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.

A tired-looking Robert Mitchum is a crook trying to stay out of jail by making deals to give up his friends. His fellow crooks are suspicious of him, and the cops owe him no particular loyalty, so it looks increasingly (to us, if not to Mitchum) that there’s no way out. Shortly after the cops get the drop on Eddie’s bank robber friends, Eddie is unceremoniously executed by the bartender he thinks is his friend (Peter Boyle of Taxi Driver). At least they had a nice night out at a hockey game beforehand.

I especially dig the general atmosphere (and the funk guitar soundtrack). Everyone acts cool but threatening. C. Stebbins called it a “relentlessly melancholic film where chess pieces are moved through quiet back-dealings and dialogue exchanges infused with ever-maneuvering fatalism.”

Mitchum, unamused:

Kent Jones:

There’s not a punch thrown, and only two fatal shots are fired, but this seemingly artless film leaves a deeper impression of dog-eat-dog brutality than many of the blood-soaked extravaganzas that preceded it and have come in its wake … Two crisply executed bank heists and a logistically complex parking-lot arrest aside, the kinetic excitement here is sparked by the verbal and gestural rhythms between the actors as they plead for their lives across dingy Beantown tabletops.

Boyle and Jordan:

Laughs: Katy told me Peter Bogdanovich was in the TV show she’s watching, and I was seeing him everywhere in this movie – turns out most men in 1973 looked like Peter Bogdanovich. I also got chuckles from the lead cop (Richard Jordan of Logan’s Run and Interiors) being named Dave Foley, and another character called Jackie Brown.

One of the greatest forgotten comedies with the best casts ever. Shirley Maclaine is super as a long-suffering woman who wanted a simple life with true love, but all the men she married came into money and became obsessed with success, driving them to their deaths and leaving her with increasingly massive inheritance. My favorite, self-referential part: in telling her story, Maclaine imagines each of her marriages as a different style of movie.

Undercranked silent with Van Dyke:

Maclaine (just after her oscar nomination for Irma la Douce) spurns self-important department store heir Dean Martin in her hometown, instead marrying Dick Van Dyke (of Bye Bye Birdie). After some idyllic months in their crumbling shack, he finds he has a knack for salesmanship and devotes the rest of his short life to business.

Arty Foreign Film with Newman:

Next comes bohemian painter Paul Newman (character name: Larry Flint) who makes a fortune selling artworks painted by machines (and by a monkey). Then to switch things up, Robert Mitchum, who’s fabulously wealthy when he meets her and dies as soon as he attempts to retire to a simpler existence. Finally Gene Kelly, a hack cafĂ© comic who becomes a star the first time she convinces him to perform without his costume and makeup.

Spendy Hollywood production with Mitchum:

All this is being told to psychiatrist Robert Cummings (Jean Arthur’s love interest in The Devil and Miss Jones) in framing story after she’s caught trying to give away her fortune to the IRS. Maclaine then finds a financially ruined Dean Martin, working as a janitor in the building, who has come to appreciate the simple life after being driven out of business by Dick Van Dyke, and it’s true love.

Musical, of course, with Kelly:

Won a well-deserved oscar for costumes (although it kinda cheated with the parade of self-consciously glamorous dresses in the Hollywood meta-film), and another for art direction, presumably for the house that Gene “Pinky” Kelly has painted entirely pink. Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green did The Band Wagon, Singin’ in the Rain and On The Town, and Thompson had just made The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear. Thanks to Joanna for the recommendation.

Kind of a dark movie, as Depp moves west towards nothing good, becoming a killer of white men before/after being killed by one. But it’s also possibly Jarmusch’s funniest and most beautiful movie, with great music.

Nobody: Gary Farmer (how did I miss him in Adaptation?)

Thel: Mili Avital, whose film career didn’t take off after Stargate

This was possibly Robert Mitchum’s final film:

Two Marshalls named Lee and Marvin:

The Kid: Eugene Byrd, a regular on Bones
Conway: Michael Wincott of Alien Resurrection and Basquiat

Benmont Tench (at right): Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol

Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in The Doors. This movie has two Andy Warhols!

Whahappan:

Now that I’ve seen this twice (both times on 35mm at Emory) I’m positive it’s one of my favorite movies. Perfect actors, dialogue, camera and lighting, perfectly paced and scored. It’s such an ideal film that while walking out, I almost fell into the trap of wishing for the glory days of Hollywood because they can’t make ’em like that anymore. Close call – I’m feeling better now.

Criminal flunky Joe (Paul Valentine of House of Strangers) tracks down Robert Mitchum (early in his career) working at a small-town gas station, says that big badman Whit (Kirk Douglas, a few years before Ace in the Hole) wants to speak with him. Mitchum drives up to Whit’s house with his cutie girlfriend, tells her his long flashback story along the way. We spend such a long time in flashback that once the action picks up again, I keep forgetting we’re back in the present.

Mitchum was originally hired by the baddies (both with prominent chins) to track down Kirk’s thieving runaway girl Jane Greer (whose IMDB page is more interesting for trivia about how Howard Hughes used to stalk her than for her film roles). He finds her in Mexico, falls for her, and they run off together, live in hiding for a couple years until discovered by his partner (Steve Brodie, a cop in Losey’s M, also in The Steel Helmet, later Frankenstein Island and The Wizard of Speed and Time). She shoots the partner and runs off, Mitchum belatedly discovering that she’d also stolen Kirk’s money for which she’d been claiming innocence.

So now Kirk wants Mitchum to steal some incriminating files for him, but plans to frame Mitchum along the way as revenge for absconding with Kirk’s girl (now back in the fold). Mitch gets the scoop from Rhonda Fleming (of The Spiral Staircase, Spellbound), and steals the files, but can’t avoid the frame-up and flees home followed by the gangsters and the law.

Mitchum gets unexpected help from his deaf-mute employee, who dispatches Joe with a fishing-rod yank off a cliff. The kid was Dickie Moore – the youngest actor in the movie, but the one who would retire first, near the end of his child-star film career. The Femme proves to be extremely fatale, shoots Kirk to death, then drives herself and Mitchum into a guns-blazing police roadblock. The “happy” ending is that Mitchum’s sweet small-town girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston – in her short film career she played Tarzan’s Jane once, and four characters named Ann) is free of his big-city corrupting influence, and can be properly courted by local cop Jim (Richard Webb, also of The Big Clock), in a world devoid of excitement or interest.

The author of the “unadaptable” novel wrote the screenplay himself, would later co-write The Big Steal and The Hitch-Hiker. Shot by the great Nicholas Musuraca, who practically invented film noir with his lighting – or lack thereof – on Stranger on the Third Floor in 1940. Nominated for nothing, in favor of timeless classics like Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, Ride the Pink Horse and Green Dolphin Street. Bah! Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Bridges, James Woods, and re-starring Jane Greer as the femme fatale’s mother.

First we watch a Christmas movie from the writer of the Lethal Weapon series, now here’s one from the director of the Lethal Weapon series. Next year we’ll have to simply watch Lethal Weapon, which the internet tells me begins with the song Jingle Bell Rock.

Funny how I can convince myself that something I loved when I was twelve is still worth renting. Sorry, Katy and Jimmy! This was lame, overlong, cheap-looking and not all that funny anymore. Eventually I’m gonna rewatch other beloved 80’s comedies like Big, Three Amigos, Midnight Run, The Money Pit, Innerspace, Real Men, Moon Over Parador, and Max Max Beyond Thunderdome, and I hope at least some of them hold up.

Bill Murray, in between Ghostbusters flicks, is just fine as the soulless corporate TV exec who gets schooled by various ghosts of christmas. Some funny bits involving a live TV special he is producing featuring Mary Lou Retton, Buddy Hackett and John Houseman (this is one of six movies Houseman did the year he died at age 86). As ghosts we’ve got New York Doll David “Poindexter” Johansen (just breaking into movies this year) and Carol Kane of Annie Hall and Transylvania 6-5000. These two are the life of the film, not Murray, love interest Karen Allen (some years after Raiders), or the future ghost played by a robed dude with muppets in his guts.

Robert Mitchum (almost 40 years after Holiday Affair!) had been biding his time for a decade on remakes, miniseries and horror flicks before appearing in this. John Glover as a hot young exec moving in on Murray’s job played the same sort of corporate go-getter role as the building owner in Gremlins 2. And Alfre Woodard has the Kermit The Frog role as Murray’s assistant.

Nothing says Christmas Spirit like Bobcat Goldthwait with a shotgun.
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Cameo by Anne Ramsey, the Oscar nominated (she was beaten by stupid Olympia Dukakis) title character from Throw Momma From The Train.
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Frozen homeless man, about whom Bill Murray somehow gives a shit. I think this is Logan Ramsey, Anne’s husband, who was in the Monkees movie Head 20 years earlier. (nope, CORRECTED in the comments)
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Three movies that I’ve never heard of, all Christmastime classics if Robert Osborne is to be believed. Nice to see Primal’s new open (featuring myself) introducing them.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947, Henry Koster)

Robert Osbourne tells us before every single movie on TCM that the studio wanted to get Cary Grant. With every 1947 picture to choose from, you’d think he could’ve livened up Unfaithfully Yours, starred in Moonrise or cameoed in Key Largo, but instead he did this inert religious drama with David Niven (a year after Niven appeared in P&P’s probably much better angel drama A Matter of Life and Death). Niven is a bishop with pretty wife Loretta Young (of Man’s Castle, also costarred with Niven in Eternally Yours). She misses doing nice romantic things with her husband, going out to eat, seeing old friends, so when actual angel Grant shows up, in addition to helping the bishop with his church work, he starts treating the wife right and falling in love with her. In the end it turns out he’s sabotaging Niven’s attempt to build a grand cathedral, and getting the lead sponsor (Gladys Cooper, Henry’s society mom in My Fair Lady) to invest in smaller, less gaudy charities instead. A real rogue prankster of an angel, he also inspires their lonely professor friend to start writing his long-delayed history book and gives him an infinite bottle of port.

Nominated for best picture and director, but twice beaten by Elia Kazan’s important issues drama. From the director of Harvey, another movie with a Hitchcock star and an imaginary friend. Movie seems to rely entirely on Grant and a few “miracle” fx tricks for charm, otherwise full of draggy scenes and dull dialogue.

Christmas In Connectitut (1945, Peter Godfrey)

Updated: here

Another romantic comedy based on a Big Lie, Barbara Stanwyck (post Lady Eve and Double Indemnity, lacking the fire and energy of either of those) writes a newspaper column where she’s a perfect CT housewife and mother full of amazing recipes. Her editor (Casablanca’s Sydney Greenstreet, big guy) invites himself over for Christmas, so she fakes it by borrowing a house and a baby from a dapper dullard (Reginald Gardiner of The Great Dictator) and inviting her master chef buddy Felix (Hungarian Cuddles Sakall, also in Casablanca). Also over for dinner is hot young WWII hero Dennis Morgan (of Affectionately Yours & The Return of Doctor X), who makes his desire for Stanwyck and her fake life known by meddling in simply everything and being overall a nuisance houseguest. It’s all seen as good and romantic though – after all, a guy who enjoys changing diapers is a real catch – and after the Lie falls apart, Barbara barely avoids marrying the dullard and snags Dennis instead.

Director Godfrey made a nazi shock drama starring Peter Lorre the same year. Despite having the least interesting plot of the three movies, this was the best written, and Cuddles Sakall steals every scene he’s in, very friendly to everyone except the big boss, whom he calls “fat man”, conspiring to ruin Barbara’s secret wedding to the dullard so she can end up with our hero.

Holiday Affair (1950, Don Hartman)

This one raises the stakes a little. Janet Leigh, just two years into her film career, has a real kid (not fake babies like Barbara Stanwyck), and a real threat to her happy, stable relationship (not a horny angel like Cary Grant) in the form of noir hero Robert Mitchum. Working as a secret comparison-shopper for a rival department store, she accidentally gets Mitchum fired. Forced into near homelessness without a job, he doesn’t whine about it, instead takes the opportunity to stalk Janet before departing to pursue his dream job of building sailboats. Janet tries to convince herself she’s happy with her extremely boring long-term guy (Wendell Corey, Stewart’s buddy in Rear Window, costar of The Furies), whom her little boy dislikes, but eventually she falls for our Mitchum. There’s some junk about an overpriced toy train which she buys for her store, then returns, then he buys for the boy, then the boy returns to give the money back to Mitchum when he finds out Mitchum is broke. It’d be a decent subplot if the kid himself (also in The Narrow Margin a few years later) hadn’t been unbearably crappy.

Don Hartman was writing Hope/Crosby Road movies before he followed Preston Sturges into directing. This was the middle of his five-year directing career. No word what he did after (besides die in 1958). Movie is full of arbitrarily placed mirrors and stupid framing (there’s a joke about a girl roller-skating on the ice rink, but her skates are blocked from view by a park bench), but is pretty watchable just for our two stars.

All three movies got 1990’s remakes: Holiday Affair made for TV from the director of Police Academy 5Bishop’s (Preacher’s) Wife from Penny Marshall starring Denzel and Whitney… and Xmas in CT from director Arnold Schwarzenegger (his only film) with a cast too baffling to list (plus a rumored 2009 remake with Jenn. Garner).

Another bizarro Western from the same year as Red Garters and with some similarly fake-looking sets/backdrops, but this time it’s not done on purpose. To be fair, much of the film is shot in a national park and looks fine.

More of a family drama than any kind of Western. Mitchum plays an unlikeable guy who’s strong-arming his family for lack of anyone else to strong-arm. He lives with Ma and Pa, middle brother Arthur, young brother Harold, sister Grace and 100-year-old Indian servant Joe-Sam. Neighbor Gwen comes over and wants to marry Harold and get him out of his dysfunctional nowhere household. But then, Mitchum and Arthur go hunting and a wildcat kills Arthur. Mitchum goes out in search of it, but loses his food by accident, then goes hungry and mad, running off a cliff to his death after a few days.

A strange idea for a movie, but stranger still is the fact that a third of the movie seems to take place in the snowy wilderness with Mitchum (the titular tracking of the cat) and the rest is screamy family drama, with Grace trying to help Harold escape, Pa always drinking, Joe-Sam being generally creepy and Mitchum hating on everyone. What kind of a Western is this? I’d heard the movie was bizarre, but it doesn’t feel bizarre while watching it (camera, sets and acting style are all pretty regular) until you stop and think about what is happening.

Katy hated the movie because she played video games while listening to it, so she hears the yelling and bitterness but doesn’t watch the tense/serene snowy bits in between. I liked it, but couldn’t imagine putting it on my top-100 all-time faves list or anything like that.

This was the year before Mitchum stunned in Night of the Hunter (that and Out of the Past being far likelier candidates for personal top-100 status).

Sister Grace starred in Shadow of a Doubt, girlfriend Gwen was the younger sister in Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and young brother Harold was one of Tab Hunter’s first roles. Tab later had his own TV show and appeared in Grease 2. Ma was a professional Ma-actress, playing Ma in Make Way For Tomorrow almost 20 years earlier, Ma Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Ma Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. She’s also in Baron of Arizona. And damned if 100-year-old Indian Joe-Sam wasn’t played by Alfalfa from Our Gang.