30 Posts about Movies #7

Post #7:  A Movie That Makes You Happy


Here’s a fun one.  One movie that always makes me happy is Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.  It’s 1948 and the war is over!  Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas star–what a cast!  Cary Grant’s character, Jim Blandings, is in advertising.  He and his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy) are going to move out of the city into a house that they’re building in Connecticut so they can have more room for themselves and their terribly bright daughters (read that as maybe too bright for their own good, a popular type in 40s comedies).  Things are looking up, people!

Their old friend and lawyer Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) hangs around quite a bit.  There’s a suggestion that he and Muriel had some kind of relationship in the past, and while they’re now just friends it gives Jim something to worry about.  Bill and others try to advise Jim and Muriel against letting their plans for their new home get out of hand, but of course their dreams get the better of them.

Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas, and Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas, and Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

The writing is what can rightly be termed “delightful.”  Melvyn Douglas as Bill Cole provides voice-over narration to the story.  He has such a great warm, funny tone.  Yes, Melvyn, tell me a story!  Get me in on your joke!  I’m all ears.  I’ve poured myself a drink!  I’m yours!  Jim and Muriel are, as Bill tells us, “two little fish from New York–out in the deep deep waters of Connecticut real estate.”  They fall in love with a broken-down house, for which they proceed to pay far too much.  A number of experts then come in and tell them to tear the house down, which leads to their massive house-building project.  We follow along with them through their home’s planning and construction and all of the attendant mishaps–the negotiations over how many bathrooms and closets to build (their architect suggests, “Perhaps what you need is not so much a house, as a series of little bungalows, each with two closets and a private bath”), the tearing down of the old place (on which another person held a mortgage–whoops), the digging of the well, the lintels and the lallys, the closet door that sticks, and the starry-eyed selection of paint colors.

A fun little subplot revolves around an account Jim is working on.  He needs to come up with a new ad line for the fictional product WHAM!, which is apparently more or less like SPAM.  He’s pulling out his hair over it and coming up with nothing, until finally the family housekeeper, Bessie, busts out with “If you ain’t eaten Wham, you ain’t eatin’ ham!”  Speaking of movies I quote, this film is one my sister and I have been quoting since way back in the days when AMC stood for American Movie Classics and when that’s what they actually played.

Happy indeed.  As a matter of fact, folks, I am happy to present you with the entire film.  Enjoy!

30 Posts about Movies #6 Part Four

Post #6:  Your Favorite Comedy Movie

Raising Arizona (1987)

There are some movies that you see a zillion times because no matter how many times you watch them, they still crack you up.  Raising Arizona is one of those movies.  It’s a movie that we’ve been quoting for years.

Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona (1987)

Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona (1987)

Most Coen brothers movies include the sinister in some form and to some degree.  There’s the Hudsucker Proxy at one end of the spectrum (I can’t recall what you might call sinister in Hudsucker, though it’s probably in there), then movies like Fargo inch into slightly darker territory, and at the other end of the spectrum films like Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing, No Country for Old Men, and (at times) O Brother, Where Art Thou? delve into much darker places inhabited by gangsters, killers, and demons.  Raising Arizona sits at the relatively tame end.  In this movie, even Leonard Smalls, the scary bad guy (as opposed to the totally-not-frightening bad guys, Gale and Evelie) is actually pretty funny.

Nicholas Cage is great in this.  I guess he’s known for some other films, but I think this has to be my favorite Nicholas Cage performance.  His physical comedy and just the faces he makes are perfect.  He is H.I. McDunnough.

Nicholas Cage as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona (1987)

Nicholas Cage as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona (1987)

Possibly my favorite character in the film, with of course a nod to the main duo of Ed (Holly Hunter) and H.I., is Dot (Frances McDormand).  The most oft-quoted Raising Arizona lines in our house come from Dot.  You probably know them:  “He’s gotta have his dip-tet,” and especially “You gotta do that, Hi!”  Of course, it’s all in the delivery, since just looking at the lines written out like that doesn’t convey the humor.  Oh, Frances McDormand, you are good.  She doesn’t even have that many lines, but she gets every bit out of that part.

Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand in Raising Arizona (1987)

Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand in Raising Arizona (1987)

Since an unadulterated clip of the scene is not available online, here’s that favorite bit from the script:

… and then there’s diphtheria-tetanus, what they call dip-tet.  You gotta get him dip-tet boosters yearly or else he’ll get lockjaw and night vision.  Then there’s the smallpox vaccine, chicken pox and measles, and if your kid’s like ours you gotta take all those shots first to get him to take ’em.  Who’s your pediatrician, anyway?

We ain’t exactly fixed on one yet.  Have we Hi?

(He sits stock-still with a stony face.)

…No, I guess we don’t have one yet.

(Dot shrieks.)

Well you just gotta have one!  You just gotta have one this instant!

Yeah, what if the baby gets sick, honey?

Hi, even if he don’t get sick he’s gotta have his dip-tet!

He’s gotta have his dip-tet, honey.

(Hi shrugs, then flinches as a piece of jello hits his shoulder.)


You started his bank accounts?

Have we done that honey?  We gotta do that honey.  What’s that for, Dot?

That-there’s for his orthodonture and his college.  You soak his thumb in iodine you might get by without the orthodonture, but it won’t knock any off the college.

(Hi sits stoically.  Dot is looking offscreen.)

…Reilly, take that diaper off your head and put it back on your sister!… Anyway, you probably got the life insurance all squared away.

You done that yet honey?

You gotta do that, Hi!  Ed here’s got her hands full with that little angel!

(dully) Yes ma’am.

What would Ed and the angel do if a truck came along and splattered your brains all over the interstate?  Where would you be then?

Yeah honey, what if you get run over?

Or you got carried off by a twister?
(End quote from script.)

Yeah, what about that, Hi?

Still Talking to Myself about Rapture

So, a cautionary note:  If you haven’t yet seen Rapture and think you might like to, you may want to avoid reading further.  This post contains some major spoilers.  I so enjoyed discovering this film when I knew almost nothing about it, and I would hate to deprive anyone of that experience.  If you’ve already seen the movie or you don’t care about that, go ahead and read on.

The booklet that accompanies the Rapture blu-ray

The booklet that accompanies the Rapture blu-ray

My blu-ray of the film arrived today!!!  My poster arrived today, too.  There was a bit of drama, actually, as I’d been tracking my packages and saw that both the blu-ray and the poster were supposed to be on a mail truck out for delivery.  The mail came, and I saw the poster but not the blu-ray!  Hopes dashed!  The mail truck was parked across the street, though, and I saw the mailman take a package that looked about the right size out of the back of the truck.  Sure enough, he crossed the street, walked up the steps, and deposited it in our mail slot.  The blu-ray player was supposed to arrive yesterday, but I wasn’t here to sign for it.  I stayed in all day today waiting for it (well, and working), and, finally, it arrived!  It’s Rapture Christmas over here.  Movie night tonight?  I am so stupidly excited!

In the meantime, I have now read the liner notes on the blu-ray.  I wish I could say that they were particularly enlightening.  Alas, they’re not, and they put forward this idea (an idea I’ve seen around, so I guess it’s a popular interpretation) that Agnes really believes that Joseph is her scarecrow come to life.  That’s not how I view the film at all.  And here is where I will say once again–SPOILER ALERT:  Agnes knows he’s real.  She knows the scarecrow is her creation–she says so many times.  It’s like a child with an imaginary friend.  The child knows that the imaginary friend isn’t real in the sense that the friend isn’t a living person, but the friend is very “real” in another way.  She’s been told she’s mad.  She tells Joseph and Karen that she made Joseph, but she knows that she’s playing a part.  She can want Joseph for herself, and why not?  She’s been denied so much.  She wants to claim him.  He arrives at just the right time for her.  But she knows.  The last line in the film confirms this.  She tells Joseph, “I always knew you were real.  Always.”  And this is part of the point.  He’s the one who knew she wasn’t crazy and told her so.  He’s the one who encouraged her to stop acting as if she were.  It’s a very meaningful thing for her to say to him as he is lying there dying.  To miss this, to me, is to really miss such a key part of the film.

Attempted scan of a tiny production still

Attempted scan of a tiny production still included in the booklet that accompanies the blu-ray

The liner notes also don’t really offer much interesting information about the production.  There is one tiny production still of the director instructing Stockwell and Gozzi that I would love to see larger, but that’s about it.  How do I get someone to talk to me about the real story behind this movie?  It seems terribly misunderstood, which I suppose is all too appropriate.

Last week I realized that Ennio Flaiano is credited with developing the screen treatment of Phyllis Hastings’s novel, which Stanley Mann then turned into the screenplay for the film.  Ennio Flaiano was an Italian screenwriter who co-wrote many of Fellini’s best screenplays, including The White Sheik (1952), La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), and Juliet of the Spirits (1965).  Flaiano was married to Rosetta Rota, the sister of Italian film composer and frequent Fellini collaborator Nino Rota.  I can’t help wondering how this unique assortment of filmmakers (French, American, Swedish, Italian, British; from the worlds of Hollywood, Bergman, Fellini) got involved in this project.  There’s a story here that I would love to dig up.

rapture german poster

German cinema poster for Rapture (1965)

I’ve compared some of the different original cinema posters for the film, and the more I look at them, the more content I am with the one I purchased.  The visual idea and blue color of one German poster I’ve seen around is nice, but the high-contrast treatment of the large image of Patricia Gozzi is a bit unflattering, and the German title–Irrwege der Leidenschaft (“Wrong Paths of Passion,” according to Google)–doesn’t fit my interpretation of the story.  I do like the treatment of the other image on that poster, though.  (Who wants to get me a $70 present–that’s including shipping–from German ebay?  Sigh.)  The most common English language posters for the film that I’ve seen are okay (one looks very similar design-wise to the Spanish language poster I purchased), but I’m not crazy about the typeface used for the title, and the tagline is just silly.  The one pictured here is one of the nicer ones, though the image may not be an original poster since it doesn’t show any fold marks.

English language poster for Rapture (1965)

English language poster for Rapture (1965)

Of the three, the tagline on the Spanish language poster, while still perhaps not quite right, comes closest, I think, to fitting the film–though what it implies about the ending is perhaps unwelcome and possibly even a tad misleading.  It reads:  “la historia de una muchacha que descubre un mundo enteramente nuevo… pero no pudo enfrentarse a él” (the story of a girl who discovered a whole new world … but could not face it).  I guess film poster taglines are the thing I cannot face.  But seriously… I’m glad I saw the film before I read any of those taglines.


30 Posts about Movies #6 Part Three

Post #6:  Your Favorite Comedy Movie

I’m All Right Jack (1959)


For my third choice, I’m going with Peter Sellers’ 1959 classic I’m All Right Jack.  The film takes a poke at the industrial class system in Britain, and as with a lot of the best comedy, no one comes out unscathed.  Everyone, from the top-down and bottom-up, is spewing complicated nonsense.

Ian Carmichael plays Stanley Windrush, a hapless upper class fellow ill-suited to any career, whose uncle gets him a job at his missile factory.  Peter Sellers plays communist union manager Fred Kite, who is suspicious of Stanley and of course therefore brings him into his home.  When an efficiency expert comes in, he easily tricks the clueless Windrush into showing him how much more quickly his job could be done–more quickly than more experienced union men have been doing the job.  Strikes ensue, Kite kicks out Stanley, and rapidly expanding mayhem follows.

I love Mr. “It’s not compulsory” in the above clip.

Peter Sellers as union man Fred Kite in I’m All Right Jack (1959)

This is vintage Peter Sellers.  Along with Dr. Strangelove (1964), it’s my favorite Sellers performance.  When I first saw I’m All Right Jack, I was struck by Sellers’ physical presence.  His more conservative 1959 haircut (in character, of course) and less angular face lend such a different aspect to Kite than say Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies or Harold Fine in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968).  If you take I’m All Right Jack and The Ladykillers (1954) as examples, it seems the Peter Sellers of the 50s was a little more of a bloated Brit than his later angular-jaw-raised-eyebrow looks.

Ian Carmichael as Stanley Windrush in I'm All Right Jack (1959)

Ian Carmichael as Stanley Windrush in I’m All Right Jack (1959)

Carmichael’s Windrush is also very funny.  The characters in this film are all wonderfully distinct… Windrush, Kite’s daughter, Windrush’s uncle, the blue-collar workers.  This is a movie I want to watch again soon.  It’s been too long.

Here’s a little something extra for you, linking up my favorite comedy #1 with my favorite comedy #3:  Peter Sellers joined Peter Cook and Dudley Moore for this sketch.  Enjoy.

Follow-Up #2: The Last Picture Show

LPScoverLast weekend I read the Larry McMurtry novel upon which the film The Last Picture Show is based.  The film follows the book pretty closely–even, in many cases, down to fairly significant stretches of word-for-word dialogue, and I found that I was able to fly through the book in one evening.  The book gives some very slightly different shadings to some of the characters, and there are a few scenes that aren’t in the film, but I think the filmmakers made a lot of smart choices in terms of what to retain and what to leave out.  The performances and the movie as a whole are lifted up rather than diluted by the space those deletions provide.  Someone could have made a different movie out of the book, and maybe even another good one, but I really can’t find any fault with Peter Bogdanovich’s interpretation.  If you love one–either the book or the film–but haven’t yet experienced the other, you have nothing to be worried about.  One does not ruin the other in either direction.

Oh!  And I failed to mention one other notable early Timothy Bottoms film, 1973’s The Paper Chase.  That one is airing on TCM this coming Wednesday at 6PM EST.

Follow-Up #1: Rapture

Patricia Gozzi and Dean Stockwell in Rapture (1965)

Patricia Gozzi and Dean Stockwell in Rapture (1965)

A few days ago, I mentioned that I’d discovered the 1965 film Rapture starring Dean Stockwell, Patricia Gozzi, Melvyn Douglas, and Gunnel Lindblom.  I gave it a pretty rave review.  What I didn’t know when I wrote that post is that this particular movie would invade my consciousness.  I’ve now seen the movie at least four times.  “At least”… I think I’m starting to lose count.  I guess that’s embarrassing, especially considering that the only way I can watch it at the moment is in eleven separate parts on YouTube.  The performances are just stunning to me, and the music is so effective.  Georges Delerue’s score is beautiful and haunting.  I suppose those two words describe the film as a whole for me.  I haven’t yet actually spoken with anyone else who’s seen the film, though I know there are some other fans out there, but I have a feeling it’s not for everyone.  Or maybe I just secretly want to keep it for myself.

Whatever the case may be, I haven’t been this inhabited by a movie since I was a kid.  I think the last time I just kept watching a movie over and over was when I first discovered It’s a Wonderful Life.  Of course, that is a totally different animal.  But it’s been THAT LONG.  Yeah.  I actually have an order in for a copy of the Rapture Blu-Ray even though we don’t (yet) own a Blu-Ray player.  At the moment my order is pending and I’m slightly nervous that something will go wrong.  Up to now, I wasn’t even particularly interested in getting a Blu-Ray player.

Original Spanish language one sheet poster for Rapture (1965)--soon to be mine

Original Spanish language one sheet cinema poster for Rapture (1965)–soon to be mine

I also just ordered myself this poster.  One of these days when I have my own office again, this will live on the wall, hopefully alongside the poster we got at the Filmsmuseum in Berlin.

Mind you, I’ve been a bit of a miser lately.  I did not make these purchases without giving them some thought (neither was terribly expensive, but even so).

Now, of course, I am interested in seeing as many of Patricia Gozzi’s other films as I can.  With the possible exception of Sundays and Cybele, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1962, that’s likely to be a challenge.  I’m sure I’ll dig further into Dean Stockwell’s filmography.  I already watched all of the nearly three hours of Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Stockwell, Katherine Hepburn, Jason Robards (another favorite actor of mine), and Ralph Richardson.  I have an increased respect for Melvyn Douglas now as well, having discovered that he continued making movies right up to his death in 1981.  His career spanned a full fifty years, and he stayed married to the same woman–the intriguing Helen Gahagan, who appeared in one film and then entered politics, eventually losing to Nixon in a race for the U.S. Senate–for nearly all of it (from April 1931 until her death in 1980).

Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Gozzi in Rapture (1965)

Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Gozzi in Rapture (1965)

And then there’s Gunnel Lindblom.  While her performance is secondary to the others, she’s still quite good.  A living Swedish actress, she appeared in several Ingmar Bergman films, including The Seventh Seal.  As for Georges Delerue, his massive body of work dwarfs me.  So there’s a lot here.

I’ve also looked into locating a copy of the book upon which the film is based.  It’s not available in my library system, but a smattering of old copies are available through abebooks.com and ebay.  I’m a little wary because it looks like it might be a bit of a pulp romance.  Of course, Now, Voyager was pretty much a pulp romance, and that book was turned into a great film.  Someday I will read Rapture, but I’m not sure I’m ready to risk breaking the spell of the film just yet.

Oh.  I also have a correction, though it’s more to something I repeated that someone else said rather than my own mistake.  The film’s director, John Guillermin, is British–not American.  Perhaps the person who said that Rapture is like a French New Wave film in the hands of an American director knew that but was making some kind of statement on his directorial style.  At any rate, he is British.


30 Posts About Movies #6 Part Two

Post #6:  Your Favorite Comedy Movie

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)


Woody Allen has made so many funny movies, and I could have picked any one of several of them.  Today, here’s why I picked this one.

I love that this is a comedy that is, in part, about showbiz comedy.  I love how Woody has a bunch of real night-club comedians–Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Corbett Monica –portraying themselves, sitting around a table at a delicatessen telling their stories about his character, the talent agent to the never-gonna-be-even-small-time-stars, Danny Rose.  Sandy has “the best” story, in which Danny tries to help Lou Canova, a has-been lounge singer he represents, with a problem involving his mistress and the mob, and the bulk of the film is Sandy telling/narrating the story as we, the viewers, watch it unfold.

The crappy charm of diners, small-time hotels, and night clubs in New York and New Jersey is on full display, and Woody gets to deliver some great bits.

Danny Rose is the kind of guy who, as you can see in that clip, talks with his hands.  He calls a woman “sweetheart” and “darling” and proceeds to try to endear her to him by asking her to reveal her age.  As an agent he is constantly providing his assessments of and sales pitches on people who come up in conversation:

“The man has class. […] He’s got integrity.  He cheats with one person at a time only.  That’s his style!”

“You’re the kind of guy that will always make a beautiful dollar in this business!  You know what I mean?  You’re what I call a perennial!  You get better looking as you get older.”

“Take my Aunt Rose–not a beautiful woman at all.  She looked like something you’d buy in a live bait store.  But wise!  She had wisdom.  And she used to say, ‘You can’t ride two horses with one behind.’  So, you see what I’m sayin’?”

“I don’t wanna badmouth the kid, but he’s a horrible, dishonest, immoral louse. And I say that with all due respect.”

I love that at one point Danny and Tina (Lou’s mistress, played with abundant moxie by Mia Farrow) are rescued by a TV superhero.  I love that a relatively unknown recording artist, Nick Apollo Forte, plays Lou Canova.  Forte never appeared in another motion picture, but he is perfect as Lou.

I love that this movie is full of beautiful losers, beautiful in large part because of the human energy that propels their strangeness and their imperfections.  As others have noted, this is one of the ways in which Allen’s film is a nod to Italian cinema–and to Fellini in particular.

I’m not sure why I thought of this movie.  It isn’t really one of my absolute favorite movies ever, or even one of my favorite Woody Allen movies if I had to choose, but it is Woody in his element, and it’s good comedy.

30 Posts About Movies #6 Part One

Post #6:  Your Favorite Comedy Movie

There are about a million ways I could go with this one.  Here is the first of  four that spring to mind.

Bedazzled (1967)


I discovered the original version of Bedazzled one evening on a business trip–so this was a while back since I don’t really go on business trips these days.  I had a moment of down time in my hotel room and decided to just hole up in there for a while.  I flipped on the TV, and there on public television was this ridiculous scene, with Dudley Moore, who I usually didn’t like at all, as a goofy pseudo-intellectual, and Eleanor Bron, who I knew from her role in Help!  Moore’s character, Stanley, was saying things to Margaret (Bron) like, “Well… (gazing into the distance with a sigh) Met-a-phor-i-cal-ly speaking and in a very real sense, society creates its own cages–you know, cages of the mind… a curious kind of cer-eeb-re-al captivity.  […] You see, civ-il-I-zay-shun has had the effect of inhibiting our deepest natural animal instincts, you see.  The con-ven-shuns of an ordered society have made us lose what Freud calls our oool-mensch-ka-foo-naturalnich. [or something…] As Rousseau said, we must learn to unlearn, because only by unlearning can we really learn–to be.”  This is his idea of a pick-up strategy.

Stanley the intellectual and Margaret listening to Brahms in Bedazzled (1967)

Stanley the intellectual and Margaret listening to Brahms in Bedazzled (1967)

This is just one of the versions of Stanley that Moore gets to play (and one of the versions of Margaret Bron plays) in this film.  In another favorite part, Moore and Bron are a terribly serious, mature, and lovely couple who happen to be cheating on Margaret’s unsuspecting, sweet husband.  They cry to each other as they are attempting to make out in the back seat of a respectable car parked in the countryside:

Stanley:  He’s such a marvelous man.  The way he brings philosophy to life.
Margaret:  He couldn’t be a better husband or father.
Stanley:  Or teacher.  He’s a saint.  […] He’s such a good example to us all.
Margaret:  The children worship him.
Stanley:  He’s more of a god than a human being.
Margaret:  If only he weren’t so good.  If only he had one tiny flaw.
Stanley:  We must stop thinking about him!  We should be thinking more of ourselves.
Margaret:  But it would kill him if he knew.  I feel as if I’m being torn apart!
Stanley:  (now sobbing) My darling!  My precious Margaret!  […]
Margaret:  (sobbing) As long as we’ve been married, he’s never said a cross word.
Stanley:  (through tortured sobs) One time when I was ill,– he came to my room,– and gave me some soup he’d maaaadde!

Of course, you have to see and hear the delivery.

What’s going on here?  Stanley is a bit of sad sack.  He has a dead-end job as a fry cook at a burger place.  His dreary apartment is falling apart.  He has no friends.  He just pines away hopelessly after Margaret, a pretty waitress from work.  In his despair, he tries to end it all, but even his suicide attempt is a dismal failure.  It’s at this point that the fabulous Peter Cook appears as George Spiggott, a.k.a. “the horn-ed one” or the devil, and offers him a deal.  In exchange for his soul, George will grant Stanley 7 wishes.  Stanley intends to use these to get Margaret, and each scenario that plays out is Stanley trying out one of his wishes.  Of course, this is the devil Stanley is dealing with, so there’s always some flaw in each scenario.  In each case, Stanley gets the girl but doesn’t really get her.  He’s never really happy.  And in each scenario there’s a person who, funny enough, is in fact George Spiggott needling away at Stanley somehow.

Here’s George’s first appearance at Stanley’s apartment:

I missed the beginning the first time I saw Bedazzled, but once I got home I rented it–I think on VHS, which was the only format available at the time.  Now, after multiple viewings, it’s entered the realm of the excessively quoted in our house.

Note:  People make a big deal about Raquel Welch being in this movie, but her part is actually pretty small.  I guess everybody just gets all hot and bothered over her, and that’s why she’s so prominent in the marketing for the film.

Before seeing Bedazzled I didn’t know about the fantastic thing that is the comedic team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.  All I knew of Cook was that he was the “Impressive Clergyman” with a speech impediment in The Princess Bride.  All I knew of Moore were his annoying (to me) films from the late 70s and early 80s.  The shame!

There are so many funny sketch bits of theirs, it’s hard to know which to share.  Here are two.  Keep in mind–these are from the 60s, well before anybody had heard the phrase “politically correct.”



Psych-Out (1968) and Rapture (1965) (or 30 Posts About Movies: A Tangent)

Watching The Last Picture Show and subsequently digging around in Timothy Bottoms’ back catalog prompted me to further digging.  First I eyeballed Jack Nicholson’s extensive filmography (no, he’s not in The Last Picture Show, but he is in a lot of great 70s films) and found the 1968 hippie indulgence Psych-Out.  In this Dick Clark production, a deaf young woman, Jenny (Susan Strasberg), runs away to Haight-Ashbury to find her brother, who is known as “The Seeker” (Bruce Dern).  Since she’s a runaway, the cops are after her, and when she happens to get involved with Stoney (Nicholson) and his bandmates in a coffee shop, they shield her from the police.  She gets into a relationship with Stoney, and he sort of helps her get in touch with her trippy/tripping brother.

Jack Nicholson, Susan Strasberg, and Dean Stockwell in Psych-Out (1968)

It’s all sex, hallucinogenic drugs, and psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll.  The film does feature music and performances by The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm Clock, but then you also get Jack Nicholson’s rather lame attempt to mime playing Hendrix on guitar.  Psychedelic films never seem to end well… the kids can’t help getting knocked down by the man!  This is no Easy Rider, but like the end of Easy Rider, this one is a downer.  Psych-Out is good for a bit of a chuckle, but I can’t give it a full-on recommendation. It did remind me that I like seeing Dean Stockwell in 60s films.  He plays Dave, one of Stoney’s dubious housemates.

Seeing him in Psych-Out led me to poke around in his filmography, and that led me to a film that I very much do recommend, 1965’s Rapture.  I had never heard of Rapture before, but I managed to dig it up on YouTube, and it was worth the digging.  Fifteen-year-old Patricia Gozzi plays Agnes, a teenage girl living with her father (happy surprise–Melvyn Douglas!) on the coast in Brittany.  Her family encourages Agnes to believe that she has a tenuous grasp on reality.  There are demons in their emotional closet.  An accident occurs just outside their property, and they end up befriending and harboring a fugitive named Joseph (Dean Stockwell).  Agnes and Joseph make a connection that starts one way and ends in quite another.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 3.20.21 PM

I’m hesitant to give too many details here, because I don’t want to spoil it.  It has so many of the things that I love in films–nuanced and sensitive performances, beautiful cinematography, and meaningful sound.  I’ve seen it described as a French New Wave film in the hands of an American director (John Guillermin).  If I ever get to program a series in a theater, I want to include this.  Somehow, you will see it.  Unfortunately, it seems that it is currently only available on Blu-Ray (and that’s a limited release).  According to studio production notes, the film originally ran 133 minutes–not 104.  I would love to see that 133 minute version.  Perhaps Criterion or someone will pick this one up and release it on DVD–ideally with at least the option of watching those additional 29 minutes.  Until then, check it out starting here:

30 Posts About Movies #5

Post #5:  Your Favorite Drama Movie

Once again, this is a near-impossible question to answer.  In order to pick some films, I’m going to interpret this pretty narrowly.  In other words, this film and the others that I will mention at the end of this post are films that are, to me, very successful as drama.

My first choice is The Last Picture Show.  I’ve written about it before.

Timothy Bottoms and Chloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show (1971)

Because I knew I wanted to choose this film as a favorite drama, I watched it again before writing this post.  I was reminded of how good Ellen Burstyn and Eileen Brennan are in their supporting roles, and again reminded that I’d like to read the Larry McMurtry novel on which the film is based.  I’m curious to see if the way I experience the characters—if the way I feel the actors are portraying them—matches how I experience them when I read the book.  The first time I watched the film, I think I felt more compassion toward Jacy–and maybe that was a fairer and more nuanced view.  This time I was struck by just how terrible she is to people.  She may be a bit of a victim, but that doesn’t make her actions any less contemptible.  Though you can argue that circumstances make her that way, she strikes me as simple and cruel.  It’s a credit to the story and the film that I still kind of feel bad for her, even if I feel worse for pretty much everyone else.  The mere existence of the sequel film, Texasville, makes me nervous.  As curious as I am, I think it would probably be a mistake for me to see it.

Timothy Bottoms and Maggie Smith in Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)

The last time I wrote about The Last Picture Show, I lamented that Timothy Bottoms doesn’t get quite the accolades for his performance that I think he deserves.  I want to tell you that after watching The Last Picture Show again I went out and discovered a few more great Timothy Bottoms films.  Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.  It looks like he was in a couple of decent but strange and at times cheesy 70s movies and then a lot of so-so movies and TV episodes after that.  In one of those early 70s films, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, his character, Walter, falls in love with Maggie Smith’s character, Lila (who is of course dying), on a trip to Spain.  They have a series of rather improbable adventures.  It’s sweet, but also a bit ridiculous.  Sometimes it slips into the dippy end of the 1970s film spectrum.  Still, it’s hard not to enjoy watching Timothy Bottoms at 22 and Maggie Smith at 39 exploring sunny rural Spain together.

Timothy Bottoms (under the sheet) as Joe and Diane Varsi as the nurse who tries to help him in Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Besides The Last Picture Show (which, in case it isn’t obvious, is far and away the pick of his career), the other notable film he did for 1971 is Johnny Got His Gun.  This is the most straight-up anti-war film—propaganda, really—that I think I’ve ever seen.  Bottoms plays the young lead, Joe, who ends up a quadruple amputee whose face is blown off by a bomb.  He’s injured beyond recognition and loses his senses of sight, smell, taste, and hearing, but the doctors decide to keep him alive more or less for science.  The film consists primarily of his memories and dreams, which blur at times.  It’s alternately manipulative, theatrical, terrifying, sad… and very heavy-handed.  The film is based on Dalton Trumbo’s novel of the same name, which, according to Wikipedia, “was inspired by an article he read about the Prince of Wales’ visit to a Canadian veterans hospital to see a soldier who had lost all of his senses and his limbs.”  It’s genuinely horrifying, and the story itself is rough and thought-provoking stuff, even if the telling is rather inelegant.  The Time Out review offers the tantalizing info that Trumbo originally wanted Luis Buñuel to direct.  That would have been something to see.

There are many other films that belong on a list of my favorite dramas—that is, films that I think work especially well as drama.  Here are a few I can’t not mention.  I’ve written about some of them before, and the others might get their own posts in the near future.

  • The Hustler (1961)
  • The Deer Hunter (1978)  I really do have to write about this one of these days, but I’d want to watch it again before I do.  It’s so gut-wrenching that I’m not sure when I’ll be up to it.
  • Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  • Nights of Cabiria (1957)

…and a bunch that I’ll think of tomorrow.