The Black Curtain
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

A serviceman arrives home to meet his fiancée at City Hall, but suffers an attack of amnesia en route. She hires a private detective who falls in love with her. He finds the bridegroom and gets him a job under another name as bodyguard to a wealthy attorney, who has a rough clientele and a young, unfaithful wife. She pursues the man and is murdered by her husband, who frames the man for it with the help of the private detective. The man escapes with the help of the attorney’s niece, who is in love with him and once took him on a trip to San Francisco to avoid the aunt. The man is installed in an apartment, where his well-dressed appearance stands out in the neighborhood.

This is the main action, which is given as dialogue without flashbacks and only toward the end, under the rubric of Spellbound.

He has only been there a short time (it’s three years since the missed wedding) when the landlady’s son and another youth mug him on the street in the first scene. A cabdriver pulls up and scares away the boys, then helps the man to a pharmacy across the street, where the amnesiac has now forgotten the intervening three years and only remembers that he was on his way to City Hall. He invents an excuse for the strange initials on his hat and cigarette case.

The cabdriver takes the man to his fiancée’s apartment, but she has moved. He finds her in her new home with a baby daughter and the private detective’s picture (which means nothing to him), but has no sense of the lapse of time.

The pharmacist has seen him around and points him in the right direction. In the park he bumps into the niece, whom he doesn’t recognize, and the detective following her takes a few shots at him. The man has learned the address of their meeting place from her, and finds his apartment. The landlady’s son sniffs out a blackmail scheme and tries to practice it.

The man has the niece lure the detective to the apartment, and forces him to spill the beans.


A Cardinal Act of Mercy
Ben Casey

An attorney (Kim Stanley) with a spinal lesion easily cured by surgery, and a quite unrelated addiction to heroin.

When she’s on it, she lends A Shropshire Lad to a young man visiting his sweet mother in the same room, and when she’s not on it she’s horrid.

The cloying, grasping, unlettered mother has been beaten by an intruder, actually her son.

Dr. Zorba orders a halt to the morphine, the attorney gets the young man to pick up heroin for her, she cultivates him, he knows nothing. She’ll even defend him on the assault-and-battery charge.

Dr. Casey gets wise.


Diagnosis: Danger
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

The skin of a dead burro makes a curio for the tourist trade in Mexico, a bongo drum handmade with a unique appearance. This particular one has anthrax all over it from the hide. A jazzy tourist picks it up, gives it to the married woman he’s vacationing with, a road worker gets it out of the ditch beside the freeway where the drummer keeled over, a trio of hoodlums from the youth set catch it and give it to a drunk they roll with a vengeance. The County Health Department has the makings of an epidemic.

Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets is all but named. Charles McGraw as head of the department brings to mind Mabuse’s adversary, Commissioner Lohmann. His junior, who wants to be an epidemiologist, is played by Michael Parks. Stefan Gierasch is Sgt. Boyles, a knowledgeable detective who loses his shirt and suit more than once by touching the evidence.

Pollack’s striking clarity in the opening daylight exterior sequence on a freeway, and his dolly shot through the busy department full of staff on phones, are precursors of The Slender Thread. The mugging is pure comic-book style, intermittent shadows in an alleyway with a flashing light and one of the trio around the corner in the foreground timorously, Griffith’s Expressionism.

Roland Kibbee’s teleplay is an homage to Pasteur full of very dry humor and set in a semi-rural county. The junior and a uniformed officer burst into a sick hoodlum’s apartment like Charles Foster Kane.


The Slender Thread

Provider II (fishing boat) with another on the way.

A very curious masterpiece in a very rare niche, the position that follows Richardson’s a taste of honey, for example.

It covers all the angles of Seattle in a prodigious technique derived from the television work, very brilliant.

The miraculous salvation is, as Halliwell would say, a matter of “sheer professionalism”.


This Property Is Condemned

A tale told by an idiot, Camille (dir. Ray C. Smallwood or Fred Niblo) and One Way Passage (dir. Tay Garnett) as seen at the Delta-Brilliant around 1932.

Pollack deals this out cagily in four movements, in half an hour he reveals the small town stunningly photographed, another half hour quells the belle, she goes to New Orleans.

The opening of the flashback conveys a hot summer town swiftly à la Williams, feints a Chekhovian theme or two, plants a suggestion of the Kazan Baby Doll or A Streetcar Named Desire. The entire thing is recounted by the heroine’s young sister (Mary Badham).

The family home became a boarding house and then a ruin.

Bosley Crowther attained the depths of John Simon in his review for the New York Times, “seamy” is his comfortable word. Homey is the great creation of Pollack here, and then the city.

At least as half-remembered or fabulated by a girl who never left home. Coppola’s hand is evident in the screenplay, Pollack’s congruent ear for dialogue is conclusive (cf. Castle Keep).

It might be said that Pollack deals himself in where Hollywood left off, so that Natalie Wood’s brilliantly realized performance has its several angles seamlessly rendered, one of them being from Richardson’s Woodfall Films (witness Kate Reid’s performance as the mother). Robert Redford gives a superbly technical counterpart to this, but the acting is brought to perfect pitch all the way around, and John Harding as the elderly suitor from Memphis evidently doubles for Sir Ralph Richardson. Robert Blake and Charles Bronson as smitten swains set aside by the “spotter” from New Orleans have particularly savvy moments in the course of the boarding-house tale.

Someone noticed Pollack’s film, and that was Wyler, who borrowed the helicopter shot on Lake Pontchartrain for Funny Girl when no-one was looking. Pollack looks ahead to his own later films toward the end of this one, at the same time recalling the taut, finished mastery of The Slender Thread. The film is mercilessly poetic, as only a young girl can be, and the structure demands attention to the last, as any poem does. Critics are therefore disregarded, this sort of picture is not in their line at all.


The Scalphunters

Critics see so many films, a giddiness sometimes sets in. Roger Ebert lectured his Chicago Sun-Times readership on the “masterpiece” and the “interesting film”. This one, from a sociological viewpoint, was not a masterpiece, and neither was Siegel’s Madigan, said Ebert.

Vincent Canby went gaga in the New York Times. “There is a strange suspicion that nobody will ever get anywhere—like a journey in Beckettland.”

The Scalphunters is a masterpiece, or there’s no such thing. Just to admire the screenplay is enough, the filming, the acting, the editing, etc.

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Code”, is something about a day’s work, here it’s a winter’s fur-trapping and Kiowas and a slave and scalphunters and Mexico in a long, profound equation that, sure enough, doesn’t quite end when it’s all over, but you get the picture.

Variety was as honest as it could be, “in artistic terms, The Scalphunters is hard to describe.Halliwell’s Film Guide and Time Out Film Guide had no idea at all.


Castle Keep

The end of the world is only a fierce engagement in the Battle of the Bulge, a total loss for the nonce.

Three episodes of Combat!, “The Chateau” (dir. Laslo Benedek), “Heritage” (dir. John Peyser), and “Finest Hour” (dir. Sutton Roley), are called into play for this understanding.

An absolute position. “If you give the Germans anything, you have to give them everything.”

“Europe, nonetheless, is over.The Duchess is “not a work of art”.

For two gross of broken statues,

For a few thousand battered books.

The dialogue is an extension without remedy of the great métier in Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun and Coward & Lean’s In Which We Serve, combat hysterics.

None of this could have meant much of anything at the time, and didn’t. Burt Lancaster plays the lone genius at the helm. “As for the Old Masters, fuck ‘em” (Pinter). The rest of the film is more or less sensibly disposed.


They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A one-horse town, a one-joke film. Run it into the ground, you might as well shoot it. This punchline appears only after, very opulently, Pollack exhausts all the possibilities of setup for its delivery.

It’s really the sort of thing Swift would arrive at for the Thirties in a suit and tie. The Slender Thread snaps.


Jeremiah Johnson

The script is evidently derived from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and Henry Hathaway’s Nevada Smith, built up by two screenwriters out of a novel and a story.

The first shot is every bit the coup achieved in the opening of The Scalphunters, and the brief sequence in the town or settlement has all the terseness of image which speaks volumes throughout.

Jeremiah Johnson follows on Castle Keep as a tale of a tyro in the field. The ungovernable action defies a certain logic of æstheticism, and that’s that.

Among the fine acting is that of Johnson’s latter horse waiting for him at the doorway, and Utah as Colorado.


The Yakuza

It means “loser”, as an introductory note explains.

The opening titles bear a comparison to Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice, only with tattooed males.

An arms deal that fails, an American businessman’s daughter kidnapped, an MP from the Occupation forces sent in.

Fuller (House of Bamboo) and Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) figure as the predicaments unwind, an analysis of the war that includes Kurosawa’s Sanshiro Sugata and such things.

A finely beautiful work of art, and that is the point, its analysis of the situation on the ground, as one might say (overhead shots), is a just apperception of the reality.

The American departs, having made a formal apology.


Three Days of the Condor

An accidental discovery, like Seven Days in May (dir. John Frankenheimer) and All the President’s Men (dir. Alan J. Pakula), cf. Buzzell’s Ship Ahoy for the structure and the secret plan, furthermore Crichton’s Hue and Cry, also Tashlin’s Artists and Models. Shadow of a doubt (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) gives the murder game solved by Dick Tracy, “a very underrated detective”, at the start. Force of Evil (dir. Abraham Polonsky) presents the scene of the crime viewed by one who was not there.

A film about itself, among other things. Everyone in the audience, Mayor Koch famously said, is seated between two police officers. “Tidings of comfort and joy” unto the New York Times, which thus receives advance warning of an invasion for oil in the Middle East (for which cf. Basil Dearden’s Masquerade setting the scene and Richard Brooks’ Wrong Is Right confirming the story, as it were, vd. Archie Mayo’s Confirm or Deny, where it’s a question of England and a typist and the Clarence Brown Idiot’s Delight, in a kind of way).

The American Literary Historical Society incurs the principal deficit, losing all its personnel save one. A photographer of lonely places has a brief encounter with the lone survivor (Ritchie’s Downhill Racer is swiftly hinted for the parlay on cross-country, Schatzberg’s Puzzle of a Downfall Child likewise, something of Pollack’s working method as in The Electric Horseman). Frankenheimer remembers the “freelance” assassin’s hobby in Ronin. “Community? Jesus you guys are kind to yourselves! Community,” recalling Clement’s Otley.



“I told them a story.Cf. Asquith’s Freedom Radio, where it’s a question of Poland and an actress and the Lubitsch or Brooksfilm To Be or Not to Be, in a manner of speaking.

The Edgar Allan Poe Award to the screenplay.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “a good-looking, entertaining suspense film... never as horrifying as the real thing.Variety, “basically a B, it has been elevated in form—but not in substance.Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “a well-made thriller, tense and involving... has the right ring. A very hollow one.Time Out, “intriguing slice of neo-Hitchcock.TV Guide, “a thrilling pseudo-exposé”. Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “time waster”. David Parkinson (Radio Times), “occasional lapses in pacing.Film4, “frequently incomprehensible”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “a slickly done but shallow movie whose heroics are implausible and whose idealism is more than a little inconsistent.Halliwell’s Film Guide, “it is just possible to follow its complexities.”


The Electric Horseman

When a corporation acquires the right to identify itself with a public commodity, this is known in the industry as “branding”.

The Electric Horseman might usefully be considered as a sequel to Michael Ritchie’s Downhill Racer. It has an eloquent kinship with David Miller’s great Lonely Are the Brave. There is a good deal of interest in the handling of the “lady and cowboy” material. Pollack directs much of it as a constant study of dialogue intercutting which might be identified with Peckinpah’s establishment of continuity in The Wild Bunch, the point here is the discovery that long stretches of conversational dialogue can be sustained in crosscutting by registering what is said in one shot (and the lapse of time) in the next shot, and so on.

There is a further relation to Three Days of the Condor, which is revealed in the structure. The credit sequence shows a world-champion rodeo cowboy brought at the end of his career to serve as a company spokesman for Ampco’s Ranch Breakfast cereal, and his subsequent decline into obscurity. While rehearsing for an Ampco show in Las Vegas, he notices that an injured and very costly horse (also a corporate symbol) has been drugged to stand on stage with chorus girls, and together they ride off into the desert, still wearing the “suit of lights” which gives the film its title.

Ampco is anxious to have its horse returned, of course, but also for its public image in advance of a merger. “Everyone but the Coast Guard” is after the cowboy, and the company paints him as a menace, to the horse.

An East Coast TV reporter follows him for the story. This is a remarkable invention by Jane Fonda of a sort of woman who works in ambush behind a mass of hair and pancake makeup (she is revealed through this apparatus like the foundations of an archæological dig, in various strata). In the second half, they come to terms, his story is told, and they part.

Redford’s cowboy is built up out of several earlier characters, including Big Halsy, and then refined diligently to a very precise measure. Since the comedy of all this has waited in some degree to be revealed, there is many a tickle and chuckle in the performances of Valerie Perrine (ex-wife), Willie Nelson (hanger-on), John Saxon (Ampco head) and the rest of the cast, while the great guffaw winds its way along mighty pretty country, with a daylight rainshower adorning one rugged exterior, and even an evocation of Arthur Miller’s The Misfits (dir. John Huston).

There is a sense in which it might be said the film actor’s art can only really be seen in a body of work over time. Fonda’s œuvre (in relation to, say, Pakula’s Klute and Lumet’s The Morning After here), and Redford’s (which also bears here on Avnet’s Up Close & Personal and his own The Horse Whisperer), display a variation and development of thematic material (in various aspects) comparable to Davis and Bogart, for two instances, in the same way Pollack can be compared to Huston, say. The nexus of moviemaking, if it’s not too grand an utterance, might be just this, a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk of independent artists. Anyway, it accounts for at least some of the buoyancy and motion of The Electric Horseman, to say nothing of its intricacy and immediateness, that so much abiding skill has gone into each of its departments (not least the uncanny art direction). If the point is labored, it’s simply to throw into relief (or any other metaphor that’s handy) the absurd critique of Variety, “overlong, talky and diffused.”


Absence of Malice

Mark Twain’s Appendix C to Roughing It, “Concerning a Frightful Assassination That Was Never Consummated”, appears to be the basis of the work. Anyway, they’re identical but for a hundred years of newspaper sophistication in between, which only serve to sharpen the humor. Instead of “what is verbally in the mouth of nine out of ten men, and women too, upon the street,” it’s a matter of the case for the People in preparation.

A thoughtless libel is printed by both newspapers, Twain’s and Pollack’s, and in both instances a sharp response is immediately obtained. It’s no longer considered good form to horsewhip “a jack-o’-lantern in a swamp, that fancied itself a planet with a billion-mile orbit”, though Twain believed the “weak-witted child” deserved a chance to run away, and besides that, Pollack’s reporter is a woman (cp. Politician’s Love Story, dir. D.W. Griffith).

The direction is a spacious reflection on the joke, especially noteworthy for its unfailing response to light in the most varying of conditions, from crepuscule to blaze of noon.



This is the sort of gag that gives seven-league boots to the periphery, stepping in it. The man in the middle (reverse Shakespearean travesty) becomes a surprise target, it’s great fun all round. Pollack himself appears, looking like Pinter’s New York brother, the one in the film business.

As always, the editing is of particular fascination. In the large-scale reflections of the revelation scene, you see with great rapidity the three main factors, the demands of the shot, of the scene, and of the rhythm. The final duet gives all this andante con moto.

The worm turns... up.


Out of Africa

A coup is achieved early on with Streep’s wearing of a highly characteristic contemporary dress and hat. This is a benchmark in a film very dependent on secure effects acting as anchors here and there, and the bedrock of performances such as Redford’s.



Hollow Triumph has a unique lighting system, Pollack employs it to full advantage here. Sekely’s idea is the full dispersion of light traceable to an original source, a light bulb. In Havana, Pollack’s complicated structural lighting, which appears to be a functional combination of Hollywood and film noir lighting, comes down to the single light bulb illuminating the face of a rebel leader (Raul Julia) in prison.

Night exteriors are an extension of this, while day exteriors are a function of editing. There is a very curious relationship to Richard Lester’s Cuba which is expressed in the title. Tight, compressed shots of maximum brilliance and tonal range succeed one another in an unbroken series. The pressure of the camera outlook causes backgrounds to open up (in or out of focus), and gives the slightest motion a tangible quality, with close-ups or two-shots resembling kinetic sculpture.

The dialogue study in The Electric Horseman is continued and greatly expanded here. Early on, there’s a tiny but amusing joke from Three Days of the Condor, and the grand theme is wryly connected to The Way We Were at a distance. The manner of shooting is not dissimilar to Resnais’, and perhaps Satyajit Ray is evoked at one moment.

The critics kibitzed as though it were a reality dating program, and claimed to have seen Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz). Robert Redford and Lena Olin are complained of as not being Bogie and in another picture, respectively. The public stayed home and waited for The Bachelor on its television sets. It has a treat in store for it.


Random Hearts

Not one of the critics who are paid to understand films had the slightest grasp of Random Hearts, nor did any of them feel the slightest sympathy with the hero. “You know what I do for a living? I get paid to notice stuff. I get paid to know who’s lying. I didn’t have a clue.”

The structure is simplicity itself. Two love triangles intersecting at a random point, two side-action arenas.

Dutch is a sergeant in Internal Affairs, his wife does catalogues for Saks Fifth Avenue. She has an affair with a Washington lawyer married to a congresswoman from New Hampshire. The lovers die in a plane crash, the widower investigates his wife’s infidelity, and meets the widow.

The side-action occurs in Miami and Washington. The lovers meet at a madeover hotel called The Tides (compare Hitchcock’s location in Bodega Bay) and dance at a Latin nightclub. The Internal Affairs investigation, which notoriously blindsided the critics, concerns extortion from a blind pig.

Pollack himself plays the congresswoman’s media consultant. He provides a moment or two for critics who thought they were getting Antonioni’s L’Avventura, but he has entirely other fish to fry. It will be observed that H.C. Potter’s The Farmer’s Daughter figures more or less abstractedly in the equation.

The most touching, realistic scene is said to have provoked laughter at a preview. The bereaved are in her car, meditating their discovery, and rebound against each other.

The political significance of all this is the entire point, it’s a beautifully clear analysis of the situation down to the least detail and nuance, such as the sergeant’s outré hair.


Sketches of Frank Gehry

His sketches reveal a fine hand in extreme close-up, the “sliver of personal expression” also seen in his buildings. A full shot is disappointing in the same way.

In the last stand of “he who dies with the most toys wins,” Gehry has ousted Richard Meier’s Getty Center for ineptitude and I.M. Pei’s Louvre for bad taste. That is the oomph of architecture for him.

Hopper, “a bubble”. Diller, “he smells, he sucks up”. Arnoldi and Ruscha do not kick beggars. Pollack, “how do you tell the difference between an æsthetic discipline and a neurosis?”

Pollack is objectively candid in his portrait, the subject speaks for himself, as does his work. A thoroughly illuminating documentary on the man whose Guggenheim retrospective was sponsored by Enron (cf. Mel Smith’s Bean, Wincer’s Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun).