The Sons of Katie Elder takes its time. So much so, that I imagined the four Elder brothers might just talk their way through this picture. Midway into the picture, the shooting starts and by the end the action turns into the expected Western, gun blazing finale. At that point, I actually missed all the talk; all of that spacious time.
There was something about Mercedes McCambride‘s voice that distrubed me. Every time she spoke, I thought of someone else. But who? I wanted to say Rocky, Bullwinkle’s little flying buddy. No, that was June Foray.
To the Internet, to figure out where I might know Mercedes McCambride’s voice from. Turns out she voiced the demon in The Exorcist. Who knew? Not me.
The coolest of all Elvis films for a few reasons, starting with Michael Curtiz. Between Casablanca and King Creole, Curtiz makes his case for being the world’s coolest director. Nicholas Ray, Elia Kazin, Jim Jarmusch, they all owe something to Curtiz. Yet, Curtiz alone is not cool. He’s only cool when he gets the right parts. Here, the parts include a wet New Orleans, perpetually damp, as if soaked in booze. great heavies like Walter Matthau and Vic Morrow, and of course Elvis. Woefully old to be a teenager, except in Hollywood, where teens range from 18-30, Elvis’ age doesn’t matter. His age is as in-congruent as the audio quality of the songs. Right from the start, the song “Crawfish” announces both Elvis and magical tone of the film’s music. It hovers on top of the picture, unaffected by locations or physical surroundings. The implausibility of the sound, the sheer obviousness of Elvis’ performance, the happenstance of his song becoming a duet with a woman (Kitty White) just rolling through the French Quarter doesn’t work in reality. However, reality doesn’t matter, only coolness matters. But, it has to be a casual coolness, the kind that just emanates from some people. Elvis is cool. Curtiz, perhaps he’s cool too, if not as a person, then as a collector. Coolness after all, can’t be forced or even manufactured. When it is, it rings false, but it can be collected. The parts can be gathered. Cool directors know how to gather coolness. It is not so much about directing people to be cool, than it is knowing what already is cool.
Capone vacilates between shoot outs and shouting. A marble mouthed Ben Gazarra plays the titular gangster. There’s a cameo by Cassavetes and another by Dick Miller. Sylvester Stallone mumbles, alot. Not much to see here folks. Then, there is that ‘one’ scene. This time that one scene is the final scene and really this is no spoiler. Capone sits poolside. His mind is lost to syphilis. He casts a fishing line into the pool and rails against the Bolsheviks. The fucking Bolsheviks.
Wish I could share it with you, but the Bolsheviks at Fox don’t want any part of this film on You Tube. Of course they don’t want to release it in the States either. It’s not like the film is all that awful.
In two words – white folk. The film is folksy and full of folks, all of them white. You could say it is a mighty white film. In fact one character says to another, “That’s mighty white of you.” The odd thing is I can’t recall one person of color in the film. Consarnit!
“That’s mighty white of you” is an odd term. It can be an insult, but when said between two Caucasians the term is usually a compliment. It means you’ve done the upstanding or right thing. Through and through, there is something patently mighty white about this film. Consarnit!
The Devil and Daniel Webster or All That Money Can Buy, as it was originally known, creates this image of rural New Hampshire that is both idyllic and comedic. I drove through New Hampshire once and if the local accent where as cartoonish as it is appears in this film and if they really used a certain ‘C’ word as much as the main character does in this film, I might have stayed a spell. Accent or no accent there is something quaint and charming about the backdrop of this morality play. It’s a romanticized vision of rural life, the kind of lost innocence and simplicity white people still look for in mythical places like Lake Woebegon, only here it’s storybook New England, that bucolic cradle of our nation. Consarnit!
I cannot say that I am not susceptible to this charming refinement of New England life. To some extent The Devil and Daniel Webster plays like a strange promotion for New Hampshire or at least the character of its people. Hell, I felt hald inclined to move there, just from watching the film. What fine neighbors New Hampshirians must make. Repeatedly, mention is made not of great men or great white men, but of great New Hampshire men. Daniel Webster himself declares he’d, “fight ten devils for one New Hampshire man.” I find it rather curious how specific the film is in its references to New Hampshire men. Here, to say a man is from New Hampshire is akin to saying they are mighty white. New Hampshire men are spoken of as if they were a breed; born of healthy and noble stock. They are spoken of as if they were the work of a fine craftsman. Consarnit.
The best thing I can say about the film is that it too feels like the work of a talented craftsman. Like a piece of colonial furniture, the film’s construction shows care and artistry, but not at the cost of functionality. As films go, it feels right. Well composed, constructed, elegantly lit, with fine artistic flurishes, you could say it is mighty white. Unable to find much moral value in the story, for it is far too simple of a Sunday School drama, I still found this to be rather rustic but engrossing story, mostly do to the drama brought about through use of camera and lighting. Being hereto unfamiliar with director William Dieterle I am now curious of his other films and interested to see if the rather artful touch he displays in The Devil and Daniel Webster is indicative of his faculties as a director or just some devilish luck. Consarnit!
Shockingly impressive, that is if frenetic action splattered with blood and guts is the criteria for quality. Sylvester Stallone deserves a tip of the hat for bringing back the grindhouse aesthetic in ways that Tarantino and Rodreguiez failed to do. Quick, dirty, and overtly nasty, this new Rambo makes little sense when you get a chance to think about what is going on. Most of the time the action and gore are so jaw-dropping that the brain just shuts down, perhaps in self-defense.
In those rare instances where the visceral action lets up enough for a thought to formulate I am left flabbergasted. At the start of the film, John Rambo is once again living in self-exile and doing his best not sort out all the blood on his hands. When he’s approached by Christian missionaries to escort them into Burma he begrudgingly agrees. The choice of Christian missionaries and characters in need of Rambo’s aid is rather curious. Their inclusion into the Rambo mythology poses an interesting confrontation between peace and war. The missionaries allow John Rambo to achieve a level of cathartic self-forgiveness. At the same time, the overlying message is that of violence above all. The Christian message and those delivering it quickly replace What Would Jesus Do? with What Would John Rambo Do?
I guess it would be foolish of me to look for a pacifist message in a Rambo film. It’s like gutting fish in the hopes of finding a diamond. Still, I would have enjoyed more confrontation between Christian pacifist ideals and Rambo’s kill ‘em all and let God sort them out mentality.
I must say that the largest creative quibble I have with the film is that the carnage and death comes so quick that there is no time to consider the resulting agony. When the film does slow down during one particular attack, the e audio is replaced with music. This decision was certainly made to up the emotional ante of the scene, but in truth it would have been far more harrowing to have to hear the e screams, cries and moans of those torn apart by gun fire and landmines. In short, this Rambo films wants us to believe that Rambo is burdened with the guilt of killing, but we are never given more than a split second to realize the lasting effects of violence.
Also known as They Came From Within, David Cronenberg’s early biological terror film should be mandatory viewing for the legions of young Turks who look to break big in the film business by producing a low-budget horror film.
Like an old Chinese proverb that states, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought,” would-be filmmakers need to think of smart ways to reinvigorate the genre. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have some social commentary.
Starting with a brilliant opening that is as efficient with exposition as it is clever with design, Shivers establishes another key rule for budding horrorsmiths. Trap your characters. Whether it be in an upscale apartment complex, a farmhouse, or the woods, keep your characters confined to a single location. Its easier for your production and it creates more drama than you can probably dream up.
Back to being smart and not walking in others footsteps. Face it, there is nothing that new under the sun. Zombies existed before Night of the Living Dead, but they looked and acted nothing like Romero’s zombies. The same is true of the parasites in Shivers. For years, seen and unseen forces had been possessing the minds and bodies of men, but what Cronenberg did differently was make it sexual. His terror is both different from previous horror films and strikingly similar to contemporary issues. Suburbanites infected with a parasite that turns then into sex-crazed maniacs and looking to infect others feels like a condemnation of the more orgiastic aspects of the over-indulgent 70′s. The seemingly perfect and glossy world depicted in the opening credits is rife with a killer STD.
As story and violence goes, Shivers builds off the legacy of Night of the Living Dead. Those infected with the parasite seek love the way Romero’s zombies seek brains. Cronenberg is essentially not giving us anything new, just a new slant.
Call it a twist, albeit a rather smart, even funny one, aware of its time and its place. By place I don’t particularly mean an island near Montreal, but by place I mean its place in the movie world. Shivers is a b-movie, but one that takes itself semi-seriously. In more recent times, upstart horror films almost gleefully demean their own work. They revel in their flaws, making them jokes that ultimately overshadow any original ideas the film may have to offer. Some go so far as to be bad on purpose. I guess it is far better to knowingly make a fool of yourself then to try something daring and get laughed at.
Thankfully, directors like Cronenberg, not to mention Larry Cohen and George Romero, have sought to entertain great notions within the wildly entertaining genre of horror. Young filmmakers should seek what they sought.