Friday, July 30, 2010

The Lusty Men (1952) at the Harvard Film Archive

The Harvard Film Archive is currently doing a retrospective on the work of director Nicholas Ray. Lucky for me, one of the films they happen to be showing was The Lusty Men (1952) which stars my beloved Robert Mitchum. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to get a chance to see many of the films in the series, I made this one high priority. Kevin and Carlos came with me to the HFA to see it last week. 

Robert Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud, a rodeo star who suffers an injury that hurts him more emotionally than physically. He retires to ranch life and seeks out his old childhood home. The home is sought after by a couple, Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy) and Leslie Merritt (Susan Hayward) who want to start a ranch. Wes gets Jeff a job but soon gets enamored by the idea of being a big rodeo star like Jeff. Wes is tired of working for someone else and decides that playing the rodeo circuit will earn him quick cash  to buy and run his own ranch. Wes convinces Jeff to teach him all he knows about rodeo. Jeff becomes Wes' manager earning a percentage of Wes's earnings and off they go, much to the chagrin of Leslie whose tumultuous past has made her yearn for the stability that rodeo life doesn't have to offer. Wes gets more and more dazzled by the false glamour of rodeo life: the quick cash, the instant fame, the parties full of booze and dames. He quickly gives up the idea of going back to ranch life. Leslie fights against Jeff who got Wes into this situation in the first place but Jeff is falling in love with Leslie. This is where things get complicated.

Watching the film, I couldn't help drawing comparisons to The Misfits (1961) which is also about the rodeo scene but focuses more on various wayward characters and the dirty business of mustang hunting. The Lusty Men is a much quieter film, less focused on a message or showcasing a cast of big stars and more interested in telling a very linear story. The film is filled with lots of rodeo scenes. Calf-roping, bronc riding, steer wrestling, bull riding, etc. A good chunk of the film consists of these scenes but I don't feel like they overwhelmed the movie. Instead, I felt like a spectator watching both the stories of the people on screen and watching rodeo life circa 1950s. It added to the experience.

The programmer who introduced the film to us mentioned that Robert Mitchum was reported to have stolen the original last reel of the film and gave it to his secretary to burn. He hated the original ending so much he went to those lengths so that a new ending would have to be filmed. Many people don't realize how much Mitchum influenced movies he made. He gave a lot of input in acting, dialogue, script, directing and production whether it was wanted or not. In my opinion, a film was always better for having Robert Mitchum in it.

The Salon article which I linked to on the heckyeahrobertmitchum Tumblr (a heads up from KC of Classic Movie Blog) has the following anecdote about The Lusty Men:

On the rodeo film "The Lusty Men": "(Producers) Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna -- one or the other -- would call me at the office and ask for ideas. So I gave them one -- a modern Western. They reached into a drawer and came up with a title. They had titles to fit just about any type of movie. They were quite a team. One would walk up and down and cry while the other sat down to talk to you. Then they'd reverse. I always thought that the producer was The Producer. I didn't know I was makin' more money than they were and that if I sneak-talked to the boss (Howard Hughes), they'd be out. I didn't know that, no shit. So Howard called me one day and said, 'Bob, for God's sake tell me you don't want to do this picture so I can get this son-of-a-bitch Wald off my back.' But I told him I wanted to do the picture. He asked, 'Is the script that good?' I told him we didn't even have a script, but we'd whip one up. And I wanted Nick Ray to direct it. 
"The next day Wald called me to tell me in hushed tones that 'Howard's OK'd the story and guess who we have as director? Nick Ray.' Then he hired Niven Busch and the guy who wrote 'They Shoot Horses,' Horace McCoy, to do the writing. They were at opposite ends of the lot and they kept passing each other by. Finally they passed each other and went right out the gate. Nick and I , both stoned, worked out the script.
"So we get the picture finished and Wald had insisted on this ending that was impossible. We snuck into the editing room, made off with the end sequence and burned it. The production number was still active, so we went out and shot another ending, bang-bang-bang, like that. And Jerry Wald traveled to colleges around the county lecturing on the art of filmmaking."

Unfortunately, The Lusty Men isn't available on DVD. If you get a chance to see it, please do. It's a wonderful little film. And it doesn't hurt that Mitchum looked amazing in a cowboy hat and tight jeans that hugged him in all the right places (::biting finger coyly::).

If you have TCM, it's showing on September 28th at 6:00 am!

This is me outside of the HFA and in front of some posters of Nicholas Ray movies. I love having my photo taken here.

If you are in the Boston area, make sure you check out the series. It goes on until August 9th. Or just check out the listing on the HFA site. A lot of the films are on DVD. In fact, I'm hoping to do a short Nicholas Ray series here on the blog. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Breathless (1960) 50th Anniversary Restoration at the Kendall

Rialto Pictures has been touring a 50th Anniversary Restoration of the classic French New Wave film Breathless (1960) across the United States. I managed to catch the very last showing that took place in the Boston area on Thursday evening. Good friends Kevin and Lisa as well as my beau Carlos came with me to a 9:40 pm showing of the film. A few weeks ago, Kevin had sent me a postcard (that boasted the illustration Yoko Kuomura on it. See above.) invited me to go see the film with him. For some unexplained reason, it passed my notice that two of my favorite theaters, The Brattle and The Coolidge Corner Theater, had both shown the film. Luckily, good ole standby Kendall Square Cinema (a local cinema known for showing Indie and Foreign films as well as the occassional classic) was the last Boston-based cinema to be showing Breathless. We got in just at the nick of time!

The entrance of the Kendall.

Any of you lucky bastards that got to see the US premiere of the restoration at the TCM Classic Film Festival back in April will be familiar with it. However, those of you who missed it have a chance to see the restoration as it tours the US. Rialto has a new 35mm print of the film which has been restored and newly revised English subtitles were added.

Visually, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the restored print I saw on the big screen and the Criterion Collection DVD that I watched with Kevin a while back (I never did do a post about that). Also, I didn't much care for the new subtitles. They were still a very loose translation of the French being spoken in the film. My friend Lisa, who knows some French, pointed out that in one scene Jean Paul Belmondo is actually cursing in French yet the English curse equivalent was not put into the subtitles. Was there perhaps some toning down of the language? Censorship of a film like Breathless is not a matter to be taken lightly. Also, the film was shown with very little fanfare. Not that it should have had an introduction, but I think information about the restoration or something to jazz it up would have been nice.

Still it was great to see Breathless on the big screen. From the little bits of information on the net that I've read, theatrical showings of Breathless have been limited in the past but now Rialto has US theatrical rights to the film. So this truly was a treat!

Kevin and I both love this film and it was Lisa's first time watching it. Carlos, who had seen it before some years ago, was not terribly impressed. In fact, he tried to take a nap during the movie and I threatened him with my classic "don't you dare". He told me afterwards that he couldn't see the genius of the film. I've found that he's not really been able to enjoy the avant-garde French films I've shown him. My recent attempts to get him to appreciate some quirky French fare such as 8 Women (2002) and Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000) failed miserably. I tried to explain to Carlos why Breathless was genius but I don't think he got it. Oh well. No more French films for him!

The genius of Breathless (1960):
  • openness of sexuality, including discussion of the past sexual partners of a single female
  • jump cuts, which we take for granted today but were radically new back in 1960
  • inaugural French New Wave film that has come to be a symbol that represents that genre
  • gritty, in-your-face cinematography. Filming happened on the streets with a hand held camera.
  • extras in the film are real-life bystandards
  • no special lighting was used except for natural light, street lights and the lamps from a model shoot scene.
  • spontaneity of the script development, the shooting and the acting
  • homage to classic film stars and directors, especially Michel's (Jean Paul Belmondo) fascination with Humphrey Bogart
If you are interested in seeing the Restoration for yourself, check out the Rialto website for more information and to see if the print is coming to a city near you.

If you can't see the Restoration for whatever reason, watch it at home with the Criterion Collection set (I still need to buy this!).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

DVD Boxed Set Review: Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5

The tagline should read:
Scraping the bottom of the film noir barrel: the worst of the worst all in one boxed set.

This boxed set came out on July 13th. It's part of the Warner Home Video collection of Film Noir sets of which I have Vol. 1. These are all new to DVD and it's available on Blu-Ray for those of you who have such a device.

I'm going to be brutally honest because I believe in the necessity of honest product reviews. This boxed set sucked. BIG TIME. As I went through all 8 of the movies the same phrase came popping into my head: "scraping the bottom of the film noir barrel".  Now film noirs are very popular and so many of them are now available on DVD. Considering there were already 4 other volumes in this set and that the noir genre was not exclusive to one movie studio, I'm sure Warner Bros. really did have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with 8 new-to-DVD noirs to put in this set. I'm not blaming them especially since Warner Bros. does so much to put out a lot of great quality classic films on the market for hungry classic film fanatics like myself.

It's just the films weren't all that great. In fact, they were pretty bad. Now I love low-budget B films. I eat them up like candy. Especially Noirs. Anyone who knows me knows I love Noirs. Heck, I even named this blog after my favorite Noir Out of the Past (1947). But these films were not interesting. In fact, I found them so boring that I easily forgot the titles and the plots while watching the films! I know I'm scatter-brained on a good day, but that is a sign of my brain rejecting these crappy noirs.

I do recommend this boxed set to enthusiasts who must own every film noir known to man. For everyone else I highly suggest these alternatives:

Cornered (1945) - Starring Dick Powell - Good grief this was horrible. Some convoluted drama involving Nazis and a wild goose chase around Europe for some dude named Marcel Jarnac. It was crap. That's all I have to say about it. The Professor over at Where Danger Lives thinks it's of some worth. Go check out his post about it.

Desperate (1947) - Starring Audrey Long and Raymond Burr. Not too bad. (Help me here I'm trying!). Raymond Burr's brother got caught and he wants to frame another man for the crime. The man and his pregnant wife go on the lam trying to escape Burr, find a safe place to hide and to tell the police the details. Burr doesn't want that to happen. Burr makes this film pretty decent. I wanted to smack Audrey Long's character for being so silly and stupid. There is a minor Czechoslovakian theme to the story that makes it interesting.

The Phenix City Story (1955) - You have to work through about 12 minutes of blatant propaganda (with the documentary opening featuring a journalist asking leading questions) and about 30-40 minutes of a slow moving start until you get to real meat of this story. By the end it gets really good and really interesting. The bad start puts a damper on the whole experience though. It is a very gritty noir about Phenix City, Alabama which was a hotbed of sin, crime and violence.

Dial 1119 (1950) - This one was pretty interesting. A crazy man, who just escaped a mental institution, randomly kills a bus driver and the cops are after him. He barricades himself in a bar with some hostages and threatens to kill people (his hostages and any cops that try to nab him) unless he can speak to the shrink who treated him. Probably the most watchable of the bunch.

Armored Car Robbery (1950) - Skip this one. If you want a heist noir, watch The Asphalt Jungle (1950) or The Killing (1956) instead.

Crime in the Streets (1956) - Starring John Cassavates, Sal Mineo and James Whitmore - This may be the film that saves the boxed set. Great cast. John Cassavates plays an 18-year old thug who finds pleasure in crime. With two goons under his wing, he plots to murder a meddling neighbor. Whitmore (and his outrageous eyebrows) stars as the social worker who tries to get Cassavates to go straight.

Deadline At Dawn (1946) Starring Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas - One of two Susan Hayward films I've seen recently. She's starting to grow on me. The stars make this film watchable and the plot is pretty decent. It does tug on the heartstrings a bit. It's comparable in plot to The Glass Wall (1953) which I think is a far better film.

Backfire (1950) - Starring Edmond O'Brien - Had promise but just didn't deliver. Plus I was terribly distracted by Virginia Mayo's sensual softness (don't you find that distracting?). Plot: Two friends. One has a smashed spine, was hospitalized and released only to find out his friend had HIS spine smashed and is now being framed for murder. Oy vey.

Before you take my word as Gospel, make sure you take a moment and check out the boxed set and watch the clips below. Who knows. This set might pique your interest.

Full Disclosure: Thank you to Warner Bros. for sending me this DVD boxed set to review.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More Robert Mitchum Video goodness

Here is another Mitchum skit from Saturday Night Live with Dana Carvey and Phil Hartmann called "The Beggar". It's not particularly good. Death Be Not Deadly is much better.

Now all I need to find is "Out of Gas", the skit with Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum written by Mitchum's daughter Trina. From what I understand, it also features Mitchum's grandson Bentley Mitchum. If you find it anywhere, let me know!

And here is a funny clip of the show which written backwards is Ylimaf Yug (please don't comment back with the real name of the show because this could get pulled. I'll delete your comment. Warning!). In it, a cartoonized Mitchum is the Out of Shape in Shape Guy from the 1950s. I guess some people just don't appreciate big manly chests. I, however, am not one of those people. The world needs more big manly chests!

Who are you calling "out of shape"?!

Now a video that I was supposed to post a while back but never did. Millie from ClassicForever is a fellow Bobby Darin fan. I pleaded with her recently about a clip of Bobby Darin doing an impersonation of Robert Mitchum. I thought it was one of the most hilarious things I had ever seen. In fact it was so funny that Darin himself cracked up at his own joke and couldn't even finish the impersonation! Millie came to my rescue and found the clip of Darin doing a host of impersonations (including the Mitchum one) and posted it on her YouTube channel: ILoveRayMilland. Here it is! Thank you so much Millie.

The Mitchum impersonation starts at 5:58:

Is it me or did Bobby Darin and Robert Mitchum look oddly alike?

Robert Mitchum on Saturday Night Live

Jackpot! I've been searching for a clip (any clip) of Robert Mitchum hosting Saturday Night Live back in 1987. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter searches (and Tumblr ones too), I found a link to a clip recently posted on YouTube. It's of the skit "Death Be Not Deadly" in which Mitchum and Kevin Nealon spoof the Film Noir genre and that classic Noiresque voiceover that is so characteristic of the genre (yet found is so few of them oddly enough). It's an okay skit, funny but mostly enjoyable because of it's novelty. I think it's great that Mitchum was on a TV show which is still going strong today. Enjoy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's Ginger Rogers' birthday too. Move over Barbara Stanwyck!

Ginger is so upset at being overlooked by Stanwyck fans that she is threatening to clonk you all over the head with her trusty wrench!

Thank you to Jonas for the picture.

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