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*** SPOILER ALERT *** After watching the indescribably wonderful documentary, "Hitchcock/Truffaut," last night, I leapt into the film "The Wrong Man," which is the one film by Alfred Hitchcock about which then-critic Jean-Luc Godard wrote his longest-ever piece of criticism - Both Godard and François Truffaut, pioneers of the "French New Wave" of Directors, were then working as critics for the legendary French publication, "Cahiers du Cinéma." so this film fits right in with the Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary, and was mentioned in it as well. This is the only Hitchcock film where Hitchcock himself came out and addressed the audience at the beginning, assuring them that it was a true story, and that the facts that went into the tale were just as fantastic as most of what he's written about as fiction in the past. "The Wrong Man" stars Henry Fonda as a respectable, but struggling musician in New York City, Manny Balestrero, and his wife, Rose, played by Vera Miles. Rose has an impacted set of wisdom teeth, which can only be fixed to the tune of $300, which is money the two don't have - the next day, Manny goes into the bank and asks to borrow on Rose's insurance policy, but three female tellers are certain that he is the same man who came in recently and robbed the bank - they pacified him, and told him to come back in with his wife, while putting the authorities on full alert. In a scene which came shortly afterwards, I was certain I recognized the lady who played Manny's mother, Esther Minciotti, and sure enough, Minciotti had played the wonderfully endearing role as Marty's (Ernest Bourgnine's) mother in the 1955 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, "Marty." If you watch the Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary first, you'll remember very well the scene in which Manny first gets thrown into his jail cell. He looks around - not at the locked door - but at all different angles, and it gives the viewer a real sense of being locked up. This is his very first experience in jail, and his fear is palpable. Halfway through this movie, I am awestruck at how realistic it is - there's no fluffing anything up; it's as if we're watching a real story unfold (which we are). I'm a little surprised that Manny is so stoic about everything, but he seems completely shell-shocked to this point - almost like he's unable to get hold of his facilities. Hitchcock *really* takes his time setting this plot up - Manny doesn't even meet his attorney, Frank O'Connor (a real attorney, played by Anthony Quayle), until about two-thirds of the film is over. Fortunately, O'Connor - seemingly a decent man - accepts the case. Some interesting notes: Shortly after meeting with O'Connor, Manny and Rose run into two giggly girls living at an apartment: One of them is a twelve-year-old Tuesday Weld (of "Looking for Mr, Goodbar"), and the other is an eleven-year-old Bonnie Franklin (of "One Day at a Time"). It's noteworthy how many known actors and actresses are in this film - when Rose has a mental breakdown, she sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Bannay, and it's none other than Werner Klemperer - Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Heroes." During Manny's trial, one of the jurors is Barney Martin (Jerry Seinfeld's father on "Seinfeld"), and finally, Harry Dean Stanton (Brett in "Alien") plays a Department of Corrections employee, though I couldn't find him when I looked. I believe none of the people mentioned in this paragraph are credited, and for some, it's the debut film of their career. This is about the closest thing to being a "non-fiction" film I've seen without actually being one - it's "based on a true story," and is so faithful to it that it doesn't seem right labeling it a "crime movie" or a "suspense movie." It's clear that Hitchcock took great pains to stay as true to the base story as he possibly could have, so I'm going to go ahead and label this movie "non-fiction" even though that may not be technically correct. A magnificent film. Apr 17, 2013 - "History of Film Criticism: Godard on 'The Wrong Man'" on torontofilmreview.blogspot.com
None of these are extreme spoilers, and I don't think reading this will ruin the film for you, but just to be safe, I'll mark the entire post: *** SPOILER ALERT *** Guess who "Sex and the Single Girl" stars? , Yeah, well, I betcha didn't guess this! Or maybe you did. And why not give musical credit to where it's due? Oh my goodness! The opening music (when the credits end and the film starts) sounds like it's straight from the 1970s' TV series, "The Odd Couple." Well, this film had it beat by a good eight years. And I mean, it sounds *so* much like "The Odd Couple" that, if you watch the film, you'll chime in and agree with me. Ha! I just looked up Neal Hefti, who wrote the music for both, and I didn't know this until I after I heard the similarity - nailed it! Hefti absolutely plagiarized from himself (as many composers do). Hmm, that opening business meeting implies what needs to be done with donrockwell.com. Well - maybe my heirs can take us to those depths; I'm content to live poorly and with respect - now, if I can figure out a way to modify my estate so I can prevent this from happening - I want my descendants to suffer as much as I have. Ah yes, Managing Editor of STOP magazine, Bob Weston (Tony Curtis) is going straight for the jugular of Dr. Helen Brown (Natalie Wood). Dr. Helen Brown is livid at being mocked by Bob Weston as being a 23-year-old ... (what will it be? strumpet? trollop? harlot? The S-Bomb?) This is the moment she cuts off the man reading the article in front of her peers: What is the dreaded epithet? A 23-year-old ... Virgin! Hey, this movie is 55-years-old, man! Not bad! Natalie Wood is pissed at being called the dreaded V-word! God, if I had only known, thirty years ago, that *this* might have worked, I could have saved thousands of dollars in dinner checks, movie tickets, bar tabs, etc. You know, Tony Curtis was an extremely handsome man, right? I wonder where he's going with this angle. "I'll bet this kid has been giving flying lessons," he says about Dr. Brown, "and she's never been off the ground." And, as a parallel story, Frank and Sylvia Broderick (Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall) are enduring a strained (to say the least), ten-year marriage, even though at their lavish anniversary party, you get to see them dance to Count Basie and his orchestra (I thoroughly object to the name "Basie" not even being found in the Wikipedia article about the movie), even though they're fully credited in the film. Ugh, I'm not even halfway through this movie and it's getting really stupid (I'm referring to the scene at the pier, where everybody falls into the drink) - it's turning into a "screwball comedy" which is the last thing I want to see. Hopefully, they just decided to have a few campy moments, and it will reset itself, but after these past five minutes, I don't know what to think, but I am not in the mood for this type of corny slapstick - I don't mind cornball comedy, but I'm in the mood for some character interaction, which is mostly what we've had up until this point. So far, I'm left asking myself why they got Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall to waste their talents on this film, but maybe they'll do something worthwhile in the second half. Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood are about as expected, which means "moderately acceptable, but nothing profound" (although Wood has never looked more beautiful). Well, this movie is 3/4 over, and we appear to be done with that brief, unfortunate foray into slapstick, and are back to character interaction (and lots of mistaken identity - we're at the "three Mrs. Brodericks" part) - I know exactly how this movie will end, and I, well, let me watch the last half hour before saying any more. I hope they paid Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall well for playing in this film. Ah! Lauren Bacall's "Yeah, he's about to pass away" line, which she just now said, was priceless! This film was a nice look at Tony Curtis (aka Bernie Schwartz) and Natalie Wood in their primes, with lots of dialogue and mid-range close-ups (not face shots, but waist-up shots, so you got a really good feel for them). Likewise Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Count Basie, Mel Ferrer, and a few others such as Fran Jeffries, all beautifully filmed in Technicolor. It's of the "Divorce American Style" genre of comedy, and if you like one, you'll probably like the other. Definitely a product of its time (perhaps five years ahead), it remains a dated time-capsule of the sexual revolution, and could be considered "charming" or "cloying" depending on your viewpoint or mood - it was a little bit of both for me. I'm glad I saw it, but I can recommend it only to people trying familiarize themselves with the actors or the period; not to people seeking a great movie to watch, or to have a rollicking good time. There are certainly moments of wit and cuteness, but this comes across as a movie trying to capitalize on a "movement" by getting out in front of everyone else (which, ironically, is one of the major themes of the film). "Sex and the Single Girl" is worth a watch if you're trying to learn about specific things, but in almost every category, no matter what your category is, you can find a better movie to watch. That said, if you want to see Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis at their max-hottest, this is the movie for you. *** SPOILER ALERT FOR REAL *** Also, the "anti-car-chase" scene near the end is just terrific, and genuinely funny - it's the highlight of the movie. Incidentally, the final year the U.S. minted silver dimes, quarters, and half-dollars was 1964, so all of these were silver when this was filmed. It was fun seeing the toll-booth operator get a 1940 quarter (worth about $3.50 in today's money). Interestingly, inflation alone would have made twenty-five cents in 1964 worth nearly $2.00 in 2017 dollars, regardless of its silver content or numismatic value. The cars all left a quarter without even slowing down, and it's *very* funny that the fourth car left a Silver Certificate $1 bill while taking back three quarters in the man's hand as change - all without slowing down one iota (they must have been going 70+ mph). Farcical, of course, but still very funny. and nobody in 1964 could have possibly understood why this was so funny, because it happened in a blink-of-an-eye, and to understand it, you have to stop, rewind, re-watch, stop, rewind, re-watch, etc. And Bob Weston's (Tony Curtis') 1935 Bentley 3½ Litre Oxborrow & Fuller Continental Open Tourer (license plate: PSU 698, which I don't think is coincidental) was one *sweet* piece of scrap metal (Trivia: Rolls Royce acquired Bentley in 1931): And while the traffic officer on the motorcycle is passed by all these flying cars, he decides instead to pull over an uncredited Burt Mustin who's smugly driving about 20 mph, and says, "Where's the fire?" This has *really* gotten silly at the end, and this scene has gone over the top - if it was a farce before, this anti-chase scene makes it The Comedy of Errors, and the movie is better for it, because it's really well-done. I really can't believe I'm saying this, but the last twenty minutes has turned "Sex and the Single Girl" from a mildly amusing period comedy into a hilarious farce - you'll have to gut out the first 1'30", but the last part of the movie is worth it, or at least it was to me. This turnaround was incredible, but I have to issue a disclaimer and say that my taste in humor runs towards the puerile (slapstick, dirty jokes, etc.) But to me, this film went from a "decent little comedy" into twenty minutes of something special, containing parts akin to "the crowded cabin scene" in "A Night at the Opera" which may be the single funniest moment I've ever seen in a movie. You've got to make time to watch the anti-chase scene at least twice, and unfortunately, unless you watch the first 1'30", it just won't be as good.
I recently commented on my seemingly non-stop run of good luck with American Westerns, but I've just come across two-in-a-row that I'd say were of the "good-but-not-great" variety: "The Magnificent Seven" and "Firecreek," and this makes me wonder - have I been good at selecting Westerns, or have I simply been selecting movies involving John Ford and Clint Eastwood? One problem I see in "Firecreek" is that there's no strongman (yes, the same can be said about "Shane," but I also didn't like Shane). The lead protagonist is a 70-year-old Jimmy Stewart, and the lead antagonist is a 73-year-old Henry Fonda, neither of whom - even in their physical primes - were particularly imposing. I love both of these actors, but this does conjure up notions of two elderly men shaking their canes at each other in the nursing home. Their age doesn't bother me per se (hell, I'm getting there myself), but we have people being beaten, killed, etc., and there isn't going to be any John Wayne riding into town to save the day. Still, the mere thought of Stewart and Fonda being together in the same picture is enough to give me optimism. Two out of the five bad guys played important roles on "Star Trek" episodes, and it's hard to get their Trek portrayals out of my head: Gary Lockwood ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") and Morgan Woodward ("Dagger of the Mind"): Halfway into the movie, I retract what I said about Stewart and Fonda - the primary antagonist has been Gary Lockwood (by a long-shot), and Henry Fonda has been wounded, and barely even noticeable in the film - so far, this is a classic "Wild One"- or "Born Losers"-type film about a gang coming into town (sometimes on motorcycles, sometimes on horses), and making trouble for otherwise-peaceful people who did nothing to ask for it. I'm pretty sure there's going to be something bad that happens, since there's so much movie left, and Jimmy Stewart seems like the one who may rise to the occasion, overcoming his normally gentle nature (refer to "Straw Dogs"). I'm liking "Firecreek" more than I thought I might - it's not a great film, but it does follow a classic model, and so far, is doing it pretty well. *** SPOILERS ALERT *** Uh, yeah ... something bad happened: Bad guys and whisky don't mix, and they were hammered when I wrote that last paragraph. Man, this "wake" the antagonists have is like something out of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (and I'm talking about the "family dinner" scene) - this is pretty creepy stuff while not completely going over the top. In many ways, this is what I would term a "small film" - a movie that deals with relatively minor issues on a less-than-grand scale. Not a boring, period piece, but just relatively compact in overall size. With that said, the music - scored by the well-known Alfred Newman - is arguably more ambitious than the movie. There are times when you notice the music, but shouldn't, and I'll go far enough to say that in a couple of spots, it's a bit maudlin - when a film's music is in balance, you don't really notice it, but there are a couple of times in Firecreek when you do, and I wish Newman had toned it down maybe just ten percent. The music is good, mind you, but it can be just a touch too amped up for the situation. One example is when Stewart leaves his wife (who is in false labor) and rides back into town - that whole scene is a little too dramatized, aurally, and would be better served by a more pensive score. (Of course, that dramatic music could indicate that something is about to, ahem, happen.) Oh my goodness, my "Straw Dogs" comment isn't all that far off. I don't read critics' reviews until after I finish watching films. I don't care what anyone says - of the previous two Westerns I've seen, neither "The Magnificent Seven" nor "Firecreek" are great, but both are good, and "Firecreek" is the better of the two. [I've now read what scant reviews are out there.] "The Magnificent Seven" is wildly overrated; "Firecreek" is slightly underrated.
in 2007, the American Film Institute voted "12 Angry Men" the #2 Courtroom Drama of all-time (it doesn't take much to guess #1). This is a really good movie that is deeply flawed in a couple of spots, forcing resolution much sooner than would actually occur in order to finish the play (variants on Deus ex Machina). Still, it's a wonderful character study and drama that has essentially one setting, but was filmed in several hundred takes (!), with 12 men deciding the life-or-death fate over a young Puerto Rican man (who sure looked Pakistani to me, but I guess back then, "what's the difference?"). Jack Klugman is of special interest to me because he's a Baltimore Orioles fan, and this film takes place in 1954 - the first year that the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. If you watch this film, you'll know why I think Brooks Robinson should be nicknamed "The Groundskeeper" instead of "The Human Vacuum Cleaner." There were a couple moments that were simply so improbable that I felt they tainted the story - imagine unbreakable steel, withstanding all sorts of assaults, and finally buckling when a gnat flies into it - you get the point. But if you can forgive that - and I can - it's an important film that would also make for a solid play. I don't know if this was actually a theatrical production, but it would be very, very easy to stage, and it is in no way dated. A lot of the names up above you won't recognize, but you'd absolutely recognize their faces (Robert Webber, for example, in "Private Benjamin"). "12 Angry Men" is a great way to spend ninety minutes, and you'll enjoy trying to guess what happens at the end. The *actual* end, i.e., the final scene, which takes place in a moment of time outside the courthouse, is a small blip of genius.