The Sergeant

“Fortunes of war” is a poetic phrase describing what befalls when you cry havoc, for good or ill. Our sergeant gets a thrill knifing a Nazi from behind and, lo these some years later, takes a fancy to a GI.

The mise en scène is a shooting gallery of autumnal French landscapes, with Rod Steiger’s performance bobbing in and out like a provocative target.

“A woman in a man’s body”, one of Steiger’s greatest creations, not without precedents such as Olivier’s Crassus in Kubrick’s Spartacus, for example.

Like Frankenheimer before him (The Train), Flynn goes to France for his masterpiece (Studios de Boulogne).

Ustinov’s Billy Budd is indicated in John Phillip Law’s perfect accommodation to Army life, a square-shooter and echt American PFC.

So for everything else in what is a marvel of cinematic art.

Vincent Canby, who always ceases to amaze one, thought it “confused”, which it most assuredly is not.


The Jerusalem File

Rival fedayeen fight a gang war in the Old City like Chicago in the Twenties, which is how Flynn films it.

College students at Qumran for the archeological digs have their classroom sympathies and dormitory allegiances, the up-and-coming Palestinian leader was a fellow Eli.

The irony and tedium make a mock of nearly all the characters, the students, their professor and so forth.

This and Flynn’s rapid technique are responsible for at least some of the reviews, exemplified by Halliwell’s “muddled mix of action and politics.”

“The dedication of idealistic Israeli and Arab youth to achieve understanding and stop internecine strife in the Holy Land after the six-day war is merely indicated melodramatically” (A.H. Weiler, New York Times).

“A slice of ill-disguised (and painfully dull) Zionist propaganda” (Time Out Film Guide).

“A confusing film that tries to make a political statement that is lost in the confusion” (TV Guide).


The Outfit

The Midwestern National Bank in Wichita is what’s called “a front for the outfit”, three unaware robbers take it to the tune of a small nest egg apiece, the outfit has inflexible rules and puts out a contract on them.

One man is gunned down on the dilapidated horse ranch he’s bought with his share by two hit men disguised as a priest and a cabbie. His brother, just released from prison on an unrelated charge, is nearly hit at a rustic motel but catches the man out and learns the details of the contract. The other man luckily escapes a hit at the small café he’s bought in the country.

The two proceed up the ladder, presenting a “bill” for the hit and the contract, and robbing every step of the way until it’s paid.

Hotel poker game, contractor, bookie joint, gambling parlor, boss’s mansion.

The second beautiful interlude contrasts a forced meeting with the boss at a thoroughbred auction and a false payoff on Skid Row (the first, noted by Ebert for sharp characterizations in small spaces, presents the buying of a getaway car and Potiphar’s wife).

The film was generally admired and not understood for its very complicated style, Canby denounced it openly as a travesty.

The style is a pivot on that auction into the mansion for the final assault, from a mise en scène always laid by the highway for a fast getaway or in a present no longer valid or known. A milieu of the film noir conceived as superannuated, and peopled with actors of the genre, as well as sports figures and entertainment journalists in small roles.

In spite of a fairly new and incompetent print that confirms the observation of recent times that film laboratories no longer know how to print color stock, the cinematography appears to be distinguished by its understanding of naturalism and available light.


Rolling Thunder

Seven years a prisoner of war works out to seven minutes in a Mexican whorehouse, rightly considered.


Best Seller

A critic will often, as one will observe, watch a film for fifteen minutes and decide he’s contributed enough to the cinema. What does he do with his time? Watches movies in his head, or elsewhere.

This works to his advantage, without a doubt. Most films aren’t worth seeing, let alone a ducat to the press. On the other hand...

Best Seller is a remake of All the President’s Men. It’s founded on psychological thrillers of the Forties, built up out of film noir and executed with the finest technique of the modern age, unless of course your profession just happens to be film criticism, in which case your best defense is not so’s you’d notice.


Lock Up

We are now familiar with situations like the one excitingly depicted in this movie, and even have an expression for them, “the fox guarding the henhouse.” Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland) is a sadist and a criminal in the prosecution of his desires, which are mainly vented on Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone). There you have the modulation of a situation described in Flynn’s masterpiece, The Sergeant.

Here it becomes necessary to bear up against relentless pressure. The nature of the evil is exposed when Leone is driven to avenge a friend’s murder, and the warden, watching from his window with delight, softly says “do it.” Ultimately there is no dealing with such a person except in terms of a criminal prosecution.

The prisoners are a mixed bag, childish or brutal, and so are the guards under Capt. Meissner (John Amos), a responsible professional man. Leone’s character corresponds with this, as he represents the need to assimilate “the prison of his days” in a cognate way.


Out for Justice

The script, by an author of The Evil That Men Do, opens with a quote from Arthur Miller on Brooklyn and the peculiar nature of city neighborhoods, which now is more peculiar than ever. A street, a block is a neighborhood, even.

Flynn cites The French Connection and The Shining, a nightclub waitress is named Terry Malloy. The general idea is derived from M, and there’s a little theme in Goodfellas closely related to it, that of the wackjob Mafioso who’s so crazy he must be dealt with. Scorsese handles this as a family affair, but Flynn has an altogether different proposition. His loony (William Forsythe) doesn’t just whack wise guys, he pops a housewife on the street because her driving irks him. He settles old scores with cops, he kills a cripple, “he’s killing people like it was free,” says a hood.

The family has to have order. Gino (Steven Seagal) is like a member of the family, even though he’s a cop, it’s a gift, he can help, why not? Gino withdraws his hand. He has his own reasons.

Brooklyn is a sleazy scumbag of a place, what a garden spot. Gino does his very best to keep it as neat as a pin. Assailed in a butcher shop by a gang of thugs, he reads them the Quiller Memorandum and walks out unscathed.

There is a correlative undertheme akin to Apocalypse Now, which surfaces most clearly at the close when the wacko meets his bloody end and Gino finds the dog-hater with a Kill Them All bumpersticker on the hunk of junk he drives.

The direction permits some serene acting amidst the mayhem. On the other side of the coin, arched eyebrows broke faces among reviewers, but no matter. Unless you’re a critic on TV, what use is your face, anyway?