Guilty by Suspicion
This is not really a history of the blacklist but an attempt to dramatize its meaning, because we seem to live in an age of unconscious derivations of it that must be brought to light.
In England they have banned fox-hunting and installed a million surveillance cameras. Persecution is the blind sport of every day, and the stuff of various hierarchies and stratagems as insubstantial as the breeze.
David Merrill (Robert De Niro) is denied work and ostracized on the allegation he is a Communist. On the set of a film that looks like High Noon and isn’t, he is given a break and sets up a shot before a studio executive relieves him, because someone said he was a Communist.
The atmosphere of terror in Merrill’s circle (which now excludes him) is remarkably similar to scenes in All the President’s Men where the reporters try to interview people within range of the conspiracy. Winkler also conveys postwar prosperity in a shot of the rooftop sign of the “Million Dollar Hotel Rosslyn” in Los Angeles, tilting down to a gun shop signboard in the shape of a pistol filling the screen.
This is the larger sense in which Winkler alludes to people and their beliefs, under the rubric of freedom from fear, equal justice under the law, American principles and beliefs and sound ones in general.
Night and the City is a work of genius, and I can say this without any reservations at all because it stopped the gobs of not one but two reviewers for The Washington Post. A real Heckle and Jeckle gobstopper.
Everyone in this film does the best work you can find along a narrow path that concentrates it very effectively, and that includes Winkler’s direction. The impression is created of strength in reserve, while at the same time a certain driving intensity in each part fits together to make a harrowing movie. It’s Winkler’s technique, uncommonly good, that carries the flow of events and lets each part operate with maximum freedom.
Above all, this is noticeable in Alan King’s performance. He is a good actor, going back to Bye Bye Braverman and beyond. He plays a brutal mobster, and with a small amount of makeup on the bridge of his nose gives a brutal countenance to the part.
It’s perfectly measured by Winkler, who is able to use it in close, this face, to carve a scene without violence, or in a receding POV shot to convey emotion.
Generally speaking, Winkler is at great pains to get every detail on film in the right way, and this has tended to balk the critics because that way is not familiar to them, professionally speaking. When De Niro as the shyster turned promoter who wants to bring “people’s boxing” back to New York is crossing the street and talking to himself (as his shadow appears and disappears, replaced by another perpendicular to it) after the disaster which has made him a walking target, his words are a confused babble until they crest in a kind of satori of understanding, and the scene ends. This, as you will see, is an artistic representation. Reviewers like to have everything spelled out for them.
The picture of New York in the Nineties is unmistakably authentic. When this dreamer reaches the end of his dream, he has the comical self-awareness of someone who has done just that, and this, too, the critics couldn’t comprehend. Stylistically, this ending is the punchline of a great joke, or the signature of a work of art.
There’s an Ibsen something in the mysterious prevenience of this fellow’s dreams as they seep out of him and fill the aforetimes unnoticed interstices between things as they are. It’s like The Iceman Cometh in this way, even though structurally it closely recalls The Entertainer.
In short, and without a voluminous critique of its many component parts, a masterpiece.
At First Sight
The town mouse and the country mouse, a tale of visual agnosia. She is an architect the way Allen’s Melinda is an art historian, “at least that’s what I majored in at Brandeis.” He is a blind masseur at a country spa and a New York Rangers fan. They fall in love, she takes him back to town for an operation on his eyeballs.
Nelson’s Charly, Wellman’s The Light That Failed, Russell’s Tommy, Serling’s “Eyes” (Night Gallery), even perhaps Sturges’ The Great Moment, are all grazed in one way or another, and Risi’s Scent of a Woman for the country mouse at home.
The rigorous allegiance to style in its tawdriest form entails a bottom-lined title, sickly piano music and rigidly stereotypical dialogue enlivened fleetingly by intimations such as the secretary’s droll remark upon learning that her boss has met a guy, “Too modern for me.”
The Blind Man “Independents’ Number” (April 1917) has a cartoon cover of a frizzle-mustached man with his nose in the air, he wears a bowler and carries a cane and holds a little dog on a long taut leash. The dog, lowering its head to wink, walks straight ahead, as its master does somewhat more carefully. The blind man has just passed a nude in a wooded landscape, the girl in the picture turns to thumb her nose at him.
A brief reference to Tony Randall’s priest and minister and rabbi on the golf course one day occurs at the beginning.