Thursday, January 26, 2012

Noir City X #3: Boo Time for Bonzo

by Odienator

(Ed. Note: Many of the images are coming from the Noir City website. Please go visit it! We'll feel less guilty.)

My apologies, dear readers, for being behind on these updates. But the weather’s been wonderful here in San Francisco. My days are full of roaming the parks, Chinatown and the Embarcadero. My nights have been far too racy for the Production Code—can’t tell you  anything more about that. We don’t BLEEP and tell here at Tales of Odienary Madness (at least not for free).

My evenings, however, are open for discussion. So let’s continue where I left off last time. I was about to discuss Saturday’s Evening Matinee, featuring Angie Dickinson as the guest interviewee.

Saturday Evening Post #1: Ronald Reagan Was A Crook

In this movie, I mean!  After all, his character says “I approve of larceny; homicide is against my principles.”

(Lightning strikes Odie)

The first film of the Angie Dickinson double feature was 1964’s The Killers. Shot in “glorious color” by Don Siegel--and shot up repeatedly by cinematic badass Lee MarvinThe Killers is even less faithful to the Hemingway short story than the 1946 version. Both featured Virginia Christine, who in this version ushers us into the intense level of violence we’ll be privy to for the duration. As a blind woman at a School for the Blind, poor Ms. Christine is brutally manhandled by Marvin. Scenes like this were the reason The Killers, originally made for NBC, wound up on the big screen instead.

Hitmen Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Galagher) arrive at the school to rub out Johnny North (John Cassavetes). When North is confronted, he just stands there and eats hot lead. This unnatural reaction bothers Strom, who believes “the only man that's not afraid to die is the man that's dead already.”

Strom’s curiosity, and his knowledge about the hit, leads him to do some research. Johnny North was a racecar driver who doublecrossed the wrong people. Strom and Lee visit North’s former partner to shake out details. The partner, played by Sheriff Lobo himself, Claude Akins, takes us into the first of the many flashbacks that populate The Killers. This is an oddly constructed picture, with flashback after flashback, sometimes within flashbacks.

But you don’t care about any of that shit. You wanna know about Angie and Ronnie. Johnny North falls for Angie’s gorgeous Sheila Farr. She appeals to the hyper-machismo inside a certain kind of man, and North’s common sense immediately goes South when he spots her. She loves money and nice things, and wears her “gold digger” label as if she were sung by Kanye West. North falls head over heels for her, but like the Iran-Contra scandal, she belongs to Ronald Reagan.

Ronnie’s the heavy in this picture, the mastermind of a million dollar robbery for which Johnny North is hired to drive. The details are just too  good for any liberal not to enjoy. Reagan and company rob a government organization of $1 million. He also gets kicked out of a moving car, has a climactic gun fight with Lee Marvin, slaps the everlasting gobstopper shit out of Ms. Dickinson and puts out that hit on Oliver, I mean Johnny, North. The audience booed our 40th President, and I’d like to say it’s because he’s so damn good in the role (which he is). But the audience booed his screen credit! I won’t even talk about what happened when Marvin shot Reagan.

Everyone turns in fine work, with Cassavetes and Dickinson standing out. Cassavetes carefully calibrates his conflicted feelings about Sheila Farr; he knows she’s bad news but the boy can’t help himself. He thinks he can change her ways with love, and when he fails, he’s more than willing to meet his Maker at the end of Charlie Strom’s silencer. As Farr, Dickinson is sexy as hell, reviving the femme fatale for 60’s audiences. Her last scene with Marvin has one of the best kiss-off lines violent cinema has to offer. As Farr tries to explain to Charlie Strom why she’s doublecrossed everybody for that $1 million (including him), the dying Marvin looks at her and says, “Lady, I just don’t have the time.” BLAM!!

After this feature, Czar of Noir Eddie Muller interviewed Pepper Anderson in front of a very appreciative Castro Theater crowd. She was a great interview, funny, full of anecdotes about both films shown that night, and she looked pretty damn good to be 80. I took some zoomed-in pics with my Blackberry, but its camera is a piece of shit. I should post one pic to give you an idea of how bad the blasted thing is. I regret not bringing my actual camera.

Of Reagan, Dickinson noted that he was horrified to have to hit her in the movie, even if it were pantomimed. He was not too keen on playing the villain, a role he only assayed once onscreen. “Every time I saw him,” Dickinson said, “he’d say to me (in Reagan voice) ‘I was so glad I didn’t hit you!’” Despite their political views, she said she and her co-star got along famously on-set. Dickinson also mentioned that, during the making of The Killers, JFK was assassinated. She cited the scene that was supposed to be recorded that day, but that detail escapes me now.

Escape was the order of the day at the beginning of the next feature, which begins with Lee Marvin escaping the Grim Reaper.

Saturday Evening Post #2: Not that Keanu Reeves movie. That’s Point BREAK.

Dickinson expressed her love of Lee Marvin, a man she said was as tough as he was onscreen, but also a joy to work with in both features. “He sure knew how to take a beating,” she said, alluding to the most famous scene in John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank. It too has an odd, almost avant-garde construction, at least in its opening acts. The film hops back and forth in time, with Marvin suffering all manner of bad luck in his personal life, including being shot by his partner in crime. Honor amongst thieves is a common mistake amongst thieves, but Marvin’s going to get what was promised to him, even if it kills him and everybody else.

Like the psychotic paperboy in Better off Dead (“I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!!”), Lee Marvin’s Walker wants his money. Walker even says “I want my ninety-three thousand dollars!!!” or damn close to it. That’s all he wants, and to get it, he’ll have to go through John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner, James B. Sikking and Archie Bunker. Carroll O’Connor turns in a memorable performance as one of the no-nonsense criminals Walker hits up for his dough. "Good Lord!", says O’Connor, “do you mean to say you'd bring down this immense organization for a paltry $93,000?" Walker will do it, and he’ll use any means he can, including his sister-in-law, Chris (Dickinson). He sends her to get fresh with the guy who double crossed him in the Alcatraz heist that fills Marvin full of lead.

That guy, Mal Reese (Vernon) has a warped sex scene with an unwilling Chris. She’s there as the Trojan Horse that allows Walker to get past an Alcatraz-like amount of guards. Unfortunately for Walker, this turns into the first instance of butt-naked defenestration ever put onscreen. (Actually, it’s butt-naked roof tossing. –Ed.)  This leads Walker up the chain of command in his pursuit of that elusive $93,000. It also leads to that famous scene, where Chris beats Walker mercilessly in a fury. Marvin stands there while Dickinson wails on him over and over and over. It goes on forever, and as Dickinson falls to the floor in a spent heap, Marvin walks away, sits down and turns on the TV.

The audience went berserk, applauding wildly for Ms. Dickinson. She was right. Badass Lee Marvin knows how to take a beating.

Alas, I do not know how to take a beating, though I certainly deserve one for my slow postings. Again, lo siento.

By the way: If my synopsis sounded familiar to you, except you saw Mel Gibson in your head instead of Lee Marvin, then you saw this movie. If it sounded familiar, but you were holding a book, then you read this novel by Donald Westlake's Richard Stark.

I’ll be back later to talk about Mr. Belvidere versus that mean woman from Leave Her to Heaven. Oh, and Rita. Gorgeous, hair-tossing Rita…


Steven Boone said...

"I won’t even talk about what happened when Marvin shot Reagan." Hahaha. Good stuff, man.

I remember seeing a restored print of POINT BLANK at the 1998 New York Film Festival. Dazzling on the big, wide screen. This scene deserves its own Black History Mumf entry:

odienator said...

Ha! Boone, I neglected to mention that scene. People in the theater were like WHAT THE EFF?!!!