• Poster of the Month

  • My Momentary Celebrity Obsession

    Click to find out why Marlene has me mesmerized.

  • What I’m Reading

  • What You’re Reading

Harper

Gasser

Harper (1966)

Harper (1966)

Following up on the success of his other “H” movies, Paul Newman made Harper in 1966, having requested the name be changed from “The Moving Target” to draw on the box office luck he realized with Hud and The Hustler. The story harkens back to the private eye tales of the 40s, and producers scored Lauren Bacall in a supporting role to cinch that motif.

Newman is Lew Harper, a private eye living out of his office because his wife (Janet Leigh) is in the process of divorcing him. His friend and former DA Albert Graves (Arthur Hill) recommends him for a job with Bacall’s Mrs. Sampson, who wants him to investigate the disappearance of her philandering husband. The wealthy woman has an attractive step daughter –whom Graves wants to marry– also very keen on locating her father. This Miranda (Pamela Tiffin) joins Harper and the Sampson pilot/driver Alan Taggert (Robert Wagner) in scoping out the subject’s last known whereabouts –an airport and hotel where Mr. Sampson keeps a “bungalow.”

Harper meets washed up actress and sometimes companion to Mr. Sampson, Fay Estabrook, played by Shelley Winters. He gets her drunk and searches her apartment only to be interrupted at gunpoint by Estabrook’s husband. Harper plays Texan and manages to leave without the man being wise to his real reason for being there.

Harper manages to pick up one clue or one sliver of information at each stop in his investigation that leads him to another place and another clue. The plot becomes increasingly convoluted as Harper concludes Mr. Sampson has been kidnapped and ransom sought. Julie Harris plays nightclub singer and heroin addict Betty Fraley, who has a link to another player that we won’t see coming. In fact, when all is said and done, you’ll be wishing William Powell would materialize to give us the end-of-movie run down of who did what and why.

The story at times felt like a scavenger hunt and one that could be easily recreated as a party game. Although Harper is adept at blending into his surroundings, he has perhaps too easy of a time getting information from people and it always manages to be helpful information that never leads to a dead end. How many times have we seen the matchbook in a dead guy’s pocket lead us to the nightclub where all the unsavory sorts mingle? Is that always going to be a foolproof clue into cinematic eternity? Harper is very much a tribute to the old crime movies of decades earlier, but it could perhaps have tried to mix things up.

Where the movie does distinguish itself from its predecessors is in the violence and sex appeal the 1960s could afford. Newman’s character finds himself regularly brutalized while Tiffin shakes her hips and Winters requests Harper not try anything tonight. It’s certainly a grittier drama made all the more modern by being shot in color rather than in the stark black and white we have become accustomed to in this genre.

Harper certainly isn’t Newman’s finest work, and I often get annoyed by mysteries that have too much going on to actually follow the plot. Harper is not a bad flick, though. It’s just not one I’ll likely watch again.

Advertisements

Murder on the Orient Express

Ring a Ding Ding

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

I love Agatha Christie mysteries. They are so convoluted and complex and rely on that oft-used plot ending during which the detective explains to us what happened –because there was no way we pieced it together ourselves. Murder on the Orient Express was finally made into a movie in 1974 with Christie being unwilling to allow a film version while the Production Code threatened to wipe out many essential plot elements.

Murder on the Orient Express enthralls us with a large, all-star cast, which is an approach repeated with Christie’s Death on the Nile that starred Bette Davis and Mia Farrow, to name a few. An almost unrecognizable Albert Finney plays our Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot who happens to board a train, the Orient Express, where a murder will take place with far too many suspects to deduce a simple solution.

Our victim is one Mr. Ratchett (Richard Widmark) who approaches Detective Poirot seeking protection hours before his death. The man, who is mysterious about his line of work, has been receiving threatening notes. He is killed in his bed in the cabin beside Poirot’s; although, no struggle is heard.

What Poirot soon deduces is that Ratchett was the man behind the kidnapping and killing of the daughter of a famous aviatrix. The abduction did not just result in one fatality, however. A maid was falsely accused of involvement in the crime and commited suicide. The distressed mother died in childbirth, during which the infant also passed. The father killed himself from grief.

On board the train car where the murder occurred are many seemingly unconnected passengers including: a meek missionary Greta (Ingrid Bergman); the obnoxiously talkative Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall); an elderly Russian Princess Draganoff (Wendy Hiller) and her companion Hildegarde (Rachel Roberts); Ratchett’s secretary McQueen (Anthony Perkins); Countess Andrenyi (Jaqueline Bisset) and her husband (Michael York); Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery); the mysteriously sad Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave); a Chicago car salesman Fiscarelli (Denis Quilley); conductor Pierre Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel); Ratchett’s bodyguard Hardman (Colin Blakely); and Ratchett’s valet Beddoes (John Gielgud).

All passengers are ultimately discovered to have motive for the crime as their individual identities are revealed. In the end, however, Poirot will tell authorities that the mafia was involved in killing Ratchett and that the culprit departed the train during its lengthy stop awaiting the clearance of a snow drift, but that’s no spoiler.

The story of Murder on the Orient Express does a great job of supplying us with tidbits of information and a variety of clues, but not all of the evidence is actually related to the crime, making it impossible for us to form our own conclusion. The advantage movies have over books –and one not always employed in these types of mysteries– is that the flick can show us via flashback what actually happened rather than relying on us to make sense of a rambling written or spoken explanation. Murder on the Orient Express takes advantage of this to great dramatic end.

The flick is not without its laughs as Finney brings a good deal of humor to the silly detective who sleeps with hair nets on his oily black locks and stylized mustache. Bacall also stands out as the loud and flamboyant actress, and Bergman is surprising in such a plain, timid part. Hiller as the Russian Princess is frankly quite terrifying with her powdery white skin and her rolling, biting accent. Her manly maid played by Roberts is also intimidating.

To Have and Have Not

Ring a Ding Ding

To Have and Have Not (1944)

When Lauren Bacall first appears in Humphrey Bogart‘s hotel doorway in To Have and Have Not, one has to pause and question whether their characters are already familiar with each other. In truth, not even the actors themselves were very well acquainted as the stars started work on a project that would result in their marriage.

After seeing a screen test by Bacall, then 19, for the movie and the scene in which she questions whether the gentleman can whistle, Bogart tells the newcomer, “We’ll have a lot of fun together,” and fun they had. The couple fell in love during the making of the Ernest Hemingway novel-based movie. When Bogart’s wife at the time Mayo Methot would inquire where her husband was, the answer was “the cast”. The actor finally shrugged off the long-failed marriage with a Vegas divorce May 10, 1945. He married Bacall May 21. They would name their son after Bogie’s character in To Have and Have Not, whom Bacall’s character refers to as Steve.

The movie’s familiar plot lines harken back to the 1944 award winner, Casablanca.  In To Have and Have Not, Bogie’s American character does not own a nightclub on a French-ruled exotic locale, but instead lives at one. As a boat owner, he reluctantly agrees to help smuggle a man important to the French resistance during Germany’s occupation of the nation. That man happens to have a woman with him who is more important to have in tow than leave behind, for the mere reason that she helps drive his mission.

On the Caribbean isle of Martinique, Bogie’s Harry Morgan rents out his fishing boat and captain skills to anyone buying. We open on him, his alcoholic crew member Eddie (Walter Brennan) and the man (Walter Sande) who loses his fishing pole overboard and cancels the rest of the excursion. This Johnson now owes Harry for the rod and the week’s trip, some $800. The man says he must go to the bank the next morning to retrieve the cash.

Before that can happen, Harry is approached by the owner of the hotel/bar where he resides and is asked about aiding the French resistance effort by helping to move an important man between locales in the ocean. Harry refuses to get involved with such a politics. In walks Marie Browning (Bacall) looking for a match. This husky voiced gal whom Harry names Slim, later picks Johnson’s pocket. Not only did the man have the money to pay Harry but he also has a plane ticket that would have had him out of the country before the bank opened.

During a shootout that kills several members of the underground resistance, Johnson also catches a stray bullet. Harry takes what is owed from the wallet, but this prompts the authorities to question his connection to the rebels. The man’s passport and money are confiscated for the time being. Now looking to start a life with Slim, and annoyed at the police, Harry agrees to take up the well-paying, one-night voyage and manages to pick up and drop off Paul (Walter Molnar) and Helene De Bursac (Dolores Moran), but not before Paul is shot. The wounded man ends up in the hotel basement where Harry continues to help the rebels while conversations with Helene spark Slim’s jealousy. An end-of-the-movie gunpoint holdup will help the De Bursac’s free a man from Devil’s Island and allow Harry and Slim to take off to some other destination.

Unlike Casablanca, To Have and Have Not offers too easy an ending for my tastes. It sets up a scene that could lead to a shoot out, but fades to close leaving us to assume all works out well. Otherwise the story is intriguing and sexy, especially with the unique look of young Bacall at the helm. Part way through the picture, Slim picks up a job singing at the hotel bar and does so in the deepest, husky voice you will ever hear. It is far from an attractive singing voice, but it suits her sultry look. Some say the voice was dubbed by Andy Williams, but Bacall maintained it was her own.

Director Howard Hawks insisted that without Bogart’s help he could not have elicited the performance from Bacall that he did. He had the part created in a Marlene Dietrich-esque way because he thought the young model could become a new version of the seductress. “Not many actors would sit around and wait while a girl steals a scene,” Hawks said after filming. “But he fell in love with the girl and the girl with him, and that made it easy.”

  • To Have and Have Not is set for 8 p.m. ET July 21 on TCM.

Source: The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham, TCM.com

Sex and the Single Girl

Wowza!

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

     Both Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis have been actors of only moderate interest to me, but after viewing Sex and the Single Girl, I’m changing my tune. This wonderful joke on married and single life and male and female standards plays both leads to their best and makes for a riveting good time.

     Curtis as Bob Weston is managing editor at STOP magazine, a filthy gossip rag that prides itself on being the worst publication in town. Wood as Dr. Helen Brown is the latest feature of the magazine and author of the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” advice book. She is a psychologist who, thanks to STOP, is losing clients because they believe she is a virgin. Bob plans to slyly get the truth about Helen’s sexual experience to do a follow-up story, but of course falls in love along the way.

     Bob’s neighbors are the feuding couple Frank and Sylvia Broderick, played by middle-aged Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Frank is a hosiery manufacturer who is obsessed with examining women’s legs on a strictly professional basis, but his wife thinks he runs around. Because Frank hasn’t the time to see a marriage counselor, Bob takes it upon himself to pose as Frank and see Helen professionally, relaying any advice back to his neighbor. Doctor and patient have a moment of love at first sight upon meeting, but Bob, now known as Frank, has established himself as a married man.

     Bob makes a number of efforts to get Helen in bed, including faking a desire to kill himself that lands both parties in the river. Eventually the scam comes to a head when Helen’s request to meet with Sylvia results in three women showing up at her office, two of which are pretending to be the woman at Bob’s request. Once Bob’s identity is revealed and Sylvia understands the true nature of her husband, a car chase scene consumes the remainder of the feature.

     The last prolonged sequence in Sex and the Single Girl rings of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race (which also features Curtis and Wood). The various parties, while chasing each other down en route to the airport, switch cars, drivers and strangers leading to the institutionalization of a police officer. The action is so distinctly different than the prior three-quarters of the flick that it could almost be it’s own short-subject movie.

    Possibly my favorite running gag in Sex and the Single Girl followed Curtis’ donning of a woman’s robe while he waits for his garments to dry at Helen’s apartment. When asked if he is uncomfortable in such a feminine item, he replies that he thinks he looks like Jack Lemmon, referencing of course Some Like It Hot, which five years earlier had both Curtis and Lemon in drag. The rest of the movie has characters saying Bob looks like Jack Lemmon at least half a dozen times.

     I cannot conclude without referencing two other essential members of the cast. First, an old Edward Everett Horton plays the head of STOP magazine and has few scenes but is a gem nevertheless. Secondly –and I thought I’d never say this– Mel Ferrer is highly amusing. He plays another psychologist in Helen’s office who finds himself fascinated with the girl after reading the STOP article. He had me giggling as he performed a rather adept solo dance while waiting for Helen to prepare for their date. On the whole, Sex and the Single Girl is highly romantic and greatly comedic and is supported by a fantastic cast.

  • Sex and the Single Girl is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 16 on TCM.

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

The Big Sleep

Ring a Ding Ding

The Big Sleep (1946)

     Despite sitting on my shelf since 2006, The Big Sleep finally made its move to the DVD player. My failure to watch the flick is no knock to the story or Bogie and Bacall, but more a reflection of my tendency to prioritize the less-permanent DVR-saved movies than those in DVD form.

     Being the second pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the one during the long production of which the two would wed, The Big Sleep drips with couple’s fiery chemistry. The two first met in early 1944 as they prepared to co-star in To Have and Have Not. At age 44, Bogart was 25 years Bacall’s senior and married to a rather destructive Mayo Methot. The two fell in love over the fewer than three months spent on the set of their first film, but it is not until later that year that Bogart would leave Methot, coinciding with the start of shooting on The Big Sleep.

     The film originally wrapped production in January 1945, at which point Bogart is already telling the press he will marry Bacall, but the divorce does not go through until May. Eleven days later, Bacall becomes the next Mrs. Bogart and Warner Bros. decides to shoot additional footage for The Big Sleep in January 1946 that would play up the romance between the two characters. At last, the film releases to rave reviews in August that year.

      Based on a Raymond Chandler novel, and with a screenplay writing team that includes William Faulkner, The Big Sleep weaves a menacingly complex yarn that follows private detective Phillip Marlowe. What begins as a look at a blackmail attempt against the daughter of an old millionaire results in a far deeper mess of trouble and at least three murders. The story line is impossibly complex, and the primary hurdle for me was keeping all the character names straight. Try as I did to follow what was occurring, I ultimately gave up and just enjoyed the ride, which is precisely as The Big Sleep is meant to be approached. The addition of Bogie-Bacall reshoots resulted in the subtraction of other footage that supposedly helps to better explain the plot.

     When watching The Big Sleep, what is important is not who killed whom but rather the style, the drama, the feel and, of course, the relationship between Bogart and Bacall. Playing her typical tough-woman role, Bacall provides a gritty and easy match to Bogart’s grizzly private dick. Curiously, women throughout this film are emphasized as being wildly attracted to the Marlowe character, which seems contrary to Bogart’s actual looks. I’m not sure I understand the emphasis here unless it came from the novel.

     The Big Sleep is one of those standby classics that everyone must see, and is a great example of both Bogart and Bacall’s work. For those who cannot stand not knowing just what went on, I’ll borrow an analysis from author Ernest W. Cunningham (SPOILER):

Soldier-of-fortune Shawn Regan (a major character never seen in the film) is hired by wealthy General… Sternwood (Charles Waldron). Sternwood has two beautiful daughters with “corrupt blood”: sexy, spoiled Carmen (Martha Vickers) and the cool, insolent Vivian (Lauren Bacall). Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: