Wild in the Streets

A totalitarian regime, Arthur Miller’s “tyranny of complaint”, seen as any other popular rage.

The very specific joke at the end suggests a lower hell beyond the known, Hitler was “too Jewish”.

A masterful satire, a great work of art seen by critics ever since as a spoof on pop singers.


Hawaii Five-O: King Kamehameha Blues

This is all filmed with great ability at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum as the centerpoint, where the “extremely old, extremely fragile” Cloak of King Kamehameha is exhibited once a year. It’s woven of feathers from birds now extinct, in an art now lost.

Students from the university filch it à la Topkapi and don’t know what to do with it. “Take a table,” says Lenny in The Homecoming, posing a philosophical problem to his academic brother back from America, “once you’ve taken it, what are you going to do with it?” Teddy, another brother, suggests, “chop it up for firewood,” to laughter from Lenny.

McGarrett rescues the priceless object.


The Sixth Sense: The Heart That Wouldn’t Stay Buried

For once, Anthony Lawrence avails himself of a resource indicated by his earlier work and that of others, to settle his work on a fully-functioning analytical or symbolic substructure, and this is what is meant by the title.

It has another meaning, because the work has a visible superstructure on a Shakespearean model describing a conflict of succession, which is distinguished by outlining its “fields of force” as psychic phenomena.

The son of “a very famous neurosurgeon” is engaged to “a young woman with an obsession for the psychic world”, the father breaks it off, the son pines away with strange symptoms and has “a complete breakdown” while his stepmother is in Europe. The father puts him away in a sanatorium to recover, and gives out that he is dead.

The father himself now acquires the symptoms, pain, nightmarish visions, a growth in the brain that isn’t there, and physical deterioration so severe he gives up his practice and takes to a wheelchair in his room.

His other son, by his later wife, calls in Dr. Rhodes, who is given a premonitory vision of the case by the fiancée in the opening scene. She enters the lecture hall and places an object on his table, he picks it up for a demonstration (it is a scalpel) and receives impressions from it, a rose, a vase, a ring, a hand clutching a sheet, a pair of glasses, a man being strangled in bed.

When they are introduced, he recognizes the neurosurgeon. The dead son appears, pursuing him Dr. Rhodes falls headlong into a giant spider’s web and is about to be eaten, this vision causes him to pass out on the floor. The fleeing son wanders the house and is attacked by the bronze statue of a bird with outspread wings, he recoils into a full-length wall mirror, smashing it, and falls dead to the floor.

The father blames himself, the girl, and his wife for trying to gain her son a greater inheritance. Railing, he falls unconscious.

In his hospital bed, he reveals to Dr. Rhodes a curious saying of his late son’s at the sanatorium, it sounds like the letters Q and F, as a two-syllable word, not initials.

In his library, Dr. Rhodes determines this is the Hebrew letter queph, said to symbolize “a man’s primitive instinctual level, powerful, ruthless, animalistic drives” thought by Freud to be “transmitted telepathically”.

This book, Freud, ESP and Mystical Traditions, is also in the late son’s library, the bird statue topples onto Dr. Rhodes, sending him on a fall down the stairs.

He is rushed to University Hospital but slips off the gurney to strangle the neurosurgeon, as in the vision. He breaks away, and returns to the house. He accuses the mother of trying to murder him for discovering the secret, she denies it. The son’s copy of the book is in the fireplace, burning. He snatches it out, receives impressions. The room shakes violently, as in an earthquake, the chandelier crashes down to the floor, he falls over, unconscious. When he wakes, the chandelier is hanging overhead, the fireplace is lit, all is as before.

He confronts the other son with “the killing instinct” who “tried to fill my mind with fear”. The room is suddenly ablaze, Dr. Rhodes is unconcerned. “Your animal instincts fear the fire more than I do.” The son flees, the fire vanishes.

“It was all for you,” the son tells the fiancée, “my father tried to drive you away.” His mother walks toward him, he backs away and falls through the stained-glass window of a white bird with outspread wings, to the ground below.

The entire substructure is identified by the characters’ names first of all. The fiancée is Jordana Theland, that is, the land beyond Jordan or the promised land. The brother who loves her is Joseph, the other is David, the mother is Marion (=Miriam), the father is Philip (brother of Herod) but identified with Saul, and they can be arranged as two intersecting triangles Joseph-Philip-David and Jordan-Rhodes-Marion (Dr. Rhodes’ psychic receptivity is a feminine attribute).


Across 110th Street

Shear’s perfection of technique is a sequence of pictures that speak volumes.

The drama is made of many misunderstandings in another kind of sequence, not a gang war but a heist by shlemiels.

The screenplay has any direction in which to look, all directions, as very small snippets of observation. It is dramatically true, artistically correct, abundantly well-filmed, and tossed out as rubbish by Roger Greenspun of the New York Times.

The multiplicity of viewpoints brought to bear on every character is especially striking. Good or bad, the faces they present are cumulatively facets, to be assembled in the spectator’s mind as a representation.


The Deadly Trackers

Shear’s diligent skills are the supervenient factor in this Borgesian work, which is one of several at the time treating similar material (Santee, The Revengers) and similarly cast down by critics and the public incomprehensibly.

Criticism was not then at the nadir we know today, but was well on its way. The New Yorker shortly called The Deadly Trackers “incoherent,” and Halliwell’s Film & Video Guide has used the word “ludicrous” (these two terms respectively apply to these publications, as far as criticism goes).

Shear opens with a sequence of stills, which do not represent scenes from the film about to be played (as has been suggested) but a shorthand exposition of events preceding it. There is a possibility that the film was shortened in post-production, but a crucial scene later on explains the usage in any event (in a Mexican village, Richard Harris is about to be hanged, a POV shot of the furious villagers freezes and the screen goes dark as he blacks out). The theme is vengeance, the stills are seen as it were in memory (or imagination).

The opening scene is definitely modeled on the opening of The Wild Bunch. Rod Taylor’s gang rob the bank, commit several vile and unnecessary murders, and are brought to bay by the sheriff (Harris) and his very efficient deputies for the nonce, the townspeople, who quickly take arms from a locked red chest in front of his office. Taylor holes up in a school and takes a small boy hostage, the sheriff’s son (who is seen in the stills sequence learning to rope a calf under his father’s supervision). Harris and his men lay down their guns, the villains ride out, but the boy’s mother hangs onto Taylor’s horse in desperation and he shoots her down (blood spatters on the POV lens) before dropping the boy, who is trampled under the gang’s horses in a close shot.

The minute preparations of this scene allow Harris now to receive all this as an irreality, while he bends over one body and looks at a group of men surrounding the other. In the rest of the film, he hunts the gang down, there is no incoherence.

On the contrary, Shear is a very remarkably clear-thinking director in all respects. Having stood The Wild Bunch on end (one of the gang, William Smith, is so depraved he cannot stop from killing even with the sheriff and his men standing a few feet away, guns leveled), he gives a flavor of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the pursuit, naturally. This apposite use of precedents is seen throughout, as well as a very characteristic turn applied to them, or an odd echo.

For example, the gang shoot a Mexican lawman (Al Lettieri) off his horse, he tumbles over a cliff and into a ravine in a most impressive stunt exactly filmed (and perhaps recalling One-Eyed Jacks, pointedly). Later, Harris sees him there from the precipice, but coldly rides on, ignoring his pleas for help. This strangely resembles the end of Nevada Smith, then he changes his mind and goes back. Again, in the last scene of the film, this same Mexican lawman arrests Harris, who heedlessly rides off at a slow pace with the lawman’s gun aimed at his back—the last scene of Harper, with a different conclusion.

Shear’s profound ability is evident in the development by careful modulations of the acting, which entails a breathtaking reduction of Neville Brand (whose character has a foot-long piece of train rail where his right hand used to be) and Paul Benjamin to reserved positions, but everything is tightly controlled. Large-scale constructions do not faze him, but exhibit these same characteristics, notably in the hanging scene. Harris rides into the village street to water his horse at a fountain. This is seen by the camera in a 45° (or, to be more precise, 135°) tracking shot away from him, shooting through the stalls of various goods on sale along the arcade facing the street (a shot rendering accounts with Furie’s The Appaloosa). A close shot of Harris, a squared-off conclusion of the tracking shot now at 180° from the end of the street and motionless, a low angle of a second-story balcony with a man holding a noose and another man with a bugle, the signal is given, the villagers rush upon Harris en masse and assail him in a low-angle POV shot, the tracking shot recommences as they drag him down the street to a bloodied parley with Taylor (who has them under his sway), then resumes parallel to the action and at a distance as they drag Harris through a graveyard to the façade of the church and string him up, as described. The effect is essentially close to Emilio Fernandez, as Gabriel Torres’ cinematography is akin to Figueroa’s. This, with some details omitted, is what you may call a centerpiece.

Harris stalks Brand in a ruined basilica. A small detail like a bat scuttling across the paving stones in daylight past Harris’s feet (and unnoticed by him) has its structural purpose, aside from helping to somehow suggest the scene of the harpies in Jason and the Argonauts. Later, Harris is blinded by a gunflash (his Wild Bill Hickok locks suggest the blinded Milton), but Lettieri tests his vision by placing a scorpion in his water cup (St. John of Patmos—the whole scene is played with Lettieri on foot leading Harris and a woman on the horse, like a Flight into Egypt). Shear indicates the eyesight of the man in shot/reverse shot, extreme close-up of the eyes vs. the field of vision, all refracted exactly as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The handheld POV is a supple resource adroitly used.

Harris bursts into a bar and kills Benjamin outright, then manhandles a woman for information. It’s an outrageous scene, plain brigandry, but the conclusion tops this as Harris, wearing a red headband, plain shirt and black trousers, pistol belt and rifle, attacks a convent like a savage where Taylor has gone to visit his own little daughter (Taylor all but weeps at the sight of her, in the universal sign of humanity). Harris takes the girl hostage, then thinks better of it and brings Taylor on the end of a rope to Lettieri, who is obliged to release him (Taylor’s predicament as his girl is held can be read on his face, whereas Harris earlier had been forced to remain calm).

A thousand details, nuances and precisions attend the thing (vide Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “A Quality of Mercy”). One of them is a tilt-and-pan POV as Harris spies the gang down in a broad gulch and prepares to take aim. The shot occurs twice, undramatically, and both times catches the peculiar quiet of such a view, without adornment or emphasis.

It seems worthwhile but unnecessary to point out, all things being equal, that Harris’s involvement in particular is a decisive creative factor, as this is an aspect of a theme he cultivated in several films in the period. Taylor at one point (an earlier bar scene with Benjamin) has the rare faculty of becoming another person (his technique is as solid and deep as anyone’s).


McCloud: Butch Cassidy Rides Again

The NYPD demonstrates a bank robbery on live closed-circuit TV, and is bushwhacked by a gang of antiquated outlaws.

The purpose of the demonstration is to educate bank officials nationwide and the press on the proper way to behave during a robbery, and also show a masterful police response. McCloud does the deed, abetted by Sgt. Broadhurst in the getaway van.

This exemplary script is very closely related to Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain, and is in some ways an archetypal McCloud episode. Shear does all he can, going flat out, and gets some New York shots early on like a deep breath before the dense script and complicated action demand his energies.

The two main themes are computers and nostalgia, with a vital theme of journalism (print and television) in counterpoint.

It isn’t “the road that he’s traveled, but the trail up ahead” that ought to concern a man, says McCloud in one of those aphorisms which Chief Clifford here calls “hickory-smoked scriptures.”

Two wrong uses of the computer are shown: statistical dreams and preprogrammed alibis, but McCloud is wise to them. “Programmed—that’s computer talk, I picked it up in New York—seems like you can program people and things to think anything you want them to think.” He uses the Brinkman Security computer for information, and solves the case.

There’s an interesting side note, among many, of the “give and take” of privacy and security.

McCloud’s girlfriend Geri is a columnist, and has an enchanting fight in her apartment with Samantha Johnson, a television reporter, over a false lead.

“You can’t stop an armored car with a shotgun,” observes McCloud. No, says the leader of the gang, surprise is what you need, “something so outlandish they put their guard down” in a moment of hesitation.

The detail work is quite extensive and well thought out. For example, the gang’s van belongs to “Harvey’s Electric Construction Co.”


McCloud: The Barefoot Girls of Bleecker Street

McCloud helps a runaway and her baby, amidst a curious stolen property investigation.

The script conceives a single, complicated apparatus stemming from the opening scene. McCloud is on harbor duty when he spots a group of men loading boxes into a truck on an abandoned pier. After a shootout in which one of the men is killed, further investigation reveals a boatload of color television sets bought and paid for individually with numerous credit cards not reported stolen.

It evolves that a cocaine dealer (Bill Fletcher) is financing the biggest deal in New York history by selling off merchandise bought with credit cards stolen from out-of-town businessmen by underage girls in the employ of Greenwich Village nightclub owner Thelma, who is a health nut.

In this vast development of the badger game, Shaw has more than one trick up his sleeve (the band at Thelma’s are undercover Feds; Eve left her Minnesota home in fear of her life after seeing the sheriff filch some loot), but the visionary quality is the main effort.

Shear’s beautifully geometric compositions translate the complications of plot efficiently into a versatility of color and line.

Shelley Winters was nominated for an Emmy.