Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink
Behind its label is a pawn ticket (Globe Pawn Shop, Portland, Or.) for a .38 Smith & Wesson belonging to a late rookie policeman shot with it by his superior, a detective sergeant who secretly owns a downtown Los Angeles hotel used as a criminal headquarters. Post treats this heftily in true film noir style, close to the camera or lavishly dressed for richness or compression, denuded in light or dark for a hospital corridor or hotel room.
The Case of the Sun
The choice opening, in which the sun bather returns to her trailer only to find it missing with her diary inside, mirrors the crime at issue, which may be taken as a satire of the medical profession. A company doctor’s office is used to filch keys from patients’ clothing so as to rob an armored car shipment by replacing a gunny sack of cash with one full of canceled checks.
Hamilton Burger actually does indict Mason for perjury in another reflection of the theme (hiding two stolen bills in a window shade, which action is amusingly misunderstood by Burger to have been a signal). Not only is the charge refuted by Mason on the witness stand at a murder trial, from that vantage point he solves the entire case.
In complete contrast to “The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink”, Post’s treatment is thematically sunny.
A World of Difference
The Twilight Zone
Baudelaire’s prose poem “La chambre double”, translated into Hollywood by way of Cukor’s A Double Life and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (which is directly cited twice), with its “infâme concubine qui vient crier misère” an ex-wife screaming for alimony, a “harpy”, and the entire structure so firmly divided as to raise all manner of speculation.
On, for instance, the artist and his commentators, with great vehemence of point. Fellini obtrudes a camera and shows the set in E la nave va, similarly. Post has a spectacular coup in a continuous shot as Howard Duff perfectly attuned to this part enters the office set through the absent fourth wall and pleads, “don’t leave me here.” The lights come up, he turns and sees the wall in place with a sunlit window.
One of a number of episodes treating the theme in all its aspects, characteristically. “Where Is Everybody?” (dir. Robert Stevens) pictures Whitman in an uncreated world with a fourth wall of observers. “The Trouble with Templeton” (dir. Buzz Kulik) is a round-trip to the past, which has its own script. “Static” (dir. Buzz Kulik) treats of the permanence of art. “A Stop at Willoughby” (dir. Robert Parrish) sees an escape from life. “People Are Alike All Over” (dir. Mitchell Leisen) re-creates an Earth habitat in a Martian zoo. “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” (dir. Mitchell Leisen) is closest of all, the artist exists in his work. Sternberg’s The Blue Angel is decisive for the return to the set as it is being struck, The Private World of Arthur Curtis has ceased production, “Arthur Curtis is dead,” the actor is thought to be having a nervous breakdown. The company executive, Arthur Curtis, encounters a little girl who flees from him, a theatrical agent and a supposed ex-wife are “after his blood”, grips take the office furniture away,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly
he takes his wife on a jet to San Francisco for the vacation they haven’t had in years, the one he is arranging in the opening scene before the wall in his office opens to reveal a camera crew. “I just don’t want to lose you,” he says, a line remembered by Pinter at the close of Kazan’s The Last Tycoon. “L’Amour et la Mort”, Serling all but says to conclude the thing, “n’est qu’une mesme chose.”
Probe 7, Over and Out
The Twilight Zone
The astronaut “several million miles from his point of departure,” whose “right hand has lost her cunning,” who crash-lands “4.3 light years from our sun” and learns of internecine war at home leaving no possibility of rescue or return, “we wiped them out, they wiped us out.” His arm is broken in two places, he steps from the craft and is struck in the face with a rock, night turns to day. Bushes stir all around him (cp. It’s a Wonderful Life, dir. Frank Capra). The only other inhabitant of the planet is a female similarly shipwrecked, whose name for the soil under their feet is “earth”. Adam is the astronaut’s name (Adam Cook in full, whose initials are those of Arthur Curtis in “A World of Difference”), cf. “Two” (dir. Montgomery Pittman). Her language is generally the mirror to his, she is “em”, Norda is her “eman”.
and the Graves
The Twilight Zone
The town of Happiness, Arizona, where they sent all their bad men to Boot Hill and some of the women, too.
Mr. Garrity has a gimmick, raising the dead for “room and board” and putting them back again for profit. It’s all in the minds of the “citizenry of Happiness”, to be sure, played upon by the fraud and his theatrical confederate with a dog that lies quite doggo. A good deal more went under with the bad, so there is a fortune to be made exacting a tribute out of vice, “what I might modestly claim as an accomplishment of some dimension.”
The wealthy confidence trickster drives off in his wagon after a total victory, “our next stop is Tucson,” never heeding that his customary routine has really unearthed the dead of Happiness, “man don’t do himself justice” (cf. Montgomery Pittman’s “The Grave”).
The Twilight Zone
“Look, if you’re looking for a red-hot gun-‘em-down battle against evil, you can saddle up and head north because you won’t find it here.” A great monocular spaceman is the fear, a footprint big as a dry watering hole, fingerprints the size of contour maps on a patrol car moved around like a toy, “he must stand better than five hundred feet high.” Glaring lights, tall shadows, broken branches are the main image, backwoods. The fashion editor has left New York City by dint of a nervous breakdown, she enlivens the pickle barrel (“the general run of dialogue is so dull it makes me want to retire from the human race”) by mentioning lights overhead, a state trooper calls on her, “that’s Shakespeare, but what’s that?”
“You got any friends a little bent upstairs?” They face the fear, it collapses upon them, “a fugitive from a Thanksgiving Day parade,” two tiny spacemen beat a hasty retreat, terrified by “earthmen’s failure to be frightened” (cf. “The Invaders”, dir. Douglas Heyes). She is not a snob, only fearful (cf. “Probe 7, Over and Out”), he has been through two wars, fear is natural, “clench your fists and go about your business,” shots from his service revolver deflate the fear.
Hang ‘em High
The Crucifixion, the Harrowing of Hell, and the Resurrection viewed in the manner of Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident before the Second Coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead. Post’s mastery of Leone’s art is seen in lightning compositions and vigorous constructions (script and production by Leonard Freeman).
The style is of uncommon clarity and directness because of its constant interest in getting to the point of each shot, whether a gag done in a demonstrative way so that it stands on its own rather than suggesting something else, or a line in close-up from an actor registering the mechanics of its delivery in a cinematic exposition. Add to this the beauty of its desert exteriors (achieved with a naturalness authentically sought from Greed) and the blasé naturalism of its interiors, night scenes filmed with a minimum of side lighting (suggested by a campfire) to give a broken, skeletal effect, or with impressionistic highlights (the lights of a town) accentuating the tonal outlines of Main Street before the high noon hanging sequence in the town square (flooded with light), a brilliant application of misty rain filtering sunshine (this before a dank and dark interior that ultimately suggests the sort of romantic escapade one might have found in the Old West), and a reflective combination of camera movement and editing to give a continuous modulation.
“Emetic and interminable,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, commending itself to oblivion. Ebert’s review is preserved on his website, as if it were not a youthful indiscretion.
“Where’d yuh get that stagecoach?” First day on the job, hoorawers and the town marshal. Two of them, brothers, standing on the bar in the saloon, cattlemen on a hooraw, “we’re the King family!” Three brothers all told, one dead, one in jail, another on the way, “the toughest trail boss ever left Texas...” The Cattlemen Freight Association favors the income over the inconvenience, business in town is none too good (cf. De Toth’s The Stranger Wore a Gun), “welcome to Yuma, such as it is.”
The “high shiny boots” and spurs of an Army uniform recall Pursued (dir. Raoul Walsh) under the circumstances. Hostile Indians whose reservation beef is being sold off from under their noses complete the picture, a very fine pitch of arbitrary strangeness and bloodshed at an almost Shakespearean rate comes down to this (cp. Valdez Is Coming, dir. Edwin Sherin). Then there is the proprietress of the “best hotel in town” who believes in avoiding any “misunderstandings” from the outset, Post swings back around and slightly down from her and the marshal at the front desk conversing as they pass behind a voluminous green potted plant that fills the screen for a moment and on to the fireplace, where they continue to discuss particularities of the town in a slight up-angle from across the room etc., one of many remarkable shots in a style of fluid proficiency (especially fine is the POV from the saddle he might have picked up from Leone).
It ends in a dry gulch notably after a successful bit of tracking, with a succinct note from Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. There is still a step down after that, ladies and gentlemen, to a devious business maneuver that Preston Sturges catalogues on the political side in The Great McGinty. This is where the brass tacks are hammered into a place not exactly lawless, “mostly the folks plan on just standin’ back and watchin’ to see what happens.” A swimming lesson over to the fishin’ hole, where Renoir’s Lead Pencil theme (The Southerner) is lightly sketched.
TV Guide, “nothing special.”
The executions by the gens d’armes of the motorcycle squad proceed from the top downward, a crooked politician (Richard Devon), a poolside party (including Suzanne Somers) and a murderous pimp (Albert Popwell). The structure naturally opposes Inspector Callahan’s investigations and the vigilante gang at work.
Post’s direction is of the solidest, and then some. The camera is held close to the action without distortion, exactly mirroring the sequence on the firing range in which officers are tested for their marksmanship as well as their ability to distinguish friend from foe. This characteristic approach is expressed under the opening credits as a hand holding a Magnum points left and finally turns to the camera and fires.
Numerous felicities make this a model of composition. The camera is mounted alongside a motorcycle tailing the politician’s limousine, and tilts when it is parked. The party scene begins on a sunny day and ends in mayhem and a wall of water filling the screen. The remarkable scene of the prostitute in the taxicab is a great tribute to Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street. A flawless pan right from a stakeout view follows Callahan and his partner out the door behind them to their car with a sudden view of the bay and the Golden Gate that somehow has the same sense of stricture.
The casting of Devon is instantly recognizable as a coup, and Post’s work with the actors is half the labor. Hal Holbrook contributes a note of brilliance, but the cast is handled uniformly well, and so is every shot in a tightly-compressed masterpiece perfectly made, which complements rather than repeats the style of Siegel’s Dirty Harry.
A Case of Immunity
The opening is two men in Arab dress burgling a safe. It’s the Suarian Consulate in Los Angeles, one of them is a high official who wants to get higher, and the other is his dupe who is very soon murdered.
The ploy is that the crime is blamed on revolutionary students. The motive is Shakespearean, it’s like the opening of Richard III.
The crux is the murderer’s supreme self-confidence by dint of his diplomatic immunity, which ultimately leaves Lt. Columbo almost humorously wearied. But that’s what undoes the fellow.
Post does a first-rate job with the unit, getting right in there on perfectly-fixed shots that are pivotal in themselves and for the actors. Throughout, a classic Hollywood style shows the development of minor productions and second features into a cogent vehicle for television. After the opening he never stops, constructing shots that are the complement of the editing, neither too much nor too little.
The style and the script cast Lt. Columbo into a very workmanlike detective who stumbles upon a flamboyant and bumbling murderer. Precisely where a suitably quick performance is required, the latter part is taken by Hector Elizondo, who like everyone else benefits from the concentration expended by Post on the proper construction of his scenes.
A Matter of Honor
A guide to Buñuel’s El Ángel exterminador for the perplexed. Post has a flawless bit of comedy with the Peugeot inflicting whiplash south of the border and confiscated for want of local insurance.
He develops a rapid technique based on a fluid tension of the close-up and the medium shot. When the murderer is confronted, more or less openly, Post amplifies the situation with a zoom, more or less directly.
There is peculiar interest in the modus operandi. A famous matador, now retired to the breeding of bulls, reveals himself immobilized in fear when faced with one by happenstance. He kills a witness by first drugging him just enough to render him inchoate but not motionless, so as to incite a bull helplessly. Yet the motive is withheld entirely from view, except for exchanged glances and a dubious air, until Lt. Columbo deduces it at length.
Sublimity is in the characterization of Lt. Columbo as nearly inarticulate off his own bat, but a regular Holmes on the scent. It’s a question of gathered evidence contradicting a first-person account and customary practice in the bullring—about which the Lieutenant knows “not very much”—and also a weather report.
“Even the bulls know me,” says Emilio Fernandez, gesturing toward them in the abstract. Even the local police know Lt. Columbo, because of his single-handed success with the cruise ship murder en route to Mexico in “Troubled Waters” (dir. Ben Gazzara). He briefly recounts the escapade, beginning with “my wife won the tickets,” and trailing off from there standing next to his Peugeot on a tow hook, until he’s pressed into service on a hacienda murder “to expedite matters,” with Mrs. Columbo all the time “back at the hotel,” waiting for him.
Go Tell the Spartans
The presence of Burt Lancaster is the direct link to Ulzana’s Raid (dir. Robert Aldrich) it was intended to be, but no critic noticed.
Military advisors in Vietnam, the memory of the French, garrison and withdrawal.
An important theme out of Ford’s What Price Glory is extended by Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket.
“Message-mongering for morons” (Time Out Film Guide).
Good Guys Wear Black
A noteworthy experiment, the whole film depends upon certain well-calculated effects, Post couches them in a format governed by camera treatment. The expository opening scene is cut strictly, the battle scene that follows is mostly hand-held. The main body of the film makes free use of the zoom, and only at the end is a track used, followed by a pan-and-tilt at the resolution.
The Human Shield
Here is a gift for shooting action almost preternaturally. It begins with a hand-held camera walked through a massacre, and moves into the kind of tight, inflected carom of interplay that always registers interesting backgrounds.
Post is as good as he ever was. That is true of the critics as well.