I went down to the New Beverly to check out The Sand Pebbles, a 1966 film starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborogh, Candace Bergen, Richard Crenna, Mako, and featuring my pal James Hong.
The print was striped with 4 track magnetic sound, and it did sound great, a lot of dynamics, and an extended frequency range. The score sounded incredible, (Jerry Goldsmith) and there was a lot of music in this film. The print was pretty faded so it was kind of like watching a Black and White film with pink overtones, every once in a while a bit of color would appear but after a minute back to pinkville.
The Great James Hong as Shu
I had never seen the film before and this 3 hour and 15 minute version (complete with intermission) is longer than the regular release. A Road Show Print was usually longer or had mag tracks or maybe was struck from the original negative. These were screened at big venues, NYC, Chicago, LA. before the film went into wide release. Now I am not sure what scenes were included in this version that were left out of the regular release but I have a feeling that there was more engine room footage in this long version. Why? Because there is a 20 minute sequence of Steve McQueen lovingly working on the steam powered ship’s engine and it is great!
McQueen was a motor nut, racing cars, motorcycles and amassing a huge collection of both. I think he really identified with Jake Holman, the character he’s portraying. One of the best scenes in the movie is a tense sequence of repairing the massive engine, a tour de force of suspense. McQueen’s company, Solar Productions co-produced the film and I think he had a lot of say as to what went into the final product. It feels like a personal film for McQueen. Maybe the fascination with machines, with the mechanics of things says something about McQueen’s world view.
There is also a great battle scene as the ship (The San Pablo) runs a barricade in the Yangtze River. Great stuff.
I relly liked a scene in a chapel where Richard Attenborogh marries his Chinese girlfriend Maily while McQueen and Candace Bergen look on. Something about that scene, the way it’s staged, it just feels like a movie scene from another era, but in a good classical way.
Robert Wise does a great job directing this film. He directed classics in so many genres, a great filmmaker. William Reynolds, a super editor cut it. I met him once at Genghis Cohen, an L.A. Chinese restaurant, having lunch with his crew. A good friend of mine, another great editor Bud Smith, worked with McQueen on the television show Wanted:Dead or Alive. He and McQueen bonded, both were avid motorcyclists and car racers. They spent time riding in the SoCal desert. And if you ever find yourself at Casa Bianca, waiting for a tomato pie, look on the wall. There amidst the many celebrity 8X10’s is a picture of Steve McQueen from Wanted:Dead or Alive. I guess he was a fan of their pizza too.
This reminds me of a scene in a cool Italian film Grazie Zia, check that out too.Read all about it here. It also reminds me of a play I saw at the Public Theater in NYC. The Mabou Mines production of a Samuel Beckett Radio Play The Lost Ones. Man it was cool, more about that later.
Sorry for the late writeup but GO to ReCat and see Cineastas this weekend before it’s gone. An amazing cast of very talented actors put on a complex cycle of tales that spin at the vortex of Film and Life. Creative, Moving and very funny, this show will give you a lot to think about long after it’s 1 hour 45 minute existence. Staged on a double decker set the virtuoso cast slips in and out of roles effortlessly, sharing Voice Over status and moving from real person to figment of one of the real persons imaginations, from character in a filmmakers work to filmmaker or character in the filmmakers life. A snapshot of a creative moment in Argentina that will resonate around the globe. Check it out!
Here’s a noir bombshell from1949. Byron Haskin directed it, he was a special effects guy at Warner Bros. and later directed The War Of The Worlds for George Pal. He also directed some of the best episode of The Outer Limits, Demon with A Glass Hand, and The Architects of Fear. Hunt Stromberg produced this “cookie full of Arsenic”. He had a long run as a successful producer at MGM, he came up under Thalberg and worked with Selznick, then he got into a beef with Louis B. Mayer and went independent. This is one of his independent creations. The script was by Roy Huggins, based on his novel and it’s a winner, great characters, excellent dialog, everything top notch except the very end, oh well. Huggins went on to be a giant among TV creators/Producers with such shows as The Fugitive, Run For Your Life and The Rockford Files.
But the real heroes of this opus are Lisabeth Scott as the one of the coldest killers ever to grace the silver screen and Dan Duryea, the slime king. Best known for slapping women onscreen, the poster for this film is Dan slapping Lisabeth! They marketed the film on his woman beater appeal.
I have a theory about noir, WWII is over, soldiers are returning home, a lot of G.I.s got Dear John letters, their wives left them while they were at war. Tokyo Rose would broadcast stories of infidelity by Statebound brides to the soldiers overseas. This led to the creation of the Noir Femme Fatale, the false female, who’ll smile , seduce, and kill without missing a beat, sure they can turn on the waterworks, shed tears at the drop of a hat, but underneath, all business. So here is the returning soldier’s nightmare come true. What’s the one thing a desperate soldier, far from home could think about to give himself some relief from killing, mayhem, explosions? Little Sally Jean, the girl he left swinging on the garden gate. What if Tokyo rose was right? She’s evil, corrupted. His dreams are all Lies! Well, here she is, the beautiful blonde with the morals of a scorpion. Lisabeth Scott is amazing in this film. She turns from a bitchy but seemingly happily married woman in an instant all because of money, the old do re mi, a lot of it that drops in her lap. I don’t want to ruin the story but there are some depraved scenes of her and Dan Duryea getting it on just because he can make her do it, they hate each other! It’s deliciously perverse! According to Eddie Muller, the czar of noir, almost all of the budget went to the two big stars, they were worth it!
It was later re-released under this title
So the production of the film was low budget, a lot of the action takes place in Scott’s apartment but it makes the film psycologically more real in a way. You feel trapped in that nest of evil. There are some scenes in Dan Duryea’s flop, it’s perfect as the dump a small time creepy crook would hang his hat in. Another couple of great locations are Union Station, maybe the most beautiful building still left in L.A. and the lake at McArthur Park, called WestLake Park in the movie. A one time high rent district that’s now kind of funky. Silent Film director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his bungalow just around the corner. Anyway the film is in poor shape, Eddie’s Noir Foundation did a restoration with UCLA but I don’t think that’s out on video yet so you have to make do with what’s available. But next time it screens at the Noir Festival, I will be there.
Here’s the best looking Youtube version I could find.
I’m in an animation frame of mind these days. Here’s Oskar Fischinger’s onlyHollywood Studio comissioned film. An Optical Poem. It’s pretty amazing cosidering it’s cut out paper circles and other shapes moved along wires frame by frame. Fischinger was a pioneer in creating visual music, abstract visual music and a huge influence on many animators like Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, the Vortex group, light shows etc. I knew Harry Smith when he lived at the Chelsea Hotel in NYC. He told me he went down to L.A. to meet Fischinger in the 50’s.They had a hamburger at a diner and were very engrossed in a discussion of abstract animation when a fed up waitress told them to “get a room” at a nearby motel. Fischinger was outraged! I guess the waitress misinterpreted their passion for Visual Music for something else.
Here’s Harry Smith’s homage to Fischinger.
Harry Smith outside the Chelsea
More Polish animation from the great Jan Lenica! Visual poetry, so simple yet evocative, funny, moving. The supergraphic talents of Mr. Lenica are on full display here, it’s like some of his genius movie posters come to life. Also the music is amazing, so cool, and the sound design is excellent , kind of Jaques Tati, Alan Splet, David Lynch sensibility. Check it ouT!
OK here’s a weird one for you fans of Film Forno. Charlie Chan At Treasure Island, actually a pretty cool movie, directed by the super genius of genre filmmaking Norman Foster. Foster directed the amazing Mr. Moto films with Peter Lorre, also Zorro Tv show for Disney, episodes of Batman, and was greatly admired by boy genius Orson Welles , who brought him to RKO to work on some projects. Anyway it turns out that this film was a favorite of the infamous Zodiac killer of San Francisco. According to a book on Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, Leigh Allen (Graysmith has pegged him as Zodiac) loved this film as a boy. It takes place in San Francisco, it features a villan named Dr. Zodiac, who answers the phone ” This is Zodiac speaking.”
And Chan says of him” is not ordinary criminal. He is a man of great ego. Criminal egoist find pleasure in laughing at police.” Words that fit the later Zodiac exactly! The Treasure Island in the title was a man made island north of Yerba Buena Island, constructed for the 1939 S.F. World’s Fair.
But even without the strange Zodiac connection the film is worth checking out. Very atmospheric and featuring Ceasar Romero who would later play the Joker on TV’s Batman, maybe re-uniting with Norman Foster as well.
Here is the trailer for a documentary I saw on Netflix. It examines the relationship between Truffaut and Godard and places it in a historical context. It’s very informative and worth watching. It ends without touching on a very interesting point though, late in life after these two geniuses were on the outs, hadn’t spoken in years, Godard wrote to Truffaut. He need to sell Breathless, his breakthrough film, to raise money for a new project. The only problem was Truffaut had written the scenario and was therefore a part owner of the film. Godard needed him to sign off on the sale which Truffaut did, helping out the former friend that he now “hated”. If you are interested in the New Wave of 50+ years ago, check it out.
I found this on Youtube. It’s a great story and more common than you would think. Hollywood logistics. But Rey is excellent in the role, the contrast between the sophisticated European enjoying a gourmet meal while Popeye is outside in the rain on stakeout, drinking bad coffee is delicious. So hats off to Friedkin for being open to making a mistake work for him. an important tool in the bag of tricks of any artist.
Look at this amazing color still from the production of Touch Of Evil, how cool, it makes it seem like it could be happening today not 57 years ago. That alley is probably still there in Venice, CA. Everybody talks about the opening shot, which I love, but the shot that also blows my mind is in the love nest apartment, where Quinlan plants the dynamite in the bathroom, check that out, it’s another very, very long take and the overlapping dialog plays like a radio play. It’s so masterfully done you don’t realize you’ve just watched a 5 minute take (or whatever legnth it is.) Watch it with the sound off then you can pay attention to the staging, there’s a lot of off camera dialog that directs your attention outside the frame. As Claude Chabrol said”Off screen dialog is extremely powerful.”
Another side note, I recently re-watched Godards Alphaville, Akim Tamiroff is in it as well as Toch Of Evil. In TOE he winds up dead with his tongue grotesquely protruding from his mouth, in Alphaville he keeps sticking out his tongue in the scene in his hotel room with the Seductress 3rd class and Lemmy Caution. Did Godard direct him to do that as a reference to TOE? The Cahiers du Cinema gang were the first to praise Welles movie as a masterpiece, the studio didn’t like it. He was a bit too far ahead of his time once again.