WHATEVER WORKS

The next time you’re tempted to think of some actor or acting student as being too too precious and effete because they were taking classes on breathing take a look at Larry David’s performance in WHATEVER WORKS. Larry David as Larry David – brilliant! Larry David playing someone other than Larry David – No Apparent Function. Timing is everything in comedy but LD reading someone else’s words becomes an effort to get the words out correctly and only partially funny in the narrow “whine” bandwidth. He even has a look on his face, not the same but analogous to Bush’s moronic smirk, when he managed to get some difficult name nearly right. Larry, I love you but you can’t act. At all.

FOR PETE’S SAKE

I didn’t see this picture, FOR PETE’S SAKE, when it came out because the notion, as the picture was marketed at the time, about Barbra Streisand turning tricks to support her husband, was ugly and prima facia ugly. Now that I’ve seen it I have to say I’m glad I didn’t waste a dollar or how ever much it cost to see a movie at the time. It is flat out awful. Really, it’s nothing more than a series of gags constructed for Babs that are executed on a sub- I Love Lucy level. It’s strange because director Peter Yates has shown himself to be a master of very complicated mise en scene in action films like BULLITT. Here it’s clear that no one working on this picture has the slightest sense of humor.

THE TWONKY

This film was like a living example of LIGHTS OUT, a cautionary tale of the one-eyed monster taking over everybody’s life, controlling consciousness, defining the context of human life all under the aegis of helping mankind. By the end of the decade Rod Serling would have perfected the form and could easily have made The Twonky as a half hour teleplay.

HEAVEN’S GATE

I saw the film when it first came out at a packed screening in a 3rd Avenue cinema across the street from Bloomingdales. I think it was released on a Friday and withdrawn on the following Wednesday. Maybe that wasn’t a fair release but it was and is a terrible film. Seeing the full-length version recently confirmed that judgment and with some thirty years more experience watching and writing about films I am better able to articulate why.

LURED aka PERSONAL COLUMN

LURED (1947) is interestingly enough, the most Germanic film Douglas Sirk directed in the US. It’s not in his pre-war style, which was at least, on a superficial level, light and happy, no matter the dark world underneath in the human psyche. Rather this seems to be set in a certain milieu familiar to German filmgoers for the ‘20s and ‘30s – urban paranoia. The settings are a dance hall, police headquarters, night clubs, concerts, we see men wearing evening dress and “ein zilender”, black top hats, cigarette holders, the whole urban life which mixed French Fuillelades and urban decadence. Fritz Lang was the master poet of this genre whose films standout so much as individual works (“M”) that it’s difficult to envisage as an integrated genre. Try watching this film and ignore the English dialogue and it looks like one of these German crime films. The scenes in Scotland Yard with its strange antiquated high tech devices like the map case with its retinue of city maps. There are always maps in Lang’s films, especially considering the fact that for Lang the dark world underneath is also very literal.

UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE

The writer of the source material for this film, the novel UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE, Bel Kaufman, was Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter. She was also the film’s “technical adviser”. She was my homeroom and English teacher at Taft High School in The Bronx circa 1960. Decades later when she was interviewed she admitted that she deliberately ignored the boys in her classes so she could concentrate on teaching the girls. Only the girls.

THE LOST MISSILE

Really it’s a dreadful cheat of a film. Its 70-minute running time is very well padded with stock footage. The rest are non descript exteriors and drab interiors scenes. The plot exposition is very poorly rendered. They are all just perfunctory scenes sort of strung together. There is no attempt at drama in scene selection but rather drama is communicated by the intensity of the actors. Please don’t ask. What saves this film, somewhat uniquely, IS the stock footage.

THE SEA AROUND US

Before Irwin Allen went on to produce crappy, clumsy, cardboard disaster epics with gaudy but primitive special effects, he managed to get himself noticed by throwing together a film version of Rachel Carson’s bestselling (82 weeks on the NY Times list) The Sea Around Us. I say put together because this film, which impressed everybody (1953 Academy Award) in the early Fifties by merely having undersea color photography, because the footage was supplied by people and organizations with an interest in self promotion like oil companies, commercial fishing companies, shipping companies and the Australian National Tourist Board.