“Turkish-backed forces fighting Kurdish militias in north-east Syria have been accused of committing war crimes, with acts of brutality surfacing on mobile phone footage.
“The UN has warned that Turkey could be held responsible for the actions of its allies, while Turkey has promised to investigate.
“Bearded men shout ‘Allahu Akbar [God is the Greatest]’. One captures the scene on his smartphone and says: ‘We are mujahedeen [holy warriors] from Faylaq Al-Majd [Glory Corps] battalion.’ In the background are the corpses of Kurdish fighters.
“Further away, a group of men plant their feet on a woman’s bloodied body. One says she is a ‘whore’.
‘The gruesome footage is much like that produced by the ultra-violent Islamic State (IS) group.
“Yet the men in this video are not IS militants, but rather fighters for a rebel alliance known as the Syrian National Army, trained, equipped and paid for by a Nato member, Turkey. They are under the command of the Turkish army.
‘The video was filmed on 21 October in northern Syria. The woman beneath the fighters’ feet is Amara Renas, a member of an all-woman unit of Kurdish fighters, the YPJ, a force that played a significant role in defeating IS in Syria.
Notice how the BBC calls the video “brutal” and “gruesome,” words which are not in quotes or alleged. The video is not allegedly brutal and gruesome, it IS brutal and gruesome, says the BBC. Yet they get nervous about calling Turkish jihadist allies war criminals, even though the crimes are very much graphically shown in the brutal, gruesome video.
More importantly than all this, these war crimes are being committed against Kurdish women fighters specifically, and against our Kurdish allies generally. After the mobster-in-chief in the White House unleashed all this.
Not only should he and his administration be impeached and removed for high crimes and misdemeanors, he should also be held personally responsible for these war crimes. Impeachment is certain, but removal is unlikely, and seeing him tried for war crimes is a fantasy.
After all, the last time we had a chief executive who unleashed war crimes (remember Abu Graib anyone?), nothing happened. That president is just sitting around painting pictures of hot dogs while lolling in his bathtub.
Still, there is value in keeping a chronicle of crimes and never forgetting them. This current stain on a house that is never free of stains in some form needs to be remembered and prevented. And we should all start using quotes when referring to executive mansion: The “White” House has been various shades of blood red from its inception.
RIP Amara Renas and all the other unknown women and men and children who fought on our behalf as well as their own. May you haunt our collective memory forever.
«One of the most brilliant things I’ve seen in a long time». Steve Bell and The Guardian continue to hit these out of the park. Go there and read, donate, support. They cover the U.S. as, if not more, effectively than the Times and Post or any other American news organization. Not that those exist anymore, but still.
Far more importantly, RIP Kurds. From you stretching back all the way to Columbus is a long, unbroken trail of genocide. Perhaps things will be just a tiny, marginally bit better in 2021. Knowing other Americans as I do, I’m not holding my breath. I am sincerely sorry that you will not have breath to hold until 2021. What a treasonous betrayal.
“Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here.”
From 1948: That fabulous film noir, The Big Clock with Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester and Harry Morgan.
“Stroud, a crime magazine’s crusading editor, has to postpone a vacation with his wife (again) when a glamorous blonde is murdered and he is assigned by his publishing boss Janoth to find the killer. As the investigation proceeds to its conclusion, Stroud must try to disrupt his ordinarily brilliant investigative team as they increasingly build evidence (albeit wrong) that he is the killer.”
IMDb, (which is, as I always say, one of the many tentacles of the suffocating Amazonia totalitarian state in which we live), has «a slightly different way of putting it»:
“When powerful publishing tycoon Earl Janoth commits an act of murder at the height of passion, he cleverly begins to cover his tracks and frame an innocent man whose identity he doesn’t know but who just happens to have contact with the murder victim. That man is a close associate on his magazine whom he enlists to trap this ‘killer’ — George Stroud. It’s up to George to continue to ‘help’ Janoth, to elude the police and to find proof of his innocence and Janoth’s guilt.”
“… For this is a dandy clue-chaser of the modern chromium-plated type, but it is also an entertainment which requires close attention from the start.
“Actually, in the manner of the best detective fiction these days, it isn’t a stiff and stark whodunit activated around some stalking cop. Nary a wise-guy policeman clutters up the death-room or the clues. As a matter of fact, the policemen are not called in until the end. And the fellow who does the murder is known by the audience all along.
“He’s a dynamic publishing magnate, ruler of a realm of magazines and a double-dyed rogue who runs his business on the split-tick of a huge electric clock. In a mad, jealous moment, he kills his sweetie, a not very temperate young thing, and then calls upon the cagey editor of his crime magazine to find the man. Two circumstances make this ticklish. The clues have been rigged to make it look as though the murderer were another fellow. And the other fellow is—the editor.
“Out of this cozy situation of a guy trying to square himself, even though he is thoroughly innocent and knows perfectly who the murderer is, Scriptwriter Jonathan Latimer and Director John Farrow have fetched a film which is fast-moving, humorous, atmospheric and cumulative of suspense. No doubt there are holes in the fabric—even a rip or two, perhaps—and the really precision-minded are likely to spot them the first time around. But the plot moves so rapidly over them and provides such absorbing by-play that this not-too-gullible observer can’t precisely put his finger upon one. (That’s why we urge your close attention—just to see if there is anything to catch.)
“As the self-protection clue-collector, Ray Milland does a beautiful job of being a well-tailored smoothie and a desperate hunted man at the same time. Charles Laughton is characteristically odious as the sadistic publisher and George Macready is sleek as his henchman, while Maureen O’Sullivan is sweet as Ray’s nice wife. Exceptional, however, are several people who play small but electric character roles: Elsa Lanchester as a crack-pot painter and Douglas Spencer as a barman, best of all. Miss Lanchester is truly delicious with her mad pace and her wild, eccentric laugh.”
The New York Times
It is, indeed, a wonderful picture and Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester are fabulous.
Earl Janoth: [talking on intercom to Steve Hagen] “On the fourth floor – in the broom closet – a bulb has been burning for several days. Find the man responsible, dock his pay.”
The Big Clock
Louise Patterson: [after George Stroud outbids her for a picture] “Isn’t it a pity… the wrong people always have money.”
Don Klausmeyer: “I’m Don Klausmeyer, from Artways magazine.” Louise Patterson: “Yes. [giggles] Oh, yes. Didn’t you review my show in ’41?” Don Klausmeyer: “I think I did.” Louise Patterson: “Oh, come in, Mr. Klausmann.” Don Klausmeyer: “KlausMEYER.” Louise Patterson: [laughs gleefully] “I’ve been planning to kill you for years.” Don Klausmeyer: “Our organization, the Janoth Publications, is trying to find someone, possibly a collector of your pictures.” Louise Patterson: “So have I for fifteen years.”
Pauline York: “You know, Earl has a passion for obscurity. He won’t even have his biography in ‘Who’s Who’.” George Stroud: “Sure. He doesn’t want to let his left hand know whose pocket the right one is picking.”
George Stroud: “You’re the only blonde in my life.” Georgette Stroud: “I’m a brunette.” George Stroud: “And you’re the only brunette too.”
The Big Clock. 1948. TCM. English. John Farrow (d). Kenneth Fearing, Jonathan Latimer, Harold Goldman (w). Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson, Elsa Lanchester, Harold Vermilyea, Dan Tobin, Harry Morgan, Richard Webb, Elaine Riley, Frank Orth, Lloyd Corrigan, Theresa Harris. (p). Victor Young (m). Daniel L. Fapp, John F. Seitz (c).
“… this is probably the granddaddy of all product placement movies, far more egregious than even Joan Crawford’s conspicuous scattering of Pepsi bottles in Strait Jacket …”
From 1964: A somewhat strange concoction, The Yellow Rolls Royce is a star-studded anthology, a look at the life of, well, a yellow Rolls Royce Phantom during the 1930s and 40s.
“One Rolls-Royce belongs to three vastly different owners, starting with Lord Charles, who buys the car for his wife as an anniversary present. Another owner is Paolo Maltese, a mafioso who purchases the car during a trip to Italy and leaves it with his girlfriend while he returns to Chicago. Later, the car is owned by American widow Gerda, who joins the Yugoslavian resistance against the invading Nazis.”
The New York Times reviewer A.H. Weiler wasn’t terribly kind to this “assembly line job.” He wrote on 14-May-65:
“… ‘The Yellow Rolls-Royce,’ which arrived yesterday at the Music Hall fresh from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s European works, performs, despite its color, opulence and surface polish, largely like an assembly-line job. It is, it should be stressed, a pretty slick vehicle, that is pleasing to the eye and occasionally amusing, but it hardly seems worthy of all the effort and the noted personalities involved in the three glossy but superficial stories that make up this shiny package. One is reminded of the now classic Rolls-Royce advertising slogan, “The loudest noise comes from the clock.”
“‘The Yellow Rolls Royce’ may be a rich, handsome, colorful vehicle. But, aside from its varied passengers, it simply indicates that the Rolls can be pretty rough on romance.”
The New York Times
The most enjoyable part of this vehicle (see what I did there?) is probably the Shirley MacLaine/Alain Delon/George C. Scott/Art Carney story. Scott is a Capone-style 20s gangster, MacLaine is his gun moll, and Delon is her seducer, while Carney gets to drive his boss and the moll around and keep tabs on what Delon is up to while sightseeing in the Rolls. I said enjoyable, but probably meant amused.
TCM accompanied this showing with a short shown in theaters at the time extolling the virtues of the Rolls Royce and its appearance in the forthcoming film. This makes it seem that Rolls Royce had paid millions for a movie-length advertisement, and that’s not far off the mark. There is an attempt to focus on the stories in the anthology, but that yellow car is always in at least the background, ubiquitous.
In other words, this is probably the granddaddy of all product placement movies, far more egregious than even Joan Crawford’s conspicuous scattering of Pepsi bottles in Strait Jacket (see below). The Yellow Rolls Royce is worth watching for the performances of the greats of the Golden Age’s transition into … whatever we call what came once the Golden Age was dead … but the value probably ends there. I gave it four stars simply for those performances by those greats; there’s not much more to it than those, sadly.
Mae Jenkins: [Looking indifferently at the leaning tower of Pisa] “So it leans. So a lot of things lean.” Paolo Maltese: [Turning to Mae] “You ever heard of Galileo, maybe?” Mae Jenkins: “Sure I have heard of Galileo.” Paolo Maltese: [Turning to Joey] “She ever heard of Galileo?” Joey Friedlander: “Nah …” Paolo Maltese: “Five-six hundred years ago, this Galileo dropped two stones off that tower, one big one, and one little one.” Mae Jenkins: “So?” Paolo Maltese: “So he proved the law of gravity or somethin’. I don’t know.” Mae Jenkins: “And brained a couple of citizens, maybe. Big deal.”
The Yellow Rolls Royce
Paolo Maltese: “And this is the girl, my fidanzata, that I am bringing home to meet my folks. Of all the women in the whole world that I can choose from to be my wife, who do I choose? An ignorant slob of a hatcheck girl who thinks Pisa – Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, Joey – is a stopping-off place between hamburger joints.”
The Yellow Rolls Royce. 1964. TCM. English. Anthony Asquith (d). Terence Rattigan (w). Ingrid Bergman, Rex Harrison, Shirley MacLaine, Jeanne Moreau, George C. Scott, Omar Sharif, Alain Delon, Art Carney, Joyce Grenfell, Edmund Purdom, Wally Cox. (p). Riz Ortolani (m). Jack Hildyard (c).
“The songs and dances, Shirley MacLaine and Cita Rivera, et al, were great; it’s just the stuff in between that is less than satisfying.”
From 1968: It’s quite possibly the most depressing musical ever made, Sweet Charity. I’m not sure what this was supposed to be, but it also seems to be the most depressing play Neil Simon ever wrote. And it’s all a piece with the extremely depressing year in which it was made.
“Taxi dancer Charity continues to have Faith in the human race despite apparently endless disappointments at its hands, and Hope that she will finally meet the nice young man to romance her away from her sleazy life. Maybe, just maybe, handsome Oscar will be the one to do it.”
“It seems a little hard to criticise a musical because of the financial circumstances of its heroine. Sweet Charity, though, is the sort of film which sways in its second half, like Funny Girl, towards the unrequited, grin-and-bear-it ending. What Charity Hope Valentine is grinning and bearing is life as a dance-hall hostess (in the Fellini original, on which the stage musical was based, life as a not very successful prostitute); and since the film is set fairly, squarely and lovingly in New York of the rich ‘sixties, there seems no particular reason why its heroine can’t find a line of work that appeals to her more. This is partly a hazard of the sort of musical which takes over the almost serious subject, and in the end tries to come to terms with it in the almost serious way. Plotlines which did for Italy in the 1950s fray badly when dropped down in the middle of all this expensive decoration, so set on making too much of too little.
“And, of course, the dancehall, that useful old Hollywood haunt for mistily reprehensible goings-on, actually comes across as a rather well-conducted establishment, with heroine’s friends Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly (both excellent) bounding about like a couple of genially astringent school prefects. But if Charity, played by Shirley MacLaine in her sharpest innocent-at-large style, really wants to escape, it’s hard to see what is holding her back. …
“One is supposed to find Charity’s plight rather true and touching; and on the whole doesn’t. And it is perhaps tough on Shirley MacLaine that her particular line in rueful, shrewd, precariously hopeful fatalism, though executed as winningly as ever, already suggests a speculation which the film doesn’t care to take up: the heroine of The Apartment almost ten years on, the valiant last of the kooky girls. All the same, the performance bounces, as does the film when it’s looking down the line of morose dance-hall girls (‘Hey, Big Spender’), ambling into Fellini parody in an absurd mock-Roman nightclub, or flinging its dancing girls about a grubby rooftop in a number so nostalgic for older musicals that one is only surprised they don’t burst into ‘New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.'”
Penelope Houston, The Spectator
“Precariously hopeful fatalism.” That’s a pretty fair, if paradoxical, take on Charity’s life outlook.
The film starts with Charity being dumped (quite literally) by her would-be fiancee and nearly drowning. It proceeds through an obviously doomed night with a celebrity film director, then follows an ultimately, but not so obviously doomed, engagement and ends with a “Keep on the Sunny Side” denouement … “keep your chin up even if it’s been ground into the dirt,” is I guess how I would describe it.
As I said, it’s all surprisingly depressing for a musical, but the late 60s was a depressing decade. The same year as Sweet Charity was released saw the assassinations of MLK and RFK and the end to any dream of a Camelot restoration, plus mass riots and worsening casualties in the pointless failure of the war in Vietnam. That would seem to indicate that a big movie musical would need to provide a necessary uplift to viewers: toe-tapping, heartening, he-gets-the-girl-they-live-happily-ever-after type of stuff. Instead, audiences were treated to a sweet girl being dumped brutally three straight times and musical numbers that seemed to celebrate girls begging for money (“Hey Big Spender …”), jealousy (“If my friends could see me now …”), girls trapped in bad situations (“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This …”) and a sense of hopeless wandering (“Where Am I Going? …”). An American in Paris it ain’t (“Our Love is Here to Stay,” “Tra-la-la (This Time It’s Really Love),”I Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful,” etc., etc.), but I suppose that was the difference between 1951 and 1968.
Audiences seemed to agree with the “depressing” assessment; while it cost $20 million to make, it only brought in $8 million at the box office and just about destroyed Universal, which then, so the story goes, forced it to make the successful Airport (1970), a film whose star Burt Lancaster described as “a piece of junk,” but which, according to «Box Office Mojo», made $100,489,151. That one had a happy ending, with the bad guy dead and everyone/everything else saved (Helen Hayes and a Boeing 707), with the notable exception of Dean Martin/Barbara Hale’s marriage.
Shirley MacLaine is wonderful in Sweet Charity, as she has been in pretty much everything she’s ever done. It’s worth noting that a “corny” happy ending was filmed because Bob Fosse feared the studio would want it, but the studio surprised him and decided to keep the original stage musical ending. I think it was the right decision, but regardless of which ending you use, this thing was probably not rescue-able. The songs and dances, Shirley MacLaine and Cita Rivera, et al, were great; it’s just the stuff in between that is less than satisfying.
Charity Hope Valentine: “Wow, this place is sure full of celebrities. I’m the only one in here I’ve never heard of.”
Charity Hope Valentine: “Fickle Finger of Fate!”
Helene: “There ain’t no use flappin’ your wings, ’cause we are stuck in the flypaper of life!”
Vittorio: “Without love, life would have no purpose.”
Oscar Lindquist: “The odds against us are at least a hundred to one.” Charity Hope Valentine: “Those are the best odds I ever had.”
Sweet Charity. 1969. TCM. English. Bob Fosse (d). Neil Simon, Peter Stone, Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano (w). Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr., Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Stubby Kaye, Barbara Bouchet, Alan Hewitt, Ben Cy Coleman (m). Robert Surtees (c).
“The bonuses here are George Kennedy as a farmhand foreshadowing by 22 years Billy Bob Thornton in 1996’s Swing Blade (“I like them French fried potaters.”), all the Pepsi placement, and Lee Majors in pre-Six Million Dollar Man mode, along with his very hairy chest, fluffily rising and falling just before the axe falls.”
["'Tina! Bring me the axe!" Joan Crawford hacks up the Six Million Dollar Man in 1964's Strait-Jacket. "Lucy Harbin took an axe, gave her husband forty whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave his girlfriend forty one."]
From 1964 (and presented by the fabulous Svengoolie): It’s Mommie Dearest with an axe, but with a twist! Here is Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket!
“After a twenty-year stay at an asylum for a double murder, a mother returns to her estranged daughter where suspicions arise about her behavior. “
Oh, okay, that’s not so different. Hmmm. Is there collusion between those two sites? But how else would you describe this thing? Let’s check «Rotten Tomatoes» then:
“In this chilling blood-tale in ‘Psycho’ style, Robert Bloch modernizes the Lizzy Borden story. A wife (Joan Crawford) literally axes her cheating husband and his lover, witnessed by her three-year-old daughter. Mom is packed off to the insane asylum for 20 years before reuniting with the daughter (Diane Baker). From this point, the axe murders continue along a contrived plot intended to lead the audience astray until the mystery is solved. Crawford’s strong performance and the excellently constructed suspense are the best elements of the film—and the chopping saves the show when the plot tends to slow.”
But more importantly, what did critics say about Mommie Dearest, er, I mean Strait Jacket? Shaun Mulvihill over at Fan Boy Nation pretty much covers it very well:
“… Strait-Jacket is now hailed as a camp classic, which it is no doubt, but it’s also a throwback melodrama that is punctuated by its moments of violent ax murders. Shout! … “Having not seen Strait-Jacket in at least 10 years, one thing stood out in revisiting the film on the new Blu-ray – this film isn’t too dissimilar to the sordid drama of «Mildred Pierce» that won Joan Crawford her lone Oscar. Even though in the wake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, as Crawford was being repurposed as a scream queen, she always gave her all to the performance. Strait-Jacket may have been seen as a B-movie to the studio and the critics reviewing the film in 1964, Crawford gives an A performance as the mentally ravaged Lucy Harbin. Of course, Crawford made sure to employ her role as the spokeswoman of Pepsi in the film, inserting six-packs of Pepsi throughout the film. “The violence of Strait-Jacket looks quaint by today’s standards, with some rather unrealistic looking limbs being violently severed by a swinging ax. Even though Strait-Jacket is released after Herschell Gordon Lewis created the modern gore film with Blood Feast, Strait-Jacket is remarkably graphic for a studio film of its era. The posters used the violence as a selling point, proclaiming, ‘Strait-Jacket vividly depicts ax murders!’ I won’t lie, the violence of Strait-Jacket is funny by today’s standards, but it’s important to remember its context of film violence of its era. … “There’s no defending Crawford the person and her deplorable actions. On the screen, though, she shined bright and continues to shine as her classic are restored and revived on home video. Strait-Jacket may not have been her proudest moment, but you’d never know it from her dedicated performance. It’s a true testament to Crawford’s presence as a performer that Strait-Jacket is much more a Joan Crawford picture than a William Castle picture. Castle was a great showman and huckster, and he stepped aside to give the spotlight to bigger showman. William Castle knew he didn’t need a gimmick when he had Joan Crawford.”
Fan Boy Nation
It’s all tremendous fun, especially if you remember the context. Yes, it foreshadows Mommie Dearest, which makes you wonder where that particular flick came from (did Christina Crawford confuse a viewing of Strait-Jacket with her life? Oh, sorry. I’m sure her trauma was very real.) But for gosh sake, cinema Joan wielding the axe on Lee Majors in 1964 and then supposedly-real-life Joan wielding the axe on a tree 17 years later is rather … interesting.
Nonetheless, it’s always a fun time. The bonuses here are George Kennedy as a farmhand foreshadowing by 22 years Billy Bob Thornton in 1996’s Swing Blade (“I like them French fried potaters.”), all the Pepsi placement, and Lee Majors in pre-Six Million Dollar Man mode, along with his very hairy chest, fluffily rising and falling just before the axe falls. Also fun is Edith Atwater as a society matron, her tut-tut husband Howard St. John, and their son, John Anthony Hayes as their son in the very-good-looking-man role, who discovers something very unsettling about his would-be fiancee.
The ending, featuring Edith Atwater’s horrifying discovery and a mask and Joan suddenly replaying her role as Nurse Lucretia Terry in The Caretakers (1963), is pretty fabulous, but shhhhh, don’t reveal it to anyone so as not to spoil their spine-tingly, horrifyingly good time! Watch it!
Daughter Dearest, they should have called this thing. Love these quotes, especially, “Lucy Harbin took an axe …”
Carol Harbin: “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! No I didn’t mean that, I love you. I hate you!”
First little girl: “Lucy Harbin took an axe, gave her husband forty whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave his girlfriend forty one.” Carol Harbin: [Lucy storms out to find two girls playing jump rope] “What is it, Mother?” Lucy Harbin: “I heard them …” First little girl: “London bridge is falling down, falling down, London bridge is falling down, my fair lady.” Carol Harbin: “It’s just a nursery rhyme, mother.” Second little girl: “Take the key and lock her up, lock her up, lock her up, take the key and lock her up, my fair lady.”
Strait-Jacket. 1964. MeTV. English. William Castle (d). Robert Bloch (w). Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, John Anthony Hayes, Rachelle Hudson, George Kennedy, Edith Atwater, Mitchell Cox and Lee Majors' hairy chest as one of the axe victims. (p). Van Alexander (m). Arthur E. Arling (c).
“Whatever the novelty of seeing goodie two-shoes Perry Mason as a Peeping Tom/Kidnapper, it’s Carol Veazie who is the standout.”
[The movie poster for A Cry in the Night. What did "Cert X" mean? Was Perry Mason in an X-rated film?!]
From 1956: A weird flip-flop which is like a Perry Mason episode … because it stars Perry Mason‘s Raymond Burr as a violent voyeur/kidnapper and Perry Mason‘s Richard Anderson (more famous for the Bionic Man/Woman stuff) as one of Burr’s victims. The bonus here is the kidnappee is Natalie Wood.
“When Raymond Burr’s face (grotesquely lighted by John F. Seitz) looms out of the shrubbery at Lovers’ Loop [sic], he adds A Cry in the Night to his long string of films in which he cemented his reputation as the noir cycle’s most indispensable and unforgettable creep. He’s prowling the petting grounds looking for a girl, and doesn’t care how he gets her. Assaulting the male half (Richard Anderson) of a necking couple, he kidnaps the other (Natalie Wood), spiriting her off to a den he’s fixed up in an abandoned brickyard. This time, though, there’s a catch to Burr’s villainy: He’s a dim-witted hulk, a childish monster akin to Lennie in Of Mice And Men. …
“Even less wholesome is Carol Veazie as Burr’s doting, sweet-toothed mother. Managing simultaneously to suggest Dame Judith Anderson, Jean Stapleton and Doris Roberts, she shuffles around drinking coffee in her horse-blanket bathrobe, whining about that missing slice of apricot pie. Nineteen-fifty-six, some may recall, was the high-water mark of a national panic about ‘Momism,’ a threat deemed scarcely less perilous to the republic than the international Communist conspiracy; Veazie endures as one of its most formidable operatives (her successors would include the unseen Mrs. Bates in Psycho, Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, and Marjorie Bennet’s Dehlia Flagg in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).”
The reviewer is right: Whatever the novelty of seeing goodie two-shoes Perry Mason as a Peeping Tom/Kidnapper, it’s Carol Veazie who is the standout. She is indeed freaky-deaky, rattling on about her “something sweet before bed from Baby,” that brought to my mind “It puts the lotion in the basket” dude from Silence of the Lambs. After watching so much Perry Mason over the last year or so, thanks to MeTV (I had never seen an episode of it before), seeing his freaky turn was a bit laughable. But Veazie: Now THAT was truly creepy.
Edmond O’Brien and Brian Donlevy were good as always as the cops, and Irene Hervey was so very 1950s mother that at first I thought she was Jane Wyatt of Father Knows Best, the quintessential 1950s mom. Natalie Wood gave the screaming her best and pre-Perry Mason‘s Richard Anderson competently walked around in a daze.
The weirdest thing in this weird concoction though was the very short subplot of Madge (Mary Lawrence), who is, we can only guess, O’Brien’s sister? Wood’s sister? Who knows? She’s there for a couple of scenes, Hervey says Madge is unhappy because she’s unmarried and then <boom> nothing further happens with her. Weird, weird, weird.
Still, it’s all good clean, dirty fun, that says much about the decade it was made in, as well as being a good example of its genre. Worth a look if you get the chance.
Terence McNally knows how to write ’em:
Capt. Dan Taggart: “I just wanna know what’s bothering Madge.” Helen Taggart: “She isn’t married, that’s what’s bothering her. She’s 37 years old and she isn’t married.”
A Cry in the Night
Boy on Motorcycle: “Sock her again! They love it!”
Capt. Ed Bates: “How do ya tell a guy that his kid has been grabbed?”
Capt. Dan Taggart: “I don’t care about your coffee! Your son has kidnapped my child!”
A Cry in the Night. 1956. TCM. English. Frank Tuttle (d). David Dortort, Whit Masterson (w). Edmond O'Brien, Brian Donlevy, Natalie Wood, Raymond Burr, Richard Anderson, Irene Hervey, Carol Veazie, Mary Lawrence, Herb Vigran. (p). David Buttolph (m). John F. Seitz (c).
“Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here.”
[Like Jack Weston in The Ritz, we sat with our mouths open the entire movie.]
From 1976: What’s the hell is this thing?! Antonio Salieri as a gay, towel-clad habitué of … a gay bath house? The Four Season‘s Jack Weston as a mob family son-in-law on the run who hides in … a gay bath house? Treat Williams doing a high-pitched voice “thing” running around in a towel in … a gay bath house? Rita Moreno as the drag-queen-esque singer in … a gay bath house? Ben Stiller’s Jewish daddy playing a pissed-off Italian mobster running around in aa towel and garters trying to find Jack Weston for “offing” purposes … in a gay bathhouse? Kaye Ballard screaming and fainting … in a gay bathhouse? Paul Price as a chubby chaser … in a gay bathhouse?
Yes, it’s all those things and more in «The Ritz» … a gay bathhouse … with the aforementioned Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Treat Williams, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, Paul Price and in what was for me, a performance better deserving of an Oscar than that Amadeus thing: F. Murray Abraham. For 1976, this thing was pretty advanced. Major stars or soon-to-be stars (Abraham’s Oscar came a mere eight years later.)
But so much to write about here. Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here. Ahead of its time, groundbreaking, unheard-of and un-mentionable, we laughed out loud a lot, even at the corny bits. But I guess that could be that we are, after all, two fags of a certain age (I was 12 1/2 when this thing came out, but seem to have no memory of it, largely because the churches of Duncan, Oklahoma, would have collectively LOST. THEIR. SHIT. and burned down the theater which dared to satanically show this reeking pile of offensive (there’s that word again) spitting in the face of the Christ child … ergo, I didn’t see it, it was only moderately successful and many of its reviewers were clueless about what it all meant.
So yes, there are problems.
“On his deathbed Carmine Vespucci’s father tells him to ‘get Proclo.’ With ‘the hit’ on, Gaetano tells a cab driver to take him where Carmine can’t find him. He arrives at the Ritz, a gay bathhouse.”
IMDb, one of the many tentacles of the suffocating Amazonia totalitarian state in which we live, has «a slightly longer way of putting it»:
“On his deathbed, Carmine Vespucci’s mobster father tells him to ‘get Proclo’ – Carmine’s brother-in-law Gaetano. With ‘the hit’ on, Gaetano tells a cab driver to take him where Carmine can’t find him. He arrives at The Ritz, a gay bathhouse where he is pursued amorously by ‘chubby chaser’ Claude and by entertainer Googie Gomez, who believes him to be a Broadway producer. His guides and protectors through The Ritz are gatekeeper Abe, habitué Chris, and bellhop/go-go boys Tiger and Duff. Squeaky-voiced detective Michael Brick and his employer Carmine do locate Gaetano at the Ritz, as does his wife Vivian, but family secrets come out.”
“One of the character’s problems, though — and it becomes the movie’s problem as well — is that he’s so unbelievably dumb, so slow to catch on. Forty-five minutes into the movie, he’s still doing incredulous double-takes and mouthing forbidden words as he discovers what his fellow patrons are doing in their cubicles. I don’t know if we’re supposed to identify with his endless state of shock — or laugh at it — but after a while we wish the movie would be funny about something else. And, just in the nick of time, it does. Weston runs into two of the denizens of the Ritz: The unflaggingly ambitious would-be singer Googie Gomez, and the indefatigable Claude. Each has a personal reason for pursuing Weston: Claude has a fetish for fat guys, and Googie thinks Weston is a big-time Broadway producer who will discover her and hire her for — who knows? — maybe a bus-and-truck tour of “Oklahoma!” Googie, played by Rita Moreno, has some of the funniest moments in the movie. To the incongruous accompaniment of a poolside orchestra in black tie, she butchers several song-and-dance numbers, loses a shoe and a wig and winds up in the pool. She is also ferocious in her ambition, tossing rivals down the laundry chute and promising Weston the hanky-panky will start after her second show. …
“And yet ‘The Ritz’ never quite succeeds. Its ambition is clearly to be a screwball comedy in the tradition of the 1930s classics and such recent attempts as ‘What’s Up, Doc?‘ and ‘Silent Movie.’ But it lacks the manic pacing, and the material grows thin; Terrence McNally’s screenplay (based on his own play) depends so completely on comic material dealing with homosexuality that other opportunities are lost. And Richard Lester’s direction is a little erratic; the movie lunges forward and then hits dead spots, and the final 10 minutes seem to take forever to dispose of various plot points. Still, ‘The Ritz’ has, its moments. When again will we see Jack Weston as an Andrews sister?”
When again indeed? Well, uh, never! Which is the conceit, although by the time he appears as an Andrews Sister, he looks a lot like George Wendt of Cheers fame. But that’s an aside.
This one could open up cans upon cans of works about the way we see old cultural pieces through the lens of today’s culture wars. The intersectionaled, cisgendered lesbian womyn of today probably wouldn’t appreciate this one. There’s some disgusting stereotypes with Googie as Rita Moreno playing up her New York Puerto Rican accents (example: “One of dees days ju is going to see de name of Googie Gomez up in lights and you gonna ask to juself, ‘Gwas dat her?’ An den ju gonna answer to juself, ‘Jes, dat gwas her!’ Well, let me tell you something, Mister: I gwas ALWAYS her, jus dat nobody knows it!'” That’s sure to make the next generation’s SJWs all go into a tizzy.
Except they won’t because ultimately, this thing is being shown on Retro or TCM or something and
Terence McNally knows how to write ’em:
Gaetano Proclo: “Listen, there’s something I have to tell you.” Chris: “You’re not gay?” Gaetano Proclo: [relieved] “No!” Chris: “What, are you a social worker or something?” Gaetano Proclo: “No, but I didn’t know that everyone in here was …” Chris: “GAY! See? It’s not a bad word. You might try using it sometime.” Gaetano Proclo: “You mean to tell me that everyone in here is gay?” Chris: “God, I hope so. Otherwise I just paid ten dollars to walk around in a towel in front of a bunch of Shriners.”
The Ritz (1976)
Gaetano Proclo: “We used to have a guy like that back in the army. We called him ‘Get away from me Claude.'”
Patron With Cigar: “Crisco.” Gaetano Proclo: “What?” Patron With Cigar: “Crisco Oil Party. Room 419. Pass it on.” Gaetano Proclo: “Pass what on?” Patron With Cigar: “Bring Joey.” Gaetano Proclo: “Who’s Joey?” Patron With Cigar: “You know Joey. Don’t bring Chuck. You’ve got that?” Gaetano Proclo: “Crisco Oil Party. Room 419. I can bring Joey but not Chuck.” Patron With Cigar: “Check.” Gaetano Proclo: “What’s the matter with Chuck?”
Gaetano Proclo: [absolutely horrified] “Chuck is definitely out!” Patron With Cigar: [walking away] “Hey, you won’t be disappointed.”
Googie Gomez: “Think of a tropical night. Think of a beetch.” Gaetano Proclo: “What bitch?”
The Ritz. 1976. TCM. English. Richard Lester (d). Terrence McNally (w). Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, F. Murray Abraham, Paul B. Price, Treat Williams, Dave King, Peter Butterworth. (p). Denis O'Dell (m). Paul Wilson (c).
“Basically, amoral social climber from poor background seduces poor factory girl, gets her pregnant, wants to marry a rich socialite and so kills poor factory girl by smashing her in the head with his tennis racket and dumping her body in a lake, fakes a canoe accident, trips self up by being basically an idiot, dies in electric chair after mercy is refused by Governor Charles Evans Hughes.”
[Phillips Holmes in An American Tragedy, realizing he really does hate that grasping little factory girl and would be much happier drowning her.]
From 1931: «An American Tragedy» with Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney and Frances Dee. The first cinematic adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel of the same name, it was eventually remade as a more famous film in 1951 starring Montgomery Clift, Shirley Winters and Elizabeth Taylor: A Place in the Sun.
But this version has much to recommend it. Except the sound. The sound is like what Singin’ in the Rain was parodying. Sound in motion pictures wasn’t yet refined, so everything in the pic, especially background noise, is loud and excruciating. In the courtroom scene when the D.A. pounds his fist on the bannister in front of the accused, the resounding thuds shook the walls. Meanwhile, whole sections of dialogue were hard to pick up. Just a quibble.
“A social climber charms a debutante, seduces a factory worker and commits murder.”
“An American Tragedy was remade in 1951 with Montgomery Clift in the role played here by Holmes but, while this version isn’t without its faults (which are due more to its age rather than any inherent flaws). it’s far superior to the Clift version, even though Griffith (or Eastman, as he was called in the later version), is a much more sympathetic character in the second movie. Holmes’s version is selfish and manipulative, and yet we never entirely lose some level of sympathy for him. Deep down he’s not a bad person, but he falls victim—like Roberta—to his own cowardice and weakness of character. These character flaws are gradually and painfully exposed during the trial, a lengthy sequence which was once one of the film’s strengths but which appears a little far-fetched and overacted today. The grandstanding acting style of Charles Middleton (Flash Gordon’s nemesis, Ming the Merciless) and Irving Pichel is a real drawback which isn’t helped by the way Samuel Hoffenstein’s screenplay call upon them to almost engage in fisticuffs. Overall though, An American Tragedy stands up well for its age.”
Dreiser’s work, and therefore the two films, was based on the real life murder of «Grace Brown by Chester Gillette» in an upper New York lake on 11-Jul-1906. Basically, amoral social climber from poor background seduces poor factory girl, gets her pregnant, wants to marry a rich socialite and so kills poor factory girl by smashing her in the head with his tennis racket and dumping her body in a lake, fakes a canoe accident, trips self up by being basically an idiot, dies in electric chair after mercy is refused by Governor Charles Evans Hughes.
Both movie versions were faithful to the book and real life, as far as these things go. The real life event could stand the Erik Larson deep dive nonfiction treatment, to see how and where Dreiser departed from events. For the 1931 film, Holmes manages to make you want to both hug him and strangle him. Sadly, Holmes’ extensive career, including an appearance in the Our Gange feature General Spanky, came to an end thanks to World War II. He had just completed flight training in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was being transferred from Winnipeg to Ottawa, when the transport he was riding in collided in mid air with another aircraft over Ontario. He was only 35.
Well, there’s not any from the movie, really. These are from the book:
“Clyde had a soul that was not destined to grow up. He lacked decidedly that mental clarity and inner directing application that in so many permits them to sort out from the facts and avenues of life the particular thing or things that make for their direct advancement.” “
An American Tragedy (book)
“And they were always testifying as to how God or Christ or Divine Grace had rescued them from this or that predicament—never how they had rescued any one else.”
“For in some blind, dualistic way both she and Asa insisted, as do all religionists, in disassociating God from harm and error and misery, while granting Him nevertheless supreme control. They would seek for something else—some malign, treacherous, deceiving power which, in the face of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, still beguiles and betrays—and find it eventually in the error and perverseness of the human heart, which God has made, yet which He does not control, because He does not want to control it.”
An American Tragedy. 1931. TCM. English. Josef von Sternberg, Hans Dreier (d). Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney, Frances Dee, Irving Pichel, Frederick Burton, Clair McDowell, Charles Middleton, Arnold Korff. (p). John Leipold, Ralph Rainger (m). Lee Garmes (c).
“Thieves’ Highway is a classic Noir tale of truckers and apples and greed and sex and San Francisco and California and highways and death.”
["Let me smoke your butt, Nick!" Valentina Cortese and Richard Conte in Thieves' Highway. Take that Bogie and Bacall!]
From 1949: «Thieves’ Highway». We weren’t really planning to watch, but were drawn in immediately. I think we had seen it before, but it’s been a long while. Glad we watched. Ironically, Valentina Cortese just passed away on 10-Jul of this year. Watching her performance here was fitting, and showed just how big of a loss was her passing.
Thieves’ Highway is a classic Noir tale of truckers and apples and greed and sex and San Francisco and California and highways and death. Besides the fabulous Valentina Cortese and Richard Conte, it features Lee J. Cobb in a dress rehearsal for his role in On the Waterfront, Jack Oakie and Millard Mitchell, who would be seen six years later in the classic Singin’ in the Rain, as the movie producer R.F. Simpson.
“Nick Garcos comes back from his tour of duty in World War II planning to settle down with his girlfriend, Polly Faber. He learns, however, that his father was recently beaten and burglarized by mob-connected trucker Mike Figlia, and Nick resolves to get even. He partners with prostitute Rica, and together they go after Mike, all the while getting pulled further into the local crime underworld.”
“Like the movie’s rattletrap trucks lurching down the highway as they carry way-too-heavy loads, the characters in Jules Dassin’s brilliantly volatile Thieves’ Highway struggle under psychological and moral baggage until they can lay their burdens down. Working from a novel and script by A.I. Bezzerides, Dassin made this swift, fluid melodrama in 1949, after Brute Force and The Naked City. … it has a rich sensuality all its own.
… “All the symbols in this movie are rock-hard and understated. The white military star on Nick’s truck makes a mute, omnipresent comment on postwar disillusion. And each time you hear “Golden Delicious,” the image it conjures of Olympian delight contrasts sardonically with the perils of the road and the savage competition of the San Francisco marketplace.”
Michael Sragow, The Criterion Collection
(I love how Sragow introduces Nico: “Garcos … has sailed around the world without ever getting worldly.” HA!)
He then notes the inner workings of the film and places it in context:
“Dassin … is just as deft as Kazan in Boomerang! (1947) or Panic in the Streets (1950) at using real locations for knifelike verisimilitude, then catching their most far-out and surprising emotional repercussions.” … “Dassin begins scenes with compositions that border on cliché–whether of a cheerful Fresno suburb or the bustling streets and crowded pier-side haunts of San Francisco’s marketplace. But each time, he punctures the cliché with cascades of complex details emerging spontaneously from the conflicted drives of the characters and the life-or-death stakes of their situations.”
Sragow, writing 1-Feb-05, then notes something that is culturally a hot button right now: toxic masculinity:
“Under Dassin’s direction, Conte here minted a fresh leading-man archetype-a rough-edged, virile naïf, containing equal amounts of violent distrust and gallantry. And Mitchell brings deep-grained orneriness to Ed, a summa cum laude from the school of hard knocks, willing to rook others to satisfy his sense of justice. What gives this movie its charge isn’t just the physical danger of the road and the injustice perpetrated when fixers like Figlia use dirty tricks on truckers and buyers—it’s the psychological drama of men tossed off balance by want and need as they strive to achieve equilibrium.” … “Ed pulls Nick out from under his truck after Nick botches a tire change and gets his face buried in sand. When the older man bandages his neck, and these two finally forge a bond, Nick mutters that passersby might get the wrong idea.”
Pretty advanced for 1949, but like the ending, it gets set right: Nothin’ but manly man hetero stuff … 1949’s equivalent of “No Homo.”
And just so we’re clear that Conte/Mitchell and Oakie/Pevney are just no homo bros, in comes Rico to keep the men manly. Curiously, she’s rather butch, both in her toughness and her physical, trenchcoat-wearing appearance. In fact she’s sporting a short Italian haircut (which would be the focus of an I Love Lucy episode in a few years), which accentuates her Italian “earthiness,” (also the focus of an I Love Lucy episode in a few years). AND her character was originally named “Tex.” (See the paragraph about Hope Emerson below for more on this stuff.) Sragow sums it up:
“Played by Valentina Cortese with dazzling emotional clarity and erotic warmth, she’s at once this film’s beating heart and the center of its existential concerns–she dares Nick to trust his instincts and trust her, despite her shady deal-making and background.”
The review is also interesting because it delves into the writing:
“Bezzerides’ writing at its peak boasts a dynamic blend of iconoclasm and bitterness–an ideal combination for the intersection of kinetics and moodiness that is film noir. … “Bezzerides objected to several alterations to his book and deplored the casting of Dassin’s then-girlfriend Cortese in a role originally called “Tex.” But in movie terms, he was incorrect on every count–to use his phrase, the only truly “chickenshit change” was a studio-inserted scene in which cops berate Nick for taking the law into his own hands. Cortese’s sometimes comical, sometimes poignant, always live-wire oomph makes this proletariat adventure unique and gives it the ravaged soul and earthy glamour of a demimonde romance. No gal in movies has ever looked sexier or more good-humored drying her hair after a shower. When Nick says Rica has “soft hands,” she says she has “sharp claws.” She uses them only to play tic-tac-toe on his chest–a fitting game for a film in which one false move can turn ethical and commercial triumph into disaster.”
In a shorter review, «John Chard» agrees with Sragow, and adds that the chicken shit ending, tacked on to appease the Production Code’s moralists, is ridiculous:
“Revenge, hope and desperation drives Dassin’s intelligently constructed noir forward. It’s a film very much interested in its characterisations as it doles out a deconstruction of the American dream. … Dassin and Bezzerides push a revenge theme to the forefront whilst deftly inserting from the sides the devils of greed and corruption of the California produce business. “The trucks’ journey is brilliantly captured by the makers, both exciting and exuding the menace of the hard slog for truckers. … [once in San Francisco] underhand tactics come seeping out and the appearance of prostitute Rica (Cortese) into Nico’s life adds a morally grey area that pings with sharp dialogue exchanges. Real location photography adds to the authentic feel of the story, and cast performances are quite simply excellent across the board. “The code appeasing ending hurts the film a touch, inserted against Dassin’s wishes, and there’s a feeling that it should have been more damning with the economic tropes; while the fact that Nico’s father is more concerned about being robbed of money than losing the use of his legs – is a bit strange to say the least. However, from a graveyard of tumbling apples to the fact that more than money is stolen here, Thieves’ Highway is sharp, smart and engrossing stuff.”
John Chard, TMDb
Sharp, smart, engrossing … and for us LGBTQ+ viewers, chock full of forbidden fruit.
We loved this one. Having spent many years in the Bay Area, we could relate to much of the scenery and sensibilities and subtext.
And speaking of subtext again, worth noting is the appearance of the wonderful Hope Emerson, a career character actor with a long list of credits, including Adam’s Rib in the same year as Thieves’ Highway. In Adam’s Rib, she played a very talented gymnast in a courtroom, in a role that noted both how big and butch she was, in an era when that kind of thing was invisible. She is somewhat the same in Thieves’ Highway, minus the gymnastics, as a very tough female fruit buyer. Dassin pretty much broke the Code in multiple ways throughout the movie; although the Code had the last say with its smarmy cop platitudinal lecturing about not taking the law in your own hands, the weight of his film said, “Nuts to you!” to the Code.
A good pairing for this would be The Grapes of Wrath, which starts with starving Okies hitting Route 66 in search of fruit picking work. Follow that with Thieves’ Highway and you get a clear picture of what it takes to get an apple off a tree into the teeth of someone wanting to cheat a doctor a day.
Sadly, much is unchanged in this process, except the grower, the picker, the trucker and the distributor-to-grocery-stores are all corporate behemoths and conditions may, if anything, be worse than 1940’s Grapes of Wrath and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway. We’ve let much slide since Reagan, who married anti-New Deal propaganda with our generation’s laziness and produced massive rollbacks of workers’ rights (and the current occupant of the White House), and our grandchildren will have to fight three times as hard as their ancestors between 1870 and 1950 did for decency, living wages, respect, clean air, clean water, and safe working conditions. Whether they will do it remains to be seen.
Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos: [to Rica] “You look like chipped glass.”
Nick: “Hey, do you like apples?” Rica: “Everybody likes apples, except doctors.” Nick: “Do you know what it takes to get an apple so you can sink your beautiful teeth in it? You gotta stuff rags up tailpipes, farmers gotta get gypped, you jack up trucks with the back of your neck, universals conk out.” Rica: “I don’t know what are you talking about, but I have a new respect for apples.”
Thieves Highway. 1949. TCM. English. Jules Dassin (d); A.I. Bezzerides (w); Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Lawrence, Jack Oakie, Millard Mitchell, Joseph Pevney, Morris Carnovsky, Tamara Shayne, Kasia Orzazewski, Norbert Schiller, Hope Emerson (p). Alfred Newman (m). Norbert Brodine (c).