Sunday, September 30, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: Rear Window

The Story: The month of September being a traditional month of doldrums at the movies, we here at BxC decided to brush some cob-webs off of "Don't Make a Scene" contenders that just never made it to the light of your monitor, for whatever reason. Either I just didn't get around to it (likely), took interest in another scene first (more likely) or just didn't have anything to say about it (most likely) other than "I loved this when I saw it," they didn't make "the cut."

This one (from Rear Window) I really don't have a comment other than I find it hilarious, not only for Thelma Ritter's performance in it—she was a great character actress (even if it only seemed like one character—"the wiseacre") who made the most comic potential out of her work without overdoing it—but for the fact that the dialog is terrific in the "don't bother me with facts" logic of it—everything ties together neatly in Rear Window's screenplay, and this speech is no exception with it's "I know what I seen" sense of certitude that the character of L.B. Jeffries will adopt later in the film (after expressing doubtfulness here). And the moral ambiguity of "peeping" is spelled out here at the beginning, because pretty soon, "peeping" is going to be an essential part of the plot, and it's going to become antithetical once Jeffries (and we) find it essential to getting answers...and stirring up trouble.

The Set-Up: L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a photographer whose insistence on taking chances to get "THE shot" has left him with a broken leg and a long rehabilitation in his brownstone apartment (with courtyard). Bored, he starts staring out his window across to his neighbors, who provide endless hours of fascination, much to the disgust of his nurse, Stella McGafferty (Thelma Ritter).


Jeff is seated in the foreground, in a waist shot.
Behind him, the entrance door to his apartment opens.
STELLA McGAFFERY comes in. She is a husky, unhandsome, dark-haired woman who is dressed like a district nurse, with dark coat, dark felt hat, with a white uniform showing underneath the coat. She carries a small black bag.
Stella pauses on the landing to watch Jeff. He doesn't appear to notice her entrance.
STELLA (Loud) The New York State sentence for a peeping Tom...
STELLA six months in the workhouse!
He doesn't turn.
JEFF Hello Stella.
As she comes down the stairs of the landing, holding on the wrought iron railing with one hand:
STELLA And there aren't any windows in the workhouse.
She puts her bag down on a table. It is worn, and looks as if it belongs more to a fighter than a nurse. She takes off her hat coat, and hangs them on a chair.
STELLA Years ago, they used to put out your eyes with a hot poker. Is one of those bikini bombshells you always watch worth a hot poker?
He doesn't answer. She opens the bag, takes out some medical supplies: a thermometer, a stop watch, a bottle of rubbing oil, a can of powder, a towel. She talks as she works.
STELLA We've grown to be a race of peeping Toms. What people should do is stand outside their own houses and look in once in a while.
(She looks up at him)
STELLA What do you think of that for homespun philosophy?
A look at his face shows he doesn't think much of it.
JEFF Readers' Digest, April, 1939.
STELLA Well, I only quote from the best.
She takes the thermometer out of its case, shakes it down. Looks at it. Satisfied, she walks to Jeff. She swings the wheelchair around abruptly to face her.
Jeff starts to protest.
JEFF Now look, Stella --
She shoves the thermometer into his mouth.
STELLA See it you can break a hundred.
As she leaves him holding the thermometer THE CAMERA PULLS BACK as she crosses to a divan. She takes a sheet from underneath, and covers the divan with it. Talking, all the time.
STELLA I shoulda been a Gypsy fortune teller, instead of an insurance company nurse. I got a nose for trouble -- can smell it ten miles away.(Stops, looks at him)
STELLA You heard of the stock market crash in '29?
Jeff nods a bored "yes."
STELLA I predicted it.
JEFF (Around thermometer) How?
Stella stops for a moment, and looks at Jeff challengingly.
STELLA Simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment they said. Nerves, I said. Then I asked myself -- what's General Motors got to be nervous about?
(Snaps her fingers)
STELLA Overproduction. Collapse, I answered. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day -- the whole country's ready to let go.
A patient, suffering look comes over his face. He takes out the thermometer.
JEFF Stella -- in economics, a kidney ailment has no relationship to the stock market. Absolutely none.
STELLA It crashed, didn't it?
Jeff has no answer. Defeated, he puts the thermometer back into his mouth.
Stella goes on with her work.
STELLA I can smell trouble right in this apartment. You broke your leg. You look out the window. You see things you shouldn't. Trouble. 
STELLA I can see you now, in front of the judge, flanked by lawyers in blue double-breasted suits. You're pleading, "Judge, it was only innocent fun. I love my neighbors like a father." --
STELLA The Judge answers, "Congratulations. You just gave birth to three years in Dannemora."
THE CAMERA PANS HER over to him. She takes out the thermometer, looks at it.
JEFF Right now I'd even welcome trouble.
STELLA (Flatly) You've got a hormone deficiency.
JEFF How can you tell that from a thermometer!
STELLA Those sultry sun-worshipers you watch haven't raised your temperature one degree in four weeks.

Rear Window

Words by John Michael Hayes

Pictures by Robert Burks and Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.

This scene begins at 06:24

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Air Force

Air Force (Howard Hawks, 1943) The day starts out like any other for the crew of the "Mary-Ann" the B-17 "Flying Fortress" no. 05564 of the 48th bomber wing out of Hamilton Field, California: they are assigned to fly to Hickam Field in Hawaii. The date, December 6, 1941.

They're a motley crew: The pilot is Michael Aloysius Quincannon (John Ridgley), his co-pilot Bill Williams (Gig Young) who's sweet on the sister of bombadier Tom McMartin (Arthur Kennedy); Monk Hauser Jr. (Charles Drake) is the navigator and son of a pilot from the Lafeyette Escadrille; master sergeant Robbie White (Harry Carey Sr.) is the crew-chief, aided and abetted by his assistant Weinberg (George Tobias) a native New Yorker (as he's only too glad to tell you); "Minnesota" Peterson (Ward Wood) is the radio operator and the rookie on the flight is his assistant, Private Chester (Ray Montgomery), who is wide-eyed, wet behind the ears, and only too eager to be on the plane; in marked contrast to him is gunner Joe Winocki (John Garfield) who was washed out of flight school by his instructor Quincannon and has no love for the air force...or the mission...or his pilot.

Winocki is the bad apple in the barrel. the fly in the ointment, the wrench in the works. Hawks likes his groups to run like well-oiled machines, but there's no drama without a bit of sand in the gears. Winocki doesn't really fit in, or his attitude doesn't allow him to fit in. 
His bitterness informs his posture and every remark that comes out of his mouth. He grates. He's an outsider (self-imposed) that goes against the grain of the collective. He's not a professional, that important term in the world of Howard Hawks, and if he's going to fit in—become part of the crew—he'll have to change, and in a turn-around that would impress Sergeant York.
He even has a crack on his lips in the most dramatic part of the movie—when the crew gets in radio-range of Hawaii, they hear, instead of landing instructions from the tower...nothing. A turn of the frequency and they intercept Japanese radio transmissions backed by the sound of gunfire. "Who're you listening to...Orson Welles?" he snears, before White shuts him up.

No. They're listening to Pearl Harbor, dying.
Quincannon and the other pilots get through to Hickam, enough for them to warm them off to land somewhere else. The squadron splits up, and "The Mary-Ann" makes its way to Maui, but not before they make a pass over the Harbor at Oahu and gaze out their windows at the devastation. The shots of the carnage are overhead shots of burning models. Far more representative are the darkened faces of the crew, their faces only illuminated from the fires below as they look out in disbelief.
It's a bit surreal, almost "Twilight Zone-ish:" taking off near San Francisco, the U.S. was at peace, and seven hours across the Pacific later, they're landing in the middle of a war they weren't expecting and, not having any armaments on these flights, for which they're unprepared. And under the worst of conditions. The Maui area on which Quincannon makes his landing isn't an airfield, it's just bare ground and the landing is inelegant and damaging, impairing one of their landing gear. The crew gets out, and split up—determined not to be stuck there, one group sets about to fix the gear, while Williams and Hauser do a little scouting of the vicinity. What they find, unfortunately are Japanese snipers who follow them to the B-17 and start firing on it—there's just enough time to get back in the air and head back for Hickam.
The airfield is a jumble of destruction, but the crew get ample opportunity to get intel, visit McMartin's sister who was injured in the attack, and pick up some mail from the soldiers to get home, and a fighter pilot Lt. "Tex" Rader (James Brown), who was involved in that accident, winning him the suspicions of McMasters and Williams. Then they have to get to Wake Island. On the way, they listen to President Roosevelt declare war on Japan, determine that McMasters sister will pull through. But, the reception at Wake isn't warm, Wake knows that their time is limited before they're overrun; they want the "Mary-Ann" off the island and in the air to the Philippines.
Williams and Quincannon listening to the declaration of war.
They take mail from Wake and one piece of contraband—a dog named "Tripoli" which has a running gag that the mutt barks every time he hears the name "Moto." Of course, it's against regulations, but the crew warms to the dog, even rigging up an oxygen mask for it when they get to higher altitudes. They then finish their grueling odyssey of "7,000 consecutive miles" to land at Clark Field in Manila, where the news is grim, and the "Mary-Ann" becomes involved in aerial combat for the first time on their journey...and in the war.
The third act is mostly action, for the first time in the film. Overall, the emphasis is less on combat—in these early days of the war—but more on perseverance despite hardship, playing on the American self-image of "stick-to-itiveness" that allows them to last no matter how much punishment they take. In that way, Air Force is a companion piece to They Were Expendable, John Ford's tribute to the Navy during the darkest days of the Pacific war, where victory is uncertain, but survival is the nearest thing to victory that can be achieved. Certainly, it added to recruitment efforts with its gung-ho spirit and its dramatic manipulations to seek revenge.
Of course, you expect that in a war film—while the war is going on, and certainly from movies of that time period. The basis of Air Force has its roots in some reality—there really was a a squad of B-17's that flew out of San Francisco to the Philippines on December 6th only to find their first stop at Pearl Harbor destroyed. The rest of the movie is fanciful, and even extends to outright lies about "treacherous" Japanese citizens forming sniper squads and using vegetable trucks at Pearl Harbor to damage planes on the ground (the Japanese bombers had an easy enough time of that as the planes were all grouped together on the ground—take out one and you took out a lot of them). There weren't any fifth columnists in Hawaii, not one—only victims of the attack. But fear, rumor, and suspicion make better stories than truth. All of those elements led to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II—but only on the West Coast extending out to Salt Lake City. Truth is usually the first casualty of a war.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Dawn Patrol (1930)

The Dawn Patrol (aka "Flight Commander")(Howard Hawks, 1930) Howard Hawks was a director-producer adept at many genres of film—adventure, detective (including noir), gangster, comedy, musical, even sci-fi—but what is surprising is that Hawks rarely made a war film, despite having a style-template that would prove a natural of that genre—a Hawks film usually features a disparate collection of individuals from different backgrounds and different attitudes coming together with a common goal. That summation forms the basis of most war films that one could name, but from other film-makers taking the Hawks play-book as its core. Hawks wasn't interested in war, he was interested in the challenges of creation, of the challenge itself and achieving a goal, not destruction. For Hawks, as evidenced by omission, war seemed to be a waste...and a waste of time. Even during World War II, when Hollywood was cranking out war films, Hawks made only one of his three—Air Force, which told the story of a "lost" flight that takes off with the United States at peace and lands with the United States under attack.* And when he did make war films, they were different—Sergeant York celebrated an American hero who did not want to go to war, Air Force about the challenges when the world has changed and there's no infrastructure. And The Dawn Patrol—1930 edition—is about the brotherhood of pilots at the dawn of flight who are learning the nuances of fighting in the air...but are being decimated by a combination of bureaucratic impatience and incompetence and...not giving a damn. 
A war film that celebrates the bravery of the fighters while also decrying the waste that sends them to an early grave? That's an anti-war film.

Remember The Dawn Patrol? Eight years earlier, Howard Hawks made the first version during the "Pre-Code" era, based on a story by John Monk Saunders and his own experiences as an aviation instructor during the first World War—Hawks piloted and appeared as one of the German fighters in this film—so impressive were the aerial scenes of the Hawks version that many of the flying sequences were directly incorporated into the remake. But, there are differences, although the story is basically the same.
Mostly, it's a difference in how it is played. The Erroll Flynn-David Niven-Basil Rathbone version is a bit more larky, and the relationships between Richard Barthlemess, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Neil Hamilton (playing the same characters) are quite a bit different, particularly in the character of Major Brand. Rathbone plays him with a stiff upper lip and a martinet's cool. But, Hamilton's Brand is a man snapping under pressure, and although the actor's playing of it is (to put it charitably) over the top, it speaks more to the point of the film's central theme—although the pilots are the targets, it is Brand who is in the barrel, fighting a battle he cannot win and only seeing casualties, confronted with it every day, ("It's a slaughterhouse out there and I'm the executioner!") paying the price for overseeing a revolving door of death which he must oversee.
The film begins with a foreword: "The late Fall of 1915 in France, when a great country was forced to entrust its salvation to youth -- painfully young, inexperienced, bewildered--but gloriously reckless with patriotism -- proud and eager to rush hopelessly into combat against the veteran warriors of the enemy."

That's the last we'll hear in the movie of patriotism. The rest will be personal honor and respect among the fliers extended even to the enemy who salute the pilots they shoot down. And, as in Only Angels Have Wings, little to no time is wasted on sentimentality—mourning is bad taste and bad for morale—instead, the dead are celebrated in impromptu wakes at the aerodrome's bar, which does a steady business long into the night.
The conflict is done less in the air and against the enemy as it is against "the system." In a dark page out of "Catch-22," the aerial missions are usually dangerous—the pilots are targets for anti-aircraft guns and the German fliers on the other side determined to shoot them down. There are inevitable casualties among the fliers, and replacements are called upon to replace them.

Those recruits become increasingly younger and less experienced. And the main conflict that Richard Barthlemess' Courtney has with Brand is that the new kids are sent into the air with absolutely no training for the missions, making them easy targets and to the veteran pilot's mind unnecessary ones. But Brand is under orders to send them up as soon as possible and his vehement protests are ignored by the commanders giving the orders over the telephone, not even making an appearance so close to the front lines.
It is the unseen commanders that Hawks obviously has the most contempt for, and sees as the real enemy of the war, above even the Germans on the other side. Years later, in The Big Sleep, Hawks would have Bogart's version of Philip Marlowe bitterly curl his broken lip when describing a high society gangster as "a killer by remote control"—unwilling to take responsibility or get his hands or reputation dirty by doing the act himself. Hawks doesn't even give the officers and generals any screen-time, allowing their voices to be heard over the phone—they're not even there—just emotionless button-pushers with no regard for the fliers they send to their death, and have no repercussions for their actions.
Brand cracks under the pressure and strain, but that doesn't stop him being promoted, and taunting Courtney that, as senior pilot, he has been chosen to replace him, so that he can be placed in the same impossible bind of his adversary. That "promotion" will also separate him from the other fliers, as he is now seen as responsible for the deaths that the pilots regularly drink to forget. 

One could say that Courtney, too, "cracks" under the strain of the job, but in an entirely different, "professional" manner that Hawks would approve of, solving a problem that his duties demand of him, but not the essential one of a conflict that wastes lives and talent that would seem intolerable to a director who chose to celebrate life, even in the darkest of times.

* Hawks did make Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper before the attack on Pearl Harbor—sailors at Pearl were watching it on December 6th—but Hawks was hired as director in a project he didn't initiate and at the behest of Gary Cooper. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Plimpton: Shootout at Rio Lobo

I've been doing very little of these "A-V Department" posts, because one of the things I wanted to do with this particular movie blog is to keep it "pure," just writing—and not filling it with, well, "filler," because I needed to put a post up and a YouTube video is handy.

But, this television special I remember from my youth, featuring Walter Mitty-ish writer George Plimpton doing hour long specials about his "tough jobs" kind of journalism which were the staple of his writings.

In this one, he does some acting—he actually would do more later in his career, usually playing foppish intellectual caricatures—in a bit part in a John Wayne western. 

Well, not just any "John Wayne western"—this one is being directed by Howard Hawks, the last movie he would make, in fact, Rio Lobo, which is sort of the third of his "variations of a theme on Rio Bravo." In fact, the story goes that when Hawks approached Wayne about it, Wayne asked "Do I get to play the drunk this time?"

I've got a couple posts about Hawks coming up, and I thought it might be nice for you to see the man in action.

The video may start out annoyingly for some as it still has the color bars and 1 k tone at the beginning of the video. The show actually starts about 26 seconds in.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: Casino Royale

The Set-up: Life is tough enough for a "00" agent given their short life expectancy. James Bond (Daniel Craig), for instance, has just survived a sprinting fire-fight at a high-rise construction site, a shoot-'em-up at an Embassy, getting blown up at an airport and dressed down by his boss, "M" (Dame Judi Dench). And he's just started the job! Now, this is more like it: a quick bullet-train ride to Montenegro to take part in a high-stakes poker game with a representative of a particularly active terrorist cell. But first he has to meet his assets—in the form of Treasury Agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who starts out skeptical of the whole scheme, and only becomes more so when she meets the man the government is betting on to bet well. She's skeptical. And he's...well, he's unrepentently Bond.* So much for taking it easy.

The verbal jousting that these two characters engage in does not make the trip any less bumpy, as they question, cajole, psycho-analyze, and spar over a dinner where egos seem to be the main entree. Such crackling dialogue scenes are few and far between in Bond films where the words might just as well be the directions to get from the ski chase to the boat chase to the car chase. Here the stakes are laid out, the rules and strategy briefly mentioned, and the flinty relationship between Bond and Vesper becomes established. And where there's flint there's sure to be flame. 

2013 Addendum:  Several things having to do with time and tide. This was the fourth DMAS I'd ever done ('way back in 2008), so I took some liberties with the original post. Not every single edit was captured, nor placed in the dialogue where the edits occurred. Back then, I wasn't very strict about these things, just wanting to present a taste of it, the scene and its dialogue were the most important things. So, I've added extra screen-caps (you'll notice the difference—I used to brighten them as my original in-tower-DVD player would darken and dull them a bit—but it's been years since I've done that and the new ones are untouched), as, some of the most important parts of this conversation are in reaction shots that are very precisely cut by editor Stuart Baird, as Bond and Vesper react to the respective jabs across the table...and react to the reactions. 

Also, there's an explict edit in the "watch" discussion of the scene. The Bond's have always used product placement as a way to defray costs (and "keep it in the real world" *ahem* artistically) but this mention of Omega watches...and also, curiously, Rolex, a competitor...was mentioned in Morgan Spurlock's feature-length screed Pom Wonderful Presents, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. "There's a special level of Hell for film-makers who do that," he opined.

Vesper Lynd: (walks in unannounced and sits down across from Bond): I'm the money.
James Bond: (surveys her and smiles): Every penny of it!
Vesper(giving him her business card): The treasury has agreed to... 
Vesper: ...stake you in the game.
Bond (reads it): Vesper. Well, I do hope you gave your parents hell for that.
Vesper:(Takes menu from waiter): Thank you. 
Vesper: Your boss must be well connected. I’ve never...
Vesper: ...seen so much go out the door so quickly.
Bond: Or quite so stylishly. 
Bond: May I ask where it is?
Vesper: 10 million was wired to your account in Montenegro, with a contingency for five more if I deem it a prudent investment. I suppose...
Vesper:’ve given some thought to the notion that if you lose, our government will have directly financed terrorism.
(Bond's smile drops)
Vesper: What looks good?
(Transition, until later that evening.)
Vesper: So you’re telling me it’s a matter of probability and odds. I was worried there was some chance involved.
Bond: ...only if you assume that the player with the best hand wins.
Vesper: So that would be what you call “bluffing.”
Bond: You’ve heard the term...
Bond: Then you’ll...
Bond: ...also know that in poker you never play the hand, you play the man across from you.
Vesper: And you’re good at reading people. Bond: Yes, I am. 
Bond: Which is why I’ve been able to detect an undercurrent of sarcasm in your voice.
Vesper: Now I’m assured our money is in good hands.
Bond: You don’t think this is a very good plan, do you?
Vesper: So there is a plan. I got the impression we were risking millions of dollars and... 
Vesper: ...hundreds of lives on a game of luck. What else can your surmise, Mr. Bond?
Bond: About you, Miss Lynd? Well, your beauty’s a problem.
Bond: You worry you won’t be taken seriously.
Vesper: Which one can say of any attractive woman with half a brain.
Bond: True, but this one overcompensates by wearing slightly masculine clothing, 
Bond: ...being more aggressive than her female colleagues,
Bond: ...which gives her a somewhat prickly demeanor and, ironically enough, makes it less likely for her to be accepted
Bond: ...and promoted by her male superiors who mistake her insecurities for arrogance.
Bond: Now, I’d have normally gone with “only child,” but, uh, you see, by the way you ignored the quip about your parents...
Bond: ...I’m going to have to go with “orphan.”
(She's pissed, but determined not to show it, but her following remarks are cutting)
Vesper: Alright. By the cut of your suit you went to Oxford or wherever, naturally think that human beings dress like that.
Vesper:  But you wear it with such disdain...
Vesper: guess is you didn’t come from money and your school-friends never let you forget it.
Vesper: Which means you were at that school by the grace of someone else’s charity, hence the chip on your shoulder. And since your first thought about me ran to “orphan,” that is what I’d say you are.
Vesper: Oh, you are! I like this poker thing. And that makes perfect sense. Since MI6 looks for maladjusted young men that give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect Queen and country.
Vesper: You know…former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches...
Vesper: Rolex?
Bond: Omega. Vesper: Beautiful.
Vesper: Now, having just met you, I wouldn’t go as far as calling you a cold-hearted bastard.
Bond: No, of course not.
Vesper: But it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine you think of women as disposable pleasures
Vesper: ...rather than meaningful pursuits. 
Vesper: So, as charming as you are, Mr. Bond, I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money, and off your perfectly-formed arse.
Bond: You noticed.
Vesper: Even accountants have imagination. How was your lamb?
Bond: Skewered. One sympathizes.
Vesper(she gets up to leave): Good evening, Mr. Bond.
Bond: Good evening, Miss Lynd.
He watches her leave the compartment, then chuckles ruefully.

Casino Royale

Words by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and Paul Haggis

Pictures by Phil Meheux and Martin Campbell

Casino Royale is available on DVD through Sony Home Video.

* And, of course, what that means has changed with the actor and the decade. Craig sits there and takes it, knowing he's dished it out. Connery in the 60's would have slapped her fanny and dismissed her. Moore in the 70's would have raised an eyebrow and been passive-aggressive. Dalton would have sulked. Brosnan would have sulked, then adjusted his tie and checked his hair. Lazenby would have asked for a line-reading.