“A Bad Day in Beverly Hills” is the secondary title, a prefatory note describes a lopsided, failing war. Bill has a car dealership, owes his ad agency and everybody else. Bernadette tans by the pool while he complains about the “shithouse” they’re living in. It’s 1970, their son is a Spanish prisoner (dope), they give him out to be a lieutenant in Vietnam, piloting a military helicopter.
Bone materializes, he wants money. His plight is that of the rapist who can’t get a rise from his victims, “the nigger mystique” avails him no more.
Bill has no care for mistresses, “after the fucking it’s completely impersonal”, beyond a certain point you just make money. He has five thousand in a secret bank account, he’s sent to fetch it. No place to park, a doctor’s space. A girl ahead of him in line at the bank is there for a new design on her checks (tennis players to surfers or vice versa), he takes a loan on his cash, dallies with the girl in her apartment up from the Strip.
She has a story to tell, molested in a movie theater when she was eleven. Different theater chains have different smells, she observes. She shoplifts at supermarkets and writes complaint letters to companies for free samples.
Bernadette takes pity on Bone, they zing. The two fetch Bill outside the ad agency across the street from The Classic Cat, he boards a bus, they ride to the end of the line. Bill pleads for his life, he can be useful, he can cook. On a sandy hill overlooking the Pacific, Bernadette beats him to death. Bone is nowhere to be seen.
A rough sketch of the countless details shows the relationship to Pinter’s A Slight Ache and Cassavetes’ Love Streams (the fearful beginning recalls the murder of Quilty in Kubrick’s Lolita, a Ulysses-note is sounded at the end with lights out à la Dedalus). The beautifully-written screenplay is complemented by fast work on location with Yaphet Kotto, Andrew Duggan, Joyce Van Patten and Jeannie Berlin.
He’s physically warped and mentally twisted by Harlem in 1953. A dozen years later, he kills a mafioso on spec and rises in the organization.
The source of his power is a set of books he acquires by killing, they name every corrupt public official from precinct house to the United States Congress. These he keeps through thick and thin, against opposition from the families and a mick cop, right down to the end.
It comes after his girl leaves him for his righteous “fagbait” partner and even phonybaloney Reverend Rufus the tax dodge hears the call.
Hell Up in Harlem
Son of Black Caesar. From the ashes he arises to avenge himself on all who laid him low outside Tiffany’s in broad daylight.
His Harlem mob is consigned to his father while he lams out to the Coast with Sister Jennifer of Reverend Rufus’s flock, but those ledgers are a powerful magnet attracting the crooked D.A., there’s a lot of business for a young man in Caesar’s mob with aspirations to succeed.
“The self-styled black Caesar” talks about going straight, his former girl’s killed, his father too, his young son’s kidnapped. He sends the books to Congress and lams out with the boy, once and for all.
From a different perspective it might be said that Cohen was not unaware that the Woodhouse child, like Damien, was an infant after all. The type is personified as one, a little hellraiser eating its way out of house and home.
This is saliently couched in the ambience and settings of Them!, for example, abetted by Bernard Herrmann’s attentive score. The triple tension of the satire (if that’s what it is), the style, and the modus operandi makes it marvelous.
John P. Ryan is remarkably like Dennis Hopper in this part. Sharon Farrell, who played a frowsy blonde singer with a tongue in “Showdown at Times Square” on McCloud at this time, is another person.
God Told Me To
More than a decade before Kasdan’s I Love You to Death, Cohen identifies, by simple analysis from Buñuel’s Le Fantôme de la liberté, a likely supposition with regard to the assassination of President Kennedy, eking out everyday observation of the subtlest.
The madly-firing sociopath on a New York water tower is obliquely discussed afterwards in terms associated with Lee Harvey Oswald. Other rampages follow, each assassin gives the film’s title as the rationale.
The police detective on the case is a devoutly practicing Catholic who has left his wife for a mistress. Cohen enters upon stratospheric realms of surrealism for his satire, “c’était le Saint Pigeon, Joseph,” says Beckett’s Marie.
God is taken to be an effeminate or “recessive” blond longhair whose Thomas wound is an alluring slash, his powers of intimidation regulate the murders and ordain a Wall Street council to do his bidding (cf. the image of certain business leaders in Miller’s Executive Action). His mother is seen in a sepia flashback naked on a roadway in the rain at night (Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly) with a tale to tell of alien abduction and rape.
Cohen has no truck with Antichrist Superstar, his detective also was conceived that way, a virgin birth, and with powers latterly used to quell a Harlem drug-peddler who has put a colleague on the pad.
Christ the detective is arrested for homicide and gives the Press his reason for destroying Antichrist, the title again.
Poor distribution and marketing are cited by the director as having limited the film’s appeal, and critics found themselves as ever unable to follow quick editing (from Welles) in a film with audacious variety of invention comparable to such masterpieces as Bertolucci’s Partner and Levy’s Herostratus.
It Lives Again
The idea of It Lives Again is a satirical one, namely to film the archdemon of such works as Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen in the style of a Fifties science-fiction flick. It’s played perfectly straight and brilliantly realized, and is so unbearably comical that Cohen supplies relief in the form of John Marley’s inability to take it all seriously, even if but a twinkle in his eye reveals it.
It would seem, in view of the widespread disappointment of reviewers who did not get the joke, that the comic position established here is relatively inaccessible. Appreciated correctly on its own terms, however, this must be acknowledged as a masterpiece. The constellation of Frederic Forrest, John P. Ryan and Eddie Constantine in one scene, laid within strictly natural settings as throughout, is deeply mysterious. There is no attempt whatsoever to mitigate the frank idiocy of the doll-baby with articulated teeth and claws (its fond parents feed it a plate of raw variety meats on the floor). Observe, if you will, the genius of this.
Forrest takes a night swim in his outdoor pool, which provides the main illumination. The wind is swaying the branches and the children’s swing set. A down shot of the other end of the pool is crossed by a shadow as the doll is flung off-camera into the water, suggesting the evil baby’s menacing leap. Forrest is alarmed, etc.
Andrew Duggan has a charming scene where his glasses are knocked off and he strains to see the horror surrounding him. There is even a significant and thematic homage to The Birds (the children’s birthday party with a claw mark in the cake, noises upstairs revealed to be a pigeon in the attic), by way of paying tribute as well to Bernard Herrmann, whose music from It’s Alive! is reworked by none other than Laurie Johnson.
The Steven Spielberg position, whatever that may be, is a malevolent and otherworldly blancmange sold by a commercial enterprise with vast and unreserved success in this brilliant, more than brilliant variation on Siegel’s or Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The ubiquitous fans of the world’s most lucrative movie director always without exception say that he does one thing awfully well at least, and that’s tell one gosh darn good yarn, even though the meaning of it, whatever that may be, always just seems to escape them somehow.
Cohen, on the other hand, knows full well that truth is stranger than fiction.
It opens with a look at the degradation of Gary, Indiana, about which Ron Howard sang unforgettably. It might be the Bronx or downtown Los Angeles.
The politicians, like the local minister, are engaged in running a boat and don’t want no rocking. The local gang boss goes a bit too far in a matter of personal honor, and the helpless citizenry is at a disadvantage. So the founders of the gang return to set things right. They are now middle-aged men who are prevailed upon, really, not to abandon the city but clean it up.
They buy a cache of arms through a juvenile factotum (this lad is killed by the gang and his body wrapped in plastic sheeting and duct tape). The gang is set against its rivals in the next neighborhood. The citizenry is trained in self-defense.
The stars are marvelously tough-looking, with a comical slowness.