20 February 2011

Three Bogies, Woody, Warren, Lawrence and the Brothers Marx -- The Films That Saw Me Through the Flu This Past Week

It is a tradition at Riku Writes that once a year I get floored by the flu. It's never enough to send me into delirium but powerful enough to make reading a chore and working an impossibility. The bright side is that I get to spend some quality time on the sofa with some beloved friends -- movies.

Here's a capsule looks at some of those that sustained me these past seven days. Bringing intellectual nourishment to accompany the Tylenol, hot tea and tissues.

Duck Soup (1933). How is it possible that you can not only know the lines that are coming but say them along with the characters and still bust the proverbial gut with guffaws? I dunno either but it happens whenever I watch this, my favorite Marx Brothers film. Surely the delivery of the quips has much to do with it. All hail Freedonia and its fearless and witty leader Rufus T. Firefly as played by the comic genius, Groucho Marx. More than any of their other films this is his picture. Chico and Harpo are in strong supporting roles and Zeppo shows up for the last time. Margaret Dumont is indispensable as Mrs. Teasdale. Nearly 80 years later what passes for comedy in movies today is Adam Sandler getting hit in the crotch. Talk about not making em like they used to.... As Firefly said:  "I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it."

Lawrence of Arabia (1962). I love/hate this movie. Perhaps that's stretching it. I really like/dislike this movie. Oh never mind. Point is my thoughts are decidedly mixed (you guessed?). On the one hand, every time I watch it I want to run out and by every book available by and about T.E. Lawrence. Peter O'Toole gives one of cinema's great performances as the iconoclastic Lawrence. "I'm different," he says of himself by way of explanation early in the film. And how! Wonderfully so. Surrounded by stiff upper lips by-the-book British military, he marched to the beat of his own drummer. Sometimes through the desert. But with each viewing I become increasingly bothered by a film of well over three hours with nary a word from a female, or even a gander at one for that matter. Worse is Alec Guiness as an Arab. Worse still is how everyone speaks English. I know, I know, the film was made at a different time. Slavery was at a different time too and I still hate it. It's epic, sweeping, masterful and a creaky old anachronism.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Oh Fred Dobbs, when will you ever learn? You could have had wealth and happiness. But plenty was not enough. Greed cost you your sanity then your life. Humphrey Bogart was at this very best as Dobbs in this remarkable John Huston film. So was Huston's dad, Walter who copped a well-earned Best Supporting Oscar (not even a nomination for Bogie? now that's insane!) The younger Huston also was rewarded for his direction and screenplay. TOTSM is a film that works on so many levels which means it never gets tiresome. Hell, when does great film making ever tire one?

The Big Sleep (1946). I once wrote on this here blog that I didn't think I could not respect the opinion of anyone who didn't at least like this movie. I'm going to have stand by that. Yes it's Bogie and Bacall. Yes there's a byzantine plot. Yes it's a classic whodunit with many people having been dun. Sure there's a lot of other classy and sexy dames besides Bacall to brighten the scenery. But its the dialogue that does it for me. Five examples:
1.Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe. 
Marlowe: Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he's walking out of your bedroom. 
2.General Sternwood: How do you like your brandy, sir? 
Philip Marlowe: In a glass. 
3.Philip Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up. 
4.Vivian: I don't like your manners. 
Marlowe: And I'm not crazy about yours. I didn't ask to see you. I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don't mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me. 
5.Philip Marlowe: My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains! You know, you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail. 
Play it Again, Sam (1972). Not to be confusing, but this is not a Woody Allen though he wrote it and stars in it. Also this is still another Bogie film though not really since he's not it though someone plays him. To clarify: it's not a "Woody" in that he did not direct it (Herbert Ross did) which to a lot of people is a hard and fast rule about constituting Woodys, so to speak. And Bogie is a character in the film played by an actor (Jerry Lacy). Play it Again, Sam is just as funny today as it was nearly 40 years ago. It was Allen when he was writing thoughtfully funny comedies and playing the lead to hilarious perfection. It's his first film pairing with Diane Keaton and they are magic together. Tony Robert's as Keaton's husband is rock solid here as he was often for Allen movies. The setting is San Francisco. Allen is a recently divorced cinephile so obsessed with Humphrey Bogart that Bogie's apparition visits and counsels him. It's a great comedy and a veritable ode to Bogie in general and Casablanca (1942) in particular.

The Parallax View (1974) This film is like a great story being told by someone who mumbles. Warren Beatty is a reporter who investigates a political assassination from three years before as witnesses to the killing keep dyeing, including a friend of his. He is led to the mysterious Parallax Corporation which, as it turns out, seems to be responsible for the killings at the behest of God-knows-who. It's all fascinating and for a generation brought up as its inspirational leaders were getting bumped off in most peculiar ways, it is an important topic to explore. There's a lot of plausibility to the story and at worst it gives viewers a lot to chew on. The Parallax View is the very quintessence of the paranoid political thriller of 1970's cinema (a topic I once explored on this here blog). But there are a few scenes that stick out like very sore thumbs. Such as an over the top bar fight that adds nothing to the story and the implausible coincidence that leads to Beatty unfoiling a plot to explode an airplane in flight. The story is also told in a hazy, jumpy way that speaks poorly of either director Alan Pakula or his editor or both. Still I re-visit The Parallax View every few years and am always glad I did.

Dark Passage (1947) It should now be quite obvious that I see real healing powers in watching the films of Humphrey Bogart. This is also another Bogie and Bacall production and I'm going to get extremely controversial here and state that she was never lovelier than in The Dark Passage. Bogie gives a solid if somewhat understated performance. After all we don't really seem him until an hour into the picture. Oh he's in it from the get go all right but he starts off with a different face before plastic surgery gives him the mug we all know and love. Thus the first third of the movie we see not him but what he sees. It could be annoying but it's not. Thank you director Delmar Daves. Later his face is wrapped in bandages. Course we don't much miss him what with Bacall to set our peepers on. Agnes Moorehead is part of the show too and brudder what a stinker! Yeah, she gets hers. San Francisco is the setting again. Bogie plays an escaped con holing up with Bacall hoping to clear his name. There's the requisite suspense and romance but this is a happy film noir at heart. Great cinematography highlights the film. Speaking of Daves, he also wrote the screenplay. His other credits include a musical, Dames (1934), a war picture, Destination Tokyo (1943) and a sappy love story, Love Affair (1939). That's versatility!

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