By Eric Scheske My first cell phone was the Motorola RAZR V3. That was in 2005. I didn’t use it a lot at first, but it made me more accessible to my …Cell Phones, Telephones & the Ideas of Marshall McLuhan
Jack Brewer urges people to see through the Fake News lies like the Charlottesville hoax, and urges people to vote for criminal reform and school choice, by voting for President Trump this Nov. 3.
A Four Star Noir
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1962 classic noir gangster film Le Doulous blew me away. Beinning simply with ex-con Maurice walking though a squalid neighborhood, it soon delivered its first of several completely surprising murders. Maurice visits his friend Gilbert, who gives him information and offers cash to tide him over with the promise of more. After Maurice asks Gilbert to borrow a gun, he turns the gun on his old friend. It’s the first of several betrayals and murders.
Maurice then grabs Gilbert’s cash and all the jewel’s he’s reworking and was going to fence. Before he’s out of the house, Maurice hears a car drive up and he scrambles to escape and stash the jewels and money. Nuttheccio and Armand, big time gangsters, were to get the jewels from Gilbert and when they see he’s dead. Maurice manages to flee and bury the loot.
Next thing we see is Maurice is at…
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Not me. Not Ben.
One of my big disappointments with the Sundance Film Festival was that I didn’t get to see Downhill with Julia Loius-Dreyfus and Will Farrell. I tried to get tickets every time it played but never was able to.
I finally saw the film on DVD and was quite disappointed. In spite of four star actors, It isn’t half as interesting Force Majuer, the Swedish film that Downhill is based on. While Downhill has a few changes so much of it follows the path of the original. The opening scenes, the eerie music, most of the plot are the same, but not carried off as well.
Downhill and Force Majuere show what happens to a married couple on a ski holiday with their two children when while eating lunch on a chalet deck, an avalanche erupts and heads towards the restaurant. Rather than protecting his family, Will Ferrell’s character Peter grabs his phone and runs to save his own hide. Luckily, the avalanche falls short of actually hitting the restaurant, but it is a close call. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie is completely shocked that her husband left the family to fend for themselves.
While the family had some minor fissures before, now Billie and Pete are at different poles. Billie waits for Pete to make a profound apology, but none comes. I guess he’s hoping that time will heal her wound. Fat chance. Billie finally erupts when she finds Pete lied about how Zach Pete’s younger colleague shows up at the same resort with his footloose and fancy free, hashtag loving girlfriend. Billie is furious to learn that Pete lied. It was his idea that Zach turn up. A huge argument ensues, but doesn’t help matters as Pete still asserts that Billie’s wrong about the avalanche.
Like the Swedish film, Downhill’s Billie’s distrust and disrespect for Pete snowballs. Some secondary characters appear as goofy, comic relief, but they aren’t that funny or well drawn. The two sons have little personality and spend much of their time watching movies while the parents go out for dinner and argue. These children were pawns in a weak story. I’d hoped for a lot more. I did enjoy the original and do like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but can’t recommend Downhill.
I had to watch the 1964 version of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers. After all, it was in the same DVD set. I didn’t have great expectations, but this powerful film captivated me.
Starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, with Ronald Reagan in a smaller role, The Killers begins at a school for the blind. Two hit men enter looking for Johnny North (John Cassavetes). The rough up the blind secretary and plow their way into North’s class for mechanics. They shoot North dead and make their escape. The contrast between a school for the blind and ruthless criminals is powerful.
After killing North, Charlie Storm (Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) are on a training Charlie can’t help ruminating over why Johnny didn’t try to evade his murder. He completely accepted it. Johnny was so unlike every other victim. Why?
Another question is Who? Who paid Charlie and Lee $25K when they’d never been paid more than $10K for a hit. Again, why? Why so much?
So Charlie and Lee switch trains in Chicago and go down to Miami and begin to find out all they can about Johnny North. They soon learn that Johnny was a race car driver, that he fell head over heels for Sheila (Dickinson), a beauty who loves racing and Johnny. She keeps her sugar daddy Micky Farmer. Wining and dining Sheila leaves Johnny ill prepared for the big race. Not only that Micky is in the stands and is not pleased with what he sees with his binoculars. Disaster strikes when Johnny loses control of his car and winds up losing.
It’s clear that Johnny should avoid Sheila at all costs, but he just can’t and she winds up entangling him in Micky’s plan to rob a mail truck that’s carrying a million bucks.
Though the story’s been told before and it’s all done in flashback, The Killer’s kept my attention. The characters are cold blooded, yet passionate. Not one is able to walk away from danger. They have to play the game out to the bloody end. This film has 1960’s cool and a gripping plot. I do recommend seeing both the 1946 and 1964 versions. While you’re at it check on the Tarkovsky short.
- The Killers (1964) was supposed to be a TV film, but it had too much violence and sex so it was released in theaters.
- It was the only film with Ronald Reagan as a bad guy and he hated the film.
- The director Don Siegel was supposed to direct the 1946 one.
- Siegel wanted to call the film Johnny North, but the bean counters at Universal said no film with a direction like “North” ever made much money.
- They shot the last scene first as was usual for a Universal film. Lee Marvin was dead drunk and came 5 hours late. Despite his state, he nailed the scene.
- This version doesn’t contain a single line of dialog from the short story.
As a student, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky collaborated on a short film based on Hemingway’s The Killers, which I found on YouTube. At 19 minutes long it packs a punch just as the 1946 version does.
Tarkovsky directed the first and third scenes. He also plays a customer who whistles a tune while he’s in the diner. According to a Criterion Collection essay that tune was common on Voice of America and in Russia came to represent freedom.The Killers is a good introduction to Tarkovsky whose masterpiece Andrei Rublev is over 3 hours long.
Based on the 1927 short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers is straight up film noir. Directed by Robert Siodmak, he film begins with two hit men entering a sleepy small town and terrorizing the staff at the dinner. When they find out where the “Old Swede” (Burt Lancaster) lives, they complete their job. The odd thing is the Old Swede expects and accepts his fate.”
Reardon, An insurance investigator, is called in to find the Swede’s beneficiary. As the investigation progresses we learn about the Swede’s life and how he went from a failing boxer, to a robber, and how his love for a femme fatal named Kitty (Ava Gardner) was his downfall.
The insurance company doesn’t see the worth of pursuing the Swede’s decline or the big heist of $250,000 as it will minimally impact the ledger balance, but Reardon persuades his boss for a few days leeway. The story mainly consists of flashbacks, which are taboo in Hollywood, at least according to most screenwriting books, but they work. Each old acquaintance or lady friend has insight into the Swede.
The Criterion Collection DVD comes with bonus commentaries and I recommend watching the one with award winning master writer, Stuart M. Kaminsky who explains the birth of film noir, which was brought over to the US from German directors who emigrated here and how the films got darker and darker with time. Then the New Wave French became enamored of the style and coined the term Film Noir. Kaminsky offers his insights into the success of the story and both the 1946 and 1964 film versions. The DVD set has both of these versions and next I’ll watch the 1964 film with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson.