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June 29, 2010


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Dan Coyle

The first time I ever saw Mason in anything was the lurid 1981 Austrailian potboiler Flash Fire, aka A Dangerous Summer (Which, given that the film takes place over Christmastime). It's a real sack o' crap, that movie, though it features a feisty performance by Wendy Hughes and Mason keeps his dignity throughout.


I'm not sure that Reed's post Outcast of the Islands work is enough to relegate him to the "less than meets the eye" category. The wonderful Our Man in Havana was made after Trapeze, and Reed is hardly the first director to go through a late career decline. Surely there are not many champions of Topaz, Torn Curtain, and Frenzy here.

The run between Odd Man Out and Outcast of the Islands alone ought to elevate Reed to "The Far Side of Paradise."

Criterion is currently cooking up their own version of Odd Man Out, which will probably see the light of day sometime next year.

Tom Russell

I hate Topaz and have a soft-spot for Torn Curtain, but I don't understand what you mean about Frenzy, Jeff: it's Hitch back on his game, with many thrilling sequences (like the potato truck, to name just one) and mordant humour (for example, the dinner conversation between the detective and his wife). Hitchcock's last two pictures-- this one and the endlessly entertaining Family Plot-- are among his finest, IMHO.


I saw this movie on what could have only been the Image Entertainment version you mentioned. I'm with you in your review most of the way (tight plot, contemporary significance). But you neglected to mention the last quarter or so of the movie, which was dreadful. The bizarre camera work and psychobabble nonsense was awfully hard to get through.

Stephen Bowie

"Without a Hitch" and "Masonry" in the same day? You're on a roll, or ... something.

TRAPEZE and THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY (and OLIVER) might be crud, but OUR MAN IN HAVANA is weird and funny, THE RUNNING MAN is a decent Hitchcockian thriller, and THE KEY has somehow been overlooked as one of the cinema's great anti-war melodramas. Great performances from Holden and Trevor Howard, and the cinematography is amazing. Frankenheimer loved the film, and probably stole every dutch angle he ever used from it. I've made the same case for THE KEY in about six different places on the internet, so, sorry if it's getting monotonous. A KID FOR TWO FARTHINGS is pretty magical too, although I haven't seen it since I was, well, a kid.

Stephen Winer

I agree about the quality of "Our Man in Havana" and "A Kid for Two Farthings" and maybe you have to have a soft spot for sixties musicals, but I actually think "Oliver" is an extremely well made film. Otherwise Reed seems to fall in that category of directors whose films became less interesting as their budgets and profiles increased. We could also say the same of Edward Dymytrk and perhaps even (don't all get mad at once) Anthony Mann.

Glenn Kenny

Believe me, I would love to be able to love "Our Man In Havana" as many of its admirers do. But I just can't. A while back I wrote of its comedic elements that they came off like weak-tea Ealing material before drifting into nothingness. It was the subject of the then Monday-morning Foreign Region report in the Premiere days:


I do like "A Kid" a bit better. I'd be willing to stretch and say my problem with "Oliver!" is more with the source material than Reed's handling of it. If I recall correctly the stuff with Bill Sykes is pretty damn effective. But still.

Stephen, I like your cautious approach to Mann-skepticism. As a confirmed fan of "El Cid," "Roman Empire," and "Heroes of Telemark" all, I can't say I agree with you about the films being less interesting. They are different from earlier Manns, surely. But what "Roman Empire" lacks in tense narrative momentum it more than makes up for in unusual intelligence. And as for "Telemark," name me any other director who could wring more suspense out of cross-country skiing. "El Cid" I will never understand anybody having a problem with.

James Keepnews

""El Cid" I will never understand anybody having a problem with."

Me neither, though it did occasion a memorable exchange in Martin Short's peerless, long-forgotten cable special in the mid-80's, where his weaselly lawyer, Nathan Thurm, was being interviewed by Joe Flaherty and his peerless, long-forgotten Charlton Heston impersonation:

"You're getting pretty defensive, Thurm..."

"'Defensive'? You're the one who should be defensive! You're the one who made El Cid!"

The Siren

Oh dear. The Siren does NOT want to irk her host. So she'll keep her El Cid (and late Mann, and actually Mann in general) problems to herself. She's stated them often enough at her place anyway.

In no particular order:

1. Bill Sykes is Oliver Reed's best performance, a dazzling piece of physical and sexual menace. Oliver! is a childhood favorite of mine. The score, man, the score. It's gorgeous.

2. Our Man in Havana...not funny to me. At all.

3. A Kid for Two Farthings...flawed but charming.

4. Fuzzy Bastard makes a good point at Mubi, however contentiously stated. How many great films does it take for a director to be considered great? Reed has three--this one, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, which is my favorite of his and a film that would probably show up in my top 20, if not my top 10. Despite the fact that I couldn't stand The Agony & the Ecstasy either, I don't have a problem calling Reed great. Or admitting that I get more pleasure out of those three movies, Night Train to Munich (and I'll even throw in Oliver!) than anything I've seen from unassailable-pantheon-member Anthony Mann.

Don Fabrizio

Is that Mason watching the 2 kids making out in the bunker?..

Glenn Kenny

Clearly, Siren, you need to see "The Black Book." And/or "The Tall Target." Or that one with Von Stroheim. Any of those ought to bring you around on Anthony "The" Mann. At least a little bit. I don't think I ever mentioned to you the NYU film students I hung out with in the mid-80s who wrote directors' names on their sneakers and had a sort of auteurist catechism. Budd Boetticher/Anthony Mann/Otto Preminger: he's an auteur!" "Why is Budd Boetticher/Anthony Mann/Otto Preminger an auteur?" "Because he's got mise en scene!" Etc.

You say FB is being contentious over at MUBI? No, you're kidding! Haven't checked in there in a bit....

The Siren

Okay Glenn, just forgive me in advance because I am coming clean here. Saw The Black Book and liked it; just not a lot. This is true of most Mann for me. Didn't see The Tall Target. I see Mann's mise en scene, oh boy do I see it. His visual mastery I don't question. But I find his films either oddly bloodless (odd because they're so violent) in their insistence on honor/vengeance/manhood etc., romantically inert (did you find chemistry between Heston and Loren? Because I couldn't, not even with Lavoisier in tow) or deadly in pace (FOTRE).

The one I like more or less without reservations is The Furies.

Glenn Kenny

Hmm, ya got me on the Heston/Loren chemistry question. But I don't care, because I'm a MacMahonist as far as Heston is concerned, and a cold formalist when it suits my auteurist prejudices. So there!


Now I've got the urge to go write "Samuel Fuller" and "Nicholas Ray" all over my sneakers. I think I'll do one of each and name one shoe "Sam" and the other "Nick."


Actually, if the point is Reed didn't really hit his stride until ODD MAN OUT (which I agree is a brilliant film), I would disagree - I think THE STARS LOOK DOWN, his mining drama, is where he first showed his abilities, and it's, dare I say it, better than Ford's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, which covers similar terrain.

Also, I think TRAPEZE, while not great, is enjoyable for the stunts, and OLIVER is one of the few 60's Broadway-to-Hollywood musicals that still holds up as being, if not great, than at least enjoyable.

Glenn Kenny

Better than "How Green Was My Valley?" As someone on "The Maury Povich Show" once said, "No you di-ant!" I'd say I sure hope The Siren didn't hear that, but I bet she did.

It's an interesting proposition, one I'm not against testing, if only because it's been too long since I looked at either film. Both of which are indeed quite fine.

Stephen Winer

Back to Mann for a moment. Clearly I need to pull out the El Cid DVD and give it another try. My first thoughts on Cid (as I call him) and "Roman Empire" is that they work at the high end of the big historical epic genre but don't break the ceiling the way Mann's noirs and Westerns did. As for "Telemark", I thoroughly enjoyed it, but if I didn't know better and you told me John Sturges directed it, I'd buy it (and this is not a knock on Sturges, a real pro, many of whose films I love. It's just that Mann at his best operates at a different level.
Now "The Stars Look Down" vs. "How Green Was My Valley"...what a double bill that would make. The first time I saw the Reed I thought it was better. Recently I saw the Ford again and came away thinking they are both great films that are completely representative of their directors' viewpoints. How's that for copping out?



THE MIGHTY ZARDOZ HAS SPOKEN and you shall obey.



I am going to be having an ECLIPSE in my pants in ten hours.



@ LexG: I hope they keep the ending of the original. Who plays the Alain Delon part?


I'm a Topaz champion. One of the troubles with Topaz is that everyone sees the awful, baggy uncut version, not the much tighter theatrical version that people actually saw in 1969, which is availabe only, I believe, on German DVD. In the latter, Hitchcock cuts out most of the bad rear projection scenes, the silly stuff with the family, about half of the scenes set in Paris, all the background about Frederick Stafford's friendship with his wife's lover - basicallly all the stuff that weighs down the movie. In the theatrical version, it becomes a pretty successful meditation on the tragic pointlessness of cold war. There's a really exemplary old piece in Film Comment that puts forth this reading; you can find it online.


"I am going to be having an ECLIPSE in my pants in ten hours."

I'm not sure that pun works as well as you think it does.

Stephen Whitty

@Tom R -- Agree with you. I admit, that initial rape scene in "Frenzy" still feels like bad taste to me, if not outright misogyny. But it does set you up for the restraint that comes later, when the murderer brings his second victim up to his flat, a barmaid we've come to know and like and the camera pauses, and then slowly, almost sadly, tracks back and away, unable to do a thing or, seemingly, bring itself to watch.

And as for "Family Plot" -- dismissed a bit at the time, if I remember. Certainly it would have been better with stronger actors. But the old Hitchcock playfulness is evident early on, the way he (arbitrarily, it seems at first) switches from one narrative thread to the other. It's hardly Shakespeare, but like "A Winter's Tale" it's a very forgiving work; you get the sense of a late-in-life artist both smiling down at his characters and (with that bird's eye view of the mazelike cemetery paths) reflecting on how pointless some of our self-consciously important decisions can be.

Meanwhile, Glenn, always happy to see James Mason given his due. He's ever-wonderful; was re-watching "Lolita" recently, and marvelling at how neatly his performance early in the movie, laughing cruelly at Mrs. Haze's beseeching letter to him, is mirrored later on by his work when it's his turn to beg Lolita, and she looks at him as if he were mad. Never has the hard line between the beloved and the lover ever seem so clear, I think -- and in a single role, too.

A terrific actor, and amazing that he was in films for a decade before finally breaking out, I think, in "The Seventh Veil." (He's already very good in 1942's "The Night Has Eyes," an obscure murder-on-the-moors thriller later retitled, awfully, as "Terror House.")

Interesting that your excellent posts today include both the Powell films and "Odd Man Out" -- I saw all of them for the first time on TV 30-odd summers ago when the old, original "Million Dollar Movie" somehow got hold of a big batch of Rank, Ealing Studios and other British films and ran a whole month of them. Ah, the wonderful cinematic accidents that used to be local TV...

Tom Russell

"Certainly it would have been better with stronger actors."

Perhaps, but I'm a sucker for Black and Dern, so it's never bothered me, and I think Barbara Harris is perfect. Of course, I think she's perfect in everything; as I've often said in the past, Barbara Harris is a special effect in and of herself.

Stephen Whitty

I'll certainly sign up with you in the Barbara H. fan club, Tom. She is pretty terrific, and always has been.

I have to say I remember "Family Plot" as coming around the time in Karen Black's career when she seemed to seque from "quirky" to "loopy" but maybe I'm simply conflating it with other movies. It's certainly worth a re-watch, for any number of reasons.


I can't really see how that first murder borders on misogyny. If the plan is to show it, and if that plan is, theoretically, workable, then how would Rusk's attitude towards women not come through? Why is it Hitchcock's misogyny?

And, okay, I'm well aware that Hitchcock had his problems with women. But I really don't think it was his intention that we "enjoy" that scene.

Stephen Whitty


I guess my reservations about the scene have always revolved around how much time Hitchcock spends on it, and the details that he piles on -- the incessant "lovely...lovely...lovely" from Rusk, the victim in shock and reciting "The Lord is my shepherd," the final closeup of her strangled face with her tongue sticking out.

Yes, Rusk's attitude towards women comes through. But why does the director need to state it, and re-state it, with such blunt insistency?

Now, is it misogyny? I don't know that I would --and I didn't -- go quite that far (although various biographers and potential collaborators have said that, from "Marnie" on, Hitchcock seeemed very strongly drawn to stories that involved rape). But clearly it's not just Rusk who lingers over this awful crime. It's Hitchcock.

I am angry when filmmakers try to glamorize or minimize violence, but I'm also annoyed when they dwell on it so obsessively. We KNOW that rape is horrible; we don't need to see every closeup moment of the act to have that brought home. (The shower in "Psycho" is over in a minute.) That's why I felt the scene was in bad taste -- which, of course, ultimately, simply means not to my taste.


That's all perfectly fair, Stephen, and filming this sort of thing well means you have to walk a very fine line. But I think with FRENZY, Hitchcock wanted -- obviously -- to explore the new freedom of the 60s and 70s, and violence was one of his interests. Being interested in violence doesn't mean you have an unhealthy obsession with it, though, and I think there's a certain amount of bluntness, even an uncomfortable amount of time spent, that is sometimes necessary to really bring home this sort of horror. I mean, we all know what sex is like, but I'm always hearing people bemoan the absence of it from mature American cinema.

Plus, I get tired of the relentless psychoanalyzing of filmmakers, which almost always results in the filmmaker coming off as a skeeve, and the psychoanalyst comfortably above it all.

Which you didn't do! I hasten to add that!

Stephen Whitty

No, understood, Bill. And clearly Hitchcock was indulging himself -- successfully or not -- in a sort of screen freedom he probably never thought he'd have. It all just seemed a little much to me. Still does today, when I see it in other films.

I mean, I am quite willing to agree that, say, beating and raping Monica Bellucci is an awful thing; I don't need to see ten minutes of it in "Irreversible" (from a single, unblinking angle no less) before I'm convinced.

Not that I'm comparing Hitchcock to (ugh) Gasper Noe. (One has to be so precise on blog posts!)

Glenn Kenny

Hey, you know who REALLY didn't enjoy the rape scene in "Frenzy?" My 73-year-old grandmother, who 12-year-old me convinced to be his "adult guardian" for this R-rated film when it came out theatrically in June of 1972. "Oh, yes, I surely did enjoy 'Rebecca,'" Grandmama Kenny said when I broached the idea. Man, was THAT one awkward ride home from the movies...

After that, it fell to an older uncle on my mother's side to take me to the more "mature" fare my budding cinephile self craved. We had a terrifically not-awkward time at "Slaughterhouse Five" later that summer (for some reason that picture took longer to get to the 'burbs than "Frenzy," although it had actually been released earlier). And then I had my growth spurt and shot up to 6 feet 4 and didn't need no stinking adults to take me to R-rated movies anymore. Thank God.


I made the mistake one of watching FINGERS with my parents.

Actually, that's not quite right. I was still living at home, and I was probably a teenager -- I don't really know how long ago this was -- and I was pretty full-on into the early stages of my cinephilia. This was generally not a big deal, but every so often, my parents being somewhat old-fashioned, they wanted to know what movies I was bringing into the house. And one time they sat down, without warning, and watched FINGERS with me. Yay. It's not like they made me stop it or anything, or got mad, or forbade me to watch such films, but, I mean...sheesh.

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