If anyone’s reading, there is a short-term Situation over here… fewer movies are being watched, and fewer words written about them. Gonna burn through the backlog with some half-assed posts!

Katy says this is considered Jimmy Stewart’s worst movie, which seems farfetched – A Tale of Africa, anyone? Sure it’s no Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it’s fine. Stewart is scooping salt after dropping off supplies when local drunken bully Dave (Alex Nicol of Bloody Mama and The Screaming Skull) comes by and steals/destroys all his stuff. Stewart gets revenge, of a sort, by hanging out with Dave’s dad’s love-interest/nemesis Aline MacMahon (The Flame and the Arrow) and refusing to leave town, not letting on that he’s tracking some rifles stolen from his late brother. So Jimmy gets tangled up in all the townfolk’s affairs until he figures out who’s trading rifles to the sinister Indians (it’s Dave, of course), almost getting himself killed a bunch of times in the process.

Dusty, enraged Stewart with defeated Dave:

The town is supposedly dominated by a very large ranch plus Aline’s smaller one, though we never see workers at either place except when they ride out in groups to start fights. The rancho grande is run by ailing Donald Crisp (Ulysses Grant in Birth of a Nation forty years earlier) who wishes his son wasn’t such a fuckup, and foreman Arthur Kennedy (who we just saw in The Lusty Men), who’s in on the rifle scheme with Dave. Combo of the gun deal, the vengeful Stewart, and Crisp’s failed power plays all lead to downfall and death, though somehow Crisp is given a happyish ending, engaged to Aline, while Stewart has to ride off but tells his own love interest (Cathy O’Donnell, girlfriend of handless Harold in The Best Years of Our Lives) to look him up if she ever rides east.

Crisp and Kennedy:

Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West) plays a would-be assassin:

Robert Mitchum is a washed-up rodeo legend who runs into Wes (Arthur Kennedy of Rancho Notorious, traitor of Bend of the River) and Susan Hayward (Canyon Passage). Wes gets the idea to make quick money by getting Mitchum to train him for the rodeo life, soon becomes a conceited gambler going out with hot chicks and abandoning Susan at home, and Mitchum gets a complex about it, goes back out to prove himself and gets thrashed to death by a bull.

“I got a special callin’ for handling horses like some folks get the call to be a preacher.” Just a couple days later, we saw The Rider, which had the unfortunate side effect of making this movie seem somewhat phony by comparison. It’s overall fine though, if not up to the very high standards of Ray’s next few pictures. Arthur Hunnicutt (The Big Sky) is a highlight as a cripped ex-bullrider with a teenage daughter named Rusty… never seen the bad girl who tries to steal Wes (Eleanor Todd) or the bitter widow (Lorna Thayer) before.

One week in 1953, things went very badly for military scientist Frank Olson (played by Peter Saarsgard in reenactment footage). After he’s given LSD at a cabin getaway, he does something wrong (“they laughed at me”) then asks to be fired from his job. Instead he’s escorted to NYC, taken to see a psychiatrist (actually an allergist) and a magician, and one night he goes out the window of his hotel room and falls to his death. Few specifics are known for sure – what happened in the cabin, who else was in the hotel room, what the NYC trip was even for – but Frank’s son Eric has spent six decades learning all he can, trying to piece it together. So the film follows his investigation, fleshing out the story more and more as he learns details over the decades from court cases and document searches and unofficial visits.

Eric’s collage art must have inspired some of Morris’s compositions:

Dr. Balaban… I thought this was Morris and his interrotron when I first saw it:

Saarsgard is lost in the reenactment scenes, dazed or drugged or having a breakdown, and we barely see or discuss him behaving normally before the fateful week. Other actors hover about, such as Tim Blake Nelson as sinister boss Gottlieb (who once tried to assassinate Lumumba) and Bob Balaban as the allergist, but these scenes never quite come together, because the investigation doesn’t. We get close enough to make assumptions – that Frank was dropped out the window, staged as a suicide – but it all leads up to the terrible final moments of the Eric Olson interview:
“I remembered my father but I forgot who I was… you become lost in a sea of questions, all of which pertain to the other, none of which pertain to yourself… Because the value of the lost one is infinite, the sacrifice becomes infinite.”

It’s a powerful ending, and I love some of the editing tricks, echoing and split-screening the interview images. But something is off with the big-picture editing – the episodes were either meant to be watched a week apart (watching two in one sitting yields too little progress, too much repetition) or they had enough material for four good episodes and extended it to six when they got the netflix deal.

The Tabloid television setup:

chemist Robert Lashbrook:

Lawrence Garcia in the new Cinema Scope:

Uncertainty, unknowability, and the nature of truth are subjects that Morris has revisited throughout his career, specifically in relation to (American) structures and systems of authority. And despite its overt epistemological explorations, conspiratorial tone, and more unconventional trappings, Wormwood still bears the hallmarks of traditional journalistic reportage. But there’s been a marked change as well: the relative certainty of something like the Randall Dale Adams case — built around a clear miscarriage of justice, with a self-evident corrective goal — has been traded in for McNamara’s fog, Rumsfeld’s flurry of memos (nicknamed “snowflakes”), or the recurring image of the sea in The Unknown Known. It’s a shift from thin blue line to churning, Rorschachian haze.

Uptight fashion designer is spellbound by a young waitress and pulls her into his wondrous world, then loses interest and goes back to his old bitchy, needy ways. She resents her treatment and finds a way to make herself needed once again. Retired movie star Daniel Day-Lewis appears with upcoming movie star Vicky Krieps (Gutland, The Young Karl Marx) and, as the designer’s sister who runs the business while he stomps around being a fragile genius, Lesley Manville (of most Mike Leigh movies). Katy did not like it. Apparently the third movie of the year in which men are poisoned by mushrooms (I haven’t caught Lady Macbeth yet).

Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope:

Woodcock is reminded more than once of his place in the class system, that he doesn’t own the house in which his House is located; he’s paying rent to a wealthy client landlord. Like an architect, he’s bound to these clients, financially and spiritually: their bodies inspire his designs, and their money allows him to pay the rent. The thematic connection of designers and architects to filmmakers, and thus to the dreaded autobiographical thread, is never too fruitful for critics to follow, and it doesn’t work here at all. But what this project does reveal about Anderson is his interest in turning away from isolated obsessives toward the alchemy of collaboration.

First time rewatching this since 2003.

A warmup for Playtime, toying with modern technology and living/working spaces ill-suited for the decidedly unmodern Mr. Hulot. At his sister’s house, sound is made by electric gizmos, and at Hulot’s, it’s made by aiming a sunbeam at a caged bird.

Sidetracks follow neighborhood dogs and schoolboy pranks. At the end the dad bonds with his son in a small way, at the expense of having Hulot sent away, and the dogs again take over the film.

On of my favorite gags, the women talking to each other but facing the direction the path dictates:

Won the oscar over Big Deal on Madonna Street, and won a jury prize at Cannes the year of big winner The Cranes are Flying. So many blu-ray extras and reviews of this… a good one: Matt Zoller Seitz for Criterion.

Badass bounty hunter Henry Fonda (same year as 12 Angry Men) rolls into town and meets the unqualified local sheriff Anthony Perkins (three years pre-Psycho) who wants to do the right thing and arrest local bad guy Neville Brand (lead of Riot in Cell Block 11) even though it’ll probably get him killed. Meanwhile, Fonda is renting a room from a woman (Betsy Palmer, the killer in Friday the 13th) who has been exiled from town because of her half-breed son (Michel Ray, who would become an Olympic skiier and a beer billionaire). And Lee Van Cleef and his brother are going around murdering people. Fonda, an ex-lawman, says repeatedly that he’s done being a lawman, nuh-uh, never again, so we just know he’ll become acting sheriff and take care of things.

The writers lost the oscar to Designing Woman, but this was a very good Mann western to file with all the others.

Henry Fonda, Mrs. Voorhees and the young owner of Heineken:

Thanks to a well-placed mirror, we can see the bar fight and Perkins’ reaction:

I wondered about the nursing home intro, but in the end felt it was the best framing device of an older woman recalling dead friends since Atonement. Bulk of the movie follows serious-minded, self-assured Marcus as he learns (and ultimately fails) to navigate a college full of distracting human elements – a patronizing dean, a sexy rich girl, noisy roommates and people who want atheist Marcus to define himself as Jewish (and at the same time want him to attend the school-mandated chapel services). After he’s caught buying his way out of church (he’s not wealthy, but felt that getting out of church was morally necessary), he’s expelled, sent to the Korean war, killed.

Marcus’s girl Olivia is Sarah Gadon, Gugu’s white sister-cousin in Belle, Pattinson’s wife in Cosmopolis, the sick celebrity in Antiviral – I should be able to recognize her by now. If I watch this again, need to pay more attention to her character, now that I know more about her emotional instability and tragic end. Marcus is Logan Lerman, who starred as loner high school freshman in Perks of Being a Wallflower, now a loner college freshman. He’s magnetic, and his clash with the equally serious and self-assured dean (Tracy Letts, writer of Bug, also in Homeland and Christine), mostly represented in one extra-long, tense meeting scene, was reason enough to keep watching, though I didn’t get much sense of narrative progression or the movie’s point until it all comes flooding in at the end.

M. D’Angelo:

A chilling illustration of nails that stick out being hammered down, lent additional blunt force by the strangeness of (fairly recent) history … Also rare and exciting to see intellectual ferocity onscreen, even if it’s the annoyingly self-righteous undergrad variety.

Second weekend afternoon in a row I’ve watched a mid-1950’s true-crime drama. It’s not intentional, they’re just the shortest movies I’ve got. Newsreel-style intro tells us about a wave of riots protesting poor conditions in American prisons, featuring real footage, then cut to cell block 11 (the punishment block) in a California (?) prison where the inmates have decided to join the trend, holding their captors captive and calling for the warden and the press.

A tight, tense little movie which mostly comes down on the side of the prisoners – most of them, anyway. Master negotiator Dunn ends up fighting for control with Crazy Mike. Dunn gets an audience with the press, then Mike throws a knife into a guy outside. The next morning some lower-security cell blocks escape and join in the action. The cops contemplate blasting a hole in the cell block wall, which would also kill the guards held within, but ultimately the governor caves.

Warden (left) with Commissioner:

Politics: the first black guy who opens his mouth gets knocked out by Dunn. One of the ringleaders’ demands is that the young naïve guys be kept away from “certain prisoners” – I assumed they meant the crazy violent ones like Mike, but the commentary says it’s code for The Gays. And the warden basically wants the same things as the prisoners, has wanted it for years, but his hands are tied by tight-fisted state politicians.

Victory! I think that’s Crazy Mike at left, Dunn in center:

Noble Leader Dunn was Neville Brand (Eaten Alive and The Ninth Configuration), Evil Leader Mike was Leo Gordon, who had served time at San Quentin, and played Dillinger in Baby Face Nelson. The Warden: Emile Meyer (the priest in Paths of Glory, corrupt cop in Sweet Smell of Success), Commissioner Haskell (the governor’s stooge who gets knifed): Frank Faylen of 99 River Street and The Lost Weekend, and the injured, sympathetic hostage guard: cartoon voice actor Paul Frees. Written by friendly-witness commie Richard Collins, an early work by Siegel a couple years before his Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

C. Fujiwara:

The film had its origin in Wanger’s own experience as an inmate. After shooting agent Jennings Lang in a jealous rage over Wanger’s wife, Joan Bennett, Wanger was convicted for assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to four months, which he served at a minimum-­security prison north of Los Angeles. He emerged so appalled by the experience that he set out to use his access to mass media to arouse the public in favor of prison reform … With [Siegel] at the reins, Riot becomes not just a social-problem film but a ferocious depiction of human beings pushed past their limits.

A short movie for a weekend afternoon. It wastes no time, opening with heavy doom music and a written warning, then a hitchhiker, face unseen, shoots the people who gave him a ride, and a couple (movie) minutes later he’s being picked up by a couple of dudes on vacation.

“You guys are gonna die, that’s all. It’s just a question of when.”

Driver Roy is Edmond O’Brien, star of D.O.A. and “Rock Around the Rockpile” singer/gangster in The Girl Can’t Help It, and Passenger Gil is Frank Lovejoy, lead cop in House of Wax the same year as this. Our baddie Emmett, who immediately pulls out the pistol and tells the two they’re taking him on a multi-day journey to Mexico, is William Talman, Perry Mason’s TV rival. And all three guys look kinda similar, which becomes useful towards the end when the hitcher wants to swap clothes with Roy in case they’re walking into an ambush (they are).

Doom-camera when they stop for a William Tell shooting competition:

Not sure what to make of the plot point where the guys turn out to have lied to their wives about which direction they were driving. Bystanders in the 1950’s are more suspicious and attentive than you’d expect, so once they cross into Mexico the cops are on their trail, issuing Fake News over the radio in case the kidnapper and crew are listening (they are). Roy hurts his foot trying to escape, the car finally breaks down, and Emmett’s caught at the docks while seeking a boat. Tense little movie.

Sleeping with one eye open:

M. D’Angelo:

In December 1950 and January 1951, an ex-con named Billy Cook went on a killing spree that took him halfway across the country, from Missouri to California, and eventually into Mexico. He murdered an entire family that stopped to pick him up, a crime so well-publicized that Jim Morrison referred to it 20 years later in “Riders On The Storm” … Released in March 1953, only three months after Cook was executed, The Hitch-Hiker fictionalizes his final run, when he bummed a ride from two men on a hunting trip and forced them to drive him across the border.