Monday, January 19, 2009

Poe, Gangsters, Bogart

For the Vincent Price Challenge:

The Haunted Palace (1963, directed by Roger Corman). Long review here.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961, directed by Roger Corman). I used to think all of the Roger Corman Poe films were all alike. In terms of their subtexts, almost all of them ARE alike, but visually, they each have a unique identity. This one is very much the drabbest of them, a production heavy on the neutral colors and overall murk. It also has the most shocking ending of the Poe films, eschewing Corman's usual pyrotechnic displays in favor of a final shot worthy of E. C. Comics. Oh, Vincent Price essentially reprises his role as Roderick Usher for most of the film, before rampaging off into a more homicidal turn later. Les Baxter's score is suitably off-kilter, especially when it is first heard over the psychedelic colors of the pre-credit sequence. Not the best of the Poe films, I think, but the most fun of them.

The rest of the week:

It's no use for me to debate where GoodFellas (1990, directed by Martin Scorsese) ranks in the pantheon of Scorsese movies. It's not one of my favorites, but that's no big thing, because it doesn't need MY approval. For better or for worse, it's Scorsese's masterpiece, a film that distills everything Scorsese had learned about film to that point into 146 minutes of the director demonstrating what a motherfucker he is. As pure cinema, it's a joy to watch--no small feat for a film that relies heavily on a voice-over narration. It's so slick that it kind of mitigates it's aim of de-romanticizing the gangster archetype because the violence, when it comes, escalates over time into the operatic. The sequence late in the movie when we are given a tour of Jimmy the Gent's massacre of his collaborators is every bit the set-piece that the baptism sequence in The Godfather is.

Across the Pacific (1942, directed by John Huston) is kind of an anti-auteur movie, a gun-for-hire piecework that shows its director at his most anonymous, which is interesting given that the film re-unites three of the principles from Huston's version of The Maltese Falcon (Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Mary Astor). The story follows disgraced soldier/intelligence operative Bogart as he uncovers a plot to sabotage the Panama Canal on the eve of Pearl Harbor. It's propaganda, no doubt, and it shows how ugly propaganda can be: this is VERY racist, indulging in every negative stereotype of the Japanese one can imagine, while ALSO calling for the round-up of the Nisei because, of course, they can't be trusted, either. Ugly film, one that Huston himself had enough contempt for that he left it unfinished and insoluble for other hands to finish (in this case, the unfortunate Vincent Sherman, speaking of whom...).

All Through the Night (1941, directed by Vincent Sherman) is altogether more palatable, though no less propagandist. Made before America's entry into the war, this already warns of Nazi fifth columnists with villains Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre. Bogart is still in his gangster persona here, over-layered with a Runyon-esque veneer of all American tough guy. The character cast is deep, including Jackie Gleason, William Demarest, Phil Silvers, and Wallace Ford. Whatever else may be wrong with the film, it's fun to look at the faces on screen, and listen to that hard-boiled dialogue the Warner script department could churn out in their sleep. It's fun watching Bogart begin to turn the gangster persona into something else, a transformation he would complete in The Maltese Falcon.

Rome, Season 1

Episode 3: An Owl in a Thornbush
Episode 4: Stealing from Saturn

Things start to get fun--not that they weren't fun before--as Caesar crosses the Rubicon, Pompey retreats, Atia plots, and Pullo swipes the stolen treasury from Pompey's agents. I'm really digging Ciarán Hinds as Caesar--possibly the best Caesar I've ever seen (with the possible exception of Roddy McDowell in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), and I'm really starting to like Ray Stevenson as Pullo. Polly Walker continues to steal the series, though. This is a serious porn-gasm for a history geek like me.

1 comment:

fucoid said...

Maybe Goodfellas was Scorsese's 'technical' masterpiece... but Scorsese became Scorsese with Mean Streets and in the end, that is the film that will be looked back on, no?

cool blog, glad i stumbled over here... thanks.