40 pounds of trouble

The general tendency of this Little Miss Marker is to greatly prepare its main joke, the casting of its gambler (Tony Curtis) and its little girl as JFK and Fidel in a pair of Halloween masks at Disneyland (she wants to go to Tom Sawyer’s Island next). This dazzling coup suddenly throws a rabbit punch into the entire film and recasts all the roles, Uncle Bernie (Phil Silvers), his niece (Suzanne Pleshette) and so forth, in just the sort of satirical view you get with The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming (and note the overhead shot of the private poker game ahead of The Cincinnati Kid and The Thomas Crown Affair).

The direction is thoroughgoing, detailed and coordinated to an unusual degree (Sarris speaks of “overdirection” later on and misses the point). Considering what a beautiful comedy it is, Crowther’s review in the New York Times signifies nothing further than a deadline.


The Thrill of It All

Nabokov has the soap-kissing in one of his New Yorker poems, the suds are from Calvino.

The animadversion from drama is a recent reality on television, all geek and no circus.

The crux is the direct comparison between a live baby and a live commercial.

Reiner demonstrates his thespian skills in the TV interludes.


Send Me No Flowers

The hypochondriac in a beautiful analysis makes way for another by shutting out his wife, she is jealous of his demi-mistress easeful death and so forth.

The style is therefore suspended in the delusion much of the time for a spacious representation of the dilemma, his meticulousness and her plight (locked out of the house in her nightgown with the morning’s deliveries of health food in her arms), then the worm turns.

A brilliant comedy signed by Julius Epstein for the screen. The ending was a “contrivance” to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, the rest of it less than the Randall-Hudson-Day comedies that went before in Variety’s view, Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide also could not follow it, neither can Halliwell’s Film Guide.


the Art of Love

The dead artist sells, and this has consequences.

His manager becomes rich and wins the artist’s girl, a rich American’s daughter.

The artist alive saves his manager from the guillotine, sees the happy couple married, saves his model from a fate worse than death, and marries her.

She’s posing nude in the final gag, the painting is fully clothed.

The New York Times sent Eugene Archer, who might as well have been hawking papers. Time Out Film Guide likewise, “a weird comedy,” also Halliwell’s Film Guide. Variety almost but not quite caught on that there is more to this picture than critics’ eyes have met.

The artist is Van Dyke, the manager Garner, the fiancée Dickinson, the model Sommer.

Beckett has a role to play in the artist’s disguise as an ambulant Hamm.


The Cincinnati Kid

“For the true gambler,” says Lancey Howard, “money is never an end in itself. It’s simply a tool, as language is to thought.Money talks, in other words. He buys his knowledge of the kid and guts him.

Them that has, gits. Jewison has an extraordinarily intimate and rich view of the Thirties, and supplies a jazz band when the kid has the blues.

The performances rise to the occasion fully, with Steve McQueen varying a peculiarly memorable performance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a variegated panoply of losers save one.


The Russians Are Coming
The Russians Are Coming

There is a double answer to this threat, first in the person of Carl Reiner as Walt Whittaker the musical comedy writer, played in Jack Benny’s best form, second in Brian Keith as Chief Mattocks doing the same for John Wayne.

This leads by very fine comedy to a dramatic confrontation in which the American position is isolated as a small boy with his britches caught on a steeple.

The blood of our Soviet allies is acknowledged in one stripe of the flag during the opening credits, the dazzled eye upon us from a curious periscope has hardly seen America rising before it when the sub runs aground, the nearly hapless crew want merely to get off the sandbar and depart.


In the Heat of the Night

The film is divided into two parts. The opening, expository “night” is vigorously shaped by the camera, the longer investigative “day” (several days and nights, with limited camera movement) is formed within the camera as pictorial compositions and imagistic constructions.

The most obvious model is Hitchcock’s Murder!, which has a dual structure quite similar, and camerawork related to Wexler’s in the first part.

Out-of-focus lights in a black background coalesce into a small town and a large train. The exhaustive labors of exposition begin with the diner set, satisfying Graham Greene’s insistence on Technicolor describing the dirty and worn. The greedy imbecile behind the counter is shooting rubber bands at flies.

The sound editing is intensely brought into play, the squad car’s tires on the gravel and dirt outside the diner, its engine through the empty town. The camera moves in a bit to catch the patrolman’s helpless yawn as he drives. It notes his unprepared stop at the sight of a body in the road, and watches him get out to slowly take a look, dumbstruck.

The police chief at the crime scene takes it in stride, chewing gum the while. The patrolman is seen in close-up apperceiving a black man alone in the depot at night (a sign reads “No Loafing in This Room”). It records Det. Tibbs’ look of boredom and quiet annoy in profile as he is stood against a wall.

His chief in Philadelphia gallantly offers his number one homicide man to the local police for their investigation. The body, still clothed, is peeked at by them, Tibbs removes the sheet and handles it thoroughly, tracked meticulously by the camera.

Jewison’s work in this part is tense and complicated, matched by Wexler’s delicate camerawork. He establishes the camera as moving to define each scene, leaving the actors in static shots to register mere fidgets. This is extremely demanding all around. The widow is standing at the window when Tibbs enters the room at headquarters, she is in profile and close-up, the camera pans on her as she turns and crosses to him, stopping halfway and resuming, at a slight angle away from it which requires focus-pulling, very quickly. On the opposite side of the room, it follows her right, left and down into a chair, up and back down quickly, holds for dialogue, then very slowly dollies in to lose focus on her as Tibbs steps out and she begins to sob.

Outside, in the lobby, the camera dollies left from a vantage behind the desk area to the receiving area as a suspect is brought in, a small but characteristic shift (the first viewpoint having been established, then adding the second without cutting, an analysis of space).

The second part begins on the main street in daylight. Storefronts, an antebellum mansion, a factory, various backgrounds forming compositional settings with telling images.

Murder! also has a racial theme or subplot, a gag tied to the twofold structure.


The Thomas Crown Affair

Whatever Boston is, tea party or beans, as abstract as a game of chess between a lady insurance investigator and the gentleman she hunts for his spoils.

The side issue is a lieutenant with the Boston police who plays it straight while she doesn’t.

Between Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Bud Yorkin’s The Thief Who Came to Dinner in its implications and consequences, dramatic and stylistic.

A very impressive score by Michel Legrand comprehends such things as the theme song, Le Sacre du printemps for the first robbery, and The Go-Between.


Fiddler on the Roof

A sleepy-eyed Stalin under a vituperative Lenin watches over the shtetl of the Yiddische Mark Twain. The refined mathematics of the stories floats away over the rooftops, where it’s caught in a single image. The calculation is, if one may observe, exquisitely placed on the roofbeam of the title, to give an element of precariousness. Gene Kelly had wanted to film Brigadoon on location, Zinnemann went to Oklahoma (or the next best thing).

Minnelli has an idea or two about the musical made in Hollywood, and Russell puts his in the same situation. Shtetl and stage reflect one another, even in Yugoslavia, but this is not taken into account.

Since this is not a film of a show (nor a show of a film, à la Busby Berkeley), Jewison is in the position of a director filming Shakespeare. “Tradition”, bound by the book. He can’t move, can’t make his Illyria real, without a re-composition of the whole, at least a re-orchestration, nor is he minded to cast the whole thing in a Hollywood framework. This leaves him out on a limb, so to speak.

From John Ford he takes the idea of the stage evident onscreen, which is a useful memory. He has the expressivity of a close-up, and the torment of his location. So he carries the film out, under those impossible conditions, like Tevye trying to find a suitable match for his daughters, who find a way of their own what with this, that and the other thing. The strange equilibrium is Sholem Aleichem’s, a blessing not recognized. The last shot shows missed opportunities avenged, after a fashion.


Jesus Christ Superstar

An amazing composition, Springtime for Hitler the rock opera. The main theme, as Stoppard points out, was lifted by Tchaikovsky to great effect, hence Melvyn Bragg for the screenplay.

“Like a warm breeze off a camel’s ass,” cool.

Jewison directs this for the maximum pleasure in every ounce of bad taste, from guitar wolf-tone to Bergman end-credits, like a champion.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, baby. Herod is a flashy rich guy with sycophants, Pilate a Roman toad, the priests simpering knaves. The Magdalen warbles, Judas gets his own show, Peter flakes out.

A satirical send-up in the British manner is indicated by the doggerel verses, the slushy tunes with faux recitative, and the rock-solid vicarage sentiments, a turn-out that made fortunes.

The ministry of Jesus is a vain thing, unrecognized, and neither are the Gospel records of any use. Only that he is the son of God, and perishes.

Thus much comes through the passing parade assembled by Jewison, on location with nothing in mind save aridity.



Jewison adopts a scenic principle from Welles’ The Trial (Albinoni confirms this), his corporate vision of society is similarly paid homage in Verhoeven’s RoboCop.

The vision was not understood at the time, presumably it could not have been imagined then that a Democratic Secretary of Labor would castigate the electorate as “high school dropouts”. Vincent Canby’s review set the tone for the remake.

Jewison’s masterpiece comes down to the Librarian who tends Zero, a computer, “a memory pool, you see. He’s supposed to tell us where things are, and what they might possibly mean.All books are “edited and summarized”, Zero loses the thirteenth century, “he’s become so ambiguous now, as if he knows nothing at all.Not much, the thirteenth century, “just Dante and a few corrupt popes”.

Corporate theology is the new religion, rollerball is the world sport, combining roller derby, rugby and basketball, played on skates with motorcycles for towing, a metal ball is fired onto the roller rink like roulette, it must be carried around and deposited at a goal. The real object is “to demonstrate the futility of individual effort”, Jonathan E. proves very capable at the sport, he threatens its raison d’être.

The rules are changed to reduce and then eliminate substitutions, abolish penalties and the time limit. The game is played to the death for the World Championship in New York, Jonathan E. prevails, I love this game!”

The purposeful devaluation of the film director as part of a general drive to industrialize film production and consumption also could not have been foreseen by reviewers of the time.

“Energy equals genius”, says taciturn Zero, echoing Alpha 88 in Godard’s Alphaville, “power equals knowledge”. The world is run not by The Phone Company (as in Flicker’s The President’s Analyst) but a cartel. Jonathan E. plays for Houston, run by The Energy Corporation.

A particularly brutal game in Tokyo turns a friend on the team into “a vegetable”, Jonathan E. won’t sign the release, “a plant turns toward the sun, it’s alive, isn’t it?He goes to Geneva, where the computer is, to find out why “they’re trying to push me out”. Zero won’t speak of “the corporate wars” that did away with Orwell’s three nations, only explains that “corporate decisions are made by corporate executives, corporate executives make corporate decisions”. The top man, Bartholomew, takes a vote on Jonathan by way of video cameras linking his “executive directorate”.

The crowd chant Jonathan’s name, but watch his desolate victory in silence. He, too, is disgusted at the outcome, but tired and injured as he is, gathers speed for a victory lap.

Aside from the game itself, the grand scene is a cocktail party intended to celebrate the retirement of Jonathan E., who forces a change of plans. The guests watch an unprecedented multivision program on the hero, the camera records their simple fascination or the posh anxiety behind some eyes, executives are liable to go to “the crocodiles”, wives can be appropriated by them, as happened to Jonathan’s. He and Bartholomew discuss matters while the guests drift out to play with an incendiary pistol setting trees afire.



There is something here of the Truman Doctrine, not the Cold War one but the domestic policy that says when Boss Pendergast gives you a little office in his machine, give him a little one in the White House.

The title is obstreperous enough for Zen, the defense of working Americans is a main theme. Rod Steiger supplies the acting lessons.

Jewison’s proficiency resists the necessary or inevitable criticism of Mamet’s and De Vito’s Hoffa securely, having been applied with just the necessary or inevitable distance. His detail work goes against the grain laid out by Polanski in Chinatown. Peanut shells on a barroom table take the place of advertisements, a Hungarian newspaper being read by an immigrant woman is worth a thousand pictures.


...and justice for all.

A critique of the justice system, proceeding like as not from any visit to a courthouse in its quite visible dilapidation, with lawyers as they are (even imagined in absentia), the whole kit ‘n caboodle coming down to a cod on the public abetted not at all by this film, which makes a point of it.

Critics were mystified.


Best Friends

A visionary qualification of the screenplay to encapsulate some famous lyrics. “If they asked me, I could make a film…”


A Soldier’s Story

Hitler’s army, executing racial justice.

Miraculously, this all takes place at an Army base in Louisiana during the war, and environs.

Getting to it takes some doing for a D.C. lawyer with MacArthur sunglasses, but it all comes out right in the end.



There’s a kind of sophistication in New York, where Time or maybe Newsweek will tell you love is caused by chemicals, and there’s the kind you see in Moonstruck, with an old Italian (Feodor Chaliapin) attempting to explain that what brings men and women together is “la bella luna”.

This is a village fable on true love set in New York. Jewison shows the interstice in a cut from the Metropolitan Opera during the playing of the overture to La Bohème, to a streetcorner that might be without any great stretch of imagination a city in Italy, for a moment.

Jewison and his actors are significantly pressed to accomplish the displacement or translation. He keeps his camera close or closely attentive so that you have a sense of modern Italians in a modern American city, without digressing. And behold the wondrous effect it has on Rita Kempley of the Washington Post, who says “he catches moonbeams.”

Nicolas Cage and Cher are like the porcupine and the fox. She has any number of devices in her arsenal, but he has just one good one, an exoskeleton of Stanley Kowalski.

The artistic impetus throughout is to express the real life of the city by continually finding the right New York note, and it always does.


Other People’s Money

The tragedy has three elements, a tiny Capone working a fiddle, New England Wire & Cable, and the daughter of the house, a lawyer, cf. Andrew L. Stone’s Fun on a Week-End.

The annual stockholders’ meeting is the occasion of speeches that place Capra’s Meet John Doe on the opposite end of experience from Wise’s Executive Suite.

The family table is by Norman Rockwell, Capone has a Rouault and an autographed photo of Isaac Stern.

Rydell’s On Golden Pond and Bergman’s Saraband sandwich the theme. Capone and the lawyer dine à la japonaise, he uses a fork.

He corrects a full-page ad, “Consider the Future”, to add his photograph in the upper-left corner.

Penelope Ann Miller’s resemblance to Mrs. Thatcher unfortunately recalls the end of Hong Kong.

Lumet’s Network is a close precedent. Capone’s speech is remembered in Duguay’s Hitler: The Rise of Evil.


Only You

Jewison sits on the romantic comedy until it is “out of action for two hundred years at least.”

At the same time, “beauty is a gasp between clichés.”



Jewison’s technique is of the clear-eyed variety that tells no tales but things as they are. So when it deploys the moptop kid in overalls and the orchestral glitter like an animated studio logo and the computer effects of desktop wizardry and The Little Prince big as Harvey, these things have their equal weight in the film for all their worth, as nothing compared with the light of a room or a careless bunch of flowers.

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all took this at face value and hated, loved, and couldn’t care less about it, respectively. The upshot of that is they all missed Whoopi Goldberg’s performance (funny as hell and completely unfazed by the little monster).

Bad moviemaking is now such a cult that probably Jewison made this film just so he could say on any given weekend “the No. 1 movie is Bogus” and be happy, or just to free his system of it.

He hired Ken Adam and David Watkin to have a set of equals, then had Marc Shaiman add the glop in post. As it stands, the film is a catalogue of all the nonsense indicated by the tagline, “If you believe in only one thing, believe in Bogus.” One hopes you’re getting paid for the privilege.

Probably you’re not, and whether you worship at the altar of Spielberg, Lucas, whoever directed The Matrix or whoever did Lord of the Rings (or whatever rubbish you think is gold because it glitters with computerized sparkles), this is for you and the Cirque du Soleil you advertise as your mind. Watch it, and try to realize what a jackass you are with your CGI tracts flooding the market, like Albert Whitlock out of his mind.


The Hurricane

Any literary mind is bound, one should think, to receive this in an articulate gladness. The planes of cinema that are so composed in such a work as Sidney Lumet’s Guilty As Sin, come asunder and fly apart. A sustained part of inspiration re-joins them, visibly, and the planes are good, but the activity of those interstices is most becoming to the cinema.

In fact, one might consider the work as first and foremost a satire of the literary life, and thus closer to A Fine Madness and Providence than even such works as Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Joe Louis Story.

An illiterate picks up Carter’s book from a remainder bin, and shows it to his new-found friends in Canada. Eventually, their devotion sets him free. Words, even Carter’s probably, don’t fail here, they aspire to be transcendent or rather to admit transcendence as the elements of this film do, where the very word “transcendent” is used, a very rare word in films.

One might have begun by comparing the new Universal intro and its totally unprepossessing music to what follows it on the screen as in some way or in every way expressive of the state of cinema, but such remarks seem totally pointless after the cinema has been dealt or dealt such a hand.


The Statement

The Stranger, that is, directed by Orson Welles, as conceived by Jewison in an expansive color remake, the scene is Europe, France, Avignon, Nice.

The humorous touches include the protracted murder of the witness, “or with his nails he’ll dig it up again” (whence the dog threatened to silence a grass widow), the “lapsed Catholic” and the “agnostic” on the trail, and so forth.

The film came and went in limited release, which is why perhaps the joke wasn’t received.

The title refers to a ploy, quelling the unstable witness and culprit gone to God is put down publicly as an act of justice, per the avenger.