The Last Laurel
Night Gallery

The title has a classical tinge, a man whose legs no longer obey him after a freeway crash has trained himself “by sheer force of will” to rise from his body and go, even pick up objects, he was a decathlon champion.

He is jealous of even the boy who delivers groceries, his wife is having an affair with his doctor, he believes.

Through a storm the doctor drives thirty miles to see him, the bridge is out, the doctor’s car is the last allowed on the ferry. He will have to spend the night (the situation is oddly like the imaginary triangle in H.C. Potter’s Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).

The man rises by double exposure (as in The Twilight Zone, “Ninety Years without Slumbering”, dir. Roger Kay) to murder the doctor with his wife’s scissors, he drops them in the dark, startled by a thunderbolt, picks up a heavy brass candlestick, enters the wrong room and brains himself.


No Sign of the Cross

It vanishes somewhere up from Mexico, a nine-hundred-year-old bejeweled crucifix. Two gangsters quarrel over it, one here and one there, with an art collector after it.

“Come,” says the latter to a dealer, “let me show you my Roman ruins. You know, it costs just as much to make a ruin as a new building,” which is what John Huston would say to interfering producers.

Bananacek, which is what the retired gangster in Mexico calls him, has this to say about his gift to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “there’s an old Polish proverb that says, twelve good horses and silver candlesticks won’t stop the snow falling in Bialystok.” Is he really Polish? Yes. Both sides? All sides. Well, that’s all right. Thanks, he was beginning to worry.

This “eminent collector of crucifixes,” as the art collector describes him, blames his rival, who says, “he always thought he could buy off anybody, but this time I hear he tried to put a bribe on God, huh? He must be senile.”

At the transfer point there is a little house with a little garden and a dead body buried in it. The owner, a craftsman, has gone with his invalid daughter to the shrine of the Virgin of Avila in Mexico City on the proceeds of her first sale as an artist.

“Get me another priest,” says the ailing donor, “all he does is say omigod omigod to everything I say! I can’t confess to him, he’s an innocent!”

Duke’s serene direction zooms out at a sharp high angle on a poolside meeting of Banacek and the insurance man, then pans in a long shot down on the participants as they walk past bathers, with the azure jewel of the pool filling the better part of the frame.

“Let us hope that Heaven is in him,” the donor, “before he is in Heaven,” says the grateful archbishop.



Like Kazan’s Lonesome Rhodes, an object lesson.

A tighter, more concentrated and more discreet portrait. Not such a big thing, nothing hardly to mention, just what you call a country boy pulling his weight around the band business from engagement to engagement, singing the awful songs Shel Silverstein has composed for him to sing (writes his own, he does), awfully.

You might not notice, critics didn’t generally, what a dull oppressive crazy crock of shit he is (critics preferred his manager). Our boy is the executive, things ride on his shoulders, he’s the title for a number of folks, that covers all the multitude of sins in a sort of way, while it lasts.

Several critics have pointed out the authenticity of the music business presented here, any fool can see that.


I Heard The Owl Call My Name

Rustication of a Canadian clergyman in the wilderness “three days north of Vancouver”, at an Indian village as big as all outdoors.

His tale of a fishing eagle now recalls Peter Falk’s account of a bet he lost on a steeplechase, “the fucker never come up.”

The vicar’s fate suggests Eliot’s The Cocktail Party.

A film to make John Cassavetes laugh out loud, a rare and very characteristic laugh. “Because you are so well-schooled,” the bishop explains, “you’re so well-trained, and you’re so well-read, and because, ha ha ha ha ha, ha-ha, you know nothing, and the Indians will teach you, as they taught me.”

“I hope he’s tender” is Powell & Pressburger’s joke (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). “Well, I for one would be nowhere at all,” the vicar says, “if it hadn’t been for a teacher of seven grades who took an interest.”

Such a one answers him, “this is nowhere at all.An Indian princess relates the life cycle of the salmon, “it’s sad,” she says quietly. The vicar just as quietly remonstrates with her, “it’s a life of adventure.The raven is the Prometheus of the sun, the land of the owl is where the dead go.

Nobly, sublimely photographed by Bill Butler and finely scored by Peter Matz (his themes are “Amazing Grace” and an echo of Le Tombeau de Couperin). There is a special interest for Duke in the various congregations singing, cathedral, village, logging camp, his ear is of the finest. The life of Gauguin as much as anything else is suggested in the filming.

The vicar’s library, Dickens, Vanity Fair, St. Augustine, Spinoza... Cp. Age of Innocence (dir. Alan Bridges), Why Shoot the Teacher? (dir. Silvio Narizzano), also The Last Wave (dir. Peter Weir). The children playing towards the end are surely from Maté’s D.O.A. (the provenance extends to Fellini’s La strada and Richardson’s a taste of honey).

“Filmed entirely on location in British Columbia”. Certainly a life of dead works is indicated (the vicar is sitting in a pew a-polishin’ of a candlestick in his lap when “My Lord” the bishop enters unseen behind him like a thief in the night) as distinct from the workings of the spirit, and stale scholarship like alien corn amidst the fruitful vintage (cf. on the other hand The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, dir. Raoul Walsh), finally the death of the “old man” in the new. The vivid metaphors are a drowned child left to rot on the vicarage table for want of an RCMP permit, and the death of a mother in childbirth due to hemorrhaging, and the expectation of a child born to one who left and returned. The vicar desires a boat to carry his flock as an ark, but concludes they are building a bridge (cf. most curiously Zoltan Korda’s Counter-Attack).

David Parkinson (Radio Times), “adapted without condescension or overt sentimentality... superior TV movie... Courtenay achieves a sincerity and compassion that stands in stark contrast to his more cynical kitchen-sink persona.


The Silent Partner

Duke’s masterpiece on Santa Claus robbing the First Bank of Toronto, the triumph of a bank teller, the metamorphoses of a villain, night life in the big city, and other brilliant observations.

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) was highly enthusiastic, Janet Maslin (New York Times) rather less so, Time Out Film Guide is quite adverse, Halliwell’s Film Guide disdainful.