June 23, 2015


After the conclusion of WWII, the subject of the returning soldier became a popular one in B-movies, with the image of a dazed G-man wandering desolate back alleys becoming cinematic shorthand for post-traumatic stress. While the prestige pics explored how the soldiers’ physical toll left psychological scars (The Best Years of Our Lives, Pride of the Marines), the Bs were blunter in opting for amnesiac narratives, in which the veterans have lost all memory of their war efforts, and have to piece it back together, usually in a labyrinthine urban environment (Somewhere in the NightThe Crooked Way). These stories usually find a way to reconstitute these broken men and integrate them back into America. The Clay Pigeon (1949) is a particularly effective film noir of this type, directed by Richard Fleischer from a Carl Foreman script for RKO, soon after Howard Hughes took over. Released by the Warner Archive on DVD this month, its post-war America is one of paranoia and betrayal, where one is guilty until proven innocent.


Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakens from a coma in a San Diego hospital to feel a blind man’s hands around his throat. “I just want to find out what a dirty traitor looks like”, the man says, and Jim is thrust into the mystery of his life. He remembers nothing after his internment in a Japanese prison, nor why the staff of the military hospital treats him with disdain. He asks his nurse, “Is the war over?” She responds, “For some people it’ll never be over.” Fletcher is set to be court-martialed for the the torture killing of his friend and fellow-soldier Mark Gregory. Unaware of his own guilt, Fletcher stumbles into an escape, and searches for the truth to his past, dragging along Gregory’s widow Martha (Barbara Hale) and his army buddy Jim Niles (future director Richard Quine). In San Francisco he spots his Japanese prison guard, who seems to be connected to a larger conspiracy fronted by a U.S. business.


Richard Fleischer and Carl Foreman had first collaborated on So This is New York (1948) , the debut film for Stanley Kramer Productions, in which Foreman was a partner. Fleischer was under contract to RKO, having only made two Sharyn Moffett cute-kid moppet movies up until that point. But Kramer had admired the first of those, Child of Divorce (1946), and one of the co-screenwriters, Hubert Baker, was a school friend from Yale. The head of RKO’s B unit, Sid Rogell, had nothing for Fleischer to do after the second Moffett film, Banjo (1947), bombed at the box office. So he lent Fleischer to Kramer to direct their Ring Lardner adaptation, So This is New York. Fleischer describes his relationship with Foreman in his autobiography, Just Tell Me When to Cry:

When So This is New York was finished and I had returned to RKO serfdom, there was a long hiatus for the Kramer Company, and Carl needed a job. He had an idea for an original story called The Clay Pigeon, and I convinced Rogell to hire him to develop it into a screenplay. Carl and I both lived in the San Fernando Valley at that time, so we drove to and from work together every day. It was on one of those drives that Carl came up with an interesting suggestion. He said, “Look, since we have to spend almost two hours a day in the car, why don’t we use that time to develop a story idea I’ve got in mind?” …So over the next eight weeks, Carl and I developed the story and characters for High Noon. When the script of The Clay Pigeon was finished, Rogell called me into his office. “This is pretty poor stuff,” he said…”I don’t think your friend is going to amount to much as a writer.” He then proceeded to replace the future author of such screenplays as High Noon, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone with Lilly Hayward, the author of Banjo. My RKO contract eventually kept me from directing High Noon, although I did get to do The Clay Pigeon. It was not what could be called a good trade-off.

Just Tell Me When to Cry is one of the more self-deprecating director autobiographies you’ll read, as he’s always quick to run down his own career. So though he contextualizes The Clay Pigeon as a stepping stone of Foreman’s way to High Noon, it’s a worthy film in its own right.


Fleischer disorients us from the beginning, opening with a shot of a blind man’s hands ready to grasp Fletcher’s throat. Foreman’s script keeps the audience as equally in the dark as Fletcher – where even a sainted figure as the army nurse is antagonistic. Star Bill Williams still has the baby fat good-boy look of an approved American hero, so it’s jarring to see him as an accused war criminal, shown early on throwing Martha around in an attempt to stifle her screams. He is only trying to quiet her to beg his innocence, but in these early scenes there still exists an edge of danger, proof that extremes of violence do hide inside of him. Bill Williams was an athlete and performer from a young age, a professional swimmer and later an exhibition diver and Vaudeville adagio dancer. He enlisted in the Army and was discharged for medical reasons. He seems unusually stiff in his movements here, betraying his hoofer past, but he had been recovering from a back injury and had not acted in a year (his most enduring role was as the title character of the tv series The Adventures of Kit Carson).

the clap pigeon 1949

The turning point in Fletcher’s investigation is the appearance of Ken Tokoyama (Richard Loo) in San Francisco, who was the most vicious guard at the prison camp Fletcher and his unit were kept in. His presence triggers Fletcher’s memory and solves the mystery of his own guilt. This could easily have devolved into a racist narrative justifying the internment of Asian-Americans during WWII, but Foreman was a political progressive, at one time a card carrying Communist who would later refuse to testify in front of HUAC, and undercuts it with a moving scene of Japanese-American integrity. As Fletcher is running from both a criminal syndicate and the police, he rushes inside a city apartment, and begs the woman there to hide him. Helen Minoto (Marya Marco) is a Japanese-American war widow, with her decorated late husband’s photo displayed prominently on the mantelpiece. She speaks without the insulting accent of most Asians in Hollywood films, and chooses to hide him because she can tell the thugs outside are not cops. When Fletcher tells her he cannot thank her enough, she simply says, “then don’t try”, and escorts him out. It is a scene that movingly depicts the contributions of Japanese-Americans to the US war effort at the same time they were being persecuted at home.

Fleischer and Foreman might prefer you forget this relatively unknown programmer from 1949, which does indeed end by putting Fletcher together again and thrusting him back into the expected narrative of postwar American life (wife and expected child), but The Clay Pigeon is worth remembering for the steely look on Marya Marco’s face as she directs Bill Williams out the door, a secret smile crawling across her face, treating the tragedies that surround her as one grand, private joke.


March 11, 2014


After Howard Hughes purchased RKO Pictures in 1948, the release slate was severely curtailed. Of the forty-nine features planned for 1949, only twelve were made, three of which were directed by Richard Fleischer. Fleischer had started as a title writer at RKO’s Pathe News division, but had worked his way up to B-movie director, specializing in the dark crime tales later described as “film noir.” The influence of his brief reportorial experience is visible on the big screen, his thrillers notable for their detached, observational qualities, with the emphasis less on the individual cops and robbers but on the routines and processes that feed their institutions. His three RKO features in ’48 were The Clay Pigeon (an amnesiac mystery), Follow Me Quietly (a serial killer procedural) and Make Mine Laughs (a collection of filmed vaudeville bits co-directed with Hal Yates). His work evaded Hughes’ attention, with Fleischer receiving “no interference from anyone” that year, though his luck would run out soon. He completed his most famous noir, The Narrow Margin, in 1950, though Hughes would delay its release until ’52 (he was hoping to remake it with bigger stars). Witnessing the constricting impact Hughes was having on RKO, Fleischer rented out his services to Eagle-Lion, an even lower-budgeted concern that was originally a distribution arm for British productions. Trapped is the fourth Fleischer film from 1949, the story of an imprisoned counterfeiter (Lloyd Bridges) who pretends to turn informer to secure his freedom. It’s Eagle-Lion’s attempt to recreate the financial success of their own 1947 hit T-Men, directed by Anthony Mann. It screened last weekend at Anthology Film Archives in NYC, part of a Fleischer retrospective programmed by critics Nicolas Rapold and Nick Pinkerton, part of their Overdue series on neglected films.


Eagle-Lion was founded in 1946 by British movie impresario J. Arthur Rank and railroad tycoon Robert Young to expand distribution of their respective production concerns. Rank wanted more stateside exposure for his veritable monopoly of British features, and Young was seeking worldwide distribution for his Poverty Row outfit PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Eagle-Lion would distribute Rank’s pictures in the U.S., while Rank would facilitate getting Young’s movies into Europe and points east. The stateside operation was managed by Arthur Krim (later of United Artists), who fostered a secondary B-movie unit as an additional income stream to the Rank-Young films. His first slate of releases flopped, which Krim attributed to their investment in big name actors. His explanation, as quoted in Tino Balio’s United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry:

We made mistakes the first year by taking on players who added nothing to the box office. As a result, we made films that were costlier than they had to be because we wanted names. Later, we learned these names meant little or nothing when the film reached theatres.

Another unstated difficulty was getting their movies into theaters in the first place. The antitrust Paramount Decision was still a year away, so the big studios still owned their theaters, making it nigh-impossible to get independent productions on a critical mass of screens. In response, Krim continued to cut costs and experiment. Balio writes that, “beginning with the 1947-48 season, Eagle-Lion shifted from a studio system form of production to a hybrid type of independent production.” Head of production Bryan Foy resigned to become an independent producer for the company. They would no longer fully finance features, but instead split the costs (and the profits) with the producers. As part of the shake-up, the PRC line was folded into that of Eagle-Lion, to shed any Poverty Row associations. Krim then recruited independent producers, and in addition to Foy, lured the highly respected Edward Small (The Man in the Iron Maskand Walter Wanger (Scarlet Street).


These producers needed to work miracles. Without stars or much of a budget (they varied between $350 – $650,000), they had to crank out features that would scan as “A” titles and net high rental fees from the big theater chains. Krim:  “The nerves and ingenuity of our production departments are being taxed to the extreme.” It was a doomed enterprise from the start, but they did manage some resourceful successes. One of the biggest was Anthony Mann’s T-Men (1947), which looked like a million bucks thanks to John Alton’s dizzying chiaroscuro lighting that swirls around two undercover Treasury Department investigators. It made $1.6 million on a $424,000 budget, though Eagle-Lion was only entitled to 25% of the profits.


Seeking to mimic that film’s success, Trapped was put into production in 1949 by Bryan Foy, with a similar docu-drama setup. The scenario was written by Earl Felton, who also collaborated with Fleischer on Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952). It opens with newsreel footage of the Treasury Department and sheaves of freshly printed bills getting sliced up at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Though used as a cheap way to eat up screen time and give off the odor of official authority, these images also set up Fleischer’s unobtrusive style. The stylistic experiments of Mann and Alton render T-Men’s documentary trappings absurd, while for Fleischer it’s more representative of his approach. Both counterfeiter Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges) and the army of investigators on his tail are machine-like in their relentless pursuit of their goals. Tris wants to get to Mexico with his girl Laurie (Barbara Payton), and will stoop to any dirty tricks to make his play. The early scenes consist of a series of reversals before the plot proper begins, setting up the story as a performative game; who wins is the one who acts their role most convincingly. Within a few scenes Tris is an inmate, a snitch, an escapee, and an undercover agent, and then goes on the lam for good. Bridges plays Tris as a jittery hotfoot who has learned how to control his clattering energies. He would calm them even more for his slick sociopath in 1950′s Try and Get Me.


The strait-laced investigator Foreman (Robert Karnes) is easily deceived by Tris’ illusion of collusion. He orchestrates a fake escape, expecting Tris to help him infiltrate his old mob in exchange for a reduced sentence. Instead he gets coldcocked and Tris returns to slinging fake bills. Tris can only be felled by a fellow performer -and he is deceived by the superior turn of John Downey (John Hoyt), an agent going undercover as a small-time con man. Downey fronts the real money for Tris to set up a big counterfeit cash score, in order to follow the dirty bills to their source. Fleischer frequently gets his DP Guy Roe to set the camera low on the studio floor, getting the audience down to scum level. There is an elaborate bit of business during a sting operation, when it’s not only Downey performing a role, but the entire investigative team. Foreman is an unconvincing grocer painting his storefront, puttering interminably over his sign, while the rest of the team mows lawns and unloads trucks. The operation fails as the sale of counterfeit goods never goes through.

For the criminals it was a dry run, a rehearsal, while the cops thought it was opening night. It is only Downey’s convincing portrayal of criminal reality that can net Tris and his counterfeiting network. And just as Downey replaced Foreman on the side of the law, once Tris gets collared the plot shifts to follow the escape route of Jack Sylvester, the printer of the fake tender. The individuals are unimportant in Fleischer’s noir worlds, they are just more blood to flow through the networks of crime and punishment.

The most elaborate moves Fleischer allows himself take place in the climax, set in a trolley car garage, in which Sylvester traverses all of the angles at his disposal. He starts at eye-level, sneaking through the empty carapaces of the cars themselves, then finds himself crawling like a beetle underneath the rail floor, before finally emerging on top of a train. There he can cop a hero’s pose an an extreme low angle, until his grand performance ends in ashes back on the ground.


December 13, 2011

nickel ride

It’s that festive time of year again, when family ties are maintained through the ritualized exchange of fabrics, wrought plastics and optical discs. This joyous occasion ensures that husband and wife, or parent and child, can contentedly ignore each other until the next wallet-busting holiday. I am here to ensure the smooth operation of this essential human activity, providing an idiosyncratic list of new DVDs and Blu-Rays that, if wrapped in glossy paper, will blind your favored loved one to your significant shortcomings. To prove my goodwill, my wife and fellow writer Andrea Janes will close out the list with her thoughts on a movie I asked her to watch, as a distraction from my lax grooming habits. Seasons Greetings!

The Nickel Ride (1975, DVD)

Released today on DVD from the canny studio library raiders at Shout! Factory (in a set with John Frankenheimer’s dire 99 and 44/100% Dead), this gorgeously elegiac gangster film should be exhibit #1 when making an over-enthusiastic case for the work of director Robert Mulligan. Remembered mainly for his adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), he was an elegant craftsman who could completely inhabit a character’s point-of-view. In Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon (1991) he restricts it to children through low-angles and gliding, youthfully quick tracking shots. In Nickel Ride Mulligan depicts the decaying mental state of an aging paranoiac through cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s palette of rotting browns, and lead actor Jason Miller’s remarkable ability to deflate himself into the posture of a crumpled paper bag. Miller plays Coop, a low-level fixer for the Los Angeles mob who is getting pushed out of his position by a young, sweetly psychotic Southerner (Bo Hopkins, channeling Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy). One of Eric Roth’s (Forrest Gump) earliest scripts, it is also his most effective, a film about the cruelty of time’s passing and the crueler tricks of an addled mind.


Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

For the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombings, 20th Century Fox released a handsome Blu-Ray edition of this sober, ambitious docu-drama of Dec. 7th, 1941. Darryl Zanuck was eager to recreate the box-office bonanza of The Longest Day (1962), and takes that film’s gimmick of telling the historical event from different points of view, and with entirely different crews, an idea which Clint Eastwood adopted for his WWII diptych, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. In this case, Richard Fleischer was tasked to direct the American side, and Akira Kurosawa the Japanese (Joseph McBride notes that John Ford was eager to take on the project, but was never considered for it). Kurosawa dropped out early in the production, after endless disputes with American production supervisors. Fleischer, in his autobiography, writes that Kurosawa, “felt this was a gross intrusion and an insult to national honor.” He was used to total artistic freedom, and that wasn’t the Hollywood way. Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) took over. Fleischer claims the only scene in the film shot by Kurosawa was one of the American ambassador in the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, and “it is the worst scene in the picture.” The film was hugely expensive to make, and was a massive failure at the box office. Part of the problem was that The Longest Day dramatized a victory, and Tora! Tora! Tora! an ignominious defeat, hardly an audience grabber. As a film, it is fascinatingly dry, a top-down version of history, in which gray-suited men sit in mahogany chairs and make history. Massive amounts of research went into the film, with Dr. Gordon Prang, appointed by General Douglas MacArthur as the official historian of the Pacific War, hoarding material at the University of Maryland. Fleischer, Masuda and Fukasaku create some pleasing diagonals out of the lines of secretaries, functionaries and soldiers, but for the most part the film plays as a luxuriously illustrated lecture.


Rapture (1965)

John Guillermin is not a director whose work I had sought out, although The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) lingers in the memory as a bracingly cold-hearted and fleet-of-foot heist film. (In)famous for the cheap thrills of The Towering Inferno (1974) and the King Kong remake (1976), I was totally unprepared for the psychosexual  intensity of Rapture, which Twilight Time has just released in an excellent Blu-Ray, available through Screen Archive. Shot in silvery B&W CinemaScope on location off the coast of Brittany, it’s an easy movie to get lost in. The novel Rapture in my Rags was initially adapted by frequent Fellini collaborator Ennio Flaiano (8 ½), although the final script credit goes to Stanley Mann (Conan the Destroyer). It follows the blighted life of Agnes (Patrica Gozzi), a young girl who lives in a crumbling mansion with her eccentric, haunted father Frederick (Melvyn Douglas) and blowsy blonde maid Karen (frequent Bergman actress Gunnel Lindblom). Frederick is an ex-judge who writes crackpot newsletters in his study, while Agnes’s only wish is to build a scarecrow so she can have a friend to call her own. Agnes’ married sister recommends she be confined to an insane asylum. But after she builds her scarecrow, a soulful escaped prisoner (Dean Stockwell) appears wearing its clothes, and it looks to Agnes like her sexual desires have blossomed violently to life. While it has its narrative lulls and repetitions, this is the rare coming-of-age film that captures the inchoate madness of adolescent lust.


Fright Night (1985)

Recently re-made with Colin Farrell, the original is an amiable bit of Hammer horror nostalgia graced with a delightfully mischievous Roddy McDowall performance. Another lovely Blu-Ray from Twilight Time, it shows high-schooler Charley (William Ragsdale) discovering a vampire-next-door, played with evident self-regard by Chris Sarandon. Ragsdale and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse from Married, With Children) seek out Peter Vincent (McDowall) for help, an ex-star of Hammer-style gothic vampire flicks who now hosts a late-night horror movie show. Recently fired and facing eviction, Vincent readily accepts Amy’s cash to flush out the would-be demon, which he assumes is Charley’s childish fantasy. When Chris Saradon’s flowing locks and insatiable thirst for blood prove to be all-too-real, the trio has to fight for their lives. The imaginative creature design from the team under visual supervisor Richard Edlund (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters) is refreshingly physical, and an appropriate homage to the menacing effects of the Hammer titles writer/director Tom Holland (Child’s Play) is clearly so enamored with (Christopher Lee is even glimpsed on TV). McDowall is the main reason to see the film though, adding unexpected layers of pathos to this beaten down ham.


Special Capsule review by Andrea Janes:  Night Watch (1973, Warner Archive)

At first Night Watch evokes such circa-70s portmanteau films as Tales from the Crypt, with its Gothic tale of a rich neurotic housewife obsessed with the decaying house behind hers (which she views from a Rear Window-esque vantage point through the back garden). Then the 1973 thriller — stuffed with creepy neighbors, incredulous policemen, remote husbands, and resentful housekeepers — froths into a soapy, pulpy revenge drama. Ellen Wheeler (Elizabeth Taylor) navigates this labyrinth of menace in a haze of cigarette smoke, her trembling hands restlessly rearranging the pieces of the enormous jigsaw puzzle perennially strewn across her parlour table, while the haunting memory of her dead former husband keeps her nerves unstrung and her beautiful cameo face blanched with worry. At long last, though, the smoke clears and, as Ellen says of her jigsaw puzzle, “It’s easy to figure out once you see where all the pieces should be.” A third-act reversal is none the less enjoyable for being somewhat expected, and Taylor hammers it home with good old fashioned bloody delight.


October 18, 2011

last run

Every week the Warner Archive dusts off a bundle of forgotten studio productions onto DVD and hopes they find an audience. Recently they released a quartet of late films from veteran studio auteurs, and they all deserve to be seen. They are Robert Aldrich’s The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), Richard Fleischer’s The Last Run (1971), George Cukor’s Travels With My Aunt (1972) and Blake Edwards’ The Carey Treatment(1972), all presented in handsome remastered editions. These are directors who had been weaned in the classical studio era, and who were now facing the reality of producer-brokered “package deals” and the escalating power of the lead actors. Many of these were fraught productions, and none will rank with the best of the respective director’s work, but they all, somehow, end up as solidly crafted entries on their brilliant resumes.

The Last Run was originally a project set up for John Boorman at MGM, who was to produce and direct. As the AFI Catalog reports, star George C. Scott requested that John Huston replace Boorman, as he had worked with Huston on The List of Adrian Messenger (’63). After three weeks of shooting, however, Huston quit the picture, “after arguments with Scott over rewrites”. Richard Fleischer became the third and final director on the project, and lead actress Tina Aumont was replaced by Trish Van Devere.  It is unknown if any of the footage Huston shot remains in the film.

It is clear that Scott exerted a lot of control, even marrying two of his female co-stars (he left wife Colleen Dewhurst for Van Devere after shooting), and yet Fleischer still imbues the film with the cool, clean lines that had highlighted his work since The Clay Pigeon and Follow Me Quietly (also in the Warner Archive) in 1949. He traced these lines along the well-worn track of the story, the starkly familiar tale of aging getaway driver Harry Garmes (Scott) accepting one more job, “to see if my nerves and brain are still connected.” He picks up escaped prisoner Paul Rickard (Tony Musante) and his girl Claudie (Van Devere), but it appears Paul was sprung in order to be assassinated. Harry has to decide whether to aid their escape, and risk his life, or return to his solitary life on the Portuguese coast. It’s an easy choice unless you are in an existential road movie, in which the death-drive trumps lazy afternoons in the gorgeous coastal city of Albufeira.

Scott was 43 at the time of filming, but he looks at least 60, with thinning gray hair, a prominent paunch and wrinkles carving up his sagging face. As Harry Garmes, you can see every indignity in his life manifest on his body. His son died at the age of 3, and then his wife up and left him alone with his car obsession. He is subsumed in feelings of loss, using work as an escape. The loveliest moment in the film occurs when Garmes is forced to sleep over in a room Claudie has just departed. Her bra, panties and pantyhose are sitting wet in the sink. With lugubrious patience he takes them out, unrolls them, and hangs them on the laundry line by the dresser. In his ashen face you can see the memories flickering by, of when this banal act was routine, of intimacy once taken for granted and now enshrined in an alien past.

Fleischer does an unobtrusive job in choreographing the love triangle, re-configuring the three jousting players around the frame as their power-relations shift and shudder. These cramped, sticky compositions are a stark contrast to the opening shots of Garmes on the road in his BMW, in which the edges of objects all point outside the frame, towards escape. Now the eye just circles inside low-lit hotel dives, the eye cycling around these three increasingly dour criminals, the only way out a bullet in the chest, to turn the triangle into a line.


George Cukor was still a prestige name in Hollywood in 1972 (the trailer included on the DVD trumpets his name), although he didn’t have a hit since My Fair Lady (1962). So when the intended star of Travels With My Aunt, Katherine Hepburn, was “frustrated by budget cuts and demanded several script alterations”, per the AFI, the studio declined her requests, and she quit. Maggie Smith stepped in, and was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her efforts.

The film is a buoyant adaptation of the comic Graham Greene novel, about milquetoast Briton bank manager Henry (Alec McCowen) who is whisked away on an international adventure by his dotty Aunt Augusta (Smith). Augusta is trying to acquire $100,00o by any means necessary to ransom one of her ex-lovers, Visconti (Robert Stephens, Smith’s husband until ’74), away from his kidnappers. In order to get this money, she re-acquaints herself with her multitude of formerly amorous companions (including North African fortune-teller Wordsworth (Lou Gossett)), as well as engaging in some minor money laundering and art theft.

This international romp (mostly shot in Spain) gets a lot of mileage out of Maggie Smith’s fluttering bohemian routine, but Cukor also manages to invest her character with a tragic sense of time’s passing. Augusta, who sucks life to the marrow, is a creature of the present tense (“I’ve always preferred an occasional orgy to a nightly routine”), but she is granted a powerfully moving reminiscence at “Le Train Bleu”, the Belle Epoque restaurant at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris. She is speaking to Henry about her youth, and then the camera pans right, and suddenly the years have worn away, and it is a young Visconti who is walking towards a window. Outside a teenaged Augusta, in a schoolgirl’s outfit, exchanges giddy glances with him. She ditches her class and races inside, into a swirl of noise and movement, until Visconti lifts her away into light-footed waltz. It was a time of endless possibility, which has now shrunken for Augusta into re-living her past flings and scrounging for cash. This is the melancholy that underlies all of the film’s high-flying farce.


Director Blake Edwards  wanted his name taken off of The Carey Treatment (1972), an efficient medical thriller adapted from an early Michael Crichton novel (A Case of Need, by his pseudonym Jeffrey Hudson). Edwards was unhappy with the cuts MGM had made to the film, just as with Wild Rovers the year previously, but his name remained on the prints. I don’t know what was excised, but what remains is a solidly built contraption anchored by a smugly sexualized performance by James Coburn.

Coburn plays Dr. Peter Carey, a womanizing rogue taking up a new job as a pathologist in a Boston hospital. His adeptness at manipulating women becomes the recurring theme of the film, beginning when his erotic gaze is leveled Georgia Hightower (Jennifer O’ Neill), the clinic’s dietician. Carey’s seductive charm is later utilized in his independent investigation into the death of the hospital president’s daughter, after a botched illegal abortion. Carey’s friend David Tao (James Hong) is wrongfully tagged with the murder. Carey flirts his way through town, becoming more sexually aggressive until it turns to intimidating violence, as when he asks the victim’s old roommate if she is a virgin, and then nearly drives them into the ocean to scare her into talking. He discovers the killer through a bit of homo-erotic flirtation, receiving an aggressive deep-tissue massage from an intrigued meathead until he gets the information he was after.

It is difficult to locate Edwards’ personality, aside from the sardonic shot of a mouse stuck in a jar in the extreme right foreground, the faces that look into it distorted into gargoyles. It’s otherwise a workmanlike production, nothing more than a wonderfully acted episode of House, what with a harrumphing Pat Hingle and nervous Regis Toomey on board to support Coburn’s wildcat act.


Still riding the late career renaissance brought on by the camp theatrics of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), Robert Aldrich directed The Legend of Lylah Clare with even less consideration of good taste. A wild kitsch re-imagining of Vertigo, it invents tragic Hollywood star Lylah Clare (Kim Novak), who died before she was to marry her long-time director Lewis Zarkan (Peter Finch). 20 years later, Zarkan discovers an actress who looks strikingly like Lylah, the bespectacled Elsa Brinkmann (also Kim Novak). He decides to make a biopic of Lylah Clare’s life, with the unknown Elsa to star. Elsa, however, is prone to channeling Lylah’s husky tenor and mannerisms with disturbing accuracy, and Zarkan becomes entranced, his obsession leading him to make the same mistakes that led to Lylah’s death all those years ago…

Hallucinatory and ridiculous, Lylah Clare is an often uproarious send-up of Hollywood self-seriousness, with its menagerie of skulking gargoyle performances. Peter Finch is the head freak, a narcissistic blowhard who believes his genius trumps reality- he looks pretentious even after he shaves off his pointy devil goatee. He gets the best lines: “Stop poncing about like an oversexed dwarf!” and “You are moving like a deeply offended Tibetan yak!”Then there’s his brittle and viciously jealous assistant Rossella (Rossella Falk), the worm-like producer Bart (Milton Selzer),  Ernest Borgnine as the infectiously boorish studio chief Barney Sheehan, “I make movies, not films!”, and Coral Browne as battle-ax gossip columnist Molly Luther, plus a cameo by Dick Miller as a journalist!

Aldrich often freezes them inside Zarkan’s mausoleum of a house, standing rook still like slowly oxidizing statues. Unable to see life beyond the glories of years past, they try to recreate it with Elsa, who is too open to suggestion to withstand their entreaties. As her life dissolves into Lylah’s, the film gets more strident and less bitchy, ditching the satire for a dime store version of Vertigo’s doubled identities. The presence of Novak only highlights this film’s shortcomings at metaphysical speculations. While it’s not terribly deep, I still had great fun skimming along its sarcastic surfaces.