Dead Weight
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

So many road signs one can’t see to drive, says Hitchcock, “it would be a shame if billboards were to blight this landscape.”

And the story of an advertising man with his mistress, he captures a “lover’s lane bandit” and kills him only to be blackmailed by his own wife’s private detective.


Road Hog
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Hitchcock and the most rudimentary of barbecuing apparatuses, a dissertation follows.

The peddler of naughty knickknacks holds up the show on country roads, the farmer teaches him the error of his ways.


Escape To Sonoita
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Tic-tac-toe on a map with a weathergirl introduces the tale of kidnappers in the desert who don’t know how lucky they are.


The Man With Two Faces
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The pungent satire opens with two ladies exiting the Savoy Theater. “Isn’t it wonderful,” says one, “what they can do with the Bible.” They part, Mrs. Wagner walks down the street, tangles with a purse-snatcher and receives a blow in the face.

At the police station, she identifies her son-in-law in a mug shot, but not her attacker. “You know,” says Lt. Meade, “whoever said cameras don’t lie wasn’t a policeman.” Nevertheless, he takes her daughter and son-in-law into custody, known to her as Leo and Mabel but to the law as Mr. & Mrs. Graves, on the lam from a five-year crime spree in California (he has another alias, “Willie the Weeper”).


I Shot an Arrow Into the Air
The Twilight Zone

Certainly this is not far from Baudelaire’s cake, and very close to Huston’s treasure. The epilogue refers to these events as “improbable,” and the key is in the prologue, which reveals a startling kinship to Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man in a meditation on the artist’s work and how it is received.

Longfellow is misquoted with deliberate art. “I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth I knew not where.” Nicolas Roeg must have had this in mind when he filmed a thirsty spaceman come calling.

Rosenberg’s direction is uncanny in its cultivation of pebbles and mountains, and a narrow path through a canyon of salt “45 minutes from Broadway,” as it were, a distance diminishing daily.


The Underworld Bank
The Untouchables

Milo Sullivan gathers mob bosses for capital investments in crime, half a million in planning and preparation nets a million in furs from a hijacking. Ness investigates two suspects, one is hounded for the loan he took out to set up a front as an insurance agent, and then his widow. The other, who actually took part in the robbery by slugging and then murdering a guard, is kept waiting six months for his pay, and finally given a pittance. He resolves to rob the bank (which is a secret back room at The Family Music Shop, owned by Sullivan) and is about to be gotten rid of when the squad arrives. Still bloody from his beating, the hood picks up a pistol to join his captors in a shootout with Ness, who takes Sullivan in and his ledger full of names.


The Tommy Karpeles Story
The Untouchables

Karpeles is sent up for a mail train robbery he didn’t commit, his m.o. was used, tear gas and gas masks. Arnie “the Wolf” Mendoza did the job, he used to be one of Karpeles’s boys. His office is upstairs at a movie theater, you pass through the projectionist’s booth to get there.

The convict’s estranged daughter is seeing a Mendoza hood who “sells dope to children”, her “crown of thorns”. She “respects” her other suitor, a psychology major who runs a candy store and soda fountain.

No-one knows the name of the fence Mendoza plans to use for his loot, until the dealer gets wind of it. He’s about to be dealt with as a liability, spills to Ness.

The daughter is seized by a Mendoza henchman, the soda jerk is beaten with a .45, the deal is arranged at a summerhouse belonging to the fence. Karpeles knows the place, it’s hard to find, he’s released under guard and handcuffed. He breaks loose and shoots it out with the henchman. Both are killed, Ness fires tears gas into the house, Mendoza holds the girl hostage, threatening to shoot her. “You’d be naked then,” says Ness walking up to him, “I don’t think you have the stomach for it.”


Augie “The Banker” Ciamino
The Untouchables

A thousand stills are set up among the immigrants in Chicago to supply the void left by Ness and the squad. Ciamino has the stuff delivered to him in uncapped bottles supposedly returned as empties, but stoppered with paraffin. It adds up to tens of thousands of gallons a month.

Ness leaves his number with a night school teacher, who writes it on the blackboard for his class of English students. Ciamino’s hoodlums beat him down into the hospital.

The home stills produce a blinding, fatal distillate if handled badly. This, too, is punished.

Sam Jaffe and Will Kuluva are a grocer and baker in the class, Lee Philips the latter’s son, a bookkeeper for Ciamino (Keenan Wynn).


Death for Sale
The Untouchables

Ness busts up an opium deal to Nitti, a courier runs up a flight of outdoor stairs and is shot, falling backward and providing a very close link between Benedek’s Port of New York and Friedkin’s The French Connection.

A 20-year-old criminal mastermind engineers a partnership with the former “king of opium”, deposed by the Bureau of Narcotics, formed in 1930. James MacArthur has the part, a Jimmy Olsen suit and bow tie and a passing resemblance to Rimbaud establish the persona as much as a tale of “lugging clams” at the age of eight, and later bribing a truant officer as he branched out.

The king is knifed at his toy company office, a mail order business is set up to make the lad a millionaire before his next birthday.

Ness traces a bit of fine stationery to the New York manufacturer, whose trade has declined since the Crash, it was used to wrap the opium and leads to the toy company.

A toy panda holds the drug, among the stuffed animals given to a Park Avenue debutante whose boyfriend died in an opium den belonging to the mastermind.


The Nero Rankin Story
The Untouchables

A strange successor to “Judge” Foley as head of the syndicate, handpicked for the job by the late psycho (“the word is ‘psychic’”) himself, elected because “there’s no-one else”, a force in wartime and the Twenties, brought out of retirement to fill the bill, insecure, ailing, with a streak of madness, a study of effeminacy akin to Kubrick’s Crassus, Nero Rankin.

His secretary rats him out to save his life, he lets a rival bully him into killing her. A new mistress is foisted upon him, very fond of bubble baths and diamonds, who has the ear of the rival.

Rankin wrests her from him, seizes upon a plan to foil Ness’s costly raids, in the face of mounting opposition from the voting members of the syndicate. Hoods tear up the citizenry with choppers right under Ness’s windows. A raid on Rankin’s Club Debutante finds only a note scrawled on a mirror, warning of worse.

Chicago turns against Ness, Rankin congratulates himself. Ness closes a house and speakeasy called Madame Amy’s, the town awaits reprisals. A hundred police units man the streets, radio bulletins every fifteen minutes alert the public.

Rankin gives the order for a mass killing, Ness intercepts the gunmen. Rankin is furious, takes a chopper himself and fires through his windows onto the street below. Ness bursts in and kills him.


The Seventh Vote
The Untouchables

Nitti and Guzik have opposing views of rival gangsters making bold moves on Capone’s territory, Nitti wants action, Guzik looks to a future in narcotics. Each loses a man on the council, Capone orders a new man to break the deadlock.

He’s shipped from the Orient through Canada. A professional smuggles him in.

Ness works with the RCMP, the man’s name is Kafka, he joins the circus for the nonce and walks across the border disguised as a clown.

Nitti and Guzik get the bad news, their man, Capone’s teacher, died while fleeing.


The Troubleshooter
The Untouchables

$500,000 in a Swiss passbook is offered to Ness, so that he will lay off busting up the punchboard gambling racket worth millions. Failing this, he’s framed for murder, a collector for the racket dies in a shootout with no gun.

A New York right-hand man thereby bullies his way onto the Council table. His boss goes down for skimming, the chairman is extradited to California, the troubleshooter suspends voting privileges with a gunman at his side.

Ness and the squad do some detective work. D.A. Asbury transfers him to the sticks. Drunk and surly, Ness strikes up an acquaintance with the newspaper hireling who nailed him.

The new chairman eliminates all witnesses and loose ends. The man he replaced exposes the entire operation. A last frame is set up for Ness, who stumbles on the body of the paid newspaperman and falls. The G-men clean up.


The Matt Bass Scheme
The Untouchables

Pressure by Ness forces Nitti out of town, he brings his alky in by truck or rail. Matt Bass comes out of the penitentiary with a different scheme devised by a con with an engineering degree, he’ll pipe the alky through the sewers. So many pipes are down a manhole, no-one will notice.

The two arrangements conflict. Bass sabotages Nitti by informing on him, Nitti does in the investor. It’s from this source that Ness pieces together the construction plans for the beer line.

At last the pipe is laid, beer on tap. Nothing for Nitti when he tries it, the new partner. Bass and the engineer lam out through the sewer to escape Nitti, and run into Ness. There is a shootout, Nitti flees.


The Untouchables

A federal agent is murdered, Adams. Ness is in New York to testify in a racketeering case. Joe Kulak and the syndicate are impatient to round up all the independent bakers for their Untied Bakers Trucking Association. Bull Hanlon, the King of the Boardwalk, has the job.

Ness advises the bakers to stick together against the syndicate. The largest bakery stays out of it, the owner is Hanlon’s target, his partner is killed, then his daughter is threatened.

She is a cooch dancer at Coney Island. “He’s gonna fix it so men won’t look at me again.” Though they are estranged, she pleads with her father to sign and save his life. Ness explains he’ll be killed once the contract is delivered, she tears it up.

Hanlon runs a gym, spars regularly. The baker tears his head off nearly, a gunman wounds him. Ness enters, Hanlon offers a deal, a plea on extortion charges, nothing on Adams’ murder. “Go see the DA,” says Ness, “his office opens at 9AM sharp.”

Hanlon, having failed, is fished out of Gowanus Canal the next night.


The Ginnie Littlesmith Story
The Untouchables

Virginia Littlesmith is the niece of a white slaver, he runs a soup kitchen as a front, it’s festooned inside with two large photographic portraits, one of President Hoover and one of himself. Agent Rossi is undercover as a bum.

It’s Spring in 1932, the word at the soup kitchen is Hoover’s a scapegoat, Capt. Johnson thinks he’ll be nominated again but won’t be re-elected.

Ness and the squad raid the place but suffer “a major defeat”, the books are missing, the proprietor had been in business with a national vice ring known as the Group, their representative is tipped off and ordered to burn the books, Ginnie receives them as a dying bequest, she is to ask the Group for $100,000.

The Group’s representative kills their partner when he refuses to let the books be burned, Ginnie is a plain, unmarried girl with a fortune in the offing.

The Group offers $500 and her life, the representative has a plan to split $200,000 and escape to Mexico together.

Ginnie’s sister is getting married back home, the bridesmaid is loaned a devil’s-eye sequin dress that seems to overpower her. Her lover works for a gangster’s daughter, the spokeswoman for the Group, he has orders to kill Ginnie.

The dream of romance comes to nothing, he dies in a shootout with another gunman working for his boss. The books are burned at last but rescued by Ness for evidence in court.

The desk clerk at Ginnie’s apartment hotel is heard to opine that “Roosevelt is an aristocrat” not with the people.


The Chess Game
The Untouchables

The opposing player is blind, loves chess and books (“good exercise for the mind”), owns the Marblehead Seafood & Ice Co. in Boston, ships champagne from Nova Scotia across the country in company reefers.

His pawn, the salesman, goes badly awry, a hundred thousand dollars in debt to a bookie, caught in a raid at The Silver Canary in Chicago, swankiest spot in town. He makes a deal for ersatz fizz, confronts the owner, dies under a block of ice. His killer knows the plant is watched, steps outside and calls, “Mr. Ness?”

The salesman did everything, Ness knows better, “there are no stalemates in life, sooner or later somebody wins.It’s an election year, Prohibition is out, narcotics are in. Champagne is to go out under his nose.

It’s shipped as ice in blocks. The blind man slips in a puddle of thaw, falls through a lumber railing.


He’s Alive
The Twilight Zone

A prime analysis of Rossen’s All the King’s Men, taking apart the mechanism so homely in the film to show the exact working of the parts, and give a name and face to the personage in question.


The Twilight Zone

“A raid on the inarticulate.”

A German society dating not from 1935 but 1953, devoted to silence and mind-reading.

The picture of a sailing ship that moves comes from “Perchance to Dream” (dir. Florey).

Matheson’s complicated teleplay covers a range of territory from Penn’s The Miracle Worker to Herzog’s Invincible.



Cool Hand Luke

The first escape depends on Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 and gives the theme as the conversion of the traitor.

The absolute structure is Ford and LeRoy’s Mister Roberts (or Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity), to which is applied a thoroughgoing overhaul and analysis as Christian allegory (Dali’s Corpus Hypercubicus is quoted, Moses and Aaron turning staffs into serpents, etc.), right down to its simple division of color into earth tones (grading into ruddy and yellow highlights) and blues. Rosenberg removes the mickey from this by studiously avoiding æstheticism, which is equated with emotionalism and identified with the comforts of “spiritual” music (he zooms in on Dean Stanton’s singing mouth and tilts down to a close-up of his guitar filling the screen for a moment like the zither of Reed’s The Third Man’s) as distinct from the effectual workings of the spirit, which “moves where it listeth.”

If you imagine Robert Bresson directing this, you will appreciate Rosenberg’s technique, which marshals a cast of sharp actors to dissipate the difficulties, where Bresson might have built up from amateurs (the last shot of Resnais’ L’Amour à Mort is founded on the climax of this film). The very first frames appear in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also echoes the entire opening sequence: red VIOLATION sign on parking meter filling the screen, Luke and the meters, credits, the chain gang, red SLOW DOWN MEN AT WORK sign raised left, grate of prison truck seen left, Boss Godfrey’s legs seen right, ending on his glasses filling the screen, interspersed with shots of the open road.

The three escapes culminate in the epiphany (from D.H. Lawrence’s commentary on Richard Henry Dana) of “failure to communicate,” and the keynote of the whole film is Auden’s “In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise.”

Half of this is having the technical resources to pull off little gems like closing the door on the camera “in the box” and effortlessly tilting up to the bare light bulb and the grilled window, and the other half is the speed obtained by simplifying the color scheme so that disparate elements don’t jar the eye, making the editing rapid and uniform.

The famous road-tarring sequence (with reference to Vidor’s Our Daily Bread) inspires Lalo Schifrin to mount a rhythmic introduction that just states its theme when the job is finished.


The April Fools

New York, “the Paris of the Western world”, or, How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen the farm?

The succinct utterance of Dresner’s screenplay is matched by Rosenberg’s filming. This is a Goodbye to All That of Robert Graves, or, if you like, a Miracolo a Milano (dir. Vittorio De Sica).

Deneuve is plain as milk at first, her beauty comes to the fore with Lemmon in a tête-à-tête, like Josette Day in La Belle et la bête.

Lemmon is like Grünewald’s St. Anthony, harried and pillaged by the nightmare but undefeated.

Rosenberg has it all worked out down to the last cut, which accounts for the “passivity” noted by Deneuve on the set, and the terrible speed with which every term is pronounced irrevocably in images like the moneyed art collector’s consecrated pedestal surmounted after all with its proper adornment, a stuffed toy representing a frog and no prince.

It’s no go the private club, no go the disco. Home is an endless string of redecorations, the boss lives where God lives, if He exists (and fosters a hockey team as the next public craze, “twelve angry men... the violence of the age”).

The brilliance of the thing is from Shaw, it’s not that Lemmon and Deneuve are so clever, but that everyone else is so stupid, the point is proven in countless ways.

Peter Lawford as Deneuve’s husband and Lemmon’s boss has one of those opportunities for exact deployment of comic abilities no actor of his caliber could miss, he says it all. Jack Weston as Lemmon’s friend and lawyer is the drinking man as mirror up to natural.

Harvey Korman has a virtuoso turn on the commuter train that Kael admired alone among the performances and everything else, which reminds you of Lenny Bruce testing his autobiography on a streetwalker.

The succor of the past comes when the sun is down, the moon rises, Charles Boyer denounces the busy town like Baudelaire, and Myrna Loy reads a fortune.

The world plays its jokes, l’amour c’est la mort, nevertheless the jet in the final shot is what it usually is in films, a symbol of civilization’s highest expression.



New York is so small that all the metaphor a writer needs for a better life than walking people’s dogs for them and writing bullshit is a change of apartments, it’s only a few blocks but it entails a moving company.

Roger Greenspun’s touching disappointment in the New York Times all came from his fantasy that this was really cute stuff about hauling your ass from one building to another.



The game of politics. In this particular round it’s a neocon (“New Patriotism”) movement centered on a radio station in New Orleans. A bleeding-heart stumbles into it and precipitates the disaster “like decorations in a nigger cemetery”, or more properly, Potter’s Field.

Hopes are hung high, hookers’ hopes, suspended thus when the house of cards falls.

This brilliant, truculent satire for the edification of those not in the know can only be counted a failure if you consider the critics.

Twain on a train describes two salesmen each extolling his butter substitute that never came from a cow. That’s American humor, “a fat old lady on her way to the World’s Fair.”


Pocket Money

Somebody should have noticed that this is the story of Orson Welles in South America (Paul Newman plays a cowpoke named Jim Kane, the climax suggests the famous hullaballoo in Welles’ Rio apartment), magnified or diminished into a tale of cowboys in Mexico, and stylistically treated in a way that reflects It’s All True in its “abrupt transitions” owing to lacunæ, as described to wounding effect by those who have seen it.

You may count upon it, if a critic has not understood a film in fifteen minutes, his mind will go out to the lobby and buy popcorn. Rosenberg begins with a rhythmless montage among the credits, setting the scene, then breaks his tempo elliptically in cuts and dissolves. This accounts for the generally blank response from reviewers, who were left without the spaciousness and precision of Cool Hand Luke, without knowing why.

Much is accomplished, scudding across the waves of the editing. It might be Ritt’s Hud later on, adjoining a modern city where the cowboys wear their hats pristine and blocked, and get their shoes shined. The elements of the plot were accelerated and spoofed in Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit. Strother Martin, in an amazingly refined performance (cp. his lawyer in Hathaway’s True Grit), hires Newman to run some cattle up from Mexico. Lee Marvin, wearing a somewhat raffish suit and tie with a city hat (he adds black leather gloves while driving, and puts on chaps to ride herd), is brought into the deal south of the border. It doesn’t work out, they’re stiffed for the money, Newman throws a television set from Martin’s balcony (the poet Reyes is said to have joined Welles in the affair).

First Artists had an auspicious beginning, even if nobody noticed. A couple of times, Rosenberg fleshes out the picture with some Wellesian virtuosity. The drive-in restaurant scene, with a continuous pan that starts and stops and wheels around in a tricky maneuver, is one such instance. The fight at Marvin’s hotel is another. The camera dollies in behind Newman and Marvin as they enter the atrium or patio, it stops to record the scene as a long shot, Rosenberg cuts just past the action to a close shot, repeats the general structure.

He gives a picture of a modern Mexican town, where something like a buckboard passes by the familiar bank branch down the street from the whitewashed church. A remarkable low wide pan follows a line of cattle driven through a village. A pause along the way is a Déjeuner sur l’Herbe with livestock in the background. The creek and campfire at night incidentally suggest Capra’s Meet John Doe.

The dislocating rhythm sets off the jostling cattle cars to great effect, and also gives surprising acuity to Newman exiting through a door in the background, from which he hastily emerges in the reverse shot and stops short facing his quarry in the foreground.

Newman first meets Marvin when the latter is asleep in bed, a scene anticipating George Roy Hill’s The Sting. Marvin’s performance moves between Silverstein’s Cat Ballou and Boorman’s Point Blank like a violinist playing variations. The subtlety, depth and authenticity of all the performances has also, unfortunately, escaped notice.

Just before the end, the two cowpokes share a bottle by a fountain in a park at night, among people sitting on benches regarding them or not. It’s like the opening of Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, an offhand allusion, then they get up and saunter off to the depot, up an allée to the last daylight exterior by the railroad tracks.


The Laughing Policeman

A fag in high places wipes clean his tail over a murder beef involving “a high-class hooker”, these are the elements of the social war.

Rosenberg makes it visible, cp. The Sleeping Car Murder (dir. Costa-Gavras).

“Too complex by half,” said Halliwell, but it kept A.H. Weiler of the New York Times awake, though Time Out Film Guide dozed.


The Drowning Pool

“A sanctuary for birds” on “oil-rich tidelands” nearly all in the pocket of “a slant-driller by instinct” (cf. Nicholson’s The Two Jakes) who “kicked back to a lotta lawmakers” for them.

A film of geological proportions relative to Smight’s Harper, a one-week affair six years past in a seventeen-year marriage coæval with another longstanding affair that has produced a daughter.

The Big Sleep has nothing on this for complexity, and even bears a certain resemblance.

A trailer-park hooker gets the oilman’s account book. Lew Harper suggests she send it to “the biggest newspaper in New Orleans”, all he gets is bare expense money.

The title refers to the Evangeline Sanitarium, bought by the oilman and closed down for spite, among other things.

Critics have been almost uniformly apathetic. Ebert, who describes Pocket Money as “a real bomb”, says the beautiful cinematographic practice deployed by Gordon Willis actually diminishes the effect of the beautiful analysis deployed by Wynn & Semple & Hill from the author, or some such nonsense.

A.H. Weiler of the New York Times (who describes Harper as “engrossing”), “a lackluster workout... a convoluted caper... generates action rather than character and surface mystery rather than meaning... under Stuart Rosenberg's muscular but pedestrian direction... emerge as odd types and not as fully fleshed, persuasive individuals... a mildly interesting diversion.Variety, “stylish, improbable, entertaining, superficial, well cast, and totally synthetic. Stuart Rosenberg’s direction is functional and unexciting.” Molly Haskell (Village Voice), “there is a breach of character logic and a shifting of perspective”. Don Druker (Chicago Reader), “an interminable drag.” Time Out, “this type of film”. TV Guide, “synthetic, forced”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dreary”.

A First Artists picture.


Voyage of the Damned

A plan by Goebbels (cf. Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy).

The St. Louis sails for Havana to be turned back, the Cuban press has been bribed by the Germans to raise opposition. It carries a spy who is to pick up documents on American sonar (Nazi cells in the U.S. have been broken up), an intelligence coup and a propaganda victory.

The Nazi agent Schiendick, operating under personal orders from Admiral Canaris, is simply confused and bungling, a little party rabble-rouser who ought to be undercover, Nazi lunacy running counter to sense, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Preminger’s Exodus has the ship in harbor, Clément’s Paris brûle-t-il? the business with government officials (Welles again here).

The irony of the situation is a hidden quotient, in the midst of life the passengers are in death, an absolute political question governs their fate, not even tempered by business considerations in Havana, where the official in charge of immigration recognizes a “gold mine” and the price of visas is skyrocketing (the Foreign Minister obtains two by threatening this official with prison).

The Hamburg-Amerika Linie supplies a blue light globe for the scene of the lovers on deck while the orchestra plays “Blue Moon” at the masked ball. Then there is “Wien, Wien, nur du allein”, a lament for the city in this sense, the passengers remove their masks and Schiendick observes their emotion over Germany, as he calls it, a year after the Anschluß.

“Poorly devised,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “not enough central plot,” which is the curious point. Similarly The New Yorker (cited by Halliwell), “not a single moment carries any conviction,” and Charles Champlin likewise in the Los Angeles Times, “surprisingly distanced and impersonal.”

So it is essentially absurd, like the cattle cars in Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, though the food is very good and one might see the Azores go by during the voyage.

Gangs of uniformed Nazis roam the streets, one passenger is beaten bloody on his way to the pier, Schiendick organizes some of the crew that way.

The “lever of love” is applied to the captain at a crucial juncture, he has a family back home. The man from the Jewish Relief Agency finally engineers a four-power agreement to land the passengers at Antwerp, this is very shortly before the start of World War II, as an end title indicates.

The incongruity of the setting aboard a luxury liner mystified the critics. As a propaganda exercise, the plan is akin to Theresienstadt. Kramer’s Ship of Fools is often cited in reviews, here is Oskar Werner raised to the professorate (the actors credited below the title would fill a dozen films, this is considered a fault by Halliwell, “too many stars”, and has a cramped, constricting effect that suits the matter). The whole point being, it looks like something else, “humanitarian”.

So even Goebbels’ plan is not the “central plot”, but the death warrants issued for all the passengers on board, while the nonsensical ploy goes on and on, with attendant machinations.

The last resort in Havana is the daughter of passengers, she wears a cross and works in a bordello frequented by the lofty, Canby notes that Katharine Ross doesn’t look the part, which is precisely the effect.

The senior Abwehr operative in the Caribbean has the credentials of a journalist for Der Stürmer, his cover identity.

That Cuban immigration official keeps a stack of visa papers in his desk drawer under a revolver and beside a deck of playing cards.

The film was generally derided in reviews, Canby (New York Times) especially exerted himself to the utmost (Lester’s Juggernaut is a much better critique).

“A sluggish melodrama” (Variety).

“Confuses seriousness with tedious solemnity” (Time Out Film Guide).


Love and Bullets

The stuttering mobster and his doll-wife, the mob wants her dead for knowing too much, he relents and hires an assassin.

The FBI sends a police detective to bring her back from Switzerland to testify.

The key is the deflection from Fleischer’s Narrow Margin to Cukor’s Born Yesterday, the point is that the doll is dead when all is said and done, the ending nonetheless is the same as that of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.

That was too much for critics, Rosenberg’s films usually are. They derided every aspect of it and blamed him for not making it plain to them.


The Amityville Horror

This very quickly and consistently establishes itself on the foundation of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, from the loose staircase ornament to the missing $1500, George’s irritability (and the dog, Harry), etc. This is the secret of its otherwise unaccountable horror, a rhythmic interplay of a familiar theme with an indefinite counterpoint.

There is the suggestion of Frost (“The Witch of Coös” or “A Servant to Servants”), and George’s rebuke of the caterer strongly echoes in a very strange and remote way Fredric March’s celebrated banquet speech in Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, though the connection is undemonstrable, perhaps. Even Jane Eyre’s terrible formulation is brought into play, if only for a frisson.

In spite of recent criticism, to speak loosely of very loose writing, The Amityville Horror is very frightening indeed, though perhaps it must be said that only those alive to its nuances will feel its brunt. Let that stand for a critique.



A state penitentiary “much like America herself.”

Rosenberg’s second version of Cool Hand Luke, the most effective commentary on that film in all its aspects, and effectively a maranatha with reprise after the gospel that is preached thereabouts.

The major reviews are interesting and revealing documents in themselves (Variety, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Halliwell’s Film Guide, Time Out Film Guide), “slut-bellied obstructionists”.


The Pope of Greenwich Village

The setup is by way of De Sica’s Sciuscià, the mechanism is certainly similar to Siegel’s Charley Varrick, and this gives what Halliwell’s Film Guide and Time Out Film Guide considered a remake of Scorsese’s Mean Streets, which it partly is, more properly an analysis.

Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times had no idea what the hell it was.

Eric Roberts’ cultivated resemblance to Michelangelo’s David in this part is a regular source of amusement. Mickey Rourke is the other mook, Darryl Hannah his blonde girlfriend, Burt Young the brutal mobster known as Bedbug, and the cast list goes on.

There’s something a bit like Lumet’s New York in this particular view of familial Italian crooks and crooked Irish cops and the rest of it.


Let’s Get Harry

The director removed his name from the credits but in vain, every frame (except perhaps the last few hundred) bears the stamp of Stuart Rosenberg, and even more, the distinct thematic resemblance to Pocket Money that indicates a remake. And the irony is, clarifying that recondite masterpiece as a comedy action feature did not improve its intelligibility among critics, for whom a thing cannot be made too simple.

But the irony doesn’t stop there. If the ideal theme of Pocket Money is Orson Welles in Rio, Let’s Get Harry is a version of the theme signed in the event by Alan Smithee, which just might be Rosenberg’s last word on the subject, in a manner of speaking.

Since this is undoubtedly a masterpiece (and Rosenberg’s joke is no laughing matter, considering l’affaire Leone at the time) of the highest order, a precise balancing of buffoons and heroics, filmed with the utmost skill, it’s a question of why it has excited so much wrath and disdain, for which there is no justification whatsoever. As Thomas Banacek says, “I don’t treat paranoia,” however, and the simple fact is that here you have another great director who passed the bounds of respectable filmmaking for a style more expressive, as many directors before and since have done, only to find himself not understood at all and vilified shamelessly for it, also in vain.

The significant point at hand is that a determination must be made of the reason for an unsigned picture. In the meantime, this is Alan Smithee’s masterpiece.