Life of Brian (1979) A Movie A Day Day 80

The second Monty Python film on the list, and it is just about as funny as Holy Grail. If you were to compare them exclusively on the quality of production, “Life of Brian” has it all over the earlier film. My only reason for preferring the first film is the memory of seeing it and the reaction that my Dad had to it. This experience was quite a bit different. This movie came out in the late summer of 1979. I was just a week away from starting graduate school and it was hot. Dolores and I went to see this with my Dad’s friend Rusty, who I have written about before. I don’t think she ever went with he and I to a movie before or after, so it was an easy piece of info for me to retrieve out of my brain. Dee, when you read this please post and tell us if you remember anything about that day yourself.

I think our original plan was to see “Apocalypse Now” at the Cinerama Dome, but we could not get in. It had just opened in a couple theaters in the country, and shows were sold out early. So we cruised on over to the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd., and Life of Brian was starting in just a few minutes. This was the first movie I remember seeing in the new theaters at the Chinese location. Up until that time, the theater had been a stand alone house, it must have seated 1500 easy. The trend was clearly moving to wider releases of pictures and I guess the Mann company, that owned the Chinese at the time, believed it needed to be able to show a greater variety of films to succeed. There are six screens there now (other than the main house) but in 1979, I think there were only two new theaters and Life of Brian was showing in one of them.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre – Live Webcams – Mann Theatres

Everybody remembers the final song in the movie. I recall Dolores, Rusty and I laughing and singing it out in the foyer of the auditorium after the movie was open. I think the Twin Theaters there had just opened that year and we were hanging around a bit to look around. The whistling was something we could not resist and people coming in for the next show must have thought we were idiots. There was a lot of controversy when the movie opened because some religious groups, especially in Great Britain, objected, saying the movie was blasphemous. It is of course not, because Christ is not the subject of the movie, he makes only a small cameo appearance at the beginning. The movie is about fanaticism and the stupidity that drives it. All of which is discussed with the casual British humor that was typical of Python material. The other thing that people will remember about the film is the two minute ride by Brian in the space ship with aliens who are holding their own eyeballs. It made no sense, had nothing to do with the movie, but the image was so striking and it was so out of place that it was funny and memorable.

There are dozens of quotable lines from the movie. My guess is there are people out there that do the whole resolution writing scenes and riff on them over and over. They are quite clever, but it is context that helps make them funny, for me the stuff that sticks out is always the silly material. For instance, the Roman names Maximus Naughtieous and Biggess Dickiss, are completely immature, and as a result, funny no matter when or how you throw them into the conversation. I also get a kick out of the one scene with the Roman centurion, giving Brian a Latin lesson in the middle of the night during an attempt to put up some graffiti. One of my favorite lines from the movie comes when Reg is trying to direct all the supplicants for Brian and he asks all those with devil possession to try and keep the demons under control. John Cleese is so droll it is a marvel.

A few years ago we saw a concert presentation at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring Eric Idle. He was basically doing an expanded set of numbers from Life of Brian, similar to the Spamalot success they had on Broadway. I don’t think it quite jelled but there were many amusing moments. We are pulling into the final couple of weeks on this blog and I am enjoying reminiscing about that August in 1979. I was about to be a coach on the Trojan debate Squad, my girlfriend and I were so in love that we would be married in less than a year (and still going strong 30 years later), and my grown up friend who was actually just a big kid, took us to the movie. We may have had lunch at the Hamburger Hamlet across the street, that I don’t really remember, but it was likely. Anyway, if you have never seen the “Life of Brian”, put it on your list now, because you deserve to have some good memories as well.

White Lightning (1973) A Movie A Day Day 79

If you would like to appreciate the difference in Burt Reynolds as an actor and Burt Reynolds as a personality, all you need to do is compare this film to the sequel that Reynold directed himself. I have not gone back and looked at my comments on Gator, but it was an entry in the Movie A Day blog several weeks ago. I think I mentioned at the time that I was going to be looking at these out of order. I’m really glad I did, because this film is far superior to the second effort. The same character is played with swaggering machismo (Ma-cheese-mo might be the better term) in Gator. There, Reynolds is amused by everything he does and engages in a huge amount of mugging for the camera. In White Lightning, he plays it straight. The trademark self referential cackle comes out only a couple of times and it is pretty well placed. This is a fine action thriller from the early seventies that plays tightly and makes some sense of the time and place in which it is set.

It was less then ten years before this movie was shot, that three college students were murdered in Mississippi for trying to register black voters. College protesters and malcontents were never appreciated south of the Mason-Dixon line. Today, we might wonder what the fuss was about in the Bob Segar song, “Turn the Page”. Did people really get uptight about a haircut and try to provoke fights by impugning a mans masculinity? The answer is yes, and a couple of college kids being ruthlessly murdered for challenging the local sheriff was perfectly believable in 1973. This movie opens with a basically wordless cruel killing. Two guys tied to cinder blocks are towed out on a swamp like lake in a small boat. The sheriff then blows a hole in the boat and calmly rows away with his partner. This set up is going to justify a lot of behavior later in the film by our hero. One of the kids was Gator’s “good” brother, and no corrupt local yokel is going to get away with this.

The manner in which the Federal investigation is set up with Gator as informant seems reasonable given the circumstances. This movie is not a police procedural however, and the Feds only make one more brief appearance in the film before the end. Once Gator is out of prison, he easily slips back into his bootlegging ways and fits in with the crooks he is after. Like I said, Reynolds plays it right down the line, he is not invincible, or all knowing, or always the life of a non-existent party. He does trade banter with the sheriff that killed his brother, and although there is humor, you can detect tension and malevolence on both sides during the exchange. The sheriff is played by Ned Beatty, who was in the terrific Reynolds movie Deliverance just the year before. Probably best remembered for three minutes in that movie than the dozens of other great performances he gave over the years, including two Academy Award nominations. He is very good as the self righteous lawman with a mean streak. His rants about the commies and pinko kids are not too different from those of the bootlegger Gator is using to infiltrate the organization.

Bo Hopkins plays the bootlegger that Gator is working for, he was a very relible second lead in movies. Jerry Reed takes his place in later films, and the tone suffers a bit because Reed, while good, was not as strong and Reynolds got away with letting scenes go on by indulging the singer a bit. Hopkins was in yesterdays movie as well, playing one of the deputies in Kirk Douglas Posse. He may be most familiar to any of you out there reading as the member of the Wild Bunch that got left behind in the opening scene or as the leader of the Pharaohs gang in American Graffiti, another 1973 film that I will be looking at soon for this blog site. I mentioned to Allison that Matt Clark, who plays Dude, the federal parolee that gets Gator in, was the same guy who plays the defense secretary in “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”. He was a familiar face in a lot of seventies and eighties films and I thought he was particularly good here as the obviously in over his head federal stooge. Future Academy ward Nominee and Mother of Academy Award Nominee, Diane Ladd has a small part as Dude’s wife. By the way she was married to yesterdays co-star Bruce Dern at the time. (It is a small world isn’t it?)

There is much to admire about this well paced, tough little picture. As we were listening to it, both Allison and I thought we recognized music cues that had been used elsewhere. She thought it was “Inglorious Basterds” and I thought, “Kill Bill”. It turns out we were both right, Tarantino uses musical cues from White Lightning in both films. She did not like the trailer, she thought they were selling it as more of a comedy. I on the other hand think the trailer works quite well, the cheesy tag line that “White Lightning never strikes twice because once is enough” is perfect for the drive-in mentality that this picture also exceeds. Too bad they did not take that advice and skip the second film. It wasn’t bad, but it really sullies the memory of this forgotten gem.
I found this ad on line, notice that today’s movie was playing at the Gold Cinema in Alhambra.