The Villain 1979 A Movie A Day Day 84

I have virtually no memory of seeing this in a theater, although it seems unlikely that I would have missed it. I know I saw it on Select TV after we were married and I may even have it recorded on a videotape in a box in the Garage. Those of you not familiar with Select TV, it was an over the air scrambled channel that required a decoder box. Before cable TV was widely available, if you wanted subscriber television in Southern California, you had two choices, On-TV and Select-TV. On-TV had a good choice of sports programming that was part of the package you would buy, but Select had the wider movie choices. It was clearly a different time, because the channels were not scheduled 24 hours a day, and every month you had to program in a code that the company sent you to de-scramble the image. When we were first married, we had to get permission from Mr. Foley, our 83 year old landlord, to put a special antenna on the roof of the apartment building. When cable TV came in, the two companies merged into On-Select. They had a terrific little program guide each month that I always looked forward to. I held on to the guides for twenty five years, and through them out reluctantly just a couple of years ago.

This movie came out three years before Conan the Barbarian and five years before the Terminator. Schwarzenegger was a familiar celebrity, but he was not yet a movie star, so he was not the main selling point of the picture. Kirk Douglas is again a cowboy in one of my blog entries, but this time he is not to be taken seriously. Basically, he plays Wile E. Coyote, to Arnold and Ann Margret’s roadrunner. It is essentially a live action cartoon. It must have seemed that the casting of the Austrian Oak as Handsome Stranger, was amusing, but I don’t really think it sustains itself. Douglas is funny at times but the timing is often off on the movie and jokes fall flat. There was nothing flat about Ann Margaret, she was still a big star at the time and at the height of her mature beauty stage.

There is a very basic plot about a banker using a bad man to rip off a miner and his daughter. That sets up all the set pieces that occupy the middle of the picture. We go from one disastrous scheme to another, as the villain, Cactus Jack, falls off of mountains, is run over by boulders, and run down by trains. Explosions never work the way he plans them and he never succeeds in slowing down the progress of the miner’s daughter “Charming” and the “Handsome Stranger” who is supposed to protect here. The main problem is that as much as Douglas works it, he can’t get an exasperated smile or a crooked eyebrow to work the way an animated character like Wile E. Coyote could. The set up of the stunts needs different music, and we need to see something funny during the time that Cactus Jack is puzzling out his next approach. As a consequence the timing always seems off.

In the seventies, Warner Bros. often re-edited together classic cartoons with short bits of new material to try to make a feature length release for kids to watch in theaters. Most of those movies run into the same problem, the repetitiveness of the gags undermines our interest and enjoyment, and the added narrative slows the proceedings down. The makers of the Roger Rabbit cartoons got that everything was about timing, and the six minutes of energy in a single cartoon is a lot more entertaining then a lengthy movie with the jokes repeated. There are many clever ideas in the Villain, but they don’t pay off with a big laugh, usually they only earn a slight smile. For example, the real co-star with Douglas is the horse that he rides. “Whiskey” has a mischievous streak, and more facial expression than Schwarzenegger. Try as he might, he can’t quite pull off enough of a look to get the joke across as an animated character could.

There are some funny songs in the movie including the title track. They repeat the theme quite often and that hurts it’s charm a bit. At the end of the movie, there is a sequence where the Cactus Jack character is accelerated in his scenes, mimicking a cartoon character more directly. That actually got a laugh from me but only at the end of the movie. Strother Martin is in the movie, although he has no scenes with Kirk Douglas or Arnold. The one section that he is in does not give him much chance to shine. Jack Elam, the great crooked eyed actor is also wasted as the banker. The funniest performer in the supporting cast is Foster Brooks. He was a comedian whose regular bit consisted of a drunk routine, He does it in the movie to good effect. I never cared much for his act when I saw it on TV, but it worked great in the four or five minutes he was on-screen in this movie. The director was Hal Needham, a stunt coordinator turned director, well known for doing several Burt Reynolds comedy films. Unfortunately, they are not the great Burt comedies, but some of his late seventies outings where he simply mugs for the camera. He was doing a good job on the stunts, and he shot Monument Valley, much like an old cartoon, but there is an energy and pace that makes this picture just sit there. I said SIT there.

Bluebeard 1972 A Movie A Day Day 83

This is a weird movie. Some of the weirdness comes from the European sensibility with which it was made. Much of the weirdness is suggested by the scenario. Contemporary audiences might find it weird because of the pacing and acting styles. The source of the weirdness is the movie however, it is simply a strange piece of storytelling. The film balances between comedy and horror, and never quite succeeds at either. Richard Burton was a movie star and an actor. He had great gifts as witnessed by the multiple Academy Award nominations heaped on him, but he was also a flawed human being. He drank too much, suffered from the melancholia of other Welsh Actors, and could be a world class prick. Today, people see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and imagine the greatest movie stars in the world married. It is a good story, but Elizabeth Taylor was more beautiful than Angelina, and Richard Burton was more talented than Brad, and they were married to each other twice as often as Bradgelina. Burton needed money like Elvis did, and he took what producers were willing to offer that payed. He had better taste than movies like this and “The Klansmen”, but baby needed another diamond.

I saw this movie with a guy named Scott Moore. He was a guy I met in algebra class my freshman year of high school. We were pretty good friends for that year, but he found some other people that he fit in with a little better, and we sort of stopped hanging out. His mother was in her late thirties when we met and she was divorced from his dad. She had to work to support him and his brother and sister. She tried to be sort of hip, she drove a Lincoln and dressed in mini-skirts, and she was very permissive with her kids. Which is how a couple of fourteen year olds got tickets to this R rated movie playing on a single screen theater(the El Rey on Main Street in Alhambra) where the ushers would know if you were under age. This may have been playing with another film featuring Richard Burton, based on the book Candy. Candy was a Psychedelic sex novel turned into a movie with a whole bunch of stars in it. It came out in 1968, but as I said before, distributors in those days would find films to match with the current feature to play at the local theaters on a double bill. I suspect that the presence of Mr. Burton in both movies was the reason they were together. Both films are highly sexualized, and the blood pressure of a fourteen year old, seeing them together, would be almost too much to imagine.

The movie turns out to be concerned with impotence and an oedipus complex. Burton is a hero of the first world war for the German flying corp. He has injuries that explain the unique color of his beard and why he will not shave, those injuries appear to go much deeper than his face. After the war he meets a woman, falls in love and marries her. She is killed in a hunting accident, and a dozen years later he falls in love with an American entertainer, that he makes his bride. She is terrorized by creepy events at the castle and discovers a large refrigerated room that contains a number of frozen corpses of women. It is then that the Baron recounts his romantic history and we learn his murderous ways. It takes nearly an hour to get to the meat of the story, and the set up is filled with unusual events and scenery. It feels like a Gothic horror piece in the beginning but when we get to the murders, it is more like a bloody Hammer horror film.

The color palate of the movie is strange. There is a rich velvety textured wallpaper in the mistress of the houses bedroom. It is blood red, but we see in some of the flashbacks that the same wallpaper in the same room was at one time deep blue. I suppose this is to correspond with Bluebeard’s onset of murderous behavior. He also has a fascination with photographing his victims after death, highlighting broad outlines, and turning the image into intricate web based graphic images. The costumes are outlandish, one of his wives has a bright pink outfit that makes her look like a flamingo as he stalks her through the castle. Burton twice wears the most ridiculous purple,lavender set of tails. He looks like a teenager from the 1970s going to a prom. The best thing about the movie, other than the main features I will get to in a second, is the atmospheric music from Ennio Morricone. I am a fan of his work in the DeLeone westerns, The Mission and my favorite “The Untouchables”. Here he provides a creepy theme that sets the tone for the picture and punctuates a number of scenes very effectively.

OK, the real attraction of this movie for a kid my age in 1972 was the nudity. Every actress except Raquel Welch is topless at some point in the movie. The nudity is used as titillation to set up the murders and remind us of Blubeard’s impotence. OK, it’s really there to turn us on, and it did. Joey Heatherton was one of those 1960s stars that was famous for being pretty and being on TV. She could not act, she could dance just a little, but the sheer black wrap that she wore in this movie made an impression that I don’t ever think I could forget, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. She was hot. The murders were gruesome, but often accompanied with some comic flair. I won’t give away the punchlines for most of the deaths, but after hearing Burton relay the circumstances of his relationship with each woman, he does not come across as quite the monster we believed. In a couple of cases he could argue justifiable homicide.

Shaft (1971) A Movie A Day Day 82

After the debacle yesterday, I went out in search of more films for the blog. I have sixteen days left and I was down to three movies. My deleting Shaft and Big Jake, put a dent in the movies that I had lined up. I’ve managed to add three DVDs to my library for the rest of the blog, and I went and found a copy of Shaft at Big Lots of all places. I had had it in my hands several months ago, but I remembered it was coming on TCM so I did not buy it. Dolores and I went through hundreds of discounted DVDs and managed to find one copy of the original Shaft left. They had one of the other Shaft movies, but it was not a summer release so I won’t be covering it for this blog. If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with Shaft, you must never have listened to soul music from the 1970s. The theme from Shaft was one of the biggest hits of the decade.

About ten years ago, Shaft was remade with Samuel Jackson in the title role. I love Sam Jackson, he has gotten me into a lot of films that I might otherwise have skipped, but he is also the Michael Caine of today. In an interview once, Caine was asked about an upcoming movie and why he choose it. The interviewer asked, “What’s it about?”, and Caine replied, “It’s about a million dollars, I’ll do it.” Sam Jackson plays for pay these days. The Shaft remake was a fine summer action movie, and it is much better produced than the 1971 original, but it none of the social cache and it lacks the biggest selling point in the original film, Richard Roundtree. I know he makes a cameo in the new Shaft, but that does not make up the lack of sex appeal from Jackson. He got the badass part right(…he’s a bad mother…) but there is no way Jackson is a sex machine to all the ladies.

Of the three reasons to see the original Shaft, Roundtree is the most important. His role was groundbreaking and he played it with all the verve a guy could muster in a low budget film like this. The movie opens with the money shot, there are things to enjoy later, but the credit scene contains the main element of the movie. Shaft is a confident, sexy black man in a white mans world, but he is not taking crap from anyone. He walks down the streets of Manhattan with his head held high and his shoulders straight. He is not shucking and jiving, there is no slouch with attitude, he knows who he is and dares anyone to disagree. His knee length leather coat and dark yellow turtleneck, sell swagger without him having to do much more than walk in a straight line, but he does do more. In 1971, the idea of a sexual black man as your lead was startling, he has a afternoon tryst with his beautiful girlfriend, and the camera lingers on his backside and her hands. The revolutionary part is that he openly engages in inter-racial sexual athletics. Any woman would find him attractive, he is a sex object for all females not just those of one ethnicity. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” was only four years earlier and the inter-racial relationship was sold as sanitized by having Sidney Pointer and making him a Doctor. Shaft is picked up by a white girl in a bar, she is clearly the aggressor, and he sends her away when he is done with her like she was a waitress asking if he wanted anything else. If you listen to the end of the trailer, you will hear the announcer proclaim him hotter than Bond, and cooler than Bullet. That is a little hyperbole, but Roundtree does his best to sell it and it works. Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington as well as Samuel Jackson have Richard Roundtree to thank that Americans can accept a black man as the lead in any kind of picture, not just a social piece. I remember that this was not always the case.

The theme song is the second selling point of the movie. Issac Hayes won the Academy Award for Best song for this piece of driving, soulful, energy. His cool deliver of the lyrics sets the tone for the movie. Like I said, the opening title sequence with Roundtree walking through New York and the music playing over the scene, that is what you want most from the movie. The story is not that interesting and there are no other characters that match up with Shaft at all. Charles Coffi is pretty good as a gruff police Lt., who understands Shaft and tries to use him to know what’s going on. Shaft would never say they were friends but they appear to treat each other with due deference after they wrestle over status issues. The bad guys are nondescript for the most part, and the women are pretty but not really a part of the proceedings. There are some other pieces of music that try to emphasize the racial tension in the world at this point. None of them is quotable or memorable. There have been other movies where the theme song was influential in shaping our perception of the film and main character, but none have ever done it as well as this piece of music.

Finally, the third reason to see the movie is to get a sense of how the world looked at the time. Physically, the New York streets are very clearly shown. As Shaft travels in a taxi uptown, he passes by theaters playing straight features from Hollywood, right next to porn houses peddling smut on a big marquee for all to know. The clothes of the time are authentic, not exaggerated retelling s of the time, but reflective of what people might wear. Most of all, you get a sense of the tension that exits in racial relationships. Not every white person was hated, but plenty were and deserved to be. Not every black was a revolutionary, but they often felt outside. Outsiders and insiders were the real lines between people, and color was a symptom of that, but not necessarily the cause. Shaft was a big part of the Blaxplotation era, but it was a success with wider audiences as well. It moves a little slow and some of the actors are painfully amateurish, but the lead and the music are worth your hundred minutes. If you don’t have the time, treat yourself to the opening five minutes below.

American Graffiti 1973 A Movie A Day Day 81

Originally, today was going to be “Shaft”. I recorded it on the DVR and was all set to transfer it to a DVD, and something was wrong. There was the info slide from the satellite, but no picture. I skipped ahead and there was nothing. I made the assumption that the machine had not got it so I went ahead and deleted what appeared to be an empty file. My default was “Big Jake”, but when I went to it, the file looked the same. I again deleted, and then thought to check other HD programs I had recorded. It looked like they were all the same. I was about to call Dish, when I decided to look at the troubleshooting guide on the satellite. They recommended that I shut down the receiver, let it reboot and then check. Ten minutes later everything was there the way it should be, except the two movies that I had recorded for the blog. So now I am a little short on titles because I was a little short on patience. I can hardly get madder at someone else than I do with myself in these kinds of goof ups. I put off my movie, we had lunch, watched some other stuff and then I got back to this task. I needed something that would put me in a good mood. I had been saving this title for the end because it is so special, but today I needed to rescue myself from self loathing, and “American Graffiti” is the perfect prescription.

Eleven years ago it was 1999. “The Sixth Sense” and “American Beauty” were competing for the Academy Award. It hardly seems more then a couple of years to me, although my kids are through high school and college in that time period. The catch phrase for “American Graffiti” was “Where were you in 62?” The movie came out in 1973. Eleven years after the time it was set in. When I saw this movie, I was fifteen, in 62 I would have been four. It is the same short amount of time but for me it felt like forever. It was not the blink of an eye period like between now and 1999. In the eleven years between the 1962 in “American Graffiti” and the time period that I saw it originally, two Kennedy s were assassinated, we had a civil rights revolution, there were riots in a dozen American cities, the Beatles came and conquered the world, we entered and exited the Vietnam war. Even though I was alive in 1962, this movie seemed to be about a place so exotic and so removed from my experience, that there was almost a bit of disconnect at the time. Today as I watched it, I am reminded of how people just a few years older than me might have felt. It isn’t alien at all, it just captured the feelings of the world at that moment before the cultural revolution began in earnest here in the U.S.. In 1973, when I saw the movie, it was not nostalgic for me, but I did enjoy the heck out of it and I loved the music.

This blog has been all about nostalgia. I have been trying to convey experiences that I had while growing up. I hope that people who know me, will know me better as a result of reading this project. I have had a chance to exercise some writing and thinking muscles that have been a little rusty. Most of all I have had a chance to write about my favorite subject in the world, movies. It is easy for me to be nostalgic for the films I saw in the 1970s as a grew up because they were a part of my life. What is so amazing about “American Graffiti” is that it makes me nostalgic for a life I never had. There are two films on my project this summer that have had this effect; “The Summer of 42” and “American Graffiti”. I think it is pretty clear that a movie has been well written and well crafted, if it makes you miss a time and place that you never had been before. I did a tiny bit of cruising with Don Hayes when we were in High School, but it was never like this one night in today’s movie. Every character feels real, all the situations are things that you could imagine being a part of. The fear and ambivalence of Richard Dreyfus’s character Curt are so familiar. The idea of leaving home and your friends makes even the great opportunities something to be tentative about. Ron Howard plays Steve, and he is overwhelmed by his love for his girl and the context where he was the King, that his anxiousness to beat it out of town evaporates. Charlie Martin Smith, is so perfect as the awkward, hero worshiping Terry the Toad. Terry is so desperate to be accepted by others, that he never really sees how much of their world he really occupies. The sweetness of his night with Debbie, is tinged with some bitterness over the experiences they share and some of his disappointment, but her final kiss and invitation to call turns Terry into a Prince. Paul LeMat, is the hero in town, with the baddest car and the cool Steve McQueen attitude, before Steve McQueen was the Cooler King.

I have heard people complain about the movie as if it did not have a plot and was just a series of random incidents. The incidents may be random, but only in the way that the dots in a Monet are random. When you pull back and look at them, you get a clearer image of time and place than you would have with a documentary five times as long. In 1962, the world was in front of us, it had the promise of greatness and the shadow of unfamiliarity surrounding it. This movie shows us how every group of kids probably feels about the world, no matter when they grew up. That’s why this movie is something to treasure. 1973 films competing for the Best Picture award included “The Sting”, “The Exorcist” and “American Graffiti’. Those other two movies are fantastic, “The Exorcist” is still the most frightening movie ever made, and “The Sting” is still the cleverest despite newer rivals like “The Usual Suspects” or “Inception”. I think “American Graffiti” is the strongest of the three. It doesn’t rely on manipulation of fear, or thinking. It shows us what was in the mirror, no matter when we look. For my money it is the best film George Lucas ever made. “Star Wars” is revolutionary, and maybe the more important film, but Graffiti, is the real kind of storytelling that film makers who are artists aspire to. While Lucas continues to tinker with Star Wars, digitally enhancing this, or manipulating that, he has never to my knowledge, felt the need to go back and fix or improve this movie.

Everyone who writes and talks about this movie, mentions all the future stars that are in it. We have Oscar winners, Richard Dreyfus, and Ron Howard, future Oscar Nominees Kathleen Quinlin, Candy Clark, and Harrison Ford. TV stars Cindy Williams and Mackenzie Phillips, and movie character actor Charlie Martin Smith are all a big part of the movie. Paul LeMat, has had a very successful career, but he should have taken off like a rocket in the seventies. I don’t know what happened, and maybe some of it was his own choice, but I would have expected the most out of him when I first saw this movie. This is the third movie this week with Bo Hopkins in it, this was a really good role and he played it with a great deal of menacing and slimy charm. There is a really nice little bit by Wolfman Jack, playing himself, that should give people of today some sense of what radio was like in the early days of Rock and Roll. The other co-star that probably made this movie something special instead of just a teen comedy, is the music. Allison and I were talking the other day about how Quentin Tarantino has a great ear for music. He picks cues from all sorts of movies and plugs those sounds into his own pictures. George Lucas did the same thing here with popular music from the golden days of Rock. He did an amazing job without using a single piece of Elvis material. The way that everyone in the movie is sharing the same soundtrack for their lives is very interesting. They all listen to the same radio station, so they are hearing the same songs, but none of them seems the same. There is rave up rock, rhythm and blues, surf music and novelty songs. Everyone can like the songs they care for most, but at least they have heard the other music. Compare that to today, where music taste is often so narrow that artists with a major cultural impact are often unknown outside of the genre they work in. “American Graffiti” may be a title that has a particular meaning in the hot rod world, I’m not sure, but to me it was always about how the fabric of our experience comes together to show us our own world. The story, actors, events and music make up something far more than scratches on a wall.

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.

Posse 1975 A Movie A Day Day 78

I searched all over but I could not find a trailer for this movie. There was not even a trailer on the DVD. This seems odd to me for one major reason, this is one of the few films directed by the great Kirk Douglas. From an historical and cinematic point of view, you would think that in some archive, somewhere, there is the promotional material for this movie. Maybe the studio doesn’t control it since it was Produced by Douglas as well. I hate to say it but when he is no longer with us, you can bet there will be a slew of films that finally get the treatment on home video that they deserve.

Today’s film is one of the few westerns on the list for A Movie A Day, that does not feature Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. The great movie icon Kirk Douglas, produced and directed this 1975 film, set in Texas during the western period. It may star an old school cowboy, but it has that seventies vibe all over it. There are echos of The Wild Bunch and High Plains Drifter here. It is not as violent or odd as either of those movies, what it is mostly is political. I remember reading reviews at the time that drew parallels to the Watergate scandal at the time. That is a bunch of hyperbole. There is a political theme, and there may be some issues of corruption, but the connection is a stretch. The focus is really about how actions are guided by political image rather than necessity.

The point is made in a somewhat heavy handed way. Douglas is a famous lawman, trying to run down a notorious criminal, for the glory it will cast over him as he stands for the Senate. We are not really given much background on the political situation or the competing interests. It seems like the movie is criticizing law and order candidates as being motivated by votes rather than what is fair or needed. If that is the case, they undercut the idea a bit by showing us that the bad guy really is a bad guy. After escaping the posse at an ambush where his men are killed and burned, he ends up in a nearby town where he kills the guy who betrayed the gang. By the way, he does it Han Solo style, shooting first and through the bottom of the table in front of him. He then kills the local sheriff right on the street when he is confronted. If there was just hype in this campaign, it would not get far. The citizens are outraged and they are powerless. When the Marshall comes into town with his posse, they are thrilled that he is there, and when he returns with the killer as his captive, they rejoice and it seems that he will clearly be their choice for Senator.

Things are not always as they seem however. When your bad guy is played by Bruce Dern, you can expect something special. Dern is one of those guys that was a pretty solid star in the seventies but never broke out to the big time as a leading man. Part of that may be the baggage he carried as the prairie scum in the movie The Cowboys, where his character shoots John Wayne in the back. Here he is not a sniveling bully like in the Wayne picture, he is a cunning and manipulative gang boss. He has a lot of charm for a guy that everyone knows should hang, but it plays friendly, disguising his plan, and waiting for a chance to turn the tables.

There is some standard western material here. There is a chase, gunfights and horses doing some dangerous stunt work. There are some very distinct moments as well. There is a long sequence of escape from the Marshall’s special train, that turns the roles around on the posse. Visually, the image of a flaming box car traveling backwards across the mountains, through the tunnels and back into the town, is terrifically inventive. We have seen the train incidents in other movies; The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy, and a host of others. This movie follows the train after the explosions not just up to them. While the pace of the movie seems a little clunky in other spots, Douglas and his stunt coordinator, along with the cinematographer, did a great job capturing the events as they unfold in this section.

Ultimately, the false image of the Posse as dedicated lawmen is undermined by practical economic issues. Loyalty is not a trait of the candidate and it foments the ultimate problem he faces. Everybody is corruptible according to this film, and the Marshall is corrupted by manipulating his image. There is a lot of license taken with how things play out. The local citizens are not always depicted as real people, they change their attitudes and behaviors capriciously. The posse is not given enough screen time to say if their actions really fit in with the circumstances. The bi-play between the two leads is really what makes the movie work and both Kirk Douglas and Bruce Dern sell their parts here. This is a western with a message, it is an interesting but largely forgotten picture. It deserves to be seen by more people, but it is not quite as sharp and incisive as it wants to be.