THE TEN BEST PRIVATE EYE MOVIES
Ten rainy day whodunits that have stood the test of time.
By Shaun Costello
Just exactly who was the best cinematic Private Eye, anyway? For my money, Phillip Marlowe is tough to beat, even though he was beaten up fairly often, staggering to his feet after being cold-cocked with a heavy object (usually a gun butt) held in the hand of a beguiling femme fatale who had gotten the drop on him. Marlowe leads the chase in three of the titles I’m listing here, and is played by three different actors. Two of these films were adapted from the same book, Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. The first, Murder My Sweet (1944) was renamed as box office strategy, which I suppose worked, to a degree. And, the 1975 remake with the original Farewell My Lovely title intact. The third Marlowe caper, Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep, had maybe the greatest writing team ever assembled, even though the audience had a tough time figuring out what, in God’s name, this movie was about. Sam Spade, a Dashiell Hammett creation, and a Marlowe contemporary is of course, the chief sleuth in The Maltese Falcon, which has Bogie and Huston and the fabulous Warner Bothers repertory company, and lines like, “You’re good. You’re very good”.
But, what about Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Nick and Nora Charles and their clue-finding pup Asta, Mike Hammer, Jake Gittes – snappy snoops all; tough, relentless, with a curiosity that won’t quit. These guys will stop at nothing in getting to the bottom of things, sorting out the details, finding out exactly who killed whom, and why.
In alphabetical order:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Alfred L. Werker 1939
The best of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Holmes/Watson capers, from Fox and Darryl Zanuck. Holmes and Watson again do battle with that criminal genius, Professor Moriarty, nicely played here by George Zucco. And, this one’s got the fabulous Ida Lupino to add a bit of heat.
Moriarty has a plan to make off with the Crown Jewels, but Holmes stands in his way. Juicy Holmesian dialogue like:
Holmes, “You’ve a magnificent brain, Moriarty. I admire it. I admire it so much I’d like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.”
Moriarty, “That would make an interesting exhibit. Holmes, you’ve only now barely missed sending me to the gallows. You’re the one man in England clever enough to defeat me. The situation has become impossible.”
Holmes, “Have you any suggestions?”
Moriarty, “I’m going to break you Holmes. I’m going to bring off right under your nose the most incredible crime of the century, and you’ll never suspect it until it’s too late. That will be the end of you Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And when I’ve beaten and ruined you then I can retire in peace. I’d like to retire; crime no longer amuses me. I’d like to devote my remaining years to abstract science.”
Crafty direction by Alfred Werker, and a solid screenplay by Edwin Blum and William Drake. And, lovely black and white cinematography by Leon Shamroy.
The Big Sleep
Howard Hawks 1946
Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe finds himself in a nest of vipers, as usual, in this brilliant, if a bit confusing, film noir. Howard Hawks, probably Hollywood’s best dialogue director, has
a field day, juggling juicy lingo penned by an incredible writing team that included William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, and Hawks himself. The problem is, the story makes no sense. But, who cares, with Bogie as Marlowe, and Betty Bacall as a devious femme fatale. The now-famous jockey/horse-Bogie/Betty scene, filled with hilarious sexual innuendo, was added to the troubled production over a year later to spice things up. A solid cast, including a surprisingly sprite Dorothy Malone, makes this movie work, even if you may have trouble understanding what’s going on. Nice black and white lensing by Sidney Hickox, and a haunting, if sometimes abrupt, musical score by Max Steiner. I’ve seen this picture an embarrassing number of times, but for you, once should be enough – but see it!
Best scene: Bogie and Malone in the book store.
Roman Polanski 1974
“C’mon Jake, it’s Chinatown”, pleads Gittes’s friend, attempting to drag him away from the horrific car scene at the very end of the film. “Chinatown” means what you think, but it’s also an old expression meaning crazy, upside-down, or meshuganah – something best left alone. This is may be the best period film ever
made, and Polanski does it without the usual cheap tricks like historical references. He does it instead, with a fabulous cast, John Alonzo’s scorched cinematography, Jerry Goldsmith’s luscious score, Anthea Sylbert’s glamorous costumes, and Robert Towne’s Oscar winning screenplay. It’s all about water – Los Angeles doesn’t have any. And the Hollis Mulwray character is based on William Mulholland, the brilliant head of LA’s water department, who turned this parched patch of Southern California into the metropolis it was to become.
Jack Nicholson, as Jake Gittes, a private eye who makes a living on matrimonial cases, is sucked into a noirish whirlpool, where virtually nothing is as it seems. Polanski does a masterful job of slowing down Nicholson’s usually manic delivery, turning the performance into something more sensual and cunning. Faye Dunawaye is elegantly deceitful, and Polanski himself, plays a murderous knife wielding midget. But it’s John Huston’s Noah Cross that steals the show.
One of my all-time fave films. If anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, you’ll probably find a disc at your local library. Delicious sleuthing.
Best scene: Anything with John Huston, and “My sister – my daughter, my sister-my daughter, my sister AND my daughter.”
Farewell My Lovely
Dick Richards 1975
This is the third and, in my opinion, best movie made from Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel. As I’ve previously stated, Philip Marlowe is my favorite Private Eye and, although Bogie was near-perfect in The Big Sleep, Robert Mitchum is even better, as a big, hulking Marlowe, who seems constantly recovering from a whack on the noggin, or the woozy effect of the knock-out drops that some swell dame slipped in his drink. Unlike Polanski’s Chinatown, director Dick Richards uses the historical reference of Joe Dimaggio’s 57 game hitting streak throughout the movie to maintain a feel for 1940 period. OK, so it’s a gimmick, but a forgivable one – it works. Come to think of it, just about everything in this movie works. Great Chandler narration like, “I’d hardly reached the corner, when a hand so big I could of sat in it, landed on my shoulder”. Besides a wonderfully effective Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling provides the heat in a cast rounded out by John Ireland and Sylvia Miles. There’s even a quick glimpse of Sly Stallone in one of his first movie roles. Dark and sultry lensing, once again by John Alonzo, and a delicious musical score by David Shire make this recreation of 1940 Los Angeles believable. If you can find a DVD of this – pounce.
Kiss Me Deadly
Robert Aldrich 1955
No more Mr. Nice Guy – not with Mickey Spillane’s brutal, tough, take-no-prisoners Mike Hammer on the case, and in this case, the case is a box – Pandora’s Box, filled with nuclear material ready to go off. Ah, the Fifties, when every right-thinking American had the A-Bomb on his mind, 24 hours a day. An apocalyptic murder mystery? You bet, and Mike Hammer’s the right guy to put the pieces together. A nice turn here by Ralph Meeker, as the Private Eye with an attitude problem. And the movie debuts of Cloris Leachman, and Maxine Cooper
On a lonely country road, Hammer gives a ride to Christina (Cloris Leachman), an attractive hitchhiker wearing nothing but a trench coat. She has escaped from a nearby mental institution. Thugs waylay them and Hammer awakens in some unknown location where he hears Christina screaming and being tortured to death. The thugs then push Hammer’s car off a cliff with Christina’s body and an unconscious Hammer inside. Hammer next awakens in a hospital with Velda (Maxine Copper) at his bedside. He decides to pursue the case, both for vengeance and because, “She (Christina) must be connected with something big”.
“The great whatsit”, as Velda calls it, at the center of Hammer’s quest, is a small, mysterious valise that is hot to the touch and contains a dangerous, glowing substance. It represents, of course, the 1950s Cold War fear and nuclear paranoia about the atomic bomb that was all the rage back then.
A dark, noirish nightmare, deftly handled by director Aldrich. Murky, night time Los Angeles locations, made to shine by cinematographer Ernst Laszlo. This is a low budget ($400,000), no nonsense, first rate film noir, with a game cast, and a savvy director. A film not to miss.
Otto Preminger 1944
OK, I know, I know – it’s not a private eye movie, it’s a cop caper, but it’s Laura, the one and only, and this is MY list so it’s just tough. We have to get past this. Good.
A detective (Dana Andrews) investigating the grisly murder of a famous actress (Gene Tierney) falls in love with her painting. The more he hears about her, the deeper his spell. (I’d do the same thing if that music followed me around all the time) Everyone Andrews interviews seem to be in love with her too. Venomous gossip columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) seems to be the late Laura’s biggest booster. Her grief stricken fiancé Shelby (Vincent Price) is beside himself. Just who would kill such a beloved creature? Just when the audience settles in to accepting lovely Laura’s demise, plot twist of plot twists, the door to her apartment opens, and in walks, you guessed it, Laura, live and lovelier than ever. Andrews, who had fallen asleep on the couch under Laura’s portrait, is awaked to find his obsession, alive and kicking, and wondering what this stranger is doing in her apartment. As Andrews adjusts to this new situation, he finds the living Laura to be everything he’d hoped. But, who was the disfigured corpse, who everyone mistook for Laura? It turns out that Lydecker’s obsession with our leading lady got the better of him. If he couldn’t have her, he’d kill her instead. But he shot the wrong woman, and she was too disfigured to identify, so everyone assumed it was Laura’s body. A living Laura is just too much for Lydecker to accept, so he tries once again to kill her. Andrews intercedes, shooting the murderous Lydecker in the knick of time. As Waldo lies dying on Laura’s carpet, and of course under the portrait, his last words are, “Goodbye. Laura. Goodbye, my love.”
It sounds pretty silly, but it works. Tierney is simply too beautiful to believe, and a game cast does wonders with this material. But, maybe the most important element, the glue that binds this classic together, is David Raskin’s haunting, memorable musical score – one of the real champs. I wonder what happened to the portrait?
The Maltese Falcon
John Huston 1941
This 1941 Warner Brothers release is the third movie version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel. The first, released in 1931, starred Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, while the second, Satan Met a Lady, was a loose adaptation that was a bit more comedic. It was released in 1936, with Warren William, and a very young Bette Davis in the leading roles. Warner Brothers had been prevented from re-releasing the 1931 version by the Hays Office censors, because of its “lewd” content, so they went into production in 1941, on a new, cleaned up version, which is the beauty we all know and love.
First-time director John Huston wanted Bogie to play Sam Spade, but producer Hal Wallis wanted veteran leading man George Raft, who rejected it because he didn’t want to work with a first-time director. Raft also turned down the lead in Raoul Walsh’s “High Sierra”, the film that launched Bogie’s career as a leading man.
So, is The Maltese Falcon the ultimate private eye caper? You be the judge, but if it’s not, then it’s certainly close. Warner’s had the best ensemble of character actors in Hollywood, and most of them strut their stuff here. Beyond Bogey and Mary Astor, there’s Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, Sidney Greenstreet as Gutman, Barton MacClane and Ward Bond as Spade’s detective buddies, and Lee Patrick as Effie, who Spade addresses as “Precious” and “Darlin”. Huston even hired his father Walter, to play the ship’s Captain.
Whose got the bird, is the game played here. What exactly IS this Maltese Falcon, anyway? And why is it worth so many murders? Astor wants it, Greenstreet wants it, Lorre wants it, and the body count is mounting. Juicy, nest of vipers stuff here, and Huston is up to the task of getting the most out of this remarkable cast. A solid, tangy screenplay, written by the first-time director, nice dark lensing by Arthur Edeson, and a warm musical score by Arthur Deutsch. A bird for all seasons.
“You’re good. You’re very good”, say’s Bogie to Astor, and who among us could argue?
Murder, My Sweet
Edward Dmytryk 1944
This is the second movie made from Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely novel, and has a very different feel from the 1975, and third remake, above. The powers that be at RKO thought that changing the title to Murder, My Sweet would add some zip the film’s box office. Who knows, but the film did well.
Casting crooner Dick Powell in the Marlowe role was a gamble, but he’s an effective, if different gumshoe. With a small budget to work with, and 1944’s censorship problems to overcome, Dmytryk does an admirable job creating a dark, violent world for Marlowe and his cronies to inhabit. Nice turns by Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, and Otto Kruger. And, solid black and white camerawork by Harry Wild, plus a low-key musical score by Roy Webb rounds out the production. Powell is surprising here, and worth a look. Like Alec Guinness as George Smiley, when I read Chandler, I hear Mitchum’s voice, but Powell gives us an alternative.
Murder on the Orient Express
Sidney Lumet 1974
Agatha Chistie had been quite displeased with some film adaptations of her works made in the 1960s, and accordingly, was unwilling to sell any more film rights. When Nat Cohen, chairman of EMI Films, and producer John Brabourne attempted to get her approval for this film, they felt it necessary to have Lord Mountbatten of Burma (of the British Royal Family and also Brabourne’s father-in-law) help them broach the subject.
In the end, according to Christie’s husband Max Mallowan, “Agatha herself has always been allergic to the adaptation of her books by the cinema, but was persuaded to give a rather grudging appreciation to this one.” Christie’s biographer, Gwen Robyns, quoted her as saying, “It was well made except for one mistake. It was Albert Finney, as my detective Hercule Poirot. I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England — and he didn’t in the film. I thought that a pity — why shouldn’t he?”
Hey, Finney’s waxed lip-rug worked for me, but so did everything else in this dazzling film. I’m not the biggest fan of star vehicles, but Sidney Lumet somehow coaxed, cajoled, persuaded, and probably black-mailed this extraordinary ensemble of show business luminaries into one remarkable performance after another. Finney is a fastidious, almost effeminate Poirot, surrounded by a passenger list that includes (I’m going to name them all because it’s just such an amazing group) Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Michael York, Vanessa Redgrave, Jacqueline Bisset, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Martin Balsam, Rachel Roberts, Wendy Hiller, Denis Quilley, Colin Blakely, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and George Coulouris. And, their performances are all uniquely effective, and totally entertaining.
A complex Agatha Christie mystery, in the hands of a neurotic, self-involved detective, on the world’s greatest train, with a trainload of odd characters as suspects. Top notch lensing here by the masterful Geoffrey Unsworth, a lovely, waltzy score by Richard Rodney Bennett, and Lumet’s crafty direction make this memorable.
A throaty Finney, “Touch notheeeeeeng”
John Gielgud as a British valet, “It all started in a fracas in the mess, over a desert called “Spotted Dick”
Igrid Bergman as a Swedish missionary to Africa, “I vont to, um, help little brown babies, who, um, are less fortunate than, um, myself”
The Thin Man
W. S. Van Dyke 1934
Dashiell Hammett’s crafty couple Nick and Nora Charles are on the case here, in the original of, what would become, a series of detective capers. They’ve even got a snoopy, clue-fetching dog, Asta – played by a wire haired fox terrier named Skippy. Nick (William Powell), a retired detective, and his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) are attempting to settle in to retirement when the disappearance of a friend pulls him back into professional snooping. Nick decides he’ll solve the case, much to the amusement of his socialite wife. The dead bodies, and empty martini glasses pile up, as an ever-tipsy Nick and Nora, endlessly clever banter at the ready, roll up their sleeves, along with their pup, and do some slippery sleuthing.
All of the suspects are invited to a hilarious dinner party, where Nick and Nora, in a series of brilliant, if tipsy, deductions, solve the mystery. Clever dialogue, written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, and deftly delivered by two pros, drives this unique, comedic mystery. Sparkling black and white lensing by James Wong Howe, and strong ensemble work by Metro’s talent pool make this a movie not to miss. Funny doings.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
Ten films (and they’re not the only ten) that, for reasons unknown to me, I have seen at least ten times.
By Shaun Costello
I’ve seen a lot of bad movies, and willingly confess to having enjoyed most of them. Like their better brethren, some bad movies are just likeable. This whole movie thing is so subjective, like books, I guess. What makes us prefer one over another? What is it about certain films, that strikes a chord in us, creating the need to see them again? Is any movie really worth seeing ten times? I have no answers to any of these questions, and readily admit that the aforementioned behavior sounds symptomatic of some kind of psychiatric anomaly. Furthermore, as long as I’m in the confessional, back in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I unashamedly admit to having spent a preposterous amount of time, sitting in the balcony of the old Elgin Cinema (Now the Joyce Theater of Dance) on Eighth Avenue and 19th Street, eyes glued to the screen, absorbing one movie after another, becoming hungrier and hungrier for more of the same. And, to add some full-disclosure here, I readily confess to having had intimate knowledge of the interiors of every movie house in Manhattan, from Fourteenth Street to Eighty Sixth – and river to river. From the trendy, East Side, cup of espresso before the credits venues – to the grunge palaces of 42nd Street, where you could see three action pictures for a buck, and where the predominantly black audience threw empty soda cans at the screen, to warn the hero that a bad guy was sneaking up behind him. If movie addiction were a crime, I’d be doing life without parole, as a permanent guest of the state.
Does anyone know the name of an affordable shrink?
Where was I? Oh, the over and over thing. Thanks to Blogging, I can share part of my addiction with you, ten examples at a time. While there are probably hundreds of movies that I have seen at least ten times, I have selected the following ten, ten being the magic number of which lists seem to be constructed.
Although some films on my previously blogged lists could easily have been included here, I’ll limit this to as yet unlisted titles.
So, in alphabetical order:
Terry Malick’s hypnotic dramatization of the 1958 Starkweather/Fugate murder spree, across the prairie. The whole movie has an other-worldly feel to it, thanks to Sissy Spacek’s detached, child-like narration, and Malick’s use of Karl Orff’s children’s music. Spacek witnesses Sheen’s sudden, unexpected murder of her parents, and reacts as though the event was an episode of Ozzie and Harriet on television. They set fire to the house and hit the road, as we see Sissy’s life, in a series of close-ups of burning photographs and toys, go up in flames, scored to Orff’s rhythmic syncopation. Her detached narration becomes more bizarre with each of Sheen’s subsequent murders, as they kill their way through the Dakota badlands. Growing more and more paranoid, Sheen creates a hideout in the sagebrush, complete with deadly booby traps to deter their pursuers. Out of nowhere, a Sheen/Spacek desert dance begins to Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange”, and ends just as abruptly as it began. Strange and deadly doings, out on the prairie.
Dogs of War 1980
“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war” Shakespeare/Julius Caesar
My Favorite Frederick Forsyth book, and definitely a film worth seeing. I have no idea why I like this film so much, but Christopher Walken’s both vulnerable, and dangerous persona, makes this thing work. Mercenaries are hired to depose a dictator in a fictional and failed African state. Forsyth’s elaborate detail, and great ensemble work keeps the action entertaining. Cast includes: Tom Berenger, Paul Freeman, Jean Francois Stevenin, and JoBeth Williams.
From Larry McMurty’s novel, Hud is Paul Newman’s cranky cowboy caper. A disappointment to his stalwart, principled father (Melvyn Douglas), and a hero to his younger brother ( Brandon De Wilde), Hud’s just waiting for his Dad to die so he can inherit the ranch. Patricia Neal is hired to help with the chores, creating some lust amongst the longhorns. And have a listen to Elmer Bernstein’s subtly effective score – sometimes using just one guitar. Newman is one nasty cowpoke, but Douglas and Neal steal the show, and win their Oscars. A Best Cinematography Oscar also went to James Wong Howe for some beautiful work in Black and White.
Alan Pakula 1971
Klute was the first installment of what would become known as director Alan Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy”. The other two films are “The Parallax View” (1974) and “All the President’s Men” (1976). But, I think most people remember it for Jane Fonda’s once-in-a-lifetime performance (and her Oscar) as the jittery hooker with someone on her roof.
The film begins with the disappearance of Pennsylvania executive Tom Gruneman. The police reveal that an obscene letter was found in Gruneman’s office. It was addressed to a prostitute in New York City named Bree Daniels (Fonda), who had received several similar letters from Gruneman. Much to the surprise of the police, Peter Cable (Cioffi), an executive at Gruneman’s company, hires family friend John Klute (Sutherland) to investigate Gruneman’s disappearance.
Klute rents an apartment in the basement of Daniels’ building, taps her phone, and follows her as she turns tricks. Initially, Daniels appears to be liberated by the freedom of freelancing as a call girl. In visits with a psychiatrist throughout the film, however, she reveals that she feels empty inside and wants to quit. Klute asks Daniels to answer some of his questions, but she refuses. He approaches her again, revealing that he has been watching her. She assumes that he will turn her in if she does not cooperate, but does not recall Gruneman at all. She reveals that she was beaten by one of her ‘johns’ two years earlier, but after seeing a photo of Gruneman, she says she cannot say for sure one way or the other. She is only certain that the john “was serious” about the attack.
Daniels takes Klute to meet her former pimp, Frank Ligourin (Scheider). Ligourin reveals that one of his prostitutes passed off the abusive client to Bree and another woman named Arlyn Page (Dorothy Tristan). The original prostitute committed suicide, and Page became a junkieand disappeared. Klute gives his surveillance tapes to Daniels, telling her he is finished with her part of the case. But, realizing that he cannot continue the investigation without her, he re-enlists her help to track down Page.
Klute is one of the great New York Location movies. Others that come to mind are “Serpico”, “The French Connection”, and “Three Days of the Condor”. From the very first credit, Michael Small’s tingly, eerie musical score sets the mood. Alan Pakula went for dark and gritty, shooting in tight locations where entire scenes were lit exclusively with ‘inkies’. The result is a feeling of intimacy that resonates throughout the film, amplifying a sense of impending danger.
Beyond Fonda’s astounding performance, Donald Southerland’s John Klute has a hound dog-like persistence. Roy Scheider does a creepy turn as Fonda’s pimp, and Charles Cioffi is effectively dangerous as the serial hooker-killer. But, it’s Vivian Nathan, as Fonda’s shrink, who steals the show.
The Prince of Darkness, Gordon Willis, shines here, creating luster in the shadows. Seemless editing by Carl Lerner, and Michael Small’s relentlessly eerie score make this memorable. Maybe you have to be a New Yorker to love this film, but I don’t think so. One of my all time favorites.
Best scenes: Fonda with her ‘trick’ in the hotel room – “Oh, my angel. My angel”. And Jane tells old Mr Goldfarb about her recent erotic adventure. “No, he was an older man, not unlike yourself. Young men can be so…..silly”.
Lost Horizon 1937
It was the mid Thirties, and the Faschisti were marching across an ever-darkening Europe. James Hilton’s novel described a better place, a place of peaceful solutions, and escape from the
jack boot – somewhere over the rainbow, or in this case over the Himalaya’s, was the secret valley of the Blue Moon, and at its center – Shangri La, where dreams came true and life was eternal, well almost. In my opinion, Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s masterpiece, and a joy for anyone to see.
The director didn’t like the early dailies – something just wasn’t right in those snow scenes. And it dawned on Capra, that there was no steaming breath from the mouths of his actors. So he packed up and reshot in a gigantic meat freezer, somewhere in Brentwood.
Tragically, about fifteen minutes of the original negative has been lost. The producers of the now-available DVD offer two versions; one with the existing picture, and another (thank God) with the screenplay intact, and a black picture over the dialogue scenes where the original picture was lost. I found the latter to be preferable, hearing the entire script, for me anyway, was much more satisfying.
A delicious Fairy Tale beautifully delivered by Capra with: Ronald Coleman, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, Thomas Mitchell, and Sam Jaffe as The High Lama. And, Dmitri Tiomkin’s luscious musical score.
Officer Serpico’s best friend on the police force tells him, “Frankie, no one trusts a cop, don’t take money”. From Peter Mass’ book on New York City’s police corruption, and the true story of the cop who went on record against it. It takes almost the entire film for Serpico to persuade New York’s political establishment to accept the evidence he’s been trying to give them all along – evidence that leads to the Knapp Commission hearings. Director Lumet is
at home, shooting on location, in the city he knows so well, and the film looks it. Dark and luscious lensing by Arthur Ornitz, and strong ensemble work by an familiar cast, filled with Lumet’s favorite actors. But, in my opinion, the smartest decision Sidney Lumet made was hiring Mikis Theodorakis to do the musical score, music that seems to support every image, with lyrical simplicity. One of the all-time great New York location movies, with: Al Pacino as Officer Frank Serpico, surrounded by the Sidney Lumet repertory company.
George Roy Hill
Oddly enough I never saw Slapshot in a movie theater. My buddy Mal Worob had a tape of it in his Manhattan loft. This was even before VHS – it was probably a Betamax. Mal was the first person I knew who had copies of movies at home.
Anyway, I can remember Paul Newman, in an interview saying, “We got more out of less on Slapshot that any movie I was involved in”.
Newman plays the Player/Coach of a failed minor league Hockey Team, that’s being sold behind his back. So, with nothing to lose, he hires the Hanson brothers (real life hockey players), who are notoriously violent and dirty players, and the Chiefs go on a tear. Slapshot has the look of a film that was obviously fun for the actors involved, and it shows, the cast seemingly in on every gag. And that cast includes Newman, Lindsay Crouse, Strother Mortin, Michael Ontkean, and those effervescent Hanson brothers.
The Professionals 1966
Another Seven Samurai spin-off, but this one’s got Lee Marvin, and Burt Lancaster, and Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode, and Jack Palance and Claudia Cardinale, and some of the sauciest, machismo, cowpoke dialogue ever delivered. Richard Brooks’ crusty screenplay constantly parodies itself, and the boys are up to the task. Lee and Burt play tired adventurers, hired for one last mission – bring back the kidnapped wife of a wealthy railroad mogul. They had both fought in Mexico with
Pancho Villa, and are not eager to ride back south of the border but, what the hell, ten thousand dollars a man buys a lot of tamales. Every actor is given quotable dialogue to deliver, and deliver they do. This movie could have been just silly, but director, script, and cast come together here, and the result is a thoroughly entertaining film. Beautiful cinematography by Conrad Hall, and the musical score, by Maurice Jarre, is unexpectedly spicey. Grab this, if you can.
The Thomas Crown Affair 1968
No, not that silly sequel with Pierce Brosnan. I’m talking about the 1968 original with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. A big bank heist, simply for the thrill of it. A wealthy and bored McQueen robs the biggest bank in Boston, for fun. And insurance investigator Faye Dunaway is hired to crack the case. Of course, this is a movie, so they become romantically and competitively involved. She tells him she’s going to win, and get her man. He takes the challenge, and goes out and robs another bank, basically telling her, “I’m going to do it, and you can’t stop me, or catch me”.
Sexy, slickly entertaining suds, with two stars in their prime. And, unlike the silly sequel, someone has to win, and someone has to
lose. The chase becomes a chess match, figuratively, and literally. Great use of split-screen, and Michel Legrand’s Oscar winning score, with a great song, “Windmills of your Mind” woven through it. Bank heists, Polo, Glider planes, and Chess for sex. Ah, the Sixties.
Three Day’s of the Condor 1975
Is there a second CIA, inside the CIA? A question Turner (Robert Redford), a bookish, reader/researcher who works for the CIA asks himself, after returning from lunch to find everyone in his New York office has been assassinated. The Agency thinks he’s involved, and unknown forces are out to silence him. He needs time to sort it all out, and somewhere to hide. He kidnaps Faye Dunawaye, and uses her apartment – a place to think things through. Everyone is after him. Atwood (Addison Powell) whose secret network Turner accidently uncovered. Higgins (Cliff Robertson), the CIA’s Deputy Director who’s trying to bring him in. Wabash (John Houseman), a CIA Mandarin who orders him killed. Joubert (Max von Sydow) a hired assassin who befriends him. With the help of his kidnap victim Kathy (Faye Dunaway), he tries to solve the puzzle.
Condor is a fast paced, top notch CIA spy caper, with a clever, ever-twisting plot, and game cast. Pollock’s second best effort, I think. (Tootsie is hard to beat) Lorenzo Semple’s intelligent screenplay is smart and juicy. Slick cinematography by Owen Roizman, with good use of New York locales. Great stuff.
© 2011 Shaun Costello