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Black Samson

In a continuous slow pan-and-tilt with a long lens the camera follows the preparation of a drink and the retailing of a joke while a funky ensemble plays to the amusement of bare-breasted girls and assorted partygoers who are revealed to be in Samson’s, a neighborhood go-go bar and a clean well-lighted place with a delightful lion and a mighty Wurlitzer organ (Samson himself lets the big cat play with the end of his African walking staff).

A low-level mobster is assigned to claim this stretch of Los Angeles for the drug trade. They send in a lawyer, they send in a blonde, they kidnap his girl, but Samson brings them down.

Character study is the main focus of this understated Mr. Majestyk by the former stunt man and stunt coordinator who later directed The Gumball Rally. Samson (Rockne Tarkington) sizes up the mob boss (Titos Vandis), who thinks himself in possession of great craftiness, and each smiles very differently at the other. Johnny Nappa (William Smith) has an easy, transparent veneer and a passionate, violent temper, which he gives nearly full rein in a memorable poolside scene. He sends his girl (Connie Strickland) to dance at Samson’s. The lady of the house (Carol Speed) walks out and is kidnapped by louts.

A portfolio of gags is included, with a brief fracas atop the great Downtown courthouse parking structure affording a view of the city, and a little echo of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid right at the end.


Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold

The ideal would be to create a comic book. Bail has two opposing tendencies at work, the superior action flick you see at the beginning, a grand mêlée in Hong Kong Harbour, and on the other hand his muse incarnate who transcends all such conditions by her mere presence. That’s the way he constructs the film, basking in his delight and working furiously, until the Dragon Lady Casino in Macao is brought down with a Bailian assault that establishes the pre-eminence of his inspiration.

The drama of the true comic book style is the drama of black ink and blank pages and colors as near primary as you would like, which is how Lichtenstein understood it as related to Mondrian, essentially. Connoisseurs will enjoy Bail’s amazing achievement uninterruptedly. Many will notice a scene copied out of From Russia with Love, and others will probably concur with the offscreen tourist in the casino who has gotten an eyeful of Cleopatra’s pink-and-copper creation and says to her husband, “I want a dress just like that!”

Some few might gasp at the sight of Bail’s incredibly lush and vivid Hong Kong exteriors. Comic books always demand an easy, impersonal realism that gives you the city as backdrop. Bail has this all worked out, plus these brilliant cinematographic cityscapes as a tour de force.




The Gumball Rally

At the start, in New York, New York (the location is identified in a superimposed title on an aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty and the city), there’s no question but the time has come to race against the old record across the country to Long Beach, California. Having arrived there, what does one do but race again?

Bail’s editing is unusual, but it may have been influenced by Sam Wood’s in A Night at the Opera. It’s short and sweet, and not just fast but curt, taking the scene or the gag just to its conclusion and not lingering a second longer than that. His camerawork when he has time for it has a lot of refinement, to the point of elegance. A long shot tracks the red Ferrari moving left and then right around a curve and past the camera and then left again as it pulls in close for a pit stop. All of Bail’s virtuosity is in a tracking shot as the entrants come into frame variously for the meet at Gallagher’s across the street from Roseland and just around the corner from the Winter Garden where Pacific Overtures is on the marquee, or in the editing on action that not infrequently dissolves the seams. There’s a scene that again shows the economy of his technique: a crane picks up the racers on the road, and drops down to a medium shot as they pull in to a gas station. Finally, this is simply reversed, panning on the cars while raising the crane to the original shot.

The sole motorcyclist has a surrealistic correspondence with the landscape. He crashes through a billboard reading “Next Time Take the Train”. He flies off the road and winds up in a tree. Lastly he and his motorcycle land in the harbor next to the Queen Mary.

The sunup outset through the streets of Manhattan is a very pleasant reminder of Claude Lelouch’s C’était un Rendezvous, filmed that same year, before it recalls the collapsing automobiles and gagwork on the first leg of The Great Race. Professor Fate is in a sense replaced by a glorified traffic cop. Blake Edwards’ film is, in part, a response to It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which was inspired partly by Henry Cornelius’ Genevieve. Bail traces his film’s development in the course of production. Another starting point is The Sting (the secret word is “gumball”).

A midpoint between Guy Hamilton’s Live and Let Die in some respects (the opening title and the race through New York) and Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit. A more direct homage was paid in the latter’s The Cannonball Run.