CMBA Blogathon: Fun in The Sun 1967 Double Feature

In honor of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s latest spring blogathon “Fun in The Sun,” I wanted to highlight two movies that might be outside the normal purview of what we cover on the blog.

However, if it’s not apparent already, I do have at least a minor interest in the subgenre of beach party-type movies that proliferated with Gidget and then Frankie and Anette during the 1960s. Here, without further ado, are two films that fit into the tail-end of this craze.

Clambake

My blog was initially founded on the idea of looking deeper at the best movies, but somedays you just need to lighten up and watch Elvis in Clambake. I’m no authority on the Elvis musicals, but Viva Las Vegas always feels like the standard by which to measure all future entries.

By my own admission, Clambake follows the same pattern and so you’re not watching to get blown away by the plot. This is purely a sun-soaked excuse to watch Elvis sing some tunes and woo the prettiest girl in the picture.

Scott Hayward was born into the family of a rich oil tycoon. Being Elvis, he’s also devilishly handsome and hopped up on fast wheels. However, he’s a young man who doesn’t want to be a victim of his money and possessions. If he meets a girl and falls in love, there shouldn’t be any strings attached. Like that would happen.

Still, he meets Tom Wilson (Hutchins) during a pit stop at a gas station on the way to Miami Beach. They strike up an immediate liking and look at each other’s life with a certain amount of relish. So they quickly agree to switch places and continue their journeys.

Elvis becomes the anonymous water ski instructor and Hutchins puts on his most pronounced Texas accent to carry off the overblown bravado of an oil kid. Arguably, the only other person to top him is James Gregory going for the fences as Presley’s dear old dad, who shows up later to check in on his boy.

For now, Bill Bixby is the most obvious antagonist as a wealthy moneybags who represents everything Elvis rails against. He can be found regaling all the pretty girls with his exploits and then picking the loveliest one to ride at his side. He’s accustomed to this kind of entitlement.

The movie itself is compromised of all the outlandish camp color schemes one would expect because it’s this kind of backdrop making these studio films what they were. There’s not one shred of nuance. There isn’t meant to be.

Clambake also feels like a last bastion of the teen films earlier in the decade even as Elvis’s own celebrity was in this complicated state with the cultural storm whipped up by The Beatles and Britishmania. Regardless, his charisma is undeniable whether he’s on the playground messing around with kiddos or dancing with pretty girls shimmying around at the clambake in their bikinis. I don’t actually remember too many of the tunes, it’s more so the experience that leaves a mild impression.

In a former life, Hayward was also an engineer who created “goop,” the colloquial term for a hardener that earns its own pop song replete with dancing girls and a refurbished boat hull. Beyond getting the pretty brunette Dianne Carter (Shelly Fabares), his other goal is to win the local Orange Bowl Regatta.

Like all the perennial Elvis movies, there’s a climactic race, this time on speedboats, and he gets the girl. What else? Shelly Fabares starred in three films with The King and their chemistry is affectionate even if the vehicles themselves are mostly paint-by-numbers and inane.

There’s a time and place for everything under the sun and given your disposition, Clambake definitely seems to fit the bill of “Fun in The Sun.” It’s easy enough to enjoy watching them drive off into the sunset. And it’s not so much about the foregone destination but the goofy, totally outlandish journey to get us there.

Don’t Make Waves

Don’t Make Waves stands at a strange crossroads as a starring vehicle for Tony Curtis, whose box office was mostly waning. You had the international appeal of Claudia Cardinale, and then the emerging allure of Sharon Tate.

Curtis was also reunited with director Alexander Mackendrick a decade after the prominent acclaim of Sweet Smell of Success. This is a much more puerile brand of satire extrapolated from the novel Muscle Beach by Ira Wallach.

Vic Mizzy, who famously penned the incomparable theme to Green Acres, composed the music, while the titular theme song was sung by none other than Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds! It’s unmistakable even as they aren’t normally associated with the surf music scene.

The screwball antics of the movie are instigated with Curtis and Cardinale. She’s a fiery painter leaving a Malibu panorama behind and unwittingly sending his car freefalling down the coast. When it careens into the road below and causes a collision with her and an oncoming bus, she has the nerve to blame his incompetence. He’s left running around in his tidy whities, clothes on fire, with a car totally demolished in a matter of minutes. It’s a decent, if slightly exaggerated, way to begin a movie.

His Carlo Cofield, though destitute, takes an immediate interest in the local beach scene, and it’s true the ocean feels alive with activity, from bodybuilders, surfing dogs, and pretty girls. Despite all the bad juju, she’s brought into his life, Laura Califanti feels slightly responsible for him. Through her male friend (Robert Webber), Curtis somehow gets a gig as a swimming pool salesman, and although there are things that happen and these vague romantic hijinks, there’s not much of a motor to the picture.

Alexander Mackendrick had a fine pedigree with comedies in the U.K., but he can’t do too much with Don’t Make Waves because there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the plot. Nor does its attempt at satire feel especially original or inspired.

But like a picture such as Harper or Bob Carol Ted and Alice, it’s another film looking to do its own pastiche of the counterculture. The funny thing is, it feels quite twee and out of touch if not exactly in the best taste. It tries its best to be salacious and cheeky.

Curtis gets manhandled and tossed around in his wince-inducing introduction to Sharon Tate’s bronze beauty Malibu. But it gets worse. He’s totally smitten spending extra time watching her acrobatic exploits doing flips on the nearby trampoline with the point of view shots lingering over her tanned figure.

Still, some of the holdovers from earlier generations are a pleasure. Although it was based on a novel, I feel like we could have entertained a movie with just Cardinale and Curtis if the writers had figured a way to flesh out this story around them. We also get a cameo from Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bachus. Future couple Mort Sahl and China Lee turn up and there’s even Edward Bergen in a bizarre supporting spot.

The finale does nicely to top the chaos of the opening as a notorious California mudslide swallows up Cofield’s new home on a hillside. It’s another totally outrageous setpiece that actually does the movie a few favors. At the very least, it’s memorable. Cardinale literally has to scramble for her life suspended over the abyss below.

There are a lot of curious elements in this movie joined together, and it makes for a few minutes of diversion even if it doesn’t always work too well. If any of the talents piques your interest, it might be worth some mild consideration.

One Hour With You (1931): Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier

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Ah, Spring in Paris! The local gendarmerie is intent on cleaning up the parks of couples canoodling. Among them are Andre Bertier (Maurice Chevalier) and his gal pal Colette (Jeanette MacDonald). But it’s perfectly decent. As they sing, later in bed together, “what a little thing like a wedding ring can do.”

Samson Raphaelson avails himself, having a fine time turning a phrase in all sorts of situations — in a police station or romantic tete-a-tete — it really doesn’t matter, and it serves Lubitsch’s standard suavity wrapped up in the sing-song operetta quite well.

Chevalier offers up his winking monologue to the camera and all the folks sitting out in the audience, providing a theatrical aside borrowed most obviously from the stage. His prevailing charms do not cater to everyone nor does his style of balladeering, but there’s no denying he carved out a niche for himself in the 20s and 30s as one of the most romantic swoons of his generation. Whether that had more to do with his coveted Europeanness or something else…

This story is built out of a taxi ride. Andre happens to hop into the cab with a person of the opposite sex named Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin). The possibilities are endless. It’s the fact that they totally dissect the situation, insinuate and flutter their eyes at one another, taking a banal scenario, and instantly giving it romantic tension. In fact, just about every scene informs a world full of sensual suggestions and connotations.

He abruptly ditches the taxi on the verge of a kiss and infidelity, though the damage is already done. No one will ever believe them to be perfectly innocent, and they’ve conveniently created a comic drama for themselves out of nothing. It almost blows up between them, and they are as good as guilty.

This would all mean nothing, if not for the subsequent scene. Colette is reunited with her best friend: Mitzi! They share all the usual chatter, fawning over wardrobes and shared memories. Imagine the devoted husband’s shock when the woman in the taxi and his wife’s best pal are one and the same! We have a real story on our hands and Lubitsch knows precisely how to work it.

Take another scene where Mitzi feigns illness to get the doctor alone with her. Mitzi’s own husband (Roland Young) walks in on a doctor’s visit. It’s all perfectly innocent (as it always is). They trade pleasantries. One’s a doctor, the other a professor — ancient history. It’s an emphatic punchline hanging in the air.

There’s also a glamorous party put on by the Bertiers. All their friends will be there sitting at a table together in a very public environment. A round of name card roulette takes place between husband and wife with diabolical consequences — romantic speaking of course. Colette is trying to protect her man from the wrong woman even as she rebuffs the blundering advances of a madly infatuated socialite (Charlie Ruggles).

Genevieve Tobin remains out on the prowl for Chevalier. It doesn’t much matter what she’s does; it’s how she does it. This is the secret of most of the characters in this movie. It’s the power of inference.

When she musses up his bowtie, he doesn’t know how to remedy the situation (because he can’t tie a bowtie). Going back inside is tantamount to social suicide — people will talk — but if he follows the beguiling harpy into the garden, who knows what fate will befall him. He’s a prisoner on his own veranda! This is the movie’s persistent predicament in a nutshell.

However, there must be a caveat in any discussion of One Our With You. His name is George Cukor, and he was actually the original director of the picture, although he eventually relinquished his duties to Lubitsch.

With complicated productions such as this one, considering where one director begins and the other ends is always an intriguing conundrum. Take, for example, something like Come and Get It from a few years later, directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler at different points. One doesn’t often confuse their filmographies but shot to shot it’s not exactly easy to ascertain the difference aside from some intuitive observations.

There are moments of cloying cattiness, particularly between the female characters and at the grand party that we might find down the road in a picture like The Women, but we never quite broach that territory completely. Because ultimately, it’s the overarching sensibilities and the shepherding of the comedy by Lubitsch leaving their mark. It certainly makes for another fine exemplar of his work during the period.

My main qualm is the squandering of its supporting cast. Between the likes of Tobin, Ruggles, and Roland, there are some real personalities, and opposite our stars, they do yeoman’s work in a handful of scenes. However, it does feel like they drop off and disappear rather conveniently. Their arcs never coil up in a sufficient manner — in a way we can appreciate — and they probably deserve a few more minutes of satisfying resolution.

However, Lubitsch is not concerned with a more raucous screwball crescendo. Thus, the ending just about wins it for me, partially because for once MacDonald is in on the gag, and it doesn’t feel like the Chevalier show. They’re in this kissing comedy together, beginning to end, singing to their little hearts’ content. If you like it, you like it…anywhere.

3.5/5 Stars

Family Plot (1976): Hitch’s Swan Song

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You rarely hear mention of Alfred Hitchcock’s last cinematic foray, Family Plot, and you would assume that means a throwaway title — a fall from his illustrious heights. Not so! In fact, it’s rather a shame more folks haven’t turned the movie on because it proves the Master still has it. There’s still a twinkle in his directorial eye as he leads us on one final merry jaunt of murder, crime, and passion.

I was always under the illusion family plot was about some kind of conspiracy. The first inkling is from a cemetery plot even as it evolves into a broader conspiracy unraveling in front of us. It never registered as a pun until the story began to run its course. Allow me to explain.

Our story opens with a quack psychic (Barabara Harris) drumming up business with rich old spinsters ready to fork out money to get their fortunes told. She’s running the ongoing con with her boyfriend George Lumley (Bruce Dern). They’re purely small-time operators.

Soon he is on the beat poking around about a man named Shoebridge. What he’s doing at first isn’t exactly clear — he’s a taxi cabbie by day — however, soon we realize he’s digging up tidbits for future seance fodder.

Their latest coup involves a wealthy widow, if only they can locate her long-lost nephew who was given up for adoption years before. She looks to bequeath him some of her vast fortunes on behalf of her guilt-ridden dear departed sister. They too have a stake in finding him: $10,000 to be exact, which is a fortune to them.

Meanwhile, the headlines are taken with a crime of a different sort: The Constantine Ransom for a priceless gem. It really is the perfect crime. The police are befuddled and there hasn’t been a single false step. Their hands are tied as a mysterious lady in black — a twist on the Hitchcock blonde — shows up to make the trade. She leaves with her gem and orders a helicopter to aid in her getaway, all planned so she can drift back into anonymity.

It turns out she also has an accomplice: her lover, who works as a local jeweler (William Devane). By sheer coincidence, he is the very same man Dern is hunting for. Instantly we have the glorious joke at the center of the drama.

Because these circumstances have nothing to do with his dubious extracurricular activities and still, this uncanny connection becomes a lovely fulcrum for the movie to balance on with comic underpinnings. In one defining moment, the stolen diamond is kept in a very visible hiding spot established by a telling Hitchcock closeup. He looks to be having a gleeful good time of it.

Ernest Lehman’s script (remember he collaborated with Hitch on North by Northwest) is more liberal with the profanities, but it readily amuses itself with the quandary at its core exploring the relationships of these two couples and how these separate scenarios are tied together. In some strange way, it’s all things police procedural, murder mystery, and a bit like a vintage drawing-room comedy. They’re both after two very different pots!

The ransomers’ latest plans involve the brazen kidnapping of a local bishop taking full advantage of the congregation’s shock. Diagnosing the situation later, as they tear off their disguises and zoom away he notes smugly, “they’re all too religiously polite.”

Lumley’s travails take him to a religious setting of his own, in his case, the funeral of a balding gas station attendant named Maloney (Ed Lautner). There’s no need to get into his death although it involved some winding roads and a car chase of sorts…

In the most captivating shot, Hitchcock captures the overgrown cemetery from a birdseye perspective. Maloney’s reticent wife (Katherine Helmond) scurries away and Dern scampers along until he corners her. It’s the same old story. She wants to be left alone, and he just wants information.

The search for A.A. Adamson leads to all sorts of people and visual gags placed in front of us with a wry wink. But this is hardly the grandest joke as Hitchcock allows us to watch the stories converge as we are caught right in the middle. Again, it’s wonderful bits of coincidence getting in the way or more precisely bringing the story to an impeccable climax.

I’ve been mulling over the assertion that the great directors have a distinct point of view. With Hitch, he used the shot-reverse-shot paradigm certainly, but there was always a cadence to it. If he needed to break out of the rhythm he would.

My mind flashes to a scene with Dern as he’s hiding on the stairwell. The couple has returned from their latest crime totally unaware of their guest. Their feet wander around the kitchen as they talk. We’re paying partial attention to that but like Dern, Hitch makes us crane our necks and feel uncomfortable as the audience. In that individual moment, we don’t have the whole picture, and we are forced to be in his shoes for even an instant. There’s definitely a profound level of audience identification and inherent tension. This is all Hithcock’s doing.

The ending is more than satisfactory, but Barbara Harris’s wink to the camera is like a final curtain call for Hitch. This last gesture sums up his career for me. It was built on suspense and an intuitive understanding of visual cinema and audience manipulation. However, his very own persona and the connection he created with the masses wouldn’t be anything without his sense of humor.

Due to his deteriorating health, he would never complete another film, dying 4 years later in 1980. He was planning on a film called The Short Night, a project that obviously was never realized. With his death, the film world lost one of its most consummate craftsmen and storytellers.

In a Hitchcock movie, you feel well taken care of because the director knows what he’s doing, oftentimes even when we don’t. He scares us when we want to be scared. Thrills us. Gives us romance. And even deigns to allow us to be in on the joke.

Under the circumstances, I can’t think of a more appreciative place to leave the Master. His powers haven’t atrophied. On the contrary, he still knows how to play the game and how to have fun doing it. This might be the most pleasant surprise of Family Plot. Alfred Hitchcock never lost his wonderfully grim sense of humor.

3.5/5 Stars

The Strong Man (1926): Starring Harry Langdon

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My knowledge of silent cinema is admittedly littered with blindspots. Some of this must be attributed to the sheer number of shorts the era engendered and also the number of extant films which will remain lost if not for some secret cache hidden away in someone’s perfectly insulated basement. The rest falls on pure ignorance.

If you’re like me, you might know Chaplin, then you turn to Keaton, and finally Lloyd. It was famed writer James Agee who might have well propagated this lineage to later viewers when it came to the silent clowns who formed the bedrock for the forthcoming film industry. And it’s true everyone seems to be indebted to these fellows on some account. But the one who rarely gets a mention in the same breath is Harry Langdon and I’ve done this as much as anyone else.

At last, I have rectified the situation and gotten to know the man who developed his own distinct persona from the others, “a Little Elf” built solely out of his meek even child-like affability in all situations.

The Strong Man is arguably his most prominent picture then and now. Worth noting is Frank Capra who made his directorial debut and right from the outset you can see some of his imprint on the story. Harry Langdon is staked out behind a Gatling gun in Europe as a meek Belgium soldier fighting against the enemy. However, he’d much rather use his slingshot, and he’s quite effective in tormenting his burly enemy in the trench only meters away.

This is merely an opening gambit. Soon it becomes an unmistakable immigrant tale with all the iconography most Americans will be familiar with. An ocean linter. That majestic beacon of hope: Lady Liberty. And of course, Ellis Island, that customary weigh station where people stopped off to begin a new life.

By some strange development, the Belgian has joined forces with his former enemy playing sidekick to the severe-looking strong man. However, the big city brings with it a lot of distractions for someone just off the boat and easily targeted.

Standing at a street corner, Paul gets mixed up with an archetypal city woman who only pretends to seduce him so she can retrieve the money she hid on his person. All manner of taxi rides and rendezvous in her apartment leave him quivering with fear. He’s much too timorous and naive to know what to do with himself in such a position.

This is, after all, the source of his charms. It suggests the image of Harry Langdon quite candidly. Not only is he a meek and unassuming hero, there’s this prevailing innocence about him. We could say the Tramp has some of the same, but Harry feels even more forbearing. He could never raise The Kid. He is the kid. In fact, he’s almost manhandled by the city woman as she locks the door and looks to retrieve what’s hers. It plays as a fairly comical power dynamic. This is only one bit.

The latter half of the picture feels much more Capraesque considering themes of graft and corruption in the face of common decency. There are precursors to his Miracle Woman where a barn becomes a clearinghouse for the local town’s vices, whether it be gambling, carousing, showgirls, beer, or pugilism.

The lines are drawn fairly clearly when Cloverfield’s corrupt kingpin sits down with the local parson trying to literally buy him out. He tells the old saint to name his price, and he’s absolutely indignant at the offer. We read his retort: “The House of God is founded on rock. For the miseries you have caused, the Master will destroy you!”

It’s not quite fire and brimstone, but it is very close. His congregation piles onto the lawn in front of his house as he rallies them with the story of Jericho and the exploits of Joshua where the God of Israel caused the walls of the great city to come tumbling down in His divine timing.

What I can only imagine is a rousing round of “Onward Christian Soldiers” leads them into battle as they begin their crusade around the Palace. This might be the time to insert that the looped scoring is a bit nauseating and as with many such silent pictures, it doesn’t seem to do the movie justice.

But we’ve failed to talk about the Belgian. Rest assured, he’s still relevant as he was once pen pals with the preacher’s daughter: Mary Brown, and of course, to make her all the more sympathetic, she’s blind. He doesn’t actually know she’s in town. He’s there as a part of a show on the lascivious stage. And he’s thrown to the wolves when his boss gets drunk.

He becomes the strong man. It’s another pitiful setup. But it’s the heart of the movie and a Capra moment of David vs. Goliath exploits. The little guy standing up against the masses in this case, literally holding them off with a makeshift cannon as their temple of sin topples all around them, and they flee into the streets.

If he’s partially David, then he’s part Samson crossed with a flying trapeze artist. Far from being a piece of irony, if we are to recall the preacher’s scriptures, “When I am weak, then I am strong” never sounded more pertinent.

His final stand is ample enough to save the town and bring about a newfound tranquility where he is a beacon of law & order while still taking a helping hand from Mary Brown. Per convention, they walk off into the sunset together a very happy couple and all is right with the world.

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Harry Langdon is not talked about that often amid conversations of silent cinema. Part of the reason might be because he doesn’t have a row of feature-length films that are easy enough to lay claim to as his personal masterpieces. The Strong Man is as close as he came and with the fledgling name of Frank Capra — directing his first feature, no less — it has the benefit of some added name recognition.

Langdon is a relentlessly amicable hero, but that might be part of the issue. What you see is what you get, and it doesn’t add up to anything more. His understated persona is highly palatable but rather blase even in comparison to a few of his contemporaries. At the end of the day, The Strong Man can be viewed as a stepping stone in Capra’s own illustrious career — a step forward in his maturation of a filmmaker. It might be for someone else to make the case for Harry Langdon and resurrect him for the modern generations.

3.5/5 Stars

Sidney Poitier: For Love of Ivy, Lost Man, Brother John

In honor of the inimitable Sidney Poitier, I spent some time revisiting a bevy of his finest films and also some underrated ones that were new to me. Because he was a prominent archetype for a black movie star, when he was often the only one, it’s fascinating to see the roles he chose at different junctures in his career and how they evolved and played with his well-remembered screen image.

He will be dearly missed, but he left a sterling career behind well worth our consideration. Here are three films you may not have seen before:

For Love of Ivy (1968)

As best as I can describe it, For Love of Ivy, features Poitier and Abbey Lincoln in their version of a Doris Day and Rock Hudson rom-com. It starts out a bit cringy. Lincoln is the maid of the most hopelessly oblivious white family. Mom and Dad are completely blindsided when she says she wants to quit so she can actually have a life with prospects.

Instead of listening to her, the two teen kids ( a hippy Bea Bridges and bodacious Lauri Peters) scheme to set her up with an eligible black man. They know so few, but Tim Austin (Bridges) settles on Jack Parks, a trucking executive because he conveniently has some leverage to get Jack to give Ivy a night on the town. Some awkward matchmaking (and blackmail) ensues to bring our couple together.

Hence how Lincoln and Poitier become an item. But even this dynamic has some unprecedented delights. They eat Japanese food together and visit a club that positively scintillates with ’60s vibes as seen through Hollywood’s eyes. It’s the age-old ploy where the transactional relationship morphs into real love until the truth threatens to ruin the romance. Again, it’s not exactly new hat from Robert Alan Arthur.

Still, with a happy ending and equilibrium restored, Poitier, who helped develop the story, is trusting his audience can read between the lines of all the dorky craziness. For what it is, the movie plays as a great showcase for Poitier and Lincoln. Since there are so very few movies like this with black leads, it feels like a cultural curio. If the mood strikes you, some might even find a great deal more agreeable than Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because it doesn’t take its own social importance too seriously. It’s mostly wacky fun.

3.5/5 Stars

The Lost Man (1969)

The Lost Man features an edgier more militant Poitier because there’s no doubt the world around him had changed since he first got to Hollywood in the ’50s. He’s cool, hidden behind his shades, and observing the very same world with tacit interest. It’s a world ruled by social unrest as his black brothers and sisters picket and protest the racial injustices around them only to be forcibly removed by the authorities.

Robert Alan Arthur’s film shows a brief focused snapshot of the social anxieties of the age. It becomes more convoluted when Jason and some other members of the organization rob a local bank. Their motives are in some ways philanthropic as they hope to use the funds to get some of their friends out of prison and support their families on the outside. But it’s also an overt act of insurrection in their battle against a broken system.

It also puts lives in jeopardy, culminating in a frantic murder as the police hunt for the perpetrators in the botched aftermath. Jason flinches in a crucial moment and must spend the rest of the movie as a fugitive nursing a bullet wound. These all feel like typical consequences in a crime picture circa 1969.

However, one of the most crucial and fascinating relationships in the movie is between Joanna Shimkus, who is a social worker, and Poitier. We don’t get too much context with them, but it’s an onscreen romance that would predate their marriage in real-life. Their rapport complicates the story because she is a white woman who is so invested in this community like few people are, and she effectively brings out a gentler more intimate side of him.

Although it’s not necessarily pushed on us, their interracial romance puts them both in jeopardy because it’s not the way the world normally operates. The ending somehow gave me brief flashbacks to Odd Man Out, but Poitier’s marriage with Shimkus would last well over 40 years! It’s the best denouement this movie could ever hope to have.

3/5 Stars

Brother John (1971)

Brother John feels like one of those characters who is a cinematic creation. He joins James Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd and anyone else who was ever sprinkled with something special that enchants the world around them, whether they’re angelic or extra-terrestrial. But Brother John is a different version for a different generation, and he’s played by none other than Sidney Poitier.

He provides a quiet catharsis for a black audience as a cipher of a man that no one can get a read on. The film itself has a no-frills TV movie aesthetic that somehow still gels with its ambitions.

John comes back to town when he gets news of his sister’s death. The last time he came back was when there was another death in the family. The local doctor (Will Geer), who brought John into the world, is curious about where he comes from and where he goes, but no one takes the old man too seriously.

Still, the police manage to hound him because they’re suspicious of someone they cannot easily intimidate and put in a box. The doctor’s self-promoting son (Bradford Dillman) also needles him in his attempt to gain local prominence. The town’s leaders are looking to quell a factory from unionizing. All of this feels rather mundane in detail. John seems to have nothing to do with any of it.

They remain uncomfortable with him because he’s so inscrutable, well-traveled, knows a myriad of languages, and finds no need to divulge all the shades of his character. He’s contented this way, spending time with family and even calling on a pretty schoolteacher (Beverly Todd) who asks for his company. He won’t play by their preordained script.

There’s one painfully excruciating scene where some cops pay a house call on a black family. The man of the house is left so powerless as he’s subjugated and persecuted in his own home in front of his kids. John is at the table too. Quiet at first. Almost emotionless. Is he just going to sit there or spur himself into action?

In this uncanny moment, he goes down to the basement with one of the officers and proceeds to whoop the tyrant wordlessly with a bevy of skills the backwater lawmen could never dream of. It’s the kind of power exerted over malevolent authority that one could only imagine in your wildest dreams.

As such, Brother John fits in somewhere analogous to the Blaxploitation space but as only Poitier could do it. He wasn’t the same bombastic militant cool dude a generation craved for and received in Shaft or Superfly. He still has his measured exterior, and yet he equally makes quick work of any antagonists: racists, malcontents, white, black, or otherwise. It’s a bit of a boyish fantasy watching a hero vanquish all evildoers quite spectacularly. But, after all, this is what movies are for.

3/5 Stars

The Last Flight (1931) and The Lost Generation

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The Last Flight could conceivably be tacked onto the end of The Dawn Patrol. Although there is only one full scene of aerial combat, it informs everything that’s to follow because this shared experience colors the lives of the men who pushed through it. Some of them have been pushed through irreparable change. They are men with PTSD before we ever had a diagnosis.

As two of them (Richard Barthelmess and David Manners) are ushered out of the hospital there is a sense of foreboding. The physician and the audience seem equally aware of it. The doctor likens them to a pair of fine Swiss watches crushed on the pavement. The question remains how do you assimilate them back into society? As he grows didactic or at least waxes poetic, he marks them as spent bullets; his prognosis comes very near to the sobering Korean drama Aimless Bullet a couple generations later.

In fact, The Last Flight could be an equally heavy and laborious affair given the context. These are men who must face something even more difficult than war. War is something they were trained for. Life afterward is uncharted territory. It’s not something that can easily be prepared for; it’s more daunting and laden with consequences.

This is another installment in the men returning from war sub-genre, and it’s no less striking every time I see it done well or at least in a new manner. Under the circumstances, the normal response is to seek to delay the future for as long as possible. These fellows take it to the extreme.

From a technical standpoint, talkies still feel new, and the dialogue is initially a bit stunted and awkward pushing the obvious wounds of its characters. This could be tepid going. Instead, The Last Flight bubbles with its own brand of lithe and breezy effervescence. This is the mood accorded by its main players because they are looking for a life far away from their wartorn experiences up in the air. Trauma is best remedied by drink and trivial conversation so they set flight for Paris.

By entertaining all the frivolous diversions they can manage and hardly acknowledging the war again, the film says so much about these characters (as does their idle talk). Their evening progress full of drinking, dancing, and more drinking.

One of the people they happen upon and make a part of their entourage is Nikki (Helen Chandler). She’s a ditzy girl and a bit like a forlorn little puppy so they absorb her into their group. She’s got money and doesn’t quite know how to take care of herself. They take it upon themselves to do just that, which includes guarding her against the advances of a conceited nincompoop (Walter Byron).

There’s not a whole lot to it, but it comes into its own spilling out of the confines of your typical fare much like the drinks they’re constantly consuming. They let their inhibitions go giving way to a giddy even laissez-faire attitude.

Among other diversions, Cary tells Nikki the tale of the world’s most famous lovers Héloïse and Abelard, and starts to fall for her, only to have his feelings hurt over a misunderstanding. Because she’s an unwitting girl who couldn’t hurt a fly. And so the gang and Nikki follow Cary to his train to Lisbon and cram into his compartment.  They’ve stayed together thus far, and there’s no reason for breaking up the team.

If you’re waiting for the bottom line of the movie, know that it never comes. Not really. There’s hardly a point to it, but then again that’s the point right there. It encapsulates the very existence of these men. One of their buddies gets mixed up in the bullfighting ring, another gets into a skirmish at a carnival shooting gallery. In both accounts, there are lasting consequences.

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All Quiet on The Western Front might be chosen as the emblematic film in considering the plight of WWI and how war is such a futile endeavor. It strips men of their youth, of their vitality, and of their very lives. And numerous films of different eras reiterated these themes with their own nuances. Take The Eagle and The Hawk as another fine example or even La Grande Illusion, or the aforementioned Dawn Patrol (also with Bartholmess).

However, The Last Flight might stand in what seems like a class of its own. It’s not about how men die in the morass of the battlefield or how they get crippled by the gross delusions of war. Because the whole film is built out of the interim period, the delay of going home. This reading of The Last Flight is so crucial to appreciate what it is. Most post-war films are about the return and coming to terms with life and transition.

These men never get that far. They make it to a kind of purgatory — they get out on the other side — and yet this is never a movie about acclimating back to home. It’s built out of the peregrinations and distractions of men who are completely listless.  They are the so-called “lost generation” of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

For some, it’s almost a merciful end not having to touch down on American soil. Hence, this being their last flight together as comrades-in-arms. There was never a life for them outside of what they had already experienced, and they could never return home and hope to be the same people they were before. It’s just not possible.

If we’re instilled with anything, it is that The Last Flight is a film of brotherhood and a shared experience above all else. Simultaneously, its brand of freeform, invariably crude narrative is rather invigorating, since it cuts against the accepted grain of the times. It plays as a very singular time capsule speaking to the age like few other films I can think of.

3.5/5 Stars

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958): A Heist Comedy of Errors

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If you need only one scene to be indicative of everything Big Deal on Madonna Street exemplifies as a caper comedy, the opening scene puts it out on a platter, ready for consumption.

A shrimpy man with a mustache waits on the street corner as a lookout while another named Cosimo (Memmo Carotenuto) busts open a window to hotwire a car. Except he totally bungles getting nabbed by the cops for his efforts. Even as the alarm goes off, he’s too much of a stiff to make a break for it. Now he’s on the inside, and he deserves it, if not for his botched crime, then at least for being a numbskull.

But he’s also an idea man looking to get out of the can as soon as possible. The job now is finding someone to be his scapegoat. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Everyone has their underlining excuses. A wife already in prison. A baby to take care of. Previous prison time. It’s difficult to scrounge someone up when all your dopey friends are two-bit crooks.

Finally, they settle on Peppe (Vittorio Gassman), a beefcake with a glass jaw. He has no prior record and with a dead-end boxing career, he could use the dough. So he goes into the police precinct, lays out his sob story, and proceeds to get handed a prison sentence of his own. Now he’s in the clink to keep Cosimo company.

He requests at least the common courtesy to know why he had to end up in prison in the first place. Cosimo tells him about a golden opportunity in the form of a heist. He’s got it all planned in his head, sans all the gory details. Regardless, it’s going to be the crime of the century, or the decade, or the year, or maybe the month…You get the idea.

When he finally gets on the outside on parole, it’s now Peppe who gathers the usual suspects together to put their plans into action. Their first mistake is probably taking their cues from a lug head, but they’re desperate and a little loopy themselves.

Soon they’re casing the joint and making sure they know what they’re getting into. It’s all very “scientific,” but not quite foolproof. They’ve watched one too many crime movies. The first professional they actually cross paths with is a safecracker (Toto) — a real pro — but he just gives them advice; he’s not actually prepared to take on the job for himself. He’s got his own parole to think about. And so he supplies them some of the tools of his trade and wishes them well.

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Normally heist stories are constructed in a very specific manner. There’s the planning process, then the heist, and the reversal where everything goes haywire. Big Deal is made entirely in its foundation — the best-laid plans that have no choice but to go awry — and their continued complications and digressions only make the scenario more hilarious. Rest assured, we foresee the problems before they ever come to a head. How can we not? But they proceed to get worse and worse.

The vacant apartment they were going to use as their in-road has been filled and so they look to woo one of the tenants so they can gain access. Peppe dons his most charming persona to get a foot in the door, except he goes and falls in love with a maid (Carla Gravina) he’s supposed to be romancing, getting jealous of her steady row of suitors. Then, she gets herself fired and the whole reason she was of value to them in the first place goes out the window. Peppe still loves her.

What ever happened to Cosimo, you ask? He finally gets out, intent on his cut, only to then seek vengeance on his former compatriots, going so far as to ambush Peppe in the carnival’s bumper cars. The youngster Mario (Renato Salvatori) starts his own forbidden love affair with the chaste younger sister (Claudia Cardinale) of one of their co-conspirators. Soon he loses heart and drops out. The family man, Tibero (Marcello Mastrianni), struggles to take care of his son. He also gets his arm broken nabbing a camera for recon. Worse yet, the camera’s worthless.

Their luck never gets better, nor should it. When it comes time to synchronize their watches, of course, they don’t have any. They’re either too expensive or already hocked. A lover’s quarrel heats up, and with it, the lights go on, cutting into the crew’s surreptitious activities up above on the rooftops.  Their timetable is abruptly derailed.

Big Deal on Madonna Street milks comedy from the telling observation that life is never picture perfect and even the most tightly wrought plans have a way of being unraveled or upended by the most unsubstantial wrinkle. These fellows aren’t exactly master criminals to begin with so their brand of setbacks more than fit the size and scope of the crime.

When they do finally get inside, there are leaks. Noises. Cats. Midnight snacks. Major miscalculations. They continue bumbling their way through every waking minute and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Normally heist films go horribly amiss at the most inopportune moment. In Big Deal on Madonna Street, they shoot themselves in the foot countless times, and still, they go for it anyway.

You’ve got to admire their dogged determination and this motley crew is quite likable. It comes from knowing they are criminals who never will succeed. They are armed with a prevailing obliviousness. We can laugh at them and like them, and watch them stumble off into their lives, after having made a complete mess of everything.

Part of this comes with walking with them in their lives and seeing them as commonfolk with all the foibles that come with small-town life. What a lovable pack of misfits and malcontents they are and we learn them to appreciate them for precisely these reasons. They’re unequivocally silly. If nothing else, they provided their audience with some quality entertainment. As a heist film shot as a comedy of errors, Madonna Street has never quite found its equal.

4/5 Stars

The Trouble With Harry (1955): Hitchcock, Humor, and The Macabre

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Idyllic is the word for The Trouble with Harry, and it positively crackles with the autumnal delights one can only know in locales where the seasons give way one to another.

Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography boasts many opulent and gorgeously shot sequences, but Trouble With Harry might have some of the most supernal. Part of this comes from the fact it comes in such stark contrast to his environs in Northern California.

Because the East Coast — Vermont in particular — affords him a very particular canvass and he uses them to full effect. The story goes that he went so far as to have leaves pinned back onto trees to try and replicate the shots on a sound stage. Whatever the techniques it boasts something distinctly tangible.

If the locale is not entirely functional, it still manages to be another integral character in the story just as the satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot or the thought of a lemonade out on the porch conjures up visions of a very specific sort. But of course, all of this connotation would be for naught if it was not juxtaposed with the typical Hitchcockian proclivity for the darkly macabre.

The Trouble with Harry might offer his lightest touch — it’s spritzed more evidently with humor than a great many of his movies — but the blackness at its core cannot go unnoticed. Take, for instance, that opening sequence. It’s emblematic of the whole picture. There’s tiny Jerry Mathers freakishly young (even before the days of Leave It To Beaver).

He’s running off on some boyish adventure his toy gun in hand, only to stumble upon the corpse of a man named Harry. The man’s nicely dressed. Laid out in the middle of an open pasture. More importantly, he’s dead.

Hitchcock employs a trick from the painterly masters using foreshortening to make the man’s body envelop the screen as the little boy stares down at him rather inquisitively, ready to run off and tell his mother. From the outset, Bernard Herrmann’s scoring is both rigorous and rather jaunty, perfectly in tune with the sense of place and tone.

But this is no conventional tale of malice or ill-blood. It is, however, the Macguffin to kick our story off. Edmund Gwenn is another fellow who comes upon the body quite by chance — he was out shooting rabbits unsuccessfully — could it be a stray bullet that took Harry out? He thinks it’s better not to risk it and decides to drag the body to more secluded terrain.

However, he’s met by one of his neighbors. John Michael Hayes’ script does splendidly in moments like these. It’s able to place small-town pleasantries up against a grisly murder as if it’s a small trifle — a mere afterthought to be dealt with in the manner of a pothole or a roach problem. In the end, Captain Wiles (Gwenn) and Ms. Gravely (Mildred Natwick), a kindly spinster, set up a date for afternoon tea with the promise of blueberry muffins and genial company.

forsythe macLaine trouble with harry

What of Harry? It’s true the whole world seems to turn up to find him. Soon little Arnie returns with his mother (Shirley MacLaine), and she hardly bats an eye. A local professorial fellow — his nose always in a book — trips over the body without much of an acknowledgment. Even local artist, Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), has time enough to sketch a crude portrait of the dead man.

He’s your conventional starving artist. Kindly Ms. Wiggs (Mildred Dunnock) puts his particularly exuberant paintings out for sale near her Emporium, though he doesn’t stir up much business from the cows lingering across the pasture.

Ms. Rogers meanwhile is a twice-widowed young woman, and she admits her last husband was too good to live. She’s pursued by Mr. Marlowe even as the old-timers look to start courting in their own way.

The source of the frivolity and the casual delightfulness comes in painting the town as Hitchcock does — this combination of coloring the idiosyncrasies of the quainter side of life as well as the open-air mise en scene, whether pure illusion or not.

What’s lovely about Hitch is the way every movie becomes a sort of game or puzzle in its own right. Because The Trouble with Harry will never be held in the same regard as many of his most obvious successes — movies from this same period of time — but it’s ceaselessly interesting.

Audiences of the 50s would have had a time pinning it down in a conventional sense because it employs fairly frank dialogue whether riddled with innuendo or not, but it also lacks the kind of obvious star power big studios often banked on to sell tickets. Surely Hitchcock could have garnered the best talent and yet he chose not to.

This is a character piece, and it wasn’t meant for the Cary Grants or Jimmy Stewarts of the world — at least not in 1955. It called for something more mundane. And what of the humor? First of all, there are certain expectations from “The Master of Suspense,” and it’s hard to say they are met; it’s almost like he swapped the formula. He leads with the comedy with accents of suspense and the macabre.

A body buried and excavated, put back in the ground, and exhumed time and time again over the course of the day. It’s the film’s prolonged gag. One of the things that makes it feel continually comedic is the lack of a true villain of any consequence.

The closest candidate is Royal Dano, a slightly curmudgeonly sheriff who has a penchant for old cars. He’s sniffing around, always on the side of law and order. No, this is most definitely a comedy, and the two couples join forces to keep their local secret. Because they know quite literally where the dead bodies are buried. Though it’s quite possible none of them is the actual culprit. It’s typical of Hitchcock that his inclinations of Vermont are informed by murder instead of moonlight.

He is, after all, the man who keenly observed that the medium of T.V. “brought murder back into the home where it belongs.” The Trouble With Harry plays with the same form of morbid levity.

3.5/5 Stars

After Hours (1985) and Scorsese’s Cinematic Purgatory

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Assume what you will, but After Hours is the Scorsese movie that feels most firmly planted in the 1980s. It’s of its time and functions quite differently than what we have come to expect from him. Mind you, this is hardly a criticism. More so, it shows his range and the eclectic road his career has taken.

A jaded word processor (Griffin Dunne) is teaching a young idealist the ropes. He still has dreams of being a publisher — to create a magazine as a forum for writers and intellectuals — and he’s not planning to be stuck behind a desk his entire life. Paul Hackett starts to zone out. As it happens, he won’t be sitting at a desk for much longer either. At least for a night…

Next, is the beginning of what can be described as the plot. It gives the sensation of a meet-cute as he starts talking with the pretty young woman (Rosanna Arquette), sitting a table way, as they bond over an appreciation of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. And yet even this conversation already feels somewhat uncanny. It doesn’t function quite as we expect and this is just the beginning.

After Hours will only spiral out of control dispensing of all pretense when it comes to straightforward narrative. There is a sense this is precisely how screenwriter Joseph Minion conceived it as he was penning his thesis at NYU film school. It functions as the worst night ever in Soho as our hapless stand-in, Paul Hackett, visits a girl’s apartment and then tries with all his might to get home. The evening gets in the way.

When the rain starts, a waitress (Terri Garr) invites him over to her apartment, but she’s not impressed with his “doom and gloom” attitude and soon takes affront at his treatment of her. If it were possible, he’s being over-accomodating. And so he flees as soon as he can. But he has no money.

He can’t get on a train. So he has to walk, but that poses unimaginable complications. Already you see the treadmill he’s on. Every step forward is a few more steps backward and sideways — to the same diner, a bartender’s apartment, or the Club Berlin. Is it a spoiler to point out Cheech & Chong also show up?

If you would allow me the shorthand After Hours exists somewhere in the ballpark of Kafka and Hitchcock. The perplexing plotting is an abstruse roundabout of after midnight mayhem. The Hitchcock element is supplied by Martin Scorsese as he busies himself with numerous camera movements executing a visible showmanship behind the scenes. There are a few obvious nods as well from dolly zooms on telephones that might as well come out of a film like Strangers on a Train or Dial M for Murder. Likewise, there’s even toilet bowl cameos reminiscent of Psycho.

What’s more, after Hackett is caught out on the street and labeled as a burglar by the local mob of residents led by Catherine O’Hara, a momentary man on the run thriller is created with no concrete conclusion because that is never the point.

Inevitably Hackett falls down on his knees, in the middle of the street, head raised to the heavens saying, “What do you want from me? I’m just a word processor!” It’s as if God is laughing at him and deigns to keep him in this constant state of New York purgatory. Will the madness never end?

If it’s not apparent already, form is so closely tied to function in After Hours and its conjoining worldview. Watching a movie like this makes one beg the question: What’s the point?

Scorsese proves his skills once more under very different circumstances and if you watch After Hours off the cuff, it shows the breadth of his filmography. It was a period where he had to get creative as far as funding and the projects he pursued.

But, regardless, it still feels like a bit of an outlier, and it never engages with me in the same manner as his other works. It has nothing to do with it being slow or prozaic. Those are not words I would use to describe it. But as with anything Kafkaesque (I admittedly haven’t read Joyce so I can’t make that comparison), there’s a pervasive all-compassing sense of fateful pointlessness.

In one manner, it’s so very much of the ’80s in creating and establishing an environment for its main protagonist. And yet it goes beyond any sense of reality, gladly becoming this bleak, otherworldly metaphor for life. Minion happily takes the story to surreal digressions of dark and still comic proportions.

It lacks the timelessness of Scorsese’s greatest and most personal achievements and there is not the same human connection. Certainly, being different is not always bad. There are few qualms with enjoying the utter lunacy. However, somehow it only manages to be something to be admired from an aloof distance. Like a paper mache statue or a bit of Mozart or Bach, at least how they are applied here.

They impress me, but in a manner of speaking, I never feel touched and animated in any way. If we are to consider the film’s remaining metaphor, we do not leave the movie changed. We are right back where we began no doubt asking ourselves, where does this leave us? I suppose it’s better than being encased in paper mache for eternity. That’s some consolation.

3/5 Stars

The King of Comedy (1982): Celebrity or Notoriety

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“Better to be king for a night than shmuck for a lifetime.”

The opening moments of The King of Comedy, as iconic star Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), is ushered to a waiting car surrounded by the chaotic frenzy of thrill-seekers, capture the essence of celebrity in the modern age.

Jerry gets shoved about and manhandled as an obsessive young fan sneaks into his car and nearly squeezes him to death. The freeze-frame credits capturing her outstretched hands on the windowpane of his car has Scorsese’s sense of the cinematic. As Ray Charles’ “Come Rain or Come Shine” plays, we become increasingly aware of film’s ability to capture time and halt it completely.

The punchline comes in the form of one Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro). He’s an avid admirer of Jerry Langford in his own right, and he just happens to sneak into the car with Jerry as it drives away, leaving the hordes behind. Now he has his chance to consort with his agitated hero.

Rupert lets him know how he’s biding his time until he gets his big break. He’s trying not to be pushy, but he still manages to cross some invisible like as he uncomfortably follows Jerry all the way up to the steps of his apartment.

Lewis builds his performance out of playing it straight and a bit harried and belligerent. He feels much more close to home than one of his prototypical clowns. The buffoonery is mostly left for Pupkin. What Jerry Lewis brings is true-blue Hollywood pedigree and celebrity.

Meanwhile, Rupert has his own private delusions. For example a lunch with Jerry Langford where the old guard is positively begging him to take over the show for 6 weeks. This is the scenario he plays out in his head.

He also shows up at the bar presided over by a pretty girl — Rita (Diahnne Abbott), who he knew from school — and they wind up going out to dinner together (probably). Because at first, we question whether this is an illusion as well. Does it matter?

Because Rupert is enveloped in a world of hero-worship, although he takes it a step further. He wants to get to the top of the mountain with his heroes — to be one of them — with the same kind of praise and adulation. He’ll be the new king of comedy.

And yet we get a sense of how ludicrous this is. He is a man who’s done of up his living room with cardboard cutouts of Liza Minnelli and Jerry Langford (Lewis) to look like his own personal talk show. In the day before mobile phones, he clings to a payphone like a security blanket hoping to get a callback. Jerry’s going to call him back. He just knows it.

It functions as an extension, or a further perfection, of Taxi Driver‘s melding of fantasy and reality. What sets it apart is De Niro’s truly unprecedented performance; it feels more off-kilter and oaffish than we’re accustomed to seeing from him. He’s an alienated outsider, yes, but also a shmuck.

The scenes between Jerry and Rupert somehow are the richest for me because they remain at the heart and soul of his fantasy — his desire to be well-liked and accepted as a comedian — this want to actually break bread and be buddies with his hero. Haven’t we all been there? But for Rupert, it is a legitimate obsession.

There’s an imaginary marriage sequence presided over by his old high school teacher with the wedding march supplied by none other than Victor Borge. In another sequence, he gets thrown out of Jerry’s office after the umpteenth time only to show up at Jerry’s house with his girl in tow.

How did we get from one moment to the other? In the brain of Rupert Pumpkin, it’s not difficult to extrapolate. As this prolonged agony gets strung along, it becomes more and more uncomfortable and cringe-worthy with each passing minute. The servants let them in. They make themselves at home. Only for Jerry to return from the golf coursed miffed.

Because it becomes more and more apparent how unsubstantiated any relationship between Jerry and Rupert actually is. For the actors, it is par excellence with De Niro and Lewis riffing off each other for minutes on end — keeping this grating sense of conflict going.

It’s already been alluded to that The King of Comedy is about this kind of idolizing and super fandom, but it also examines what happens when fellow lunatics clash or worse yet join forces. In this picture, Rupert has Masha (Sandra Bernhardt). He makes every effort to differentiate between the two of them, but who else would hatch a nefarious scheme to kidnap Jerry Langford?

Of course, that’s what they do. There he is duct-taped in his chair — and they really do a job on him — he’s practically mummified, stuck to the seat of his chair. It’s the first phase in Rupert’s plan to get his face in front of the biggest audience possible. Forget about guest host Tony Randall. He’s going to be the new talk of the town, at least for an evening. If not for his middling standup, then certainly for kidnapping one of America’s most beloved public figures.

The key to The King of Comedy is how Scorsese seems to understand what it is to be the TV generation and to be raised on the medium of the small screen. Although he is considered one of the great cinematic directors of our times, he also understands the world a film like this engenders. Case and point is Rupert Pupkin’s climactic monologue.

He cuts away before we ever see it live. Instead, it is shown later from a bar over the fuzzy frequency of a television screen as it was meant to be. In this augmented reality of canned laughter and studio audiences, people can become like family, and they are household names. But there’s also something phony and uncomfortable about it if it’s done poorly.

Because it’s become more and more apparent there are people out there who are not looking to accumulate a currency of trust with their audience. They only want their 15 minutes of fame.

I’m not sure if The King of Comedy always works, but it does leave a lasting impression with its meandering road of awkwardness where Pubkin is a man who seems delusional, shrewd, and overwhelmingly conventional all at the same time. The final punchline is how he gets his wish and becomes a celebrity. Notoriety might be a better word for it, but in our modern landscape aren’t they really one and the same?

3.5/5 Stars