Project Phoenix

Now, on the face of it, this is a joke (by David Moessinger) pure and simple, the Experimental Safety Vehicle (a driverproof automobile) disappears en route to Boston because it doesn’t work.

There is, however, another plane on which “Project Phoenix” has to be considered, and this is structural right to the last lines of the script, namely the collapse of auto design in the face of safety considerations, and the need to express the two in corresponding measures.

Finally, there is an even more general and loftier plane of consideration. The flatcar bearing the ESV is removed from the train in transit by means of a device adapted from Carol Reed’s Flap, and this is observed by two members of “the 3-H club, hippies, hoboes and hopheads”—the second H describes them. They are pursued with murderous intent, and one is killed, all to defend the secret of the secreted ESV, hoping to recoup the investment by collecting the insurance, which of course brings in T. Banacek, Restorations.

It certainly will be seen that, on the social philosophical plane, this is at the very least the principal aliquot, to borrow a phrase from the researches of Felix Mulholland.

“‘Read the whole library, my son, but the cheese will still smell after four days.’ That’s an old Polish proverb.”


Ten Thousand Dollars a Page

An irascible tycoon with a plan to build a string of great museums puts on display in the very first of these his sixteenth-century Italian Book of Hours, where it is stolen under entirely impossible circumstances.

Banacek’s easy rationality is put to the test in a temperamental environment, which in Heffron’s treatment bears a strong resemblance to Harper (and its predecessor, The Big Sleep).

The illuminated manuscript is a memory of the tycoon’s late wife, who died in the getting of his illimitable fortune like Ebenezer Scrooge’s mistress.


The Two Million Clams of Cap’n Jack

A blistering attack on the business world, where pint-sized blowfish hit it big and get swallowed up by whales.

ERICA OSBURN: Are you surprised I’m here?
BANACEK: Not yet.

BANACEK: Now how could I prefer a past that didn’t include you?

BANACEK: Not here?
ERICA OSBURN: Any minute you’ll turn on a Ravel tape or something.
BANACEK: Actually, I was going to propose first.

BANACEK: You don’t look overweight.
ERICA OSBURN: You’ve never seen me naked.

The bones are spat up on the beach (“in other words,” says Banacek, “a typical American success story”), and who would want to interfere with these lordly natural processes? Cap’n Jack is “a short order cook who got lucky” in clam chowder, now the United Foods Company wants to buy him out. Stock certificates (or more precisely the plates they’re printed with) vanish from the engraving plant. No end of trouble in view.

ERICA OSBURN: Somewhere you can check the results of my diet first hand?

Cap’n Jack’s daughter is a pistol and a weather girl who puts the moves on Banacek. “There’s an old Polish proverb that says, ‘When an owl comes to a mouse picnic, it’s not there for the sack races.’” She’s on the rebound from the head of UFC.

BANACEK: Did I ask to get in your chopper?
ERICA OSBURN: You could’ve.
BANACEK: Next time.

“There’s an old Polish proverb that says, ‘Even a thousand-zloty note can’t tap dance.’” Cap’n Jack’s brother Leo is a firm believer that money can’t buy happiness. He’s against the merger, and tends an experimental vegetable garden.

BANACEK: He looks like the cartoon on the soup can.
ERICA OSBURN: He is the cartoon on the soup can. Would you like to meet him?
BANACEK: I’ve never met a real cartoon.

BANACEK: No offense, but do you always talk like that?
CAP’N JACK: Like what?
BANACEK: Like a cross between Captain Ahab and Long John Silver’s parrot.
CAP’N JACK: Ha-ha, you’ve found me out, lad.

BANACEK: I do this for a living.
HENRY DeWITT: So do I. Can we get on with this?

HIPPIE EDITOR: I was a history professor.
BANACEK: Why’d you quit?
HIPPIE EDITOR: Well, history doesn’t change, and I sure did.

The plates disappear in a security elevator en route from floor to floor. This central apparatus of the work illustrates the buyout defense of what you might call downward stock distribution, and is a riot.

BANACEK: She’s an old friend from my Nam protest period.
ERICA OSBURN: You’re disgusting.
BANACEK: I know.

NORMAN ESPOSITO: Don’t say anything. He’s just fishing.

Heffron plays this with great reserve, letting his camera do all the talking. No escape from the elevator shaft? The camera shows nothing.

HENRY DeWITT: Ten per cent of two million dollars for two days’ work. That’s damn near un-American.
BANACEK: It might even be un-Polish. But that’s the way it goes.


No Stone Unturned

A very tall and weighty stone sculpture disappears from its pedestal just before the unveiling. It was heavily insured, of course, and its owner (a construction magnate who started in demolition) needs the money (his home, a refuge for artists in bikinis, was a castle in Spain he transported stone by stone).

The artist is a bitter fellow who is bound by contract to give up years of work for a pittance.

Now here’s the beauty part, as they say. Heffron films the sculpture (called Harmony of Man) at a slightly high angle from behind at some little distance in dim transverse lighting before the opening, it’s a balloon treated to look like stone, the artist pricks it and carries the empty skin away (the real sculpture is hidden at his studio). Various interjections of philistinism throughout prepare this object lesson in the divine afflatus, an elegant Mallarméan variation of Valéry on the poet’s breath.

“There’s an old Polish proverb that says, ‘Only the centipede can hear all the hundred footsteps of its uncle.’”


Backlash of the Hunter
The Rockford Files

The murdered man under the pier in Santa Monica was an ad man widowered and winoed, lured there by his killer (Harry Butler is the victim’s name, Beckett’s butler).

His son has a mysterious benefactor, a TV dancer turned widow and millionairess. She knows nothing of the murder, nothing of an attempt on the life of a Las Vegas wedding-chapel minister who performed the ceremony.

Butler’s daughter hires Rockford with a rubber check, he comes up empty all around, but someone’s following him. Butler was drying out in the desert when the elderly bridegroom keeled over on the eve of his wedding, a hasty substitute was sought and later regretted. The widow’s factotum takes to the air to gun down Rockford and his client.

The private detective goes to jail for “shooting down light aircraft with an unregistered handgun.”

An unusually specific file in its location shooting, a dress shop on Sunset, the Tail o’ the Pup, Gazzari’s on the Strip, and the Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica (with a girl on a tightrope).

The opening scene is a bus ride down Santa Monica Boulevard to the sea.


Newman’s Law

Anthony Wilson’s kaleidoscopic view of an incipient crime wave pivots on the title character, an unimpeachable detective sergeant brushed aside with false evidence in a deported mobster’s vendetta (cf. Winner’s The Stone Killer). Airy structures of thought, political and criminal, come down to this, a cop’s mind sifting cause and effect (cf. Lang’s The Big Heat).

A mighty director in precisely any big city, “a beautiful, beautiful city,” Los Angeles.

“Boy, being a cop on the take doesn’t pay like I thought it did. Hm... 22 years I’ve been trying to sell out and I couldn’t find a buyer!”

The great question, “why aren’t you dipshits out patrolling the streets?” Lang again, the dry sport of Man Hunt.

A new alliance against the old order (cf. Pabst’s Die Dreigroschenoper). Winner again, Firepower.

The New York Times sent Nora Sayre, “far too gloomy to pass for entertainment.Time Out, “routine”. The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “would be troubling if it were not here so unbelievable.” TV Guide, “standard”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “very routine”.