cinematic representation.

Canby has remarked the lucidity of the bank robberies and the dramatic turn of Chicamaw’s jealousy (which is prepared by his brother’s envy of the robbers’ fame).

Bowie dies in his quilt of many colors laid on a mud puddle, Joseph in the well, “a thin stream traduced, death.”

Keechie takes the first train out, to Fort Worth. The film slows to watch the passengers as they climb stairs to the platform out of view.


California Split

The model is Zorba the Greek, applied thereto is the Hitchcockian twist of success, with the same result.

The change of venue paints the picture with speaking force on any number of points, which is the point as much as anything, even for example the analysis.

A complete statement is given in the last shot, which pans successfully right from a Motherwell sequence (black bunting or valences) to a Johns “target” or mandala (wheel of fortune).



The song or hymn at the end, sung by an amateur after the Nashville genius has been wounded onstage, is a variant of “Eating Goober Peas” called “It Don’t Worry Me”, from a rock trio.

Imbecilic politics, rural sophistication, and the soul of the place shot down by a nut, that’s the vortex built on musicianship and the Parthenon and Tennesseans in general.

The Grand Ole Opry lends itself to this charade, being no fool.

It’s a slender place, “rich in history”, with stock cars.

The Academy played along with an Oscar for “I’m Easy”, the cowboy’s song.

Canby (New York Times) slighted the representation of a reporter for the BBC, having no knowledge of the Beeb nor any Englishman’s satire of it.

West of this it’s A Prairie Home Companion.

“New Roots for the Nation”.

“A bit of Frost on the hillside.”

The Replacement Party.

The Athens of the South.

“This isn’t Dallas, it’s Nashville!”

The white chrysanthemums are from Cukor’s Keeper of the Flame.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson

Annie Oakley’s charming contrivance of an axe-trick to split a bullet toward two targets doesn’t work, a formal gambit. Nevertheless, the Chief’s taking of coup (cf. Penn’s Little Big Man) from President Cleveland is a gag very much in the manner of Lang’s Man Hunt.

Which defines the essential position vis-à-vis the horseshit of a military-industrial-entertainment complex, humorously depicted as usurping Wellman and Sidney to promulgate the notion of “America’s National Family”.

That’s all she wrote for show business, which is just the what and how and wherefore of the trading end of the bidness.


3 Women

The main action is detailed quite specifically from Rimbaud’s “Johannine Meditation” called “The pool at Bethesda”.

The cripple who walks “with a step singularly assured” takes over Dodge City in the end, an angel having stirred the waters of the pool, the demon (who “stuck out his tongue in theirs, and laughed at the world”) being dispelled or obviated.



The game, quintet, is played in a casino at tables, which recalls California Split. In ten or a dozen years the game has taken on a literal aspect, yet it’s still played with dice and pieces on a five-sided table as well.

The world is frozen or very nearly, packs of black dogs devour the dead, Essex (Paul Newman) carries the body of Vivia (Brigitte Fossey) away to the river amid the snows, the score and sound effects add to a strong suggestion of Astronaut Poole’s fate in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which in turn suggests On the Waterfront and Force of Evil.

Essex finds the assassin himself murdered, the dead man’s wife announces one of Altman’s concurrent themes by holding her hand in the fire, “if I forget thee...”

The quintet tournament is on at the casino not far from the Hotel Electra (or Elektra), like all the city a modern ruin in which crude tents have been set up. The center of the gaming table is a five-sided space known as the killing circle, outside on the perimeter is limbo. Dice-throws determine the outcome of each round, there are five players at table while a sixth man plays against the survivor and meanwhile acts as false or helpful kibitzer. An alliance is said to be illegal and the replacement for a disused word, amicus. One player arranges the killing order, which in this tournament is shown as:

Redstone (Craig Richard Nelson)

Francha (Tom Hill)

Deuca (Nina Van Pallandt)

Goldstar (David Langton)

St. Christopher (Vittorio Gassman)

with as sixth man:

Ambrosia (Bibi Andersson)

The front game is played by the five in order, Redstone kills Francha but is killed by St. Christopher, Deuca kills Goldstar and is killed by St. Christopher, Ambrosia is killed by the survivor.

St. Christopher runs a charity house, its motto is from Tsiolkovsky. All the inhabitants of the city (large numerals identify its five sectors) wear rough garb from the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, there is some Latin on the glass walls of the disused Information Center, St. Christopher speaks it at his soup kitchen to introduce a lecture or sermon in English on the five-sided universe, the five stages of life:

primum, pain of birth

secundum, labor of maturing

tertium, guilt of living

quartum, terror of aging

quintum, finality of death

and he points out a sixth:

awareness of nothing

while elsewhere in the film he says, “hope is an obsolete word.”

The sectors, each with a million inhabitants, are the locations for:

1) the casino

2) the hotel

3) Francha’s rooms

4) the charity house

5) a canteen with its bird emblem


seen in the order 1) 3) 2) 4) 5) 2) 3) 1), whereas the film begins and ends outside the city.

Essex does not know the tournament is now played literally, Francha is his brother. Essex takes the place of Redstone in the tournament and becomes “a digression”, which brings about a delayed ruling from the judge or adjudicator, Grigor (Fernando Rey).

“All the elements of life are contained in it,” says Grigor, “our art, our philosophy, all things of value fit the game, the game is the only thing of value.” There is no other such activity, “the only intelligent expression left.”

What follows brings to mind in many ways such films as Clair’s And Then There Were None, Ritchie’s The Island, Eastwood’s Firefox (for the second of Altman’s themes, the treacherousness of memory, and the void at the center), Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 in the thumb-sucking of Vivia and Ambrosia.

Nabokov’s “tin-toy rain” is everywhere as snow covering the set, “Man and His World” at Montreal’s Expo ’67 (the photographic exhibition on the casino walls is in the genre of The Family of Man).

The third of Altman’s themes is a historical consideration (cf. McCloud: Showdown at the End of the World). The film noir or Western plot has a man under false identity join a gang that killed one of its members, his brother. Hathaway’s Nevada Smith (also Cassavetes’ Gloria) is related. Ambrosia’s smiling dream is a variant of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.

At the back of it all is Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, and Messiaen or Ligeti in the score, and Nabokov again, “or from the night into the night / through a bright hall a brief bird’s flight.”

The curious lens is like a frosted window wiped clear except at the edges.

Truffaut’s Law obtains here, it holds that a critic must have seen a film three times before he reviews it, or else the review must be issued with an apology.



We are diddled with fear, that is the great revelation.

The lesser is only a joke about politicians. “The food will be good… and no meat!”

Alain Resnais analyzed every crackpot educationalist in La Vie est un Roman, Altman looks at all the loonies on the hustings at a health nut convention.

It’s so brilliant and very fast that Twentieth Century Fox under new management didn’t know what to use it for, they sat on it.



Poopdeck Pappy runs Sweethaven from his gambling barge through the services of a hireling, who is Bluto. Popeye lands on this shore after losing his ship, he inadvertently despoils Bluto of Olive Oyl and acquires the orfink Swee’pea.

The structure is upended so that Pappy isn’t seen until just before Bluto’s mukiny. The treasure chest fought over in the bay with cutlass and octopussy merely contains bronzed baby-shoes and a toy trumpet appertaining to Popeye as an ingfink, along with some cans of spinach.

Rotunno’s cinematography is the occasion of a Felliniesque treatment, which Altman is able to handle in all its many details and complicated scenes as a mirror of the Thirties. The fine impersonations have been noted, and the remarkable singing as well. It was Howard Nemerov who said, “the ogres in them wear Mussolini’s face”, as he watched “old cartoons” on television with his young son, concluding,

I hope he will ride over this world as well,

and that his crudest and most terrifying dreams

will not return with such wide publicity.


Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

A play, a dull play perhaps, staged as realism with a camera moving in or out amongst great actresses so as to, what, catch them off guard, doing their stuff? What have they to do with these backwater cults and mysteries, so remote from the freshets of fame and fortune?



Parachutes from mad Wisconsin and the black slums and queer Manhattan and easygoing worldliness don’t open in the Airborne, even Army ‘chutes fail in the vortex of the play, which is simply a group of specialists somehow inducted and about to be shipped off without proper training, under the eyes of two very drunk sergeants.

The barracks is nearly empty, there’s a very sensible poker game at a far bunk.

It speaks the language of military discipline without having any, like Huston’s “Church of Truth without Jesus Christ Crucified” in Wise Blood.

Vincent Canby, New York Times expert in the field, explained what’s wrong with all this as a film.

Other critics have yowled on the fence with him, some few have looked at the drama and found it faulty, there’s nothing very brilliant about it, if you like, except Altman & Rabe’s harmonizations of very old tunes played laughingly to the camera, as it were, in the latest style.

Altman’s endpapers show the opposite, a precision drill unit amid indeterminate surroundings like the end of Carol Reed’s The Way Ahead.


Secret Honor

The bread of Nixon’s presidency was the Vietnam War, the circuses were Watergate.

Concluding the one and resigning during the other reveal the “secret honor” that makes him appear, alone in his cups dictating a defense, quite likeable in a way, as Ebert observed.

The monumentally detailed set is a masterpiece in its own right, establishing scene and character right from the start.


O.C. and Stiggs

How the other half lives in the unbelievably grotty Eighties, or the circle of social life, compleat.

If.... is very satisfactorily indicated, it’s their junior year of high school just ending in Scottsdale. Gramps is retired from the force, his insurance benefits have just been canceled by one Schwab, suburban goon, cousin to the budding tycoon in Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner.

Variety saw “an anarchistic jab” or pretended to, also “vision and talent behind all the nonsense,” likewise. And the Uzi at the wedding is from The Wild Bunch (“what the HELL was that”).

“God damn it! Eight hundred thousand dollar house and a four dollar gate.”

Hog couture. The imminent move to Arkansas. Love House and its survival shelter, “democracy has failed, democracy is as dead as the dodo bird.”

“A lively, colorful satire” (Janet Maslin of the New York Times).

“A complete misfire” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide).

“This is re— THIS IS REAL!”

“Hell, everything gets to be sooner or later, man.”

The genius of the National Lampoon, which published a diagram for getting ahead in the office by extending attentions to one’s superiors under the boardroom table.


Fool for Love

The main points of departure are Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the play and Mister Roberts for the film, not counting John Osborne’s The World of Paul Slickey and drawing-room comedies like His Girl Friday, say. All that’s generally speaking and on technical grounds to some extent, leading to a new idea of cinema.

Where that is maybe is the best shot in the whole film, just before the end, some mailboxes along the highway, a shot that recalls Gregg Toland’s opening shots for The Grapes of Wrath. In all the hubbub, Altman fishes out of the flashbacks a whole range of stylizations, approaching verisimilitude by degrees and passing it for better or worse to a kind of poetry.

The credit sequence is a display of spectacular subtlety, you might say.


Beyond Therapy

Altman’s New York, or people who write for People are completely fucked up.

Woody Allen composed the overture, Sounds from a Town I Love.

Therapists in the throes (“someone to watch over me”) have it off with each other while the clients wait.

“I think everyone’s basically gay, don’t you?”

Jewison’s New York is Italian, Altman’s is Paris.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times saw “wayward direction... a feature-length blur... no special logic at work... bits and pieces,” he lectured Altman on farce, “may make you feel as if you’re having a breakdown while watching it.”

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times likewise, “killed by terminal whimsy... no pattern... no reason... Altman’s weakness for asides and irrelevancies... separate, unresolved, not adding up to anything.”

Geoff Andrew of Time Out Film Guide had no trouble with it at all, “will offend, disturb and intrigue.”

Peter Tewksbury’s Sunday in New York is evidently in mind.


The Room

One of Pinter’s best jokes is arranged for the teleplay. Bert is busy constructing a room in a bottle, this room (Tiny Alice), he bashes Riley over the head with it.

Mr. and Mrs. Sands are a variation, black leather coats, a bit on the mods & rockers.

Mr. Kidd burns his hand on the stove.


Vincent & Theo

The main plan of the work is by Minnelli, who accomplished it in the same sort of cryptic manner Bolt & Lean (Donaldson) applied themselves to with Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty, such are the treasures of Lust for Life.

The second great understanding comes from Russell’s Savage Messiah. Altman is therefore equipped to add nothing but a more expansive treatment of certain elements according to a liberalized mode of expression.

Worser aspects of the crisis at Arles, more of Theo Van Gogh, more of Vincent’s assiduous training, Dr. Gachet’s daughter, and this is only the rescension of Altman’s considerably longer original.

One of the most significant treatments is of Minnelli’s Dr. Gachet, who is now seen in a fuller light where he was understated before.

Altman expands Minnelli’s tottering near-collapse beside the baby’s crib similarly into a large weighty scene of dramatic conflict.

Korda’s Rembrandt is cited in a variant of Minnelli’s scene at Père Tanguy’s.

The most striking effect first and last is Altman’s use of copies (where Minnelli founded his work on the original paintings) to give a sense of unknown quantity and definitively put his film on the basis of Van Gogh’s paintings in situ (not in evidence) and Minnelli’s film.


The Player

A relatively minor asshole among the majors, all he does is kill a writer in a Pasadena puddle neon-red.

Shitbag is the word, also, for the New Hollywood types in baggy suits and formula minds and suspenders, pabulum, the latter-day industry known to Altman several years later in The Gingerbread Man.

Here, of course, the joke is that before The Player gets made it’s greenlighted as Habeas Corpus with top stars and a new happier ending after a preview in Canoga Park.

And that’s the story of Hollywood, you wouldn’t touch it with a Pole even Skolimowski, and since then it’s all digital.

Writers are a joke from Kazan’s The Last Tycoon, directors are from Mike Eisner.


Black and Blue

Altman in, around, up and down the show on Broadway, taking its dimensions like a tailor for television, at times recalling The Boy Friend (dir. Ken Russell), thus a companion piece to Jazz ‘34.


Short Cuts

The grand masterpiece of Southern California from the suburbs to the hills.

Altman “here shows neither compassion for—nor insight into—the human condition” (Rita Kempley, Washington Post).

A considerable part of this, which seemed to pass unnoticed at the time, is the sound recording. It really registers place and condition as acoustical dimensions, and laid the groundwork for a spectacular effect in Gosford Park, the representation of Ivor Novello singing his own songs at the piano.

Polanski’s Death and the Maiden with its chamber music opening and closing followed soon after. Cul-de-sac is represented in several respects. The Kubrick eye-madness at the climax drifts toward Schoedsack’s The Last Days of Pompeii or Fellini’s La dolce vita, if you will. The birthday cake is from  The Entertainer, and there is Jack Lemmon. The mock marital violence of Kershner’s A Fine Madness and a suicide rather like Kramer’s On the Beach fill the bill.

These are the structural elements, some of them. Then there is St. Teresa on words and deeds, cited by a TV news editor. “Home Grown Fruits and Vegetables” are under the ban for Medfly spraying, the critique is an old one.

The city of aviation and artifice and medicine and automobiles, known throughout the world.



The greatest fashion designer of them all, Hans Christian Andersen.

House of Ricardo, House of Mertz.

Basse couture.


Kansas City

Boss Pendergast gave Truman a small place in his machine, so goes the story, Truman gave Boss Pendergast a small office in the White House, an elegant formulation.

No elegance here, Seldom Seen takes in losers at the Hey-Hey Club, nobody interferes (George Roy Hill’s The Sting is suggested by the attempt, distantly), all the great jazz musicians play there, Seldom Seen is full of jokes on Amos ‘n Andy and Manton Moreland and Stepin Fetchit and the white man’s insatiable greed that caused “this here Depression”, not FDR’s presidential advisor nor the governor of Missouri nor the Northside Democratic Club can dislodge him from his prey, whose wife kidnaps the advisor’s wife to force the issue.

Even doped up, a politician’s wife can fend for herself, especially doped up, it’s election day for what she calls “goats and rabbits”, a very brutal business.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us...

“Too mannered” for Stephen Holden, New York Times. “This story by itself is fairly thin” for Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times. “As much exasperation as insight” for Todd McCarthy, Variety. “Basically a head-scratcher” and “a soulless, unmusical banality” for Rita Kempley and Desson Howe of the Washington Post, respectively.


Jazz ‘34

What is most remarkable is the jazz score filmed live to all appearances without music on the stands. Also most remarkable are the long slow pans and sweeps that catch just about all there is of jazz in Kansas City then without much appreciable effort to all appearances, and this also proves greatly advantageous in Gosford Park.


The Gingerbread Man

The title character’s story is told in the manner of Mr. Arkadin’s frog and scorpion. Under the credits, in a shot that vaguely recalls the ending of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the camera views the earth from outer space, or a painting by Laddie John Dill, or the surface of a gingerbread man, no, it’s a river through the swamps with a highway beside it, at last (Charles & Ray Eames are evoked by this). The soundtrack is startlingly subtle, and the surprise party in the first scene strikes the tone in the family reunion of Bonnie and Clyde.

Savannah is facing Hurricane Geraldo, and all but the very ending is filmed under dark skies or rain and squalls. Early on, the quivering of leaves in the foreground of a shot prepares an effect and accomplishes one as well. Jealousy is framed in terms of Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie, through a set of Venetian blinds. Another quotation has Robert Duvall hide behind a door in a split-second homage to Boo Radley (Duvall’s resemblance to Altman in this part is structural).

He appears at a competency hearing with an unmistakable allusion to Miracle on 34th Street and another to King Lear (or A Thousand Acres). Cape Fear and The Maltese Falcon are variously touched upon.

A spectacular cut to the wet hood of a red Mercedes convertible in motion tilts up to the windshield for the dialogue. An office conference with slatted shadows and car lights or reflections seems a careful allusion to a well-known Nabokov poem.

The technique is at times close to That Cold Day in the Park. Myriad flashes of insight are produced by cutting in or out of the camera. Classic technique is employed as a fertile adjunct that floats between past and present very freely, and within the same shot.

The one about the redheaded stepchild, who’s also a lawyer. There’s a vast inheritance, and a girl with a kook for a father, but that’s par for the course. The lawyer is made to believe his kids have been kidnapped, kills the old fellow, and then finds out he’s been set up. Community service isn’t such a bad thing, he concludes.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by way of Family Plot (the kook’s allies emerge from the graveyard and disappear again through its allées). The cops bust his, the lawyer’s, chops for defending a client from cops disguised as “drug merchants”, to begin the film.


Cookie’s Fortune

Holly Springs is Mayberry R.F.D. in all but name, everybody is just the same.

The differences are few and circumstantial. For instance, the county isn’t dry, there’s a bronze plaque in front of the cash register at the packaged liquor store that reads, “Nothing Happened Here in 1897”.

Cookie goes to Buck in Paradise with his Peacemaker and a feather pillow, there’s a production of Salome on at the Presbyterian church, some confusion obtains over the manner of Cookie’s passing, the correct way to spend one’s time is in a boat after some fish, or from a short dock.

An æsthetician in “a one-lawyer town”.


Dr. T & The Women

Dallas dries up and blows away without Chagall and a heart.

Or, Buster Keaton singing, “In a little Spanish town ‘twas on a night like this,” with a small guitar.

A very clever place, the digital tornado leaves it behind.

Mind you, the mall isn’t as upchucky as some, but the fountain lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.


Gosford Park

This is set precisely between Elvey’s The Lodger, described as a flop, and Forde’s Charlie Chan in London, which largely takes place in a country manor house.

The master has a lapdog and shoots badly and rogers the help, bastards are sent to an orphanage.

Lots of other motives for killing him. “Well, he wasn’t exactly Father Christmas.”

Vermeer was the obvious choice (but see Mann’s Jane Eyre), with variegations of Degas, Lyly, Bacon (briefly, at the crisis), Whistler, etc. Notorious provides the underpinnings of the camerawork. When it is in motion, it is a ballet of scenes and forms, and when it’s still it gives you two actors sitting at a table covered with a white tablecloth and glasses of wine, and off in the corner a pair of hands.

The screenplay takes in La Règle du jeu, The Servant, and The Go-Between, and the filming noticeably improves on Renoir (as one must, to stay even) in, for example, the shooting scenes.

After The Shooting Party, British film had been pretty much left for dead lo those many decades (only two?), and it was more than gentlemanly to raise it up onto its feet, even the hardiest of culture vultures could not have been expected to masticate much more Merchant-Ivory Mastuprate Theatre with an ashen smile. On Sunset Boulevard, the matinee audience laughed very politely at first, then uproariously.


The Company

The voiceover tells the tale. Dark screen, turn off your cellphones, no flash photography. It’s the Joffrey Ballet, that puts on (and digs up) Nijinsky and Massine, a first-rate company. The opening dance seems rather poor all the same, an effort at modernity with streamers that (aha!) become rectangles isolating the dancers.

The old prima ballerina gets compared to Fonteyn, and as soon as she’s gone discussion returns to the dance she’s excused from. “Who can do it?” asks Mr. A (Malcolm McDowell) before the latch has clicked.

Dancers in motion, limbs, joints. Suite Saint-Saëns and a glimpse of the great company. The great outdoor scene placing this all on point as a gradual depiction on film of a live performance. Lightning, wind and rain (blown leaves) convey the physical drama. Afterward, the artist and the artiste.

A danseur does his Bach Cello Suite. There is a question, derived from Apollo, about mimesis. There is a very effective satire, if you will, of the private life. Mr. A criticizes those who are in love with the lyricism of phony ballet, “I hate it.” The danger and difficulty are evoked in a silly ballet on the theme of Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum.

Digital intermediates, digital intermediates, yes we are digital intermediates.


A Prairie Home Companion

Almost every shot is of a kind which in Countdown or That Cold Day in the Park serves as dramatic punctuation. The force of such films doesn’t come from fancy lighting or complicated shooting techniques, which Altman sums up as “bullshit”. The grammar of cinema has found another expression in Altman since Jazz ’34 or thereabouts, one that is related to Godard (in Alphaville) as his Éloge de l’amour figures in a grazing theme. The camera is in constant motion, panning, zooming slowly in or out, not without the occasional reverse shot or fixed POV. This might reflect a famous shot in Hitchcock’s Notorious. The effect is continuous action, like Preston Sturges’ walk around the block. A single shot exhibits finer technique than anybody has ever achieved before, taken together the sum of all the shots is an easy style that rises at moments in an articulation of particular emphasis without rhetoric. This is a signal evolution of Altman’s, and in terms of the musical comings and goings in Jazz ’34, the technique is more focused and to the point, taking in all the interest a set design or a suite of actors can offer. Again, a single shot is a tour de force, the entire film is a continuous record of a live radio show on and off the stage, in spite of a perfectly execrable digital transfer.

A prelude begins with the opening shot of skyline, radio antenna and water tower at twilight. The aurora borealis gradually appears, the camera tilts up into the brightness of it which becomes the lights of Mickey’s Dining Car reflected in a puddle. Guy Noir has just eaten dinner, he leaves the place and goes to the Fitzgerald Theater, where he works as security man for A Prairie Home Companion. A corporation has bought the theater and plans to level it. This is the last performance.

The Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones), like Satan, quotes Scripture to his purpose. The Angel of Death is named Asphodel (Virginia Madsen) and was once a fan of the show, until a joke made her laugh so hard her car skidded off the road. Dying, it didn’t seem so funny, the penguin joke as told by Garrison Keillor. Two penguins are standing on an ice floe. One says, “You look like you’re wearing a tuxedo,” the other replies, “What makes you think I’m not?”

This is worthy of Bob Newhart, and deserves to be carved in stone.

Meryl Streep can belt out a country song with the best of them, Lily Tomlin is her sister who puts the sound effects man through his paces. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are cowboy singers right off the trail. L.Q. Jones can sing, Maya Rudolph is a floor manager, Lindsay Lohan garbles “Frankie and Johnny”, Kevin Kline is Guy Noir. The house band is exceptionally able.