The Boy Who Predicted
A midweek prime-time slot is filled by a junior executive at an independent television station with The Herbie Bittman Show, in which a ten-year-old boy prattles about his day in school or books he’s reading, adding in the course of things a prediction or two. The station manager is up against the networks, fires the executive, wipes the tape, but the missing girl is found with injuries as predicted, an earthquake happens with damage and fatalities, the boy is signed to a 25-year contract.
A year and a half later, with a string of headlines behind him and a university researcher on the set, the boy refuses to go on. His audience will be worried, the manager tells him. The boy goes on, inane as ever, and then predicts utopia tomorrow morning. The researcher asks and is told why he didn’t want to go on, the sun will turn into a nova, explode, he didn’t want people to be afraid.
The refining fire treated as an offspring of Meet John Doe’s radio address and William Wellman’s The Next Voice You Hear. The direction is brilliant, Michael Constantine’s unexpected turn as the manager perhaps recalls Mr. Shellhammer in Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street.
A moneylender goes to hell unbending in his usury. The contrivance of the title (given by his host as “hidden camera”) shows him a house he foreclosed on, throwing an old man into the street. A second model, unique, displays the future and the past, and that is hell for the moneylender, a realm of things that are no more (Corn Exchange, Victoria Greens), peopled by “ghouls, graverobbers, bloodsuckers and usurers”.
“The Usurers may be taken as types of all economic and mechanical civilizations which multiply material luxuries at the expense of vital necessities and have no roots in the earth or in humanity.” (Sayers, Inferno).
“Humanity applies to funeral eulogies and Valentine cards, not to business.” And again, “I’m not a photography buff.” “What are you, Mr. Sharsted?” “A businessman,” says the moneylender. “A moneylender,” says his host.
Mrs. Bowen tends her garden at the house she has lived in all her life. Mr. Saunders has bought 11,000 acres all around for his new factory, World Consolidated Industries. She can’t be reasoned with. He hires a man to do the job.
Her screams in the night bring the police, who find her in the garden missing a finger. The man dies in a fiery pursuit, she is operated on and also dies, from shock and loss of blood.
Mr. Saunders pulls a rose from her garden. “Everything I plant grows,” she had said, even a piece of kindling she stuck in the ground has sprouted. Now the finger she buried climbs back up from the soil, Mrs. Bowen again. The sight of her covered with tendrils in her rocking chair, repeating, “I have green fingers,” turns Mr. Saunders’ hair gray and wrecks his mind.
Witch, Witch, Burning
The Sixth Sense
A memory of the Salem witch trials (and The Blue Dahlia). Dr. Rhodes’ uncle Raymond crashes through a shower door and falls dead, frightened by the apparition of a witch. The housekeeper’s daughter believes herself to be guilty of his murder, an ancestral curse is on his family from hers, pronounced at the stake three centuries before.
So she believes, and so does her mother, who has a witch knife to exorcise the girl. Dr. Rhodes, who sees the same apparition, dispels it by freeing the girl’s mind, and she rises from the pentacle drawn on the ground by her mother, “there’s no witch inside of me.”
Though her mother concludes, “it was something else,” Dr Rhodes observes ,”you’re free now.”
The Girl With The Hungry Eyes
The beautiful analysis threaded along the dialogue and images and performances is quite characteristic of the series, all of it original and striking.
The unknown model makes a photographer’s fortune as Miss Munsch for Munsch Beer, then Bimini Swimwear and Danieli Perfume spread her face in magazines, billboards and commercials.
Her opalescent eyes lure men to death, the mystery of her existence is “the mystery that drives men to victory, our materialism, our lust,” says Munsch in quest of a face.
This is curiously related to Crichton’s Looker. “The horse leech’s daughter is a closed system. Her quantum of wantum cannot vary.” The photographer settles her hash by recognizing his part in her creation.
Joanna Pettet achieves the look in still pictures by Harry Langdon, Jr. (portrayed as it were by James Farentino), in masterful direction by Badham, with John Astin as Munsch who says of his projected ad campaign, “simplicity is the key to endurance” (he dies among the victims of “Maybe Murders”, maybe homicide, maybe heart attack, the police aren’t sure). The stills and negatives are burned, she crumples like a print, her eyes stare out perfect blanks in transparencies overlooked on a wall-mounted light table.
You Can Come Up Now, Mrs.
A failed inventor of perpetual motion machines and youth formulas holds a demonstration for “some of the finest scientific minds of our time”, at which he will show “the transmuting of base metals into noble ones.” The beaker explodes, he is denounced as “not a scientist but a hybrid cross between an eccentric, a charlatan and a carnival barker.”
His next project is “an earth-shattering triumph of man over the elements” that will make himself famous and his wife immortal. “Oh,” she says appreciatively, “that’s nice, Henry.”
It fails, he is about to be arrested for murder and commits suicide in his room. His wife, a forgetful, distracted woman always late for everything, rises from the dead as advertised.
Doll of Death
A tropic island, the Englishman, “I’m giving my child bride a taste of civilization—pollution, bad cooking and Harold Pinter.”
She arrives barefoot for the wedding and meets her lover, who sweeps her off her feet and away to his fishing boat. The Englishman buys a voodoo doll.
The lover is racked with pain, no symptoms. She returns to the house, a manservant clutches the master’s ring to fight the spell. She takes it from him and puts it on the doll’s arm. The Englishman smashes the doll and dies.
He had said to her on their wedding day, “that’s wrong!” She answers him, “I know, but when is love kind, or even real?”
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
Under a title which was the hypnotizing fashion of its day, as gerunds are now, and inspired by the success of The Sting, this is a film whose depth of humor may be indicated by its lighthearted opposition of W.E.B. DuBois and the resurrected Christ; it finds an image and isolates it.
It is easy enough to see why Badham’s Dracula has not met with critical favor. It is a very complex and difficult work from several points of view, and it takes more than fifteen minutes to get fully going. This disqualifies it under the general terms of criticism, except as what Variety calls “arty.”
The opening storm at sea recalls Jamaica Inn, but is constructed in the manner of the Book of Jonah. It’s resolved in daylight echoing Ryan’s Daughter.
The main body of the style is highly variegated. You never know when you’ll see a shot modeled on Fuseli, or a long shot made to resemble nineteenth-century magazine illustrations, although Badham resolves his notes in pure Hammer style. This allows the introduction of an uncanny décor, Transylvanian Jugendstil, or nearly. Lucy enters Dracula’s castle exactly like La Belle in Cocteau’s film, preparing such images as the white horse stomping up Mina’s grave. The camera observes Lucy through a horizontal spider web near the ceiling, echoing Suspicion, and the shot is repeated through the openwork wire ceiling of her padded cell.
The finale hoists the Count into daylight atop a mast, thereby suggesting the very end of Jamaica Inn.
Well, here it is,
the whole post-Vietnam retooling of America, just in time for the 1984 Olympics
in Los Angeles. This is still news, and tends to throw Badham’s film out
of whack, but who cares?
The idea is that agents provocateurs provoke a Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response. This was the model for Airwolf, where David Hemmings played the part of the evil pilot in the pilot.
Halliwell’s Film Guide (1984), which often telegrammes its reviews in, claims this is about “a Vietnam veteran gone berserk,” which is astounding even for that British institution. The hero is actually compared with “Horatius at the bridge.”
The model is Three Days of the Condor by way of Firefox. Hairier whirlybird-wielding is not to be found, except on occasion amongst The A-Team. Warren Oates shows a previously unsuspected resemblance to Walter Matthau, and all the cast are great. The early morning shot at the weapons testing ground shows the green of a California desert sunup.
On the surface, this great film is an allegory derived and built up from an idea in Star Trek, defeating an enemy of implacable logic in the form of a computer. This accounts for the weak critical reputation, there is more than meets the eye.
The opening (headlights in dim weather) is the point of departure from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Computers replace men in the missile silos, asexual reproduction is the subject in Lightman’s biology class, a despairing scientist resigns humanity to the fate of dinosaurs and reconciles himself to the coming of bees, these things make up the scattered discourse of the beautiful classic style with which the film is constructed.
A satire of Spielberg as effectively presented though apparently a dramatic exercise in Cold War hackers, and at that a jolly good show.
A richly-deserved joke on the paying public. It’s relatively simple to do this sort of thing as a skit or a faux trailer, Badham sustains the joke for the length of a feature film.
He has carried the dullness of Lucas and Spielberg to its ultimate point, and quickly arrives at the unendurability of The Lost World: Jurassic Park or Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace.
“Moving to Montana soon,” as Frank Zappa says, “gonna be a mental toss flykune.”
The closing song rubs it in. “Feels like I came to life just yesterday. Feels like I’m always gonna be this way.”
Craven’s Deadly Friend takes a more analytical approach, Wynorski’s Chopping Mall a more satirical one.
Rear Window is the basis of the experiment, it is combined in the laboratory with Freebie and the Bean. No-one noticed this among the critics, but they liked it anyway.
A young man helps an older one to escape from prison, the latter’s girl is then watched by a young cop and an older one, the latter’s wife leaves him, watcher and watched fall in love.
It’s precisely this simple working of Hitchcock’s theme that escaped notice, correlated with a note of Rush in a comedy treatment that moves along the lines of a crime drama.
The point of Hitchcock’s film being that what you see is what you are, Rush’s that the battle of the sexes takes place in many theaters.
Bird on a Wire
The structure is a very sage analysis of North by Northwest almost visible in the crop-duster sequence (filmed in the air), with a gag finish.
A protected witness is recognized, he retraces the steps of his various aliases.
The new Pharaoh running his case is a cop under the thumb of a drug agent sent to prison by the witness and now paroled.
The girl who spots the witness attended his funeral, has a suite at the Four Seasons and is a lawyer now. He is fired upon like The Jerk at his garage mechanic job (Arthur Lubin’s Impact).
He has been a hairdresser, a handyman and carpenter, and a zoo attendant.
The girl is inconveniently set on the run with him.
Impossible to believe an authentic work of genius and detailed masterpiece such as this should have met with disfavor, but it happens not infrequently.
A beautiful variant of Keaton’s train gag follows on a careening Detroit car chase that is brilliant enough. They enter a railroad tunnel, see a train coming, back out and away from a pursuer stopped at the lowered gate. He sees a one-man maintenance car go by, drives around the gate and is plowed into by a diesel engine that hits the POV camera, another angle shows him standing up through the missing windshield as the train moves along with his 4X4, his eyes blink repeatedly.
The climax, a tour de force, takes place in a “Savannah/Rain Forest Habitat” exactly like a sound stage, with lions, tigers, monkeys and crocodiles, the witness defends himself from his adversaries with a tranquilizer gun.
There is Raun of Racine Hair Creations at a downtown mall (and a Chinatown chase from Evel Knievel and What’s Up, Doc?), the lady veterinarian, suggestions of Donen’s Charade and Arabesque, spectacular filming, the vacant office floor of a skyscraper in use by the ex-con and his former partner to resume operations (running drugs in from Mexico or running down the witness, whose crime was a youthful lark taken up by old pros).
Raun has an address book belonging to the witness, first wants money that is owed him, an apology for leaving, and a styling from the “Michelangelo of hair.” He insists on it, “cash, apology, hair, in that order.”
The girl didn’t marry the Napalm King (“laundry detergent”), her designer boyfriend views surveillance tapes from a Racine bank where her gold card triggers an alarm, the witness plucks a pointed gun from a guard’s hand and she runs back from their hasty exit to snatch the useless card from the counter.
After the crash of their crop-dusting plane (pursued by a helicopter while the veterinarian, his former employer, wields a shotgun against a gunman with an automatic rifle), he carries the girl on his back to a seedy motel, where “the cockroach from hell” lands on her hair in the shower, they renew their acquaintance.
The elderly zookeeper and his wife (The 39 Steps) are in the address book. A secret call from the girl to her boyfriend at his drafting table is meant to end the chase with Federal marshals and the case officer. Instead there is a mêlée at the zoo.
It’s the intricacy of the sequential dilemma and the intricacy of the filming that make this a work almost without peer.
The experiment of Stakeout having worked to his satisfaction, Badham now adds cinematography on a new basis and creates one of the most remarkable comedies in his or anyone’s œuvre.
Tight, detailed filming with the latest knowledge of natural and low-level lighting in color adds the incremental control to Rush’s slapstick cop drama and Hitchcock’s nightmare wedding fantasy.
The witness absconds in Las Vegas nearly assassinated, the cop loses his girl (the one watched in Stakeout) because he won’t marry her. He and his partner are assigned to await the witness at a posh rural home, a lady with a dog joins them from the DA’s office, the three have a cover, husband-wife-and-son.
Hitchcock’s sense of humor meets Rush’s analytical gag construction in the crucible of Badham’s technique, entirely conscious of its workings all the way.
Nick of Time
The structure is primarily a real-time variant of Sidney J. Furie’s The Naked Runner (and thus associated with Hitchcock’s Rope and Zinnemann’s High Noon). This modulates successively toward Cocteau’s L’Aigle à deux têtes (or Antonioni’s Il Misterio di Oberwald), Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, Miller’s Executive Action, Petersen’s In the Line of Fire, and De Palma’s Snake Eyes.
An immediate assassination, “the lever of love”, the high and the mighty are implicated.
From San Diego to Los Angeles by train, the evident disaster, a bargain to kill the lady Governor.
From Union Station and its Death Wish hooligans to the Bonaventure Hotel.
Everything you need to know about art is in Incognito, thanks to a powerfully ingenious script that modulates the image of a nonexistent Rembrandt into the Old Master painting it is supposed to represent, as well as the symbolic representation of mastery attained by the artist through his study of the past, and both of these with a MacGuffin that presents the work to the viewer as a forgery.
That’s the central dramatic shuffle, a forger who’s hired to invent a vanished Rembrandt. The villain is an art dealer who victimizes the ignorant.
All of this has specific reference to Van Gogh, who mastered the Dutch painters before leaving Holland. Never was a film more suspenseful, both in the circumstances of its plot and in the greater drama of Badham’s skill with juggling the complicated metaphors, which accounts for an extended homage to The 39 Steps.
The style is primarily a concomitant of all this, having to maintain an even keel on the wide seas of a variable image, with a particularly abrasive performance by Jason Patric as the painter creating an afterimage of bold independence.
“Rembrandt” or “Leonardo” is an old nickname for a forger. Welles’ F for Fake figures in the composition.
This little bombshell plays with a layer of feints based on such suspenseful formulæ as the woman in danger and the dark house (with cops and robbers who may not be what they seem), all bearing a superficial resemblance to Wait Until Dark, but thematically related to Johnny Belinda.
Once this apparatus is fully built, it begins to pivot in a magnificent turn on the Borgesian theme of the artist as “usurper” of reality.
Badham’s layout is extremely interesting (note the “clips” from his author’s film work). It serves the actors very well; Bergen, Brown and Murphy are superb. Any critic worth his ducats must ask why the play is thus far unproduced, as reported.