Derek and Clive Get the Horn
Two lowlife gets impersonated by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in a recording studio. The censors were so outraged that for the longest time it could not be seen by anyone.
Lowlife gets are a drug on the market, meanwhile.
As Janet Maslin once said, it’s all a matter of gravitas. When Bill Clinton was running for President, a talk show host asked him to give the Arkansas cheer. “Wan tam,” said the Governor, holding up a finger. There followed a solemn grunt or squeal.
Nerds are sometimes furious if one denigrates Star Wars or Spielberg. What they and their idols hardly know is that at some demonstrable point cinema became an art, and all cinematic productions have to be considered in this light. Science gives a name to X and Y, art expresses the distance.
To the extent that Mulcahy makes films and not something else, he appears to be squandering his talents on an ungrateful public. That sound you heard was the jawbones of nerds hitting the floor in theaters from Perth to Perth Amboy. The dweeb from the Beeb wept.
Your nerd will always have you pulling his leg. The Beeb says “pull the other one for it has bells upon it.” Pull the middle one, says Mulcahy, it’s got balls on it.
Between them, Kubrick and Russell (and, oh, say Robert Wise) know everything there is to know about film and then some. Mulcahy also knows a thing or two about making movies.
The Real McCoy
There are two separate and distinct elements forming the film. One is a calmly realistic tour of Atlanta and environs, the other is a frankly realistic but slightly fantastic bank robbery by drilling into a vault for millions of dollars in cash.
Criticism is now so bad that doing the opposite of what you read won’t lose you much, not that anybody reads the critics. Nevertheless, this is one film so baroquely subtle in its actual workings that if anyone, professional or amateur, is able to perceive them, even Mulcahy could be surprised.
You could if you wished point out Kim Basinger’s evocation of someone two steps ahead of everyone else and yet behind the 8-ball, or Val Kilmer’s little echo of Jeff Bridges in The Morning After (dir. Sidney Lumet), but these aren’t of major importance. It’s really the formal balance of the two halves—Atlanta, where even a millionaire’s backyard abuts the forest, and the vault where a crack crime team in black uniforms creates a series of false alarms with a remotely-controlled ashtray on wheels and slips in amongst them, only to trap the mastermind with a hoist of his own petard.
The security of the division between the two halves is such that, after the heist but still in Atlanta, the earlier vision is nowhere to be seen, only a pink skyscraper rising behind the triumphant pair. But it’s hard to imagine anyone appreciating the joke, so one marvels at Mulcahy and his producers, who put this before a public nowadays utterly unprepared to receive it, and as for the critics, everything they say about it is also true, that being part of the lassitude and concentration of the joke, to be sure.
Mulcahy’s direct involvement is best seen in interiors carefully imbuing each scene with period life, Lamont Cranston’s library in rough earth tones with Craftsman-style lighting and a Georgia O’Keeffe over the mantelpiece (Radiator Building—Night), Dr. & Mrs. Tam’s kitchenette, his university laboratory, the Cobalt Club, etc. He creates a composite portrait of Margo Lane toying with an apple on a divan in the lower part of the screen (foreground), and the “mad scientist” (her father) in the upper part (background). Another shot of the latter’s lab is characteristically lighted to great effect.
From this vantage point, the performances are nicely calculated, with Jonathan Winters doing a turn at the Club, and Ian McKellen contributing a British variation of the type required. Tim Curry adds a new dimension to his repertoire in a sustained close-up.
The Lost Battalion
Mulcahy is with his subject in a deadly snafu of execrable technique. The camera waddles like a punch-drunk pugilist or retching sailor, CGI biplanes skirt the skies, a ballet of stunt men and special effects gangles through the strobe, speed-zooms, hopeless.
this clonic earth
all these phantoms shuddering out of focus
it is useless to close the eyes
all the chords of the earth broken like a woman pianist’s
the toads abroad again on their rounds
sidling up to their snares
A flare-lit no-man’s-land exhibits his genius.
The 71st Psalm is spoken to the purpose, “let me not be put to confusion.”
He has everything he needs for a great film, but this is how it’s done on the A&E and Fox.
The 308th in the Argonne, October 1918.