Master editor Dede Allen dies

A brief LA Times obit–thanks to Jerry Rosenblum for the alert on this–on Dede Allen, who just died of a stroke. Allen was the editor on Bonny and Clyde and Dog Day Afternoon. My take away from all of this: I’m at least happy to learn that there’s no technical name for “starting the sound for the next scene before the scene starts” other than “starting the sound for the next scene before the scene starts.” Should we call it “an Allen edit”?

Cleo Moore Double-Bill

She conquers with her camera, her curves and no conscience!

Just caught up with the Cleo Moore two-fer Over-Exposed and Women’s Prison from the Columbia Bad Girls of Film Noir series. The term “film noir” gets thrown around very loosely these days, but I’m happy to accept the genre-bending if it makes obscurities available.

Over-Exposed (1956) is the keeper in this double-bill. The next-to-last film in the nine-year career of va-va-voom blonde beauty Cleo Moore, it starts with a pair of shapely legs, a promise of cheesecake to come in the tale of one woman’s rise to the top (or bottom, depending on one’s moral code) of the nightclub- and fashion-photography racket. Once upon a time, it seems, being a “flash girl” (or “Camera Queen of the Clip Joints” as the breathless trailer puts it), i.e., taking pictures of patrons at ritzy nightclubs, was a pretty lucrative gig.

The action begins with some small-town cops hustling a bunch of B-girls onto the next bus for parts unknown. Except that voluptuous Lily Krenshka (Moore) proclaims her innocence: she just arrived in this burg and didn’t know that she had signed on to work at a notorious dive. An elderly tosspot portrait photographer named Max (Raymond Greenleaf), a kind of Richard Avedon before his time, offers Lily a place to crash. She returns the favor by cleaning the studio up and promoting his business. He teaches her how to heft a lens with authority.

Eventually, Lily moves to the big city and tries to become the next Margaret Bourke White, but bumps her head on the glass ceiling at something called Allied Newspapers, although she does meet a handsome if goofy reporter named Russell (Richard Crenna with a squeaky voice). She changes her name to Lila Crane and makes a name for herself wielding her Brownie at swank niteries. She’s not above goosing her clients with the promise of after-hours trysts and even sells scandalous snaps to a weasel of a gossip columnist (James O’Rear, looking more than a little like the young Herb Caen).

Lila works her way up to high-fashion photography, becoming famous enough to appear on something called The Dialing With Diana Show, in which said Diana rings her up and gets a tour of the studio. Behind the scenes, Lila barks at her assistants like Martha Stewart in her pre-prison prime.

While Lila and Russell carry on a deeply dysfunctional love affair based entirely on mistrust and misunderstanding of each other’s motives, Lila also becomes entangled in the business of a local crime boss accused of murder. This leads to a predicament from which only Russell can rescue her just in time for a happy ending, that manages to assert the need for women to take up independent careers while at the same time finally giving in to the equal need to be paired off with a higher-income-bracket male.

The dialogue snaps nicely, particularly since everybody has something nasty to say about Lila’s Gordon Gekko predilections: “You’d use your grandmother’s bones to pry open a cash register!” and “If you saw a nickel in garbage pail, you’d stoop to pick it up.” I also liked an aside about an older man wining and dining a much younger woman: “He’s over there with his granddaughter playing hopscotch with real Scotch.”

In another notch for newspaper nostalgia, reporter Russell breathlessly explains his new position as a roving international correspondent: “I’ve got that job; they offered me more than I wanted—a blank check.” Ah, those were the days.

Over-Exposed is an odd hybrid of noir, True Confessions men’s magazine exposé and woman’s picture—complete with several inexplicable shots of Russell and Lila standing on an ocean-side cliff watching the pounding surf below, usually a clue that (1) somebody’s about to jump or (b) the director needed a handy visual emotion for surging emotions.

Moore is billed high but served up in only a few desultory scenes in Women’s Prison (1955), about the shocking fact that in the 1950s, apparently, male prisoners were housed “just a concrete wall away” from women prisoners.

Jan Sterling, Audry Totter and Phyllis Thaxter try to survive the harsh discipline dished out by femme warden Ida Lupino while pipe-smoking bleeding-heart liberal prison doctor Howard Duff keeps threatened to go to the prison board and get this black hole shut down. The film exhibits the main flaw with prison movies—male or female: you’re stuck in the prison along with the inmates.

Michael S. Gant

Nicolas Cage's Night of the Iguana

Separated at birth? (Hans Hilewaert, Creative Commons)

Many and deep are the risible absurdities running like a silty delta through Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Take for instance Val Kilmer’s character, who appears at the beginning, disappears for an hour and then reappears at the end suddenly acting like an even bigger wacko than Nicolas Cage’s title character. Where did that come from?

Or consider the fact that Cage isn’t really a “bad” lieutenant. He saves somebody’s life and takes care of his father’s dog. Harvey Keitel wouldn’t have done that, no way.

Then there is the break-dancing dead guy … and the gator-cam by the side of the freeway … and Eva Mendes’ high-end hooker’s sudden resolve to go to rehab and get pregnant … and Fairuza Balk’s S&M cameo.

but weirdest of all is the long iguana sequence. A couple of good-looking iguanas, no doubt, but their relationship to the plot is hard to unpack. They are, we presume, a hallucination, but maybe not. Are they supposed to symbolize the bad lieutenant’s reptilian morals, his devolutionary slide? The dark night of the iguana soul, a la Tennessee Williams?

New Film Noir Classic Collection on Warner Home Video

A good day for film noir fans, as Warner Home Video announced the coming release of Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 5, with eight digitally remastered titles in the offing.

The package includes Corner (1945, with Dick Powell; Desperate (1947), starring Steve Brodie and directed by Anthony Mann; The Phenix City Story (1955), a ripped-from-the-headlines crime drama by Phil Karlson; Dial 1119 (1950), a real obscurity with William Conrad and Keefe Brasselle; Armored Car Robbery (1950), a classic heist thriller with Charles McGraw; Crime in the Streets (1956), a Don Siegel JD expose with a young John Cassavetes; Deadline at Dawn (1946), a nail-biter based on a Cornell Woolrich story; and Backfire (1950), perhaps the only film noir to star musical-comedy star Gordon MacRae.

The set is listed at $49.92 (not bad for eight movies) and will be available in July.

The Green Glove—Glenn Ford in B&W

In pursuit of as many oddities as I can squeeze out of my Netflix queue, I rented The Green Glove, a 1952 thriller (sort of) about the hunt for a bejeweled gauntlet from the church in a small south-of-France mountain town called St. Elizaire. We know that the glove is green thanks to the title and some lurid imagery on the DVD jacket, which makes it look like Glenn Ford’s hand is being consumed by a snake demon that slithered across the Channel from Hammer Studios. The film, however, is in B&W, so all the references to the fabulously hued relic fall a bit flat.

Glenn Ford plays American ex-GI, Michael Blake, who first glimpsed the valuable accessory during the last days of the war, when he parachuted behind enemy lines and encountered the slippery count/art dealer Paul Rona (George Mcready of Gilda fame). A convenient artillery shell allows Rona to escape, although he must leave behind his briefcase with the glove. Michael is rescued by a family of aristocratic resistance fighters who live in an enormous empty castle. He leaves the briefcase in their keeping.

Flash-forward seven years, and down-on-his-luck Michael is back in France, with the idea of finding the glove and reversing his woeful life fortunes. He is quickly on the defensive, running from a hit man hired by Count Rona, who seems to have been lurking all these years, just waiting for Michael to pop up on the Champs Elysees. On the run on the Eiffel Tower, Michael meets-cute with an American tour guide, Christine (Geraldine Brooks, who played opposite a stark raving mad Joan Crawford in Possessed) and enlists her in his race to the Midi to find Elizaire and the glove before Rona catches up with him.

A fair amount of well-played chase material done entirely on location comes to a grinding halt halfway through as Michael and Chris are forced to pretend they are newlyweds in order to spend the night at a small country inn. Suddenly, the movie turns into bad screwball farce as Michael gets drunk, Christine alternately shuns and seduces him, and the innkeeper’s wife rolls her eyes and makes “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” jokes about the “first night.” Brooks, who has been adequate up to this point, morphs into a very shrill imitation of Katharine Hepburn. The only saving grace in this long interlude is a lovely stroll along the leafy shore of a placid stream—it recalls the sun-dappled reverie of Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country (and indeed the cinematographer is Claude Renoir, who photographed A Day in the Country and was the great director’s nephew and the grandson of the Impressionist master).

Sobered up, Michael manages to find the now-impoverished aristos, and lo and behold, they have keep the briefcase all these years without every looking to see what is inside. Rona and his henchmen show up trying to muscle it away from Michael and Christine in a series of somewhat intricate and doomed-to-fail bits of chicanery and threats.

Then, miraculously, The Green Glove saves itself with a rousing finish as Michael tries to outrace Rona to the rocky redoubt of Eliizaire. The chase takes place entirely on foot across a switch-back-laden goat trail, up sheer rocky outcroppings and over a Sierra-worthy waterfall and cataract. The camera takes in most of this action from a distance that emphasis how precarious the footing of the stuntmen, who truly look as if they pushed their lives to the edge. Here, at the end of an otherwise disposable film, is some of the most breathless raw physical action imaginable, done without any process photography.

Director Rudolph Maté came from a cinematography background, working on Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr, before moving to Hollywood and working as a director of photography on To Be or Not to Be and Gilda, as well as working with Welles on The Lady From Shanghai. He also filmed the classic Gary Grant/Irene Dunn screwball comedy My Favorite Wife, which may account for the ill-considered comic relief in The Green Glove. He switched to directing in the late ’40s with mixed result, although his name will live forever as the director of D.O.A.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—at the Stanford Theatre

The Spring repertory season begins Saturday at Palo Alto’s Stanford theater with some very familiar and a bit of a rarity. One wonders which way Frank Capra’s populist rant against the Senate cuts today? Does it inspire or infuriate Tea Baggers?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington/Come Live With Me

(1939/1941) A Boy Ranger leader named Mr. Smith (James Stewart) goes to Washington to clean up the Senate, with only his secretary (Jean Arthur) for help. Meanwhile, a chorus of cynics observes and predicts doom. Director Frank Capra has an all-star lineup of cynics: the great character actor Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Guy Kibbee and Edward Arnold (Avarice, Gluttony, Sloth and Wrath—that’s four of the Seven Deadly Sins right there). The film was thundered against by Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley. Sen. James Byrnes of South Carolina was more specific: “Here is a picture that is going to tell the country that 95 out of 96 senators are corrupt, that the federal, state and municipal governments are corrupt; that one corrupt boss can control the press of a state; that the newspapers are corrupt; the radios are corrupt; reporters are corrupt …” (quoted in Joseph McBride’s The Catastrophe of Success). Today’s viewers may be less than shocked by these conclusions. The film’s intimate moments—such as the drunk scene between Mitchell and Arthur, supposedly coached by Howard Hawks—outdo the big patriotic heartstring-pullers like Stewart’s filibuster, a vague blob of populism. Yet there’s real bravery in this film, and Stewart is still our fondest dream of a citizen/patriot, especially in these divisive times. BILLED WITH Come Live With Me. Hedy Lamarr stars as an illegal alien, a singer with the stage name “Johnny Jones” who is going to be deported; Stewart steps in as a low-rent author with a thing for the exotic girl. Clarence Brown directs, with the help of a title swiped from Kit Marlowe. (Plays Apr 3-6 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (Richard von Busack)

Cal Worthington the father of Sam Worthington?

Essay question: Is Sam Worthington the son of Cal Worthington? Arguments for: 1. unwarranted career that suggests being related to insiders in the business of show (c.f., Gyllenhaals, Deschanels, Clash/Titans director Louis Leterrier, son of director Francois).

2. Sam Worthington’s perhaps genetically-inherited capability for beastmastering (as per Cal W.’s various dogs “Spot,” actually killer zoo animals);

3. ability to sell aged vehicles—i.e., remakes and franchises;

4. Just as Worthington the Elder promised to “Stand upon my head” to make you a better deal, so–through the magic of CGI whirly-cam–Worthington the younger is often seen upside down, thanks to plummeting war-dragons or feathered horses.

Bigger Than Life—DVD Review

BIGGER THAN LIFE; one disc; Criterion Collection; $39.95

In 2010, the destructive drug of Nicholas Ray’s 1956 medical drama Bigger Than Life appears harmless. After all, who nowadays abuses cortisone? But as James Mason’s Ed Avery, a quintessential, bow-tie-wearing mild-mannered schoolteacher starts popping more and more of the then-experimental drug in order to combat the crippling pain of a rare disease, he exhibits signs of megalomania verging on what we know call “roid rage.”

The unintended but useful connection to the deleterious side effects of steroids is echoed in Ed’s intense nostalgia for his one moment of glory as a second-string high school football player—an athletic achievement that he hopes to replicate in his hapless young son, Richie (Christopher Olsen), in a backyard coaching session that makes Woody Hayes look like Mr. Rogers.

At first, Ed’s mood takes a turn for the better as the cortisone kicks in; he’s more voluble and expansive. Some of his damped-down desires to be a kind of Superman (via Nietszche, not DC Comics) are freed. Soon, however, he teeters into mania, dragging Richie and his worried but weirdly docile wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), off on a shopping expedition that outstrips his modest salary.

But Ed isn’t really changing; he is actually becoming more and more his inner self. A telling subplot at the beginning covers the family’s tenuous hold on the middle class, as the underpaid teacher secretly moonlights as a cab driver to make ends meet.

In the fullness of his unleashed persona, Ed delivers an excoriating and amusing speech at parents’ night about the woes of modern schooling: “Childhood is a congenital disease. And the purpose of education is to cure it. We’re breeding a race of moral midgets.” Most of the parents are shocked, although a few salute his candor. Eventually, Ed exhibit the traits of a virtual psychotic, abusing both wife and child, until finally he conceives of himself as Abraham called upon by God to sacrifice his offspring—at which point medical science and the censors intervene for a happy ending the narrative has been pointing away from for 90 minutes.

Mason, who produced the film, gives a scary performance as the bad dad, although it just doesn’t make quite make sense to conceive of the plummy-voiced English actor as an all-middle-American teacher. Rush’s wife is understanding to a fault—always willing to wait a few more days to call the family doctor even when Ed starts eyeing the kitchen knives. As the family friend, Walter Matthau’s comic tics are merely distracting. The film’s impact comes from Ray and cinematographer Joseph MacDonald’s use of color CinemaScope to create an atmosphere of domestic horror on an almost epic scale. As Ed grows more frenzied, the camera sits lower and lower, casting deep shadows on the walls of the Averys’ house. We are reduced to the cringing perspective of Richie as he sees Ed looming over him like a patriarchal tyrant. In the climax, Lou’s red dress is matched with the red gilt on the top edge of the bible that Ed sees as a source of murderous salvation. In these scenes, Ray brutally strips away the facade of the suburban ’50s family unit. This Criterion print is, as always, beautifully restored; the disc comes with a commentary track by author Geoff Andrew (The Films of Nicholas Ray), a somewhat tendentious 1977 interview between Ray and film critic Cliff Jahr, a insightful tribute by novelist Jonathan Lethem, a featurette with Ray’s widow Susan and a booklet with a critical essay by B. Kite.

Michael S. Gant

Wrathful Grapes

Corked by Kathryn Borel (Grand Central, $23.79. 272pp)

The grape never falls far from the vine. To her surprise, the memoirist Kathryn Borel learns that she has more in common with her exasperating father Phillipe than she thought. The 26 year old Quebec journalist accepts her dad’s invitation to go on a wine-tasting safari from Alsace to Languedoc. The two travel in an increasingly bad temper. After one unbearable evening, Kathryn seriously considers running the old man down with their rent a car…despite still being in substantial shock from an incident back in Canada, where she accidentally killed a similarly aged jaywalker.
The book is about jammy subjects: drunkenness, bad behavior, food poisoning, and a lady with fidelity issues who can’t stop herself from torturing her ex-boyfriend via cell phone. Overshadowing it all: the trouble (or necessity) of phrasing the experience of tasting a glass of wine. The title recalls a memorable, if minor, trauma in Borel’s life. It was the time in her youth she tried to make points with her father by rhapsodizing over a bottle of wine that had reacted with its cork.
One sympathizes; it’s hard to find the right way to describe an intricate Pinot Noir, trying to look wise by hedging the words (and thinking “$25 a bottle? Eh, I don’t know.”)

Exceptionally witty and good with words as Borel is, she tends to get tongue-tied in the presence of her father. He was a hotelier for decades, and a Frenchman all his life.
Redemption does occur, sort of, Kathryn learns to admire the winegrowers act of faith, they way they trust in the rain and the sun; she imagines what it’s like “to dedicate your whole life to loving something you have no control over.” Kathryn’s also manages to express what a really good glass of wine means to her. Most importantly, she gets to understand the roots of her father’s raspiness, when he finally reveals his own personal horror story.
This story is balanced with heaven: a flavorful passage, in Phillipe’s words about the arrival of the first Air France 707 to Montreal in 1960. The banquet in the skies these favored passengers had: 150 passengers had food for 210.
“We called them les goinfres, `the eaters’…his was a time when plane food really meant something….the meal ended with a tray of thirty cheese from Androuet, the greatest fromager in Paris. And then a selection of little tarts and cakes. Each dish was accompanied with wine. To drink, they began with champagne, either Krug Grande Cuvee or Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. Then some white Grand Crus from Burgundy, sometimes Batard-Montrachet, sometimes Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet or even, from time to time, the Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche…then there were reds from Bordeaux, all Grand Crus, mostly from the 1953 and 1955 vintages. With the cheese, some champagne—a nice Moet—to clean the palate, then harder stuff, generally Armagnac, and cigars to finish….when the flight landed, Air France personnel were on the ground, ready with a half-dozen stretchers to unload the passengers. Most were drunk as stones.”
The book has a snarling bit of pepper in the first taste, giving way to a wincing tartness and a bittersweet finish.

Super Toy, Comic and Collectible Show, SJ 3/20/09

“There’s more people here then there are at the gun show,” a passerby complained seeing the crowd coming out of the Super Toy, Comic and Collectible show at the San Jose County Fairgrounds Sunday. It could be a prob for Quakers, deciding whether it’s less morally compromising to buy a vintage GI Joe Cobra rifle or an actual Glock for about the same amount of money.

Saw Lee Hester of Lee’s Comix, as well as former Metro man Mark D. Arnold; the former commenting on the entropic quality of the comic business, the latter currently preparing the definitive history of Cracked Magazine for publication.

The Saratogan Arnold previously did a book length history of Harvey Comics; when one remembers that Bill Clinton once thought of himself as “A Baby Huey type,” it’s clear that it’s worth while studying Harvey’s mark on years of kids who never could figure out why exactly Casper the Friendly Ghost died in the first place.

Talked to Dan O’Neill—his fellow Air Pirate Ted Richards of Los Gatos momentarily absent from the table. The venerable O’Neill, famed forever for Odd Bodkins comics, was telling the story he dramatized into a short comic Log of the Irish Navy (banned from eBay as Irish propaganda, O’Neill says). It’s the story about an elaborate act of, what I guess the authorities would call bio-terrorism schemed up back in Spring 1983..they’d call bioterrorism because everybody has to justify the importance of their job, I add.

It was a brilliant plan to dump tons of herring into San Francisco Bay just as the Queen’s yacht was to arrive, thereby causing the Queen and her entourage to be fouled by seagull guano when the birds were attracted to the fish.

The top-secret scheme, said O’Neill, had the backing of the notorious Mitchell Brothers. His personal score to settle was being one of the first Americans to witness the carnage left behind by Bloody Sunday. Unfortunately, O’Neill said, the word got out to the British when the Royal Party were parked in Santa Barbara; after what must have been a typically dreary dining experience with the Reagans, Her Madj went to San Jose and thence Yosemite, fooling the Seagull Terrorists by not showing up.

Newspapers of the time indicate it was the terrible March weather that year that accounted for the Queen not sailing up the coast, but we know better now, don’t we? Nice to know California gales can be too scary for English sailors. As for those sentimental about the old bag, remember we’re talking about the world’s biggest landlord, and think of how happy it would have made the seagulls.

On the subject of the aging Underground, was very sorry to hear that S. Clay Wilson was too unwell to show up. Wilson is the Kansas-bred creator of The Checkered Demon and reams of other debauched characters (including a gang of pirates I would have happily seen taking over from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise); he is currently recuperating from a bad fall he had on a San Francisco sidewalk; his wife is overseeing a trust to pay for the expenses of his lengthy hospitalization. Though she passes on the news that Wilson is drawing again, and may be in good enough shape for a quick trip to WonderCon.

How the hell did I miss Wildcard Ink.’s Gumby series, done by Metro illustrator Rick Geary and Bob Burden? I just did, despite it being published in Walnut Creek, and despite also being a devoted fan of Burden’s beautifully bizarre Flaming Carrot (and he’s also the originator of what became a cult movie, The Mystery Men; call it the Kick-Ass of its day).

In the long run, does it matter whether a great work is noticed at the time its published, so long as it’s noticed?

Obviously, yes.

It startles me how well Burden and Geary work together; Geary adding some necessary cuteness, Burden adding the strangeness, and how can one not applaud (in issue #2) an episode in which Gumby is hypnotized by a bad carnie and forced to perform as a Golem in the sideshow.

I saw on ET that today’s YouTube sensation is videos in which people who have raided the malls describe everything they bought on camera. Since I am tight with a buck, I only came home  with the paperbacks below:

The mess starts again in August with another Super Toy show, details to come.

Incidentally, The two Three’s Company ladies seemed gregarious. but I didn’t stop to talk. Too  busy shopping.