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Off Season
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Alain Resnais, Psycho and The Andy Griffith Show are all sent up in this complex satire of Sheriff Without a Gun centering on Deputy Fife, who is played by John Gavin.

An opening zoom up a city street rapidly at night cuts at once to slow dolly views along the buildings, then an up-angle of a guzzling wino. He smashes a liquor store window, deposits his empty and takes a fresh bottle. A police car is seen in the background, he is pursued into an alleyway and shot brandishing the bottle. A police psychiatrist recommends an honorable discharge for the officer.

He and his fiancée leave town for the Summers Motel a thousand miles away. He becomes a small-town deputy without a gun, patrolling the lake cottages full of unattended valuables during the off season.

The deputy he replaced seems to be making moves on his girl. He kills the man with his own gun in one of the cottages, and the woman with him, the sheriff’s wife.

 

The Night They Raided Minsky’s

Its point of departure is Wellman’s Lady of Burlesque (otherwise known as The G-String Murders), which decisively influenced Fellini.

Minsky’s is the place you come to from the Old Country, and you’re the top banana, the straight man or feeder tosses his straw hat on the trash heap and walks out.

Minsky’s top banana demonstrates the language of burlesque, a foot in a water pail, a tumble down the stairs, a door that opens onto a brick wall, seltzer.

Ebert came closest to seeing all this as a kaleidoscopic view of “The Poor Man’s Follies” on the Lower East Side.

Russell gleans a few notes surely for his magnum opus on the lesser stage, The Boy Friend.

 

The Birthday Party

A correct analysis of Kafka’s and certainly Welles’ The Trial, laid at “a seaside boarding house” and opulently derided by film critics as pointless, too much the play, or tedious. “Best avoided,” says Film4.

The Jew and the Irishman, “as close as two testicles”, who drop in on poor Stanley and see him out the door, well, it does happen in a real place, as Vincent Canby lamented.

Friedkin makes a cinematic masterpiece of it all the way, at the same time bringing his cast to perfect representations, with a view down the road through the town to the sea at the end.

Petey’s deck chairs at dawn for the opening, the town whizzing by at an odd angle, pull back to the passenger-side rear-view mirror of Goldberg & McCann’s posh car en route.

 

The Boys in the Band

The varieties of homosexual experience, up to and including Lot in Sodom.

It’s a very curious thing, during the Beeb & Peeb study of English theatre by Sir Richard Eyre, Sir Peter Hall is heard to say that his heyday at the Royal Court and all was really all about taking the theatre out of the closetA Patriot for Me notwithstanding, even!

That must be taking the wee-wee.

 

 

The French Connection

Ten years after Benedek’s Port of New York, a less lovely city and a gung-ho Irish cop to meet another brilliant import.

The two lowly parties on this side of the deal need a banker. The connection needs a beard with a car.

Marseilles comes to New York in a French TV personality’s Lincoln, 120 pounds of 89% pure heroin.

The case doesn’t smell right to begin with, a King Rat flashing bills at the cops’ watering hole. And so on a hunch to the little market and the skyscraper where Don Ameche lives and the downtown hotel and the French luncheon, while the cops freeze outside and a man sleeps in a doorway and all the junkies are parched.

The Irish cop has to go, and this provokes his famous pursuit of the assassin.

The deal comes to nothing in the end, as amply documented.

 

The Exorcist

William Peter Blatty, who begat Stephen King, is one of the really great pisstakers in the cinema. This is Rosemary’s Baby almost grown up, and lets you put a few cards on the table.

According to a superimposed title, it opens in Northern Iraq, where an archæologist-priest finds a small carven head, and examines a large statue. The sound of buzzing flies is heard, as in Lord of the Flies.

A title then indicates Georgetown, where an actress lives with her daughter. Gradually the girl is diagnosed with demonic possession, and the archæologist-priest is summoned to perform an exorcism.

With the passage of time and the establishment of a “No-Fly Zone” in Northern Iraq (and a search for Weapons of Mass Destruction), analysis has become faintly difficult—or has it?

Reportedly The Exorcist caused hysteria in more than one theater. Surprising as that is, there is a further report to the effect that Jack McGowran’s death caused his character (a film director) to be written out as murdered by the possessed girl.

That sounds like a Borgesian invention, or anyway ben trovato, but there is much legendary material found emanating from sound stages and film locations, and perhaps a grain of truth.

 

Sorcerer

A hit man, a terrorist bomber, an investment fraud and a church robber all gather in hell to work on a South American oil field. The local bartender is a Reichsmarshal.

The rest is Clouzot’s Le Salaire de la peur suitably heightened to convey the notion that there is no sorcery of atonement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brink’s Job

A burlesque of Hawks’ Scarface drawn from life, and probably the inspiration for Jewison’s Other People’s Money.

A penny-ante mob of thieves in a Mom ‘n Pop operation commit the crime of the century.

The philosophical speculation at the heart of it is on the visible structure of things, the mastermind runs a diner with stolen appliances for sale in the basement, he can size up a building instantly, some say “I dare you” and others are just “dumb”.

 

Cruising

A variant of The Boys in the Band, on the same theme of Lot in Sodom. As this had not occurred to critics, critics were rather taken aback.

An undercover policeman in the rough trade of Gotham to catch a murderer. Varieties of Village life, up and down the scale, Central Park, Columbia U.

A tugboat finds an arm on the river (opening), tows an offscreen barge (close).

 

 

Deal of the Century

Friedkin’s great tragicomedy has been taken for a satire on weapons manufacturers, and to that end there is a beautiful structure built on Richard Lester’s Cuba and Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (with ancillary material from Catch-22 and Dr. Strangelove), but it might be taken as a view of Hollywood at a pivotal point, looking just back at the Seventies and forward to our present.

Western Defense (North Hollywood) sells weapons to anyone, it’s a two-man operation, the rebels in San Miguel buy a batch and are blasted from the air. The government wants the new Luckup Peacemaker, a pilotless attack drone powered by nerds. The rollout goes haywire, the only chance is the sale to El General. Western Defense has the inroad, it’s the deal of the century.

“The enemy,” says Frank Stryker of Luckup, “isn’t a country, it’s Lockheed, Grumman, McDonnell Douglas...” His machine ends up destroying every plane on the field at the West Coast Arms Show, Arms for Peace ’84 (“Faith in the Future”).

His ad campaign stresses the hard-sell fighter-pilot approach (“it kills”) over the soft Peacemaker angle (“if not for you, for them”), a fighter shoots his gizmo down.

The pilot is one of the two partners, the ordnance man. The salesman hits the abort button. Afterward, one becomes a missionary in Africa, the other sells used cars (his name is Eddie Muntz). Luckup marches on, sans Stryker.

One critic wanted to see every print burned, or rather hit with a bomb. All are unanimous in this, the film just isn’t funny at all, if one laughed they’d all explode.

 

To Live and Die in L.A.

The key is William L. Petersen’s rather odd performance, and the fussy titles in various letterings that show the date and time. He plays a bungee-jumping Secret Service agent who loses his elder partner and engages in a reckless scheme to apprehend the counterfeiter responsible.

It starts with threatening a suspect, moves to filching evidence, raving at a judge and finally, in near hysterics, ripping off a diamond marketeer who dies accidentally and turns out to be an undercover FBI agent. His cash is used to make a buy from the counterfeiter, but this goes wrong and the Secret Service man is killed.

His new partner has gone along under protest, now closes the case and takes his late partner’s girlfriend and informant under his wing, she set them up for the ripoff, “now,” he tells her, “you’re working for me.” The look on her face is suddenly interrupted by a shot of the late partner, which appears again at the close of the credits.

The famous car chase begins at Union Station with the Chinese undercover man from San Francisco, and takes off nearby alongside a diesel train, through a fence and into the river, hither and yon until it creates chaos on a freeway running the wrong way, hundreds of cars, and men with guns at every turn and overpass along the route.

 

Rampage

Hokeshit on capital punishment and the insanity plea.

A satire of prob pics, as Variety might say.

See The Hunted.

 

The Guardian

Yuppies are like film critics, in that they’re paid for really doing nothing, and the critics proved it in response to this film. Roger Ebert, in particular, made an ass of himself over the idea of trees in Los Angeles, for which he couldn’t see the Angeles National Forest.

 

All filmmakers try to educate the critics, but that is wasted labor. John Schlesinger tried to educate the Yuppies in Pacific Heights, and Friedkin has a go here.

 

De Tocqueville thought it was remarkable that Americans drove their own carriages and answered their own doors. Anyway, servants require a great deal of skill to handle, as John Cromwell pointed out in Made for Each Other. Our Yuppie couple hires a nanny out of the Yellow Pages. She’s a Druid with a coterie of wolves, and eventually she wants the baby.

 

Naturally, the critics wondered why anyone should care about Yuppies, who are a blind cult not worth the wind to rebuke, but that’s why Friedkin is a great artist and the critics are hacks.

The glory of the technique is in the cinematography of the Yuppie manse (clean lines, sated colors, no Postmodern satire), and in the wonderfully gory special effects, which stint nothing and never exceed their purpose.

 

Blue Chips

The essential structure has alumni “friends of the program” buy their college some winning basketball players and thereby lose a coach.

This is enough, and more than enough, to deal with influence-peddling on college campuses and even the commercialization of the Olympics, though reviewers have balked at the moral problem presented.

Friedkin excels on location in Chicago and Indiana and Louisiana, he spins a yarn about those places truer than fiction with a few choice shots.

The ending shows how bluntly Capra is called into play.

 

Jade

A simple tale of prostitution for blackmail, with plenty of fine red herrings.

In the long history of trumped-up film criticism, a new low is reached here with not a single critic even slightingly aware of the film’s main premise, nor of its main technical accomplishment.

In a broad joke with only the slightest difficulty of comprehension, a wealthy Republican art collector is killed to the strains of Le Sacre du printemps (Tempi Moderni thought it was James Horner and The Firebird). A fertility mask and an axe from Cameroon figure in the crime.

All of the lighting is represented as warm and cold in situ, without filtering to regularize it, or so it appears in at least one print.

Certain of the furious complexities are presumably eased in the director’s cut.

 

Rules of Engagement

In Arabesque, Gregory Peck plays an Egyptologist trying to decipher a message in hieroglyphics on a small piece of paper. He works it this way and that, but all it means is “goosey goosey gander” or backwards “gander goosey goosey,” etc. Finally he gets a brainstorm in a rainstorm, and puts the piece of paper face down on his windshield. All the ink bleeds away, leaving only one thing. “A microdot!”

That’s how Rules of Engagement works. The surface drama is, as the New York Times pointed out, hardly more than a JAG. Nevertheless, Samuel L. Jackson is almost unrecognizable as a working soldier, and Tommy Lee Jones glints the facets of a diffident Marine lawyer. None of this matters a jot, really, as the express idea of the whole production is simply to place in evidence something that is not a set of images but a bone of contention, an object, the videotape...

 

The Hunted

A bad film in an execrable style, signed by Friedkin to show that absolutely anyone can do it.

See Rampage.

 

Bug

The Conversation ends with the bearing of constant witness, The Monitors with the witness of martyrdom, Friedkin sides with the latter here.

The analysis of paranoia (Conspiracy Theory) yields to a variant of The Exorcist and ultimately is to be taken at face value as 1984 farther on.

Pakula’s All the President’s Men and Furie’s The Circle (Fraternity) are the preeminent line of thought, they give you the frames of reference, an abusive husband and a lesbian refuge.

The lost son reappears after a fashion in the form of a GI gone AWOL from experiments in the Syrian desert (these are supported by Dr. Amit Lal’s recent work on cockroaches, according to DARPA’s press release).

A blistering masterpiece recognized by more than one critic, fantastic as it sounds.