I was realizing today that we've been on lockdown since mid-March. That's a little over three months in which my family has hardly gone anywhere. I miss doing stuff. I've been lucky in that my job allows me to get out of the house, but in ways that remain for the most part quite safe. My wife hasn't been so lucky and I know there are times when she's gone a bit stir crazy. Me too. We were never the sort of people who were constantly out and about with a million extra-curricular activities but on Saturdays, we did like to run to the bookstore or a thrift store. or maybe to a park. It was nice to do a little shopping in an environment that didn't feel like a zombie apocalypse.
These days my Saturdays are spent watching movies and trying not to go off the deep end. I suppose I should do something productive. There are a million things I need to do around the house. But I can never gather the motivation to do any of it. But hey, this series is about the cool stuff I've watched and listened to and read, not about how I cleaned the gutters. So let's stop moping and get to the cool stuff I consumed this week.
John Wayne and John Ford made some 23 films together. Their work helped define the western genre. It helped shape America's view of itself, or at least the Old West. The Searchers is one of their best films, which makes it one of the best westerns ever made. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Confederate soldier who returns home several years after the war. When most of his brother's family is killed and his young niece abducted by Comanche Indians, he takes off on an obsessive trek to find her.
One of the things that makes The Searchers so interesting is that Ethan doesn't plan to rescue the little girl, but kill her. For life amongst the Commanche isn't really life at all in his eyes. Making the hero of the story, and John Wayne at that, an out and out racist is a fascinating move for a film of its time. An argument could be made that The Searchers acts as something of an apology by Ford for all the westerns he made depicted Native Americans as nothing but ruthless savages.
Set in Ford's favorite location, Monument Valley, the film is gorgeously shot in widescreen. It opens and closes with the vast countryside framed within a doorway. A doorway leading to a home in which Wayne's Ethan is welcome but never at home. He is, as the title suggests, always searching for a place for himself.
The Harder They Fall
In Humphrey Bogart's last film he plays Eddie Willis, a down and out sports writer hired by an underground syndicate to promote a huge but inept boxer. The plan is to pay-off every fighter he goes up against until he's given a chance at the title. The champ will never take money, but at that point they'll bet against their guy and clean up. Eddie being a respected writer no one will ever suspect the whole thing is rigged. Rod Steiger is the brains of the operation and he gives a full-throttle performance as a guy who will do anything to keep the money rolling in.
Bogart was in ill health and his performance is more subdued. You can tell Eddie never wanted to be a part of this scam, but his refusal to go back to the sports desk grinding out daily stories gives him little choice. He hates the gig, but he'll take the money. But you just know things will go too far and his integrity is gonna come back sooner or later. It would make a good pairing with In a Lonely Place.
Why Don't You Just Die!
A Russian thriller that plays like a Quentin Tarantino knock-off circa 1995. A woman tells her boyfriend that her father raped her when she was a girl and convinces him to kill the old man. The boy shows up at her father's house with nothing but a hammer. The Dad is a bent cop who quickly realizes the guy hasn't come for a meet-the-parents style chat whips out a gun and what ensues is an hour and a half of stylish, blood-filled mayhem. The plot doesn't go anywhere new but it sure is fun to watch. You can read my full review here.
It is funny to think about how we used to sit on the couch flipping channels looking for something interesting that was on, and now we flip through streaming services hoping to find something interesting. The methods of delivery are different but the results are the same.
Earlier this week I saw that Amazon Prime had Monk, the USA series starring Tony Shalhoub that ran from 2002 - 2009. It was a throwback show even then. Its format and style resembled the detective shows that were a staple of television back in the 1980s. It is comfort food to me when I've had a long day.
Shalhoub plays Adrien Monk, a former police detective who still helps the police solve crimes though he suffers from an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He's a bit like Sherlock Holmes in his ability to see things the police cannot and deduce who the killer is from tiny, often overlooked clues. The humor comes from his ability to get distracted by his compulsive nature. Though it has an over-reaching arc (namely Monk trying to find out who killed his wife), it is a show that you can pop in on at any time in any season and feel like you didn't miss anything.
The crimes are often silly and the jokes are broad, but Shalhoub is excellent and the rest of the cast is great. It really is a show I like to put on when I've had a hard day and don't feel. up for anything serious.
Orson Welles's first two films - Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons are considered all-time classics now, but at the time they were box-office bombs. With The Stranger, he became basically a director for hire; he didn't write the script and half the cast was already signed before he came along. It didn't sit well with the critics at the time and was basically disowned by the director but it was a huge hit with audiences.
I first watched it a long time ago. I can't really remember when. The only thing I remembered about it was the ending at the clock tower and that only just. I knew I liked it. When I watched it, I think I was only vaguely aware of Orson Welles. I may have seen Citizen Kane by then, but that's probably the only Welles I'd seen. I knew of Edward G. Robinson from Bugs Bunny cartoons, but that's all, and Loretta Young wasn't even on my radar.
It is funny how films change when you get older. Especially classic films. Especially when you have seen a lot more classic films and are familiar with the actors and directors. I love returning to old films only to find them grow in my estimation
I liked The Stranger back then, I love it now. Orson Welles plays notorious Nazi Franz Kindler. He's erased all records of his crimes and indeed all records of himself and settled into a small town in Connecticut. He's now a respected school teacher. He's about to marry Mary Rankin (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice. Everything is going smoothly until one of his former minions shows up and is followed by Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), a Nazi hunter. He kills the old Nazi but Wilson keeps sniffing around, tightening the noose around Kindler's neck.
Welles also directed and he's up to his usual terrific tricks. He's a master of shadow and light and camera placement. There is hardly a shot that doesn't look amazing. All the actors are terrific including Billy House as the comic relief. It is tense and beautifully atmospheric and just terrific.
Ian Holm (1931 - 2020)
British actor Ian Holm, probably best known as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, died yesterday. He had a long career as a character actor in such memorable films as Alien, Brazil, The Madness of King George, and so many more. He won a Tony, a BAFTA, and an Oscar. Any time I saw his name pop up in the credits I knew there'd be at least one interesting performance in the film.