Doctor Blood’s Coffin
A tin mine on the Cornwall coast, where as a boy he played at being a dead Norse god or a pharaoh, rising to life again. Ejected from Vienna, he returns to his father’s practice. The old mines reach far under the village, he uses them to filch victims for his experiment.
Curare lets him take a living heart to place in a corpse. Several tries are marred, his father’s widowed nurse falls for him but learns the secret, her dead husband is made the last experimental subject. Sunny Cornwall, dark caves, Porthcarron.
Teds, Teddy boys, up for murder and robbery.
A prima facie case on mere prejudice and circumstantial evidence.
The same testimony from another angle reveals an innocent spree.
Still further calculations get to the facts of the matter.
A marvel, more than a marvel, a great work on the pertinacity of legal counsel arriving at a proper definition of justice. Also an amusing picture of East End teens before payday hitting the West End for a lark all in vain, very young men generally, older blokes, birds on the bars, a dance hall, you name it.
The Leather Boys
What the married state is not, a do and a dye job, pictures and dancing and some other feller, or bikes and birds and burnups to Edinburgh and some other feller.
In short, the essential nudity of the proposition realized after some getup and getabout.
Magnificently filmed by Furie on location as a constant shifting modulation through his theme to an abrupt conclusion that decides the issue.
The material is entirely reworked on quite another line in Big Fauss and Little Halsy.
“Beer makes you queer,” says the laughing wedding guest to the groom, “you don’t want that your wedding night!”
And what will the bride have? The same guest comments, “whiskey makes you frisky!”
The Ipcress File
“You’re not at home,” says the showman in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, but you are all along and don’t know it. A kind of decision is imposed after the Ipcress treatment (Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress), to precisely that effect.
Thus Harry Palmer and seventeen top British scientists before him, reduced to jellyfish.
There’s a kind of housecleaning in Palmer’s line (cp. Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite). He’s assigned by Col. Ross to this case, later (Funeral in Berlin) it’s imposed on MI5 by circumstances, and then there is Billion Dollar Brain.
It can’t happen here, naturally, but the Albanian prison where torture leads to brainwashing is, and it surprises Palmer, situated in London.
Hitchcock’s Spellbound figures in the decision taken at last.
The middle term of Furie’s trilogy. A Mexican bandit’s girl steals the horse in Ojo Prieto to get away from him, first traducing its owner.
The bandit’s pistoleros stop her, he offers to buy the horse.
These little details make up the opening scene, adding that the owner (a Confederate soldier back home at last five years after the war) has just been sent to the altar by a confessional priest to “ask God” about the men he’s killed and the women he’s sinned with. The bandit lights a candle for him and proposes to kill him on the spot for “violating” his woman.
The dense, rich imagistic language of Furie’s pictures magnifies the film but critics did not know what to make of it, generally.
The bandit steals the horse, humiliates the soldier, and heads back to Mexico. There’s the horse to recover, and the contemptuously-treated girl still wants to leave.
The Naked Runner
The most difficult and the most ideal of Furie’s stylistic trilogy (The Ipcress File, The Appaloosa), put together with great cunning, skill and fearlessness in the composition of images. Sinatra plays a sort of Eames furniture maker, and the opening shot of his suite on the Thames is what Wilde would call the calyx in the flower of culture.
It’s a sort of slimmed-down Shakespeare, in which jealous and zealous are seen to have the same root. The gag finale, which brings down the whole house of cards, is Furie’s best joke.
The war, “the peace that is not in the world”, on a psychological plane. “A suitcase is being held in the Handelsbanken in the name of George Marshall,” with direct reference to The Manchurian Candidate (dir. John Frankenheimer) in passing.
Variety, “a dullsville script.” Time Out, “tortuously hollow”. TV Guide, “director Furie, who thinks he is Vermeer with a camera...” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “silly” (citing Pauline Kael, “a good movie to read by”).
Sumptuous score by Harry Sukman, cinematography in Technicolor and Techniscope by Otto Heller.
Two perspectives on the war brought into alignment, British and American, with admirable difficulty.
Little Fauss and Big Halsy
A marvelous reading of Renoir’s Boudu sauvé des Eaux down to bare-chested Halsy in a nuptial bowler.
At twenty minutes longer, the critics would have perceived it, add another five minutes to that and they could not have missed it, thirty extra minutes would have bored them again.
For Redford on the barnstorming circuit, compare Hill’s The Great Waldo Pepper.
Lady Sings the Blues
What Furie knows is that all there is of Billie Holiday’s art is the quivering and swooping and cracking wise of the voice. There are three films here, the one about her actual life, the one about her development of art, and the one that Furie makes.
A major precedent is The Helen Morgan Story, a proximate one is Funny Girl. Ed Harris took the note structurally in Pollock, and so did Clint Eastwood (Honkytonk Man) and Woody Allen (Sweet and Lowdown). The story is a blind about degradation, for the good and salient reason that in decadent times that’s all the public knows of certainty, therefore the artist cannot be represented. James Ivory’s Picasso is not the painter but other people’s ideas of him made manifest as such.
Furie’s peculiar notion is to wrap the whole subject in its biographical cocoon and watch it act. Diana Ross is a supersensitive performer who gives the fanciful script a receptive harbor. Existence itself is the pain she faces as Billie Holiday, and the ameliorations of art are suggested by a close approximation of her original, not too far. Mimicry is not sought, but evocation.
Furie nonetheless has a few other means of access. First and foremost is Richard Pryor as the Piano Man, who is allowed to bounce brightly off Sid Melton and into his own. These two performances show the degree of skill exercised by Furie where the hand of the director can be placed.
The rest is an absolute stylistic experiment, justified as always by the retroactive critical factor. Everyone has a part to play, including Billy Dee Williams as the anti-Nicky Arnstein, and Michel Legrand supplying the big mickey.
Purple Hearts is too subtle for words, but let’s have a try anyway.
Two GIs emerge from the jungle, running across a green field, where one of them steps on a land mine. All of Furie’s genius is in the next shot. The camera is set up transverse to their line of progress on the other side of the strip of jungle ahead of them, which fills the left part of the frame. On the right, the camera looks up a stretch of road in early evening, the sky is still light, with tatters of cloud. Along the road is a convoy of trucks with their headlights on.
Another sequence expands on this. After a firefight, the camera pans across dead GIs, intercutting separate shots with precisely the note of Mathew Brady achieved. Because he’s filming in color, Furie catches the scraps of ironic azure through the smoke, and Ken Wahl’s face reflects the incongruity. He puts a .45 to his head, then a helicopter roars over him.
Furie has the gift of Charles Crichton for putting his camera on things sufficient in themselves. The close-up is key here, as best fitted for the idiocy and magnificence of human beings at war. As they enter or leave the shot, they exist recorded as they are, liable to dissolution.
The technique is continuous, image flowing into image, and so requires a full analysis to render it.
Furie resorts to a magic trick in the end, why not? Wahl is Stateside, his mistress, a nurse (Cheryl Ladd) is dead, a nurse with her back to him turns and is not she. Furie cuts back to Wahl, downcast in the hospital corridor (he is a military surgeon), the background a blur of greenish dissolute creatures, one of whom advances toward him and into focus.
Perhaps at Musso & Frank’s Grill they talk about how Furie was chivvied by the critics out of the high style of his great trilogy, The Ipcress File, The Appaloosa, The Naked Runner. There was an obvious reason for those scrim shots, the expressivity, but another is the power of the gazing eye to dissolve experience without mitigation. In Purple Hearts, it goes as far as it dare, meeting objects of pity and delight halfway and something more, allowing its own pitilessness to extend just beyond them into the background. This, dear reader, is what is known as an artistic effect.
One doesn’t know why the critical establishment has failed to notice this. It’s a house of cards, that critical establishment.
In which the genius of the young brave man who saves his captive old man is generously recognized by the United States Air Force and the President of the United States.
The Quest for Peace
Presumably this is a satire on 2010. It opens, amazingly enough, with a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL’s murder of the astronaut in extra-vehicular activity), which is “corrected” by Superman, and then the trick car gag from The Mechanic and 52 Pick-Up is employed by the villains, followed by the MacGuffin from Zero Hour which served as the basis for Airplane! (again, rescued by Superman).
Then it passes through Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith
Goes to Washington to The Day the Earth Stood Still (world
disarmament, effected by Superman) and the cloning of a “Sun Child”
right out of Frankenstein. Emerson and Kipling
foretold their battle.
Furie’s contribution is total self-effacement. The nemesis is dispatched “where the sun don’t shine,” and found to be a stopgap energy source.
Iron Eagle II
Iron Eagle II proposes that a missile silo exists in Mesopotamia capable of striking the U.S. or the U.S.S.R., and which the Joint Chiefs of Staff in turn propose to obliterate by means of “pre-emptive unilateral action”. This course is rejected by the Administration in favor of a joint strike force comprising a handful of Russian and American fighter pilots. Victory brings a joint communiqué in which the American president and the Soviet premier commit themselves to future cooperation and look forward to the day when the flags of both nations are exchanged for one yet to be identified.
The script, co-written by Furie himself, has a number of evident models, including Sternberg’s Jet Pilot (and the original of Top Gun, Michael Curtiz’ Captains of the Clouds), but provides a severe challenge that is met by a definite echo of Ken Adam in the design, construction and incineration of the silo and control room. “How do you think she flies,” asks one American pilot about their female Soviet counterpart, and a colleague replies, “I’d say, tight in the turbine and loose in the flaps, the way she walks.” It’s not a question of certain absurd points of criticism, yet great wits will be jumping like Mexican jumping beans.
The problem faced in Iron Eagle II might be stated as the objective yahooism in Jack Smight’s Midway, which also solves the problem (or at least indicates the solution). Where Eastwood has a different approach in Heartbreak Ridge, amplifying his scenes of training or civilian life, Furie opts for speed, rendering the preliminary material at a somewhat dizzying pace by the usual standards.
But all told, the psychological implications of the framework are as telling as anything else, including the title, and while Furie’s achievement is ultimately superior to most in the very ease of its drawn conclusions, his technique makes for insurmountable difficulties in the way of most critics, who ought anyway to have noticed the characteristic use of location shooting with an unmistakable skill and beauty.
The Taking of Beverly Hills
Gas attack forces evacuation. Uzis up Bob’s Big Boy’s ass (cf. Terence Young’s The Jigsaw Man). “I repeat, Beverly Hills is closed.” Phony cops and E.P.A. rob the place. “Okay guys, we got 70 minutes before the National Guard gets here.”
This is expressly associated with the taking of Russia in Billion Dollar Brain (dir. Ken Russell).
The citizens of Beverly Hills are herded away on school buses, sipping champagne. Baudelaire’s dogs have a field day.
Boomer, quarterback in candle-lined hot tub awaiting cutie, is oblivious. The real police department is locked in a hazmat facility, actually a firehouse. The mayor is played by George Wyner and quickly assassinated, “I’m takin’ my turn at the trough, pal.”
An ecstasy of destruction with the S.W.A.T. tank. These are former cops, ex-cops, naturally.
“Sound and Furie signifying nothing,” thus Richard Harrington of the Washington Post on a work of genius, which is why “it is difficult to get the news from poems”. Get this from Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “silly action film”.
Evac to Century Plaza Towers. “Well, what DO you know?”
“I know the dogs are pissin’ all over the damn place.”
The quarterback cortisones up and joins the sensitive wit of the gang, who saw no killing at hand, for a round of Tienanmen tag. “Touchdown, asshole!” As Cavalcanti says, Went the Day Well?
“There’s that fuckin’ Rolls again!”
Furie takes up the Frankenheimer exaltation (52 Pick-Up) to a point of Rush surrealism (Freebie and the Bean).
“Bad rip-off of the best in action cinema.” said Empire.
TV Guide, “pointless actioner”.
The evacuees in nightclothes shoot craps and the breeze. The chief of police, who lives in Pasadena, is an easy mark perfectly studied. That’s the beauty part, the cops all live where it’s cheaper, Simi Valley, for instance.
Absolutely brilliant. “Our friends have embraced death, Varney, and they’re slowly suffering in silence.”
“It’s about time, Benitez.” The primary target is a Michelangelo fresco, to be buried like Khrushchev’s America. “Crime doesn’t pay, boys, but it sure beats workin’!”
Thou shalt not wrest judgment. Mount Rushmore Insurance pays, the cutie is the daughter of the firm. “Next year, Jerusalem!”
Goliath perishes with a forward pass.
“Care for a drink?”
“Fuck off, Bat.”
The ending will certainly evoke Pollack’s Castle Keep, the score Brooks’ Spaceballs. Titles by Dan Perri, Ken Swofford as Coach at the Homeless Fund benefit, “there’s more heart, and more caring about the little guy here in Beverly Hills than any other city in America,” with reference of course to Capra’s Meet John Doe (cf. Andy Sidaris’ Day of the Warrior).
Peace to soccer moms and the young, the peace of Dangerfield upon them. “All I know is, I gotta lotta balls.”
The mob world is divided like Gaul or 1984 into three parts, Russians, Chinese and Italians. The ruler of this unholy empire literally crowns himself in one scene. Two agents set about to undo the mischief.
That’s the plot, and it makes for some fine ensembles and arrangements, including a three-way standoff between the rival factions, setting up the four-way standoff of the principals. But the images refine this still further into a young couple fending off the nefarious schemes of a “white-haired revolver,” to borrow a phrase, and if you add the very funny script, you have a film meant to be taken in several ways.
The images are most telling. A mob wedding, guns are checked at the door, the bride pulls a derringer from her garter and absconds with an older man weeping in the pews, outside the FBI is waiting, the groom is killed, the culprit escapes but his driver is an agent, thugs come to the rescue, the bride now in mufti removes her fall, she’s an FBI agent (compare Herbert Ross’s Undercover Blues).
The white-haired revolver, after this gambit, now takes the form of a hit man in a nightclub poisoning one of those charmingly homely girls you sometimes find in Hitchcock (she dies laughing). The style is also akin to Frankenheimer (52 Pick-Up).
Action movies are thus analyzed to their foundation, and also satirized. A rocket launcher is fired at the agent, and you see a variant of the “projectile” shot before he blasts the shell with his shotgun. When the bride and the agent shoot each other in a test of wills (they’re both wearing bulletproof vests), each flies backward in a comically overdone recoil.
Having captured the hit man, they try to extract information from him, then the agent absconds with him, and the bride is attacked by a very grungy type resembling the agent. She and the Boston police overcome him, find the other two, and there is the shootout just described.
The three-way standoff takes place, the hit man escapes down a manhole, emerging later to get the drop on the emperor from below. The four-way standoff has these two aiming at each other, next to the bride and the agent likewise. The emperor is crushed by a cargo container full of cash, and the hit man drives away with another on a semi-trailer (cp. Hi Diddle Diddle). The couple shoot at each other playfully.
There is a certain kinship to Peter Yates’ Year of the Comet, and the climax in the train yard amusingly parodies 007 (You Only Live Twice).
Top of the World
The structure is of intense interest, the entire film being set between two scenes in Albert Brooks’ Lost in America, with a reversal of fortunes.
Top of the World begins, after an aerial view of madeover Las Vegas ending on a monumental hotel casino echoing the form of a red barn and surrounded by a rollercoaster, with a used car dealer (Ed Lauter) holding a pistol on the casino proprietor (Dennis Hopper) and demanding his money back. The strange, Hitchcockian finale takes place at Hoover Dam.
Much has been the complaint against Top of the World that it makes no sense, arbitrarily dispenses its effects, etc. On the contrary, its opening shot effectively defines the terms, like Rosalind Russell’s balmy chic in His Girl Friday’s opening, like the MI6 building which opens Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama, it is the irresistible gag just waiting to be delivered from the witty mouth, and that’s all there is to be said on that score.
David Alan Grier, who constrained as he is on television sitcomedy gives no account of himself as a rule, is a perfectly competent actor after all in the role of a police lieutenant. Hopper of course gives a picture perfect performance. His sometime moll is Tia Carrere, who also is persuaded to forsake the confines of boobtubedom for a more inviting opportunity as the casino’s new accounting manager on the cusp of divorcing Peter Weller, a cop doing time for corruption on shady grounds and just released. Peter Coyote plays the mob moneybags.
The question is, who’s robbing the bank, exactly? The beautiful thing is its form, set in a splice like Borges’ “The Secret Miracle” at the cinema.
Hide and Seek
The Woman in the Wilderness, told after the manner of, say, Wait Until Dark, a chamber opera. Furie cannot give a damn about actually establishing this piece as a fixed vertigo. Rather, he assembles the Manitoba landscapes doused with snow to give the air of desolation that is the hallmark of it.
Jennifer Tilly in bubble-gum pink lipstick and greenish sparkle eye makeup gives a pudgy lunatic as the Bride of Frankenstein (Vincent Gallo). Sharply-etched notes nevertheless anchor the flux, and the dominance of technique is allowed to show itself here or there, notably in an instantaneous whip pan with a very long lens.
The sense of humor is arcane or plain, depending on your taste. Daryl Hannah is attacked by Tilly driving a red bulldozer with its brand name prominently visible: CASE.
There is a consistent basis in Lindsay Anderson’s If...., with a line of thinking adapted out of John Landis’s Animal House, but the central analysis proceeds from Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men with exactly the same tenor as Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Nasty Habits.
A rapid exposition gives the Nixonian activities of The Circle, a handful of prep-school chums whose last break-in results in the expulsion of one of them. Then, a fellow student suspected of turning him in is found dying, possibly a suicide. In fact, the poor chap has been murdered, and for a different reason entirely.
The glinting facets of all this as it revolves are points of articulation. The student head of the Honor Council is the young man responsible for expunging The Circle’s picklock, but is also a transvestite and the lover of the headmaster (Treat Williams). Having been seen through a window one night by the victim, he planned the assault to cover his shame.
This is the essence of the story, detailed in this note partly because it reveals the meaning of the film, and because some writers have professed to find it incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it’s but a fraction of the material presented. The Circle, the Honor Council president and the headmaster all get what’s coming to them.
The location cinematography of winter at a Northeastern academy is very beautiful. The acting is excellent, and the critics’ mysterious silence speaks volumes.
Under Heavy Fire
Going Back was filmed on location and entirely under the inspiration of the Old Masters—“John Ford, John Ford and John Ford,” as Welles said. The actors wear powder in their hair to age (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), there is a difference of opinion about an ambush (Fort Apache), and an investigation of a fateful event (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). It’s beautifully filmed in color, and for all the interjections of video from a news camera or zooms and what have you, there is very plainly a Ford treatment of every shot, with an additional handling of essential material from Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, etc.
This is crucial, because Going Back is a masterpiece of the highest order, and unless Furie withheld it, the apparent lack of American theatrical distribution is an amazing lacuna. Let the glory go to the Canadians for having achieved it. Without, it might be mentioned, the slightest recognition from film critics in Toronto, apparently.
Rock My World
Global Heresy is not a film per se but a joke fleshed out as a simulacrum. An American rock band vacations in an English manor house where the Lord and Lady act as their servants. The band is called Global Heresy, the record company is called Music Group International. MGI sends along its hospitality man to secure a new contract taking away the band’s creative control. Lord Foxley is a lawyer, he reads the fine print, the deal is foiled.
There are certain ramifications to this joke in the telling. Lord and Lady Foxley need the money, in the end he’s hired as the band’s legal advisor. Global Heresy’s bassplayer, who’s gone missing, turns up belatedly and is just the sort of nasty, domineering fellow the other band members are not (“nice kids,” as the hospitality man introduces them, hip and flip, but nice). A nice girl replaces the bassplayer, all ends well.
It appears the film was only released in Canada, which is grand, and on video elsewhere. This means that professional critics have not by and large had a go. But the rest of the breed have done nothing to glorify their amateur standing. They have all missed the joke and given the non-existent film (a perfectly straightfaced rock ‘n roll movie) bad reviews.
Furie is at pains to leave no misunderstanding, and this requires Peter O’Toole and Joan Plowright to be made monkeys of. Like other actors of the first rank (Cary Grant and Clint Eastwood are perfect examples), O’Toole allows himself to do that and only that badly, whereas Plowright (like Bette Davis, for instance) does not. She acts her way through the indignities, and this constitutes her performance.
O’Toole has realized several opportunities, on the other hand. Capital cricket technique, a bit of shooting, a line of Wilde. The character’s stuffiness is overcome by the kids, O’Toole listens to them rehearse and grins like a seventeen-year-old. He masters the art of basketball and recoups a comeuppance by sinking a basket and dancing the “robot” with electric precision.
Furie pays homage to George Roy Hill’s vastly underrated Funny Farm by including the joke of the speeding mailman (here a Telegraph delivery boy). The rest of the cast are charming or villainous as stipulated, and the beauty of this unique work of genius, somehow akin to Welles’ F for Fake, is worth a round dozen solemn productions of idiocy from the mill.
It must be a great source of amusement to Furie to see himself described as an “aged hack”.
A modish drug gang, with the aid of a real or supposed Secret Service agent (acting on behalf of “the second most powerful man in the world”) and a plant in the police force, take over Lincoln High School on a Friday night to hijack a large quantity of heroin on its way to the incinerator.
A few kids are being supervised after class by a former soldier in Bosnia.
Teflon cops with an Afghan connection, one proposes to testify.
Furie’s scene-pulling is the last word in pellucid arrangements of photography, locale, action, and characterizations.
The Four Horsemen
An answerable critic, to all intents and purposes, lays out the case for a light mobile army according to its terms. The structure is provided by The Best Years of Our Lives. Essentially a defensive position is upheld on foot patrol or single motorized deployment by day or night in city or country.
The title is a football cognomen invented by Grantland Rice.