Partly this will be understood at the outset as a test flight fails for want of “source pressure”, the test pilot’s girl arrives in the midst of it, they have had a tiff, source pressure is no longer a problem.
So for a string of mishaps, failures, nominal achievements and finally the goal, controlled flight into outer space.
A thing of beauty, a joy to behold in flight.
Enchantingly filmed on location at Edwards and environs.
No Trumpets, No Drums
In rapid battle on the streets of a French town, Caje accidentally kills a civilian. He cares for the man’s daughter and is loath to leave her. The squad is ordered to defend the town. Caje is snapped out of it by Saunders, a half-track and swivel-mounted armor-plated machine-gun-turret open to the sky has to be neutralized, grief-stunned Caje puts a stop to the firing.
Donner’s opening scene is articulately sketched to show the furnace of war. He takes a down-angle from the church steeple and an up-angle from the open grave at the Frenchman’s burial. He understands the turret-gunner as a force to be reckoned with in a close shot of him at work, full-figure seated in profile.
Saunders crouches beside the dead man, rises at the sight of Caje openmouthed and staring, he’s seen battle shock before. Caje is ultrasensitive to civilians henceforth and nearly forgets to fight their enemy. “From now on,” Saunders tells him, “you’re gonna do what we do, see what we see, you keep takin’ this personally you’re gonna destroy yourself.” There is a terrible mêlée, Frenchmen join in with their rifles, the squad is flanked, villagers flee, the half-track rolls down the street. Caje is worried about the girl, Saunders puts him in mind of “fighting the enemy and nothing else,” and still more directly, “Krauts first”.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
The Twilight Zone
Robert Clampett’s Falling Hare has the gremlin on an airplane peeking in at the scared rabbit, who smashes the window to get at the creature.
At a slight remove, perhaps, Charles M. Jones’ One Froggy Evening has a phenomenal creature known only to one man, despite his desperate efforts to make it generally known. It is immured in a new building’s cornerstone, and discovered during demolition a hundred years later.
Matheson’s recherché composition bears all these elements in a sort of anagram, the gremlin only one man can see, the passage of time revealing “evidence of trespass”.
From Agnes—With Love
The Twilight Zone
Aut amat aut odit femina, the computer says. “A woman either loves or hates.” The programmer’s input in a binary system.
The greedy demands of science on the receptacle lead ultimately to The Venus Project. Agnes interrupts her, its, calculations to meddle with her programmer’s love life. It rejects him in a paroxysm of unresponsiveness.
Another takes his place, as he replaced the man before him. The eternal feminine as cybernautilus, chambered or not.
Sounds and Silences
The Twilight Zone
Serling more than affably launches him in the prologue with enough persiflage to sink his favorite recorded battleship, blasts him sky-high far and wide over land and sea, scuttles him in the vasty deep and then makes absolutely certain in the end that “of his bones are coral made”.
The monster roars at the humorous and long-suffering staff of his model ship company, “Idle hands make for an unproductive poop deck!”
He winds up in a sanitarium after revealing to his mutinous wife the cause of his affliction, an ailing mother who couldn’t bear aught but pussyfooting.
The Jeopardy Room
The Twilight Zone
A man answers the phone in his hotel room, a rat trap.
“It rings, you run,” said Degas, assessing Valéry’s new instrument.
In Room 963, “the last of the imaginative executioners” lays a trap for an expert on traps. The executioner is a Mithridates, what lays a fellow out hardly bothers him at all. The expert has three hours.
The telephone, “if it rings and he answers it,” is a bomb. A frenzied search, a breakdown. “Shoot me, Vassiloff!”
Ten minutes remain, time to “implement the thing.” A hand on the receiver, second thoughts, out the door in a ribbon of gunfire.
“I’ll get him in the next city.” He calls from the airport, Room 963 is being inspected by the executioner, his assistant picks up the phone. “Line disconnected,” says the operator, “I have reached them,” says the caller.
Transoceanic Airways flies him to Belgrade, Rome, London, and New York City.
Donner frames his pictures perfectly, the silhouette of a European phone fills the screen, the expert regards it.
The Brain Center at
The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling understands better than anybody else the meaning of “John Henry”, the crucial element of the drama is stated by him in his introductory remarks, this is a boxing match between Wallace V. Whipple, head of the manufacturing firm begun by his father, and a computer.
Whipple shoots his foreman, sacks his staff, loses the fight. That’s all there is to it except Serling’s pointed accuracy in this update of the song, and Lang’s Metropolis, and Silverstein’s “The Obsolete Man”, and Siegel’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”.
The author even appears as one of the characters, played by Thalmus Rasulala (“Jack Crowder”).
Executive Suite pauses here on its way to Alphaville and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The boxing match is literally filmed in Weis’s “Steel”.
Come Wander with Me
The Twilight Zone
The title is a song collected in the backwoods by Floyd Burney, a very successful artiste whose moniker is “The Rock-A-Billy Kid” (it’s painted on the side of his car in professional lettering, along with two or three of his hit titles). “Come wander with me, love, come wander with me, away from this sad world, come wander with me. He came from the sunset, he came from the sea, he came from my sorrow, and can love only me,” etc.
Burney knows the business inside and out, a “P.D.” (public domain) number doesn’t even have to be paid for, but a token sum will secure it from the competition. He sees “Come Wander with Me” up on the charts in no time, upbeat and slightly jazzy.
The girl who sings it to him is bespoke. “Bespoke!”, he says, “what’s bespoke? You’re bespoke, I’m Floyd Burney.” He kills her lover in self-defense, then flees for his life from the rest of the clan, who do him in at the kind of place a knowledgeable man like Burney really appreciates, an old shed or small barn full of zithers and guitars and musical implements of the past.
As the last episode to be filmed, a sort of Shakespearean curse on diggers of bones. Gary Crosby’s performance is magnificent.
The Night of the Bars of
The Wild Wild West
Theophilus Ragan is a man of humanity and warden of the Territorial Prison, the inmates paint therapeutic pictures, capital punishment is “the tragedy of our time”.
Gordon sees one Jack Chancery on the street, although the man was certainly hanged. Each cell has a secret door opening onto a passageway to a private club where some of the profits are spent from the comprehensive criminal enterprise run by Warden Ragan.
West himself becomes a substitute for “the first man in history to die in the electric chair,” or nearly. The condemned man is a murderer with a “deep suntan and a fresh manicure” after four months’ confinement, his niece is awaiting an inheritance from her father, placed in the uncle’s keeping. She feigns grief histrionically to involve West on her behalf, but admits to being “a lousy actress” in the chorus.
West is Charles Lane, inspector for the Bureau of Prisons. His bed at the Territorial Hotel is booby-trapped to fire bullets toward the ceiling, later the gas is turned off and on again, his life is saved that time by the niece across the hall.
The warden puts West in the squared circle with a Mr. Quincannon, “husky”. West has enemies there.
Gordon waylays the “electrocutioner” as Jeremiah P. Threadneedle, traveler in ladies’ undergarments. A very fussy fellow arrives to do the job.
Halfway to a million, the warden is prepared, the prison is mined with three tons of dynamite set to obliterate the place in twenty minutes. The wall safe is behind Vermeer’s The Artist’s Studio. Gordon defuses the bomb with no time to spare. The warden is calmly walked out the gate, then away to a buggy under rifle-fire as the alarm is sounded.
Donner opens with a big down-angle long shot of the town street at night where Gordon is preaching undercover, the view is from a drunk’s terrace (a prelude has West receive a “little gadget” from their carrier pigeon Henrietta for his inspector’s badge, a pellet that emits gas).
The niece introduces herself to Gordon asking a favor, he responds, “who do I have to kill?” She leans forward to point into the background away across and up the street for the camera, “that man right there,” the electrocutioner. She gets the key to a safety deposit box and “a good night’s sleep.” West is regaled with the new names in Gordon’s black book, a roster of drunks, wife-beaters, etc., gleaned undercover.
The Night of the Murderous
The Wild Wild West
Dr. Loveless has a plan to depopulate the entire world by way of a drug that shears off the veneer of civilization in men and women so that in a matter of moments they’re killing each other.
Donner frames one scene of various elements (West and Gordon, Loveless and Antoinette, etc.) in a large room all listening to the clamor behind the double doors as the house staff are tested upon in this way, it quickly subsides.
America comes first, the method of propagation is ducks, pellets of the drug are affixed to their feet, they fly from pond to pond, eventually spanning the globe (Donner zooms out from Loveless tending such a pet at his estate pond to show the wee doctor waddling back to the manse, the foreground fills with waterfowl swimming).
It’s tried on West, he kills Gordon out of sheer vexation, only a double provided by Loveless, who plays a merry game with West’s wits early on, appearing and disappearing in a false town with a phantom stagecoach that floats into one noonday shot to disgorge the false Gordon.
The Night of the
The Wild Wild West
The enigmatic structure is an ornately worked image of the war lately concluded, at its start Col. Beaumont Carson withdrew accompanied by family and servants, all were burned alive in a shack belonging to one Jeremiah, not present. The four robbers are now pillars of a community haunted by a nightly specter, the colonel’s ghost. This is Jeremiah (Sammy Davis, Jr.), “Jerry” to West and Gordon, employed as a stable hand to one of the four, whose face he saw by firelight (Peter Lawford).
Jeremiah is a talented mimic with a peculiar gift for putting a silent whammy on horses, the town is deprived of them one day, that evening the courthouse is shaken by their hooves thundering past. Inside, Jeremiah is “possessed by Carson” and tells his tale of “murder most unnatural”.
There’s only one joke, and that is this is America’s answer to Lolita. It’s a great joke, laughingly diffused through a stellar transatlantic cast playing lightly, with Charles Bronson and especially Susan George giving wonderful performances.
The real fun is in the filming. In London and New York, Donner’s camera zooms in and out of natural lighting with great freedom and precision. He deals out just enough of it and enough direction to strike an equilibrium with the actors. It’s so good, he uses a long lens to shoot a fire truck coming down the street, and you can see where Charles Demuth’s painting I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold got its inspiration.
The House That Cried
The Sixth Sense
The structure handily opposes two viewpoints, those of murderer and victim, in a system of references derived from Hitchcock and Poe.
The initial murder is a variant of the shower scene in Psycho (murder by drowning in a bathtub) that identifies the subsequent murder of a witness (found in a car towed out of the lake) as essentially the same.
The works of Poe cited are “The Premature Burial”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “Annabel Lee” and “To One in Paradise”. It’s a question of marrying for money then killing the accuser and the witness abovementioned.
“He was better known for his stories,” Dr. Rhodes says, “than his poems—except for one, ‘The Raven’.”
The Best War In Town
A rookie chances upon a gang war, and learns all such gall is divided in three parts.
Donner is a specialist in, among other things, small jokes writ large (Twinky, Superman). The remarkable anecdote is virtuosically filmed (the young nanny’s suicide, death of the photographer) to compensate for its triviality, it is built up for the very same reason.
The parents who come to believe their son is Antichrist are at the Court of St James’s, where the boy’s father is American ambassador. Donner follows Polanski in never breaking the dream, incredible as it appears (he directed Conspiracy Theory, of course).
The child is born at six o’clock in the morning on June 6th, which is meant to convey his diabolical nature but in fact suggests D-Day.
Halliwell’s Film Guide quotes the screenwriter, “I did it strictly for the money.”
The characterization of Clark Kent, while technically incorrect (Fleischer has it properly, so has George Reeves), establishes the tribute to Elliott Richardson that is certainly the intention of the authors.
Jor-El successfully prosecutes the three criminals and traitors who on Earth are Lex Luthor, Otis and Miss Teschmacher (the “New Order” that portends the extinction of Krypton is Costa Del Lex on Earth, to be achieved by slicing the fat of the California coast from the land), but he is balked by the Council in his prognostication, the only survivor of Krypton is Kal-El. Superman’s powers amount early on to “scoring touchdowns”, he is “here for a reason”.
Thus, “the crime of the century... the greatest real estate swindle of all time,” is more or less easily foiled by him, the really difficult thing is to save Lois. His action is explained as reversing time only slightly, not as far back as would be required to have Jefferson himself inditing his preference for Newspapers rather than Governments, but far enough to have Lois alive and complaining.
Small local structures are characteristic of the large form. A carefully-built joke has Clark and Lois meet Rex Reed at the Daily Planet, a sidewalk grocer catches a thief, Clark and Lois are mugged, this is a complete sequence on critics with a humorous twist. Lois is off to meet Air Force One, the helicopter is tangled in a rooftop cable, Superman rescues her, stops a skyscraper cat-burglar, captures fleeing robbers and their yacht, rescues a kitten and fills in as engine no. 1 on the President’s plane, another sequence.
“The single most important interview since God talked to Moses,” says Perry White, preparing a transition from the baby in the bulrushes to the contained waters (The Ten Commandments).
A nuance in the filming adds a suggestion of the War Room to the XK101 missiles in flight (Dr. Strangelove).
The bus on the Golden Gate Bridge perhaps recalls Dirty Harry, the dam is filmed like Force 10 from Navarone.
Hackman’s celebrated comic turn is matched by Perrine’s tender moll and Beatty’s idiot henchman. Kidder’s complex role is heroic, a modulation ultimately toward an accurate Lois Lane.
The writer’s predicament, in the middle of a book he has a mortgage to pay, he’s black, Phi Beta and otherwise unskilled. His girl’s on KlanWatch, he gets a waitress job at a bigwig’s dinner and blows it, he cleans the department store windows.
The wee scion of the empire finds him amusing, the bigwig rents him.
The complicated setup has been elided by critics who missed half the point thereby. The rest is an experiment by Donner in which he re-creates for study purposes a Jerry Lewis movie directed by himself, Richard D. Donner.
Canby thought Richard Pryor was out of his element, but no, he adds to his repertoire as a witty mensch who loves the brat, foils the bigwig’s crooked scheme and gets a job on his paper. Or better still, the bonus pays off the mortgage, he can finish his book.
Someone at the studio apparently took the poetical title as a fantastic throwaway, and decided to add point by superimposing at critical moments a technojunk score. The difference between a masterpiece and this is measured there.
The script is brilliant, the Italian locations are uncanny, the basis of Donner’s researches is Bergman, and his technique disposes the material in a confident fashion not to be compared with any similar film in this period, which is moreover marked by an increasing distaste for music per se.
The structure is related to Schumacher’s Falling Down as comedy and tragedy. A system of telescoping characters identifies Riggs’ late wife with the suicide/murder victim and Murtaugh’s daughter. Hunsaker, the dead girl’s father, is thus Murtaugh himself for purposes of satire, the structure is explained in 16 Blocks.
Air America, Shadow Company, the war in Laos, heroin as the basis of VC government now the merchandise of “big business” in America (cf. Hyams’ The Presidio), these are the elements.
Donner’s direction works in tandem with Goldblatt’s cinematography (avowedly modeled on Boorman’s Point Blank) to proceed from the moving camera of Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm to the multiplicity of setups in Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in a display of mastery quite beyond anything else for speed and accuracy, the smallest detail is conveyed amid continual sweep and action entailing difficult gags merely included in its course.
This is prodigious, to be sure, the measure of the artistry is the coda Donner provides, which keys up the swift, fulsome tempo by adopting a closer view of the fight on Murtaugh’s lawn at night, the images are monumental and with Wellesian rapidity give an agon that sets an artistic finish to a film on quite another plane of activity, and one that is the surest vindication of television technique as practiced by Donner.
At the opening, homage is paid to Burt Reynolds’ Sharky’s Machine, about midway through, to Stanley Kramer’s The Domino Principle.
Scrooged begins with an attack on Santa’s Workshop, which is defended by the timely intervention of Lee Majors himself. This is The Night the Reindeer Died, an IBC movie for television.
What follows is a board meeting at network headquarters. A live broadcast of Scrooge (with Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim) has to be promoted, the advert is dull, the network president (Bill Murray) wants raw violence, terrorism, road rage, nuclear annihilation... in the promo. A timid executive (Bobcat Goldthwait) objects and is fired. It’s Christmas Eve.
The CEO is Robert Mitchum (from The Last Tycoon). He wants something to appeal to cats, there are so many cat owners. So the question arises later, on the set, exactly how to affix tiny antlers to mice. Glue, staples?
The corporate exercise room has a dictionary definition of the word “cross” painted on its walls (the president’s name is Cross): “a thing people get nailed to.” He wants his dancing girls in Scrooge to be surreptitiously topless, you can’t really see anything, he tells the woman from Standards & Practices.
He gets treated to Dickens’ three ghosts, who show him his childhood watching The Lone Ranger and Howdy Doody, his early career as a gofer and kiddie-show character, the depressing present of his skillful secretary (Alfre Woodard, a great performance) with children and no husband, and his own fiery end in a mortuary as one of those bitter pills who dreams of Hell with the most toys, whose every aerial is a crown of thorns. It all ends so happily (after the sacked executive returns with a shotgun to hunt the wabbit who fired him) that Vincent Canby of the New York Times found the brilliant spectacle ultimately disappointing. Everybody sings “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” what is that? Never mind that Murray leads the camera in the song, asking this side and that of the theater to sing along.
Roger Ebert’s review is a significant misunderstanding, as serious as Sarris describing Capra’s John Doe as a “barefoot Fascist”. This is a superb satire of television, like Network, but hardly a “bad-mouthing” of A Christmas Carol, rather there is no finer version (and certainly no cinematic conception is funnier).
Donner’s best effect in a flawless film is the transition from Past to Present by way of a television monitor in the kiddie-show studio, shown by camera movement to be on the Dickens set.
With a little effort, you can imagine why it didn’t make money. When Rupert Murdoch started Fox, his shows were unwatchable (and so unwatched). He bought TV Guide and proclaimed them wildly popular, thereby bringing the industry to its knees.
Television executives—cannon fodder in a war of wits. Did they put the hoodoo on Scrooged?
One is of Mrs. Cratchit’s mind, and toasts the bugger “for Christmas’ sake”. Probably the general public is not so charitable, and found the entire premise utterly incredible, as Canby did.
In England, Murdoch bought The Times, which ought to tell you something about something.
Lethal Weapon 2
It opens with a complicated freeway chase that almost certainly was an inspiration for the opening of Eastwood’s The Rookie (from which vantage point it looks forward to Frankenheimer’s Ronin), Eastwood partly combines this with Donner’s second chase in a nice piece of synthesis. Instantaneously sharp cutting is the style in both of these sequences, and throughout, to take whatever mickey there is out of an adaptation of Yakima Canutt’s technique to car chases.
The model is Freebie and the Bean, and develops a particular species of cop humor into a high degree of blunt sophistication, which is to say it’s really funny, as when Joe Pesci imitates a South African’s comment, “you’re blek!”
Lethal Weapon 3
The ex-cop as Lucifer makes a grand scheme. Donner’s editing is the prestidigitation of a master illusionist in rapid-fire action sequences.
The script’s articulations simultaneously enfold a witty diminution of the Spielberg mystique and a large-scale breakdown of the faux building racket in its true foundations.
This is what William Goldman and Richard Donner get paid for. To make Maverick a motion picture takes a lot of genius and a little bit of “magic”. Maverick, Jr. is hanged on his horse but, like Cable Hogue, his prayer is answered just barely. He adds to his poker purse in an Indian costume as target practice for a Russian nobleman like Russell’s king in The Devils.
The riverboat gentleman proprietor is a double-dealing backshooter. He’s the one to beat in a tournament of cards he presides over. If that takes Maverick, Sr. playing both sides of the fence, that’s just all in the game.
With Vilmos Zsigmond as Albert Bierstadt.
Donner avails himself of Michael Winner’s The Mechanic as a very significant point of departure, in a film that modulates through major surprises to an even more surprising conclusion.
The strange toy truck in the air duct seems an invocation of The Shining, if only for a joke. In a sequence filmed in and around Seattle’s monorail, he achieves a flicker of recognition placing the eye of the viewer in contact with Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. This is a fluent association supported by the general framework of the script, and involves a truing-up of the images as a matter of speed and cogency—or else it’s a great study for the finale.
Similarly, there is a sustained echo in the assassin’s perch of an abandoned Puerto Rican building, something just touched on and stubbornly reiterated that draws a motif from Vertigo.
When the dénouement comes, and all the players are gathered for the solution, you find that all this engineered scene-making puts the ending through the paces of The Mackintosh Man’s conclusion, with a bravura key.
This blows the lid off it all, and gives you all the answers. A very successful blend of shock-cutting and tight camerawork, with rib-tickling glances at A Clockwork Orange, Seconds, Torn Curtain and Three Days of the Condor.
Taxi Driver is much the basis for the joke, and (by way of Bernard Herrmann) that leads you to Hitchcock. Chinatown figures tremendously.
Oswald in the Texas Theater is adumbrated nervously out of Torn Curtain even before the assassin is named, a point of functional style.
George C. Scott’s Rage is also among the many films parodied. Babe Hardy’s reincarnation as a horse (The Flying Deuces) comes back to haunt the film for a fleeting moment.
“You’re just too good to be true.”
Lethal Weapon 4
A Chinatown mobster has gone from dealing in heroin to shipping illegal immigrants at $14,000,000 a boatload minus the cost of passports and visas from the State Department. An artisan is obliged to pay the debt for his family’s crossing by executing plates for a run of counterfeit Chinese currency, “people’s money”. A Triad enforcer is brought from Hong Kong to arrange the release of jailed gang leaders, the “Four Fathers”, by paying off a Chinese general with the counterfeit bills.
The double-barreled opening develops the image of an armored man with a flamethrower into the freighter at night set aflame. Murtaugh and Riggs lose their car to a tanker truck that explodes and lands on it, Murtaugh’s fishing boat Code 7 is sunk by an oil drum propelled into the air from the deck of the ship. This monumental sequence lays the groundwork for an ever more brilliant analysis of action.
The foot chase through Chinatown after the captain of the freighter centers on two glass elevators and moves so quickly (with a Superman gag, the bystander who sells Murtaugh a bike) that its proportions lose outside perspective, it occurs as it happens, apparently. This in turn is a preparation for the extensive and dramatic articulation of the freeway pursuit by way of an “OVERSIZE LOAD” and an office building full of draftsmen (Freebie and the Bean, more than definitively), ending with a vérité flourish.
The conclusion of the film shows an artistic premise at the root of the technical mastery. Lorna and Rianne are giving birth (the woman in the wilderness), Murtaugh has learned his daughter is married after all but to a cop (he gives his father’s watch to the artisan’s nephew, whose family he shelters clandestinely, remembering the slave ships), Lorna and Riggs have decided at the last possible moment to get married, Leo is pressed into service to find a minister, he brings a rabbi (“how do the goyim do this?”) played by Richard Libertini, the precise timing of this after so much comic and dramatic preparation is calculated in just the same way as the Keaton surprise at the end of the Keystone Kops chase scene on the freeway, which suggests a basis of understanding Donner’s surpassing ability.
Murtaugh’s secret income is from Trish, she writes the romance novels Lorna reads.
Donner’s satirical emulation of the Spielberg-Lucas school, a film of rare and complete hilarity.
“Do we look like quantum wormhole specialists?”
Any resemblance to Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights is purely quintessential.
The secret weapon is a lang Scotch piss.
The emotional quality is such as to precipitate the menses even among those in the cast not female.
The cinematography looks bluish but is not in fact digital.
Donner’s virtuosity with a long string of jokes is certainly almost remarkable beyond belief, but as Brooks discerned in Spaceballs, the material is rich beyond any dream of avarice.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was never like this, it was this exactly.
“There’s a goodly number of trebuchets, my lord.”
The critics’ funny bone never felt a thing.
Donner assumes the mantle of Frankenheimer by dint of long acquisition (notably in the Lethal Weapon films) and conscious study, visibly as far back as The Train.
He sets himself to resolve two conundrums of recent style. The stationary handheld shot is gradually found to isolate the flickering consciousness on the face of the actors, and this is peculiarly useful here as one aspect of a New York picture. The unprepared surprise (including one that threw Ebert for a loop) is structurally entwined here with a plot bombshell. Det. Mosley, fortuitously assigned to escort a witness into court and perforce obliged to defend him against assassination, is one of the crooked cops himself (this is the inner structure of Lethal Weapon).
Donner opens with a black-and-white flashforward, then a police raid on a drug den in Spanish Harlem concludes in a perfect shot settling the matter. Mosley sits on a sofa, left, with pale morning light filtering over it, a floor lamp on the right is lit.
Howard Hawks is a wellspring for much of this, the shotgun under the bar, for example, also John Sturges (Last Train from Gun Hill), John Cassavetes (Gloria), Clint Eastwood (The Gauntlet) and quite a few others. A quickly realized shot from an alleyway as Mosley kicks open the chain-link gate and enters with the witness, while passersby stroll steadily on in the background and the camera pans and tracks back, is typically derived with succinct flair and determination from a famous shot in Hitchcock’s Frenzy, or gives that impression.
The reversal of cinematic logic accomplished by equating the handheld shot as described and the fixed shot now rendered somehow untoward, accompanies the reversal of dramatic logic (dating back to Keaton’s The Paleface) that puts Mosley on the wrong end of a police standoff (with a fine echo of Conspiracy Theory).
Donner achieves a great performance in Mos Def, who uses a voice that has mystified reviewers apparently unfamiliar with Damon Wayans’ work. Bruce Willis is in another dimension as a detective up around the clock and speaking with great acuity out of a dream. The depth of David Morse’s performance isn’t fully revealed until a tape recording of his voice is played at the end, a flat-out New York characterization.
Also at the end there is an unusual care with properties (a snapshot, a handwritten letter) so that the scene or the shot can be built upon them.
The screenplay is extremely well-written and very much to the point. When the bottom drops out on Mosley’s self-incrimination, there is precisely the note of congruity with Lumet that one reviewer failed to see.
A great and masterful film, but for the digital filming, it reveals to out-of-towners that the subway turnstiles in New York are card-operated nowadays, and to out-of-minders that, according to the end credits, NYPD is now a trademark.
As in Woody Allen’s Match Point, “collateral damage” is mentioned, there being a line drawn shakily between the death from natural causes of a subject under interrogation, and the plain murder of a “wit”.