Sunday, December 27, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Le Casse (1971)
By ROGER GREENSPUN
Published: June 15, 1972
For the first five minutes, about as long as the main title credits last, Henri Verneuil's "The Burglars" suggests a degree of technical competence, of simply knowing what to do next, that is rare enough in movies these days to perhaps make up for any lack of real quality—at least to the level of passable entertainment. But by the second five minutes, technical competence has become technical quirkness, and before a quarter of an hour has passed "The Burglars" reveals itself as yet another international caper film—this time, set in Greece—that does nothing very well and almost everything in excess.
The excesses start early, with the caper, which takes place at the beginning rather than at the end of the movie. It is a jewel theft and it involves opening a safe with the aid of a handy attaché case that contains an X-ray vision TV camera, TV screen, tape recorder, three kinds of computers, miniature hand drill, metal-working vise, keys-made-while-you-wait machine such as you find in your local hardware store, and an instruction booklet. Such a machine might excite the envy of James Bond's armorer, or the delight of Rube Goldberg. But what it does for Henri Verneuil is to fill up a great deal of film time with a device rather than with an action, and that is exactly the method by which all of "The Burglars" has been made.
The devices extend to an endless (and pointless) car chase, a warehouse full of grotesque toys, an automated harbor-side granary, a spicy nightclub, and a spicy meal in a Greek restaurant — take out 10 minutes to photograph and explain the local cuisine. There are also two murders. The only reason for the first murder is to justify the second, so I suppose they belong in the category of mechanics as well.
Under Verneuil's direction, characters resolve themselves into a collection of emphatic mannerisms — the way a cigarette is lit, a nervous habit with the hands — which, together with the wooden English-speaking voices dubbed for most of the cast, tends to make people into things: cleverly automated, but things nevertheless.
There is, of course, a plot. The plot pits a good crook against a bad cop and places a million dollars worth of emeralds in the balance. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the crook, Omar Sharif plays the cop, and Dyan Cannon plays an enigmatic woman attached to both of them. I was especially taken with Miss Cannon's part, which seems not so much a role as a succession of brief guest appearances requiring mainly that she smile and walk and wear clothes.
"The Burglars" opened yesterday at the Loew's State I and Columbia I theaters.
THE BURGLARS, directed by Henri Verneuil; script by Mr. Verneuil and Vahe Katcha, based on the novel by David Goodis; editor, Pierre Gillette; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Mr. Verneuil; released by Columbia Pictures. At Loew's State I, Broadway and 45th Street, and Columbia I Theater, Second Avenue and 64th Street. Running time: 114 minutes. This film is classified PG.
Azad . . . . . Jean-Paul Belmondo
Abel Zacharia . . . . . Omar Sharif
Lena . . . . . Dyan Cannon
Ralph . . . . . Robert Hossein
Helene . . . . . Nicole Calfan
Renzi . . . . . Renato Salvatori
Flixster - Share Movies
Friday, December 18, 2009
The gangsters Ernest and Momo kidnap Fido after pretending to be customers of Fido’s mother, Clarissa the prostitute. Based on the novel Down There by David Goodis, the downwardly mobile title character reveals to
Lena that he was Edouard Savoyard, even though he now performs as Charlie Koller. Charlie stabbed Lena’s ex-boyfriend Plyne in self-defense, but Lena gets shot by Ernest and Momo in the end. FTP name this Francois Truffaut classic of the French New Wave about a down-on-his-luck keyboardist.
Answer: Shoot the Piano Player (or Tirez sur le Pianiste)
When asked about his religious views, he said, “Thank God I’m an atheist.” In 1930, he sparked riots among French right-wingers, because of the anticlerical content in his film, L’Âge d'Or. He depicted poverty among the Spanish peasantry in Land Without Bread, then made several films in Mexico, including El Bruto, The Young One, and Los Olvidados. Awarded the Golden Palm in 1961 for Viridiana, FTP name this Spanish surrealist filmmaker who collaborated with Salvador Dali on Un Chien Andalou.
Answer: Luis Buñuel
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Thursday, February 4th 2010, 7:00 pm
Rochester native and Edgar-nominated mystery writer Charles Benoit (Relative Danger, Out of Order, and Noble Lies) talks about film noir, writing noir, and the work of Dark Passage author David Goodis before the screening of the film. Benoit will answer questions and autograph his books after the talk. Regular admission price includes 8 p.m. Dark Passage screening. Curtis Theatre. Use Dryden entrance.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Here is a home film of Elaine Astor GOODIS
Withers circa 1962 or 1963.
Elaine Withers is the woman in black with the pearl necklace.
Thank you Larry for shedding light on the Mysterious Elaine!
Friday, December 4, 2009
If you know CORNELL WOOLRICH’s (1903-68) oeuvre at all, it’s most likely through the films of the standout directors who’ve interpreted it: Hitchcock’s Rear Window, for example, was based on Woolrich’s story “It Had to Be Murder,” while Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black jumps off the 1940 novel of the same name. That’s a shame, because his tales of utter, abject doom fuse Hammett’s toughness, Cain’s nihilism, and Chandler’s sense of despair into works that rank up there with his masterful crime-writing colleagues. If love & death motivate the bulk of crime fiction, in Woolrich’s world the stink of one seeps into the promise of the other until the two can no longer be distinguished — as, for example, in I Married a Dead Man (1948), in which a pregnant woman who has attempted to flee a hopeless situation by posing as the widow of, yes, a dead man is blackmailed by an ex-lover. Small wonder, then, that Woolrich spent many of his later years as a near-recluse, living — like another noir master, David Goodis — with his mother.
Paradise Cove Is Too Far: It could’ve been the name of one of the sixties TV dramas Paul Wendkos directed, during the years when shows like Naked City and Ben Casey.
Visit Mr. Bowie's site for more about Wendkos.
Since I started making notes for this piece, good obituaries have appeared in theNew York Times and the Independent, so I don’t feel obligated to outline the whole of Wendkos’s long career. He began with a regional independent film, The Burglar, which is a common way for directors to enter television now, but was extremely unusual then. The Burglar is an impeccable film noir. It derives from a novel by David Goodis, the reclusive Philadelphia native whose home town figures essentially in most of his prose. Wendkos also hailed from Philly and deployed his camera along its streets with a knowing eye; he was a perfect match for the material, as was surly sad-sack star Dan Duryea.
The Burglar led immediately to a feature contract and a number of mostly commercial films for Columbia, including Gidget and its two sequels, which led off most of his obits. . The oddity from among Wendkos’s early films, another indie called Angel Baby, has a small cult following that may grow following its recent sort-of DVD release (in Warners’ new burn-on-demand library). More on Angel Baby further down.
*There’s one discrepancy I haven’t resolved, and that’s the question of Wendkos’s age. Most reference books report his date of birth as September 20, 1922, but the obits all state that he 84 rather than 87. If I sort out the facts, I’ll report back. UPDATE, 12/3/09: Lin Bolen Wendkos says that Paul’s birth certificate bears the 1925 date. No one in the family seems to know how that 1922 business got started. Intriguing!
Monday, November 30, 2009
Paul Wendkos, who has died aged 84, had the misfortune of seeing his first Hollywood film become a massive hit. Gidget (1959) starred Sandra Dee as the eponymous 16-year-old “girl midget”, a prototype “beach bunny” chasing fun and romance among California’s surfers. It marked the beginnings of the surf craze which encompassed pop music typified by the Beach Boys and a slew of movies, including two Gidget sequels which Wendkos also directed. Trapped at Columbia Studios, Wendkos never directed a major feature, or had another big hit, but became a mainstay of episodic television, and in the 1970s carved out a substantial career as one of the first, and best, directors of “made-for-television” movies.
Wendkos was born Abraham Paul Wendkos on 20 June 1925 in Philadelphia. He served in the navy during the Second World War, then moved to New York, where he received a BA from Columbia University, then studied film at The New School, which led to his first film, a documentary about blindness called Dark Interlude. He caught Hollywood’s attention with his first feature, The Burglar, an exemplary low-budget noir film, which grew from Wendkos’ friendship with the pulp writer David Goodis, a fellow Philadelphian who adapted from his own novel for the screen.
Shot on location in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, it starred Dan Duryea, featured a rare substantial part for Martha Vickers, and provided an early dramatic success for a young Jayne Mansfield. Harry Cohn bought the film for his Columbia Pictures to distribute, and it may have been Wendkos’ success in coaxing a good performance from Mansfield which led to his assignment to Sandra Dee.
For Columbia Wendkos also directed another interesting crime film, The Case Against Brooklyn (1958), two war films (Tarawa Beachhead, 1958, and The Battle Of Coral Sea, 1959) and the off-beat evangelical drama Angel Baby (1961). In 1958 he began directing for television, with two westerns for the prestigious “Playhouse 90” series.
After working on Robert Taylor’s The Detectives, he became a lead director on The Untouchables, the edgiest and most noirish of all television crime series. He was sought after for episodic television throughout the Sixties, including long runs on shows like I Spy and The Invaders. Meanwhile, his film career remained stalled in the Bs, though Guns Of The Magnificent Seven (1969) is an entertaining sequel, and The Mephisto Waltz (1971) is a wellmade rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby starring Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset.
The last of his 12 feature films was Special Delivery (1976) an early Cybill Shepherd vehicle. Wendkos directed an NBC “movie special”, Fear No Evil (1969), a dry run for The Mephisto Waltz, but his career in made-for-television films mirrored his feature film path. He made a number of excellent crime dramas with the pulp writer David Karp, who once described the ease, in those early days, with which he and Wendkos could go to a network with a one-line pitch and get the immediate go-ahead to spend half a million dollars. Brotherhood Of The Bell (1970) and The Family Rico (1972), based on a Georges Simenon story, are particularly hard-edged.
Footsteps (1972), a sports-fixing drama, was nominated for a Golden Globe, but Wendkos’ reputation for directing actresses would form the core of his best work, including The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975) starring Elizabeth Montgomery, with whom he had worked on “Playhouse 90”; A Woman Called Moses (1978) with Cicely Tyson playing Harriet Tubman, and The Ordeal Of Patty Hearst (1979).
He directed a TV pilot film, Underground Man (1974), based on Ross MacDonald’s detective Lew Archer, and worked, uncredited, on the subsequent TV series, which Karp executive- produced. But such projects gave way to his both producing and directing the hugely popular mini-series, Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue (1977). He continued to work with glamorous actresses taking serious dramatic roles, such as Raquel Welch in Right To Die (1987), Lindsey Wagner in The Taking Of Flight 847 (1988), or Loni Anderson playing the 1930s actress Thelma Todd in White Hot (1991). But his best work remained hard-edged, including two prison dramas, The Ordeal Of Dr Mudd, with Dennis Weaver as the doctor imprisoned for treating Lincoln’s assassin, or Six Against The Rock (1987), based on the 1947 escape attempt from Alcatraz.
The last of his 55 TV films or miniseries was Different (1999) with Annabeth Gish as a disabled girl and Lynn Redgrave her mother. Wendkos died of a lung infection, after a long illness following a stroke. His first wife, Ruth, predeceased him in 1978. He is survived by their son, Jordan, and his second wife, the former NBC programming executive Lin Bolen.
Abraham Paul Wendkos born Philadelphia 20 September 1925; married twice (one son); died Malibu, California, 12 November 2009.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler may have first brought what is now call "noir" or hard-boiled fiction to the world, but David Goodis was one of those writers (like Jim Thompson) who took readers down further into the lower depths, and we mean this as a compliment. The inspiration for Francois Truffaut's 1960 classic film, this novel of a hard-fallen concert pianist unable to play his way out of the long shadow of his past stands out with its genuine emotional core of despair and grimy gamy details of life as it's lived "Down There" (the novel's original title) on the lower slopes of the American underworld. The criminals who scramble through this ultimate hard-luck story are not cunning criminal geniuses, but bumbling losers whose limited minds and poor impulse control only entangle them further in a web of fate and pull even the best of us around them. One the best books I've read so far this year.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
I just learned, via Peter Nellhaus, of the passing of one of America's most obscure-but-talented directors, Paul Wendkos.
Wendkos would be far better known today if his first film, the great low-budget noir, The Burglar (1956), were more readily available. The Burglar, an unabashedly arty film based on the David Goodis novel of the same name, starred Dan Duryea in the title role, and Jayne Mansfield as his ward (a serious acting role that preceded her "bombshell" period). A fatalistic heist film clearly influenced by Orson Welles, particularly The Lady From Shanghai, The Burglar ends in a Coney Island [Atlantic City, New Jersey to be exact] funhouse where a loudspeaker proclaims, "We, the Dead, Welcome You!"
Wendkos directed several other films of interest, the well-known but atypical Gidget (1959), The Mephisto Waltz (1971), and two more stylish noirs, The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) starring Darren McGavin as an undercover cop, and the fascinating rural noir Angel Baby (1961) which stars Salome Jens as an Aimee Semple McPherson-like revival preacher, and has a terrific supporting cast that includes George Hamilton, Mercedes McCambridge, Henry Jones, Joan Blondell, and Burt Reynolds. Angel Baby's striking black and white cinematography, most of it shot in the Deep South, was by Haskell Wexler.
Eventually, Wendkos found his niche in television. He directed several episodes of the '60s right wing sci-fi series, The Invaders (in which aliens were equated with Communists). Of far more interest were a series of made-for-TV movies he directed (he was a pioneer of the form), including The Brotherhood of the Bell(1970), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), Cocaine: One Man's Seduction (1983), and the mini-series Celebrity(1984) - all of them distinguished by a paranoid world view communicated through unstable wide-angle compositions, and performances skillfully pushed to the edge of hysteria (Glenn Ford in Brotherhood of the Bell, Dennis Weaver in Cocaine ...).
If anyone ever published an interview with this *unknown* auteur, I would love to see it.