This is France, but we’re not bothering with subtitles or even accents, because those hadn’t been invented yet in the 1950’s. WWI, fighting against Germany, with rightly celebrated tracking shots through the trenches, from the clueless higher-ups patrolling the men they know nothing about, to the middleman Major Kirk Douglas, a serious star some five years after The Big Sky. Posh general Adolphe Menjou (in one of his final films) has pressured scar-faced general George Macready (evil older husband of Gilda) into commanding an attack to capture a hill in exchange for a promotion. The attack will be a huge failure, killing hundreds of men. Two higher-ups (Gen. George and Lt. Roget) will act supremely dishonorably, the former by sending men to die in a pointless and poorly-planned maneuver and ordering fire upon his own troops, the latter by personally killing a subordinate with a grenade in a cowardly moment. But both will get off without punishment, instead picking three soldier representatives to die by firing squad for the operation’s failure, futilely defended in military court by Kirk.

Three dead men: Paris (Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker) because he’s the only witness to Lt. Roget’s murder of a soldier, Ferol (Timothy Carey, who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie, but it’s wonderful) and Arnaud (Lloyd the Bartender from The Shining), who had a great pre-fight speech about death vs. pain, and gets knocked down by Ferol in their holding cell and has to be executed while unconscious on a stretcher.

I thought of it as a powerful anti-war film (with a different approach to the insanity of war than Dr. Strangelove), but Gary Giddins’s commentary says it’s not exactly anti-war, but “about power, class, manipulation and the absurdity of war as a continuation of those civilian instincts.” He also says the pre-battle politicking between officers isn’t in the source novel.

The Future Mrs. Kubrick:

Menjou at Marienbad:

J. Naremore:

Kubrick is especially good at drawing sharp visual and aural contrasts between the château where the generals plan the war and the trenches where the war is fought. The Schleissheim Palace outside Munich, where much of the action takes place, later became a location for another film that depicts upper-class intrigues amid the architecture of a decadent past – Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad – and the opening sequence in the palace interior, where Adolphe Menjou suavely manipulates the ramrod stiff but insecure George Macready, was influenced by one of Kubrick’s favorite directors, Max Ophuls, who had died on the day it was staged.

Perfect movie about the perfect crime.

Johnny is Sterling Hayden (not a very “Johnny”-looking actor, but this was his second Johnny after Johnny Guitar), perfect-crime-planner, with a demeanor nearly as serious as the Dragnet-style voiceover guy who keeps telling us the time. He tells his girl to meet him at the airport, then proceeds to pull off a racetrack robbery with a bunch of inside men and a professional horse-sniper (Timothy Carey, a few years before his opus World’s Greatest Sinner).

Barman Joe Sawyer (in movies since 1930) and cop Ted de Corsia (private eye in Lady From Shanghai) and money man Jay Filppen (of Run of the Arrow) are on board, but sweaty, nervous cashier Elisha Cook Jr (12 years after playing the sex-crazed drummer in Phantom Lady) gives up too many details to his bitch of a wife (Marie Windsor, whose follow-up was Roger Corman’s Swamp Diamonds), which she relays to her boyfriend – who beats Hayden (and the money) to the post-heist meeting place. Everyone gets shot – everyone, even Elisha’s wife who wasn’t even there, and Timothy Carey after insulting parking lot guy James Edwards (of The Steel Helmet). So now it’s just Hayden, who rushes to the airport among heavy police presence, with all his cash in a just-purchased flea-market suitcase with broken locks. After pulling off the perfect crime, Hayden forgot to plan a perfect getaway.

Watched on the Plaza’s big screen in HD. No screengrabs, but here’s a wonderful photo of the male supporting cast from Criterion’s site:

Amazing looking movie, shot by Lucien Ballard (who started with Josef von Sternberg) and produced by James Harris (who’d later make the bizarre Some Call It Loving). Writer Jim Thompson also did Paths of Glory, and his novels would be adapted for Coup de torchon, The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me.

Thanks to TCM for showing this rare cult film written, directed, produced and even distributed by goofball character actor Timothy Carey (of The Killing, Paths of Glory, One-Eyed Jacks and East of Eden – later of Head and two Cassavetes films).

Carey, with all the power he can muster, plays an insurance salesman who tires of the game, has an internal moral/religious/political crisis and decides that anyone can be God. He gets his name changed to God, affixes a fake goatee, hires his Mexican gardener as his number-two man, gets sponsored by a shadowy political figure, and runs for high office. He names his group the Eternal Man’s Party, says his followers can be “super-human-beings”, it sounds like a dangerous cross between naziism, self-help dianetics, and The Holy Mountain. Plenty of people follow God Hilliard’s clearly sacrilegious message until late in the campaign newsmen start asking if he’s maybe an atheist. Atheists don’t get elected, but people calling themselves God do? Clarence has sent his wife and kids away so he can have sex with 16-yr-old groupies and live the decadent life of the rich and powerful, but amongst the atheism allegations he starts defying God to show Himself, wanders into a church and steals those holy biscuits that Catholics are so nuts about, starts stabbing one with a needle. Ha, nothing, he leaves the room, comes back, a trail of blood, miracle, movie busts into crazy color.

Coming out around the time of X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes and Carnival of Souls, and only a year before Shock Corridor, it’s not like it was the only weirdo movie in Hollywood those days, but its weirdness is still pretty damned impressive. Roughly edited with a cheap look but a good eye, clearly a personal movie.

Assisted by Ray Dennis Steckler (Wild Guitar, The Incredibly Strange Creatures…). Music composed by a 21-year-old Frank Zappa, four years before Freak Out. The title song ended up on the Cucamonga comp. Wife is played by Betty Rowland, who has very few credits, but one is a doc called Striptease: The Greatest Exotic Dancers of All Time, so we can guess where Carey found her. His Mexican gardener/assistant Alonzo turned up twenty years later in Scarface. Paul Frees, the professional voiceover guy who did the snake/narrator, was writing/directing The Beatniks around the same time… crazy.