The Yellow Balloon

The title is a “smashing” item for sixpence to a London lad, the elusive gold to a vicious thief.

As Variety noted, this is derived from Oliver Twist to set the seal on blackmail.

The action begins in Blitzed ruins and ends in an underground station closed since the war.


For Better, For Worse

The comedy of young married life.

Lowly job, one-room flat, furnishings on tick, a very exact rendering of the folks above, the lady who comes in to use the telephone, the two men who handle the furniture, the caretaker’s wife, the man at the plumbing, all the comforts of home (her mum and dad are Eileen Herlie and Cecil Parker).

“Undernourished” is Halliwell’s Film Guide’s tribute.


Yield to the Night

Deathwatch for a woman condemned, she killed the idol of her lover, a suicide.

The mechanics of the waiting are the film, a reprieve from the Home Office is her only hope.

The crime is witnessed by the camera at the start, cold-blooded and deliberate.

It seems to have been taken in various parts of England (Halliwell’s Film Guide, Time Out Film Guide) for a “gloomy” tract on hanging.


Woman in a Dressing Gown

A Cockney wife in Nightingale House yet not herself, too merry with the wireless, burning the food, ironing not done, the flat’s a mess, yet not “a bitch”, he says, only “helpless”.

He’s an overgrown office clerk having an affair with the sexetary.

This is a salutary shock, the wife snaps to at the crisis, all resumes as before.

At the time, this could not be understood, either by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times or Jean-Luc Godard of Arts.

Subsequently, there has been Cassavetes’ A Woman under the Influence.

Crowther thought it was strictly from Chayefsky, Philip French of the Observer that it was not, both panned it.

“Now dated and irritating,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide.

“Brilliant proto-realist kitchen-sink drama”, says Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian.

Time Out Film Guide compares it to Antonioni’s Il deserto rosso and finds it “the more impactful, emotionally believable work.”

The technique has a close affinity with Losey. “Once in love with Amy...”


Ice Cold in Alex

The glass of beer at the Canopus Bar is raised and drunk to the secret celebrant of these mysteries unveiled in a profile closeup of Anthony Quayle at the last with a growth of beard and a resemblance to Ezra Pound that, after the titanic struggles through the desert that have preceded it, marks a debt of gratitude for services to British poetry.


Tiger Bay

A crime passionel in Cardiff between a Polish sailor and his quondam dolly, lately a married sportscaster’s mistress, witnessed by a tomboy of these parts, a most proficient liar, a mine of disinformation.

This is very naturally related to The Yellow Balloon and Crichton’s Hunted, only it’s a little girl, isn’t it, who likes the Pole and frustrates the superintendent’s investigation no end.

It all goes to sea aboard a ship called the Poloma out of Caracas, the girl never gives in but goes overboard, the sailor saves her and is nicked, “a very brave man.”

Notably filmed on location, with careful attention to the actors in telling bits of business such as the sportscaster’s authentic embarrassment in an identification parade before the girl.


No Trees in the Street

Thompson’s sequel to Dead End (dir. William Wyler), an extensive flashback to before the war. How Kennedy Street becomes Somerset St. at length, for the edification of a Postwar urchin.

A great psychological study of youth in the toils of crime, and then “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God” comes into it (cf. Ustinov’s Vice Versa), also “Louie” Carroll.

A better life of crime, the daily privations, the urge to get away.

Critics do not seem to have perceived it. Variety, “played on a violently strident note.” Time Out, “an unremarkable ‘we had it tough’ chronicle from another age.” Britmovie, “ludicrously sentimental”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “artificial and unconvincing”, with the Monthly Film Bulletin’s “crude sensationalism and several moments of unconscious humour” (Halliwell assigns the work to Love on the Dole “dragged up and redigested”).

It will be observed that Mrs. Martin reappears in What a Way to Go!, a great elaboration. “I Passed by Your Window”, her favorite.

The villain’s name is Wilkie. “Kids no bigger than schoolboys running loose with toy-pistols!” And so it comes to murder (cp. Convicts 4, dir. Millard Kaufman). “What’s happening?”

“It’s all right, mate. Siddown. The world’s gone stark raving mad.” The predicament of I Vinti (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni). “You’re a murderer now. You kill old women.”

A great work. HITLER WARNS CZECHS, says Star (cf. Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with an especial memory of Menzies’ Things to Come).


North West Frontier

So much care and attention has been lavished on this film to produce all its many effects and especially the final image of Victoria at the station, it would be a marvel if critics had not noticed some of them at least, and so they have.

The beautiful analysis, superb construction and bravura understanding were rather lost, however, on Howard Thompson of the New York Times, who uttered this fatuity in the course of general praise, “we must insist, though, that one well-placed boulder on the track would have stopped the Victoria—and probably the picture,” there’s gumption for you.

Moslems united against a Hindoo prince, a very small boy transported to safety by the British Army across desert wastes.


I Aim at the Stars
the Wernher von Braun story

He endures childhood errors, youthful limitations, the war and the Nazis, undying hatred from a victim of the Blitz and from his “conscience”, one and the same, to put America’s first satellite into space.

The progress of the film, which tacitly at great removes is from Lang’s Frau im Mond, toy rockets to a proper liftoff.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times dismissed it, “conspicuously fuzzy... poorly written... peculiar emotionalism... sluggish and plot-logged... little in this made-in-England drama to interest or convince anyone... annoying and offensive”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide seconds this.


The Guns of Navarone

“There’s nobody else we can get, in time. If there were, you wouldn’t be here now.”

Criticism has pretty consistently regarded it as a heroic film lacking in real substance yet bedraggled with “philosophical chat” (Halliwell), so exciting is its combination of Hitchcockian suspense and Adventures of Tartu construction that no critic has noticed the exceptional unattractiveness of the roles and the unheroically shocking, seedy, dirty business of the war, which is authentically indicated time and again as a very narrow thing indeed.

The problem is plainly set forth as a matter of command necessity, bleak circumstances and dire propositions that are not by any means a point of certainty.

“The only way to win a war is to be just as nasty as the enemy. One thing that worries me is that we’re liable to wake up one morning and find out we’re even nastier than they are.”

Dimitri Tiomkin is right in the thick of things with a bright inspiration. Compare The Passage for the mountain-climbing metaphor, Taras Bulba for the absolute requirement, Jack Lee’s Circle of Deception for an important ploy (“Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve used up an important human being!”).

As Captain Mallory says, “the side of goodness and civilization.”

The end of a Greek town, “in punishment.” Not to have such scars...

“It’s easy to be brave when you’re free, when you’re with your friends... there was never any chance. You never had any chance. It was hopeless from the beginning.”

A two-edged sword.

Time stands still at the wedding or jumps at a crisis, and at the close runs steadily on.


Cape Fear

The war brought down to its absolute essence, a “shocking degenerate” out for blood.

The transposition is very usefully analyzed by Don Siegel in Dirty Harry and John Schlesinger in Eye for an Eye.

There is no appeasement, “how much do you want?”

The material is significantly reworked in The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.

Critics admired it for its technique but could not see the point. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times reckoned there was “no reason for it but to agitate anguish and a violent, vengeful urge that is offered some animal satisfaction by that murderous fight at the end.”

Variety, “a forthright exercise in cumulative terror... a competent and visually polished entry.”

Time Out Film Guide, “supremely nasty thriller.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “unpleasant and drawn out suspenser”.

An inspired score by Bernard Herrmann is something of a measure.


Taras Bulba

The providence of Daniel at court in the University of Kiev resolves in the Pharaoh’s army at the end, from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

“There’s only one way to keep faith with the Pole, put your faith in your sword, and the sword in the Pole!”

Various aspects of the filming convey a “primitive” usage, on the other hand Thompson’s furious skill is tightly-reined for effects like the early battle against the Turks, and the besiegers of Dubno retreating mere yards out of cannon range.

The city, stricken by plague, where Natalya goes to the stake (“burn the witch!”), is a central point that mirrors Russell’s The Devils from another point of view, and compare Preminger’s The Human Factor, “you are my kind, you are my country, you are my love.”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times could not follow it, “a mishmash of blood-and-thunder fable”.

Neither could Variety, “the battle sequences and, to a lesser extent, the Cossack camp scenes, are the picture’s greatest assets.”

Nor Halliwell’s Film Guide, “plenty of spectacular highlights.”


Kings of the Sun

The mystery of the Mayans, transported by headlong flight into northern latitudes, for their lives.

An advanced civilization that craves favor with the gods and so practices human sacrifice, a throwback like their wooden swords. The locals wise them up.

Thompson studies Brynner as Black Eagle and finds revelations, Field as Ixchel is all the more recondite.

“Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto this day?”

This is Eye of the Devil, a major theme.

To Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, a “wigwam saga”.

Variety was more professional, seeing “lags and lapses” but good work “filmed entirely in Mexico.”

For Time Out Film Guide, “ambitious, if ludicrous.”

To Halliwell’s Film Guide, “ponderous”.


What a Way to Go!

As will be observed, it opens with the death of Pinky Benson, in Hollywood. His clumsy pallbearers have a hard time getting down the stairs of his all-pink mansion, newly-painted.

He is the last of four husbands “doomed to success and extinction”, as a psychiatrist puts it.

Louisa May Foster Hopper Flint Anderson Benson Crawley, the widow.

Thoreau, “simplify”, a long row to hoe.

“I could see why the management loved it. He didn’t interfere one bit with the sale of food and liquor,” Benson at The Cauliflower Ear, a former pugilist’s steak joint.

“Dr. Stephanson, I think I may be some kind of a witch!”

“Oh-ho-ho-ho, come, come now, Mrs. Benson, this is the nineteenth centu—, er, uh, twentieth century.”

Ineffectual father, money grub of a mother. “There’s no such thing as love,” says the latter on marriage prospects.

“I told him this is a pleasant life...” (Robert Frost)

The way of success is a pipeline tapped into, as the last metaphor has it.

A great masterpiece, with a brilliant script of interlocking sequences on the theme, developed right down to the ground, where it belongs.

Variety and Bosley Crowther detested it, for reasons that should be obvious.

“Big, gaudy, gimmicky”, said the one, “just isn’t droll”, the other.


John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!

Politics makes the strangest bedfellows, “the movie for tonight is Lost Horizon.”

Wrong Way Goldfarb lands his U-2 in Fawzia, a far cry from the U.S.S.R. he was meant to photograph, but not so far as all that, the U.S. wants an Air Force base in Fawzia, the king must be placated.

King Fawz has oil spewing up from the sands around the fresh green football field he’s irrigated to please his son, a student at Notre Dame. The king has solid gold electric trains to play with and a harem to boot, he thinks Henley’s “Invictus” is T.S. Eliot, approvingly.

Jenny Ericson, a human Frigidaire whose nickname is Iceberg and a reporter for Strife magazine, accepts an assignment to go undercover as a harem girl. “Listen, you flaming fink,” she tells her editor, “I’ll get you an angle even Polly Adler hasn’t thought of!”

The prince is cut from the football team (all Irish goes the joke) and returns home, the king demands that Notre Dame play Fawz U. on his turf, and lose, or no base, furthermore Goldfarb (christened Lawrence El Yahudi) and his U-2 will be sent to Moscow, also the king has an appetite for the reporter.

The Secretary of State, Deems Sarajevo, his Middle East man, Miles Whitepaper, the Secretary of Defense, Charles Maginot, the CIA Director, Heinous Overreach, and the head of the United States Information Agency, Stottle Cronkite, are obliged to obtain the desired result, however Father Ryan of South Bend will not be bought, and Sakalakis the football coach will not shave any points.

Notre Dame is defeated by a miracle worthy of its name.

The basic structure, if you will, of a film denounced by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times because it “demeans the prestige of movie humor and, indeed, of the human race,” you expect him to slap everybody involved like The Three Stooges.

Wrong Way and Iceberg discover celestial navigation, or as the State Department’s man in the Middle East says, “what are you doing after the orgy, my little Balkan tinderbox?”


Return from the Ashes

From Dachau, to Paris. The opening scene before the credits is a virtuoso masterpiece summing it all up and showing, it may be suggested, a derivation or influence of Wyler’s The Heiress.

Imperturbability is the great gift, a terrible thing, it characterizes Thulin’s performance except the flashback and the genuine feeling of pity she expresses for the stepdaughter, love for the husband, the horror of their plot doesn’t faze her in the least though it gave some critics many a turn. Impersonate her dead self, give dolly the lolly? Absurd.

Holmes on the improbable and the impossible is strongly suggested, yet that is of no significance whatsoever, in itself. When you have eliminated the possible, whatever remains, however imperturbable, must be the truth.


Eye of the Devil

The title might refer to a bauble worn by Odile, whose name suggests Le Lac des cygnes, a malformed ball-and-hoop sort of thing like a Dalian soft ringed Saturn.

Several films are very strongly reflected, none more than Robert Hamer’s The Scapegoat, much more mysteriously there is Jack Clayton’s The Innocents tending rather toward The Nightcomers (dir. Michael Winner) by way of Camelot (dir. Joshua Logan).

“Cult always kills the man at the center,” says Pierre Boulez.

The tale of Montfaucon père goes into The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (and compare Return from the Ashes). Mel Brooks has the mirror signal in High Anxiety. The fine score anticipates Friedkin’s The Exorcist at the “Festival des 13 Jours” or Joueurs or dancers in Bellenac, “a fortress of heresy” whose festival is a “black mass”.

It is simply explained. “The people of Bellenac issue a command that has to be obeyed... the earth has to have sacrifice, there has to be blood.”

The circle of men around a victim is a formulation favored by Emilio Fernandez in La Malquerida and Un Dorado de Pancho Villa.

“Film has a production history far more interesting than the final cut,” Variety reported.

Halliwell’s Film Guide speaks of “miscast stars, sluggish direction... gloom rather than suspense,” and cites the Monthly Film Bulletin, “constantly hilarious.”

The misunderstanding, if it is one, is described in Capra’s Meet John Doe.

T.S. Eliot was not pleased by Massine’s new choreography of Le Sacre du printemps in 1921. “To me the music seemed very remarkable—but at all events struck me as possessing a quality of modernity which I missed from the ballet which accompanied it... The spirit of the music was modern, and the spirit of the ballet was primitive ceremony. The Vegetation Rite upon which the ballet is founded remained, in spite of the music, a pageant of primitive culture.” An important theme in Thompson, see Kings of the Sun.


Mackenna’s Gold

Its foundation is King Solomon’s Mines, as Thompson himself pointed out later by repeating the final gag of Mackenna’s Gold in his remake, but another important reflection of the theme is incorporated from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

This is a principle of organization already superior to the non sequitur of critics, “an absurd return to the serial yet somehow watchable”, as the phrase goes.

Thompson labors no end to achieve a distinctly artistic view of the American Southwest, his aerial shots at the beginning serve a purpose by setting off the ground views as a different perspective.

Carl Foreman’s screenplay acts of its own accord, entraining its victims of gold fever with a touch of Twain’s Hadleyburg.

The whole thing comes down smash, and there’s an end of sorts, to be sure.

The finale shows a signal influence of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before, and of course Stroheim’s Greed is a mainstay.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times pronounced it “a Western of truly stunning absurdity,” Variety “a standard western,” Time Out Film Guide “deliciously absurd”, Halliwell’s Film Guide “packed with stars and pretensions above its station” (Monthly Film Bulletin, “preposterous”, Judith Crist, “twelve-year-olds of all ages might tolerate it”).


The Chairman

The opening credits, which so impressed Howard Thompson of the New York Times that he felt all the rest of the film did not rise to them, express in fairly simple and direct terms an ally lost after winning the war.

The enzyme that grows food under impossibly adverse conditions will be seen to be The Thoughts of Chairman Mao or The Little Red Book, administered by Red Guards to the peasantry by dint of soldiery.

China under wartime conditions, “class war”. Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture is called into play for the “rich, sick and filthy” West and China before Mao, “the most important person in the history of the human race” or “the chief enemy of the Western world”, forcing the “leap from the tenth century to the twenty-first.”

The Chairman explains, “China will teach the slave three lessons. First, to study. Second, to study how to kill. Third, to kill.” Those who do not subscribe to this view are to wind up upon the “pile of human dung we Chinese keep for the fields.”

The point is not to eliminate the Chairman (cp. Lang’s Man Hunt) but to publish his secret.

The People’s Institute of Molecular Biology resembles nothing so much as a re-education camp and is the scene of a remarkable throwback to the Spanish Inquisition (cf. Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor).

“A quality film,” Variety asseverated. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times saw an “action picture” manqué.

Halliwell’s Film Guide, which gives the British title (The Most Dangerous Man in the World), misses it both ways as “wild Boys’ Own Paper adventure which regrettably slows down in the middle for political philosophizing.”

The complexities of form that express it, and the extraordinary acuity of its perceptions, are pure Thompson. The model is Lang’s Cloak and Dagger.


Brotherly Love

Mirror to a constellation, Morgan—A Suitable Case for Treatment (dir. Karel Reisz), and thus the man of genius, his position amongst things.

Thompson’s most perfect, most brilliant film.

Cf. John Osborne’s play, The World of Paul Slickey.

Country Dance, in UK.

The Chekhovian element is a stolid farm manager. The girl is “wild”, she will have him, or Jock the Bobby at three in the morning.

Canby of the New York Times considered it a case for treatment rather than, say, Les Enfants Terribles (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville), “emotionally dependent” and that sort of thing, “often tumultuous but never terribly affecting,” with “literary dialogue... tasteful... downright platonic... a bit of a bore.”

“Confusing”, Variety found it, also “distasteful” and “whimsically constructed.”

“Quirkily comic melodrama” (Time Out Film Guide). And speaking of “low moral fibre”, O’Toole “gives an outstanding performance”, according to the Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “but the story fails to come alive.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “rambling... tediously fashionable... pallid... barely released.”

Cassavetes treats the theme in Love Streams.

“Would anyone be as real as Douglas Dow?” This is how Herr and Frau Mozart are described, “a couple of tots.”

My bird! Hold back that bloody dog!”

Van Gogh, “just his ear.”

By courtesy of The Entertainer (dir. Tony Richardson), “Montreal! Great doings there,” also Lolita (dir. Stanley Kubrick), “Montreal! A man’s country.”


Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Who’s running the show in Schaffner’s film is painfully obvious, a curious circumstance (space virus brought back by astronaut) renders them pets and slaves, replacing the dog and the cat.

Caesar the talking ape leads a revolt. The work is set ten and twenty years in the future, a long way from the final result.

“There are no chimpanzees in Borneo,” Ape Management dutifully reports.

Waley’s Translations from the Chinese appears by mistake, nearby is The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, a couple of rare volumes in the human tongue.

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey naturally figures in the décor.

“Revolution” is Caesar’s word, “we cannot be free until we have power.”

It ends rather like Eisenstein’s October, in the original cut.

“The end of human civilization... a planet of apes.”

Howard Thompson of the New York Times reported, “yesterday’s audience at the New Embassy cheered the persevering apes and so did I. At ‘em, boys!”

Variety pronounced it “an angry turn”. Time Out Film Guide, “dismally lurid stuff, ham-fistedly directed and low on credibility.”

Halliwell’s 1984 edition describes the films as “in roughly descending order of interest.”


Battle for the Planet of the Apes

“Now let’s have a sequel called ‘Take It Back,’” Howard Thompson said of the previous film, and he was heard. Here Mendez replies, “doesn’t he know that the bomb did that?”

Thus the “forbidden city... contaminated.” Man and his ape masters live in rustication a century or seven centuries on, an existence so tedious it only seems that long, perhaps. Humans still dwell there in the ruins of the city, after a fashion.

Virgil’s rationale of the speed of light is a fine joke.

And thus “Ape City”, the country getaway.

Death of Cornelius, son of Caesar and Lisa (Caesar, an ape of sorrows).

War on the damn dirty apes, a nightmare battle.

A tale as of old from the Lawgiver, an orangutan.

Not so much “limp”, said Variety, as not up to the rest.

“Merciful God, the last of the ape movies,” said Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Incompetently made,” etc.

“Last and worst”, Time Out Film Guide says, “hampered by a banal script” etc.


Huckleberry Finn

The screenplay is whittled down to a nub without explanations, Thompson gives it the ultimate refinement by avoiding emphasis (the settings are plain, accurate and highly artistic in just the same way). This gives one-half the screen treatment, the rest is the songs, a fairly simple expression this time, in the circumstances (nobody here is a genius like Caractacus Potts or Mary Poppins), for Twain’s tremendous satire of the slave-owning states, a terrible imposition.

The gentlefolks’ feud harks deliberately back to Wyler’s The Big Country. Overall, the film is an excellent analysis of Preminger’s Hurry Sundown.

Lawrence Van Gelder of the New York Times regretted all but the King and the Duke, “for half an hour or so, life on the Mississippi seems well worth living.” Time Out Film Guide considers the cinematography the “only distinctive feature”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide cites Michael Billington (Illustrated London News), “bland, boring and tasteless,” also Tom Milne, “a morass of treacle,” and describes the film as “ambitious but lustreless”.


The Reincarnation of Peter Proud

Out of Season (dir. Alan Bridges) premiered later in the year, but the material is not so obscure as some critics suggest (“generates clouds of suspense but no solid solution to the riddle of reincarnation,” vouchsafed A.H. Weiler of the New York Times), The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols) covers the same ground exactly.

The Puritan Hotel on Crystal Lake, later replaced by Crystal Lodge, is an admirable detail that just suggests I Married a Witch (dir. Rene Clair).

Variety complained of a “sudden and unsatisfactory ending” also in the novel.

Time Out Film Guide’s word is “atrocious”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide blames the film for “failing to explain its plot,” and cites Tom Milne to the same effect.


St. Ives

Thompson is fed up with the kitsch view of Hawks’ The Big Sleep, and moves Downtown for his action scenes (his mansion is a Hollywood palace—CaboBlanco follows a similar train of thought, rather than deadheading Casablanca as a Hollywood nostalgia trip).

The great pleasure is in the subtle, dreamlike variants the screenplay presents. That, and the beautiful angle not too far from Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor, played very close to the vest.

There is only one aspect to be considered, as this is a dream (“films really are dreams,” says Dr. Constable) in constant modulation on a single theme, the bribe offered by International Electronics to the Sheik.

The oneiric constant of the screenplay and filming is what left the critics behind, hardly a one had any idea.


The White Buffalo

A nightmare had by Wild Bill Hickok and Chief Crazy Horse, “together or apart.”

The tremendous labor expended by Thompson on this film makes a mockery of Variety’s dismissive, contemptuous review.


The Greek Tycoon

Press conference at the White House, President Kennedy at the podium behind the Seal. A reporter asks a long and involved question about business leaders in the country saying they have the president-elect “where they want him”, what with one thing and another. Kennedy replies in the negative, incredulously.

Not, as scathing critics wrote, exactly a film à clef.

Thompson has Tomasis on the fantail after a disastrous wedding night, one of those twilight shots with the pink sun filling the background on the Aegean, a crewman asks if he can bring something.

“Fuck off,” says Tomasis.


The Passage

A précis of the war, with its central metaphor a mountain in the Pyrenees that must be crossed on the escape route to Spain, and which is identified with an SS captain in pursuit who in turn is identified with Hitler. The film climbs this dizzying outspoken adherent of the New Order and the New Empire, and having achieved him descends into the Basque country and takes its leave.

Vincent Canby abhorred the film, which had too many producers for his taste and liking (one of them is Maurice Binder), and especially the very precise acting, which he scored as “very, very bad”. That means not seeing Michael Lonsdale’s Resistance fighter in the throes, or Marcel Bozzuffi as his colleague, delicately shaded portraits of non-supermen. Or Kay Lenz the scientist’s daughter, Christopher Lee the gypsy, Robert Brown the Wehrmacht major, Paul Clemens the scientist’s son, Rose Alba the madam, Patricia Neal the wife and mother left behind on the mountain, Anthony Quinn the Basque sheepherder, James Mason the scientist who stayed too long, and Robert Rhys the gypsy’s son whose fragmentary scenes, like all the rest, are Thompson’s responsibility. Nothing is accidental, very quick perspectives join and part, but Thompson by this time had ceased to be perceived.

Malcolm McDowell plays the captain as a villain who smiles, he is recognizable as a commonplace politician or similar figure who does not act in secret but openly, “to teach the Resistance a lesson”. The exactitude of this performance, which is sometimes praised but rarely grasped, is what lends it the stature required by the film. All of it is admirable, it kills the madam and Renoudot and Mrs. Bergson and Perea and the guide (Peter Arne as a Frenchman dragged into it), makes the winter climb a fearful, sorry adventure, and rises from the dead ever so briefly to kill all the world (observed by a flock of sheep) in its own imagination.

The important precedents include Dmytryk’s The Mountain, Brahm’s Guest in the House (for the hallucinatory conclusion), and Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction.


where legends are born...

It isn’t coco loco.

“Churches, synagogues, death camps,” the treasure trove of the Reich, “Peru, 1948”.

The house on top of the hill overlooking the seacoast village of Cabo Blanco occupied by one Beckdorff (Jason Robards), “a Nazi who runs very fast” in the terse description given by Giff Hoyt (Charles Bronson), who faces a murder charge in America and owns a hotel in town. HMS Orient Star is in port surveying the Humboldt Current, as understood. Someone blows up the bathysphere and causes a ruckus among the fisherfolk and their corrupt police chief (Fernando Rey), whose inquiry determines an accident has occurred.

The drama, from a story by two authors of Leone’s For a Fistful of Dollars and two Hollywood TV writers, is organized around the arrival of a Frenchwoman (Dominique Sanda) pursuing, she says, the last traces of her Resistance lover, who sent her a hotel postcard. A superimposed title reads, “Her First Day in Cabo Blanco,” with two more to follow.

The script is a marvel, made by avid experts on Huston (Beat the Devil, Key Largo, The Maltese Falcon), Hawks (To Have and Have Not), Curtiz (Casablanca), and Odets (Waiting for Lefty).

Thompson started out making fine little films like The Yellow Balloon that drove the professionally equanimous critic Jean-Luc Godard to distraction. If you like, that was when Thompson decided to become a genius. His last film is as good as anything he ever made, and this one is a masterpiece. After The Guns of Navarone and Brotherly Love, let us say, he reconciled himself as an artist of brilliance with a stiff upper lip, and so created the unique works that have proven largely resistant to what newspapers are pleased to call film criticism.

Jason Robards finds in this character a windfall of inspiration such as not often excites his fancy. Here you see him at or near his true mark. Dominique Sanda is typically kept in close-up for the mysteries of her face (Thompson is so cagey). Fernando Rey (as Claude Rains) and Camilla Sparv (as Claire Trevor) are beyond praise, and Gilbert Roland has a wonderfully subdued bit as the doctor who rails against “El General” and drinks and has to sign phony inquest papers as a result.

William Carlos Williams has a poem, “The Defective Record”...


Happy Birthday to Me

A sendup of the genre by analysis.

Murders at the Crawford Academy.

Galvani’s experiment.Psycho has a very interesting construction and that game with the audience was fascinating. I was directing the viewers. You might say I was playing them, like an organ.”

James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein figures early on in the construction, Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon is mentioned but not seen.

A director of formidable means like Thompson may be allowed to show off, it’s one of Hitchcock’s prerogatives (the “bell chapel” scene perhaps recalls Welles’ The Stranger).

Preminger’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon might be compared for the price of adolescence, on the bridge between childhood and adulthood.

“We’ve got to find a link between your trauma and your friends.” It is “chicken on the bridge” (cf. Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause).

Brian de Palma’s Carrie is also suggested before the end.

“The only person who stands out is Glenn Ford, who has done many far, far better things than what he is doing now,” said Vincent Canby of the New York Times.

Variety described the film as “monumentally stupid.” Halliwell’s Film Guide has “abysmal”.


10 to Midnight

10 to Midnight is “exceedingly well-made,” as Gene Siskel correctly affirmed. It’s laid out on a broad plan that is open-ended and serviceable, the Dragnet model. Over this is Gene Davis’s performance as the killer, which is a close approximation of Norman Bates. The details are carried out with a scrupulous technique paying homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in fast editing, multiple set-ups, and so much exacting precision that only Hitchcock’s storyboards can rival it (George Roy Hill’s film is on the marquee at the Aero Theatre early on, where the killer establishes an alibi then slips out through a window). The strange title describes an angle, as seen on posters where the killer is standing before a clock dial with his left hand pointing straight up at twelve and his right holding a knife at ten, and so is related to North by Northwest.

The stylistic approach is displayed to clear advantage in the hospital cafeteria scene, where a relatively straightforward conversation is articulated by Thompson into a small film all by itself. Much of 10 to Midnight contrasts a psychopathic view of women with a more realistic portrayal as the tenderhearted creatures they are. This is the meaning of the scene in which the girls at the office receive the news of their co-worker’s murder. The younger ones are distraught, and even the older and hardened office manager is grief-stricken. Against this is the pervert with no knowledge of them at all, and his vengeful knife. The young nurse (Lisa Eilbacher) in the cafeteria scene is filmed at the door, smiling (cf. the Surrealist photograph called Versailles, which is simply a snapshot of a young woman standing in a Paris doorway).

The analysis of Ted Bundy, Richard Speck et al., is designed to obviate or clarify insanity (or some other mental or spiritual condition) as a defense. The killer “saps the answer in the palm,” as Pinter has it. Seeking to elude police surveillance, the killer hires a prostitute, gets her drunk, empties the whiskey bottle in the toilet and sets off down the fire escape. In another scene, he tries to open a girl’s bedside table drawer with a knife, kills her (after she enters the apartment without seeing him and starts to cook two fried eggs and toast), returns to the drawer and opens it to find a box marked “My Diary,” which is empty. This scene uses the jalousie motif as he watches her through a shuttered closet door, with a reverse angle to depict the predicament.

Another Pinter allusion is at the first crime scene, where Det. Kessler (Charles Bronson) tweezes up a wad of chewing gum. His partner, Det. McCann (Andrew Stevens) identifies it as his own, and Kessler deposits it in the breast pocket of McCann’s jacket for him. Cp. The Collection,

(JAMES reaches to a bowl of fruit and breaks off a grape, which he eats.)
JAMES: Where shall I put the pips?
BILL: In your wallet.
(JAMES takes out his wallet and deposits the pips. He regards BILL.)

Again, the technique is so rigorous, and in an accelerating tempo, that Thompson employs an important trick of style at a critical juncture. After Det. Kessler plants evidence in a police lab refrigerator and the killer is arrested, Det. McCann confronts his partner in a stairwell outside the courtroom. This could spill the picture into another line of inquiry altogether, but Thompson stops everything to film the scene in the most perfectly conventional of textbook reverse-angle conversational manners. It’s a startling device, because elsewhere he constantly edits on new set-ups (not without the resource of intercutting) in a continuous development. It’s as much as to say that planting evidence shows an utter lack of creativity.

Each of the innumerable telling details is achieved by such cinematic means. Some are particularly touching. The nurse is seen incidentally reflected in a mirror that is hung on the door of the bathroom in which she’s locked herself, and as the killer tries to kick his way through it, the mirror shatters and her reflection is first distorted and then lost. This scene at the end is also filmed in such a way as to bear some little resemblance to Young’s Wait Until Dark.

Among the performers, who are expertly used by Thompson, Wilford Brimley is perhaps especially remarkable for a toned-down rendering of a police captain, subdued and quiet behind his thick owlish glasses and mustache. But all the performances are remarkable.

Like all of Thompson’s later films, 10 to Midnight presents the aspect of a brutally dry cocktail. The very concentrated style bears a great deal of content with bewildering ease, and gives breadth to an artistry that encompasses Polanski’s view of Los Angeles in Chinatown and the films noirs that partly inspired it, with the freedom as well of a contemporary view.


The Evil That Men Do

“‘The reality I've been referring to’, I said, ‘is that of electric current on your genitals,’” and say to the U.S. Ambassador in Ankara did Harold Pinter, on an occasion that probably inspired his double bill Party Time and The New World Order.

“Human rights violations? There is no such thing. There is only the security of the State and those who would undermine that security,” says the Doctor whom Mossad misses in Surinam “by that much.”

Cf. CaboBlanco. The clinic in Mexico City full of the Doctor’s victims naturally recalls The Third Man (dir. Carol Reed). An armed camp, Guatemala, soldiers at the airport. The measure of Thompson’s determination is his deliberate flouting of Carl Reiner’s The Jerk and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train to get his man, whose name is Molloch. “My reward in heaven,” says Dr. Molloch, “will be getting my hands on generations of diplomats—petty bureaucrats!” The reality of Klaus Barbie (Hôtel Terminus, dir. Marcel Ophuls) is very near. Having the enemy by the balls and swinging both ways is the object lesson of the Doctor and his sister, from a great height... He goes so very far, does Thompson, as to name his embassy official Briggs, and then you know where you are. If there is a film that he finds admirable, it’s Huston’s The Mackintosh Man, or Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Doctor is a merd burrito the squeamish have to bite, the most violent of Thompson’s reversals is Smight’s Harper at the close.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “nominally concerns itself with human-rights violations”. Time Out, “muddled and erratic”. TV Guide, “the film does succeed in its primary goal, to provide 90 minutes of fast-moving and fairly exciting action.” Eleanor Mannikka (Rovi), “slick, formulaic”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “turgid and unpleasant”.

The peculiar flexibility of Thompson’s bow, attained in some fearsome escapades that none of the critics appear to have perceived, drops this bird mightily.

Again (Cooper & Schoedsack’s King Kong, Fuller’s Shock Corridor, Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde), the Howard Hawks Scarface theme in a major variant.

Thompson’s extraordinary way of filming rests on an uncanny reversal of Hal’s lip-reading in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and to a lesser extent the banditos’ murder of Fred C. Dobbs in Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

These express the violence of the exposition quite forcefully in the response (cf. the several versions of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau by Erle C. Kenton, Don Taylor, and John Frankenheimer, also Endfield’s Sands of the Kalahari).


The Ambassador

The inevitable satire of an American diplomat in Israel, dialogue is the key.

“It’s hopeless.”

“Fine. Now you can start thinking about what to do with a hopeless situation.”

The PLO and worse, opposite right-wing elements in the Mossad, the KGB, a simple gathering of university students from both sides.

He gets a candlelight procession.

A very efficient satire, no doubt derived from Lang.

The ultimate derivation is probably, and most humorously, from Capra’s State of the Union in its depiction of a very able and intelligent amateur politician who sees what must be done and has not “followed the affair” to a proper conclusion, several steps are jumped in his view of a vis-à-vis, Dov Seltzer’s end music resembles an American pop anthem not without reason.

The genius of the place is Hebrew lettering on the sidewalk cafés of Tel Aviv, “Let’s Get Lost” is the song that comes to mind (the ambassador’s neglected wife cites “A Good Man Nowadays Is Hard to Find”).

Time Out Film Guide records “a singular lack of style”.


King Solomon’s mines

The prime study is from the Robert Stevenson original, with a view to the serials (cp. Fleischer’s Red Sonja). This was entirely missed by critics. “Scenes don’t resolve so much as end before they spill into the next cliff-hanger” (Variety). “Soon becomes a comic strip” (Walter Goodman, New York Times). Time Out Film Guide rejects it altogether.

Quartermain and the Iowa girl (cp. Wilder’s A Foreign Affair) seek her father, who seeks the mines thought mythical by others, a Turkish slave trader and “the German army” are in pursuit, savagely the Turk slays a dozen men with a machine gun so that he and his partner may step across quicksand.

The material is very rich, the queens preserved from Sheba on reflect Ulmer’s The Black Cat, various films are studiously embraced by the structure, notably Rosenberg’s The Drowning Pool in more than one place (which is to say Gasnier’s The Perils of Pauline), Dmytryk’s Shalako for the diamond-eater, and Schlesinger’s The Marathon Man for his demise, even Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Quite a brilliant film, shot on location.

Founded in wisdom, and sounded that way, too.

This is what Saturday matinees are made of, made to look easy (and it made a million).


Murphy’s Law

The structure is simply an opposition of Murphy’s Law (“everything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) and Detective Murphy’s law in defiance of it. This entails all the panoply of detective fiction in the form of a complete definition of the Philip Marlowe school (“I induce”) in contradistinction to that of Hercule Poirot (“I deduce”), as a transcendent sort of comedy from the director of John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!.

The first shot establishes with a crane that Murphy lives in Los Angeles and shops at a corner market on Olympic. Walking back to his car, he sees it being driven away by a punkette, who smashes it into a restaurant. He chases the thief on foot, gets kicked in the crotch, and goes home empty-handed. His wife has left him to dance in a club (Madam Tong’s) and go out with the clientele. He drinks.

Nevertheless, he’s putting pressure on a mobster, who threatens revenge. At the same time, a woman he put away is back out and also seeking revenge. She murders his wife and frames him for it. He arrests the punkette, is arrested himself, and the two (handcuffed together) escape to the roof and make off in a police helicopter. He just manages to land it on top of a barn, when the roof collapses, and they’re surrounded by menacing marijuana growers. Once free of this, they go to the home of a friend of his, where she cooks him an omelette and burns it. He complains, and she throws it at him.

At the mobster’s apartment, Murphy bullies the fellow into a puking mess, thinking him responsible for the murder. And now the revenge really begins in earnest.

Murphy is a type of man who has to insist when it’s a question of putting mayonnaise on his bologna sandwich. He doesn’t like mayonnaise. All the while, dead bodies are piling up on his trail.

It all ends in the Bradbury Building. Across the street, in a private joke of the director’s, perhaps, the Million Dollar Theater is showing Rafael Inclan in Corrupción, and it’s raining.

Thompson’s deadpan is as remarkable as his grasp of L.A., and the great spinning spokes of this wheel whose circumference is nowhere in particular, and whose center is Murphy.



This remarkably ingenious film proceeds from Le Borg’s The White Orchid towards its own eventual remake as Hellbound (dir. Aaron Norris). Its lack of critical favor depends on its having violated the rule that says a film must either not rise above the intellectual capacities of a critic, or, if it must, it must be within the first fifteen minutes. “Lamentable,” Rita Kempley called it. On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings was, in her view, “a dream come true.”

The adventures of Flagg and Quirt are the mainstay of the work. There is a functional interpolation of Roger Corman’s The Raven (one of the two battling sorcerers is later seen reading a Psi Force comic book), and another from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. An invocation of Hammer (or Universal) style at the climax is followed by a coda (where, having recovered the ancient treasure, Melody Anderson no longer takes snapshots with an Instamatic but with a Hasselblad) like the ending of Caboblanco.

Firewalker is adeptly filmed and impressively edited to such an extent that it’s embarrassing to reflect on the terrible inadequacy of our reviewers, who after all would rather stare at a blank screen than incur the penalty of going to the cinema, as they see it.


Death Wish 4
The Crackdown

Kersey plays L.A.’s two drug kingdoms against each other to annihilation, for a third, unknowingly.

This is a note from Winner’s Death Wish 3, the NYPD putting him to work willy-nilly.

North by Northwest and The 39 Steps (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) are cited very usefully, to show Kersey wrought up in the scheme and then eliminated, or nearly.

A further development along the line from Kurosawa established by Leone, with two scenes from Yorkin’s The Thief Who Came to Dinner, and an opening that is among the best of its kind (the model being found in Coppola’s The Conversation), the meaning of which is revealed just before the final scene.


Messenger of Death

Art is not the theme, but works of art figure throughout. After the first scene, which is the depiction of women and children murdered by shotgun in a reminiscence of Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood (and Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter), the man of the house (Charles Dierkop) returns and weeps at the sight, in the presence of the police and a Denver Tribune reporter (Charles Bronson), who looks on sympathetically as the man drops to his knees in prayer and bows his face to the ground, with his hindquarters in the air. Thompson holds this untoward sight for a hundred frames or so, tracks left into blackness, cuts to a Muslim prayer rug hanging on a wall and continues tracking left into a lady’s apartment full of other artistic works (she is entertaining the reporter).

These Mormons with their Christian iconography are splinters of the main convocation (“the Salt Lake theocracy”), and the murders provoke a feud. What is most striking about them, however, is the pains Thompson has taken to film them as if they were right out of the Old West, these farmers. The prophet (Jeff Corey) wears a ribbon tie like any decent self-respecting Western preacher, it’s exactly like a movie set, the graveyard looks just like Boot Hill, whereas the offices of the Denver Tribune and of the police chief are thoroughly modern, bright and efficient.

Moreover, there is a third element in the story. These are the pillars of the community, heads of corporations, wealthy folk, politicos. They have black tie affairs amid antique portraits and sculptures, and when the reporter hobnobs with them at a restaurant, literal pillars are part of the décor.

The central image in the middle part is an avenging angel, usually carven with wings and a sword. Nonetheless, a lady in pearls puts down her drink on the pedestal of a winged Oriental divinity in bronze or brass as she goes in to dinner at a formal affair, without a fuss.

The reporter gets off a train and is met by a sheriff. They walk and talk just long enough to show you a Colorado town gussied up with accretions (behind them is an old hotel with a new marquee in faux Deco). Later, in the hotel lobby where the reporter meets one of the killers (they are seated on either side of a lamp that has the whiteness if not the shape of Goya’s lantern in the famous picture of an execution), Thompson fills the scene with extras passing to and fro in artificial busyness, to mask his real intent of showing a grand hotel under new management.

With all this in play, Thompson’s seeming imprecision is belied again and again. The reporter and a colleague (Trish Van Devere) emerge from a highway tunnel in a 4x4 after interviewing one of the religious communities. He is puzzled, and Thompson films him against the passenger side window going around a curve, so that the landscape in the background appears to hurtle forward, as if to express his puzzlement at being thrown into the past. She is calm, and filmed normally. After the death of one community leader (John Ireland), the reporter is filmed in a doorway with a snow-covered background, and from then on the landscape has scattered snow.

One more shot might be mentioned here, a long shot across bare orchards after the feud, in which a figure is discernible running down a line of hillside on the horizon. This is one of the killers in the first scene, now a sniper at long range. It’s a remarkable shot, expert and yet at the same time quite casual in its deployment.

The last scene is a black-tie political fundraiser. The police chief (Daniel Benzali) in mufti, running for mayor, gives a short speech standing in front of the portrait of a lady with two small children on her lap. In a medium shot his face is among the children’s, in a close-up he fills the picture frame.

The dénouement is laid in a foyer, where the villain of the piece is made to reveal his fiendish plot. There is a succession of shots, and nearly all of them display Vermeer’s Allegory of Painting on the back wall, small and out of focus. It’s said that this painting is an erroneously titled Allegory of History, whose actual subject is the liberation of the United Netherlands from Hapsburg rule. The last shot is of the reporter and the Allegory.

Prior to this, there is an exciting, well-filmed and terribly raw-looking gag in which the 4x4 is scrunched between two Colorado Water Company trucks. The incidental parallels to Polanski’s Chinatown and Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean are typically reserved and dry.


Forbidden Subjects

The material is evidently a reworking of Tiger Bay from the standpoint of Los Angeles and Kipling’s East meets West, the central problem is exacerbated sharply, however, until the guilty know an ape in hell shall lead them.

“I’m still not sure what ‘Kinjite’ is,” Richard Harrington reported for The Washington Post.