Bad Company

A good boy heading west with juvenile thieves turns bad at last from sheer disgust at a stonyfaced marshal.

The style seemed incomprehensive to Variety and the New York Times, incomprehensible to Ebert.

Greenville, Ohio is the starting-point in 1863, to evade conscription some boys are kept home in dresses or hidden from recruitment patrols. Our boy is sent to Virginia City, gets lured and robbed in St. Joseph, and takes up with the bunch for want of traveling means.

This is the other way to grow up, thieves beset by thieves, no honor among them, death in every venture.

Benton starts off with two grand shots to set the stage. A rural house with wash hanging, sound of horses approaching, it’s a Union Army prison wagon brought into the scene, it could be anytime. St. Joseph is a long street without a cut, it ends at a foreordained alley.

Just a note from The Red Badge of Courage tells a tale. The editing is brilliant and original, the cinematography exceptionally fine, both Benton hallmarks, also an unflagging ability to abstract from the material anything outworn and jejune by presenting it correctly.


The Late Show

Naked Girls and Machine Guns, title of a memoir.

Some Hollywood girl has lost her cat, it’s always the way.

A Hollywood fence, a small-time promoter, pot and self-help (also a shrink).

The private dick’s pal is dead.

So it all has to be sorted out with the fence’s wife and her late lover and the late lover’s late wife, all the time the fence is dealing merchandise out of a house in the hills.

And there you have it, the big picture.


Kramer vs. Kramer

A damn fool of an account executive loses his wife for love of a Madison Avenue career, and nearly loses their young son.

It’s much the same ad agency Diane Keaton worked for in Charles Shyer’s Baby Boom.


Still of the Night

The authority and basis of this is the psychological surrealism of Hitchcock, a fine object of study also for the surprise and suspense that are dealt with. There are numerous allusions to his films, but Variety’s complaint of weak plotting is without foundation given the style employed. Canby is aware of this to some extent, but doesn’t follow the affair.

The main point is a love affair that proceeds in the manner of a detective story, with lots of nuance effecting the surreal marriage of the twin idea. That’s all, the art is in the sustained inspiration followed through the raucous murder mystery, all put together with a great deal of care, avoiding the set piece for a continuous realism, but providing a dream told by the murder victim and played for the camera, analyzed, re-enacted and finally lived through.

The honor rendered Hitchcock consists of the recognition that he is not a bag of tricks.

John Kander’s pallid moonlight theme returns at the close to great effect, and swells under the end credits in a Hitchcockian flourish.


Places in the Heart

A Death in the Family, Our Daily Bread, To Kill a Mockingbird and Robson’s Earthquake (for the love affair and the tornado) are among the films that make the quilt pulled up over the poor and the past.

The cinematography is a great achievement, which means that everything else is.



Benton has elucidated this as far as one can, even to the point of insisting on well-lighted night exteriors.

Buford Pope (Rip Torn) is the high-roller with a scheme to exploit the new highway going through.

Vernon Hightower (Jeff Bridges) owns “a dump on the highway called the Blue Bonnet Bar” and tries to horn in.

Benton might have called the latter Hardcastle (feste Burg), but that would have been easy.

The nominal structure is related to Wyler’s Roman Holiday. Nadine (Kim Basinger) has posed for “art studies” from an Austin photographer, she reclaims them from his studio but finds they are plans for the new state highway.

She and Vernon are separated, she’s expecting.

It’s set in 1954 with a good deal of charm. The cinematography is gradually more striking in daylight exteriors until the great finale in Pope’s junkyard shows its vast precision.

Godard’s “Je vous salue, Marie” or the ruckus around it comes to mind.


Billy Bathgate

A schmuck from the Bronx adheres to the Dutch Schultz gang.

It’s all playacting, like everything in Hollywood. There’s a lot of money to be made, the figure is twenty million.

And therein lies the satire, by Stoppard out of Doctorow.


Nobody’s Fool

Nobody’s Fool is the Book of Job out of A Christmas Carol, and accomplishes an identification of the complaining patriarch with Scrooge, but this is very little in its way compared with the beauty of its surface analysis, which is monumentally detailed and revealing.

Richard Schickel in TIME alleged it to offer “inspirational fibs”, seduced by the agreeable presentation against a backdrop of Bailey’s cinematography, a certain facileness in front set off by the beauty and accuracy of the pictures. Right between the two is the real action, determining a set of understandings incidentally related to Ramis’ Groundhog Day (seemingly acknowledged toward the end).

Much of this is simply intuited, or directly not stated. The son (a college professor), the fear-ridden grandson, the old friend, these are the pivotal characters. The ex-wife (“if there’s one thing Oprah understands, it’s men”), the sometime boss at Tip Top Construction, his wife and mistresses, the landlady and former schoolteacher, her son “the bank”, and a big deal to build The Ultimate Escape amusement park, make up all the elements of the composition, or nearly all.

Establishing these one by one is a function of the script, which bears the same overall range as the presentation, elucidated on the set with a look or a picture.

A drama of recognitions, of “knowing the place for the first time.”



A tale of two private eyes, twenty years apart. One is a blackmailer, the other is not.

Wealth attends the former, but the latter does not lose his manhood, literally and figuratively, and therein lies the substance of the film.

Hawks’ The Big Sleep is cited.